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Interview With Senator John McCain; Michele Bachmann Enters GOP Presidential Race

Aired June 14, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is ready to respond to critics in Congress who argue the U.S. is being dragged into an undeclared war in Libya.

This hour, Senator John McCain reveals what the White House has planned.

Plus: a rare look inside Syria at people who fled their hopes in fear of the brutal military crackdown. Only here on CNN, you will see the dire conditions, the desperate families overwhelmed by the horrors they left behind.

And Michele Bachmann's impact on the Republican presidential race just hours after her surprise announcement on CNN's debate stage.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are told President Obama may be just a day or two away from making a new case to Congress defending U.S. military involvement in Libya. Senator John McCain confirming that just a little while ago. Stand by for my interview with him.

The president has been getting flak about Libya from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress for weeks now.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, this debate over Libya, the War Powers Act, it is coming to a head. What's the latest?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democratic and Republican congressional sources tell us that President Obama will respond directly to their concerns about the U.S. military involvement in Libya.

And these sources tell us they are expecting to get answers perhaps tomorrow, perhaps on Thursday. And I have to tell you I reached out to the White House, but they haven't confirmed this yet. Those sources say they are also expecting for the president to justify why he has not sought congressional authorization to have U.S. troops involved in Libya, and all of this happening as really the tensions between Congress and the White House reaching a bit of a fever pitch today.

We saw a vote in the House of Representatives to cut off funding for this operation. House Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to President Obama saying, come Sunday, he will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution. That is, of course, the law you referenced, Wolf, that says the president can commit U.S. troops overseas for 60 days, but if he doesn't have authorization after that, he has to pull them out within 30 days. Well, day 90 is going to be on Sunday.

And the White House all along has said they are in compliance with this law, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, will the president also explain what the goal is, the end goal for the United States in Libya? There has been some confusion, originally, a humanitarian goal to protect civilians in Libya, later, getting rid of Gadhafi, regime change, if you will. Will he go into the specifics on what the U.S. mission is Libya is all about?

KEILAR: We don't know specifically, Wolf, because we haven't heard from the White House. But members of Congress have asked dozens of questions of President Obama. And the biggest ones have to do with why he hasn't sought congressional authorization, as you mentioned, what is the goal in Libya and how he is going to achieve it and also the cost.

I did speak earlier today with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he's authored one of these resolutions asking a lot of these questions. And here's why he said they need to be answered.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: It's really easy to enter these conflicts, especially when you have no stated goal, which is kind of where we are right now. And all of a sudden, the ante keeps being upped. You end up there in a situation that again is very difficult.

I would like for the president to articulate what our national interest is there, what our goals are on the ground.


KEILAR: So, what exactly will the president tell Congress? What case will he make for being in Libya? We don't know, Wolf.

It's possible some of his answers to Congress' questions, they are not going to like, but we know that they are coming, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps on Thursday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much. I know you will be all over this story for us.

Meanwhile, a leading Republican voice on military matters is warning Congress to be very careful about undermining the U.S. message that Moammar Gadhafi must go. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator John McCain.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Should the president formally notify Congress and seek authorization for committing troops to deal with the crisis in Libya?

MCCAIN: I think he should. And I hope that the majority leader can schedule a vote on a -- on a resolution. Two months ago, Senator Kerry and I had one and I think it would have passed rather easily at the time. Since then, obviously, there's been a lot more tension about the issue, the fact that it's been -- the situation has dragged out.

But I think it would be entirely appropriate to do so. But again, the majority leader controls the schedule of the Senate.

BLITZER: That would be Harry Reid.

Are you in agreement with some of your Republican colleagues and even a few Democrats who are suggesting he's violating the law right now by not seeking such formal authorization?

MCCAIN: I think that you could make that argument. But it's also true that other presidents have ignored the War Powers Act in one way or another. And I hope that we can get some more information over to the Congress.

I think one of the mistakes that the administration has made is that there hasn't been enough meetings with Congressional -- members of Congress, enough information. There is understandable resentment that we go to the Arab League and to NATO, but not to Congress. A lot of that is understandable.

