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THE SITUATION ROOM
Times Square Suspect Planned Second Attack; Illegal Immigration & Claim of Abuse; Crist Slips in Florida Senate Race
Aired September 29, 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: Rick, thank you.
Happening now, new evidence that the man accused of trying to bomb Times Square in New York City didn't plan to stop there. This hour, we're learning more about the terror threats then and now, including a potential plot to attack high profile targets in Europe.
Also, the California governor's race gets combustible, with new allegations leveled by a former housekeeper to Republican candidate, Meg Whitman. Stand by for the story and some brand new polls on some of the hottest political races in the nation. Some will surprise you.
And our investigative correspondent reveals how she was almost punked. Political activists tried to create a fake story and embarrass CNN. Wait until you hear and see these very strange details.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It threatened to be one of the most shocking terror attacks since 9/11. And now, we're learning that the man accused of trying to bomb Times Square had other -- had his sights on targets, as well. This amid a new warning of potential terror plots in Europe that may have been green-lighted by Osama bin Laden himself.
Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.
She's learning more details.
What do we know about this accused Times Square bomber -- Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, not surprisingly, Wolf, the government is recommending that Faisal Shahzad be sentenced to life in prison. But in this sentencing document, a few new details about the case.
The government alleges that in the three months leading up to the attempted bombing, Shahzad used the Internet to study real time video feeds of different areas of Times Square. By doing this, the government says, he was able to determine what parts of Times Square were most crowded and when. The government says Shahzad thought his bomb would kill 40 people and, if he had not been caught, he planned to detonate another explosive device in New York City two weeks later.
Faisal Shahzad did plead guilty in the case and there was no plea deal with the prosecutors -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What's the latest on the current terror intelligence that's coming in, because there's a lot of concern that there could be another plot unfolding in Europe?
MESERVE: Well, multiple sources tell us that the plot concerned Mumbai-style commando attacks on soft targets in Europe, like symbols of economic power -- for instance, banks and stock exchanges. The potential perpetrators, sources say, are people with Western passports who can travel easily around Europe. The intelligence is not precise, but the belief is that about a dozen individuals may be involved. On the record, U.S. officials are saying as little as they can about the investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical and protecting the United States and our allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: On background, U.S. officials say they see no indication that the intelligence about potential terror attacks in Europe has a U.S. dimension, but they are continuing to look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: They don't know what they don't. They don't know -- they only have pieces of this puzzle. And they're -- they -- they know they don't have all of them. And so they -- they're reluctant to rule out that there's a nexus to the United States until they better understand the plot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: One U.S. official says there are different threads coming from different places and it's not yet clear how or if they will come together. A German counter-terrorism official says that much of the intelligence is coming from a German citizen of Afghan dissent by the name of Ahmed Siddiqui. According to this official, he was arrested in Kabul and is currently in U.S. custody.
Listen to this jihadi video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: That video and others appear to show Germans training in the tribal areas of Pakistan. A German counter-terrorism official says about 200 Germans have participated. It is one of many reasons officials on both sides of the Atlantic are taking this threat very seriously. And, Wolf, we were told by one U.S. law enforcement official that they believe that Osama bin Laden may have signed off on this plot -- back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Jeanne.
We're going to stay on top of the story, obviously.
Let's move on now to countdown to election day in California. The Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, is being hit with personal and politically charged allegations.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here.
She's working the story for us.
And it involves her former housekeeper. These are serious allegations this woman is making.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Just weeks before the campaign and the election, Wolf, Meg Whitman's former housekeeper of nine years came forward today, saying she was fired -- fired by Meg Whitman when she told her that she's been in the country illegally. Nicky Diaz Santillan wept when she was in a press conference saying that Whitman knew about this all along.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICKY DIAZ SANTILLAN, FORMER EMPLOYEE OF MEG WHITMAN: I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage. I don't feel like I just have to be treated this way. She treated me as if I was not a human being.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: The celebrity attorney, Gloria Allred, who is filing a complaint alleging that Whitman took advantage of Santillan. But important to note, there are absolutely no allegations of any kind of physical abuse. She just says she was somewhat mistreated.
