Return to Transcripts main page


AARP Flip-Flop on Social Security; Big Business vs. Unions; Security Scare at the Pentagon; 'Vampire' Air Attacks on Libya; New York to Legalize Gay Marriage?; Women Climbing in Driver's Seat in Saudi Arabia; Interview With Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; 'Strategy Session'

Aired June 17, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: T.J., thanks very much.

Happening now, she's the latest candidate to jump into the Republican race for the White House, already proving to her opponents that she's a force to be reckoned with. Could Michelle Bachmann be the next president of the United States? Stand by for my interview live. That's coming up.

Mounting political upheaval in Greece right now, amidst desperate efforts to ward off a complete financial meltdown. Could the United States and the rest of the world end up feeling the blow?

And two Washington rivals getting ready to take their political differences to the green. We'll look ahead to tomorrow's golf summit between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

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

But we begin with the most powerful lobbying group here in Washington, the most powerful group for older Americans, to be sure, right now at the center of a growing question about its stance on Social Security. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today that in a stunning reversal, the AARP no longer opposes cuts to the Social Security program.

The AARP, though, says that isn't necessarily true.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now with details.

A lot of our viewers either are on Social Security, they're getting ready for Social Security. Many of them are members of the AARP.

They want to know what is this lobbying organization really up to right now?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A huge story, major ramifications for millions of people on Social Security wondering if it's going to be there for future generations. AARP is trying to clarify and say, look, in the short-term, they don't think there's a crisis for Social Security and so there will not and should not be short-term cuts to Social Security benefits. 'But when you listen closely to what they're saying, they're saying long- term, that maybe there will be cuts to benefits and maybe you should have to lift the retirement age for when Americans can start collecting Social Security.

Take a listen at how one of their senior officials today tried to clarify here on CNN.


DAVID CERTNER, AARP: The board is in sync with its membership. In fact, the board is trying to find out exactly where the membership is and what kind of changes we can make to keep Social Security strong. You know, as we look forward, what we see is that people are living longer, health care costs are going up, people's home values are dropping, people's pensions and retirements are shrinking. We know Social Security will be just as important -- in fact, probably more important in the future, than it is today. And we're committed to keeping Social Security strong.


HENRY: And that is the -- really, the major point right now, with so many Americans not having as much home equity, not having as much in their 401(k)s, who are going to be relying on Social Security more and more. That's going to drain the program. And so what AARP is trying to figure out, Wolf, is how do you, you know, save the program long-term.

And it's interesting that Jay Carney today, at the White House, in reaction to this, when I asked him about this whole situation, he basically said the president does not believe in drastic cuts to Social Security. That leaves the door open, of course, to smaller cuts to Social Security. That's going to -- it's going to be a big issue.

But changes are going to have to be made. And a lot of people are starting to face that reality. BLITZER: So here's a little wiggle room on the part of the AARP.

HENRY: Absolutely, that --

BLITZER: All right --

HENRY: -- that there at least will be some cuts, maybe not drastic cuts.

How do you define drastic will be the key.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the vice president. He's been meeting with the Republican leadership, the Democratic leadership in Congress. They're trying to figure out a way -- how to raise the debt ceiling so the creditworthiness of the United States doesn't go down.

Are they making any progress?

HENRY: It looks like they are starting to make some progress, because we're starting to hear these talks are going to intensify next week. There's at least three meetings the vice president now has on his schedule for these talks next week, much more than he's had in previous weeks. Jay Carney today saying he may even add a fourth one next week.

So it looks like they are trying to intensify all this. And that's why it ties right back to the Social Security story, because they're looking for $4 trillion in spending cuts and deficit reduction to tie to a lifting of the debt ceiling. The bottom line is, groups like AARP are trying to say, look, long-term, maybe we'll make some cuts. But don't cut Social Security in the short-term to come up with that $4 trillion in cuts.

That's ultimately what that -- what they're worried about, is that the politicians in both parties will go into Social Security in the short-term to come up with the numbers to lift this debt ceiling.

BLITZER: There's so much of that money, that debt is -- that long-term debt involves what we call the entitlements -- Social Security --

HENRY: Medicare --

BLITZER: -- Medicare and Medicaid. And that's where so much of the --

HENRY: Big, big programs affecting millions of our viewers.

BLITZER: All right, Ed.

