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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Florida Pastor Rethinking Koran Burning?; President Obama a Liability For Democrats?
Aired September 9, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us, everyone.
Tonight, breaking news: The little-known pastor whose plan to burn Korans sparked an American fire around the world, well, today, he canceled his plans, but, tonight, it's possible he hasn't. The latest in the bizarre back-and-forth of the last few hours and how this little-known pastor has somehow inserted himself into the controversy over the mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero.
Also tonight: the Democratic congressman who said the Republican health plan is for people to -- quote -- "die soon." Alan Grayson, perhaps the most controversial member of his party, he is up for reelection. We are going to take you inside the campaign tonight, part of our new series, "360 Politics Under Pressure."
And later: Facing the makings of a Republican tidal wave, are Democrats running away from, even in some cases running against, the policies of the Obama policies, some of them -- policies some of them voted for? Paul Begala and David Frum join us for that.
We begin, however, tonight with the breaking news. The Koran burning planned for 9/11 that was canceled today after a series of twists and turns, involving everyone from Defense Secretary Gates to Donald Trump, well, now it could be back on again. That's the breaking news tonight.
Only the obscure Florida preacher knows for sure. And the only thing we learned for sure today is that he is trying to stretch and expand his 15 minutes of fame as much as he can by linking himself now directly to the other hot-button issue of the day, a proposed Islamic center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.
Late this evening, Pastor Terry Jones said the Koran burning, which he called off just hours before, could be back on again, claiming a Florida imam had lied to him that the proposed New York mosque was moving. He said -- quote -- "We are rethinking our position. We're a little back to square one and we hope this thing works out."
Let's remember, this is a guy with a flock numbering a few dozen people, who has managed to sparked global demonstrations, trigger an Interpol security alert, draw a presidential warning, a warning from the head of the military in Afghanistan, a call from the Defense Secretary of the United States today, a visit today from the FBI, and more. It is all, frankly, surreal.
Earlier today, he announced the Koran burning was off. And this was the reason he gave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: We have -- or he has -- been in contact with the imam in New York City.
I -- with the imam here, I will be fly in flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Agreed to move the location, he claims, of a mosque he barely ever mentioned in the run-up to his proposed Koran burning.
So, why would the New York imam suddenly be negotiating with this -- this extremist pastor? Well, here is where the story basically falls apart.
Standing next to the pastor and referenced was another imam, a Florida imam named Muhammad Musri, who is president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. And here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, PRESIDENT, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: I have made this morning contact with the office of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and got a commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him in the company of Pastor Jones to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, there, he seems to be saying there's no actual deal, just discussions.
Then, just a short time later, the people behind the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero said just that; there was no deal. Then the imam in New York, Feisal Abdul Rauf, issued this statement, saying: "I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Korans. However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or Imam Musri. I am surprised by their announcement. We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor," he goes on, "are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."
So, that was about 6:00 p.m.. Then, by 6:30, guess what? Pastor Jones was back in front of the cameras.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: I was told exactly that the imam would move the mosque from Ground Zero. I was told he cannot move it tomorrow. I said, that is fine, but it cannot be in 10 years. These are the exact words that I said. The man, said that is fine. I said, now, he has agreed to move the mosque away from the Ground Zero area? Yes, he has, that is what I was told.
QUESTION: And who told you that?
QUESTION: Who exactly told you that, the name of the person who told you that?
JONES: The imam who was here with me in the press conference.
QUESTION: Imam Musri?
JONES: I guess. I don't know his name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He doesn't know his name.
COOPER: He doesn't know the name of the Florida imam who he has apparently spent time with over the past two days with.
And, by the way, the Florida imam has a different account of what was said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUSRI: I was a bit surprised that he stretched it to say that. And when he was pressed on it, he said, no, I didn't speak to the imam in New York. I spoke to Imam Musri here. And he gave me his word that...
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: That there was a deal.
MUSRI: ... that I will work on it, not that -- he knows and I know and the whole world knows that it is not in my hand. That project is not my project. I have no control over it. So...
ZARRELLA: So you believe that he knows there's no deal, even though he's saying it?
MUSRI: Yes, I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, we're going to be talking to our political panel about this, including Paul Begala, David Gergen, and Jeffrey Toobin, about this entire surreal saga, and why suddenly Pastor Jones believes he has a role to play here in New York.
First, though, Imam Musri joins us from Gainesville, Florida.
Imam, thanks very much for joining us.
This pastor is saying that you gave him assurances that Imam Rauf had agreed to move his center.
COOPER: You're basically saying he's lying, right?
MUSRI: He -- he absolutely is wrong.
I -- and he knows that, three times, we went over this, that I had only a commitment from the office of the imam in New York to schedule a meeting to go up there and discuss, with the condition that he cancels this event here.
But he stretched his words up when he stood in front of the cameras and said that I gave him guarantee. I have no power to guarantee for him anything in New York.
