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THE SITUATION ROOM
Navigating the GOP; Pentagon Destroys Thousands of Book; Lazio Drops Out of NY Gov. Race; Study: State To Gain House Seats; 11th Hour Election Economics; Can Mideast Peace Talks Survive?; Rove is Back
Aired September 27, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thank very much, Brooke.
Happening now, the president and his party are struggling to prove to voters that they're walking the walk and creating jobs. This hour, Democrats try new tactics and attacks to save their jobs on election day.
Also, the nerve-rattling video from inside an emergency plane landing. Stand by to hear the warnings of a possible crash and feel the fear that you hope you never have to experience for yourself.
And a flooding crisis in the nation's heartland -- we're tracking the danger that are overflowing right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama and the Democrats are taking their last best shots at convincing voters that they're part of the solution to America's economic problems. With just 36 days to go until the election, they're hoping that a bill Mr. Obama signed into law today will help make that clear. The $42 billion measure is designed to create jobs by giving tax credits to small businesses and making loans more available to them. The president had the knives out, as well as his pen out. He was asked today about criticism that he hasn't hit back hard enough at Republicans.
Listen to his response in an interview on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TODAY SHOW," COURTESY NBC)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And what I'm seeing out of the Republican leadership over the last several years has been a set of policies that are just irresponsible. And we saw in their Pledge to America a similar set of irresponsible policies. They say they want to balance the budget and they proposed $4 trillion worth of tax cuts and $16 billion in -- in spending cuts. And then they say that we're going to somehow, magically, balance the budget. That's not a serious approach. So, you know, the -- the question for voters over the next five weeks is, who is putting forward policies that have a chance to move our country forward?
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Democrats are having mixed success in trying to point fingers at Republicans over the economy, which is issue number one. Check out our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Forty-one percent of those surveyed say Republicans in Congress are more responsible for the nation's economic problems. That's compared to 35 percent who say Democrats are more to blame.
But -- and it's a huge but -- get this. Almost half of those surveyed, 47 percent, think Republicans in Congress are more likely to improve the economy. That's compared to 41 percent who say Democrats in Congress are more likely to make the economy better.
Those are the numbers in our brand new poll. And it all helps explain why Democrats are trying anything and everything to try to win over voters who are jobless, anxious and desperate for an economic fix.
Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, Democrats are feeling a little desperate themselves right now to show voters they're addressing the jobs issue.
How is that playing out on Capitol Hill tonight?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the last week Congress will be in session before the election. And Senate Democrats have scheduled a late night vote on an issue that Democrats in trouble are already seizing on in races all across the country -- and that is keeping American jobs from going overseas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It needs to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH (voice-over): From California...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM BOXER FOR SENATE CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fiorina shipped jobs to China. And while Californians lost their jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: -- to Ohio...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FISHER FOR CONGRESS CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Rob Portman knows how to grow the economy -- in China. He voted for billions in tax breaks for companies that export jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: -- to Pennsylvania. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM KANJORSKI FOR CONGRESS CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barletta even favors tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. Paul Kanjorski is on the side of working families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Democrats are pounding Republican opponents with a jobs message they hope will resonate -- outsourcing. On the air...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Create jobs here that can't be outsourced.
BASH: -- and on the campaign trail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Central American Free Trade Agreement, when Mike Fitzpatrick was the deciding vote, literally one year later, those jobs relocated to Nicaragua and El Salvador because of Mike Fitzpatrick and George Bush.
BASH: Democratic pollster Mark Mellman says his research shows Democrats, who are getting hammered for joblessness and a bad economy, may have a shot with voter if they accuse Republicans of backing policies that outsource jobs.
MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: This is the most -- one of the most potent issues Democrats have to work with, for sure. People are even more angry about jobs going overseas than they are about the absence of jobs as they look around their communities. So we're trying to focus that anger.
BASH: That's why Democratic leaders are using their remaining days before the election to push eleventh hour legislation.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're creating jobs by making it in America, not transferring jobs overseas.
