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President Obama Wraps Midwest Bus Tour; Inside President Obama's New Jobs Plan; Romney Vs. Perry Vs. Obama; Biden Visits America's Top Lender; Bus Force One; Perry Vs. Obama: War of Words; Syrian Family's Tragic Loss; 'Strategy Session'

Aired August 17, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, President Obama's preparing to rollout a new jobs plan that could help decide whether or not he wins a second term. We're going to tell you what we're learning about his big push to grow the economy as the presidential campaign moves into higher gear.

Republican Rick Perry is taking sharp jabs at the president just days into his official run for the White House. This hour, who's winning their verbal sparring match, and is the president pulling any punches.

Plus, rising fears that America could be at risk for a Norway- style attack on this September 11th. We're looking into a new alert about the threat of a lone gunman going on a deadly rampage 10 years after al Qaeda terrorists struck.

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


BLITZER: Right now, President Obama is wrapping up his bus tour through the Midwest. He's about to start his second and final event in his home state of Illinois. He's been talking to people in the heartland about the fight for America's future, even as he steps up his own fight for re-election.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I travel through downstate Illinois, when I travel through Iowa, when I traveled through the Midwest, I am absolutely confident about this country, and the reason is because of you. The reason is because of the American people. Because as tough of a time as we've had there is not a country on earth that would not ready change places with us right now.


BLITZER: The president told me just yesterday in Iowa that he knows voters will hold him accountable for the state of the economy, so he's getting ready to speak to the nation about the unemployment problem and what h he can try to do to make it better.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jessica, what are you learning about the president's proposed speech early next month?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it will come after Labor Day when the president will unveil not just specifically proposal, but a legislative packages that his team says will include new initiatives we haven't heard him pushing before to try and create more jobs.

Now, this is separate from the proposal we have heard he'll make to the Congressional Super Committee that's looking for deficit reduction. Keep in mind, this jobs pack act will include new spending if it's passed, so to offset that, the president will propose additional cuts to that Congressional Super Committee that's looking for deficit reduction.

Wolf, his team is still hashing out the details of what is in that jobs package, and I'm told they'll continue to work over the president's vacation.

BLITZER: Cause he's spoken a lot over the past two and a half years about taxes, so he's going to say something new about tax cuts, say something new, for example, about infrastructure? He's spoken a lot about that as well.

YELLIN: That's right. There'll be some new proposals, and I say, it's not cooked yet. But there are three main areas this'll all fall in. One is tax cuts, another is infrastructure investment, and then there's long-term help for the unemployed.

The overall message for the White House, especially when it comes to building the nation's infrastructure is that's an area that's traditionally had bipartisan support.

Listen to the president today.


OBAMA: Interest rates are low, so we could finance right now the rebuilding of infrastructure all across America that drove not only unemployment in the construction industry down, but drove unemployment down across the board.

Traditionally, that hasn't been a Democratic or Republican issue, that's been an American issue.


YELLIN: So what types of ideas could actually be in the package? Well, outside experts say, for example, they could beef up the amount of money the federal government makes available to states and cities for their own roads and bridges projects through a program that already exists at the Department of Transportation.

Or on tax cuts, one idea that's been popular among some Democrats and Republicans is giving a tax credit to employers who create new jobs. The idea, Wolf, is, hire someone new, pay less in taxes.

BLITZER: September is really shaping up as a very busy month for this president.

YELLIN: Oh, so busy. There's a lot going on. The president is going to hit the road promoting this jobs package, but in addition, there's a lot coming before Congress.

At the end of September, the federal government will actually run out of money unless Congress passes a new budget. There's a lot of talk in Washington that, believe it or not, we could face a government shutdown fight by the end of September.

There's highway reauthorization, which would be infrastructure spending. And then that FAA reauthorizations. Remember that big battle right before Congress left town? Not to mention the Super Committee coming back and starting its work.

Wolf, Americans want Washington to work together well, but September is shaping up to have a lot of potential obstacles for a lot of partisan gridlock.

BLITZER: If the past is any precedent, it doesn't look like it's going to be a great September, but we'll see if these guys can get their act together.

Jessica, thanks for that reporting.

Republican Rick Perry is firing right back at the president in the their own campaign war of words. The Texas governor and the presidential candidate responding today to remarks the president made during my interview with him yesterday.

Let's bring in our own Joe Johns who is working this part of the story.

The Republican attacks, Joe, on the president, they keep on coming.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely true, Wolf. And Republicans on the presidential campaign trail do agree with each other that their number one target is the Democratic president, especially when they're talking about jobs and the economy. And, Wolf, your interview with Mr. Obama yesterday only stirred up that debate.

But at the end of the day, Republicans are competing with each other for GOP primary voters now, although it might not always look like a fight just yet.


JOHNS (voice-over): Mitt Romney, in Iowa today, his third straight day hammering the Obama record.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He and his academic and political friends don't understand what it takes to get the economy going again.