COOPER: So, you were standing next to him, though, when he was, in your words, stretching the -- the -- the truth. Why didn't you then say, well, wait a minute, wait a minute, that -- that's not at all what I said?
MUSRI: I -- I felt that he was trying to emphasize that point to save face and to give himself a reason to call this off. But in the question-and-answer session that followed, I made it clear that what he said is not accurate and...
This -- this pastor hates Islam. He doesn't believe that Muslims should be allowed into the United States. He -- he has preached that he doesn't want any new mosques to be built in America anywhere. He -- he admitted to me in an interview that he is basically the definition of a bigot.
So, why should the imam in New York be expected to negotiate with this guy, who, you know, it's important to remember, represents a few dozen people and sells used furniture on eBay to make a living? Why -- why should be there a meeting?
MUSRI: I don't think there should be a meeting. But he requested a meeting. And I'm willing to schedule it with the imam in New York.
COOPER: Does it worry you that...
MUSRI: I feel that...
COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.
MUSRI: ... he is not...
COOPER: Go ahead.
MUSRI: Go ahead.
COOPER: OK. Does it worry you that he insisted on having a meeting only on Saturday, on 9/11? You told John Zarrella that he said he was only available on Saturday.
I mean, this is a guy, this pastor has no full-time jobs. He seems to have plenty of time on his hands to appear on television. Doesn't it seem to you that -- that he -- he's basically desperate for publicity and wanted to have as big a story as he could by meeting on 9/11? Are you concerned about that?
MUSRI: I am very concerned about that.
The -- the point was that we will schedule the meeting as soon as that is possible after we place the call to the office of the imam in New York. And there are no guarantees that the meeting will take place on Saturday.
I told him I'm willing to travel on Saturday. He is willing. But it all depends on the availability of the Imam Abdul Rauf in New York.
COOPER: Earlier tonight, Pastor Jones said that he might have to rethink and reconsider his announcement about -- about -- about not burning Korans.
Do you think at this point -- I mean, you spent a couple of days with him privately. Do you think he's going to go ahead and burn Korans?
MUSRI: I don't think so.
I think he got the message from Secretary Gates, from David Petraeus, from, you know, many Christian leaders who have called on him to call it quits to that event.
But I think he is trying right now to put pressure on me and twist my arm and the arm of the imam in New York to try to achieve something beyond what we have agreed on.
You -- he's basically trying to save face, is what you're saying. What does it say about him, about this pastor, that, I mean, if what you're saying is accurate, that he would stretch the truth or lie about something like this, try to insert himself into something that he hasn't been involved with at all, and, after spending two days with you, not even know your name?
MUSRI: Exactly. That's the point.
After spending two days trying and talking to him, he does not know my name, and he does not even know the imam in New York. But he found a new opportunity to stay in the spotlight. And, unfortunately, he is trying to blackmail me and the imam in New York to do that, and to stay in the spotlight in the meantime.
COOPER: So, you say he's trying to blackmail you. How? In what way?
MUSRI: First, he is accusing me that I lied to him, which I didn't. I was very explicit and clear in what I said to him, that we will schedule a meeting. We have an agreement from the office of Imam Abdul Rauf to have that meeting. And I told him, if I -- if I invited him along, would they accept that? And they said, sure.
Now, we have not scheduled the meeting, nor did I promise him that the mosque at or near ground zero would be relocated. That's not in my power to give him.
COOPER: Imam, Imam Musri, I appreciate you being with us. I -- it has got to be one of the more surreal days of your life. It's certainly one of the more surreal stories we have covered. And...
MUSRI: It has been.
COOPER: Yes, I appreciate you coming on and -- and explaining things from your perspective. Thank you very much.
MUSRI: Thank you so much, Anderson.
COOPER: All right.
Well, let us know what you think. Join the live chat now AC360.com. We are going to continue the conversation with our panel, David Gergen, Paul Begala, Zuhdi Jasser, and Jeffrey Toobin, all the angles.
And later, more breaking news: a potentially big decision for President Obama, after a federal judge rules the don't ask, don't tell policy on gays in the military is unconstitutional. This just happened.
Plus, our favorite campaign ever. Call it four score and 100 decibels ago. Listen to this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I will not apologize for my tone tonight.
I have been a Republican in times good, and I have been a Republican in times bad!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, if you're just joining us, the breaking news that Pastor Terry Jones, having called off plans this afternoon for burning Korans this weekend, is now reconsidering. We're back at square one, he says. That's after telling reporters earlier that a deal had been reached with the backers of the Park51 Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. In a nutshell -- and I use the term advisedly -- they would move the center farther from the World Trade Center site and he would cancel the Koran burning.
The deal apparently never was. A lot of questions tonight, including this one: Where did Pastor Jones get the idea to equate Koran burning with mosque building in New York?