BASH: A series of bills in the House -- even one this week requiring American flags to be made in America. And now, in the Senate, a bill to end some tax breaks for companies expanding overseas and give new tax incentives to businesses bringing jobs home.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: When a corporation tries to take away someone's job in Nevada and send it halfway around the world, we have to stop them.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: That bill that we'll be voting on -- cloture on, on Tuesday, will do nothing to create jobs here in our country.
BASH: Republicans scoff at what they call the latest in a series of desperate last minute political votes.
But Mellman and other Democratic strategists are telling their candidates this.
MELLMAN: It's a bright line. It's not going to be enough to change the whole political climate.
Does it -- is it going to be enough to win some seat somewhere?
I think the answer is yes.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, a little bit of a reality check here. Democratic sources say that they know that the legislation they're pushing this week has -- it really has no chance of passing. But they say that they hope that they are going to at least be able to hold Republicans' feet to the fire, even more by forcing them to vote against these bills -- or at least block these bills that have to do with outsourcing.
But, Wolf, Republican strategists that I talked to, they say that they really aren't concerned about this.
The reason is, they say that voters know very well that Democrats are the ones who have been in charge for nearly two years, as unemployment has continued to rise -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana is on the Hill.
Thanks very much.
We're going to have a lot more on the economy -- jobs, issue number one, politics.
But this is a delicate moment in the Middle East right now -- a very uncertain Middle East peace process. The Obama administration is refusing to concede that direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are dead. But Israel's decision not to extend a freeze on settlement on the West Bank has left everyone right now on pins and needles.
Let's go to Jerusalem.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is standing by.
What's going on -- Paula?
What's the latest?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just not so long ago, we heard from Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. He's actually over in New York at the moment. And he said the decision by Israel not to extend this freeze was not a provocation. He says that the Palestinians are using it as an excuse. And according to Mr. Lieberman, he believes the Palestinians did not come to these talks with good intentions. He said they were strong-armed by the United States.
So not really a great atmosphere to continue these talks. Now, as for the Palestinians, we know that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, originally said if the settlement construction continues, we'll walk away from the talks. We have seen with our own eyes this Monday that settlement construction has started again. It is continuing.
And yet the Palestinian president now says he'll take another week to decide whether or not he's going to walk away from these talks.
The reason for this is there's an Arab League summit next week, October the 4th. And he's going to consult with the other Arab leaders. He wants more of a joint stance, which gives him more power and also allows him to save face somewhat.
But there is a lot of disappointment -- huge disappointment that the Israelis were not able to -- to extend that settlement freeze. And as I said, we have seen on the ground that the settlers think that they are victorious. They are very happy that they are able to build again and they are building again -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem.
Let's get the Obama administration's reaction. It was only a few days ago that the president of the United States went before the United Nations General Assembly and directly appealed to the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze. That clearly has not happened.
Jill Dougherty is standing by with more.
What are they saying -- Jill?
How do they hope to keep this peace process alive?
It just started -- these direct talks, what, about a month ago to...
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: -- to so much anticipation. And now, potential, it could be at a dead-end.
DOUGHERTY: Yes. And P.J. Crowley, the spokesperson for the State Department, freely admits that they are disappointed. But that said, he said today, we've got a dilemma to resolve.
At the same time, the long-term objective of the United States, he claims, remains the same -- and that is to get back to negotiations to complete them in one year. He said we believe we can successfully get through, as you called it, this turbulence.
So what are they doing?
Well, they're lobbying very hard, as they have been for quite some time now. George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy on the Mideast, has been meeting with both sides in New York. He is going out to the region. He's going to be holding more meetings this week -- later this week. Secretary Clinton has been holding a lot of meetings with foreign ministers, a series of them and, also, significantly, meeting with the Syrian foreign minister.
Now, diplomats -- both U.S. and Arab diplomats tell us that -- well, obviously, the settlements are going to resume.
But the real question is, what kind of settlements?
Are they settlements in areas that, if there were a peace agreement, Israel would control?
That might not be as inflammatory.
Or would it be East Jerusalem?
That would be a major problem.
So the maybe -- one of the factors here, Wolf, you have to say, is ambiguity. Neither side wants to look as if they are caving. That's been the case for quite some time. And the Arab diplomats are telling us, Wolf, that note what Benjamin Netanyahu, the -- from Israel has been saying. He's calling for the talks to continue and he's calling for restraint in the building.
