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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iran President Talks of U.S. Conspiracy; Dems Punt on Bush-Era Tax Cuts; Split Decision on Diabetes Drug; Vote Now for CNN's 2010 Hero of the Year

Aired September 23, 2010 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much.

Happening now, walkout at the United Nations -- Western delegates protest as Iran's president raises allegations of a U.S. conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks.

Also, if you take Avandia to control diabetes, you may have to find other options. Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the drug's link to heart problems and the FDA's new restrictions.

And the Republican eager to win the House speaker's job. He insists it's not rocket science to cut taxes and cut spending. We'll press John Boehner on the new promises his party is making to voters. It's a CNN exclusive.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Iranian president holding true to form, unleashing fiery attacks at the United States and radical allegations. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took his turn at the podium over at the United Nations General Assembly just a little while ago. He cited allegations that the United States had some involvement in planning the 9/11 attacks, prompting delegates from the U.S. and several other Western nations to simply walk out.

US officials are calling Ahmadinejad's remarks -- and I'm quoting now -- "abhorrent and delusional."

Here's a taste of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): In identifying those responsible behind the September 11th attacks, there were three viewpoints. First, that a very powerful and complex terrorist group able to successfully cross all layers of the American intelligence and security carried out the attack. This is the prevalent viewpoint, which has been supported mainly and advocated by American statesmen.

Second, that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime.

The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view.

Third, it was carried out by a terrorist group, but that the American government supported and took advantage of this situation. Apparently, this viewpoint has fewer proponents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our CNN political analyst, David Gergen, and our CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. Fran is also an external board adviser to both the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

He makes these allegations -- David.

How's the West -- how is the United States supposed to respond to this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Walking out is the best way and keeping these sanctions on and tightening them, if possible. The good news is, Wolf, that the sanctions seem to be biting a little more than they have in the past. This is the fourth round, of course. But there have been some additional sanctions put on by the United States and European nations. Russia seems more on board with them.

But there's no resolution and we've still got this mad man running -- running Iran who's almost impossible to deal with. And at some point, the world is going to start to ask, how much longer is the diplomacy going to go on and when are we really going to get tough?

BLITZER: Because the sad thing, Fran, as you well know, is there are a lot of people out there around the world who do believe that the United States had some sort of role in a conspiracy that led to 9/11 and he's obviously fuelling that at the U.N. General Assembly today.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. I mean it has to be incredibly frustrating for the Obama administration.

Earlier today, the president went out there and gave a speech. And, look, the -- the president has gone sort of at risk to say he's willing to open a dialogue.

How was he repaid for that -- that olive branch, if you will?

By this stuff. This is really impossible. This is -- it is true, Wolf, that many people around the Middle East -- this has been a conspiracy theory for some time. But when it's espoused by a head of state, it seems to give it some horrible credence, which we all know is not true. And so, especially to do it in the shadow of Ground Zero and use this as a platform is particularly offensive.

BLITZER: And -- and, David, it only followed by a few hours what the president said at the United Nations' General Assembly, the president of the United States.

Let me play this clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, let me be clear once more, the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So as he has on many occasions, David, he's reaching out. He's -- he's -- he's throwing an olive branch. And -- and look at the response.

GERGEN: Well, exactly. And I think Fran pegged it. And it -- it is frustrating and it should be unacceptable.

On the other hand, you know, Ahmadinejad has been saying crazy things for a long time. He's a Holocaust denier and all the rest.

I think, Wolf, the issue becomes this. The Iranians are finding it harder to build -- get a nuclear capacity than they thought. This has been a slower process than they thought. These centrifuges that make the nuclear material are not working as fast as they hoped. And the United States is hoping -- the U.S. government is hoping that over time, the sanctions will have enough bite and the centrifuge just takes so long that the Iranians will throw in the towel. But there are no sign -- no concrete signs of that yet. And so we're still in this game that we've been in.

I do think the president can't keep saying diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy much longer.

BLITZER: How realistic, Fran, based on everything you know, is it that within Iran, there will be a move tonight get rid of Ahmadinejad by others, who may not necessarily be pro-American or anything, but simply don't like him anymore and think he's become a -- a disaster for that country?