But let me make one point very clear here, Wolf. I think that a prohibition on ground troops is not only not appropriate, I think it's -- it's unconstitutional. And I believe that if the Republicans continue to push such a thing, it could be viewed as partisanship, in my view, because no one -- no one believes that we are going to send ground troops into Libya.

So to have a, quote, "prohibition" for that could only mean that we are somehow taking shots at the president.

I would hope that we would, in a resolution, approve of the president's policy, which is not to send ground troops into Libya.

Do you see my point?

BLITZER: I -- of course I understand your point.

But are you expecting the White House to try to remedy this issue in the coming days or weeks and -- and get that kind of resolution before you?

MCCAIN: Well, my -- my understanding is that the White House will be sending over a report and lots of information about what we have done. And although it's very late, they're going to send over, I understand, detailed information. And then I think it would be perfectly fine if we moved forward with a resolution.

But I can assure you, it's going to be much more difficult with a lot more amendments and a lot more debates than if we had done this a couple of months ago. And a lot of it is understandable frustration on the part of members of Congress. But that does not mean that we act in an unconstitutional fashion, which, in my view, the only way that Congress can act is to cut off funding. That's what we did after the -- to end the Vietnam War, as you remember. And that's the only power that Congress has.

Congress cannot dictate the com -- to the commander-in-chief.

BLITZER: Compare and contrast, if you will, Gadhafi and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Because, arguably, what Bashar al-Assad is doing in Syria is at least as bad as what Gadhafi was doing in Libya, if not a whole lot worse. Yet, the U.S. still has an embassy in Damascus, still has full diplomatic relations. Yes, sanctions have been imposed.

But do you think what Bashar al-Assad is doing is even worse than what Gadhafi is doing?

MCCAIN: I think it's equally as bad. The difference is that in Libya, we had a rebel force that had control of certain parts of Libya. We risked an outright massacre in Benghazi when Gadhafi's forces were at the gates of Benghazi. We had the Arab League, NATO and other organizations solidly behind us and NATO acting.

In Syria, it is terrible and atrocious what Assad is doing. Clearly, the administration and some members of Congress were way behind in saying we can still deal with him, he's a reformer, etc.

But the best we can do in Syria, I'm sorry to say, the best we can do is sanctions, imposing those sanctions, making sure that they're rigidly enforced and understanding that this is now, to some degree, significant Iranian involvement, which makes the situation perhaps even worse in some respects than Libya.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. could go to the U.N. Security Council, could seek NATO involvement similar to what the U.S. and NATO are doing in Libya. But you're not recommending that, at least not now?

MCCAIN: I don't know how you would do it, Wolf. That's -- that's the problem, in my view. I don't know exactly how that would -- could be accomplished. And, as I said, in Libya, they had an area that was controlled by the rebel forces or the liberation forces and we knew how we could be of assistance.

In Syria, it's town by town, city by city. It's atrocious and outrages. And I think that the best way we can handle them is to give them all our -- handle this situation is to give them all our moral support, all our condemnation, sanctions as much as possible and other punitive measures that -- that are non, you know, non-military, try to assist them. I'm very worried that Bashar will repress these freedom fighters and with the utmost brutality.

BLITZER: On Libya -- on Libya, would you support using some of the $33 billion or $34 billion in frozen Gadhafi assets in the United States to give -- give them to the opposition in Libya for humanitarian purposes or an idea that I have had over these last several months, reimburse U.S. taxpayers for what it's costing the United States to liberate Libya?

MCCAIN: I would give them all their money, because it is their money. They are the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. I would give it all to them. But they have made no bones about the fact that they would be willing and perhaps even glad to reimburse the United States and our allies for the expenses that were incurred in helping them achieve their freedom.

There's not only the $30 billion. As you know, this is a country of five million people with vast oil reserves. So they -- they want to be able to get a hold of this money for a whole variety of reasons, including the fact that Gadhafi subsidized the -- the commodities and they have got to continue that for the benefit of the Libyan people.

And, by the way, Gadhafi is crumbling. There's no doubt about that. And for us to engage in a debate whether to prohibit ground forces or not, again, is -- is a foolish exercise, because I know of no one who wants to send ground forces in.