Well, Meg Whitman, she says she was just misled. She said Santillan gave her falsified documents saying that she was legal. The Whitman campaign even released those documents to the media. We have reviewed them. The campaign said Santillan confessed last year and was fired. In a statement, Whitman says, quote, "I believe Nicky is being manipulated by Gloria Allred for political and financial purposes during the last few weeks of a hotly contested election."
The bottom line, Wolf, we see these sorts of things get dropped at the end of an election. The main thing here is immigration is a major issue in a California race.
BLITZER: So how is this going to affect the campaign? YELLIN: Well, two things. First of all, the new CNN/"Time Magazine" poll being released today shows that Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate there, is 9 points ahead of Meg Whitman in our latest polling. He is polling 52 percent to Meg Whitman's 43 percent.
Now, keep in mind, she has been on air more, spent far more money than Brown and still he's ahead. This new development also goes to immigration policy, because she's for tough new penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers. I wonder if she'll have to answer to allegations that she couldn't even verify that in her own house.
BLITZER: Is it my imagination or do you -- is it true that women candidates seem to be plagued with these questions more than male candidates?
YELLIN: It's an interesting question. We can leave the answer up to our viewers. But we'll point out that here are just some of the women whose political aspirations were crushed when it was revealed that they had either immigration or tax problems with household staff. Now compare that to two male public figures that we can think of, Mitt Romney and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who had similar problems with their staff. But their political careers are still clearly going strong.
BLITZER: And let's be precise, Meg Whitman says it's a total, absolute lie, what this housekeeper is now alleging?
YELLIN: Correct. She says she was misled about her immigration status and she never abused her.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jessica.
BLITZER: Nine years after the 9/11 attacks, a long awaited move by the U.S. Congress help the emergency workers who arrived at the scene first. It's a piece of legislation that prompted one lawmaker to get very emotional.
And members of Congress are heading for the exit doors right now without a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts.
Will either party pay a price for that on election day?
We'll talk to two outspoken and influential lawmakers. They're standing by live, Democrat Chris Van Hollen and Republican Kevin McCarthy.
And the military's fight against a potentially fatal enemy -- it's called super bug -- the super bug infections.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture from Bethesda, Maryland right now. That bus just went off of a sky ramp on Interstate 270, right off of Interstate 495, which the Washington Beltway. And we know from our producer, Vito Maggiolo, who's on the scene for us, that at least three people are pinned inside. Others were removed. One is dead. We'll stay on top of this story for you -- a horrible, horrible bus crash in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is shaking up the state's education system. And the other 49 states ought to take notes.
Christie is out with a plan to reform New Jersey public schools that would base teachers' pay hikes on students' performance and not seniority or tenure. The Republican governor wants all teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade to pass tests in reading and writing themselves in order to be certified, which is a bit of a novel concept. Christie says that could lead to, quote, "the firing of lousy teachers and bad principals, who hurt our children."
Here's a rare politician who seems to understand what's going on.
Under the current system, teachers earn tenure after just three years on the job. Christie wants to put an end to that -- raises based only on seniority or advanced degrees.
That's not all. He wants to select master teachers and pay them more money, so good teachers stay in the classroom rather than leaving for the administrative jobs that pay more. And he wants to offer merit races for teachers who work in the lower performing schools.
Teachers unions, as you might expect, are not happy with Christie's plan. They don't like the idea of tying teacher evaluations too closely to students' scores, saying that there are other issues involved, like the students' experiences at home. And you can bet they don't want to give up tenure.
But education experts are praising Christie, saying the plan would dramatically improve the quality of education in New Jersey public schools. The legislature will have to sign off on the seniority and tenure changes.
The rest of the stuff, Christie signed into law with executive orders.
Here's the question, then -- should public school teachers have to pass math and reading tests themselves?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: He's emerging, Jack, as a real star among the Republicans, Chris Christie, since beating John Corzine for governor of New Jersey, isn't he?
CAFFERTY: Yes, he is.
BLITZER: Yes. I think he's got a -- a big future in politics ahead of him.