So you have to watch the -- the fine line in this.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is over at the State Department for us.
A sensitive, very, very delicate moment right now.
We'll stay on top of it.
The governor of Wisconsin has declared a state of emergency, as flooding reaches dangerous new levels. We're keeping close watch on the crisis in the Midwest right now.
And a chilling image as a small plane crashes into a building.
We're going to tell you how it happened.
And veteran Bush political strategist, Karl Rove, appears to be making a comeback of sorts to help the Republican Party.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: He's certainly a political force in the GOP and a mastermind behind some of the dramatic election victories of former president, George W. Bush. Now, with his party poised to potentially win back the House this November, "The New York Times" is reporting that Karl Rove is back.
Joining us now to talk about that and more, our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger -- Gloria, are all Republicans happy that Karl Rove is back?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, lots of Republicans who are running for election are happy that Karl Rove is back. Look, there is a split in the Republican Party Some of the Tea Party activists are not thrilled with him, because he said that Christine O'Donnell, in the state of Delaware, was unelectable. He was unhappy because he felt that she would -- could cost them control of the Senate.
But there are lots of Republicans here who feel that the Republican National Committee has not been doing some of the things that it needs to be doing and that they're thrilled that Karl Rove, along with Ed Gillespie, another former Bush adviser, are raising something like $32 million to help do things like get out the vote and run some attack ads in districts in which they feel they can really make a difference.
BLITZER: David, can Karl Rove mastermind another Republican political victory on November 2?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I don't think he'll mastermind it, Wolf. You know, there's -- there's a wave in this country that neither Karl Rove nor anybody else is going to control. But he can make a difference in some individual races. And I think he already is.
The "L.A. Times" reported that, for example, this weekend, that in two races very important for the Senate, Harry Reid hoped to get a knockout blow against Martha Angle and -- the Tea Party candidate in Nevada.
Karl Rove and his group have poured money into it and they kept her very competitive. It's an even Steven race out there right now in California. Barbara Boxer running for the Senate as a Democratic incumbent hoped to knock out Carly Fiorina.
She had a great financial advantage. These outside groups with Karl Rove right there in the middle of it poured money into the Fiorina campaign. She's behind but she's very competitive.
So, they can make a difference. And so many races, you know, the Democrats are arguing, there are 15 races in the Senate within five points.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Gloria, the Republican Party today as opposed to two years ago or four years ago or six years ago seems to be different? It's a different Republican Party, right?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a totally different Republican Party, but you know, Republican values, small government, lower taxes, those kinds of things remain pretty stable.
And I think it's kind of a national message that Karl Rove's group, American cross roads, and congressional candidates can run on together. I think the important thing in the Republican Party right now is that they've got the Democrats running so scared that I talked to a top Republican strategist for some House Democrats who said, look, we may now put Karl Rove in some of our ads.
And that they're going to say that he's running a secretly funded corporate campaign. Because, you know, a lot of this money comes from very wealthy establishment Republicans and they're going to use Rove in these races because he still polls so well for them with Democrats - I mean, he's unpopular among Democrats that they can help bring out the base. But to tell you the truth, I think that's just at the margins.
BLITZER: You know, David, in our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll that's out today, we asked the question, how well are things going in the country right now, 29 percent said, well, 70 percent said badly.
Now, normally when you have numbers like that, it does not bode well for the party in power in the House and the Senate and the White House?
GERGEN: That's right and even though a large number of Americans continue to blame George W. Bush more than they blame Barack Obama for the fact that things aren't going well.
It's just inevitably when you're the incumbent, you're paying the price when times aren't good and they're part of the pushback is coming because times aren't good.
But those numbers, you're right, Wolf, you've got, you know, it's essentially two-to-one, Americans are very down on where the country is. We've been down for a long time. You know, we've been on the wrong track going to the polls. I think for five or six years now.
BORGER: You know, that's not wrong track, that's off track, right? I mean, you know, voters just think it's gone off of the rails. And the Democrats have been in charge, for better or worse, no matter who caused it, for the last couple of years. They're going to take the fall.