Joining us now, senior political analyst David Gergen, political contributor and Democratic Paul Begala, Zuhdi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, we debated for a long time today whether or not even to cover this story. And then, of course, it took all these bizarre turns, and so then it became, well, we do cover this story. But this is sort of one of those agonizing things, where this guy is clearly just an extremist, clearly -- I mean, he represents a few dozen people. He makes money by selling furniture on eBay to -- to people who don't know it's supporting his -- his little church.
Is this just the media making -- making him into something?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You had to cover the story today. The president is talking about it, Secretary Gates, General Petraeus. It's already a story.
The mistake we made, including CNN, I think, is to give him publicity in the first place.
COOPER: Although CNN -- I mean, I -- I know, certainly, we didn't really talk about him until General Petraeus came out and said, this is a risk to U.S. forces...
TOOBIN: Well, I...
COOPER: ... which happened earlier this week.
TOOBIN: That certainly -- you know, that makes...
COOPER: That's when the coverage...
TOOBIN: ... it a story.
COOPER: That's when the coverage blew up.
TOOBIN: Right. But -- but to give him attention -- I mean, we would never consider covering some crazy person in the street out on 58th Street yelling about Muslims.
COOPER: Like the -- like the Westboro Baptist Church people, I wouldn't put on television.
TOOBIN: Correct. This guy is no different. He is a bigot. He is a lunatic. He should not have gotten national attention. And that, unfortunately, is what led to this crazy spiral we will still -- we're still on.
COOPER: David Gergen, what do you make of all of this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think we have all been sucked in, involuntarily, into a freak show.
This fellow is not just a lunatic. He's a -- he's a jerk. He has been playing around with American lives. He is a publicity hound. And he does live off the oxygen of media coverage.
But I -- as I learn more about it, I can see the dilemma that media organizations like CNN have faced, I mean, because it is true that, when General Petraeus, acting in the best interests of the country, trying to protect lives, spoke out about this, it -- it naturally prompted the media to start looking at him.
I do think that we have now given him too much attention. And I do think that, while -- if he decides to burn Korans, yes, you have got to have a camera there to see if there's any violence, but I think we ought to downplay this.
GERGEN: ... the less...
COOPER: Well, but, see, I don't -- I don't think anybody...
GERGEN: We ought to...
COOPER: ... I don't think anybody should show -- I mean, I -- I certainly would not air images of this guy burning Korans. I mean, I don't think anybody should -- should show those images.
GERGEN: Well, you know, if -- well, if Al-Jazeera does that, and -- and we get some -- we get a lot of protests around the world, I can guarantee you we are going to get sucked in again.
But I think the faster we can turn this guy's microphones off and turn off the lights, the better, because he is living off the publicity. And I can't tell you how much -- this is so -- this is damaging to the country now. I don't think the president -- I think it was unwise for the president to get as deeply involved as he has.
I think it did give more legitimacy to this guy. But here we are. And I think it's time now to find a way to shut off the -- shut off the microphones.
COOPER: And, Zuhdi Jasser, you were opposed to building that mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, although, obviously, you know, they -- they have the right under the Constitution.
What do you make, though, of this pastor trying to insert himself into that? I mean, it just seems like the most craven attempt to extend his 15 minutes of -- of -- you know, of -- of surreal fame.
ZUHDI JASSER, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ISLAMIC FORUM FOR DEMOCRACY: Yes, exactly.
I mean, this -- this guy and his congregation are a speck of hate and fear-mongering. And they basically are exploiting the situation. I think the lesson to learn here is the fact that we, as a nation, will never negotiate with terrorists or those that use extreme means of hate to try to manipulate the -- the discourse.
And I think, similarly, we have seen -- and I think it's not just the media's fault. Remember, this guy put this issue on Facebook. It then got translated into different Web sites, the Islamist media.
So, I think the teaching thing, from a reformist standpoint, I would say, is that we're in an information war. We need to start to take the offense and say, you know what? We're going to advocate for ideas of freedom and liberty and stand behind the Constitution, even though we may pay a price for it, just as when they had videos of our soldiers, God forbid, being beheaded, the cartoon issues.
All of that is an information war that we have yet to even begin as Americans.
COOPER: And -- and, yet, Paul, controlling information, I mean, this -- every -- information has become democratized. Anybody can put anything on the Web.
This guy will videotape -- you know, this pastor will probably videotape it and -- and put it on the Web, and it will be out there.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the thing.
You know, I'm trying to move back, who commented when, and whether we should have covered it. And I think it's been an interesting conversation. But I think the reason General Petraeus commented on it, which is why CNN covered it, is because he had to.
It's because, as -- as -- as Dr. Jasser says, it's -- it was getting out in the bloodstream through other ways. You know, back, just even a few years ago, when Gergen and I were working in the White House, if CNN didn't cover it, it didn't happen. Now it does.