All right. We'll stay on top of this together with you, Jack.
And now to Florida, where the independent governor, the former Republican, Charlie Crist, is facing an increasingly uphill battle in his bid to become the state's next senator. In a just released CNN/"Time Magazine"/Opinion Research Corporation poll, Republican candidate Marco Rubio has the lead, with 42 percent of the vote. Charlie Crist trails with 31 percent, followed by the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek, with 23 percent.
Let's talk about this a little bit more with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.
Are you surprised that Rubio, who has been a favorite of the Tea Party movement, is doing as well as he is against Charlie Crist, who had been a pretty popular governor?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, a little surprised, Wolf. But it's consistent with a national trend we're seeing, and that is that there are a number of states where Barack Obama is below 50 percent, where Republicans are doing increasingly well in some of these Senate races. Marco Rubio is one good example. He started to pull away some.
And Illinois, another state where the Republican candidate for the Senate, Rob Portman, is starting to pull away some.
Whereas in California -- and I know you'll have more to say about this as the night goes on -- but in California, where Barack Obama remains popular -- above 50 percent -- you -- you have a strong race being run by the Democrats, both for the governor and for the Senate race.
So I think that has a lot to do with how these things are going. And, of course, in Florida, once -- you've got a three-way race. And -- and -- and Crist, the -- the Republican who turned Independent, is now caught in the squeeze between the Republican, Marco Rubio, who won the primary, and the -- and -- and -- and Meek, who is the Democratic candidate. You know, he's the third man out, in effect. And his numbers are starting to go down.
BLITZER: Yes. Take a look, though, at this ad that Kendrick Meek is now running directly aimed at Charlie Crist and trying to convince Democrats don't cross over and vote for this independent. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm as about as conservative as you can get. I'm a Jeb Bush Republican. President Bush. He is a leader of courage and conviction.
I was impressed with Governor Palin being picked. I watched her speech today. I was very impressed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to get your opinion on whether we should be drilling off the (INAUDIBLE) coast of Florida.
CRIST: I think it's something we ought to explore. And I'm a pro life, pro gun, anti-tax Republican. I think it's important for people to understand who the true conservative is in this race, and it's Charlie Crist.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's a Kendrick Meek ad trying to convince Democrats and moderates, don't be misled, don't vote for Charlie Crist. Is it going to work?
GERGEN: Yes, that -- well, that's -- that's the very crossfire that's occurring. The way Marco Rubio went at him as -- on the Republican side when Crist was registered as a Republican, was he went out -- he went out and saying you're too close to Barack Obama. There is this famous picture of Crist in effect embracing Obama on the trip to Florida.
And now the Democrat is coming out at Crist from the other side saying he's way too conservative. Why would a Democrat vote for this conservative? That's what I mean by being caught in a crossfire and getting squeezed.
And his candidacy has -- is taking some. He is popular. It's interesting, you know, it's the same thing that's happened to Green in West Virginia where a very popular governor is now finding it to be a tough fight in a state where Barack Obama is not very popular.
And you -- and especially in Florida, you get this crossfire.
BLITZER: We're going to invite all three of them to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM between now and November 2nd.
GERGEN: That's going to be --
BLITZER: In fact we're going to invite all of these major Senate candidates to join us because the voters have a right to take a look at these candidates.
So thanks very much, David, for that.
By the way, we have more poll numbers coming in on key battle ground states in California, in Illinois, and Alaska. This new CNN/"TIME" magazine poll. Stand by, we'll share those numbers. Some will, in fact, surprise you. Up next, we're going to update you on that horrific bus crash in suburban Washington, D.C. People are trapped right now. We have a producer on the scene.
Then, a major victory for emergency workers first on the scene in the harrowing moments after the 9/11 terror attacks. New information coming in from Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: We've been following this bus crash outside of Washington, D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland. Right now our producer Vito Maggiolo is on the scene for us.
Vito, set the scene for us. This is a pretty horrific incident.