Thanks very, very much.

A good clarification.

Meanwhile, there's a new battlefront rapidly shaping up between Democrats and Republicans, one that could resonate with a lot of voters in the 2012 presidential race. At issue right now, the idea of a federal right to work law. The idea provoked the single strongest reaction during this week's Republican debate in New Hampshire.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman.

He's over at the data wall to explain what this is all about -- Tom, what is this all about?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you are absolutely right. This is one of those issues that's been around for a while, but really is heating up. And at this debate, there were hand grenades in the hot tub over this.

Listen to what happened when some of the people in that debate brought up this idea of right to work laws being expanded.


TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We live in the United States of America and people shouldn't be forced to belong or be a member in any organization. And the government has no business telling people what group you have to be a member of or not.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think having -- if you believe in the Tenth Amendment, we ought to let the states learn from each other. And the right to work states are creating a lot more jobs today than the heavily unionized states.

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I agree with the speaker and the others who believe that if the federal government continues to do the kinds of things that this administration is trying to do through the back door, through the National Labor Relations Board, that's killing our free market system.


FOREMAN: You saw those lines on the screen. That was the approval of a dial test group we had for this. A lot of support, particularly on the Republican side, for this.

So let's explain what this is about, in case you don't know. And you may very well not, depending on where you live.

Right to work laws basically guarantee that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not join nor to pay dues to a labor union.

What does that mean in a practical sense?

What it means is that the country is divided up right now. There are all of these states, where, basically, unions can have what's called a closed shop, or some version of that, where they can essentially say, if you work for this company, you must be a member of the Machinists Union or -- or the Die and Tool Union or whatever union it may be.

Other states, however, have these laws. All of these are right to work states. There are slightly less than half of those in the country. These are states that say you can belong to a union or you don't -- don't have to belong to a union, it's up to you. And you can work for anyone whether you do or not. And these states are considering adding such laws or have been talking about it.

Why does this matter?

Remember what we saw in Wisconsin not so long ago, where we had all those difficulties up there?

Up in Wisconsin, what we saw were protests from groups saying they did not want to see any weakening of the collective bargaining powers of unions. They say, in effect -- and this isn't a right to work state, but (INAUDIBLE), if you're looking at a right to work law, you're giving people the ability to go around the unions. They say it weakens the unions. That's why this happened up in Wisconsin.

But if we move down here to South Carolina, where there's another dispute going on right now over Boeing, the argument being that the unions are saying Boeing put a new plant down here instead of up in Washington because Washington was a non-right to work state and they wanted to take advantage of it here. So they've had strikes and all sorts of problems going on and this big argument with the National Labor Relations Board.

The bottom line down here is the unions are saying, you're undermining our power by letting people work who aren't part of the union. And if you have more of these states, more of that happens.

The flip side is the right to work people say when the economy is struggling, you've got to have this kind of freedom and anybody ought to be able to get any jobs.

I'm telling you, Wolf, this is one of those battlegrounds that is heating up and I think is going to continue heating up as we move into this presidential cycle.

BLITZER: And a huge difference between so many Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

Tom, thanks very much.

She just jumped into the race for the White House and she's already managing to stand out in the crowded field. My live interview with Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. That's coming up.





BLITZER: Let's go to the Pentagon right now, where authorities are trying to piece together the facts following a security scare earlier in the day.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us with the latest.

It certainly panicked a lot of folks in the Pentagon area, here in the Washington, DC area.

What's the latest -- Chris?


I mean this was enough that it even caught the attention of the White House. And when you hear the details of this story, you can see why certain people were very, very suspicious.


LAWRENCE: The bomb scare ended with the arrest of a U.S. Marine and dogs searching his home in suburban Virginia. But it started when the man was caught overnight in Arlington Cemetery after running away from police.

SERGEANT DAVID SCHLOSSER, U.S. PARK POLICE SPOKESMAN: Arlington Cemetery is closed after dark. This is why the person was -- was being investigated.

LAWRENCE: But he wasn't cooperating. And then, police opened his backpack.

SCHLOSSER: That's why we -- we felt that it was appropriate to close these roadways down.

LAWRENCE: Two things made them suspicious -- a notebook with the words "Taliban" and "Al Qaeda" scribbled inside and something he claimed was ammonium nitrate.