And this guy understands that. He -- you know, he gives -- he gives crazy religious fanatics everywhere a bad name, but he certainly understands how to manipulate the media. You know, I suspect even Paris Hilton thinks he's a publicity whore.
But I -- I don't really know what the answer is. I have to tell you, this is what I teach at Georgetown, the graduate school. And I would love to have you come down here and try to sort of sort through after the fact, what the media's responsibility is here, But I don't think it's a very easy call, actually.
And the real responsibility, morally, is with this preacher, right? He is the man who is inciting hate and he's the man who ought to be held accountable for it.
COOPER: We want to -- everyone, stick around. We want to continue this discussion.
We have got to take a quick break. We have got a lot more to cover. Stick around. We will be right back.
COOPER: Just want to show you some breaking news that's happening in San Bruno, south of San Francisco, a huge fire. Apparently, a gas line has -- has been broken. A number of homes are at risk, if not already -- already -- what was that?
A dozen homes. I'm just getting new information right now. We're trying to get detail, talk to someone who is on the scene. We are going to continue to follow this, and we will -- we will -- we will break in throughout this next hour, as we're getting these pictures, just extraordinary images out of California tonight.
We are going to continue right now, though, talking about the breaking news, a Florida preacher calling off plans and then possibly calling them back on to burn Korans to mark nine years since the 9/11 attacks.
Somehow, possibly only in Pastor Terry Jones' mind, all this morphed into some kind of grand compromise with the imam who wants to build a community center and Muslim prayer space two blocks north of the Ground Zero site.
With me is David Gergen, Paul Begala, Zuhdi Jasser, and Jeffrey Toobin.
A lot of this, David, though, I mean, when -- when it first started to be mentioned, the idea that this pastor wanted to do this, it got coverage based on -- in -- in sort of stories about Islamophobia around the United States. It got linked to, you know, demonstrations in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and then -- then an arson in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, against a proposal to expand an Islamic center.
So, it was sort of seen in that light before people really started to focus on this one guy. Where does this end? I mean, if -- if he now goes back on his word -- I mean, do you think he's just trying to save face, as the imam earlier in the program said?
GERGEN: I don't think he knows what the hell he's doing, Anderson. He just wants to be on the air, you know, and I don't think he's a -- he is not a rational human being.
He is -- he is driven by forces we don't understand. And I think it was perfectly legitimate to cover him in terms of the Islamophobia. I do think he is representative of a fever that we see in the country that needs to be contained, understood, contained. And we have to talk our way through it.
I would hope, as we get copycats, they get less attention. I do think that he got to a place where he was getting a lot of interviews, and people were sort of putting him on.
GERGEN: And, you know, he -- we went live today with it. I know that was a hard decision. It was a very hard decision for CNN to decide what to do when he went live today to claim this, make this preposterous claim that he had reached an agreement with the imam.
And -- and I'm sure people at CNN, just as I'm sure there are people at Pentagon, wondering, did -- did -- did we overplay this? It's a hard -- these are hard, hard questions for all of us.
GERGEN: You know, some guy is standing on a street corner with a -- with a -- with a -- with a -- holding a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit, you got -- you sort of feel you have got to go look at that.
GERGEN: But he is manipulating the -- manipulating us.
COOPER: Let -- let's move on from him.
Zuhdi Jasser, the -- the imam from the Islamic center, proposed Islam center in New York, who was on CNN last night, essentially said that, look, this has now become a national security issue, whether or not this -- this Islamic center proceeds, whether it proceeds forward, whether or not it's in that space or not.
Do you -- do you buy that, that this is now a national security issue?
JASSER: Well, I mean, I think it's oversimplistic and actually irresponsible for the imam to focus on that element. It may be true on the battlefield for Petraeus.
But, for us, as Muslims, if you truly are a reformer, you are not going to negotiate with terrorists. I -- if we're truly going to stand for freedom and liberty, the reason my family left Syria and the reason I served in the Navy for 11 years was, we learned as Americans, we don't let terrorists tell us what to do. We won't be threatened into submission, and we are going to stand by our principles, no matter what.
So, if he believes that his mosque is real -- and that was one of my problems with a lot of his statements yesterday, is that I constantly get the sense that the only lens that he sees things through is a narcissistic spiritual lens of Islam, and not through ones just of American, that we have our faith within us, we're under God, but Ground Zero is not about Islam. It's not teaching Americans lessons.
Seventy-one percent of America are not Islamophobes. We have built over 2,000 mosques in this country without a problem. Yes, there was some controversies in some of the ones we built, but America is not Islamophobic.
TOOBIN: You know, I -- I think there's a -- a mistake that we have been making in talking about the mosque, in -- in focusing too much on how people will react in al Qaeda, in Taliban. You know, who will use it for propaganda purposes?
We cannot know, nor should we really care. These are evil, crazy people overseas.
COOPER: And -- and they will use just about anything that happens for propaganda purposes.
TOOBIN: Exactly. They will use anything in any direction.
