Return to Transcripts main page


7.0 Earthquake Rumbles New Zealand; New York and New England Brace for Earl; President Plays Offense on Issue Number One: Jobs; Job Approval on Economy at Lowest for Obama; Time for a Second Stimulus?; Winning the War in Afghanistan

Aired September 3, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Rick.

Happening now, breaking news -- a powerful magnitude seven earthquake rocks New Zealand. One official says it was like a freight train running through the house. We're going to Christchurch in New Zealand for the latest.

Also, it was supposed to be recovery summer. Now, for the second time this week, President Obama is forced to play economic offense in the face of rising unemployment.

And it's called the mosquito and its high pitched buzz sound just might give you a headache.

Is this controversial device now being used to target young people here in Washington, DC?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to get right to the breaking news we're following. A magnitude seven earthquake has rumbled the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The quake caused minor damage, at least so far. But there are there are some reports of injuries.

I want to bring in Dr. Sebastian Koga. He's a neurosurgeon. He's joining from us Christchurch Hospital, quite close to the epicenter of the quake -- I think about 20 miles or so.

What are you seeing, Doctor?

What do you -- what -- an eyewitnesses account of what has happened.


We -- were awakened by this incredibly long earthquake that seemed to just go on for many minutes at 4:30 this morning and power instantly went out. Sirens started sounding. And in the darkness of night, I think many people lost their homes and roofs caved in and some buildings and roads cracked.

I came into the hospital as soon as I could and prepared, with the emergency department, for mass casualties. But fortunately, that has not been the case. We've seen relatively minor injuries -- small lacerations, mild head injuries, people being trapped under a bit of rubble for 10, 15 minutes. But nothing of the scale that could have happened with this magnitude earthquake.

BLITZER: And there have been aftershocks since then, as well.

Describe what it felt like. It was about 4:00 a.m. Your time when this earthquake hit.

KOGA: It was 4:30. I -- I was instantly awake and then felt the house shaking and it seemed to go on and on and on. I stood in a -- in a doorway. And it was probably about 10 minutes before I was able to get out of the house. The streets were in panic. I flagged a taxi, who volunteered to take me to the hospital to check out our patients.

Christchurch hospital has -- is in a quite old building, which is in the process of being replaced. And our near surgery floor had some ceiling collapse and emergency -- we evacuated patients to another ward. And the emergency department was gearing up to -- to deal with all the casualties.

Fortunately, the ambulances have brought in only 70 to 100 people. And as daylight came over the city, we saw a lot more patrols and damage assessments. And we've not been told that there is any cluster of casualties or any reports of trapped citizens under the rubble.

BLITZER: Well, that's good to hear.

Dr. Koga, thanks very much.

We'll stay in close touch with you.

Dr. Sebastian Koga is a neurosurgeon at Christchurch Hospital in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, a fiery scene in the United Arab Emirates today, after a UPS 747 cargo plane crashed in an unpopulated area near the Dubai International Airport. A local news agency reports that the two crew members were killed. So far, there have not been any -- there has not been any official confirmation. The company says the accident occurred as the 747 was taking off for Germany. No word yet on what caused the wreck.

We'll stay on top of that story, as well.

New York and New England, meanwhile, are now bracing for a lashing from Hurricane Earl as it barrels up the East Coast just in time for this holiday weekend.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is in Montauk out on Long Island in New York.

The surf seems to be picking up over there -- Allan.

Describe what you're seeing.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the surf is very, very intense. Have a look at those waves out there. All afternoon long, we've been watching the power of Mother Nature. And it is absolutely incredible. Some of those waves well over 10 feet high, no doubt about that. The wind picking up right now, as well. We've had rain intermittently. It stopped just a few moments ago.

But the story here out in Montauk, right at the tip of Long Island, is right behind me -- those waves. And the tourists have been coming out here, dozens, all afternoon, just watching that scene.

In terms of emergency preparations, well, there are plenty. A lot of residents here have boarded up their windows. Some haven't bothered to do so. They've put the furniture inside -- the patio furniture. And, also, the Long Island Power Authority has tripled its manpower just in case the power goes out. And so far, no reports of that at all. No problem there. The Long Island Railroad -- they're not running any trains out here whatsoever, again, out of precaution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Out of an abundance of precaution.