BRENDA HECK, FBI WASHINGTON FIELD OFFICE: We responded with the -- the appropriate expertise, which is bomb technology or bomb techs here, community wide.

LAWRENCE: Police also found a suspicious car parked in a wooded area right near the Pentagon. But investigators didn't find any other explosive items inside. And bomb techs determined the substance he had had no chance of blowing up.

HECK: I can tell you, though, that there was not a device and that the products found are determined right now to be inert.

LAWRENCE: But the proximity to the Pentagon was enough to alert the White House.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: There were no dangerous materials or explosives found.

LAWRENCE: The man in custody, Yonathan Melaku, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps Reserve. He's been a Marine for nearly four years and is currently assigned to a combat engineer battalion. But a military source tells us he's fallen off the radar. The official says Melaku failed to pass fitness tests and was not recommended for promotion.

About all that Melaku's neighbors could say about him was that he kept a hectic schedule.

EDWARD STOKES, NEIGHBOR: He really wasn't too much of a person that really said too much. Just, like just in -- just in and out, in and out and that's about it.

(END VIDEO TAPE) LAWRENCE: Well, we do know that Melaku never deployed overseas to places like Iraq or Afghanistan. FBI officials believe he was acting alone. And they don't think there was any other location involved other than the one area where they found him.

Authorities also say, at this point, look, the investigation is still going on. It's still early. But there is nothing to indicate right now that this had anything to do with terrorism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And do we know anything about his political views, his religious views, anything along those lines, his background?

LAWRENCE: No, not yet, Wolf. We're still digging into that. But, again, you know, a low level Marine, E-3, been in the Marine Reserve for coming up on four years. He did receive some medals early on, which suggests that at least for a time, you know, he was going to drill, he was participating in the Marines. And then, our source says, at some point, you know, he sort of dropped off the radar.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence will stay on top of this story for us.

I know it caused a huge scare earlier today.

Thank you.

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi insists his forces will defeat the United States and NATO. In a new audio message that rang out over Tripoli's Green Square, Gadhafi called Libyan rebels "traitors and cronies of the West," his words.

Four months since Libya's rebel uprising began, NATO is continuing to carry out air strikes.

France is certainly playing a very important role.

Our senior international correspondent, Jim Bittermann, got a firsthand look aboard a French assault ship.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): If Libya's Colonel Gadhafi is feeling the heat just a little more these days, the pilots of the French Helicopter Strike Group from the assault ship Tonnere are part of the reason. Since they, along with British helicopters, went into operation against Libyan targets earlier this month, the attack helicopters have been flying missions most every night against targets that are harder to identify or harder to hit from fixed wing aircraft.

But while the helicopters can target small vehicles and even individual soldiers with wire guided missiles and 30 millimeter cannons, they also fly lower and slower than the jets and are much more vulnerable to even small arms fire from the ground -- something the pilots, none of whom can be identified by name, are keenly aware of. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The intensity of the mission, the engagements with the enemy, it's the whole collection of things that makes this mission difficult.

BITTERMANN: The helicopter assault group commander says it's risky, but doable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've studied this level of risk very, very accurately. And our TTPs, our techniques, tactics and procedures, make us quite certain we can assume this level of risk.

BITTERMANN (on camera): So far, the colonel has been proven right. The gunships have been in action practically each night since June 3rd without being hit by ground fire, night after night, attacking specific targets, as well as targets of opportunity as they appear. That, says the ship's commander, is what makes the helicopters so valuable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're more precise. We're acting more locally. And we're acting in a very short loop at the very tactical level above the ground.

BITTERMANN: Are you raising the pressure on Gadhafi?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're able to move very quickly from one point to another and to apply pressure wherever we have objectives to achieve.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Among the army airmen on this navy ship, there's little question the helicopters they've brought into this fight are making a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To -- to go to the enemy, to see him and to tell him, we will beat you. So it -- it's a real -- a real fight between two soldiers.

BITTERMANN (on camera): One French officer said that on this mission, they're behaving a bit like vampires -- relaxing by day and going on the attack at night. And each night, the French command believes they are draining more and more of the strength from Gadhafi's forces.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, aboard the BPC Tonnere, off the coast of Libya.


BLITZER: And stand by for my live interview with Republican presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann.

She's standing by, as well. She's in New Orleans.