TOWNSEND: Well, that's really what you hope is the result of a really aggressive sanctions regime. The problem, Wolf, is we've seen -- we saw the budding of that. It didn't really -- there wasn't sufficient, frankly, from my judgment, international or American support for it. And the opposition, those who might have moved to overthrow him, were really crushed. People were jailed. People have been non-accounted for. And so, you know, you have to in creating an environment -- the sanctions are the heavy, the -- the tough part of that. And then you've got to create a safe environment for those people to feel like they can be successful.

And I -- the real question is, after what we've seen today, the president needs to stop talking diplomacy and start talking tougher sanctions and support to those people who might be willing to take on Ahmadinejad.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much, Fran and David.

Appreciate it.

There's other important news we're following right now. The president and his party apparently admitting defeat, at least for now, in the pre-election battle over tax cuts.

Our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us.

What are you hearing right now -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senate Democrats will not be voting on extending those Bush era tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year. They won't be voting on extending them for people making $250,000 or less, as obviously they wanted to do. We've learned this from senior Democratic sources. And the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, told reporters, quote: "The reality is, we will not pass what needs to be passed to change this either in the Senate or the House before the election."

And this really came down to a divide among Democrats. You had some who said let's go ahead and have a vote. We'll vote to extend for those middle class taxpayers and then those for the wealthy -- the taxes for the wealthy, the tax breaks, can expire and we can get Republicans on the record, as Democrats say, holding tax cuts for the middle class hostage to tax cuts for the rich.

But what you ended up having was vulnerable Democrats in some really tough reelection battles in conservative states saying we are going to get hammered by our GOP opponents, who are going to say that we're raising taxes when the economy is bad.

The bottom line question for a lot of Americans -- are your taxes going to go up?

No one is saying that if you're making $250,000 or less, that's going to happen. The uncertain here -- the uncertainty here, Wolf, remains for those folks who are making more than quarter million dollars, filing jointly.

BLITZER: It looks like the lame duck session of the House and Senate will take this up until after the November 2nd election. They have until December 31st to pass additional legislation. Otherwise, taxes -- the tax rates go back to the higher levels for everyone -- the middle class and the rich -- if nothing is done in the Congress.

KEILAR: That's right. And Democrats say that they will get this done before the end of the year.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill.

Thank you.

The U.S. government is putting new limits on access to a controversial diabetes drug.

Did the Food and Drug Administration go far enough, though, to protect patients?

Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by live.

And an exclusive interview with the House Republican leader, John Boehner.

Can he explain how his party hopes to make good on a new list of promises?

And the bishop of a mega church responding to a growing sex scandal -- responding not necessarily in the way a lot of people thought he would.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here.

He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: In 1974, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon with their reporting on Watergate. It turns out Bob Woodward was just getting started on writing about occupants of the White House.

In 1994, he wrote, "The Agenda," about President Clinton, in which he revealed disputes, temper tantrums and heated debates in the president's second year in office.

In 2004, Woodward authored "Plan of Attack," about President George W. Bush, in which he famously revealed how CIA Director George Tenet told bust Bush that it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

In 2006, Woodward wrote "State of Denial," also about Bush, and revealed in that book how the president failed to tell the truth about how badly the war in Iraq was going.

Woodward has written 16 books in all and they've all been best- sellers. He's an intrepid writer and reporter who will stay on the story until he gets something that no one else has.

It used to be said the worst news you could get at the office was somebody telling you "60 Minutes" is on the phone and they want to talk to you, the idea being that no good could come of a conversation with them.

Well, the same applies to people like Bob Woodward. So you have to wonder, looking at his body of work, why anyone would open the door to him when he knocks and says he wants to write a book about the president.

But that's exactly what the Obama administration did. The result is Woodward's latest book, "Obama's Wars." How good or bad it will be for the Obama White House remains to be seen, but it's too late to worry about that now, isn't it?