All right, Allan.

Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on the track of this storm.

Joining us from Miami, the director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Read.

Bill, thanks very much.

It looks like North Carolina, the situation there could have been a whole lot worse. And it appears to be looking relatively good for Long Island and New England. But correct me if I'm wrong.

BILL READ, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: No, you're absolutely right. This is the 24-hour satellite loop. And Earl has been kind enough to follow very close to the U.S. But not a direct hit with the core winds of the storm. So we did have some gusts reported unofficially above hurricane force out on the Outer Banks and near Hatteras. But this afternoon, it's been moving, actually, farther away from land in -- in the area off to the southeast of New Jersey and New York.

And as you pointed out, in your earlier part of the segment there, the strong waves are now coming ashore in Long Island. And over the next few hours, it will deteriorate over Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the Cape Cod area. The system is moving very fast. We're very confident of the track at this time. The winds will still go down slowly, as we move over colder water. And it may or may not even be at hurricane strength. But you'll still have a four to six hour period of strong tropical storm force winds, very battering waves on Nantucket and parts of Cape Cod. BLITZER: As it moves up. But as we say, it could have been a whole lot worse.

What about for our friends in Canada?

What can they expect?

READ: Well, we're -- they're going to get a direct hit, as this system. They're going to get the next real landfall as it comes across. It's going to go over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and on out into the rest of the maritime in there, though it will probably be going into a ex -- what we call an extra-tropical or more like a winter storm phase toward the end of that cycle. But they'll certainly get the strong tropical storm force winds on Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island tomorrow as the storm goes through there.

BLITZER: Well, we wish them only the best.

Let's look ahead for the next month or two, until the end of this hurricane season.

What do we expect?

READ: Well, you get plenty of storms during this peak of the hurricane season. And as you can see on this animation, they're lined up pretty much all across Africa. And the waves are coming across. Here's one that came off yesterday that we're watching in our outlook. This was Gaston. Those are the next two in line from the so-called Cape Verde area, part of the season.

We're also watching an area down here in the Towantapak (ph) area, south of Mexico, and a system in the Eastern Pacific. So it's very active across the tropics, impacting the Western Hemisphere at this time, right on schedule.

BLITZER: What about Fiona?

What happened to Fiona?

READ: Oh, Fiona is -- is in the -- in -- being torn apart by a wind shear phase and that's why you hardly see any of it in this image. But the -- the -- the circulation that is Fiona, if it holds together, will go across Bermuda as a ver -- as a much weaker system and won't be of concern to us after a couple days.

BLITZER: Earl, Fiona, Gaston -- we're watching it alphabetically together with you.

Bill Read, thanks very much.

Good luck to all your colleagues over there.

We're counting on you for important, sometimes life-saving information.

Appreciate what you're doing. READ: And thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

BLITZER: All right.

Bill Read of the National Hurricane Center.

The nation's unemployment rate inching up, as lost jobs outpace new jobs. President Obama looks for a silver lining and says Republicans stand in his way. Stand by for that.

And Iranians take to the streets to show support for the Palestinians and to call for the fall of Israel.

And another step toward plugging BP's ruined oil well in the Gulf of Mexico for good. The blowout preventer is off.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Just days before the traditional kickoff to the mid- term campaign season, President Obama is coming out swinging against issue number one for voters -- the ailing economy. And a new jobs report showing the unemployment rate rising to 9.6 percent, as well as a total loss of 54,000 jobs last month, certainly isn't helping.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I've said from the start, there's no quick fix to the worst recession we've experienced since the Great Depression. The hard truth is that it took years to create our current economic problems. And it will take more time than any of us would like to repair the damage. Millions of our neighbors are living with that painfully every day. But I want all Americans to remind themselves there are better days ahead.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's working the story for us.

The president said next week he's going to be announcing some new initiatives to deal with this economic crisis.

Do we know what he has in mind?


And, first, let's start with what senior officials say we should not expect to be in this package. And that, they say do not expect a second stimulus package, like some news reports have been suggesting. Frankly, they just don't have the money -- we're so deep in debt right now -- to come up with anything close to that nearly $800 billion package they had last year. And for semantics reasons, they're certainly not going to call it a stimulus either, because it just has not been that politically popular.