COOPER: But his point is not, I think, just that, you know, it's just the extremists. It's that it will -- it will make those who may be, you know, not extremists at this point overseas, kind of who are -- or who are on the fence in Afghanistan, it will push them toward extremism.
How can we predict how reactions will play overseas in -- in these -- in these lands and among people we barely understand and know about? We have to be consistent with our values. We have to respect our law, and, frankly, let the chips fall where they may. I think this idea of predicting responses is -- is a fool's game.
In fact, Imam Rauf was on very strong, sort of all-American grounds, if he would have stayed in his lane, which is as a spiritual leader, a community leader, and if he had simply stayed there. He is not an expert on national security. He doesn't know what the hell he is talking about on that.
But he -- he certainly, I think, has a powerful argument in the greatest American tradition of religious freedom, religious liberty, religious tolerance. Communities have come here from all around the world and they have built their houses of worship. You know, there was a time in American history when Catholic Churches were being burned, when -- when a convent was burned in Massachusetts, a church was burned in Philadelphia.
My church, we -- we overcame that prejudice. And I think the Muslims will here as well. But that would have been a far more resonant message...
COOPER: Hmm. BEGALA: ... with that vast majority of Americans...
BEGALA: ... who are not at all prejudiced.
COOPER: Got to leave it there.
Paul Begala, David Gergen, Zuhdi Jasser, good to have you on, Jeffrey Toobin as well. Thank you.
And coming up next on the program, the breaking news: a raging fire near San Francisco, at least a dozen homes up in flames, people injured. We're going to have the latest. You're looking at the -- the latest pictures we have.
Also ahead, President Obama, is he a political liability for Democrats in the midterm election? The answer to that question may depend on the candidates and where they live. We will look at "Raw Politics," talk to David Frum and Paul Begala about that.
And speaking of "Raw Politics," take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're tired of business as usual. Drastic times require what? Drastic measures? Yes! Who said that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Dispatches from planet politics, probably the strangest stump speech you have ever heard -- just ahead.
COOPER: You're looking at live pictures. A very intense fire burning in San Bruno, California, just south of San Francisco, not far from San Francisco International Airport. We have someone on the phone with the very latest information, Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management.
Kelly, what do we know about this fire? How big is it? When did it start?
KELLY HUSTON, CALIFORNIA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (VIA PHONE): It started just before 7 p.m., and we don't know exactly what sparked the fire. There was first reports of maybe an aircraft down but the FAA and San Francisco International Airport said that they don't have any reports of missing aircraft or any downed aircraft.
And as you can see, the fames are being fueled by something. There was a loud explosion being reported by witnesses and just dozens of homes on fire. Several cars on fire in the area. And there's speculation that it may be a high-pressure gas line. But crews right now are just trying to assess how many injuries they have there and what they're going to do to contain the flame.
COOPER: I mean, it looks like there is a source of those flames, as you mention, kind of in one area. We're also seeing simmering flames elsewhere. It almost looks sort of like a forest fire. Are those smaller fires -- have the flames just been picked up by the wind from that main area?
HUSTON: Yes. One of their biggest challenges right now is the flame -- or is the wind that's fueling the fire and also spreading the fire, as well. But the firefighters are worried about the potential spread of this by the source, which could be this gas line or whatever it is that's fueling that fire. In addition, the amount of embers that are falling onto adjacent homes and catching those homes on fire.
So it's still very much an unfolding incident as we speak. We've got aircraft and helicopters from Cal Fire in the area, literally dropping retardant on homes to stop them from catching fire and an assessment, trying to figure out how many people may be injured, where those people are and doing an accounting of those folks.
COOPER: Do you have -- I assume you have folks on the ground. And, I mean, are they battling the blaze on the ground, as well? We just saw a helicopter pass through. And those flames are huge. Do you have people on the ground able to fight it?
HUSTON: Well, the local fire departments are there, trying to figure out what is the best strategy to fight this. And of course, we do have folks that are in the aircraft, dropping retardant and water. I mean, there's a full-on effort there. There's hundreds of fires and people there just trying to get control of this.
But like I said, it's still an unfolding incident. We just don't know exactly what sparked this. But we're trying to stop it.
COOPER: and how residential an area is this? I mean, it's hard to tell...
HUSTON: It's a pretty residential area. It's along Highway 280, if you're familiar with where that's at, along Skyline Boulevard. That's just south of San Francisco, about two miles east of San Francisco -- I'm sorry, two miles west of San Francisco International Airport. So, it's, as you can see by the picture, a pretty populated area and lots of homes in that area.
COOPER: And any reports right now of injuries or anything?
HUSTON: We've heard some reports from folks that there are injuries there. There are people being treated, but there's just no way at this point to be able to give you a count. It's still unfolding.
COOPER: Yes. Well, best of luck to you and to all those fighting the fire. We wish you the best. Thanks for being with us, Kelly.