VITO MAGGIOLO, CNN ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: Yes. What happened is a midsized bus came off of the sky ramp that leads on to I-270 northbound. It came tumbling off that sky ramp, and I don't know how that happened. Ended up severely damaged but on its wheels almost on to the highway itself.
At the present time, the rescue efforts have ended. All the victims have been extricated and transported by ambulance from the scene. One confirmed fatality remains inside the bus and will probable remain there pending the investigation by the law enforcement authorities here.
BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this with you, Vito. Really, a horrible, horrible accident.
Vito Maggiolo is working the story for us. He's on the scene.
Right now members of Congress are trying to finish up as much work as they can before heading home to campaign for reelection. And there is a significant development on Capitol Hill.
Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's working the story for us.
All right, Dana. Tell us what finally happened today.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened -- this just happened a short while ago -- is that Democrats put up a motion to adjourn. The Congress -- the House actually has to vote in order to go home for the election which is something that they wanted to do as soon as tonight.
But guess what? It almost failed. And the reason is because Republicans have been making the argument that the House should not leave before voting to extend tax cuts. They want to extend all tax cuts.
Democrats made a decision that it is to politically dicey to have any vote on that at all before the election. But the Republicans made a pretty good argument. So get this -- that motion to adjourn almost failed. It was 210-209, 39 Democrats broke ranks and voted with Republicans.
The speaker had to break the tie. She almost never votes but she did in this case -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But, Dana, the big news today is that they finally passed this compensation package for 9/11 firefighters and police officers nine years afterwards, many of whom are suffering from serious disease, serious injuries. All of a sudden look what happens.
I want to play a clip before you talk about what happened. This was Congressman Anthony Weiner. Only about a month or so ago when the House of Representatives failed to move.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: You vote yes if you believe yes. You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing. If you believe it's the wrong thing, you vote no.
We are following our procedure -- I will not yield to the gentleman! And the gentleman will observe regular order! The gentleman will observe regular order!
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Dana. What changed? That was in July. This is now. They couldn't pass it then. They have finally passed this compensation health care package today.
BASH. That's right. When it failed in July, what Democrats did was they put it on the floor of the House and required a supermajority to vote for it. And it didn't -- they didn't get that. The reason that Democrats did that at the time is because they were worried that Republicans were going to do something to try to block it or maybe put something unrelated on this measure.
Today, though, what Democrats did is they just offered it on the floor of the House with just a simple majority. They rolled the dice, saying, look, we hope that this bill, which is $7.4 billion, to give for health benefits for thousands of people who were there right at the beginning at 9/11 to help people and to deal with situations.
They hoped that it would pass. They were right. But the reason they were right, that it was OK to put this on the floor and get that majority in which they were able to do, is not necessarily because Republicans agreed with this, it's because Republicans decided tactically, politically, they didn't want to try to stop this.
Because they want to keep their message on tax cuts and Democrats going home before voting on tax cuts and they didn't want to get pegged with Republicans blocking a bill that is quite popular. The idea of giving health benefits to the people who were there right on the front lines on 9/11 and really have suffered illnesses because of it.
BLITZER: Rescue workers. Down goes to the Senate. What are the prospect there?
BASH: Right now the Senate is planning on leaving as early as tonight as well. There is a chance. We are told that the Senate could take this up in the so-called lame duck session after they returned from the election. But it is still unclear if they can even do it this year.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens, Dana. Thank you.
Another man making sex allegations against a Georgia pastor is now speaking out. Stand by for new developments in this case against Bishop Eddie Long.
One alleged victim is describing him as, quote, "a monster."
And the politics behind the punt. Will members of Congress pay a price for going home without a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts? I'll ask top lawmakers from both parties. They're standing by live to weigh in.
BLITZER: A dramatic new twist in the case of an Atlanta mega church pastor facing serious allegations he coerced young men into sex.
We're now hearing from one of Bishop Eddie Long's accusers in his own words.
Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's working this story for us.
Ed, what's the latest?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as we've reported over the last week or so, four young men accusing Eddie Long of sexual coercion in relationships that have gone on for several years. And one of those accusers is now speaking out, calling bishop a monster.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Jamal Parris had just finished a late- night grocery store run when a reporter from Atlanta television station, WAGA, asked him about the shocking allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent evangelical pastor Eddie Long.