GERGEN: I don't think the public is all that far off either about it being the wrong track.
BLITZER: Yes, guys, these elections five weeks away. We'll be watching every step of the way to see if the Democrats can do anything to turn things around over the next few weeks, Gloria, and David, thank you.
It looks like something straight out of a movie, but it's not. Just ahead, we'll take you inside a scary real life emergency plane landing.
Plus, extreme measures to keep secrets. Why the Pentagon bought thousands of copies of this book -- and then ground them up to a pulp.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Kate, what's going on?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Wolf. Let's take a look some of this video. Officials say one person is dead following a small plane crash in Arizona. You can see it right there in that building. A CNN affiliate reports a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza hit a building while attempting to land then burst into flames. No word yet on other injuries or really what caused the accident.
And Pope Benedict? Well, he's defending the Vatican Bank in the wake of a rare money laundering probe. The pope met with the director of the bank yesterday and told him that he trusts him and appreciates his work. Prosecutors see some $30 million in questionable bank transactions last week. The bank's director says the investigation is the result of a, quote, "misunderstanding."
And there is no end in sight for China's controversial one child policy. The country's Family Planning Commission said the 30-year-old policy, which limits most couples to one child will continue in the coming decades.
Some critics had urged Beijing to relax the measure over concerns it skewed the population. According to statistics, the policy has prevented an estimated 400 million births.
Very interesting, Wolf, this one policy has prevented hundreds of millions of births and now they say it's resulting in an aging workforce. It's quite interesting.
BLITZER: Wow. All right, we'll stay on top of that story as well. Thank you, Kate.
The pentagon is accused of shocking censorship. Thousands of books destroyed literally. Just ahead new extremes to protect military secrets.
When you hear them yell, "brace for impact," it's like being in the plane yourself and wondering if you're going to make it out alive. Stand by for the dramatic video and audio.
BLITZER: Critics are accusing the Pentagon of a shocking form of censorship. At issue, thousands of books that were literally destroyed. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following the story for us. What's going on here, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have a best seller on our hands now, but it is a best seller that the Pentagon still really doesn't want you to read.
STARR: Extreme measures to keep secrets secret. The Pentagon recently bought nearly 10,000 copies of this book, "Operation Dark Heart," an account of spying and special operations in Afghanistan by Army Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer.
And then, the government had them ground to a pulp. A Pentagon spokeswoman said the book contained information, which could cause damage to national security. The author disagrees.
LT. COL. ANTHONY SHAFFER, AUTHOR OF "OPERATION DARK HEART": There are some things that the Army felt they didn't want in, I just took them out. It was no argument. If they felt it was sensitive or something couldn't be referenced properly, it's out.
STEVEN AFTERGOOD, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT SECRECY: It is now officially a landmark in the history of publishing and in the history of government censorship.
STARR: Steven Aftergood's project on government secrecy encourages reform of secrecy rules. He already has two copy of the now banned version of the book.
AFTERGOOD: You know, I saw a few things that raised eyebrows. There are more names of intelligence officials than one normally sees in published works.
But there's really no way for most readers to -- to know that those are real names or to make much of them, or at least there wasn't until the Pentagon said, hey, wait a minute, these need to be censored.
STARR: Aftergood believes it's unprecedented for the government to destroy an entire run of a published book. Some of the classified information left out of the second printing seems ordinary at best such as the National Security agency's nickname, "The Fort."
But Shaffer apparently also discussed highly sensitive intelligence operations in Afghanistan now covered by black ink in a new second printing of "Operation Dark Heart".
STARR: And, Wolf, here it is. "Operation Dark Heart," if you want to buy it today, this is what you're going to get. A book with a lot of blacked out passages. The classified information the Pentagon does not want you to see.
Now, Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer says the manuscript did go through the appropriate review process and was only stopped when more senior officials got their hands on it and saw it. But senior Pentagon officials say Colonel Shaffer as an intelligence officer should have known better than to write some of the material that he did - Wolf.
BLITZER: So does he face some sort of punishment or problem as a result of this? What's going to happen? STARR: Well, not that we know of. The Pentagon has now bought up about 10,000 copies, had them all turned to pulp. And now, you know, no big surprise. This book is now number one on amazon.com, in part due to the publicity.