HUSTON: Thank you. COOPER: Following another breaking story, Isha Sesay joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson.
Yes, unfolding developments in Philadelphia, where a woman is under arrest in connection with a shooting at a Kraft food plant. It's believed that three people have been shot. Police are conducting an investigation at the scene.
Iran says it will release one of three American hikers it's holding. Sarah Shourd may be freed on Saturday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Shourd and two companions arrested more than a year ago after allegedly straying into Iranian territory while hiking in Iraq. Iran has accused them of being spies.
A new video from the 33 miners trapped in Chile. In it, they show what their daily routines are like and explain how supplies are distributed on a, quote, "as-needed basis."
The miners have been trapped for more than a month now, Anderson, and they may be there until December. It's a terrible situation.
SESAY: But we continue to follow that one.
COOPER: Yes, unbelievable. And they're now able to get them a lot of supplies and stuff through -- through, you know, various tubes, but it's just hard to believe.
SESAY: I know, but, you know -- it's hard to believe, they just want alcohol and cigarettes.
COOPER: Is that really -- is that what they said?
SESAY: Apparently, they sent back a crate of peaches (ph) and said, "No, we want alcohol and cigarettes. We need to get this thing going." Anyway they said, no, they're getting meatballs and pasta.
COOPER: Oh, well. Yes. Well, they can dream.
SESAY: They can.
COOPER: Isha, we'll talk to you later.
Up next, politics under pressure. Tonight we go inside Florida Congressman Alan Grayson's rough-and-tumble fight to keep his seat. Part of our ongoing series. He's not the only Democrat in the fight of his political life, of course.
And breaking news tonight, a court ruling that could put President Obama on the spot, a judge ruling "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional. The question is, what will the White House do next?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: As the mid-term elections draw closer, we're periodically giving you inside access to the inner workings of some key campaigns, to kind of take you behind the scenes.
Tonight Congressman Alan Grayson, first-term Democrat in Central Florida. Although he's only a freshman, Grayson has repeatedly and harshly criticized Republicans. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this. Die quickly.
I'm the only member of Congress who actually worked as an economist. And this lobbyist, this K Street whore, is trying to teach me about economics.
There's an acronym that's used to apply to situations like this. It's STFU. I don't think I can say that on the air, but I think you know what that means. I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he's talking.
I understand what the president is doing. And, you know, people attack him, and he turns the other cheek like any good Muslim would do.
COOPER: Well, tonight, an up-close look at Congressman Grayson's campaign. Here's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the war room at Alan Grayson's headquarters. Grayson is a Democrat, a brash and combative former lawyer for whistle blowers and now a congressman running for his second term in Orlando, Florida. His staff just got word a new attack ad against him was coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cuts $500 billion from Medicare.
SUSANNAH RANDOLPH, GRAYSON'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They're spewing false claims about cutting Medicare.
KAYE: His campaign manager quickly shifts into damage control.
(on camera) What are you hearing about this particular ad that could be coming?
RANDOLPH: This particular ad is trying to distort the congressman's record on senior issues when, in fact, he's been one of the biggest proponents and biggest deliverers for seniors in the district.
KAYE (voice-over): The group behind the attacks describes itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nasty name calling.
KAYE: A lot of retirees live in Orlando, and they tend to vote. But Grayson tells me they won't be fooled by, quote, "special interest groups" trying to buy an election for his Republican opponent.
(on camera) How do you tackle that?
GRAYSON: Four hundred thousand knocks on the door, 600,000 live phone calls already. And we have seen over and over and over again that that matters a lot more than whatever people are seeing on TV because frankly they're on to it.
KAYE (on camera): Well, maybe. But if a campaign is war, it's safe to say those conservative groups are massing to defeat Grayson. And for Grayson's opponent, Dan Webster, they are reinforcements here in the knick of time.
That's because after a seven-way Republican primary, Dan Webster has little cash left, but those conservative groups have millions to spend and would love to bring Grayson down.
(voice-over) After all, he said the Republicans' plan for health care was, quote, "if you get sick, die quickly."
He's also said that putting Republicans in government was like making al Qaeda members pilots.
As for Dick Cheney, Grayson called him a vampire. In other words, in politics, Grayson is a take-no-prisoners warrior.
GRAYSON: I think it's...
KAYE: But at an amusement park on a night out with his wife and five children, Grayson is a different man.
GRAYSON: The thrill of a 5-year-old going on his first roller coaster ride, you know, it's inscribable. This is actually the happiest place on earth. You know, fun is never more than five minutes away.
KAYE: Grayson believes he's the only member of Congress to have five children in school.
GRAYSON: My daughter, Skye, is 15. My daughter, Star, is 11. My son, Sage, is 9, and my twins, my beautiful, adorable twins, Stone and Storm, are 5.
KAYE: On another note, some have compared you to Sarah Palin because of the unusual children's names. How do you feel about being compared to Sarah Palin?
