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Defense Bill to Reverse "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy Doesn't Pass; White House Economic Adviser Larry Summers to Leave After November Elections; Clinton's Shadow United Nations?; Palin to Lead Tea Party?; Weather Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan

Aired September 21, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Rick, thanks very much.

Happening now, Bill Clinton points a finger at the person he says flaked out of the Middle East peace process.

Also, in our in-depth interview, the former president warns Democrats not to play games and has answers to a personal health question that a lot of people are asking right now.

Plus, a defeat for Lady Gaga and other gay activists, gay rights activists, I should say. The Senate fails to move forward with legislation that would end ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell"." What do opponents of the military policy do now?

And, the new lightening rod of the Tea Party politics movement fights a watchdog group's accusation that says she is a crook. We're investigating the allegations against Republican Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.

A warning today from Israel's Armed Forces Chief that a new round of violence could explode if new peace talks fall apart. I spoke today with a veteran of Middle East diplomacy, the former president of the United States Bill Clinton, now holding his Clinton Global Initiative Conference here in New York City.

We covered a wide range of topics but, first, listen to his take on whether the Israelis and the Palestinians are finally ready to give peace a chance.


BLITZER: You have a session that you are hosting here during this current CGIC on the Middle East. I know you worked really hard and we discussed this in Cape Town, South Africa recently if there's any hope of an Israeli-Palestinian deal but you're going to be meeting with the Israeli president and the Palestinian prime minister.

Is this doable, you think, in the next year, realistically or is this just, you know, false, a false hope? WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I think it's imminently doable. I have always expected that in this period the Israelis and the Palestinians would make an agreement, number one because everybody knows it was a really bad move not to do it 10 years ago.

BLITZER: You had that moment.

CLINTON: Yes, and Arafat just flaked out, he didn't do it, but they know they made a mistake, I think. They might not ever admit it but they know it.

And secondly, both sides are genuinely worried about what's going to happen if they pass up another opportunity.

And thirdly, for the first time, we got real support among the Arab states who are trying to modernize themselves and want an economic, political, and security partnership with Israel, for the first time really want it.

BLITZER: But they're not showing it publicly.

CLINTON: No, but they want it. They've offered this peace plan and a partnership and they're pushing for it but they can't give it unless there's a peace with the Palestinians and a Palestinian state. I think you've got - I think Syria and Lebanon both, for different reasons, want to be totally reconciled with Israel.

So, I think this whole thing is slightly more likely than not to happen. Now, there's a lot of slips along the way, the enormous pressure to resume settlement building but that's really a short-term deal. If they make a deal on the territory, how much of the West Bank the Palestinian state gets, what kind of land swap is there, then all of the settlement difficulties will be, you know, resolved by the agreement.

BLITZER: Have you seen these reports, speaking of settlements in Israel today, that, if the Israelis would continue their freeze on West Bank settlements if the U.S. released the convicted spy, Jonathan Pollard, a subject you dealt with at the Y River Plantation, if you recall.

CLINTON: No, I haven't -

BLITZER: -- back in the 90s.

CLINTON: -- but they really want him out of there and the CIA really doesn't want him to get out of there because the CIA believes that he never expressed any remorse for what he did and they believe that we shouldn't establish a principal of differential treatment based on who you spied for. So, there's a big dispute. I'm not going to get into that. Whatever the President and those people decide, the people, you know, charged with advising him decide, I'll support him on it.

BLITZER: I'd like to talk about why we're going to have this session here, just very briefly.

CLINTON: Because I think it's important that our fellow Americans understand this --

BLITZER: The session on the Middle East -

CLINTON: and people - yes, on the Middle East, and the citizens around the world who watch CNN. Let's assume, and this is what we're going to do for this service, we make an agreement.

BLITZER: Who makes an agreement? The U.S. brokers a deal?

CLINTON: The U.S. brokers an agreement made in good faith by the Israelis and the Palestinians and they're determined to keep it and, let's assume the Israelis have to move somewhere between 55 and 80 thousand settlers out of the West Bank, depending on what the territorial line looks like, and they go about doing it. We know there will be enemies to peace. We know there will be people who will try to undermine the new Palestinian state. In fact, the Palestinians may be subject to more physical attacks than the Israelis are as a result of this agreement.

