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Republicans Pounce on Jobs Report; Countdown to Default: Debt Limit Drama; Men Outpace Women in Job Growth; Final Shuttle Mission Underway; Crushing Dissent in Syria; NASA's Next Frontier; 'Strategy Session'

Aired July 8, 2011 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, a new punch in the gut for jobless Americans and for the Obama White House. This hour, the cold, hard numbers in a very disappointing jobs report. It's new ammunition for urgent talk to prevent America from defaulting on its debts.

Plus, Atlantis soars in the sky for NASA's 135th and final shuttle launch. We're tracking this historic mission minute by minute.

And the phone hacking scandal that's killing one of the world's best-selling newspapers now is embarrassing the British prime minister. His former press secretary arrested in the widening investigation of the "News of the World."

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A lot of pain and not enough gain in the newest snapshot of unemployment in this country. A new report shows 18,000 jobs were created in June. That is far short of the 125,000 new jobs some economists were predicting.

Another setback -- the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 9.2 percent last month, up from 9.1 percent in May. President Obama says the stalemate over raising the federal debt limit is contributing to the problem and he says it must be resolved by the August 2nd deadline.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The sooner we get this done, the sooner that the markets know that the debt limit ceiling will have been raised and that we have a serious plan to deal with our debt and deficit, the sooner that we give our businesses the certainty that they will need in order to make additional investments to grow and hire and will provide more confidence to the rest of the world, as well, so that they are committed to investing in America.

But the American people sent us here to do the right thing, not for party, but for country. So we're going to work together to get things done on their behalf. That's the least that they should expect of us, not the most that they should expect of us.


CROWLEY: Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are pouncing on the new jobs report.

We are joined by CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala. He's also a senior strategist for the Democrat fundraising group, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action.

And Republican strategist John Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications.

OK, we're out of time.


CROWLEY: All right. The Republican, especially the presidential nominees -- and I think we heard from all of them, as you might imagine.

Let me give you a little of what Mitt Romney had to say. And he was talking about a statement that David Plouffe, the president's senior political adviser in the White House, had to say. This is Romney: "President Obama's closest White House adviser said that unemployment rates or even monthly job numbers do not matter to the average American. If David Plouffe were working for me, I would fire him and then he could experience firsthand the pain of unemployment. His comments are an insult to the more than 20 million people who are out of work, underemployed or who have simply stopped looking for jobs. With their cavalier attitude about the economy, the White House has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of indifference."

OK. Listen, this is -- this is trouble for the president, is it not?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's trouble for the country when the economy goes bad.

CROWLEY: Of course.

BEGALA: I wouldn't, if I were advising Mr. Romney --

CROWLEY: And that's to say that --

BEGALA: -- I would say a little less glee when the news is so gloomy, sir. It's really -- and for him to talk about firing people, he would fire David Plouffe. But he's fired thousands of people. That's how he got so rich. And it really -- it does gall when you see the risk for them, honestly, if I were advising him, first of all, I'd say -- I'd say it's bad news. Try not to smile so much, sir.

And, second, it -- it does appear, from Mr. Romney's comments, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, whose name I can never pronounce -- Priebus, I think it is --


BEGALA: -- said sad news for the economy is good news for us. He said that a couple of weeks ago. Michelle Bachmann, this morning, said she hopes the bad unemployment numbers help her campaign. So there -- there's a risk for the Republicans here that they're talking down the economy and they could look like they want America to fail so they can succeed. That's a huge risk for them.

CROWLEY: That's always a delicate --


CROWLEY: You know, listen, we know that bad economic numbers are going to help the people that are not in the White House and that are running for the White House. So it is a fine line and a very sensitive line to walk.

JOHN FEEHERY, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure. And it's a -- it's the new narrative for July and August and September, lack of jobs. And that's going to have an impact on the debt limit negotiations that now takes tax increases off the table. Eric Cantor said that. John Boehner has said it. It makes it awfully difficult for the president to say, OK, now I really want to raise taxes, because everybody knows that raising taxes kills jobs. And for the president to try to get around that is going to hurt him even more.

And I think all the Republican presidential candidates are absolutely right. They're not gleeful, Paul. They think that the president's economic theories have not worked. And they think they have the right theories and they will create -- and that's why they're focused like a laser beam on jobs. And I actually think this helps Mitt Romney, because he has a lot of credibility on the economy.

CROWLEY: And the debt ceiling isn't -- I mean I know people say oh, yes, this has a lot to do with creating jobs. But it only sort of tangentially does. And I get the impression that the White House would like to get this debt ceiling discussion over with, make whatever deal they're going to deal and move on so they can talk about jobs.

BEGALA: Right. We -- we raised the debt ceiling seven times when George W. Bush was president. And many Democrats voted against it then. I thought they were playing politics then. So I'll be fair.

FEEHERY: Including President Obama.

BEGALA: Including then Senator Obama.



I'll be fair.