Here's the question -- why do presidents choose to cooperate with Bob Woodward when he wants to write a book about them?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: It doesn't make any difference if they're Democrats or Republicans, they all cooperate with Bob Woodward.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes. It's a -- it's a strange thing. I mean he's -- he's very highly respected and well-known in Washington. And I suppose maybe the downside risk of saying no to him might be greater than seeing if you can spin your story a little bit while he's writing it. I -- I don't know the answer. It's a -- it's a conundrum.

BLITZER: I'll ask him. He's going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM next week.

We'll talk about that.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that's not a bad question.

BLITZER: It's a very good question.

CAFFERTY: How come these guys keep letting you in to look at the laundry?

BLITZER: I'll ask him that question.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: A sort of split decision today on a controversial diabetes drug linked to an increase in heart problems. The Food and Drug Administration is leaving Avandia on the market, but with new restrictions. U.S. officials are taking a rather different approach than in Europe.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us now.

What exactly did the FDA decide about Avandia -- Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's been a lot of activity and controversy around this for some time. What they decided was sort of interesting, Wolf. Since July when these hearing first took place, a lot of people paying attention, they were waiting for a decision from the FDA. And what they basically said is if you are on the drug right now, you are a patient -- an existing patient taking the medication, you can sign a waiver acknowledging that there are some risks to this medication and stay on it. But as far as new patients go, you have to prove in some way that you are not getting a response from any of the other medications out there used to control diabetes before you're a candidate for this particular medication.

So you have to try those other ones, they have fail and that whole process by which that takes place has to actually be developed by the drug company to prove that Avandia is the only drug that is going to work for them.

But that's sort of how the FDA came down, existing patients can stay on it, new patients have to go through a process before they can get on it, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a different decision, though, than the decision made in Europe?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, it is interesting, you know, medicine has some inconsistencies and this is certainly one of them. What was interesting is they say that the evidence is obviously the same if you look at it on either other side of the pond, but how much they weighted that evidence was different.

So in Europe, for example, they say this drug is now off the market. You can't even advertise for it. It is going to be simply gone. So this is obviously different than what the FDA says. They point to the health risk and they say this is the right decision in Europe.

We did reach out to the maker of this particular medication to ask them sort of how they viewed what happened today and obviously, some of these decisions have to be ratified. And what they say is that they continue to believe that Avandia is an important treatment for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Obviously a bit of a general statement there, Wolf, not really addressing this issue. Could other drugs be better, could other drugs be safer, that is sort of the point here, Wolf.

BLITZER: What should people who are taking Avandia be looking for? What are the dangers potentially here?

GUPTA: You know, if you go back three years and start looking at some of the growing body of evidence, there was a concern that maybe tens of thousands of increased heart attacks were being caused by this particular medication.

Let me tell you one of the difficulties here in that patients who have diabetes are already at risk for heart disease, for heart attack. So is it the medication or is it the existing disease? It's always the question.

What was interesting about Avandia is they did another study, this came out in the Senate Finance Subcommittee report, where they showed people who were on different classes of diabetes drugs, if they are on Avandia, you are more likely to have a heart attack as compared to people who had their diabetes medication, their diabetes controlled with another medication. So, it really seemed to isolate Avandia as a potential problem here.

This heart disease issue is probably the biggest issue and there is 11 other classes of diabetes drugs out there. This is obviously a well-known disease and a lot of different options out there for patients.

BLITZER: So if one of your patients, Sanjay, came to you and said, doc, I'm taking Avandia what should I do, what would you say?

GUPTA: You know, right now, what the process is going to be, they're going to have to sign a waiver, so we have to counsel them on all these potential health risks and they're going to have to sign that waiver.

But I think what most doctors have told us that we have been talking about, for some time now, when this became a concern, they haven't been starting any new patients on Avandia and a lot of the patients that were on Avandia, because of this concern about the health risks, have found another medication that may have worked just as well.

So, I think with this -- a lot of times there aren't other options. In this case, there are lots of other options, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of other diabetes drugs you can take is that the same?

GUPTA: Eleven other classes of diabetes drugs. So within each class, there are several drugs.

So, sometimes process of trial and error, and when you're trying to control blood glucose, you have to spend a little bit of time to see how well that is work. But yes, I think it's safe to say that if Avandia isn't going to be the right drug for all these reasons we have been talking about, there is something probably else out there for you.