So, the question we're dealing with, a narrow question here, none of us, including me, wish to be on record inadvertently saying anything that makes the job of the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Secretary of State harder. We don't want to do that. We're not negotiators. It doesn't count what we think about the settlements or anything else. What we are going to do is to say, "Let's assume they make an agreement, what can our members do to help it take hold?"


CLINTON: What can we help do to help move Palestinians out of the camps?

BLITZER: So you're already thinking post agreement --


BLITZER: -- when most people don't even think there's going to be an agreement.

CLINTON: But I do. I'll be surprised if they don't make it this time. They got - for one simple reason or two reasons. One, I think Abbas and I think with the support of Prime Minister Fayyad, are more decisive and more clear-headed than Yasser Arafat was at that point in his life. I mean, he basically told me umpty-dump times he was going to take a deal -

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that Netanyahu can deliver?

CLINTON: Oh, I know Netanyahu can deliver. It may cost him his coalition. Lieberman and his crowd will have a decision to make but 60% of the Israelis trust him on security.

BLITZER: Let me ask you - CLINTON: They'll stick with him and I think the Kadima party under Tzipi Livni will vote with him and the (INAUDIBLE) to ratify an agreement. That's why I think we can get one but, be that as it may, if they get it, we got to make it work. How do we make it work for ordinary people? Is there something - we clearly have to help the Palestinians grow more and more broadly. We have to help the Palestinians who might pour out of the camps and come into the new State of Palestine to make a living. We have to deal with, "Will there be any adverse economic consequences to displaced Israelis?" I mean, we need to just talk about it. So, what we're going to do is, as soon as they make a deal, and then ask what we can do to help it hold.

BLITZER: Stand by for much more of my wide ranging interview with the former President Bill Clinton. He shares his blunt advice for the President and Democrats who may underestimate the influence of the Tea Party movement. Much more of the interview coming up.

Meanwhile, a controversial legacy of the Clinton administration still intact as of right now. That would be the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military. A Defense bill that includes a provision on repealing the ban failed to move forward in the Senate. The vote, 56 to 43, that's four votes short of the 60 needed to stop Republicans from blocking debate.

The Obama White House says it's disappointed and will keep trying to lift the ban. The defeat brought one U.S. Senator close to tears. Listen to this.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: But at the very end of the show, we sang American Soldier by Toby Keith. I don't know if you know that song but it's a beautiful song and I'll always have this from doing USO tours and seeing soldiers with their arms around each other and crying and singing, I don't do it for the money. I got bills that I can't pay."

And at the end of the show, the general came up and he gave this beautiful frame with an American flag that had flow over the base and he gave it to every member of our troupe and when he gave it to me, he said, "Al, keep telling those 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' jokes. I think you may have some fans up there," and he pointed at those women.

And later, those women came up to me and said, "We're gay."


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

A powerful statement from Senator Franken, Dana. We know many Republicans, also, are very passionate about this, fearing it could disrupt military unity, discipline, allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Tell us why the Republicans were successful politically this time.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were successful because Republican leaders were able to convince all Republicans that they should stand firm and block this Defense bill from coming forward by making the argument that Democrats were just playing politics right before the election by playing to their base, a key constituency.

And perhaps a more powerful of an argument that they were making is Democrats are not allowing Republicans to have full and fair debate, allow them to offer amendments to change this bill once it is there in the end. And that is why even one Republican Senator, Susan Collins, who agrees with Al Franken, supports repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, decided to go with her party and block the bill.


SENT. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country. But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down the debate and preclude republican amendments.


BASH: Now, the democratic response to that is essentially, Wolf, give me a break. They say that Republicans would have eventually had ample time to change this bill.

And I got to tell you, the animosity here is so thick between these two parties right now you can really feel it hanging in the air. It's quite remarkable, Wolf.

BLITZER: There was another issue, Dana, as you know that came up, what's called the Dream Act, part of immigration reform. What happened?