JAMAL PARRIS, EDDIE LONG ACCUSER: So while the media and the press and the rest of the people around the city, around the country look at this how can a grown man let another man touch them, what you have to understand is this man manipulated us from childhood. This was our father and we loved him.
LAVANDERA: It's the first time we've heard from any of the young men who are suing Eddie Long. The young men say the bishop of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, Georgia convinced them over the years that a sexual relationship with the man they called daddy was part of their healthy spiritual development.
PARRIS: I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head and I cannot forget the smell of his cologne. And I cannot forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his car on the way home, not able to take enough showers to wipe the smell of him off of my body.
LAVANDERA: Eddie Long still enjoys great support for many in his church family. His wife stood by his side when he spoke to the New Birth congregation this past Sunday. He vows to continue to fight the allegations that threaten to bring down the multimillion dollar spiritual empire he's created over the last 25 years.
BISHOP EDDIE LONG, NEW BIRTH MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: There have been allegations and attack attacks made on me. I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television.
LAVANDERA: Eddie Long's attorneys and public relations advisors have made no secret they plan to vigorously defend the bishop. They hired T.J. Ward, a prominent private investigator. You may recognize him from the Natalee Holloway case. He was hired by the young woman's family to investigate her disappearance in Aruba. B.J. Bernstein is the attorney for the four accusers. She says she's been preparing her clients for this kind of relentless scrutiny.
B.J. BERNSTEIN, ATTORNEY FOR EDDIE LONG ACCUSERS: They would not have filed this lawsuit if they didn't feel exploited and angry and betrayed. They love this man of god until they started to realize what was happening to them.
LAVANDERA: Wolf, Eddie Long's attorneys reacted to the Jamal Parris interview today by saying "Unfortunately the plaintiffs and counsel are attempting to try their lawsuits in the media. There are rules for how civil litigation is to take place and how we as counsel should conduct themselves. We intend to follow those rules." Jamal Parris' attorney stressed to us today that she told all of her clients not to do any interviews and that it was simply him being asked this question in an inopportune time that opened up the flood gates of emotion. That's why he answered the questions.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. What a story. I know you'll stay on top of it for us. Ed, thanks very much.
A different kind of violence appears to be unfolding at the site of the worst shooting on an American military base in decades. We're talking about Ft. Hood in Texas. Four U.S. soldiers at the base have died in the past week and it's believed they committed suicide. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. Four apparent suicides in a matter of days, Chris, what's going on here?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: One thing, Wolf. Ft. Hood is the largest army base in the world, more than 50,000 troops there. They've seen the most deployments. When troops deploy, they come back with chronic pain. A lot of times they're operating with little sleep for extended periods of time. But you just can't blame only combat deployments. One of those soldiers who's suspected of killing himself had four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan during some of the most violent years of those wars. But another soldier just deployed for the first time last year when violence in Iraq was at an all-time low. The base commander told us that at least two of the soldiers and their wives had been undergoing some form of counseling. If there was any sort of stigma to not seeking help, they had overcome that and yet still killed themselves. I've been to Ft. Hood. I was just there a few months ago. They have multiple programs to deal with suicide prevention. The chaplains there are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The base commander said that the shooting incident in Ft. Hood does not appear to have any relation to this rash of suicides. You have to wonder if perhaps if you're telling people to get help and they remember, they have that image so fresh in their minds of what happened there that it might not play a small part.
BLITZER: A heart breaking story there indeed. All right. Chris, thanks so much.
The Taliban says it isn't so. We're going to tell you what prompted the denial and what it could mean for the war in Afghanistan. And later that bizarre attempt by an activist group to pull a fast one on a CNN correspondent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have anything to say about the charges against you? Why were you in Senator Landrieu's office?
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is back. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hi Kate. What's going on?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there Wolf. The Obama administration is bringing new sanctions against Iran. The sanctions announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will target those responsible for human rights abuses.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The mounting evidence of repression against anyone who questions Iranian government decisions or advocates for transparency or even attempts to defend political prisoners is very troubling.