BLITZER: Good advice, as usual. Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We are monitoring other top stories as well.

Could there be major changes to President Obama's controversial strategy in Afghanistan? There is new information just out of the Pentagon.

Plus, who are the voters that could make a major difference in the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections? We will have some answers. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hi, Fred. What is going on?

FREDRICKA WHITEFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf.

Well, some good news on the home front, existing home sales are on the rise. The National Association of Realtors reports that sales rose by 7.6 percent in August, a welcomed change after the previous month's numbers tanked to their lowest level. Analysts caution, though, that the boost doesn't mean the housing market has recovered completely, looming economic uncertainty is still certainly a factor.

And new indications that the GOP just may be able to capture that New York Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. A Quinnipiac University survey released today shows that incumbent democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand leads her republican challenger, Joseph DioGuardi, by just 6 percentage points. Gillibrand replaced Hillary Clinton in the Senate shortly after Clinton joined the Obama administration earlier last year.

And embattled megachurch Pastor Eddie Long has issued statement denying allegations in three lawsuits that he coerced young men into sex. The pastor was scheduled to appear today on "The Tom Joyner Morning Radio Show" but was replaced instead by his attorney. When asked about a press conference that was also canceled, the attorney says his client never committed to that. Long is expected to address his congregation this Sunday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred, don't go too far away.

CNN has just revealed its top ten heroes of 2010. The heroes are being revealed online. Let's talk about that with CNN's Josh Levs.

They got to get one hero out of those ten. Tell our viewers, Josh, how they can participate in the selection of the hero of the year.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you got it.

These are some of the most inspirational people on the planet, literally. What they are doing with their lives and what they are achieving is remarkable. And you can learn all about them right now because the top ten list is out. It's right here, CNNHeroes.com.

Let's zoom in for a second, I will just give you a sense of a couple of them and then I'll take you through voting. This is Guadalupe Arizpe de la Vega, she founded this hospital in Juarez, Mexico, that is helping some people including many who are suffering from with drug-related violence there.

This another one, Anuradha Koirala, who is fighting to prevent trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal's women and girls, all of them with an amazing story. You can learn all about the heroes who were considered for the top ten and those who ultimately made the top ten, all of it right here interactively at CNNHeroes.com.

Once you have done that, once you've taken a little time, maybe clicked on each of them, seen their words, their stories, their videos, their videos, what they have to say, consider them all, then it is time for you to vote and here's how you do it.

All you have to do on the Heroes page is you just click on "Vote" at the top and it will take you to where you can see all their photos. Then you just click whoever you want to name as the CNN Hero of the Year. That person ends up in the "Your Selection" box, you type in a few words, it talks you through it and boom, your vote is done.

Now I'll tell you, you can vote as many times as you want for as many heroes as you want. All the top ten heroes get $25,000, the one that wins gets $100,000. And starting today, you have the opportunity to decide who that will be. The voting goes through November 17th.

And of course, it will all ultimately be announced on Thanksgiving night in our tribute to all these heroes, all of whom, Wolf, have incredible inspirational stories.

BLITZER: More than 10,000 people, as you know, were nominated for this and now whittled it down to ten and eventually one -- Josh.

LEVS: Yes, well the blue ribbon panel did not have an easy job having to whittle it down, but they did a good job. I think people will be very impressed by all of these.

BLITZER: We'll speak with one member in the next hour of that blue ribbon panel, Rainne Wilson of the show "The Office." He's going to be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right, thanks very much, Josh.

The governor of New Jersey takes on a heckler. Is it smart politics in this angry election year? I will ask James Carville and Bill Bennett, they're both standing by live in our "Strategy Session."

And what Congress may do to protect student athletes from devastating head injuries.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: House Republicans promise that their new pledge to America, as they are calling it, would not simply be a rehash of their 1994 Contract With America. Today's big unveiling was at a lumber company in northern Virginia, not on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

The GOP blueprint for reclaiming control of the House tries to seize on the anti-establishment mood in the country. Top priorities include tax cuts, spending cuts, limits on the size -- limits on the growth of entitlements and a vow to reverse, repeal President Obama's health care reforms. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, had a chance to speak exclusively with the point man for the pledge, the House Republican Leader John Boehner. Dana's joining us now with more.