Plus, a young woman who led police on a two year chase using stolen boats, stolen cars, even stolen planes. The day in court -- that's coming up. And he's the most important man in Pakistan and the key to keeping the peace with Islamabad, but he could be on his way out. Why this Pakistani general is so important to the United States.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: We're standing by to speak live with Congressman Michelle Bachmann, the Republican presidential candidate. She's in New Orleans. We'll go there soon.

Meanwhile, the so-called Barefoot Bandit is looking at jail time.

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

What's going on -- Mary?


Well, the man known as the Barefoot Bandit pleaded guilty today to federal charges in a cross-country crime spree. Twenty-year-old Colton Harris-Moore led police on a two year chase, eluding capture in stolen boats, cars and planes. He got his nickname from being barefoot much of the time. He'll find out his sentencing fate in October. Prosecutors want seven years in prison for him. Harris- Moore also agreed to give up any profits from movie deals.

A potential contender for the White House has an appointment with the doctor. Texas Governor Rick Perry will undergo minor back surgery in Austin next month. His office says it will not affect his schedule. Perry has said he's considered running for the GOP presidential nomination. He is expected to speak tomorrow before the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

The U.S. is formally dropping criminal charges against Osama bin Laden in the wake of his death. A 1998 indictment had charged the Al Qaeda leader with murder and conspiracy to kill Americans in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa. But federal prosecutors requested the charges be dropped after facial recognition, DNA and photo ID tests confirmed bin Laden died in last month's Navy SEALs raid in Pakistan.

And try making your way through this. Thick ash coats farmland, popular resort towns and an entire lake in Argentina. A volcano just across the border in Chile erupted on June 4th, sending a huge plume of smoke and ash into the air. Air traffic is just now getting back to normal after hundreds of flights were disrupted and the winter tourist season is just about to get underway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty thick.

All right. Thanks very much, Mary. We'll check back with you.

Michelle Bachmann says she's a voice for the American people. The breakout Republican White House contender will join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM for an interview. Stand by.

And Greece's economic troubles that -- have that country certainly in turmoil right now.

But guess what?

It could also have deep financial repercussions for the recession recovery right here in the United States. We'll tell you why.


BLITZER: New York could be on the verge of becoming the largest state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill has already passed the state assembly, but is now being held up in the state senate.

Mary Snow is in New York.

She's got the details for us -- a big, big potential development in New York.

What's the latest?

SNOW: Wolf, you know, there were expectations the vote could come as early as today. But now, at this point, it's looking like it won't happen until Monday. That's the last day of the legislative session.

Backers of the bill to the legalize same-sex marriage are one vote short of passing it.


SNOW (voice-over): Leslie Miller and Alicia Salzar, both doctors and mothers of two children, are hoping lawmakers in Albany will give them something they've never had -- a legal marriage.

ALICIA SALZAR, SUPPORTS GAY MARRIAGE: I think we're sending a loud and clear message about whether our families and our life and our choice and who we are and our love is legitimate or not. And kids are watching.

SNOW: Behind the personal stories, Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, is leading an intense political push to legalize same-sex marriage. A big supporter is New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg, an Independent who reached out to New Yorkers trying to get them to sway lawmakers.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: My name is Mike and I'm calling on behalf of New Yorkers United for Marriage. SNOW: Catholic New York archbishop, Timothy Dolan, is trying to sway lawmakers to oppose the bill. He compares it to communist nations dictating things like family size. "The last time I consulted an atlas," he writes, "it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America, not in China or North Korea." Athletes are also weighing in. Former New York Giants football player, David Tyree, has joined the fight against same-sex marriage.


DAVID TYREE, FORMER NEW YORK GIANTS PLAYER: This does come forth as this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, you know -- it's a strong word, but anarchy.

SNOW: Sean Avery of the New York Rangers who is heterosexual, is a vocal supporter and visited the state capital to lobby for it.

Unlike three previous attempts in New York to legalize same-sex marriage, the campaign is closer than it's ever been. It's getting a significant amount of money from an unexpected source -- Republicans and conservatives. Among the groups fighting to pass the bill, the Human Rights Campaign.

BRIAN ELLNER, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: And we've been able to raise a lot of money from Republicans. Look, I think it's -- in some ways, it's a sea change. But we're also seeing it nationally. And we saw it again on repealing "don't ask/don't tell."