FEEHERY: All right. BEGALA: But the Republicans are playing chicken with the economy now in a way the Democrats never did. The results could be calamitous. And now is the worst time for them to be playing Russian roulette with the American economy. And yet they're doing it. Why?

You heard John, to protect millionaires and billionaires and oil companies --

CROWLEY: That's not exactly --

BEGALA: -- from shouldering their share of this debt burden.


CROWLEY: -- what John said.

FEEHERY: They want to --


FEEHERY: -- they want to protect this economic growth. They don't want to raise taxes in a slowing economy, which is pretty smart economic theory.

BEGALA: We just cut taxes in December and the economy slowed.

FEEHERY: Well --

BEGALA: So it doesn't look like tax cuts have helped very much, does it?

CROWLEY: I'm going to call a --


CROWLEY: I've got to call a time out here, because you're going to be back later in the hour.


CROWLEY: We'll talk some more.

Thank you all so much.


CROWLEY: The gloomy jobs report may get waved around in the next bargaining session on raising the debt limit. Republican Congressional leaders are warning the president that any tax hikes would make the jobs problem worse.

Heading into Sunday's bipartisan talks, the president is busy dealing with demands from his own party. Here's our Congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Candy. Well, if President Obama thought that Republicans were going to be tough at the bargaining table, his own party is now reminding him they have some pretty serious demands, too.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Ahead of another round of debt talks, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi met privately with President Obama at the White House.


BOLDUAN: Back on Capitol Hill, Pelosi met behind closed doors with her fellow Democrats. She described it as "lively," but others called it "angry, frustrated and anxious." And one after another, they emerged, pushing a unified message -- no deal if it includes benefit cuts to Medicare or Social Security.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We are not going to reduce the deficit or subsidize tax cuts for the rich on the backs of America's seniors and working families.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Social Security, which has done nothing to contribute one penny to these deficits and to the national debt, should not be used to pay for reckless spending that led to these massive deficits. Medicare, Medicaid, the same thing.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: We are not going to bend on Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Is that a bottom line here?

CLEAVER: Oh, there's no question about it. We're not going to bend on it.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): But despite the concerns of her caucus, Pelosi did leave the door open to changes to the entitlement programs, but only if the savings stay within the programs and were not put toward deficit reduction.

PELOSI: The dirty rotten devil is in the dirty rotten details. So we haven't seen what that is.

BOLDUAN: Perhaps a rare point of agreement with the Republican House speaker, who tried Friday to lower expectations.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: As the president said yesterday, we are this far apart. It's not like there's some imminent deal about to happen. There are serious disagreements about how to deal with this very serious problem.


BOLDUAN: Now, Democratic members are quick to point out that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner can't do this -- cannot get any deal through, really, very, very unlikely, at least, without them. As two members put it, they're estimating that they could need some 100 Democratic votes to get a deal through. And as one member put it to me, that's a very tall order -- Candy.

CROWLEY: They don't need all of either party, but they need most of both, don't they?

BOLDUAN: They need a majority somewhere.

CROWLEY: They do.

Thanks so much.

Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill.


CROWLEY: A whopping 14.1 million Americans are out of work right now, according to the new jobs report. And when you break down the numbers, there's a very clear gender gap.

Our Mary Snow is looking into that -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, of the people who are getting hired, men are getting more jobs than women since the recovery began.


SNOW (voice-over): The health care industry has been a rare bright spot in a dismal jobs market. And it's one of the reasons why 47-year-old Stephen Waugh switched careers from a major tech firm to nursing. He landed a job at the Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he saw an opportunity in a field traditionally dominated by women.

STEPHEN WAUGH, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: I don't know if I was foolish or not, but I did, partly because I did come into the workforce as, you know -- you know, a man in his 40s going into this field where, you know, I knew there wouldn't be a lot of men my age that I would be competing for jobs with.

SNOW: Health care is one field where the Pew Research Center found that men are finding jobs at a faster rate than women. Since the recovery started two years ago, men gained 805,000 jobs, while women lost 281,000 jobs in that same period. It's a major shift from the start of the recession. Economist Heather Boushey says then, men lost seven out of 10 jobs and says it's not surprising they are now gaining jobs faster. A pick up in manufacturing earlier this year helped put men to work, but there's another reason for the gender gap.

HEATHER BOUSHEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Because of all of the cutbacks in government, that's had a huge impact on women's employment overall. Women make up the majority of state and local government workers. And especially at the local level, we've seen very sharp lay-offs that have disproportionately affected women workers. SNOW: Lay-offs for teachers and librarians are hurting women more. On a broader scale, one network helping put women to work sees an uptick in job seekers.

ELIZA SHANLEY, WOMEN@WORK NETWORK: Absolutely. More women are seeking our services and have been seeking our services in the past year. And more often than not, their reason for seeking our services is because it is taking them a long time to get back into the workforce.

SNOW: While women may be getting hired at a slower pace, the unemployment rate for men is still higher, at 9.1 percent, compared to 8 percent for women. And with no dramatic improvement expected soon on the jobs front, one newcomer to the health care profession isn't complaining about making less and working harder.