You see my point?

BLITZER: Of course.

And let me just ask one final question.

When will the White House make its case to you, to the Congress, about Libya?

When do you expect that formal notification to come forward?

MCCAIN: I would hope that there is some information coming forth in the next day or two. I would hope. I have urged them to do that. And then, obviously, it's in coordination with the majority leader, if we want to take up another resolution. And Senator Kerry and I are working together to try to have a resolution that would satisfy everyone.

It would have been a little easier a couple of months ago, my friend.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, as usual, thanks very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: In Libya, meanwhile, two explosions hit the center of Tripoli within the past hour. They are the first blasts in the capital in three days.

Also today, it's possible -- possible that ancient Roman ruins could become a target of NATO airstrikes. The alliance is refusing to rule out bombings, bombing the ruins, if it turns out that Gadhafi is hiding military equipment there.

However, NATO says it can't verify rebel claims that Gadhafi's forces may have rocket launchers at the site located between Tripoli and Misrata.

The world's news media has effectively been shut out of Syria amid a brutal government crackdown. But now CNN's Arwa Damon, a courageous journalist, has managed to get inside the country and witness the suffering of civilians firsthand.

Plus, details of a very disturbing cyber-attack on the U.S. Senate -- we are learning more about the mysterious group behind it.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's a little something that will get your attention.

The United States is actually in worse financial shape than Greece and other debt-laden European countries when you add in all the money owed to cover future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security obligations. That's what bond fund manager Bill Gross of Pimco told CNBC yesterday.

But talk of reforming these so-called entitlement programs terrifies most Americans, especially after a lot of them saw their life savings evaporate during the Great Recession and have seen the values of their homes plummet.

According to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a whole lot of Americans have not saved enough for retirement and they are going to have to rely largely on Social Security for their income as they age. The study also predicts that many Americans will have to work longer than planned. Many could end up working well into their 70s, even their 80s, in order to afford retirement.

It's a depressing thought, whether you're approaching retirement age or just planning to one day be able to afford it.

Americans are also living longer, and as a result of that, the cost and quality of health care available to them becomes more important. Seventy-two percent of non-retired Americans surveyed say the cost of health care will determine when they can retire. That's according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, which is a very long name for a fairly short study.

We likely have seen the end of the gold watch, generous pension and company-provided health care for life that was a part of many of the previous generation's retirement. The golden years for a lot of people are shaping up to be more like brass.

Here's the question: How has the economy affected your plans to retire?

Go to file and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Great question, Jack. Thank you.

For the first time since the unrest in Syria, a CNN correspondent has now managed to get inside the country to report on the fear and suffering there. President Bashar al-Assad's regime consistently has refused to give international news organizations official permission to enter Syria.

But CNN's Arwa Damon has managed to get across the border from Turkey. She spent several hours in a camp full of people who fled their homes to get away from the Syrian military's brutal crackdown. She filed this report.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the campsite located just across the Syrian-Turkish border inside Syria. The conditions are so dire that, as you have been walking through here, individuals keep coming up to us, wanting to show us just how much the families are struggling to survive.

(voice-over): The women here are visibly upset. They arrived a few days ago from one of the small villages outside of Jisr Al-Shugur. And they really don't have much of a shelter either.

These children with them that don't even have proper shoes, they are not able to stay clean. They are filthy. And it's just an incredibly desperate situation.

(on camera): So, the kids are saying that they're here just playing in the water, but this is also being used by the adults to try to bathe themselves, bathe the children and do their washing. And this water is not clean by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it's so murky, it looks more like a stream of mud.

This is something of a makeshift pharmacy that has been set up inside the camp, if it can even be called that. Mohammed (ph), who brought most of these medicines, owned the pharmacy itself in Jisr Al- Shugur, and he piled everything that he possibly could as he was fleeing. And he is choosing to stay here because the people desperately need his help. He is the only person that they can go to for any number of illnesses that people are suffering from here, especially the children, given the rough weather conditions that they have been having to deal with. So, this woman who just arrived apparently, we are being told, has high blood pressure and she is diabetic. And those -- for example, they are two medicines that he quite simply does not have.