SNOW: The bill's fate rests with Republican state senators, who are also being targeted heavily by opponents. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, says Republicans who support it will face consequences next election. The group is pledging $1 million to finance primary challenges.

BRIAN BROWN, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: Right now, there are only two Republicans who have said that they are going to vote to redefine marriage. We -- we are definitely going to be involved in those races. I think they are making a tragic mistake and they need to be held accountable by the voters.


SNOW: Now one of the factors stalling the bill, there are concerns among some Republicans over protections for religious institutions and organizations against the potential for litigation if the bill becomes law. And there's been a series of negotiations about the language that involves that specific issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, you'll tell us what happens on Monday. Thanks very, very much.

All of us certainly take driving for granted here in the United States, but women drivers in Saudi Arabia -- get this -- they could end up in jail just for getting behind the wheel, even though it's not necessarily illegal. Now some are trying to become a driving force for change. Let's get some more from CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's at our bureau in Abu Dhabi with more on what's going on.

A protest movement is developing. Half the people in Saudi Arabia, for all practical purposes, Mohammed, they are not allowed to drive, and those would be the women of Saudi Arabia.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. While there's no actual law in Saudi Arabia that makes it illegal for women to drive, the driving law there is not gender- specific, there is a prohibition against women driving there. Many attribute it to cultural norms or religious norms, but women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

It's the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. And about two months ago, a campaign began there, fronted by Saudi women, in which they were demanding to get the right to drive.

They want to be able to do this, just to be able to have a normal life, to be able to run errands, to pick up their children from school, to go to the grocery store. They say that they are infantilized in Saudi Arabia. They want the government to recognize that they should now be given the right to drive.

This campaign started, it got a lot of international support, but really it's homegrown. And although one of the primary activists in this campaign was arrested last month and detained for 10 days, more and more women in Saudi Arabia started joining this campaign, and the campaign called for women today, June 17th, to get in their cars, start driving around Saudi Arabia.

By most accounts, activists I spoke with today, people participating, about 45 women drove. But it's being judged a real success and people in Saudi Arabia, the women there who are supporting this campaign, are very hopeful that it's now going to continue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So from here, where does it go from here? Are women just driving and they might get arrested, or are they just protesting?

JAMJOOM: What's interesting today, Wolf, is that we've not heard of any arrests. We did hear from some of the women that drove around that told us that there was a police presence on the streets of some of the major cities, but that they really turned a blind eye to what was going on.

Many of the women that drove posted videos of themselves on YouTube, posted pictures of them driving. They've been tweeting about it, using their real names.

I can't begin to tell you how extraordinary it is that these women are doing so. And it's really suggesting that a fear barrier in Saudi Arabia has been broken.

A lot of the activists that I spoke with today that are participating are saying they believe this is like their Arab Spring moment, they are determined to continue this. They say this is just the beginning, and that in the days and months to come, you'll see more and more women in Saudi Arabia driving around major cities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to all the women of Saudi Arabia. We hope that they, like women all over the world -- I think Saudi Arabia may be the only country in the world that doesn't let women drive cars. Good luck to them. They deserve that.

Appreciate it very much.

Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from our bureau in Abu Dhabi.

So how does this sound: President Joe Biden? Could it really happen? Guess what? He might be interested, we're hearing, in getting that title. Stand by.

And they're on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but President Obama and Speaker John Boehner, they are joining up on the links. We'll preview the golf summit right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get to the Republican race for the White House right now, where this hour, some of the major contenders are gathering at a party conference in New Orleans.

Among the key speakers, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who grabbed the spotlight just the other day, right here on CNN, our debate in New Hampshire, announcing her candidacy in our first presidential debate. She's already managed to stand out among the crowded field. And Michele Bachmann is joining us now live from New Orleans.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you today.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about issue number one, the economy, right now, and the debt ceiling. Are you opposed to raising the debt ceiling around any circumstances whatsoever, even if the president agrees to major cuts in spending?

BACHMANN: Well, we'd have to see serious cuts. I'd like the president to start, first of all, with repealing the spending on Obamacare. That's $105 billion.