BOLDUAN: And the sanctions will block assets and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with those on the list.
The Taliban are refuting a new U.S. claim that some of the leaders had been in contact with the Afghan government. The comments made by General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, appeared in the "New York Times." The Afghan government which says it has contacts with the militant group is downplaying the remarks. It did however form a new council aimed at improving Taliban relations. Meanwhile, America's support for the war in Afghanistan is falling. A new CNN Opinion Research Corporation survey shows that 44 percent of the public believes thinks are going well for the United States in the region. That's down from 55 percent in March.
The Pentagon is being asked to address a very interesting situation, an outbreak of drug-resistant illnesses in U.S. troops known as superbug infections. Today, a Congressional sub committee called on military officials to explain what's being done to control the condition. According to a government estimate, more than 3,000 service members evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan developed these potentially fatal infections between 2004 and 2009. 3,000 service members, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a lot. I hope they can find something to deal with it. It's a serious issue.
BOLDUAN: It sounds scary I'll tell you that much.
BLITZER: Anytime you hear the word "superbug" it sounds dangerous to me. All right. Thanks very much Kate.
One Republican candidate tells President Obama to, quote, go to hell. Is respect for the office at a new low? I'll ask two top Congressional leaders, Congressman Kevin McCarthy and Chris Van Hollen.
And later, Republican Senator Jim DeMint is threatening to block all legislation on the Senate floor. I'll ask his South Carolina colleague how he feels about that. You're going to want to see and hear my live interview with Senator Lindsey Graham.
BLITZER: Republicans are firing new shots today at Democrats on Capitol Hill over their decision not to take up the controversial Bush-era tax cuts before the upcoming recess and midterm elections. Listen to the Senate minority leader, John Boehner.
All right. Unfortunately we didn't hear what John Boehner had to say. I'll read it to you. "With the idea that we're going to leave here and not extend all of the current tax rates to end the uncertainty is an irresponsibility on the part of this Congress. How any member could vote to adjourn and punt this into a lame duck session I think is putting your election above the needs of your constituents." That statement from John Boehner. Let's talk about that and more in today's strategy session. Joining us the Democratic Congressman from Maryland, Representative Chris Van Hollen. He's the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He's on your right. Also joining us, the Republican Representative from California, Kevin McCarthy. He serves as vice chairman of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Thanks to both of you for coming in. Chris Van Hollen, I'll go to you first. Is it irresponsible not to deal with these tax cuts for the middle class and everyone else before you leave to go out and campaign? REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: No, what's irresponsible, Wolf, is for the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to say that he's going to hold middle class tax relief, relief for 98 percent of the American people hostage until he can get tax breaks for the top 2 percent. At the same time, that will add $700 billion to our deficit. It will slow down economic debt in the long term and hurt job growth. That is what's irresponsible. We will pass middle class tax relief this year and get it done. We saw what happened in the Senate with the small business jobs bill. What happened? It was the Republicans who held that up for weeks and weeks, months and months. So we will take this issue to the election.
BLITZER: You'll have the vote after the election, though, in the lame duck session. And Congressman McCarthy, the president went directly after you on this. He said you guys claim you want budget deficit reductions, but you want to increase the deficit by $700 billion by allowing rich people to continue to have the tax breaks. Listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: You can't say you want to balance the budget, deal with our deficit, invest in our kids, and have a $700 billion tax cut that affects only 2 percent of the population. You just can't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Can you do it?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: We can. I mean we actually rolled back spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout. That will save you more than enough money. But more importantly, you have to think of what's happening here, the uncertainty out there. The Democrats have been in power for four years. They know this has been coming. They let it go. But also, this is the first majority since the balanced budget act, since the budget reform act of '74 passed. They don't even have a budget. They're going home with no budget, no direction on what they're going to do in taxes. They want to raise taxes on those that are in small business that create 70 percent of all jobs. You look at the CBO scoring, they say if that happens, you can lose 1.2 million jobs. This is the problem with Washington. This is the problem with the current majority and the leadership. The lack there of.