WAUGH: I'm incredibly grateful for what I get to do every day. But secondly, I feel like I dodged a bullet.


SNOW: Now, Stephen Waugh, for one, is betting that an aging baby boomer population will create demand and help provide job security. And he's not alone. A forecast by expects 4.3 million health care jobs to be added until the year 2021 -- Candy.


Inside the figures.

Really interesting.

Thanks so much, Mary Snow.

SNOW: Sure.

CROWLEY: America's space shuttle program is one launch closer to becoming a blast from the past. Stand by for the excitement and the history surrounding today's liftoff and what's next for NASA.

And the political cloud over Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Britain and here in the U.S. -- it's under scrutiny right now after a new arrest in an exploding scandal.


CROWLEY: The grand finale of America's 30 -year-old space shuttle program is underway. It's been about six hours since the clouds parted and Atlantis soared into the sky, a flawless historic launch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The firing chain is armed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go for main engine start. T minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All three engines up and burning. Two, one, zero and lift-off -- the final lift-off of Atlantis, the shoulders of the Space Shuttle, America will continue the dream.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston now controlling the flight of Atlantis. The Space Shuttle spreads its wings one final time for the start of a sentimental journey into history. Twenty-four seconds into the flight, rolled program complete. Atlantis now heads down, wings level, on the proper alignment for its eight-and-a-half minute ride to orbit with four-and-a-half million pounds of hardware and humans taking aim on the International Space Station.

Forty seconds into the flight, the three liquid fuel main engines throttling back to 72 percent of rated performance in the bucket, reducing stress on the shuttle as it goes transonic for the final time. Engines now revving up, standing by for the throttle up call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Atlantis, go and throttle up. No action DPDT.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) throttle up. No action on DPDT.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That call from Capcom Barry Wilmore, a transducer, instrumentation only, no action required.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Atlantis now 15 miles in altitude, already 16 miles down range from the Kennedy Space Center, one minute 40 seconds into the flight. Atlantis flexing its muscles one final time. Atlantis traveling almost 2,600 miles an hour, 21 miles in altitude, 24 miles down range.

Standing by for solid rocket booster separation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Booster officer confirms staging a good solid rocket booster separation. Guidance now converging. The main engine steering the shuttle on a pinpoint path to its preliminary orbit. Two minutes 20 seconds into the flight, Atlantis already traveling 3,200 miles an hour, 35 miles in altitude, 50 miles down range.

The propulsion officer reports the orbital maneuvering system engines have ignited. Atlantis kicking on its afterburners for one minute, 23 seconds for the final phase of powered flight.


CROWLEY: Let's bring in CNN's veteran of covering shuttle launches, John Zarrella.

He joins us from The Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Just, you know, it just never fails to kind of be so cool watching that, whether you're watching it live, on TV or taped on TV, but better yet, where you are.

So the launch kind of carries itself.


CROWLEY: I feel like you just don't need any falderal around the launch.


CROWLEY: Tell us what's planned for when the shuttle returns.

ZARRELLA: Well, you know, it's -- it's funny that, briefly, that, you know, I talked to one of the -- t shuttle astronauts a while ago, Alvin Drew, who flew on Discovery. You know, and he was telling me, you know, speaking of this moment, that down the road, there's going to be a nostalgia for these vehicles. And people are going to look back in 20 or 30 years and they're going to say, were we ever so audacious to build a spacecraft like this, that could fly into orbit like a rocket and then land like a plane back on a runway.

You and I, Candy, will probably never, in our lifetime, see a vehicle like this again.

Now, when it comes back on the 20th or possibly the 21st of the month, back to Earth, when it lands here at The Kennedy Space Center, Commander Chris Ferguson will call "wheels stop." And NASA is hoping that after they safe the vehicle, they will allow all of the veterans -- all of the workers, the shuttle workers, to actually go out to the launch pad and -- and get one final look, touch the vehicle one final time before, you know, it's retired and -- and sent to the -- the museum.

And, of course, Atlantis is going to be here at the museum -- at the museum at the Kennedy Space Center.

But they've got a lot of work in the next 12 days. They've got a rendezvous at the International Space Station in two days and then they've got to offload all kinds of cargo.

NASA had a shot up just a minute ago that showed inside the cargo bay, where they're carrying thousands of pounds, basically, to stock the pantry and the refrigerator on the -- the International Space Station for about the next year because, you know, this is it -- no more shuttle flights and all of the -- the smaller vehicles that can go up there cannot carry anywhere near the capacity of cargo that can be carried by the space shuttle -- Candy.

CROWLEY: John, I'm told you've covered more than 70 of these.

So I'm --

ZARRELLA: Yes. CROWLEY: -- I've got to imagine this one is sort of special simply because it's the last. But compare this to the others you've seen.

ZARRELLA: Well, you know, and here's that picture of inside the shuttle cargo bay. It is a live shot. Now it's gone again. But NASA had a live shot in the cargo bay of the car -- of the carrier, of course, that's got all that equipment in.