BASH: That's right. Democrats had vowed that they were going to offer an amendment on the Dream Act which is a measure that allows young illegal immigrants to have a path to citizenship if they're in college or if they are serving in the military, and that was absolutely another issue that Republicans were pointing to and they said, wait a minute, Democrats just want to appease some key constituencies who have been, many of them, pretty angry at Democrats for not dealing with their issues.

And this is one, for example, that Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown pointed to as to why he voted with his party to block this defense bill from coming to the floor.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill for us, thanks. She'll continue to watch all of the activities there.

A fierce new military offensive against al Qaeda is launched. Did the government of Yemen take action because of pressure from the United States?

Also, is Sarah Palin positioning herself as a de facto leader of the Tea Party? Mary Matalin and Paul Begala, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And special military forces tracking and fighting a powerful enemy -- the weather.


BLITZER: We're just getting this in from our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, she'll be joining us shortly for some perspective, but she has confirmed now that the White House economic adviser Larry Summers will be leaving after this election in November.

In fact, Suzanne is on the North Lawn of the White House right now, she has some details for us.

What exactly are you learning, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we do know from a senior White House administration official that Larry Summers will be leaving shortly from the White House. We don't have an exact timetable.

The White House official who I've been speaking with is not describing this as some sort of shakeup, if you will, or a turnaround, but a national evolution of an economic team that has been with the president through tough, tough times. You may recall, Larry Summers really an advisor to the president during the campaign before he even began.

We have a very quick statement, a short statement from the White House that I'm going to read, and then we do expect, Wolf, to have a statement from the president that is more complete later this afternoon.

But as a senior official describes it, he says last fall the president asked Larry to stay through 2010 in order to see through the passage of financial reform and the continued implementation of the economic recovery program. This announcement is part of a long- standing plan to return to Harvard.

Wolf, as you know, this comes at a time when there's a lot of frustration among the American people about the unemployment rate and we had just seen over the last 24 to 48 hours some pretty pointed questions to the president whether or not he was going to in fact keep his economic team in place, including Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and Larry Summers. The president said something that kind of raised a few eyebrows saying, well, people will be making decisions based on their family circumstances, those kinds of things.

It was asked again of Robert Gibbs in the briefing whether or not he had confidence in his economic team. Robert Gibbs saying yes he did, but at the same time giving a little opening, a little leeway there saying that there is kind of a natural process in which people in the administration will perhaps choose to leave at their own choosing.

That is what is happening here. Larry Summers really a force to be reckoned with, but it comes at a time when people are looking for better solutions in this economic crisis. It also comes at a time, as you know, Wolf, when some other key player players of the economic team have left recently, Peter Orszag, the head of the OMB, as well as Christina Romer, a very prominent economist, part of the team.

That would mean that Timothy Geithner would be the only person from the president's original team to be staying on further. So this really is very significant when you look at what is going to happen and how he is shaping a team in the future and looking at how he's going to deal with the economic crisis, Wolf.

BLITZER: The former Harvard professor, former deputy Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, Larry Summers will be leaving the Obama administration.

All right, Suzanne, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch the stories and the ramifications of what it could mean.

North Korea, meanwhile, could be on the verge of a major power shift. Rumors are swirling right now that the controversial strongman, Kim Jong-il, is preparing to hand the reins over to his youngest son. Many believe the stage for a possible transfer will be set next week at a rare ruling party meeting.

Let's talk about that and more with our national security contributor Fran Townsend. Fran's also an external board adviser to both the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

Fran, if there's a new leader in North Korea, does that open up the door for a chance for a new dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think it will be -- yes, it may be a chance, Wolf, over the long term. But let's be honest, things don't happen quickly. The system over there remains very opaque.

And Kim Jong-un, the son of the current leader will have to bring people along with him from the ruling party. And so, he will be very constrained in any policy changes that he wants to make.

Again, Wolf, we've got to remember, he's unlikely to have any opening while his father remains in power until he formally succeeds him.