GRAYSON: I hope she runs for president. I hope that she chooses me as her vice president, and I hope that she quits her third day in office so that I'll have my shot. She does that, you know. She quits.
KAYE (voice-over): Grayson never quits. He learned that growing up far from Orlando in the Bronx, New York. When he was 11, he says, a bully pushed him under a moving bus. But he managed to pull himself to safety. That was the beginning. That's when he began fighting. The son of two school teachers, Grayson attended the prestigious Bronx high school of science, then Harvard and Harvard law. He worked there as a janitor to help pay tuition.
As a lawyer, he exposed waste among military contractors in Iraq but then eventually figured out he might have a greater impact in Congress than in the courtroom.
GRAYSON: You know, we have to fight.
KAYE: So back at campaign headquarters, a new attack ad targeting him means another fight. They are planning how to defeat the conservative group behind it.
RANDOLPH: Ad limitations, though, and we've got to figure out what they are. And if they're breaking -- if they're coming anywhere near the line, then we're going to -- we're going to stop them.
KAYE: Grayson is ahead in the polls. He's raised plenty of money for this, but he's learned to expect attacks could come from anywhere. And he says he's not wired to lose.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Orlando.
COOPER: President Obama will stomp for Democratic candidates in key swing states this fall. One of those important states, Ohio, where Mr. Obama talked about the economy yesterday. The other states, of course, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
There's also no secret in the current economic misery a lot of Democratic candidates are keeping their distance from him. Even the White House acknowledges he won't visit states where his presence could hurt Democrats. So is the president a political liability or not?
Let's talk about that with the "Raw Politics" of Paul Begala, CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist; also, conservative David Frum, editor of FrumForum.com.
David, is the president a liability?
DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, FRUMFORUM.COM: Well, sure, the president is the visible symbol of the status quo in the country. The status quo is dreadful. People are really hurting.
And the president's own constituency, the people who voted for him as so much hope, are the people hurting -- who are hurting the most. Young people, minorities. They are the people who have these horrifying unemployment numbers, and they can rightly say, "This didn't deliver for me. So why should I deliver for you?"
COOPER: Paul, what happened to -- remember there -- there was all that talk at the inauguration about the Obama army, all those people they had on their database who were going to always be this ready reserve of people who were really going to be energized for midterms and for specific issues? What happened?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN ANALYST: Well, a lot of them are depressed. My personal theory is on 2008, election day, Starbucks gave free coffee if you vote. Now, my guess is Starbucks demographics, probably pretty good for the Democrats.
Coffee, of course, caffeine is a stimulant. Since then, you've had a lot of states decriminalize marijuana. OK? Pot bad, coffee good for young voters, right? They're sitting at home, smoking up.
We had a 50-percent drop in the three statewide elections we've had post-Obama in Massachusetts, in Virginia and New Jersey. Fifty percent decline in young people's vote. So while many of them are disenchanted perhaps with President Obama, I've got to tell you, a lot of us older Democrats, we're getting a little frustrated with the youngsters. You know, this is a long-term business. This is a marathon race.
And yes, they got their hopey changey guy in 2008. But if they want to actually enact all that change, they've got to stay in the game.
COOPER: From -- David, from a Republican perspective, do you think the GOP would like to see more Alan Graysons?
FRUM: Alan Grayson is a big part of the problem, generally, with the country. I mean, he's really a talk radio figure more than a political figure. He's not somebody who's in Congress to make legislation. Obviously, he can't work with anybody on the other side of the aisle, the way he talks.
His strategy -- it will work for him -- is to become famous by being polarizing, to stand out, to become a symbol of the left -- for the left against the right. You can raise a lot of money that way. But you can't accomplish anything. And that is part of the same disease that's consuming us all.
COOPER: Paul, do you think Grayson is part of the problem or do you want to see more folks with his kind of energy in the Democratic Party?
BEGALA: You know, you always have a mix in the Congress. Go back to the Continental Congress. There were bomb throwers in that one, too.
I just think it's all part of the great magic of democracy. I think people of central Florida are smart. If they want to keep them -- if they think he's delivering for them, if they like the voice he gives them, I think that that will be fine. I'm a little less alarmed. I will say, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about President Clinton. Someone said that to him: how long will these politicians continue just to be taking extreme positions and making these bitter personal attacks?
And he said, "As long as you keep rewarding it."
You know, the fall of their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) starts with us. And so we keep re-electing these folks. I'm not alarmed by that. I think there's plenty of room for all kind of voices. And at least this guy is funny. He's entertaining. He actually believes in something, which is pretty rare these days.
COOPER: David Frum, Paul Begala, we've got to leave it there. I'm sorry for all the breaking news tonight, guys. Thank you very much.
There's yet another breaking story to tell you about. A federal district court judge in Southern California ruling that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is unconstitutional under the fifth and first amendments. Now would be a great time to have senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin around. And coincidentally, we do.