JOHNS: He's also exercising the GOP's 11th Commandment, once made famous by Ronald Reagan, "Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican," not even if that fellow Republican is Rick Perry, a big state governor with a big voice who's presence is now overshadowing the race.

ROMNEY: He's a fine guy, fine governor.

JOHNS: And Romney focusing on the president is what Republicans want anyway, right? Even if it looks like you've bypassed the primaries a whole year early and gone straight to the general election fight with the president himself.

So what's going on here? For the record, if history repeats itself, Romney might actually be in pretty good shape, ahead in most polls and the money race. He's also placed third in the last campaign for his party's nomination.

But don't anoint him just yet. Perry's unflattering comments about the president actually got a response from Mr. Obama himself in this interview with Wolf Blitzer.

OBAMA: Mr. Perry just got in the presidential race, and I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes him a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn't like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress and you've got to be a little more careful about what you say.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president said I needed to watch what I say. I just want to respond back, if I may.

Mr. President, actions speak louder than words. My actions as governor are helping create jobs in this country.

JOHNS: But right now with the primaries ahead, it's not all about the president, especially with Iowa Straw Poll winner Michele Bachmann competing for some of the very same votes as Perry.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, you have Bachmann trying to pit Mitt Romney versus Perry, you could have Perry trying to pit Mitt Romney versus Bachmann to try to diminish their status as we move along here. It'll really depend on the issues.


JOHNS: Definitely depends on the issues.

Plus, one of the wild cards is whether any other Republicans get in the race. There may -- may -- still be time. People forget, we're still a whole year out from the political conventions. BLITZER: Still a long time for that, but it's not a whole lot of time before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So if someone is going to decide to throw his or her hat in the ring, they've got to do it soon.

JOHNS: That's for use. Organization, you got to have an organization to do anything on the ground, and a lot of those people are already signed up.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, thanks very much, Joe.

Joe Johns reporting for us.

Meanwhile, the vice president, Joe Biden, is reaching out today to this country's biggest lender. We're talking about China, and you can bet that America's debt crisis and economic troubles are very much on his mind and the minds of Chinese officials.

Our own Lisa Sylvester is following the vice president's trip to Beijing. She's joining us now -- Lisa.


Well, you know, China is a trading partner with the United States, but it is also the largest holder of just debt. U.S. debt is $4.25 trillion, and almost a quarter of that debt is held by one country -- China.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Beijing for a four-day visit with his granddaughter be by his side. A warm welcome for the camera, Biden even watched the Georgetown Hoyas take on a Chinese basketball team.

But behind the pleasantries, China has been less than thrilled with the United States, especially now. First there was the debt ceiling wrangling, Congress and the White House bickering and only at the last minute agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

Then there was the Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. credit from AAA to AA-plus.

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The display that American politicians put on, the disorder and disarray of the debate has certainly increased the level of concern, I think not only in China, but throughout the rest of the world.

SYLVESTER: China's state-run news agency in an op-ed said, quote, "Such political brinkmanship in Washington is dangerously irresponsible." Biden's trip, which was previously planned, is an opportunity to smooth out any wrinkles with the Chinese government. The U.S. will likely have to explain its economic strategy of how to reduce its level of public debt.

At the end of 2008, U.S. debt was 40 percent of GDP. At the end of 2010, it was 62 percent. And at the end of this year, it's projected to be 69 percent. China is the number one holder of U.S. debt with the U.S. owing $1.2 trillion.

But the overhang from the economy is only discussion point. The visit also gives the vice president some one-on-one time with China's presumed next leader, Xi Jinping. He has been described as opaque.

WILLIAM REINSCH, U.S. CHINA ECONOMY & SECURITY COMMISSION: Xi Jinping is going to be around probably for the next 10 years. So it's very much in the United States government's interest to know him, to know him well, to understand how he thinks, and to get a good of a sense as we can of his priorities.

SYLVESTER: The U.S. is expected to continue to push for more rapid appreciation of China's currency, China's keeps its currency artificially low to boost the sales of exports to the United States.

And China will press the U.S. on Taiwan. The U.S. will decide by October whether to sell 66 next generation F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a contentious subject to China.


SYLVESTER: But China may worried about the level of U.S. debt, but China continues to lend to the United States. In June, China increased its holdings of U.S. Treasuries by more than $5 billion.

And one analyst explained this because of all of the exports to the United States, China has a lot of dollars to invest and there just aren't a lot of other choices. The euro isn't looking all that great, a lot of people believe gold is overpriced. So everyone falls back to U.S. Treasuries, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Good reporting, Lisa, appreciate it.

Meanwhile, a Florida high school targeted for a massacre. We're getting new information on the alleged spot and the teenage suspect.

And it's already being nicknamed "Bus Force One." Stand by for an inside peek at the president's new and very impressive wheels.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Forget about the separation of church and state, there is reason to believe that religion could have a whole new meaning for the next occupant of the White House. "'The Daily Beast" reports that two of the Republican candidates for president, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, are, quote, "deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism that's called Dominionism. For those of you who haven't heard of this before -- and I was one of those, I hadn't heard of it either -- stand by, cause this stuff is really out there.