The Pentagon really didn't want the book to have and now people are buying up this version with the blacked out passages. Still, though, there are a few copies we're told of the original floating around out there in the cyberworld that you can't stop knowledge in the information. Wolf --
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. I remember a time when the situation like that has unfolded. Thank you.
It's been more than six weeks since raging flood waters devastated Pakistan. Now the U.S. military is in a race against time to get aid into the country and people out. Here's CNN Fredrick Pleitgen.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Because every sack of wheat counts, the helicopter is stacked all the way to the ceiling. The U.S. had 18 choppers from the 16th combat air brigade out of Wainwright, Alaska flying relief missions in Northwest Pakistan. Warrant Officer aron Cunningham flies a CH-47 Chinook.
WARRANT OFFICER ARON CUNNINGHAM, U.S. ARMY: Some of the areas that we land is sort of kind of small. We're (INAUDIBLE) in villages that don't normally have aircraft traffic. They're not set up to handle aircraft as big as this. Some of the landing sites that we just deal with are kind of small and some aircraft in there but you have to be careful and watch what's around you.
PLEITGEN: The U.S. has been flying here since shortly after flooding hit this area. They have shuttled in thousands of tons of aide from wheat to water to medical supplies, and they ferried thousands of people in and out of devastated areas like Kalam (ph), one of he most affected towns in the swamp district and still inaccessible by road.
PLEITGEN (on-camera): The U.S. military will fly dozens of these missions every day. They're one of the few lifelines for so many people who (INAUDIBLE) after the beginning of the flooding are still cut off from the rest of the world.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Sergeant Aaron Franks makes sure the cargo is secure during flight.
How much flies does the helicopter actually bring to places like this? How much do you carry?
SGT. AARON FRANKS, U.S. ARMY: (INAUDIBLE) that I had in aircraft is about seven metric tons.
PLEITGEN: Metric tons.
FRANKS: Seven metric tons. PLEITGEN: How many people can you evacuate?
FRANKS: Typically 100 people. No more than that now.
PLEITGEN: The choppers even help local farmers who are cut off get their produce to markets. Swat is one of the most beautiful but also one of the most volatile places in Pakistan and was controlled by Taliban militants until last year. But the crews say they've seen no hostility from the population.
LTC JOHN KINGHTSTEP, U.S. ARMY: We've had no problems. We've had no security issues. It's been safe. And they're in need. And from what I've seen, they're extremely happy to see us.
PLEITGEN: The soldiers are working against the clock. Winters are harsh in the mountainous swat district and a month from now, snowfall could make flying here impossible at times, even for pilots from Alaska.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kalam, Pakistan.
BLITZER: The Wisconsin River is rising, so is the flooding. Danger there. Our severe weather expert, Chad Myer, is standing by to show us how bad it's getting right now.
And new fuel for concerns about the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. There's word of a U.S. criminal investigation into Karzai's own brother.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Looking at some politics in the state where you are right now, Wolf. Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, well, he's dropping his bid to be New York's next governor. Lazio was defeated this month in the state's GOP gubernatorial primary by tea party favorite, Carl Paladino, but was later endorse by the conservative party. Well, he now says his continued presence in the race would end up helping the Democratic nominee, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Lazio says, however, that he will not endorse Paladino.
And a new unofficial study is predicting big Congressional seat gains for southern and western states in the aftermath of the 2010 census. Election Data Services projects that Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington will each add one additional seat while Florida and Texas will add two and four seats respectively. Meanwhile, a number of states in the Midwest and northeast are projected to lose seats.
Southwest Airlines has announced plans to merge with AirTran. The $3.4 billion deal would make the airline the largest in the country and allow it to expand into major airport hubs. A spokesperson says once the deal goes through, all planes would fly under the southwest logo and adopts its less burdensome policy on fees. No word yet on when the merger will be finalized. Those fees, Wolf, its the fewer fees, the better is what I say.
BLITZER: I'm with you. And I think most of our viewers are as well. Thank you.