I'll tell you this. What it came down to today, as I was watching it and it finally hit me, as the orbiter -- as the shuttle cleared the tower, I -- you know, every other launch that you come up for, you sit here and you go, there's another one. I know I'll see another one.

This time, as it was clearing the tower, I'm thinking to myself, that's it. There is not going to be another one. I'm not going to see another one of these spectacular launches.

And so that was really kind of what was going through my mind. They're all spectacular. They're all unique. The night launches are something that, you know, just the sky lights up. It turns to day. They're fabulous. You know, early morning launches -- every one of them is -- is a little bit unique. And there's that live picture from the Shuttle Atlantis of the cargo bay. That big cylinder there in the center, that's where all the -- the goods are being stored.

What you're seeing at the right there is that the arm -- the shuttle's arm. And in the back, you can see the tail section of the shuttle. So we're looking from front to back there, as they're traveling at about 17,500 miles an hour, you know, racing as fast as they can to catch up to the Space Station -- Candy.

CROWLEY: John Zarrella, you are going to miss this, I can tell.

Thank you so much.

ZARRELLA: Yes. I am.

CROWLEY: After lift-off, the action shifted to Johnson Space Center in Texas, where NASA is tracking every move of Atlantis and its crew.

And that's where we find CNN's Ed Lavandera -- Ed.


Well, listening to John talk about covering 70 of these reminds me of why I like to joke that I call John Zarrella Yoda here at CNN. But he's definitely been around -- been around a long time.

But, you know, here in mission control in Houston, the Johnson Space Center, is where hundreds -- thousands of people are that behind-the-scenes support. Those astronauts get all that glory when they're walking out to the launch pad and lifting off. But it's the -- the men and women who work here in mission control who work around the clock to get that shuttle up in the air safely and back into -- and back down on the ground here to Earth safely, as well.

These are bittersweet days for all of the people here in the Houston area who work for the shuttle program. And just after that launch, we were able to speak with the flight director, Richard Jones, who has talked about what an amazing day this was for him.


LAVANDERA: This is Richard Jones, flight director of the last shuttle launch that we've seen today.

What was it like sitting there?

RICHARD JONES, LAUNCH FLIGHT DIRECTOR: Oh, gosh. Well, even before we lifted off, I was -- you know, I was a bundle of nerves.

LAVANDERA: The fact that you knew the whole world was watching today as closely as they had ever been, did -- did you -- did that sink in at any point?


LAVANDERA: Was that in the back of your mind?

JONES: No. It's sinking in right now, as I'm talking to you. But no, absolutely not. I was -- in this room, you kind of learn to live in the bubble a lit bit. So everything that we're doing, it just -- it fades to the -- to the background. You know, we know a lot of people are watching, but it -- it becomes background noise. And so I wasn't -- focusing on anything except my job at the time.

LAVANDERA: You were talking to the team in there a little while ago. You got emotional. You're --

JONES: Yes. I did. I wasn't expecting that until the very end. And it's because I'm saying goodbye to a lot of my a lot of -- a lot of -- a lot of my co-workers. And so I've been in the trenches with them for a very long time and just saying goodbye to them, it -- it hurts. So it kind -- it came rushing to me.

LAVANDERA: What did you want to take away from that?

JONES: The thing there was the past, the present and the future. And we're just a little -- a little part of it. We're, right now, in -- in the present. And there will be others of us to come. And so just relish the moment.

LAVANDERA: This room, in a few days, will be quiet for the foreseeable future, won't it?

JONES: Yes, it will be. It will be. But, again --

LAVANDERA: That's going to be hard for people --

JONES: -- it's -- it's -- it's part of our transition. It's up to us to make sure it doesn't stay quiet for very long. LAVANDERA: You haven't seen the launch.

JONES: No, I haven't.

LAVANDERA: That's the crazy thing about this. There's -- there's not a monitor around you right there that actually shows you the actual video of the launch.

JONES: Once I get home, yes, I'll go look at -- at the replays and -- and see how well and how it went. It's -- I'm expecting to see a beautiful, beautiful launch.

LAVANDERA: I can attest to it. It looked great.

JONES: Thank you.

LAVANDERA: Congratulations, man.

JONES: Appreciate it.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO TAPE) LAVANDERA: Candy, it was really amazing to watch these people work here in mission control this morning. About 30 minutes before the launch, there was a lot of tension growing in that room. They weren't quite sure whether or not that weather was going to cooperate. And then just about two or three minutes before the launch, you could see Richard Jones start to calm down. He had been pacing around, walking back and forth, scratching his head. In fact, at one point, he said that he just asked everybody to be quiet a second so that he could think.

They were making those finals -- final decisions. And he said that it was a great experience to get the Shuttle Atlantis up into space -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Lots and lots of history -- and lots of work being done.

Ed Lavandera, thanks so much, out of the Johnson Space Center.