BLITZER: One other quick question while I have you, Fran. Yemen right now, they seem, the government there, to be taking action against al Qaeda-related organizations there. I assume the U.S. has been encouraging the government of Yemen to do so, but give us the background. What is going on?

TOWNSEND: Sure, Wolf. Talking to folks here in Washington and in the policy and counterterrorism community, John Brennan, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, met with President Saleh in the margins of the U.N. General Assembly meetings earlier this week. More than encouragement, really insisting that they step up their counterterrorism game.

Remember al-Awlaki, the preacher who was behind the encouragement of not only the Ft. Hood shooter but the Christmas Day bomber, remains at large in Yemen. And Yemen is asking for additional military support and weapons. And so, a lot at stake for Yemen in this offensive for them to be successful.

BLITZER: A significant development in the war on terror.

All right, thanks very much, Fran, for that.

TOWNSEND: Sure, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're following other top stories including a major glitch on the popular social media site Twitter stretching all the way to the White House. We're going to tell you what happened.

Plus, more of my interview with the former President Bill Clinton. You're going to want to hear what he says President Obama needs to do right now to turn the economy around.


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

Hi, Mary. What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Good to see you in New York.

We'll start with Twitter. Twitter says it has fixed a security flaw that may have affected hundreds of thousands of users. A researcher at one security firm says when users would mouse over a link on Twitter, the potentially dangerous content appeared, even if the person didn't click on it. The accounts of several high-profile Twitter users appear to have affected, including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

And there's more grim news on the job front. The Labor Department says 27 states reported higher unemployment rates in August. While the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, several states have higher rates of joblessness including Nevada at 14.4, Michigan at 13.1 percent and California at 12.4 percent. The lowest unemployment rates? North Dakota at just 3.7 percent, that's followed by South Dakota and Nebraska.

And the hottest member, that's how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid describes fellow democrat New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Reid's comment at a fundraiser reportedly made Gillibrand blush. A Gillibrand spokesperson says Reid was saying nice things about the work the two of them had done together and that he made a joke referencing an article on the Hill. Miss Gillibrand recently came in third on "The Hill's 50 Most Beautiful List" in Washington.

BLITZER: Good for her. "The Hill" newspaper up on Capitol Hill.

Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Bill Clinton's global influence is on display right now. Is the former president at the helm of a sort of shadow United Nations? I'll ask him. Stand by for more of my one-on-one interview.

And officials at a California city are arrested in a case that authorities are calling an example of corruption on steroids.


BLITZER: A decade after Bill Clinton left the White House he certainly is a powerful influence around the world on everything from politics to disaster relief to peacemaking.

More now of my interview with the former president. He's now hosting the annual Clinton Global Initiative Meeting here in New York.


BLITZER: This is the sixth CGI that you've hosted. Did you see the piece in "The Daily Beast" saying it's really become much more important than the Annual United Nations General Assembly?


BLITZER: I mean, it's really amazing what you've accomplished over these --

CLINTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- six years. What are you proudest of?

CLINTON: I think I'm more proud of the phenomena than any other specific thing. That is, I'm proud that we prove there was a hunger all over the world without regard to reason, income, religion to go to a meeting where you actually talked about the real challenges, but then you had to do something about them.

So that -- I think it's amazing now we have raised over $60 billion worth of commitments, already helped almost 300 million people in well over 170 countries because people were dying to be asked to do something and to be given enough information and enough contacts and partners to do actually do something effective.

That's the thing I'm most proud of, that there's now a global network of does so that we're not just talking, we're doing.

BLITZER: Do you ever think about how many lives you may have saved?

CLINTON: All the time. I mean, you've got 75 million people doing more maternal and child health. You've got 50 million more kids getting better education. You've got 10 million more poor people who have got microcredit. You've got almost $2 billion in loans for small and medium-sized businesses that would not have been available in poor countries without it. You have projects on the street in America and elsewhere that really changed lives.

So, yes, I think about it all the time. I am very, very grateful. Twenty million more people getting clean water. You know, waterborne illnesses kill millions of people a year. So, yes, I think about it.