This is what this family has to cook on. And you actually don't see this level of so-called luxury at every single small campsite. The tent is crude, a tarp between two sticks, various vehicles. You seem them strung between the trees as well, laundry scattered all over, the families crouching and waiting.

And when we have been asking them about what they witnessed, they simply for the most part say it was too horrific to put into words. And the next thing they want to know is when will they be able to go home, because none of them have that answer.

Arwa Damon, CNN, near (INAUDIBLE) in Syria.


BLITZER: One courageous journalist, that Arwa Damon.

Let's get some more perspective now on Syria's border region and the exodus from the country.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here at our data wall.

This is a painful subject, because a lot of people have been so, so severely affected.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the question for many people here may be what exactly is driving these people to the places where Arwa mentioned along the border here with Turkey.

This is the kind of region we are talking about in that area. But this is what is making the move. As you widen out, ever since January, more and more and more and more clashes throughout Syria and they have grown more intense and bigger, involving much heavier armament. You are using the words massacre, things like that, in many places, as protesters in Syria clash with government troops in this country.

What are they clashing about? It's much like what we have seen in other areas around here, where there has been a sense that the government has needed to change. And, Wolf, you know as well as anybody else why that is the case. It all comes down to this, a family that has been in charge a long time.

Tell me about these people, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, this is a father, Hafez al-Assad. He was the ruler of Syria for so many years and handed over power to Bashar al- Assad, the son.

But a lot of the power also the brother of Bashar al-Assad, Maher Al-Assad, he is the commander of the Republican Guard, what they call the elite Republican Guard. You remember them from Libya as well, same thing.

FOREMAN: Exactly.

One family in charge for a very long time, so much so that since the early 1960s, in effect, the constitution of the country has been suspended. They have said it has been emergency rule ever since. And they have been in charge. They have elections, but you can't elect anybody else.

All you can do is reaffirm your support for them. That's a problem because of this. I want to show you the breakdown of this country. These represent different groups. Sunni, you may notice, is huge -- Alawite, in green here, much smaller. The family that is ruling the country is connected to this part.

We have heard this story before, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the top military leadership as well.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. They're the ones running the country.

Then there are smaller groups out here. So, the Sunnis in part have been saying, enough already. We are tired of one tiny group pushing everyone else around. There have been a lot of power plays, for example, suggestions from the government that, if the Sunnis take over, they will crush the Druze, they will crush the Christians, who are in much smaller numbers.

Nonetheless, as the power play has come about, there have been more and more and more clashes. But look at the difference in size here, the Sunnis, 74 percent of the country, the Alawites and the Druze, 16 percent, and then Christians and others 10 percent, and down there, a very small Jewish population there. This is the essence of why these clashes continue to happen and continue to happen.

Why do we care in this country? Well, for humanitarian reasons, of course. People may care about that, for democracy reasons, but also because, as always in this area, the region. And when you widen out, you have to look at who is for and against this right now. Turkey getting the pressure of these people who are trying to flee coming up this way, they are not very happy about this.

Lebanon has long been together with Syria in many different ways. They are generally favoring some of what's going on with the government there. Nonetheless, the other players are involved to some degree, but not as much right now.

But this is the big question, Wolf. What happens here with this crackdown? Does stability come ultimately by the government being tough, as terrible as that may be, or does further instability come? That's a lot of the interest, obviously.

BLITZER: And let's not forget Syria's major patron, Iran, not on this map right here, but Iran plays a huge role, a major ally of the Syrian regime.


FOREMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Tom.

Representative Ron Paul striking an isolationist note at last night's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire. Does it speak, though, of the mood of the Republican Party?


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The longer we're there, the worse things are and the more danger we're in as well, because our presence there is not making friends, let me tell you.


BLITZER: And Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's breakout moment last night. We're going to get reaction to her surprise announcement.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential field is getting more crowded.

And we're told with the former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman will formally announce his campaign next week, with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. And there's growing speculation that the Texas governor, Rick Perry, will jump into the race as well -- one reason why, he is replacing Donald Trump as the featured speaker at a Republican dinner in New York City tonight.