LAVANDERA: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: Of course, we appreciate it.

LAVANDERA: You've got it.

CROWLEY: You need to stay with CNN for complete coverage of this final shuttle mission and an in-depth look at what's next for NASA. Tonight, a CNN special investigation, "Beyond Atlantis: The Next Frontier." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, right here on CNN.

Syria has tried to keep a lid on information trickling out of the country. But deserters from the military are coming clean about what they say they did in the name of their nation. And an execution in Texas fuels anger on both sides of the Mexican border. We'll explain the outrage over a convicted killer's death.


CROWLEY: Pro-democracy activists in Syria say eight people were killed in clashes with security forces today. Protesters declared this a day of no dialogue. They say the government's offer of talks isn't enough.

But Syria's ruthless crackdown has sent a message, too. Deserters from the army told CNN's Ivan Watson how far the government is willing to go to crush dissent.

We have to warn you, some of these pictures are really hard to watch.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Syrian troops and tanks squaring off against anti-government demonstrators -- snapshots of a bloody government crackdown that's gone on for months.

Now a man who says he's a deserter from the Syrian Army claims, in an interview with CNN, he was given orders to shoot unarmed protesters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were protests and chanting. Suddenly, our officer gave us the order to shoot at the people. It didn't matter how many would be killed. The important thing was for the protest to be dispersed. And we started shooting.

WATSON: CNN can't independently confirm the claims of this man who asked that his name and face not be shown for fear of reprisals against his family. But what he says matches eyewitness accounts, as well as those of opposition groups who accuse the Syrian regime of killing more than 1,300 Syrians over the last three months.

This 21-year-old says he worked in an ice cream factory until he was conscripted into the Syrian Army last December. There, he was assigned to be a sniper. He says he was pretty good.

(on camera): You could hit a target at those two white towers over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No problem. I can hit it, wherever you want -- in the head, in the arms.

WATSON (voice-over): In March, anti-government protests first erupted in the southern town of Daraa. The soldier says officers told him agents paid by a Saudi Arabian prince had infiltrated Syria and were killing civilians.

(on camera): You thought Saudi Arabia was attacking Syria?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, we thought it was a foreign plot.

WATSON (voice-over): On April 25th, the soldier says he was sent down to Daraa to join other troops fighting against these so-called foreign agents. When protesters gathered the following Friday, the sniper says he was perched on a rooftop much like this one.

(on camera): What did the protesters do when the soldiers started shooting at them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They threw stones, and if someone fell on the ground they picked them up. And they were trying to hide behind trees and walls.

WATSON (voice-over): YouTube videos show protesters in Daraa pinned down by sniper fire, trying to rescue civilians who appear to have been shot. The sniper says that over the next month, he saw hundreds of unarmed civilians shot in similar circumstances.

(on camera): After a month, the sniper said he'd had enough. He joined a group of 20 other deserters who fled at night to Damascus. A week later, the sniper smuggled himself across the border to Turkey, where he is now in hiding here in Istanbul while applying for asylum as a refugee.

(voice-over): "I'm still frightened here in Turkey," he tells me. "Imagine how scared I was over there in Syria. A single bullet only costs the equivalent of 14 cents."

In other words, in Syria these days, life is tragically brutally cheap.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


CROWLEY: The Syrian government has long blamed shadowy foreign elements for the turmoil. Now it's saying the U.S. ambassador is one of those responsible for inciting unrest.

CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty joins me now with more on this diplomatic tiff.

Jill, what is this about?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, as you said, the Syrian government is accusing the U.S. ambassador literally of trying to incite violence. The U.S. State Department calls his visit a potent symbol of support for the Syrian people.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A dramatic and provocative move by the U.S. captured on a YouTube video. A car carrying the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, is mobbed by joyful residents of the city Hama, for weeks the site of major anti-government demonstrations and violent crackdowns. The swirling crowd waves olive branches, tosses flowers, chants, "Down with the regime" of their own president, Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Foreign Ministry slams the visit, charging Ford did it without official permission, that he met with saboteurs and was trying to aggravate situations that destabilize Syria.


DOUGHERTY: The State Department claims the ambassador, who earlier met with average Syrians in to the city, didn't get out of the car this time and left before another major demonstration, not wanting to overshadow their right to peacefully protest. The State Department says the embassy did notify the Syrian Defense Ministry of the trip. In fact, the ambassador's motorcade was waved through government security checkpoints.

NULAND: Was it a bold thing for Ambassador Ford to do? Yes, it was a bold thing for him to do, but it speaks to the importance of sending the signal that we stand with the Syrian people.

DOUGHERTY: The dramatic visit comes after some Republican members of Congress have urged the Obama administration to pull its ambassador out of Syria, claiming keeping him there simply rewards a dictator. The State Department says the visit to Hama demonstrates the importance of having an ambassador on the ground, that this was not about the U.S. Congress.


DOUGHERTY: And by the way, the State Department says that Ambassador Ford was escorted out of the city by young men, demonstrators on motorcycles.