BLITZER: There was a U.N. study that came out about a decade ago set several goals to be accomplished by 2015, which is only five years, if that, down the road, including cutting poverty and hunger rates by half. Is that going to happen?

CLINTON: I think some of it will be achieved, some will not. And I think some countries will surprise everybody by achieving them all. It will be uneven because the Millennium Development Goals who are always dependent on more than donors. They were always dependent in part on what happened within the country, the capacity and the commitment within developing countries to meet these goals. But I think they have been extremely useful. And I think in 2015, to whatever extent we haven't met them, they should be modified and we should keep them. I think it's a disciplined thing that keeps us focused on the big stuff.

BLITZER: I was shocked the other day, and I think you probably were, too, when the new poverty numbers in the United States came out. We're not talking about Asia or Africa or South America. We're talking about the United States of America -- 14 percent of the U.S. population now living in poverty.

CLINTON: I don't see how we can be surprised. You've got what, 40 percent, almost, of Americans eligible for food stamps?

BLITZER: Forty million Americans, forty-five million Americans.

CLINTON: Yes, 45 million Americans, which is, like, 15, 16 percent of our people eligible for food stamps. Well, there are actually more eligible. That many are drawing it.


CLINTON: No, it didn't surprise me because -- just look at the facts. In the eight years that I was president, we had 22.7 million jobs and about 8 million people move from poverty into the middle class. So all those numbers went way down. Then in the next eight years, before the financial meltdown, we only produced 2.5 million jobs, not enough to keep up with new entrants into the workforce, and income started dropping and poverty went up again before this meltdown. And this meltdown hit people like a ton of bricks.

BLITZER: Because these numbers are the highest since 1994 --


BLITZER: -- when you were president.

CLINTON: That's right, the highest when I took office in the middle of that last recession. And it really doesn't surprise me. I mean, they could have even been worse because we've had -- we don't have enough employment and we've had -- we've followed policies that were absolutely designed to increase inequality.

I mean, if you have no jobs and you have -- you've doubled the debt of the country and an enormous percent of it goes to tax cuts for upper-income people like you and me, how are the -- and health care costs go up and housing costs go up and college costs go up, incomes -- real incomes have to go down. Poverty has to go up. And we've got to -- we can turn it around again, but I'm not surprised.


BLITZER: Bill Clinton -- he's trying to channel his Global Initiative to help some of the neediest people right here in the United States, as well. He tells me how he's personally trying to fight record poverty in America. Much more of my interview coming up.

And stand by to see a dramatic rescue attempt from a flooded river. And you'll find out how it all turned out.


BLITZER: Bill Clinton is certainly enjoying his new-found wealth after many years of public service, but he remains focused on the plight for the poor, especially during these very difficult economic times. We spoke about that during my one-on-one interview with the former president.


BLITZER: Explain to me how the Clinton Global Initiative can help create jobs and reduce poverty in the United States.

CLINTON: Well, it's interesting because we asked people this year to think about that.

BLITZER: That's why I'm asking you the question.

CLINTON: And we are perfectly well aware that a big country like ours, we can't, you know, lower the unemployment rate substantially or raise (INAUDIBLE) income substantially. But we can show the projects that if the private sector or the government, or a partnership where the government gave tax credits and the private sector did it, would.

So I'll give you one -- we'll start with a small example. Last year was a tough year last summer for our young people because a lot of them couldn't get summer jobs who needed it for family income or to pay for college. So we have one commitment this year that promises to hire 200 young people for after-school jobs and summer jobs to make these buildings in upper Manhattan more energy-efficient, in Harlem and Washington Heights.

They might be putting in new lighting or new windows or just painting the tar roofs white instead of black. But the point is, they can lower the utility bills a lot, save a lot of energy and provide jobs for people. Now, this is a model that could easily be adopted in every other urban area in America, and it's not very expensive. It's the kind of thing that any state in the country could pick up on.

BLITZER: So this is a new priority for Clinton Global Initiative --

CLINTON: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: -- and you're going to focus on creating jobs --


BLITZER: -- not only in Haiti --

CLINTON: No, but here.

BLITZER: -- or Pakistan, but here in the United States.