Perry is on a cross-country swing right now as he considers whether to run for the White House. A lot of folks think he will.

Add Michele Bachmann to the list of official presidential contenders. The Republican congresswoman and Tea Party favorite has filed the paperwork for her candidacy, a surprise announcement she made at the CNN debate in New Hampshire last night.

Our Mary Snow has been getting reaction to Congresswoman Bachmann's campaign kickoff. Mary is joining us now with more.

What are you learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michele Bachmann is being talked about as the surprise of the evening, and not just because of her announcement at the debate.

She exceeded expectations and is winning high marks across the board for her performance.


SNOW (voice-over): Michele Bachmann walked into Monday's Republican presidential debate an underdog and walked out, as one pundit put it, as the breakout star.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president of the United States, I will not rest until I repeal Obamacare. It's a promise. Take it to the bank, cash the check. I will make sure that that happens.

Thank you so much.

SNOW: Bachmann has made a name for herself with grassroots conservatives. She is a former tax litigation attorney who founded the House Tea Party Caucus. When she ran for reelection last year, she was helped by a woman she is often compared to, Sarah Palin.

Bachmann's debate performance has some asking questions about Palin.

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen:

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The question arises with Sarah Palin not in the race, who needs Sarah Palin, when you have got Michele Bachmann? She brings a lot of the same sizzle, a lot of the excitement, a lot of the glamour. And she connected to that audience last night.

SNOW: While Bachmann and Palin may appeal to the same grassroots conservatives, some in the movement say there is room for both of them.

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Bachmann needs to do more to be the non-Romney. And because of that, it sort of leaves from my perspective, it sort of leaves a hole for someone like Rick Perry or someone like Sarah Palin to really come in.

BACHMANN: We are back in business.

SNOW: Bachmann has also gained notice for criticism of President Obama. In November, for example, she said this.

BACHMANN: Well, the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day.

SNOW: But she ended up making her own headlines after it was discovered her information came from a report from India that was false. John Avlon, who follows the Tea Party closely, says she still needs to win over fiscal conservatives

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: She was the one, you know, who has made her name by questioning, for example, in the 2008 campaign, whether President Obama held anti-American views. That -- that strain in politics, that paranoid style in American politics, which she has been a face and a voice for, many more principled fiscal conservatives will feel very uncomfortable about her claiming to represent them in the field of debate in the debate of ideas.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Wolf, one other note about the debate last night in New Hampshire, political observers we spoke with today were struck, they say, by the way the Tea Party infused the entire debate. And as one put it, it was hard to distinguish the people who were called Tea Party activists and those who were not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Michele Bachmann and the other candidates in last night's Republican debate largely skipped criticizing each other, saving all of their scorn, instead, for President Obama.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any one of the people on this stage would be a better president than President Obama. He has -- he has failed in job one, which was to get this economy going again. He failed in job two, which is to restrain the growth of government, and he's failed in job three, which is to have a coherent, consistent foreign policy.

BACHMANN: The president was wrong. All we have to know is the president deferred leadership in Libya to France.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So we have to engage our allies and have our allies know that we have their back. The president has not done that. He has done everything he can, whether it's Israel or Honduras or whether it's Columbia or whether it's the Czechs, the Poles, he has turned his back on American allies, and he has embraced our enemies

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When 14 million Americans are out of work, we need a new president and the Obama depression.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You're all here saying the president of the United States is making the economy worse. Has he done one thing? Has he done one thing right when it comes to the economy?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's a tough question. No, no, I can't think of anything.


BLITZER: Let's get to more now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. She was up in New Hampshire with all of us watching this debate. Did they make their point that they largely didn't criticize each other? Only the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right. You know, the first debate, Wolf, this is always the case. They're kind of wanting to present themselves to their voters. They were clearly talking to the Republican base.

Barack Obama has a 14 percent approval rating among Republicans, so they could not criticize Barack Obama enough on everything, ranging from health care to the deficit. And you just saw the economy. They could not think of one thing, one thing that the president has done properly. Not a surprise.

BLITZER: On the economic front. They like the fact that he killed bin Laden.