Now, up to now, the administration has been criticized for doing actually very little on Syria. In fact, Ambassador Ford also, up until now, has taken a kind of low-profile approach. But this visit ratchets up the pressure by the administration on President Assad. Obviously, the Syrian government is angry, but the U.S. seems to think that it's made its point -- Candy.

CROWLEY: You know, Ambassador Ford, I have to say, I agree with the State Department, it's a bold move, and certainly one that had to have been sanctioned, if not ordered, if you will, by the U.S. It also seems to me, regardless of the fact that he was surrounded by friendly demonstrators, a brave move.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, because, actually, you never know. Friendly or not, demonstrations can turn violent. It's very unpredictable. And they didn't know exactly what might happen, you know, to their group.

They actually had military, U.S. military, with them. The military attache and another person were with them. And they did notify the Defense Ministry, precisely because they were a bit worried that something could happen, that they might not be able to get through.

CROWLEY: Amazing story. Jill Dougherty, thanks so much.

The British prime minister is being tugged deeper into a tabloid scandal after the arrest of a former aide. We're investigating the far-reaching political influence of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.


CROWLEY: We are following the beginning of the end of the space shuttle program. But well before today's launch of Atlantis, NASA has been looking at new frontiers to explore.

Once again, here's CNN's John Zarrella.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surrounded by the blackness of deep space, 117 million miles from Earth, is the asteroid Vesta. Images captured by a NASA probe. In the not-too-distant future, U.S. astronauts could be looking out their window at a sight just like this.

MIKE GERNHARDT, ASTRONAUT: I can either float along it, or I can have a tether to me, and then I can sample rocks, I can chip a rock.

ZARRELLA: Astronaut Mike Gernhardt and his team are working on the kinds of equipment and techniques they'll need for human exploration of an asteroid as early as 2025. Before either the moon or Mars.

GERNHARDT: What we're doing is building a simulated asteroid underwater.

ZARRELLA: And this is not some high-tech laboratory. It's Key Largo, Florida. And because money is tight --

GERNHARDT: We're all about being cost effecter. You know, a Glad bag type of thing.

ZARRELLA: Not everything they're developing is some fancy state- of- the-art widget.

GERNHARDT: This is a soil collection device.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot different things on earth that you want to pick up without touching.

ZARRELLA: For instance, this quite valuable earth-tested device.

(on camera): What you're saying is that a pooper-scooper could be used on an asteroid and work perfectly.

GERNHARDT: A specified version of a scooper could be used to scoop soil on an asteroid, yes.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): So now you've got the tools. How do you know they'll work? Just go five miles offshore and jump in. Beneath the surface at the site of an undersea habitat called Aquarius, they have created an asteroid proving ground in the near weightless environment of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We work there, we live there, we can put anchors, we build a rock wall, like a climbing wall. We can climb up that wall in zero gravity.

ZARRELLA: With the shuttle era over, NASA is going back to going outward. What most everyone agrees it does best. An asteroid could be the first stop, a baby step. Because there's no gravity and an asteroid would be much closer, it's simply an easier first mission than Mars.

(on camera); So once you get to Mars or the moon or an asteroid, how are you going to get around? Well, how about this? A multi- mission space exploration vehicle.

(voice-over): At Houston's Johnson Space Center, Gernhardt's team is developing a vehicle that can go to any destination. Putting it through its phases. On simulated heavenly surfaces.

(on camera): And we're going down to the crater right now.

GERNHARDT: Going down on the crater now. Hang on.

ZARRELLA: This is great. I bet you want to be driving, don't you, that first flight?

GERNHARDT: I do. That's always been my dream.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): In Gernhardt's vision, astronauts would live and work for up to two weeks in this vehicle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got about two wheels on the ground.

ZARRELLA: Far more efficient he says than the old Apollo moon buggies.

GERNHARDT: Instead of having to come home every night, you just sleep in the vehicle.

ZARRELLA (on camera): So we're coming up now on the Mars yard. Appropriately named.

GERNHARDT: You'll see here in a second just how well this vehicle can negotiate the rough terrain.

ZARRELLA: Wow. Look, there's a cameraman on Mars ahead of us. How did he get there? Alien life.

(voice-over): In five years, Gernhardt hopes to see his vehicle attached to the space station's robotic arm with astronauts living in it and spacewalking from it. A good test. But before it can go any further out, like to an asteroid, there's one big problem -- getting it there. The space shuttle won't do the trick. It wasn't designed for deep space missions and it's simply not safe enough.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was a shuttle commander.

BOLDEN: Crazy people like me, we'll do anything and we'll fly anything. But in order to expand the capability to bring more people in to spaceflight, we needed a vehicle that had a capability for crews to escape.

ZARRELLA: The new crew vehicle, bigger than the old Apollo capsules, is already in the works. It will be, NASA says, ten times safer than a shuttle. Putting it on top of the rocket, not on the side, gives the astronauts a better chance of surviving an accident. The escape system is already being tested.