CLINTON: Yes. And there will be -- there will be a lot of others as you go along. We talked earlier today about closing landfills. If America -- last year, we had a commitment that we're going to highlight the progress on this year. A guy promised to close a landfill and create fuel, biogas, out of the organic matter in the landfill.

It would create an enormous amount of jobs in America if the mayors of the country, with the support the federal government and the private developers, say, We're going to close every landfill in America and put people to work recycling the materials and creating energy out of the landfills and giving the land back to developers or schools or whatever, playgrounds.


BLITZER: Ahead, I'll ask Bill Clinton about the Obama economic policy and whether the current president has lost his mojo. Much more of my interview with former president Bill Clinton coming up.

We have graphic new evidence, by the way, of the shrinking support for President Obama and his policies. Soon after he took office in January of last year, his approval rating average, 65 percent in four leading surveys, and his disapproval rating was just 20 percent. But that has gradually eroded since then. Now our brand- new poll of polls shows the president's approval rating holding at a rather low 46 percent. That's a low for him. And his disapproval rating is 49 percent, quite a change over these many months.

We're following other top stories, including a dramatic rescue from a sinking boat. That's coming up. And the district attorney calls it -- and I'm quoting now -- "corruption on steroids." The latest on a string of city officials arrested for misappropriating millions of dollars.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is back. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Mary?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, two Georgia men are suing prominent Atlanta pastor Bishop Eddie Long. They claim he sexually abused them and other young male church members and employees. Long's spokesperson says, quote, "We categorically deny the allegations. It is very unfortunate that someone has take this course of action. Our law firm will be able to respond once attorneys have an opportunity to review the lawsuit," unquote. Bishop Long's Web site says he grew a congregation from 300 members to 25,000.

Hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean has officially dropped his bid to be president of Haiti. This comes a month after election officials ruled that he was ineligible to run. There were questions about whether Jean had lived in Haiti for five consecutive years before the election, a requirement for being president. Jean says he will now focus on his music.

And you need to watch this dramatic video. Check this out. In Croatia, a dramatic helicopter rescue on a flooded river. Firefighters spent hours trying to get the man and his boat to shore. They had no luck due to the strong currents. When a helicopter arrived, the man initially refused to abandon his boat. But the rescuer finally managed to grab him moments before the boat sank. Thankfully, he's safe.

BLITZER: That was a dramatic rescue (INAUDIBLE) thankfully, as you say, he's OK. All right, thanks very much, Mary Snow.

The president is about to lose another member of his economic team. Stand by for more of the new shake-up over at the White House, what it could mean for the president and his team.

And Sarah Palin's new pitch for the Tea Party. We're going to talk about her efforts to widen her political influence beyond the Republican Party.


BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, confirmation there's a new agreement to hold a debate in one of the hottest U.S. Senate races in the nation. I'll be a co-moderator, by the way, of that debate.

We can now announce that Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons have accepted an invitation to face off at the University of Delaware on October 13th. Please be sure to join the candidates, our hosts and me on October 13th. The Delaware debate will air live right here on CNN. Looking forward to that.

Sarah Palin is raving about the Tea Party movement in a dramatic new Web video. Listen to this.


SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE: The Tea Party movement is not a top-down operation, it's a ground-up call to action that is forcing both parties to change the way that they're doing business! And that's (INAUDIBLE) Who can argue, a movement that is about the people? Government is supposed to be working for the people. That is what this movement is about. This party that we call the Tea Party is the future of politics, and I am proud to get to be here today!



BLITZER: All right, let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Mary, is Sarah Palin positioning herself now as the leader of the Tea Party movement?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think the Tea Party people are -- say that the movement, as it will, or people who agree with that philosophy say that she best represents their views, some 52 percent of unaffiliated voters. But I don't -- I think the very nature of the Tea Party movement, if you will, is not one that is going to give itself over to being organized in that party way. They're sort of -- they are anti-party. They are anti-organization. But she's been so far the most articulate and best voice for them.