BORGER: They do, yes. They actually gave him the bin Laden thing. That's -- but that was about it.

BLITZER: Other than that they don't like much else.

Ron Paul is an intriguing candidate. Third time he's running. First time as a Libertarian.


BLITZER: Four years ago he ran as a Republican. It seems his views, they seem to be -- he 's consistent. He hasn't changed his opinion on anything.

BORGER: Not at all.

BLITZER: But other Republicans are following him. Let me play this clip, because he's basically an isolationist when it comes to foreign policy. Listen to this.


PAUL: I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do, and I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I'd get them out of Iraq, as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen, and I'd quit bombing Pakistan. I'd start taking care of people here at home, because we can save hundreds of billions of dollars. Our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there.


BLITZER: And it's interesting. I think you'll agree a lot more Republicans and even some democrats are beginning to agree with him.

BORGER: It's interesting. We were talking to Ron Paul last night after the debate. And I said to him, do you have a dense of deja vu about this? And he said actually, it's quite different from the way it was four years ago. And that's because he's really much more in step with his party.

And I think it goes back again, Wolf, to the budget issues. The Republicans believe that we cannot afford to be in Afghanistan, cannot afford to be in Iraq. Ron Paul doesn't even want to drop drones in Pakistan. And so it shows you the extent to which the budget debate is driving the foreign policy debate.

You had on John McCain earlier in the show. I think John McCain and Lindsey Graham may be the two last hawks really left in the United States Senate for talking intervention. John McCain was talking intervention in Libya unilaterally, and nobody else was, including the president of the United States.

And none of the people on the dais last night would have done that either. So it shows you the extent to which the debate has shifted, particularly without John McCain in the center of that.

BLITZER: Let's not forget the trio. Joe Lieberman, part of that.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: John McCain, Lindsey Graham trio, as well.

BORGER: But not a Republican.

BLITZER: No, independent. All right, Gloria. Thank you.

President Obama is making history today. We're going to tell you what he's doing that's so unusual.

Plus, plans for a see-through plane are revealed.


BLITZER: An important personnel decision in Congress today. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, what do you have?

SNOW: Wolf, CIA Director Leon Panetta is one step closer to a new job. The Senate Armed Services Committee has unanimously endorsed his nomination for defense secretary and now goes before the full Senate for a vote. Panetta would replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

President Obama did something today no president has done in decades. He paid an official visit to Puerto Rico, lasting just five hours. In his speech, the president backed a referendum on Puerto Rico's future, and he said he would support any outcome, whether it's independence, statehood, or semi-autonomous status.

The government has new rules for sunscreen labels. Makers will now have to show how about well their product protects against the sun's cancer-causing ultraviolet A rays. Currently, only information on ultra violet B rays is required. Those are the rays that cause sunburn. Sunscreens that comply and have an SPF factor of 15 or higher can claim they reduce the risk of skin cancer.

And take a look at Airbus's concept for the jet of the future, a see-through plane. It features a transparent cabinet that lets passengers see everything around and above them. The company compares the structure to bird foam. Lightweight, but strong. Airbus says a see-through plane like this could be flying as early as 2050.

Wolf, I guess you don't have to fight for the window seat. BLITZER: Yes. I think I would be a little nervous, though. It looks scary. But you know what? Some people would love it. All right.

SNOW: I'd be nervous.

BLITZER: Let's see if we're all around in 2050. You will be, I'm sure. Thanks very much.

A cyber attack on the U.S. Senate. We're learning more about the mysterious group behind it. Our own Brian Todd is standing by. He has details of what the hackers did to the Senate Web site.


BLITZER: Here in Washington, Senate officials are investigating a cyber attack on the chamber's Web site by a mysterious group of hackers who apparently had very little trouble breeching online security. Brian Todd working the story for us.

What do we know about this, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Senate is downplaying this. They say the attackers were only able to read director files and didn't get much information. But experts don't agree. They say these hackers were on the Senate server and could have done much more damage.