Instead, what they're talking about is in small measures, something like a permanent extension of the research and development tax cut, for example, to try to get businesses spending more money; maybe more infrastructure spending, as well, some construction projects.

The problem, of course, we've seen some of that before. It hasn't necessarily created anywhere near the kind of jobs the administration has promised. And that's why you hear the president today in the Rose Garden, Speaker Pelosi today putting out a release, laying out what they've done previously to try to make the case before the mid-term election. They talked about how for eight straight months -- you can see on the screen -- private sector job growth; eight small business tax cuts they've gotten through despite Republican opposition on the Hill; 670,000 private sector jobs lost during the Bush administration, the Democrats point out; meanwhile, they've had 763,000 private sector jobs created by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress.

The challenge, of course, is despite the White House branding this as recovery summer, most Americans are not feeling it as a recovery, despite some of those private sector jobs that have been created. And that's why the president is going to have to roll out new measures. Look for them to come out next Wednesday in Cleveland. He's got a big economic speech there. We think he's going to lay it out then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Now tell me about this, the second time this week the president really blasted the Republicans for trying to block this small business jobs bill he and the Democrats want to push through. What is this dispute all about?

HENRY: When you talk to Republicans like Senator McConnell, they think it's kind of a straw man. They say they've only really sort of blocked this small business bill once and that seven other times it was Senate Democrats that pulled the small business bill off the floor because they wanted to move over to more pressing business.

The bottom line is, in about a couple weeks they'll finally get it on the Senate floor. The White House says they think they'll finally pass it. Here is what is actually in it.

There's going to be $12 billion in tax relief to small businesses. They won't have to pay capital gains anymore, for example, if they're going to pour more money into their business and invest it. There's $30 billion in new loans for small businesses going to go into a pool that will go directly to community banks, not the big banks, but community banks actually spend the money in local communities.

The problem, though, is that even though the president is going to probably finally get this later this month, Senate Democrats are not coming back to work from the August recess until about September 13th. So we're still days away from it coming to the floor, then probably days more of delays and votes on the floor, the whole process. It's probably late September before the president could sign this into law if it passes, that makes it less and less likely these measures are really going to have any impact before the November election, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's continue to go in depth on the economy. Some new poll numbers now showing how Americans think President Obama is handling the issue. Joining us, our senior political analyst David Gergen.

These numbers are bad as far as the president is handling of the economy. Only 40 percent in this new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, David, approve of the way the president is dealing with the economy, 59 percent disapprove.

Why do you think it's so bad for the president?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, that is the lowest number he's gotten, as you well know. And there are some, and the president pointed out today, there has been some private sector growth over the last three months in jobs, but coming into this Labor Day weekend this is not a happy weekend for most Americans.

I think the reason it's so low is we've had now 13 straight months with unemployment in this country 9.5 percent or higher, 13 straight months, and people thought there would be relief by now. We'd have almost 15 million people now unemployed, a higher number today than a month ago. And we have about 10 million people who are underemployed. So you've got 25 million people in this country who are really hurting.

Plus, they are getting socked with new healthcare insurance bills for next year. You know, the employers are taking those increases in healthcare costs and putting them on to employees. On average it's going to be a $500-a-year increase in health insurance premiums for American families.

Those are not happy times going into a Labor Day weekend.

BLITZER: Look at this other poll number in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Is Obama doing a good job keeping campaign promises? Fifty-one percent say yes, 47 percent say no.

The country pretty divided on whether he's doing a good job keeping his campaign promises. Even though he did get healthcare reform passed, financial reform, the economic stimulus package, he is withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq half the country almost thinks he's not doing a good job.

GERGEN: Well, Wolf, I think if you're a Democrat, you look at that and say, this is a pretty remarkable record of making promises on big bills like health care and actually getting it done. I mean, seven presidents in a row have failed on health care, he got a comprehensive health care done. He did get the financial reform done.

But from the point of view of a lot of Americans, yes, you got the bill passed but we don't like what you got passed and we thought by now if you were going to spend all this money on stimulus, you promised the unemployment rate wouldn't go higher than 8 percent and look where it is -- 9.5, 9.6 now.

So that's why I think there is this mix. You know, it is -- people recognize and I think historians will say he got some big legislation done, big bore stuff, but it was not popular and I think that the -- I can't remember a time when a president has gotten such big legislation done that has been as unpopular as this has been.