BLITZER: Paul, your former boss, the former president, Bill Clinton, in our interview -- in this part of the interview we'll run in the next hour -- he says the Democrats, the president, they should not be cute in discussing the Tea Party. They have to deal with these issues and the anger that is out there. What say you?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he's exactly right. I've said for a long time we shouldn't demonize the Tea Party candidates, but we shouldn't patronize them, either. They're people with ideas. I think they're radical ideas. They're extreme ideas. They want to privatize Social Security. They want to privatize Medicare. They want to privatize veterans' benefits, for goodness sakes. Some of them believe unemployment insurance is unconstitutional.

These are radical positions. We should take them seriously because there's a real chance they might try to inflict those positions on our country.

But let me just say -- can I say something about Sarah Palin? I don't think she leads the Tea Party movement. I think Mary's exactly right when she reads it as an anti-hierarchical thing. But I think what Sarah's trying to do is get a little attention here, maybe too much attention going. Maybe she can see Christine O'Donnell from her front porch.

But watch that video. I have. There's not a single idea in it, no substance whatsoever. In terms of ideas, you know what it is? That's it. Zero, nothing. And the Tea Party people have ideas. I don't agree with them. Mrs. Palin doesn't seem to want to defend those ideas or even articulate what on earth her ideas are.

BLITZER: Is she getting a little jealous, do you think, of Christine O'Donnell, Mary?

MATALIN: No. Of course not. She's -- the reason that all these candidates have won their primaries is because she endorsed them. Talk about not running on anything. Democratic pollsters have told the Democrats in this cycle, Do not run on any Obama initiative because not one of them is supported by a majority opinion. Don't even say the "S" word. Don't run with Obama.

And the only health care, his signature issue, ads that are running are by those who voted against them. Every Democrat that voted against health care won his primary. This is -- they have nothing to run on, so they distort the Tea Party philosophy, the positions of these candidates, and it's falling on deaf ears. People are not listening to any of the spin anymore. They know what they want and it is to reduce this profligate spending. It's to freeze it, reduce it, roll back health care and have fewer services, lower taxes.

That's what this is about, and every Tea Party person and lots of conservative Democrats stand for that, and those conservative Democrats will be reelected.

BEGALA: But Wolf, here's the difference. In Mary's answer there, she probably had 10 issues -- I don't agree with any of them, but Mary's a smart person. She believes politics is about ideas. That's why she's brimming with ideas. I'm against all of them, OK, but they're ideas. We can have an honest debate about that. But Sarah Palin -- this is her second big video. She had the "Mama Grizzly" one. It, too, was absolutely bereft of ideas. If this woman were any lighter, her Secret Service code name would be Helium! I mean, she just doesn't want to get into the meat of ideas, which is what politics ought to be about.

MATALIN: Wolf, you know what I love about James and Paul and these old Clinton guys? The harder it is, the less they have to defend, the funnier they get.


MATALIN: They are -- they ought to all be stand-ups. They have best lines when they're in the worst position.

BLITZER: Wait until you hear what the former president has to say about the Tea Party movement. That excerpt from the interview -- that's going to be in the next hour. Mary, I think you'll enjoy that, as well, someone who's watched Bill Clinton for a long time.

Let me quickly get your thoughts on what the House leader or the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had to say. He says the House is going to stay in session next week before they go on their break to start allowing all the candidates to campaign, all of the members of the House of Representatives to go back to their districts and campaign.

But realistically, Paul, is anything going to be accomplished between now and November 2nd?

BEGALA: Well, my hope -- and I've talked to sources on the Hill. First off, the House does plan to bring up and they hope pass a small business bill that President Obama and the Democrats support, that they can run on. Mary's got a good point. Democrats ought to run on something, and helping small business, where Republicans are for big businesses that ship jobs overseas is a good issue for Democrats.

I hope -- and there's some discussion that this may or may not happen -- that Democrats will stand and fight on tax cuts for the middle class, which Democrats support and Republicans want to hold hostage in exchange for cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires. This is a good, clean fight. Democrats want to cut taxes for the middle class. Republicans want to cut taxes for millionaires. That's why God made a Democratic Party and a Republican Party. Let's have that fight. And I hope they do before they go home.