TODD (voice-over): A team of hackers announces, "We don't like the U.S. government very much" and says, just for kicks, it's hacked into the Senate's Web site. Lulz Security, known as LulzSec, takes a public jab, saying in a release, "Is this an act of war, gentlemen?" A reference to the Pentagon saying it now considers cyber attacks an act of war. LulzSec posts what it says is internal data from

(on camera) What is this and how sensitive is it?

ANUP GHOSH, CEO, INVINCEA: Yes. What we're seeing here, Brian, is LulzSec is showing proof that they are on the Senate Web server, able to run system commands. Essentially, they owned the server.

TODD: Anup Ghosh is founder of Invincea, a cyber security company that works with government agencies and private industry.

The Senate sergeant at arms says the intrusion does not compromise the security of the Senate's network, but Ghosh says if LulzSec's hackers wanted to, they could have taken the Senate's Web site off its server, could have replaced content on any Senate site.

(on camera) Experts say LulzSec has done that before. The group didn't like a PBS documentary about WikiLeaks, so it hacked into PBS's Web site, posted a fake story about Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls being alive and well in New Zealand. Both rappers were killed in the late 90s.

(voice-over) The name Lulz in "LulzSec," experts say, is hack speak for laughs. But no one knows the real names of the people in LulzSec or how many of them there are.

Kevin Mitnick was once the world's most wanted hacker. He served five years in prison for hacking into phone company sites, and firms now consult him on cyber security. He corresponded with LulzSec hackers when they first started.

KEVIN MITNICK, FORMER HACKER: They enjoy the game of breaking into the system, and I think they're really enjoying their media attention because they have a lot of followers. I think over 125,000 of them now. They've actually dedicated a Web site to their attacks.

TODD: We used Twitter to try to reach LulzSec, tried calling a couple of phone leads; never got them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not available right now because we are busy raping your incidents (ph).

TODD: Ghosh says, despite the dark humor, LulzSec's hacking spree has a broader message.

GHOSH: That our networks are open. They have unfettered access through the weak security networks that are deployed on today's networks to get on anyone's network to show them and shame them and humiliate them.


TODD: Ghosh and other experts say that's also a positive side to what LulzSec's doing. They're putting CEOs and government web masters on notice that their networks are vulnerable. There is a purpose being served to this. Maybe not intended.

BLITZER: Yes. But that's a marked contrast to some other hackers out there who aren't necessarily doing it.

TODD: That's right. The nation states who want to tap into government documents, the cyber criminals who want to steal things, they never announce it when they hack. So that's pretty dangerous. These guys are at least saying, "Hey, we're out there. We're doing this."

You know, again, what their motive is, not clear.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much for that report.

So how has the economy affected your plans to retire? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

And she was lampooned on "Saturday Night Live," but now the presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann, may be having the last laugh with her breakout campaign.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is: "How has the economy affected your plans to retire?"

Lisa in Shelton, Connecticut: "What plans to retire? Most who look at their post-George W. Bush 401(k)s understand that retirement will have to include some sort of additional income stream, albeit far less technical or stressful than our career was. Welcome to Wal- mart."

Ronnie in New Jersey: "If you mean do I plan on working until I drop dead on the job? Then yes, which after my Social Security and Medicare gets taken away from me could be much sooner than expected."

Ed in Texas: "The low-interest-rate environment prevents me from earning enough on my savings to retire. First it was the dot com bust, then the housing collapse. Jack, please tell me what bubble I should invest in next."

Bill in New Mexico: "I feel sorry for the future Americans wishing to retire. I think America may be moving into an era when only the top one percent will be able to retire in comfort."

Tom in Georgia writes, "I am retired, and it really scares me. Truth is, today I've converted 75 percent of my portfolio into cash. I'm going to mitigate my risk by sitting this out for a year or two or three until I can see signs of fiscal responsibility in our government and stability in the markets. I'm scared as hell."

Nate in North Carolina: "As a young American who recently worked in the H.R. during the U.S. Census, I employed many people who were desperate for a job. They were mainly citizens close to retiring or forced to retire due to their age. I'm beginning to learn that I need to start now taking good care of my physical health."

Lori in Pennsylvania: "I'm just trying to find a job. Retirement is the last thing on my mind."