How did that go, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it was very interesting what John Boehner and his republican colleagues tried to do today, Wolf, with this 45-page glossy document is give voters not just a reason to vote against Democrats who are in charge, but a reason to vote for Republicans. And there were some new specifics a few in here about new mechanisms to achieve their goals of cutting spending and reforming the way Congress works, but a lot of what is in here are broad ideas that we've heard before.

So, I tried to press the man who says he wants to be speaker on specifics. And I started by asking him about the fact that their plan to continue all of the Bush era tax cuts, according to the government, would cost them and add to the deficit, $3.9 trillion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) MINORITY LEADER: You can't have a healthy economy if you raise taxes on the American people.

BASH: So, the fact it would add nearly $4 trillion to the deficit, you'll worry about that later?

BOEHNER: I just think that we got to have a healthy economy, where more people are working, more people caring for themselves, their family and paying taxes. If we're serious about giving the American in a stronger position.

BASH: So, you also say that you want to reduce spending levels back to 2008. That's hundreds of billions of dollars.

BOEHNER: It's $100 billion in the first year. And if you look at it, we're talking about levels that many of us thought were too high then.

BASH: You talk about the rebellion out there. Part of what those rebellious voters want to know is they want you to be specific, because, as you probably know, as you know, that maybe aren't that enamored of the Democrat, but they don't trust you as Republicans.

BOEHNER: That's why we've outlined clearly in our pledge what we would and would not do. And I think when it comes to spending, we've been very specific about common sense steps that we can do to get--

BASH: Give me one event.

BOEHNER: How about the unspent stimulus money? Let's stop it. Let's stop it and bring it back. How about all the tarp funds? No more bailouts. No more using this money for unintended purposes. There's $700 billion right there. BASH: Democrats, as you know, are saying that you are way too cozy with lobbyists. They say that a Speaker Boehner would mean an open door policy for big money, corporate lobbyists, other lobbyists to come in. What will you do to reassure people out there who say, well, that's just Washington, but that won't happen? Will you open up your --

BOEHNER: I talk to everybody. You know, I'm one of the most open and transparent members of Congress. I have conversations with people who lobby me in my district, every place I go in the country. And yes there are some lobbyists in D.C., believe it or not. But at end of the day, we all ought to be judged on how we vote. I'm sorry, I am the business community.

That's who I am, the heart and soul of me. And when I see government, like I did as a small employer, choke the goose as lay in the golden egg. That's what drove me here, to fight for a government that allows the American people in the private sector to be the engine of opportunity for all Americans.

BASH: You say that you'll be judged on how your vote, but a lot of what you're trying to do is change the perception in Washington. That's lot of what you lay out.

BOEHNER: What the American people -- what the American people want, they want results. They want the spending under control. They want the uncertainty to go away. And they want us to do our best to make sure that the future for our kids and grandkids is as wide as was for us.

BASH: So, no restriction on lobbyists?

BOEHNER: We got a lot of things that we got to deal with over the next few months. We'll deal with them as it comes up.

BASH: It is not a state secret that you and the president don't exactly have a warm and fuzzy relationship. If you were to achieve your goal and if you were to become the next Speaker of the House, how would you work with him? Maybe a golf summit, something like that?

BOEHNER: Listen, I like the president. We get along personally. Now, we disagree, but yes, we're not especially close, but I suspect in the coming months, we're going to have an opportunity to get a lot closer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, that was about as close as Boehner came to predicting that he will be the Speaker of the House. Republicans are feeling good, but he was being very cautious about saying that he just said it was his goal to be the speaker after November. Now, he and other Republicans who unveiled this today said that they didn't have a choice. They had to give voters an agenda, but, Wolf, in talking to some other Republicans not everybody agrees.

Some say, look, they're doing just fine attacking Democrats. That's the way they should stick. And the problem with unveiling this is that this gives Democrats something to attack Republicans on, and I got to tell you, that's what happened all day today. Democrats were attacking this all over the place, and they say that they will continue to. They say that they finally have something to push Republicans back on.