BLITZER: And it seems, at least if you believe the numbers, especially health care, the more folks are appreciating what's going on at least for the time being, the less they like it but it's the subject for another day.

David, thanks very much.

GERGEN: We will be there after the November elections, Wolf. We're going to be back there big time, aren't we?

BLITZER: We'll see if that attitude changes. Appreciate it.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, weighing in on this week's efforts to jumpstart Middle East peace.

Also, former Cuban President Fidel Castro leads his first open air rally since falling gravely ill. He has a new warning.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what's just coming in right now?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is really remarkable. Take a look at these images out of Aurora, Oregon. A plane crashed into a mobile home, as you see right there. The pilot suffered some injuries, he was taken to a nearby hospital. But more miraculous than that, there was a woman living inside that mobile home and as the plane crashed into it, she is unhurt at this hour. Still unclear exactly what took place here to cause that plane to go down. However, this did take place fairly close to a nearby airstrip.

Meantime, officials in Lester, England say an explosion rocked a Hare Krishna temple setting the ground floor ablaze. Authorities say a third of the building collapsed, but all the people are accounted for. The cause of the blast is under investigation. And according to The Guardian online, a Krishna community leader says a gas leak in the kitchen is suspected. And in Iran, an Iranian opposition leader was absent from protests in an annual holiday marking the country's solidarity with Palestinians. The son of Mehdi Karubi said his security force advised him to stay away after dozens of people attacked his home.

Speaking at Tehran University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced Israel. He said this week's Middle East peace talks in Washington are doomed to fail.

And the potential of nuclear war among Israel, Iran, and the U.S. is a concern for former Cuban President Fidel Castro. For the first time since falling gravely ill four years ago, Castro led an open air rally today. He told students at the University of Havana that they are duty bound to warn humanity of the nuclear danger. The rally was Castro's first major event since coming out of seclusion in July.

And as you know, Wolf, usually when he speaks, it is to thousands if not millions so it's pretty remarkable to see that kind of turnout yet once again for Fidel Castro.

BLITZER: Yes. Fidel Castro, he's looking relatively good, sounding relatively good as well for someone who was so critically ill only a little while ago.

Thanks very much, Fred, for that.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's a turnaround.

BLITZER: A powerful earthquake and aftershocks rocking New Zealand. We're monitoring conditions in the city near the quake's epicenter.

And new equipment arrives at the site in Chile where 33 miners remain buried and waiting. Hope rises that it could speed up their rescue.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story.

The Labor Department saying the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percent in August to 9.6 percent as the overall economy shed 54,000 additional jobs. It's a far cry from what the White House was branding at the start of the summer "Recovery Summer." Mark Zandi is chief economist for Moody's.


BLITZER: Where do you see the unemployment number going in the next few months, let's say over the next year?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S: It's going to rise. We're getting underlying job growth today is less than 100,000 per month. We need 150,000 per month just to maintain a stable rate of unemployment. So the unemployment rate is going to rise, and I would not be surprised if it's back into double digits by the end of the year.

BLITZER: Like 10 percent, 10.5 percent? Is that what you're talking about?

ZANDI: Yes. I think it'll be over 10 percent come December, January, and the peak probably will be closer to 10.5 percent by early next year.

BLITZER: And will it stay at that level throughout 2011?

ZANDI: I'm hopeful that it will improve. You know, there is some good news. Big business, mid-sized companies are very profitable and if history is any guide, when we see these kind of profits then ultimately businesses get their groove back and start to hire more aggressively, and I anticipate that occurring as we make our way into next year.

But, you know, even under the best scenario, we're going to have very high unemployment for a very long time. We're talking five, ten years. We're not going to see any meaningful improvement for quite some time.

BLITZER: For five or ten years? Is that what you're saying?

ZANDI: Yes. I mean, to get back to full unemployment, what everyone would consider to be an unemployment rate that would signify that everyone who wants a job is getting a job -- that's 5 percent, 6 percent -- it's going to take a good, solid five years, and perhaps longer. We need some really good policymaking and a little bit of luck.

BLITZER: Because the president's message after the Friday morning unemployment numbers came out, he had a message if you listen carefully to these little clips.