But to get the crew and all of their supplies for a long journey out of the atmosphere, the space agency needs a powerful heavy-lift rocket. It's supposed to be ready by 2016. The first test vehicle might look a bit like this, because it's going to be built out of a lot of shuttle hardware, including a main fuel tank and reusable boosters that splash down in the Atlantic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is, straight out.

ZARRELLA: Are recovered by divers and hauled back to shore.

JEFF GREASON: Let's just say it's a rocket that I have difficulty finding the mission for.

ZARRELLA: Jeff Greason was a member of President Obama's Blue Ribbon Committee on the future of exploration. Greason worries it may never go anywhere.

GREASON: It's a very expensive thing for NASA to maintain. And the result of that, as I see it, is that if NASA does successfully develop this launch vehicle, there will be no budget to do anything with it.

ZARRELLA: The man commanding the last shuttle flight worries, too. Talk of trips back to the moon and on to Mars have always been, well, just talk.

CHRISTOPHER FERGUSON, SHUTTLE ATLANTIS COMMANDER: Mars is always 20 years in the future. It's been 20 years in the future for the last 30 years. I'd like to see how committed we are this time.


CROWLEY: We will check back with John Zarrella at Kennedy Space Center shortly.

But first, Egyptians who took to the streets to oust Hosni Mubarak are back in Cairo's main square. We'll tell you what they want now.

And why Casey Anthony will stay in jail a little longer than anybody thought.


CROWLEY: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including fresh protests in a corner of the world that's seen its share this year.

Mary, what do you have?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, tens of thousands of impatient Egyptians flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square today. They're frustrated by their current military leaders and want the interim government to speed up reforms. Protesters say they won't leave until their demands are met. Egypt's military rulers have set parliamentary elections for September.

Closer to home, Montana is running out of the patience with Exxon's response to an oil spill on the state's Yellowstone River. Governor Brian Schweitzer withdrew his state yesterday from the command team directing the cleanup. He says citizens "can't get straight answers" from the company. Exxon says the breach has dumped up to a thousand barrels of oil into the river.

We'll speak to the governor next hour about the disaster.

And the duke and duchess of Cambridge land in Los Angeles next hour for the last leg of their whirlwind tour of North America. Earlier, they wrapped up their visit to Canada by helping to kick off the Calgary Stampede. Prince William and his new bride will spend three days in California before heading home.

And Candy, I have a hunch we're going to be hearing a little bit about that trip.

CROWLEY: You think? Yes. Yes, but she's looking great, as always.

Thanks so much, Mary Snow. Appreciate it.

Tim Pawlenty is proving that jumping in early isn't always the best plan in a presidential primary. Can he turn his campaign around?

And President Obama has to turn around a lot more than a campaign. Will the unemployment picture cost him his own job?


CROWLEY: For years, Tim Pawlenty has had his eye on the White House. But the former Minnesota governor is having a hard time convincing Republican voters that he's the best man for the job.

For our "Strategy Session," let's welcome back CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist John Feehery.

OK. Six months until the Iowa caucuses, 16 months until the November elections. I want to read you a piece by Jeff Zeleny from "The New York Times," part of what he said. "Tim Pawlenty was first in line to enter the Republican presidential race. He is now fighting to avoid becoming the earliest major candidate to be shown the door."

Is it too early?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I was raised not to speak ill of the dead, so I probably shouldn't talk about the Pawlenty campaign.


BEGALA: But, no -- but there's life after death. Look at John Kerry. We remember in '04 we grizzled (ph) veterans. He was dead. He was trailing Al Sharpton in Iowa. He wound up being my party's nominee.

John McCain, while we were all laughing -- I was one of them -- ha-ha, dead man walking. Guess what? He triumphed in his party and became the nominee. Pawlenty, I think there is still life in there, actually.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is still life, but he suffers from two problems. He's got a charisma gap. He has no charisma, and Michele Bachmann is killing him on charisma. And he's got a money gap. He's not raised any money.

And John McCain could get away with that because he was famous. Tim Pawlenty is not famous. And without money, it's awfully hard to get famous.

CROWLEY: And the same we could also be talking Jon Huntsman sort of in this vain, although he got in a good deal later.

FEEHERY: But he's got money.

CROWLEY: And he has his own money, so he can sell-fund at this point. But the fact is that lightning does strike in these campaigns. And if you were going to give him some free advice?

BEGALA: I would. I would say lightning strikes, but sometimes it burns.

I mean, in my party, you saw Howard Dean, who was the first to speak out strongly against the war in Iraq. And he roared out into first place in Iowa and then couldn't even win in Iowa. And then there was this sort of flight to quality. And not to disparage Governor Dean, but -- so people -- they had buttons made that said "Dated Dean, Married Kerry."

OK. Maybe there will be buttons six months from now that say, "Dated Bachmann, Married Pawlenty." I doubt it.