BLITZER: They didn't agree to -- they didn't pledge to eliminate all earmark spending, pork barrel spending that's not part of the Pledge to America?

BASH: It is not part of the Pledge to America. I actually asked John Boehner about that. He is somebody who personally doesn't take earmarks and has historically felt that way, but a lot of dissension in the conference about that and -- among Republicans about that is not enough to put that in there. They did do a year moratorium on it, but in terms of looking forward, that is not something that is in there.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dana for that. There's an old adage that the most powerful and effective political messages can fit on a bumper sticker. So, how does the Pledge to America rate? Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. What do you think? How does this rate as far as bumper sticker politics are concerned?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's pretty predictable, Wolf, and I think that's, in a way, what Republicans wanted. There's really not any great headlines here. They didn't want to make any headlines, as Dana was talking out. You know, you want to repeat tax cuts for everybody, I mean, extend the tax cuts for everybody. And, you know, we knew that they were going to do that. They want to repeal health care reform.

We knew that they were going to do that, but the larger question here is, are they giving the Democrats a target here? You talk to Democrats today. They say, look, you look at this pledge, and it's just more of George W. Bush. And you talk to lots of Republicans and they say, look, we want this to be a referendum on Barack Obama. We do not want to turn this into a choice selection which is what the Democrats want.

We don't want this to be a referendum on what we're going to do. So, why are we giving them points about a referendum? Republicans say, look, we had to check the positive box. That is, we have to give people something to vote for, and so, that's what this pledge is all about. But again, no huge headlines, nothing really new here, just more of the same that we've been hearing from Republicans and the Congress.

BLITZER: Who were the voters, Gloria, that will make the final decision, the decisive voters on November 2nd?

BORGER: You know, you and I've been talking about this for a while, Wolf. It's those independent voters that we talk about so much are the ones that gave Barack Obama his margin of victory in 2008. There's a new Pew poll out today. Let's talk about that a little bit, because when you look at likely independent voters, and they're going to be the key to this election. They're going to vote Republican 49 percent, vote for the Democrat 36 percent. That's huge 13-point margin, Wolf.

And what's also interesting, this poll shows that those independent voters are going to be quite engaged in this election. You know, usually, in midterms, as the independent voters say, eh, I'm going to sit it out. Not so much this time. And the key to this is if you think about this election as a referendum on Barack Obama, which is what we've been talking about here, the independents who say that they believe that the president has not done a good job are the most likely to vote.

And that does not bode well for the Democrats as bodes very well for John Boehner who you just saw a few minutes ago. He'll be very happy about this poll.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see if he's happy on November 2nd. Gloria, thank you.

BORGER: We'll be watching.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll talk more about the Pledge to America with two members of Congress who are rather passionate in their views and on opposite sides of the aisle. Stand by for that debate.

Also, stand by for our top stories, including the death of a rebel leader and why Colombian officials now say it's historic.

And countdown to execution. Will there be any kind of reprieve for the first woman facing the death penalty in Virginia in almost a century? She is set to be executed in a few hours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf. Hello, everyone. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, says that he doesn't expect changes to the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy following an upcoming December review of the war's progress. Speaking at a news conference, Gates said there will likely be areas for adjustments and tweaks (ph). The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, added the strategy is already showing signs of progress.

And the Colombian president is calling the death of a major guerilla leader a quote "historic event." The number two in the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, was killed in a military raid. Another high-ranking rebel leader wanted by the U.S. was killed in an air strike over the weekend. FARC has been at war with Colombian government since the 1960s.

And Congress is considering new legislation to protect student athletes who get concussions. Experts testified on Capitol Hill today that these injuries not only cause headaches and impaired concentration but can also be deadly. The bill would enforce evaluations for students who have suffered concussions before they return to play. Pediatricians believe the brains of children and teens are more vulnerable to injury than those of adults.

And the founder and CEO of the social networking powerhouse, Facebook, plans to donate $100 million towards improving public schools in Newark, New Jersey. 26-year-old, Mark Zuckerberg, ranks 35th on this year's "Forbes" 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $6.9 billion. He is expected to officially announce the donation tomorrow on the "Oprah Winfrey" show. Everyone is trying to get on that show in that last year, Wolf. I'm sure you're on the list, too.