OBAMA: We are confident that we are moving in the right direction but the key point I'm making right now is that the economy is moving in a positive direction. Jobs are being created. And the evidence that we've seen during the course of this summer and over the course of the last 18 months indicate that we're moving in the right direction.


BLITZER: Are we moving in the right direction?

ZANDI: Yes, we are. Now, just think back a year ago. I mean, it's hard to remember that far back but we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The unemployment rate headed straight up. The trajectory was all in the wrong direction.

Today we are, the president is right. We are creating jobs. It's not enough to bring down unemployment but we are creating jobs. I think a year from now next labor day will be even better but the improvement is slow and it's going to take a long time and we dug ourselves such a very deep hole it's going to take years to dig our way out.

So, yes. We're moving in the right direction. It's just too bad we're not moving in that direction more quickly.

BLITZER: Looking back over the last 18 months since President Obama took office with hindsight we're all a lot smarter. What should we have done differently?

ZANDI: Well, I think it would have been prudent back in early '09 when we were cobbling together the stimulus package if it were made larger and it was made larger by more tax cuts. A payroll tax holiday.

So right now here we are talking about the potential for another payroll tax holiday. If we had done something like that, back in early 2009, then I think that would have made a meaningful difference.

BLITZER: Is it too late now? Because there is a lot of talk about yet a second stimulus package even though they don't want to call it a stimulus package for obvious political reasons but is it too late now for a huge stimulus package to go forward?

ZANDI: Well, it's too late for the next six to nine months. There is nothing I think the administration or Congress could do today that would make a meaningful difference with respect to the job market between now and next spring.

But there are many things they could do that would make a difference with respect to that long-term unemployment problem I just mentioned. There are things that can be done and should be done. We should nail down the tax cuts expiring at the end of the year unless Congress and the administration do something.

The president has made a point about passing the small business bill that is in front of Congress, that should be done. I think it makes some logical sense to start talking about a large infrastructure spending program for the out-and-out years it is paid for, we have to pay for it but I think that is important as well.

BLITZER: I think you still agree when it comes to tax rates they should continue as is even though they're supposed to go into -- supposed to expire at the end of this year you don't want any tax increases in 2011 even for people making more than $250,000 a year?

ZANDI: Exactly. You know, my view the recovery is just too fragile. We can't take a chance. If we go back into recession there is no reasonable policy response. Don't take a gamble. Keep everyone's tax rates where they are in 2011. When we're into 2012, 2013 and the economy has its groove back and we're off and running then allow the tax breaks for upper income individuals to revert back because that the point we need to address our next big problem which is our long-term fiscal situation.

BLITZER: Mark Zandi is the chief economist for Moody's. Thanks very much.

ZANDI: Thank you.


BLITZER: For U.S. troops it's the deadliest summer of fighting ever in Afghanistan. Are those U.S. troops winning the fight against what some consider to be their number one threat?

Also, it could greatly impact the future of the space program but will it ever even get off the ground?

And a popular physicist sparks a firestorm after wading into the age old debate over whether god created the universe.


BLITZER: Defense secretary Robert Gates met much of the day meeting with U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The visit comes in the midst of what is proving to be one of the most trying summers on the front lines for those U.S. troops.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr working this for us. What do you have?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Gates now on his way home but as you say he moved across southern Afghanistan meeting troops, talking a lot suddenly about all of the progress that's being made but the question is, is the progress real?


STARR: Troops from the Iowa national guard now on their way to Afghanistan. They will be joined by the last of the 30,000 extra troops that President Obama ordered to join the fight. Defense secretary Robert Gates visited southern Afghanistan to offer his condolences after several troops were killed in recent days.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Those of you who have lost friends, those of you who are caring about those who have been wounded and been MEDEVACed back home, all of those heroes are going to be in our thoughts and prayers.

STARR: U.S. troops are now locked in the deadliest summer of fighting ever in Afghanistan. More U.S. troops have already died this year than all of last year. Still, a tough commander in the south says troops aren't winning against their number one threat -- are winning against the number one threat, IEDs.

MAJ. GEN. RICHARD MILLS, COMMANDER, REGIONAL COMMAND: They are taking out the IED suppliers. Those things are not getting to the battle field as readily as they did a few months ago, just a few weeks ago.