BLITZER: A clear difference on that issue, Mary.

MATALIN: Wolf, this is the first Congress in over 30 years that hasn't done its number one job, pass a budget. It hasn't even passed a continuing resolution. It would be the first Congress in 40 years to get out this early. Why do they want to get out early? They won't go home and talk to -- they won't go to any town hall forums. They're just going to go home, what, and hide out in their basement?

Go ahead, let's have that fight. We want to have this fight because the president every time he brings it up loses another Democrat in the Senate. which is what's going the make the difference. No tax increases in a recession. No responsible Democrat is going to vote for any tax increase in a recession.

BLITZER: Mary Matalin and Paul Begala, guys, thanks very much. And stick around. You're going to want to see the rest of this interview. You got any notes on your palm, helping you, Mary, right now?

MATALIN: I have a new manicure. That's what I need.


BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

The former president, Bill Clinton -- he's weighing in on issue number one, the ailing economy and jobs. Does he see light at the end of the tunnel? More of my interview. That's coming up.

And they're part of an elite special forces military unit. You'll see why the weather is one of their most important fights.


BLITZER: They're a part of a unique special operations force critical to the survival of the U.S. troops on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano explains, it isn't just the enemy they're up against, it's also the weather.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): They're just like any other soldier showing off their guns.

TECH SGT. ERIC GILLILAND, U.S. AIR FORCE SOWT: It's what the guys like to use when they're in the southern Afghanistan, where there's big, wide-open spaces and they really need to reach out and touch somebody.

MARCIANO (on camera): And what does this have to do with weather?

GILLILAND: Well, you have to be alive to be able to report the weather.

MARCIANO: It's a good point.

(voice-over): These guys are members of an elite unit, Special Operations Weather Team SOWT.

MASTER SGT. MIKE MARSTON, U.S. AIR FORCE SOWT: The science of what you do and what you and I do is pretty much the same. The application of it is a little bit different.

MARCIANO: Yes, much different. It's environmental recon commando-style. Today is rapids training day. Get a fully loaded C- 130 on the ground and offload it quickly.

This is the 10th Combat Weather Squadron -- dirt bikes, ATVs, Humvees and SOWT personnel. When they need to get out into a hostile environment, they do it out of the back of a plane, and they do it in a hurry.

(on camera): These special operations weather guys aren't the weather geeks I went to school with!

(voice-over): No, sir, and on the ground is when they go to work.

(on camera): Of course, the main objective for this SOWT is to gather weather information. So that means you got to get out there. You got get out there quickly. And you've got to set up whatever equipment you're using to take your data observations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Temperature 23.


MARCIANO (voice-over): Sergeant Everett Carson (ph) has been deployed eight times.


MARCIANO: Most have served multiple tours, and all of them, including Sergeant Bryce Howser, have war stories.

STAFF SGT. BRYCE HOWSER, U.S. AIR FORCE SOWT: The IED goes off. We've got guys hurt on the ground. And it's my job to let the MEDEVAC birds know exactly what to expect. I suggested a flight path for them to take through a specific pass at that point. They were able to get in and get the two wounded guys off of the LZ (ph).


MARCIANO: Lieutenant Colonel Benson commands the SOWTs and knows how important this training is to keep all forces on mission.

LT. COL. JOE BENSON, CMDR., 10TH COMBAT WEATHER SQUADRON: Early on in the Iraq campaign, we had guys up in northern Iraq who were taking weather observations and passing them back to 16 aircraft which were about to deliver a thousand paratroopers. Weather cleared up just for a brief period of time. One thousand guys were able to exit the aircraft and land up in a place called Bashir (ph) airfield, and on with the mission they went.

MARCIANO: So don't refer to them as just the weathermen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be called just a weatherman defense gets under your skin a little bit. But once you're put in a situation where you have to prove yourself and the weather call (ph) is on the line, that's whenever they realize, Hey, this guy isn't just a weather guy. He's a special operations weatherman. And he's a soldier.

MARCIANO: Rob Marciano, CNN.