It looks like something out of a movie, but it's not. Ahead, we're going to take you inside a scary real life emergency plane landing.
Plus, with growing talk that President Obama could be losing a key member of his inner circle, what can he do to regain what's called his mojo? We'll talk about that and more on our "Strategy Session."
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us our CNN political contributor, the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos, also joining us Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona. She is with the Dewey Square Group in Washington, D.C. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me play a little clip of the president speaking on the "Today" show this morning, asked about his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who might be leaving very, very soon to go back to Chicago to run for mayor. Listen to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Rahm will have to make a decision quickly because running for mayor of Chicago is a serious enterprise. And I know this is something he's been thinking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let me go to Maria first. He got to make a decision -- the elections are in February. He got to start doing all sorts of stuff. This is not an easy decision, obviously. First of all, you think Rahm Emmanuel is going to do this? He's going to quit the White House and go back to Chicago to run for mayor?
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think, Wolf, that's the $65,000 question and something that everybody loves to talk about. But if you believe what you read, which is that this is, in fact, Rahm's dream job and a lot of his close friends have said that it is, and he has even said that it is, then I think that the -- what we can bet on is that he actually will really look seriously at leaving and pursuing that.
BLITZER: Alex, is this a big deal or a little deal for the president who's obviously in some political trouble right now to lose his chief of staff at this moment?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's actually not a bad time for a transition because he's going to have a very different Congress to work with after November. So, Wolf, this is actually a good moment to refresh the presidential brand after November. He's been pulled way left by this Congress, the Democratic Congress, which is much more left of center than the American people.
Frankly, this is a good time for a fresh start when Republicans, I think, have a very good chance of taking the House in November.
BLITZER: Everybody seems to think, Maria, that Rahm Emmanuel tried to push the president towards the center as opposed to the left -- the left wing of the Democratic Party. Give the president some advice right now, what should he be doing in looking for a new chief of staff? What type of person does he want for somebody from inside that inner circle who's already there or bring a fresh face in?
CARDONA: Well, I think the most important thing here, Wolf, is that he does need to bring in new fresh faces. There are a lot of smart people who surround the president, a lot of smart people that he knows. And I think that he needs to choose somebody who understands his thinking but also understands the cross roads that this administration is really facing. And I actually agree with Alex.
This is a great time and a great opportunity for the president to take a quick step back and really take a look at how you re-jigger the message to get to voters' hearts, to get to their gut. He got the intellectual part down and everything that they've done has been to help those voters that feel the most angst. He now needs to communicate that from the heart.
BLITZER: Some have suggested he should bring in a former Democratic White House chief of staff like John Podesta, Alex, for example, who worked for Bill Clinton or Leon Panetta who's now the CIA director who worked for Bill Clinton. What do you think of that idea?
CASTELLANOS: Both well-respected, both very serious people. I think they'd have a lot of support from that on both sides of the aisle. Ultimately, I think Maria's right. He got to have somebody he's very comfortable with. But you know, the president's kind of lost his mojo since he really inherited this Democratic Congress. There once was a very inspiring Barack Obama who is not nearly as partisan as he has become supporting this congresses agenda.
He's going to be rid of this ball and chain in November. He's going to be able to say, you know, America sent me a very left of center Congress, and now, they've sent me a much more right of center Congress, and I'm going to work pragmatically with them. So, I think, either of those two gentlemen or perhaps someone else in the Rahm Emmanuel mode will help him.
BLITZER: Another name that's been mentioned, Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader who is now in private practice in Washington, D.C. At one point, he was going to be the Health and Human Services secretary, that didn't work out because of some tax related issues involving a car and a driver. You remember that, Maria, but do you think he would be a good chief of staff? He doesn't need confirmation, as you know, in order to be White House chief of staff? CARDONA: I think he would be terrific. He is incredibly smart, incredibly well-respected on both sides of the aisle to Alex's point. And he also really knows, as Rahm did, the ins and outs of Congress which is something that I do think you need in a chief of staff. But I think interestingly enough, what Alex is saying is a myth when, in fact, what this administration has done, a lot of the policies are straight down the middle.