BLITZER: Not so sure about that. All right. Fred, thank you.

WHITFIELD: OK.

BLITZER: An angry confrontation between the governor of New Jersey. He's a rising star in the Republican Party and a heckler. You're going to want to see how it played out in our "Strategy Session." Bill Bennett and James Carville, they're standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The republicans' new Pledge to America as they're calling it and its vow to repeal the health care reforms signed into law by President Obama. Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL, (R) DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: I would fight to repeal the bill.

(APPLAUSE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a GOP battle cry for the midterm elections.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: The American people will be heard, and we'll repeal and replace.

SHARRON ANGLE, (R) NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE: I have pledged as my first act of legislation to put in a repeal Obamacare law.

ACOSTA: If Republicans win a majority of seats in Congress, one of the first things they promise to do is repeal President Obama's signature achievement, health care reform. Under a new GOP-controlled House, Texas congressman, Joe Barton, would with likely become chairman of the key House committee overseeing health care. He says hearings would begin as soon as January to dismantle the law.

REP. JOE BARTON, (R) TEXAS: If we're given the opportunity to be in the majority, we are going to try to repeal it.

ACOSTA: Right away?

BARTON: And then replace it with something that makes sense. Well, the sooner the better.

ACOSTA: That threat comes as new portions of the law go into effect this week, provisions that stop insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions or dropping policies for people who get sick. Big expansions of coverage don't come until 2014. Still, recent polls show the law remains unpopular.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted against the health care bill because I thought it'd be too expensive.

ACOSTA: Even some Democrats are running against it. Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, argues the public will come around.

Why is this law so unpopular?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I think it's more confusing than unpopular.

ACOSTA: You're ready to have this debate all over again?

SEBELIUS: I am, indeed.

OBAMA: Hello, hello, hello.

ACOSTA: So as the president who points to parts of the bill that are popular.

OBAMA: If young people don't have health insurance through their employer, that they can stay on their parents' health insurance up to the age of 26.

ACOSTA: Parts, Congressman Barton wants to keep.

Are there portions of the law that should be kept?

BARTON: I think coverage of pre-existing conditions, the ability to keep your insurance and not have it revoked, unless --

ACOSTA: Recessions?

BARTON: Unless you committed fraud.

ACOSTA: Other Republicans say scrap the whole thing. Conservative activist, Alex Cortes, with the group, defundit.org says the solution is to starve the law of money.

ALEX CORTES, DEFUNDIT.ORG: One of our only options is defunding, go after some of the smaller provision. We will not let Kathleen Sebelius implement or enforce this law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on-camera): But tinkering with health care reform won't be easy. Any bill changing the law would likely be vetoed by the president, and Republicans really have no chance of picking up enough seats in the midterms to override any health care veto, but Republicans say just because they don't have the votes doesn't mean they won't try.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta reporting for us. Thank you.

James Carville is standing by. We'll speak to him in a moment. Jack Cafferty is asking why do presidents choose to cooperate with Bob Woodward when he wants to write a book about them? Jack will be back as well.

And two members of Congress very passionate in their opposing views about solving America's problems. Stand by for a debate of some of these hot topics in advance of the midterm election. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us are our two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist, James Carville, and national radio talk show host, Bill Bennett. He's joining us on the phone.

James, let me go to you first. I want to play for you, Sarah Palin. She was on Fox, the network she works for the other night, and she said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: We are learning more about Christine O'Donnell and her college years and her teenage years and her financial dealings. Anybody ever even bothered to ask about Barack Hussein Obama as a candidate and now as our president?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You notice she used the words Barack Hussein Obama. Although, during the campaign when she was running for vice president, she was in an event with the sheriff in Florida who said Barack Hussein Obama and her spokesperson came out and said for her, we do not condone this inappropriate rhetoric which distracts from the real questions of judgment character and experience that voters will base their decisions on this November. Is this a big deal or a little deal that she's now using his middle name?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I wouldn't call it a big deal. I think it's interesting. We actually know a lot about President Obama. He wrote a whole book about his childhood and everything, so it's a myth that we don't know anything about him. But I don't think this is like a huge deal at all. I mean, she said it, and maybe she meant something by it or she's sending a cue to people or something like that, but probably the end of the republic.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bill?