STARR: Are things getting better with now nearly 100,000 U.S. troops on hand? General Mills says some areas in southern Afghanistan could be turned over to local control in coming months but he won't say exactly when. General David Petraeus is facing a November deadline to show NATO allies things are getting better. Petraeus says a major objective remains securing Kandahar in the south and maintaining security in key areas.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: You can bang away all you want to in various locations but until you clear and hold them, you will not have denied taking away the sanctuary that is used by these elements.

STARR: But he also signaled potential progress in a controversial objective making peace with the Taliban.

PETRAEUS: And then the prospect for reconciliation with senior Taliban leaders certainly looms out there and there have been approaches that hold some promise.


STARR: Defense Secretary Gates said at one base he visited the biggest complaints he heard was that the internet and the washing machines weren't working. One senior military official told us he found some of gates' remarks oddly optimistic given the fact that just a few short weeks ago all of the talk was about the Taliban having the momentum. So is the tide really turning? It remains to be seen. Wolf?

BLITZER: I've heard, Barbara, that a U.S. military chaplain has now been killed as well.

STARR: Yes. This is so tragic. It does underscore the violence the troops are facing. This week five U.S. soldiers were killed in one attack, an IED attack. And one of them was an army chaplain, the first chaplain, Chaplain Dale Goetz to be killed action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The religious military community mourning him, saying he was a very devoted chaplain, father, and husband. Wolf?

BLITZER: We mourn all of those troops killed action. Barbara, thanks very much. Our deepest condolences.

New Zealanders are rocked from their beds by a powerful earthquake. Hours later what they're finding in the light of day.

And a new drill arrives at the mine where 33 men are trapped a half mile beneath the earth's surface. Will the special equipment bring them up sooner than expected?


BLITZER: We're watching Hurricane Earl as it moves up the eastern seaboard coast of the United States. It's still a category one right now. It's moved past North Carolina and Virginia, past Maryland and Delaware. You can see it's moving toward New Jersey and New York and then New England. We'll update you on what we know. That's coming up. Stand by. Much more on Hurricane Earl as it moves in a northerly direction.

Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining us our two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville and the Republican strategist Ed Rollins. James, I'll start with you.

This quote jumped out at me when I was reading the "New York Times", a story entitled fewer young voters see themselves as Democrats. The college vote is up for grabs this year. Though many students are liberals on social issues, the economic reality of a weak job market has taken a toll on their loyalties.

Far fewer 18 to 29-year-olds now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008. I guess the silver lining there for you, James, is that far fewer young people vote than older people.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And also, the youth vote had been turned into Democratic in 2004. Actually John Kerry the only demographic he carried moved up in 2006 and 2008. Sometimes what happens is when the electorate shrinks in an off year a lot of these young voters are not going to come out and vote and that'll have some effect on it.

Look, we're in a recession and being a college professor I know how tough the job market is for these young people. So it's not surprising that we sustained some loss given the current economic situation.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, Ed, that the president and the Democrats have not managed to keep this -- what a lot of folks saw as a critical base in the party in 2008?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There was a great number of young people who voted for president Obama in the first election. They were enthusiastic about him. They thought he was going to be a change agent and he was someone of their generation against someone who was much older.

I think what's happened is many of these young people will be independents in their lifetime. My first two votes in 1964 and 1968 I was a Democrat. I became a Republican in 1972 and never voted for a Democrat since. I hope that's what the trend will be for some of these people, but I think the bottom line is the fiscal thing is so important to them that whoever gets, whichever party basically appeals to that front, don't get them trapped in social issues because most of them are libertarian will do very well with young people in the future.

BLITZER: How do you reenergize these young people, James?

CARVILLE: You know, I think that their voting behavior and tendencies are still there but this is a very, very tough job market. It's starting to come back a little bit with today's numbers and I think what happens is that as the economic numbers improve I think they'll come back to being Democrats. I think that is where they are and some of the problem is they tend to be more drop-off voters among young voters than any other demographic. BLITZER: Let's talk a little about Afghanistan and its impact. I was reading an article in "The Washington Post." He cited this quote that was from an unnamed presidential adviser in a Peter Baker article in the "New York Times" back on August 28th. "Our Afghan policy," this adviser to Obama said, was focused as much as anything on domestic politics. He would risk losing moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health care reform and viewed that legislation as the make or break legislation for his administration to which Krauthammer wrote if this is true then Obama's military leadership can only be called scandalous."