If they had been as left leaning as Alex said, you wouldn't have the progressive left also clamoring for the fact that they don't think that this administration has brought the change that they need. So, this president has actually governed very much down the middle. What he needs to do is communicate that to the heart of the voters, to the gut of the voters. His communicative skills can be used to do that. This is a great opportunity to do that now.
BLITZER: Let me ask both of you about potential inroads the Republicans might or might not be able to make among Latino Hispanic voters. Alex, first to you, they've been leaving the Republican Party, certainly 2008 and 2006. Right now, are they as disillusioned at the Democrats as so many other Americans are? You suspect that there are opportunities for the GOP with the Hispanic vote right now?
CASTELLANOS: (SPEAKING SPANISH). I don't think Hispanics are leaving the Republican Party. Look, Hispanic or anyone else in this country is unemployed, you're worried about the same things. You know, we're seeing this resurgence of Republicans among the Hispanic voters and even with candidates. We have Marco Rubio who's leading the ticket, I think, in Florida, and doing, you know, tremendously well there.
There's a new generation of Hispanic Republicans, including Luis Fortuno, the governor of Puerto Rico who is a tax cutting, spending cutting, pro-growth Republican down there who swept 2/3 of the legislature into office. So, you know, I think this is -- this is the idea that somehow by talking about how we grow this economy and create jobs and somehow Republicans are losing votes, it's a -- I'm not seeing that. I'm seeing, in fact, the opposite.
BLITZER: Maria, go ahead.
CARDONA: (SPEAKING SPANISH) which means that there is no way that Latinos are going to be flocking to the Republican Party, especially with the history that this party has with Latinos recently. The most -- the most important issue to Latinos, Wolf, right now, to Latino voters, is immigration. And the Republican Party has completely turned their back and frankly betrayed Latinos on this issue.
In the last three years, the immigration debate has actually left Latinos feeling persecuted. Even Latinos whose families have been here before this was America feel that the Republican Party has completely abandoned them. They have no chance of regaining Latino voters.
CASTELLANOS: As much as I love Maria, I think she may be overstating that case here.
CARDONA: I don't think so.
CASTELLANOS: The reason a lot of Hispanics want to come to the United States is for the economic opportunities that are here. And if they're not here, you know, there's no reason for any of us to remain. That's something we have to fight for and fight hard for to preserve jobs and growth in this country.
And I think the Republican agenda for that, that we're not going to send all our money to Washington and hope it trickles down, you know, for jobs for us instead we're going to leave money in people's pockets and let them invest in their own hopes and their dreams here to grow the economy. That's what attracted immigrants to this country in the first place.
CARDONA: But to that to feel welcome, they haven't felt welcome.
BLITZER: Two smart analysts. The next time, we'll do this in Spanish, guys. Thanks very much.
CASTELLANOS: (INAUDIBLE) Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you.
CARDONA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dozens of homes and families at risk right now from raging flood water. Stand by for the latest on the weather emergency in Wisconsin and when it might end.
And CNN has obtained some shocking evidence against United States soldiers trained to kill in Afghanistan, but not in the way that's being described. Our special investigations unit is looking in to this.
BLITZER: Right now, flood warnings are in effect in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin governor declaring a state of emergency just a little while ago. Rivers are rising after heavy rainfall last week. In one area, as many as 100 homes could be swamped because of 120 sand levee failed. Let's bring in our severe weather expert, Chad Myers. Chad, this is pretty bad right now.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. There are 60 counties with something out of its banks, a river, a creek, a stream, something. That's why all of these -- this is Minneapolis. There's O'Claire, Wisconsin down to about Dubuque and as far west as Yankton, South Dakota. The town we're talking about here is Portage Wisconsin, and there is a levee, in fact, there are two. One very old one, 120 years old. It's made of sand and wood, made by farmers 120 years ago to keep the Wisconsin River in its banks and out of the farmland down here.
Well, right around here, right there, in an area named Blackhawk, because there's a Blackhawk road there, the water is going under the levee, bubbling through the sand and water is coming out the other side, and the DNR, the Department of Natural Resources, really afraid this entire thing is going to break. Some pictures from Portage earlier today had the water all the way up to that levee. And we're talking right to the top.