BLITZER: Because the issue in part, Congressman Van Hollen, you didn't have the votes, apparently, certainly not in the Senate right now. Even on this issue to adjourn today, you barely got enough votes. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, really had to get involved because so many Democrats weren't with you.
VAN HOLLEN: Wolf, as I said, we've seen what has happened time and again in the United States Senate where Republicans have held relief for small businesses up. In this case, they said, we're going to hold up, you know, tax relief for the middle income Americans hostage. But I want to get to a point that some of the Republican colleagues keep arguing with respect to these tax cuts that somehow they're necessary to help small businesses. First of all, only 2 percent of small businesses are affected. That's according to the Joint Economic Committee. And when you dig in to that, they have a big warning flag. And they say, you know what? A lot of these are not small businesses. It includes Pricewaterhouse. It includes fortune 100 companies, it includes big Washington law firms. My question to Kevin and his colleagues is why is it they want to give tax relief to big Washington law firms and hold tax relief everybody else hostage until that happens.
MCCARTHY: We're not the majority. We'd gladly run this bill. Let us be in the lead -- we'll have enough Democrats on our side to extend them all the way. There's no tax cut. You're going to keep the same tax system or increase taxes. Last week we rolled out the pledge to America. We went to the lumber company. Do you realize if it goes through the way the Democrats want it to be, that small business that no one in that business that had raises in two years, they had to lay off the first person in 21 years and they're using their savings, they would be paying taxes higher than the corporate tax of America, which is the second largest in the world, because they're an S corporation like the majority of small businesses. Small businesses account for 70 percent of all job growth. That is where we need to be able to assist. That's why in the pledge to America, we talk about a cut to small businesses, a 20 percent income cut for those of 500 employees or less. We have to get the country moving again. The uncertainty is keeping the capital that somebody has on the sideline.
BLITZER: That's the issue, Congressman Van Hollen, the uncertainty. A lot of businesses say, we want to hire, we're sitting on the cash but we don't know what the tax rates are going to be, we don't know what the rules are going to be. Give us some guidance and we could go ahead and hire folks.
VAN HOLLEN: First, Wolf, our colleagues after they had that event, they broke their pledge very quickly. We came back and had a vote last Thursday on the small business credit and jobs bill, which did two things. Number one, it allowed more credit to flow to small businesses who are uncertain, exactly as you say to what the economy is going to be like whether they get credit. It will allow more credit to flow. It provides major incentives for new investments in the small businesses now, which is exactly why the president has proposed 100 percent depreciation for small businesses and other businesses right now in a targeted way rather than in an open-ended tax break for the folks at the very top that adds the $700 billion to our deficit and is a drag on long-term economic growth. Look, Wolf, if they -- if the Bush tax cuts for the very top were somehow the panacea for economic growth, why is it that after eight years, we ended up losing --
BLITZER: Very quickly answer. Because I have to take a break. Go ahead, Congressman.
MCCARTHY: The only thing I see -- you have lack of leadership here. Four years to deal with it. When they took over the gavel, the budget -- the deficit was $161 billion. It's $1.4 trillion now. It's the first majority that has not produced a budget. This is their behavior here. That's why America wants change.
VAN HOLLEN: Heaven knows we had an enforcement agreement. We did pass one. We reduced levels from the president's request. We passed pay-go legislation, statutory pay go that puts brakes on spending. They all voted against it. It was in place to help bring down the deficit.
BLITZER: Don't go away. We have more to discuss. Stand by with me for a moment.
Just when you thought these tough political food fights couldn't get much worse, worse, the Republican nominee for the governor of the state of Maine tells President Obama to quote "go to hell." We will talk about that and more later.
And U.S. and China relations strained for months, but today new signs of hope coming from Beijing.
BLITZER: Let's continue our conversation with two U.S. Congressmen, Democrat Chris van Hollen and Republican Kevin McCarthy. Congressman McCarthy, there is a Republican candidate from Maine who is running right now, Paul Lepage, and he said this, and I want to play the clip, because it is underscoring what is going on and the poisonous atmosphere out there right now. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: You will be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying, Governor Lepage tells Obama to go to hell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that appropriate to tell the president of the United States that you will be hearing a lot from me, and I will be telling you to go to hell.