And so I would like to see the president start there and make steer serious cuts, because today, out of every dollar the federal government spends, 42 cents of that dollar is borrowed money. We just can't do that anymore, because in the very brief time President Obama has been in office, we've seen a 35 percent increase in the debt and we've also seen a 14 percent decline in the value of the dollar. So we really need to have a severe change, we can't go with business as usual in Washington anymore.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is that under some circumstances, unlike, for example, Senator Rand Paul or Congressman Ron Paul, under some circumstances, if the White House gets a compromised agreement with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Eric Cantor, that you would vote yea, you would vote yes in favor of raising that debt ceiling limit?

BACHMANN: Well, right now I'm a no vote because I don't see any plan. So I'm a no vote until the president -- .


BLITZER: What if they reach a compromise, though? What if the Republican leadership works out a compromise with the president and they recommend a yes vote? Would you go ahead and join them?

BACHMANN: Well, I'd have to tell you then. But right now I'm a no vote.

BLITZER: All right. So I see a difference between you and Ron and Rand Paul, for example, because they're saying they won't vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

BACHMANN: Well, I think it's highly unlikely, Wolf, that we're actually going to get the kind of serious cuts that I'm looking for. So that's why I am a no vote.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's talk about the ramifications of not raising the debt ceiling, and I'll read to you what Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said the other day.

He said the consequences would be destructive for the United States. "Failing to raise the debt ceiling in a timely way would be self-defeating if the objective is to chart a course toward a better fiscal situation for our nation. Interest rates would likely rise, slowing the recovery and, perversely, worsening the deficit problem by increasing required interest payments on the debt for what might well be a protracted period."

You understand his concern?

BACHMANN: We've heard all of these same claims by Treasury Secretary Geithner back in March. He said the same thing, that this kind of dire consequences would happen if we did not raise the debt ceiling by May. Well, now we're well into June, and we haven't seen those consequences.

This is very simple, Wolf. All we have to do is see the president of the United States and the Congress direct the treasury secretary to first pay the interest on the debt. About 10 percent of our revenues are required to pay the interest on the debt. From there, it's merely a matter of priorities. We pay our first obligations first. We pay our military, we pay to keep our homeland safe, and then we pay for our senior citizens and the obligations that we have for them. Now, I recognize it would be very sacrificial, tough love that we'd have to make, but that's why it's important that politicians in Washington start listening to the American people, because the American people are saying, enough is enough. We can't keep this spending binge up.

So politicians have to do the changing. They need to cut spending dramatically and listen to the American people.

BLITZER: So you're willing to take that chance and see what happens, if, in fact, you don't raise the debt ceiling?

BACHMANN: Well, we have to do the right thing, Wolf. We have to make sure that the treasury secretary does not default on the full faith and credit of the United States. So he first has to pay the interest on the debt, make sure that our military is cared for, and homeland security, our senior citizens, and then from there we prioritize.

I have to do that, most Americans do, businesses do. When the economy is contracted, most of us stop spending so much money.

Instead, under President Obama, we saw a wild increase in spending under President Obama. So much so that today, according to "USA Today," the average federal employee and their wage and benefit package is making double their counterpart in the private sector.

This just simply can't go on anymore. We can't sustain this level of spending. I think most Americans know that. If we want a pro-growth economy, and if we want job creation in this country, we've got to turn this around. And we begin by cutting the spending.

BLITZER: You voted for Paul Ryan's change in the Medicare program. It's causing a lot of commotion out there.

Do you have any problems whatsoever in revising Medicare, as the Democrats say, changing it, ending it, basically, the way we know it?

BACHMANN: Well, you know, it's very interesting, Wolf, because two weeks ago, I was in a closed-door private meeting with the president of the United States where he was asked not once, not twice, but three times, "Mr. President, what is your plan for Medicare? What do you propose to do?"

His answer, Wolf, he doesn't have a plan. Well, the federal government actually does have a plan. It's called bankruptcy for Medicare if we don't do something to deal with the current situation.

But what's worse, Wolf, I think the president's plan for Medicare is Medicare as senior citizens know it today won't be there in the future if this president has his way, because his plan is Obamacare for senior citizens. And the president has already taken away $500 billion. That's half a trillion dollars out of Medicare, and he shifted it to younger people in Obamacare.

This is all while we're seeing more senior citizens -- more people added to Medicare, to the senior citizen rolls. We aren't getting new doctors, we aren't getting new nurses in Obamacare. All we're getting is big bureaucracy.