Sandbaggers are out. They're trying to hold this back. But what happens -- and it's called a boil. When you get water to push under a levee, doesn't matter how high the levee is, when water is going under it, water will continue to erode that dirt and in this case sand from that one bubbling, boiling part of the levee. That's what's happening now. And there are 150 homes right there that are in trouble.
Now, the town of Portage, Wisconsin, not in trouble at all. Their levee system, their bank of the river, much higher. They're in good shape. All the way up here. Thousands of people that live in Portage. It's the people that are south of Portage. And luckily, not a very populated area. And I suppose that's why the levee is 120 years old because there's not that much of a population density down there. Otherwise, you would hope that someone would build a bigger bridge or a bigger levee.
BLITZER: A 120-year-old sand levee. That's amazing. All right. Thanks very much for that, Chad.
CNN has obtained some shocking evidence against U.S. soldiers trained to kill in Afghanistan, but not in the way that's being described in our special investigation. Stand by for that.
Plus, it's every plane passenger's worst nightmare. We're going to take you inside a very scary, real-life emergency landing.
BLITZER: If you fly pretty often as I do early now and then, this next story is likely to punch you right in the gut. You may have heard about that emergency landing by a delta flight right here in New York over the weekend. Now, you can experience what it was like for yourself, and it's really scary. CNNs Allan Chernoff is joining us now with more on this story. Two passengers caught it all on video. What happened?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it was a very dramatic few minutes before that emergency landing. The plane had originated in Atlanta, was bound for White Plains, just north of New York City, but the pilot diverted to JFK, which has a much longer runway.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Brace for impact the pilot ordered.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brace for impact.
CHERNOFF: Then a command from the flight attendant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heads down. Stay down. CHERNOFF: It was a harrowing landing at New York's JFK Airport for 60 passengers on board delta flight 4951 operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heads down. Stay down.
CHERNOFF: The original destination had been White Plains, New York, but when the pilots detected a landing gear problem, they asked to divert to a much longer JFK runway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're having a gear problem. Do not want to land. We need to check with company, but do not want to land at White Plains with a gear problem.
CHASE BEZENBERG, PASSENGER: I text messaged my girlfriend and told her I love her. The lady in front of me across, I see her get teary immediately, and she's reaching for her husband to hold his hand.
CHERNOFF: With the right main wheel stuck in the up position, the pilot uses the right wing to stabilize his landing. Sparks fly as the wing skids along the runway.
BEZENBERG: We start coming in very slowly. Slowly it's landing. A little bumpy. We feel it's leaning on the side.
ALLESANDRO ALBERO, PASSENGER: We came down and, you know, the plane tipped slightly and the sparks came out.
CHERNOFF: And then the plane came to a stop.
ALBERO: Everybody was clapping. We -- you know, immediately we evacuated the plane. We were all on the tarmac. Everybody was, you know, hugging and shaking hands and just happy that we all made it. The pilot came out and thanked us and we thanked him. It was just a really incredible, incredible few moments afterwards.
CHERNOFF: It had been no easy task for the pilot.
PAT MOORE, EXPERT AVIATION CONSULTING: I wouldn't want somebody that didn't have much experience doing it. It would be the difference between a -- how a professional race car driver handles a tire blowout at 150 miles an hour and a person that's never done that.
CHERNOFF: While it's not common for landing gear to fail, it has happened to Atlantic Southeast Airlines. June of last year, in Atlanta, an Atlantic Southeast bombardier jet successfully landed with the left main gear only partially extended. The incident is still under investigation. And in 2002, an Atlantic Southeast bombardier aircraft successfully landed in spite of a left landing gear failure. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that failure was due to a fatigue crack of the main fitting (ph) of the landing gear.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CHERNOFF (on-camera): It would be very surprising if that were the case of this incident because the bombardier jet in this case is only a year and a half old. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA will be investigating. The Atlantic Southeast Airlines say it's very proud of its crew, and it will be working with government investigators, Wolf, to determine the cause.
BLITZER: All right. Hope they find out. Thanks very much, Allan Chernoff.
CHERNOFF: They turn them (ph) a bit.
BLITZER: Yes, Allan Chernoff reporting.