And Wilhelm writes, "Already has, Jack. The wife and I planned to travel after I retired five years ago. Really can't do that now with gasoline at $4 a gallon and the fear that Paul Ryan and the Republicans might steal our Social Security and Medicare if they take over the White House, Senate and Congress in 2012. We'll need all our savings just for food, housing, and healthcare costs if that happens. There will be no money for seeing the USA in our Chevrolet."

Most of you are probably not old enough to remember that, but I do. If you want to read more on this, go to my blog: And you do, too.

BLITZER (singing): See the USA in a Chevrolet.

CAFFERTY: You've got it. BLITZER: OK, Jack, you and me, we remember. A lot of our viewers remember that commercial. Maybe Chevrolet should bring it back.

CAFFERTY: Well, it was a pretty good campaign, I think.

BLITZER: Excellent. All right. Jack, see you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Another question: Is President Obama afraid of losing the Latino vote? More on his unusual visit to Puerto Rico. That's coming up for our North American viewers at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

Plus, the lighter side of the new darling of the right. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a look at the newly-minted presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann.


BLITZER: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he's not running for president, but some Republicans are trying to draft him anyway. Listen to CNN's Piers Morgan asking Christie about issue No. 1 in the election, the economy.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Right now is in the fight of his life as a nation. Particularly economic. Do you think America needs somebody like you who's going to be tough?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think America needs lots of tough people, not just me. I think America needs to get tougher, all of us. We need to understand that it's time to step up and pay for what we want. And, you know, we haven't been doing that a long time. And both parties have been guilty of it.


BLITZER: All right. You can see all of the interview with Governor Christie later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. I recommend you watch it.

Her debut as a presidential candidate is getting strong reviews, but that certainly hasn't always been the case for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Enter Michele Bachmann.

BACHMANN: It's going to be a wonderful evening. MOOS: Actually, when she tried to enter, arriving at the debate, she was stymied by a locked door. But she was right about having a wonderful evening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Big night for Bachmann.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She stole the headlines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A steal-the-show performance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had charisma.

MOOS: But a mere four and a half years ago, she was star struck.

(on camera) Michele Bachmann first popped up on our radar screen back when she was a rookie congresswoman. We'd never even heard of her. Michelle who?

(voice-over) We were doing a story on how people fall all over the president after the State of the Union speech, and there she was, clutching at then-President Bush. We even timed her.

BACHMANN: Oh, absolutely.

MOOS: Freshman Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota latched onto the president for a record-breaking 24 seconds.

BACHMANN: Are we going to get a kiss, Mr. President?

MOOS: After that, there was no kissing Michele Bachmann good- bye. There have been some funny moments, for instance when her supporters mocked host Chris Matthews for saying an uplifting Obama speech sent a thrill up his leg while he mocked her.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC'S "HARDBALL": Congresswoman Bachmann, are you hypnotized tonight? Has someone hypnotized you? Because no matter what I ask you, you give the same answer.

MOOS: Then there was the time she misplaced the start of the Revolutionary War.

BACHMANN: Here you see where the shot was heard around the world. It was at Lexington and Concorde..

MOOS: The thing is, Lexington and Concorde are in Massachusetts. She was speaking in New Hampshire.

One of her most uncomfortable faux pass wasn't even her fault.

BACHMANN: Good evening. My name is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

MOOS: If her eyes seem to be wandering off camera during her key party reply to State of the Union, that's because they were.

BACHMANN: Look no further. MOOS: Instead of looking at the network pool camera, she was looking further over at the teleprompter mounted on this Tea Party camera, where she looked fine.

BACHMANN: It's an honor for me to speak with you.

MOOS: And it was an honor for "Saturday Night Live" to lampoon her.

KRISTEN WIIG, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": The economy was headed for disaster, as you can see from this chart.

MOOS: Real Michele Bachmann.

BACHMANN: A staggering 10.1 percent.

MOOS: Fake Michele Bachmann.

WIIG: As this next chart clearly shows.

MOOS: Now the real Bachmann is back. And instead of grabbing the president, she's trying to be president.

BACHMANN: As president of the United States.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.