So senior citizens get this. They've been paying attention. And I think they're going to take it out on President Obama in 2012.

They don't want Obamacare. They want Medicare. And that's why I'm committed to making sure that Medicare stays solvent, and that's why the Ryan plan really should be called the 55 and over plan, because no one 55 years of age or older will see any benefit touched at all. We need to reform the system for younger people.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, if somebody was 54 or 53, and has been paying into Medicare all of these years, you don't have a problem treating that person differently than someone who is now 55 and older?

BACHMANN: Well, Wolf, I think it's important that we tell the truth to people and that they recognize -- documents that I have read in Washington, D.C., say that Medicare will be flat broke in 13 years. I don't want to see any senior citizen not be able to get the quality health care that they need. That's my main concern.

I really care about senior citizens. My mother just turned 80 years of age just last weekend. I don't want to see her, my stepfather, or my elderly neighbors be in a situation where they don't get health care. So that's why we need to look at this and make sure that we keep faith with them.

BLITZER: I'm going to ask you, Congresswoman, to stand by. I want to take a quick break. There's a lot more I want to discuss, including health care and the issue you just raised.

Much more of my conversation with Michele Bachmann right after this.



TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and then continues to defend it.


BLITZER: That was former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican presidential candidate, blasting Mitt Romney for his support of mandates in creating a health care plan in Massachusetts.

Let me ask Michele Bachmann if she agrees with Tim Pawlenty that the Republican Party simply cannot afford to allow Mitt Romney to be the nominee.

BACHMANN: Well, Wolf, this is what I believe. I believe that the individual mandate where government requires a person as a condition of citizenship to purchase a product or service, I think that's unconstitutional whether it's done at the federal level or whether it's done at the state level. It's unconstitutional.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney did that -- he did that in Massachusetts, and he says he was right.

BACHMANN: Well, I think it's unconstitutional whether it's done at the state or the federal level. And it's 2014 when --

BLITZER: So does that disqualify him as a nominee, which is what Tim Pawlenty's suggesting?

BACHMANN: Well, in 2014, Obamacare is going to steamroll over all the states. And it won't matter what the states have. Obamacare is going to be the law of the land. That's why we have to repeal it.

BLITZER: So do you want to -- do you not want to answer the question? Does this disqualify Mitt Romney, as Tim Pawlenty suggests?

BACHMANN: Well, that will be for the voters to decide, won't it?

BLITZER: But what do you think?

BACHMANN: I believe that it's unconstitutional at the state level or at the federal level. And again, that's for the voters to decide, Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume -- I will take that as a yes even though you don't want to say it as bluntly as Tim Pawlenty did. He admits he made a mistake the other night at the debate in --


BACHMANN: I said what I said.

BLITZER: I know.

BACHMANN: You can't put words in my mouth.

BLITZER: I'm not putting words in your mouth, but I hear exactly what you're saying. You're being diplomatic, which is your right.

Congresswoman, let's get through a couple of social issues. I just want to clarify a couple of things.

First of all, on the issue of abortion rights for women, do you agree with Rick Santorum, another Republican presidential candidate out there, who not only opposes all abortion, any explanations for abortions, but also says that doctors and nurse who perform abortions should be criminally charged?

BACHMANN: You know, Wolf, I am pro-life, and I've always have been proudly pro-life. I have five biological children. My husband and I raised 23 foster children. I'm just pro-life.

And I'm not going to answer for what another candidate says or doesn't say. I'm just going to simply say I'm pro-life. And really, this issue is about the 99 percent of cases where it's fairly early term abortions. And I'm just always going to come down on the side of life.

BLITZER: Well, whatever Rick Santorum believes, do you believe doctors and nurses who perform abortions should be criminally charged?

BACHMANN: What I want to do is repeal the Roe vs. Wade decision. That's what I would like to see happen, quite frankly, and I'll leave it at that

BLITZER: So you don't want to get into the whole legal ramifications. He says women who get abortions should not be criminally charged, but doctors and nurses should be. You don't want to say specifically if you agree or disagree?

BACHMANN: No. I'm not weighing in

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to another sensitive issues, gay marriage.

It's causing a bit of a stir out there because more and more states -- New York State is getting ready to support gay marriage potentially. We'll know on Monday if the Senate follows the assembly.