FEEHERY: The advice I give to Pawlenty is he has got to be a champion for the middle class. He's the one guy out there who is from middle class roots. He's got to fight for the middle class and be that fighter. He's showing no passion for this campaign, and he's got to have a message that works. His messaging has been all over the place and he has no passion.

BEGALA: That's right.

FEEHERY: So the champion for the middle class -- I think he does that. He can catch fire, but so far -- -

BEGALA: That's right. That's what Mike Huckabee did, and he won Iowa. But Huckabee picked some fights.

He called the Club for Growth, a conservative group, "The Club for Greed" because he thought they represented big business. So, Huckabee took a tough stand with some edge to it in his party, and I think that helped him a lot. If you're going to be the middle class guy, you've got to take on the corporate fat-cat wing of his party, and Pawlenty may be a guy who can do that, but he's shown no inclination to do it. And certainly Jon Huntsman won't.

FEEHERY: And he didn't show much strength when he had that Obamacare thing -- or Romneycare thing. He didn't show people that he had the strength to go after his opponents.

He's got to sharpen his message against the guys he's running against, and Michele Bachmann, and be very convincing that he's got the vision for the country, which right now, like I said, he's just kind of flat. And he can't be flat and get the nomination.

CROWLEY: He does have 16 months to get it together, or six months until the Iowa caucuses.

John Feehery, Paul Begala, thanks very much.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: A new arrest in the scandal rocking Rupert Murdoch's empire. It's driving home the media mogul's political connections.

And Montana's governor joins us to talk about the oil spill tainting parts of his state and what he says Exxon has done wrong


CROWLEY: New political fallout in the scandal that's shutting down one of the world's best-selling newspapers. A former press secretary to the British prime minister was arrested today in connection with allegations of phone hacking while he was editor of the "News of the World." Andy Coulson has been released on bail.

This growing scandal is casting a red-hot spotlight on Rupert Murdoch's media empire and his political influence around the world.

Our Brian Todd is looking into that -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, Prime Minister Cameron says all of this is a wake-up call for politicians in Britain, but Cameron's own ties to Rupert Murdoch are now seen as a growing political liability for them. It wasn't long ago that Cameron's connections with Murdoch helped propel him into office.


TODD (voice-over): With an Obama-like image on the cover, Britain's "Sun" tabloid endorsed David Cameron for prime minister. Cameron may not have completely owed his victory last year to the blessing of Rupert Murdoch's paper, but analysts say it sure helped. They say in Britain, at least, politicians are both fascinated and frightened by Murdoch's political influence

CHARLIE BECKETT, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: If you're a politician who these papers decide your image is wrong, or your reputation is wrong, your policies are wrong, then you know that you've got an uphill struggle with about 40 percent of the British media railed against you.

TODD: It's that kind of clout that led Cameron to cozy up to Murdoch, but it's not just British conservatives who have courted them. Tony Blair once flew to Australia to meet with Murdoch.

(on camera): Murdoch's political sway is so significant because his media holdings around the world are so enormous. More than 20 TV networks, 60-plus stations, dozens of newspapers. In Britain, even in dropping "News of the World," he still owns the hugely successful "Sun" and "The Times of London."

(voice-over): He owns nearly 40 percent of British Sky Broadcasting. The British government is debating whether to let him buy the rest of it, with concerns that it might place too much public influence in one company's hands. And with all these companies, it's Rupert Murdoch, analysts say, who sets the political tone.

BECKETT: He's not telling his journalists what to say, but he's certainly setting the general drift.

TODD: In the U.S., Murdoch's News Corporation owns "The Wall Street Journal," which some see as his most influential newspaper; the right-leaning "New York Post"; and Fox News Channel, a Mecca for conservative commentators and presidential hopefuls

(on camera): If you're a GOP politician and you're not either favored, or you don't make regular appearance on Fox, can you succeed in this country?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": You can get elected president of the United States without Fox News, but it helps if you're a Republican not to have the opinionated hosts on Fox News against you. That makes a much tougher mountain to climb, especially in a GOP primary.


TODD: So, is it too much political influence in the hands of one media mogul? Howard Kurtz says in the U.S., with some major TV networks accused of leaning left, Fox News is often simply seen as a counterweight. But in Britain, this is a much more serious debate right now.

Murdoch has influenced the elections of the last three prime ministers. And if he gets total control of British Sky Broadcasting, that debate is going to get much, much louder -- Candy.

CROWLEY: And I know, Brian, you've gotten some insight into what it is to be a British politician if these reporters want to go after you.

TODD: That's right, not a pleasant experience. Charlie Beckett, the analyst we spoke to, says politicians who have been through this in Britain will tell you that if Murdoch's people decide they want to put pressure on you, they become what he calls brutal in the chase.

They will show up at your house, at all hours of the night. They will call you at any time. They will become what he says, just totally relentless in the chase of you. We called a News Corporation spokesman for comment on that. He wouldn't comment.

CROWLEY: Brian Todd, thanks so much. I think we'll be talking about this story next week as well.

TODD: Yes, I think so.