MCCARTHY: We need to work together, but what you are hearing in the voice is the frustration in the country where I've watched many people even in my own hometown of Bakersville who turn out to be frustrated with their government, the lack of action even on the taxes, the lack of action on a budget and then passing a health care bill where many people were opposed to it and now more people opposed to it than ever before and the frustration is also bringing out more. And they are mad at both sides of the aisle, but they want to see this place in Washington change. And in November, it will.
BLITZER: But as frustrated as you are Congressman McCarthy, I don't suspect they would ever hear you say to the president to go to hell.
MCCARTHY: I will not even say that to Chris. We can have an adult conversation, and that is what the people are looking for in America. We faced some of the biggest challenges this country has ever faced because the difficulty is we are not one country. We are divided on some of these arguments. We've got to be able to have a campaign but have them on the issues but also come together afterwards to be Americans first to actually solve problems.
BLITZER: The president came into office to hoping to end this partisanship, this poisonous atmosphere in Washington, Congressman Van Hollen, but it seems as bad if not worse now than it was a couple of years ago.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, you are right. He did. He put out an olive branch. He said he wanted to work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and right out of the box when it came to the economic recovery plan, when the economy was in total freefall. I mean, losing 700,000 jobs every month when the president was sworn in, and he said, let's put together a plan to get the economy going, and not a single Republican in the house supported that effort even though they had supported the Bush effort on T.A.R.P., and they supported other efforts, but when it came to trying to get the economy going again, there was not a single vote at that particular time. Now the economy has stabilized and what they are asking the American people to do as part of the new document that they put out is to say trust us, we will go back to the same set of economic policies that created that 700,000 job loss the month that the president was sworn in, and let's repeal the Wall Street reforms which were an effort to correct the lessons from the past.
BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there but we will continue with both of you down the road with a lot more to discuss. Chris Van Hollen and Kevin McCarthy, thank you both for coming in.
MCCARTHY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Should public school teachers have to pass math and reading tests themselves? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail responses.
And there is word that U.S. Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell may have exaggerated her resume. She may not be the only one to be sure. Stand by for that.
BLITZER: Jack is back with the Cafferty file. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question is should public schoolteachers have to pass math and reading tests themselves as is being proposed by New Jersey Governor Christy?
C. writes, "I'm one of the former young teachers who left after five years out of college. Why? The tenured sat in the lounge smoking and it was the 1970s and grousing and telling us young teachers not to work so hard and that we were too enthusiastic. Loved the kids, but not most of the peers. Not much has changed, has it? You go Governor Christy."
James in North Carolina says, "Certainly they ought to, but the teachers union would not allow it. The school system exists to serve the teachers and even mores the massive administration and its layers of excess personnel. Who could force the teachers to take the tests? They are above the law."
Mike in New Mexico writes, "I would assume all teachers did take these tests through college beginning with the S.A.T.s. Had they not passed they would not have been hired as teachers. I think we should give teachers the benefit of the doubt and stop trying to politicize the education system. To educate the children, the parents have to take responsibility. Look at the classes your kids are in and make them study, turn off the TVs and the video games and demand that your brats behave."
Jeff in Hawaii writes, "I think it is a great idea. Growing up in California, I had a soccer coach who taught government and a football coach who taught health and a chemistry teacher who majored in English and a history teacher who only knew what was in our outdated 1953 textbooks. Testing teachers is only sure way to know if they are competent."
Meg in Ohio writes, "I taught high school English for 30 years and I was effective and competent and took some time to get there, but I did. Tenure and seniority rules have to go, I agree, but there are factors that teachers can not influence, and student readiness and parent support are two of them."
Frankie says, "You would think so. Here is another no brainer, there should not be one single school in America where the wealthiest citizens would be afraid to send their children. This could be known as equality."
If you want the read more, you'll find it on my blog.