TOOBIN: How about that?
COOPER: Jeffrey, thanks for sticking around. Is this judge -- is he the right judge to be making this ruling?
COOPER: She, sorry.
TOOBIN: Virginia Phillips. There have been a number of challenges to "don't ask, don't tell" since President Clinton put it in, none of them...
COOPER: This was brought by Log Cabin Republicans.
TOOBIN: Log Cabin Republicans. This one is the first one to have succeeded. Certainly, the Justice Department, part of the Obama administration, will appeal, saying it is constitutional. And that's part of the paradox of this -- of this ruling.
You have the Defense Department under the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under Secretary Gates, saying they want to get rid of it at the same time the Justice Department is defending the law.
COOPER: So they'll basically appeal, but nothing happens until the appeal goes through?
TOOBIN: Well, we'll see. She has to decide whether she's going to issue a stay. That is -- that is not clear at this point.
COOPER: If she issues -- If she doesn't issue a stay...
TOOBIN: The Ninth Circuit court of appeals will be asked to shall a stay. And frankly, given the deference that the court -- courts almost always give to the military, I would be very surprised not to see a stay entered in this court.
But certainly this is going to raise the pressure for Congress to deal with "don't ask, don't tell." The Obama administration has said it wants to get rid of it. The Pentagon is studying it. They're basically moving in that direction, but it hasn't happened yet. Republicans in the Senate have blocked it.
I don't know exactly how this is going to affect the politics, but it's going to move through the appeals process, and the Supreme Court may get this case, as well.
COOPER: A lot of breaking news tonight, Jeff. Appreciate it. Thanks for sticking around.
You might want to stick around for this, though. We have one -- our newest segments -- probably my favorite stump speech I've ever seen. It's in one of our new segments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dispatches from Planet Politics."
COOPER: It's a very long graphic. "Dispatches from Planet Politics."
Tonight, I want to introduce you to Phil Davidson. He wanted to be the Republican nominee for treasurer for Stark County, Ohio. I mean, he really, really wants to be treasurer.
Keep in mind as you watch this, he's speaking at a community center in front of a friendly audience of Republicans whose votes he wants. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL DAVIDSON (R), REPUBLICAN NOMINEE: My name is Phil Davidson! And I am seeking our party's nomination for the position of Stark County treasurer. And I will not apologize for my tone tonight!
I have been a Republican since I was good and I have been a Republican since I was bad.
Albert Einstein issued one of my most favorite quotes in the history of the spoken word, and it is as follows. In the middle of opportunity -- excuse me. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. I'm going to repeat that so I have clarity tonight. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity!
This is the opportunity we've been waiting for! The Stark County treasurer's office is a mess. We're tired of business as usual! Drastic times required or what? Drastic measures, yes! Who said that? Thank you. Drastic times require drastic measures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes. Sad to report that Mr. Davidson did not win his party's nomination, Jeff.
TOOBIN: I'm shocked, especially after he invoked Albert Einstein. That was the best part.
COOPER: And misquoted his favorite quote in the spoken -- spoken word. My favorite is when he -- he's like drastic measures -- yes, who said that?
TOOBIN: Hey, you're pretty good.
COOPER: Yes. Well, I'm trying.
TOOBIN: You could be treasurer of Stark County.
COOPER: We're hoping.
All right. Up next, we're going to update you on the breaking news that we've been following near San Francisco. Just remarkable pictures continue. A fire doing what appears to be doing serious damage not far from San Francisco International Airport. Details ahead.
COOPER: Take a look. Live pictures, intense fire burning in San Bruno, California, not far from the San Francisco International Airport. Now officials say it is possibly a gas line fire, though frankly, they're not exactly sure. There's clearly a source for at the center of the screen that you see for those incredibly high flames.
About a dozen homes are engulfed by the flames at this point. Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management telling us moments ago there are some reports of injuries and walking wounded. He said a local hospital, Kaiser-Permanente, South San Francisco telling us they have received three people in ambulances and four walk-ins. Of the seven patients, six are in ICU three suffering from burns.
A witness telling us there was a devastating explosion that led to the fast-moving fire. At first there were reports possibly of a plane down. And you can imagine why, because of the scattered nature of the flames. They don't believe that at this point is what happened.
Cal Fire says they are sending 25 fire engines to the scene. We have seen them dropping retardant from the air by helicopter, and they have plenty of folks on the ground, as well. But clearly, they're bringing in more assets.
Going to have a lot more ahead at the top of the hour, starting with the Florida preacher who first said he was going to burn Korans on 9/11, then said he wouldn't. And now says he's back to square one. What does that mean? We'll talk to the Florida imam who's been working with this guy for two days and this guy didn't even know the poor imam's name. Just a bizarre story. Details ahead.
COOPER: Thanks for joining us, everyone, tonight.