James, what do you think?

CARVILLE: Let's just identify to our viewers because they may not know who Charles Krauthammer is. He is what they call a neocon. He is a right wing guy who thought it was a nifty idea to invade Iraq and I think actually thinks we won that war. This is not a person that --

BLITZER: What about the substance?

CARVILLE: Right. I want our viewers to know who is.

Secondly I'm not sure I understand a thing because there were many liberals that were mad at President Obama because they didn't have a public option so somebody -- a columnist with a liberal bent could make the same argument on the other side. I just don't place much stock in what he says to be honest.

BLITZER: The argument he is making, Krauthammer, who is a well known conservative columnist, Ed, is if the president decided to change the strategy in Afghanistan only to hold on to moderate and centrist Democrats and risk the lives of U.S. military personnel who were dying in big numbers in Afghanistan right now, he says that's scandalous. That's the point that Krauthammer is making.

ROLLINS: I think that's a little over stated. I think this president obviously from the beginning campaigned against the war in Iraq. He ran as an anti-war president. He thought Afghanistan was someplace that we should do some good and finish the job there.

Where I challenge it is the timeframe. You can't basically, this isn't like a boxing match where you go ten three-minute rounds. You can't go into a war and basically say that in a year we're going to pull out without basically engaging the enemy and enthralling the enemy. The dilemma we face today is we don't have the additional 30,000 troops in there and we're talking withdrawal in a year. That is the danger and the other side sees that.

I don't think this president with all the things he has on his plate wants to be focused on wars but I don't think that's a bad thing. I think the good thing is to get this economy moving again but he basically has to make sure gates and others are making sure that our troops are being protected there.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable with the president's strategy in Afghanistan?

CARVILLE: No. I'm not comfortable with anything in Afghanistan. I'm not comfortable with the fact that we went in there nation building and never had a plan and I'm not comfortable with getting out and I'm not comfortable with staying in. I'm uncomfortable about the entire thing. And unlike Mr. Krauthammer, I would be very reluctant to send 7500 of our soldiers -- our soldiers 7500 miles away to change how people live.

I think it would have been a lot smaller if we had run the Taliban out of there and left. I think we'd have been infinitely smarter if we'd never have gone into Iraq so I don't really have a philosophical foreign policy. I don't have, you know, maybe some things in common few things in common with Mr. Krauthammer, and maybe nothing, but he can connect whatever dots he wants to, but there is nothing about Afghanistan I am comfortable with.

ROLLINS: Well, what happens if you chase them out is that you chase them into Pakistan which is another region that is unsafe in the world.

CARVILLE: Well, thank god they are not there, right?

BLITZER: Well, they are there in Pakistan and Afghanistan and this mission is far from over. Guys, thank you very much.

ROLLINS: Have a nice weekend.

CARVILLE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Crews taking steps to shutdown the well responsible for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.

And a device that has not done its job is removed.

NASA testing the next generation rocket with the shuttle program winding down, what happens next if it does not measure up?


BLITZER: Over to Fredricka who is monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What else is going on, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Hello, Wolf, and hello everyone. The coast guard's admiral Thad Allen has confirmed to CNN that BP has successfully detached a failed blowout preventer from its ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP plans to replace it with a working device and resume operations to plug the leak for good.

Religious leaders are up in arms over physicist Steven Hawkings' assertion that god played no role in creating the universe. He talks and it in his book, and the archbishop of Canterbury tells the Times of London that physics alone will not settle the question. He will be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" next September 10th at 9 p.m. right here on CNN. And salvage divers in the Baltic Sea have discovered what are believed to be bottles of the world's oldest beer. They were found at the site of the ship wreck with 200-year-old bottles of champagne were just discovered. Not clear who gets to sample it and see how well it did over 200 years.

BLITZER: I suspect that no one is going to want to drink that beer. Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: It may taste like the bottom of the sea.

BLITZER: Maybe. Thank you.

Remarkable images are coming into us right now from New Zealand and we will show you what a powerful earthquake did to the country's second largest city. Stand by for that. And Hurricane Earl heading up the east coast right now and where the storm is headed next.