VOICE OF BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Small beer. It wasn't said in any kind of malicious tone. It's what the president called himself. That's how he took his oath, I, Barack Hussein Obama. So, I think it's nothing. There's nothing there.

BLITZER: Nothing there (INAUDIBLE) what do you think it's a little deal. No big deal. Chris Christie is a very popular Republican. He's a rising star. He was at an event with Meg Wittman who's running for governor of California. She was heckled and he responded. I'll play the tape.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: Hey, listen, you know what, you want to yell, yell at me, but don't give her a hard time. We're here, we're here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country, and you know what, and you know what, let me tell you, and let me tell you this, you know what, it's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We're here to bring this country together, not to divide it.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Now, you can know, I guess, James, why he's a rising star in the GOP.

CARVILLE: Hey, good moment there. No question about that. You know, that's a purity police out there, and I don't think they're going away either before a little bit interesting conflict you have there.

BLITZER: He's getting a lot of credit for what's being done in New Jersey, Bill, right now.

BENNETT: Yes, candor is the new style, and saying it straight. I had him on my radio show. He's talking the same way. People heckle him. He goes right after them, and he does it respectfully, but directly. People like this. It's called authentic talk. We could use more of it on both sides.

BLITZER: Is that a smart political strategy, James?

CARVILLE: Yes, I think it is. I think people are kind of tired of these people that are rude, and I think it's probably people -- when I saw it, people are going to respond favorably to something like that.

BENNETT: It's also gallant, you know. We might use that word. It was quite gallant, chivalrous, you might say, coming to her defense. And I'll be in trouble for that.

BLITZER: Protecting the woman, is that what you're saying?

BENNETT: I'd be in trouble for that, but I think it was very polite and gentlemanly. Yes, sir.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much.

CARVILLE: We're agreeing on everything, today. BENNETT: Yes, James. Let's keep going.

BLITZER: I'm sure there are other issues you'll disagree on down the road. Thanks very much.

There's more angry reaction, very angry, I should say, coming in from the U.S. western countries after the Iranian president's rather provocative remarks at the United Nations today.

And the rare execution of a woman is due to happen in the next few hours in Virginia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Question this hour is: Why do presidents choose to cooperate with Bob Woodward when he decides to write a book about them?

Jan writes from Atlanta: The same thing that makes one think they have the tools to run the country makes them think they can control one pesky reporter.

John in Massachusetts: Easy answer to this. Any individual who wants this thankless job has such a towering belief in themselves that even when they do wrong, they simply don't believe that it matters one bit. Bush lied. He knows it, but what does he care? His main concern now is building a library which will bear his name.

Bob writes from Louisville, Kentucky: They're probably afraid that if they don't cooperate, they'll have to undergo the same type of scrutiny that led up to Watergate.

Eric writes: Hubris. They never consider the possibility that the book will portray them badly.

Paulette writes: They cooperate with Woodward because they know he's probably going to get the information anyway.

Dennis in Minneapolis: Not cooperating probably even worse.

N writes: I think presidents participate because if they didn't, their side of the story would be told by someone else or wouldn't be told at all. Participating with someone like Woodward shows courage and confidence. No administration gets everything right all the time. Hats off to those who are brave enough to tell it like it is.

And Frank says: It's vanity, Jack. They all think that they're a gift to us all and that their view of how great they are is shared by everyone. Their mirror has a flaw filter.

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Republicans unveil a new call to arms in their battle to win control of Congress. A Pledge to America, as they're calling it, recalling their 1994 contract with America that helped propel the GOP to a landslide victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: We need to rein it in, and begin a new drive for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government in our nation's capital. These are the things that the American people are demanding. And our Pledge to America is that the Republicans stand ready to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Democrats even some conservatives already are writing it off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's the same policies that got us into this financial crisis. The document was written by somebody with a -- written by a lobbyist.