Is there any way you would at least allow civil unions between gay couples?

BACHMANN: Well, I believe, Wolf, that marriage is between a man and a woman. When I served in the state senate in Minnesota, I introduced the constitutional amendment because we saw activist judges imposing their will on the people and on state legislators. And I think that that's an unconstitutional act on the part of judges, to act outside the limits of the Constitution. I think the people have the right to vote on something as fundamental and what the definition of marriage should be.

BLITZER: Do states have the right to make that decision on gay marriage?

BACHMANN: States do have that right.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. We're going to have to continue this conversation down the road. Good luck on the campaign trail.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Michelle Bachmann is running for president of the United States.

He may be the most important man in Pakistan right now, and the key to keeping peace with Islamabad. But he could be on his way out. Why this Pakistani general is so important to the U.S.

And defying tanks, troops and their own government, Syrians turn out in protest, and they just may have a celebrity supporter, one of the biggest movie stars in the world.


BLITZER: Let's get some more reaction to what we just heard in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us are CNN's political contributor, Roland Martin, also the Republican strategist, the former spokesman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rich Galen. He's publisher of

Rich, let me start with you. What did you think of Michele Bachmann in response to some tough questions?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I've got to tell you, I was wrong after the debate. I was the only person maybe in the solar system that thought she didn't do well. And she has changed my mind over the last or five days.

She certainly carried (ph) you well enough. And she knows what she believes, and she is not going to get sidelined into saying something she doesn't want to say. In fact, when you said, "I'll take that as a yes," she said, no, you're not going to take that as a yes, you can take it as what I said.

BLITZER: She's tough.

Did you see hear any gaffes or anything like that, Roland?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. I mean, first of all, she was very consistent in terms of what her message is. She also stayed on point.

She wants to make the point about health reform that was signed into law by the president, as well as concentrating on the issues of the economy. So I wasn't surprised by anything that she said. And one thing that we know, it's an extremely long campaign, and lots of things will happen over the next 12 months.

BLITZER: She did say flatly that what Mitt Romney did as governor of Massachusetts on health care, Rich, was unconstitutional, although she wouldn't go as far as Tim Pawlenty in suggesting that that qualifies him as the Republican Party nominee.

GALEN: Yes. Well, Pawlenty is very good at saying those things, except when he happens to be standing three feet away from Mitt Romney. He said it the day before he was standing with Mitt Romney. Then John King tried to get him to repeat it when he was on the stage with him. And then here again, two days later, he's tweeting and saying those things again.

I have to tell you, if Republicans are waiting for a new phase and a new candidate, I think Michele Bachmann might satisfy a lot of them, that they've got somebody they can get in behind.

MARTIN: Hey, Wolf --

BLITZER: Especially if Sarah Palin doesn't run, Roland. MARTIN: Wolf, who cares if they say it's unconstitutional? They question is, has anyone sued? Has it been overturned with the state Supreme Court of Massachusetts? No. So you can stand here and call something unconstitutional, but unless it has been ruled unconstitutional, all it simply is, is your opinion. So it doesn't matter.

BLITZER: Roland, I assume you saw this story in Politico today by Ben Smith, and I will read to you a little sentence from it because it jumped out at me.


BLITZER: "Joe Biden volunteered, unprompted, a tidbit about his own plans. He suggested that he was strongly considering running for president himself in 2016 depending on political conditions and his help."

I haven't heard him talk about that in the past. That was a surprise to me.

MARTIN: Actually, a few months ago, at a fund-raiser, he actually brought that up as well. So it hasn't been the first time he has approached that topic.

But look, OK, there is a reelection campaign in 2012. 2016 is so far away, it's unbelievable. And so even if he talks about it, frankly, it really doesn't matter. My goodness, he'll be 73, and we don't know what his health is going to be like. But he has said before about that particular issue, him possibly running in 2016.

BLITZER: Very quickly, go ahead, Rich.

GALEN: I was just going to say, that's the Joe Biden we all wanted to have when he was vice president, that he would say things like that constantly. Unfortunately, he has been a pretty good vice president, but I have hope that he can do this for the next two years.

BLITZER: Guys, we'll leave it there, but we'll continue this conversation in the weeks and months to come.

Roland and Rich, thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks, Wolf.