"The Daily Beast" writes how Dominionists believe that Christians have a god-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Dominionism finds its roots in a small fringe sect called Christian Reconstructionism, people who advocate replacing U.S. law with the laws of the Old Testament. That would include the death penalty for homosexuality and abortion.


"The Daily Beast" reports both Bachmann and Perry appear to have ties to groups that support Dominionism. Bachmann appeared in a documentary for one of these groups called "Truth in Ministries," also she often praises or cites different religious leaders who are connected to these beliefs.

As for Perry, there is a group called the New Apostolic Reformation that sees him as their ticket to power. They talk about, quote, "taking dominion over American society," unquote, and they hope that Perry can claim the so-calmed mountain of government.

This group was also involved in Perry's prayer vigil in Houston a couple of weeks ago.

Critics suggest "The Daily Beast's" examples show so-called Dominionist groups attaching themselves to the candidates and not so much the other way around. And the Web site NewsBusters says "The Daily Beast," quote, "went a few more steps off the deep end by publishing this piece."

We reached out for both campaigns for a response and not unexpectedly, haven't heard a word back from either one of them.

Here's the question -- How much does it worry you if both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have ties to Dominionism?

Go to, post a comment on my blog. Go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.

This is -- this is way out there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I have never heard of -- like you, I never heard of Dominionism.

CAFFERTY: I hadn't either. I got to reading this piece and it scared the hell out of me. I thought, what is this?

BLITZER: Well, we're interested to get some reaction from the Bachmann and Perry campaigns. If we do, we'll, of course, share it with our viewers right away. CAFFERTY: We asked for reaction.

BLITZER: I'm sure.

CAFFERTY: We contacted both campaigns a few hours ago. Haven't heard a word back from either one of them.

BLITZER: Nothing yet. Well, if they come in the next hour or two, we'll share it with our viewers whenever we get it.

Thanks very much, Jack. Appreciate it.

By now you' probably seen it, the new black bus that the president of the United States has been using for his three-day swing through the Midwest. And as you might expect, this is by no means any ordinary bus.

Here's our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama is rolling through the Midwest this week on a three- state campaign-style swing in a brand new, sleek black armored bus.

OBAMA: As I was driving the little town in my big bus and we slowed down and I'm standing in the front and I'm waving.

KEILAR: It's one of two the Secret Service for moving what they call protectees, the president and first lady, the vice president and eventually, the Republican presidential nominee, among others.

This bad boy cost $1.1 million, that's 2.2 million for both coaches, according to a public invoice showing the buses were purchased from a company in Tennessee.

The Hemphill Brothers Coach Company's Web site displays a number of used buses for ale, including one that used to belong to a popular country music act. But this brand spanking new, outfitted with advanced communications systems so the president can talk securely with advisers or world leaders while on the road, and, of course, protective armor. Though it doesn't shield President Obama from this -- Americans upset with his policies lining up to send him a message as his motorcade passes by in Iowa.

The Secret Service bought the buses in anticipation for the busy 2012 presidential campaign, a spokesman saying, "We felt we were overdue for having an asset like this in our fleet. Candidates and presidents have been participating in bus tours since 1980."

(on camera): Before buying buses, the Secret Service would lease them and then outfit them with all the technology they needed, and then they'd have to strip that from the buses before returning them. The Secret Service saying that was a tremendous expense and they're actually hoping this will save money.

Brianna, Keilar, CNN, Peosta, Iowa.


BLITZER: Police are saying it could have potentially been a catastrophic event. Just ahead you're going to find out how authorities say they thwarted an extensive plot to attack a Florida high school.

Plus, a new wife quickly becomes a widow after her husband is killed by a shark during their honeymoon. We'll have the latest for you on that as well.


BLITZER: Police in Tampa, Florida have thwarted what they say could have been a catastrophic event at a high school.

Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on here, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, a 17-year-old who was expelled from the school is now in custody after explosives were discovered in his home along with a detailed plan of attack. He allegedly hoped to exceed the violence carried out in the 1999 Columbine massacre.

The San Francisco BART transit system appears to have just been hit by a second online security breach. The hacking group known as Anonymous is again claiming responsibility. The first cyber attack, which occurred over the weekend, affected the personal information of 2,700 customers.

And the widow of a British man killed by a shark during their honeymoon in the Seychelles Islands says his death leaves a gaping hole in her heart. Authorities have issued a temporary ban on entering the water following yesterday's incident. The man is a second victim of a shark attack in that area this month.

And five tobacco companies are suing the government over graphic warning labels like the one seen here which will be mandated to appear on cigarette packages. They say the requirement to essentially urge customers not to buy their product is a violation of the First Amendment. The FDA, which unveiled the new labels back in June, is not commenting on this lawsuit, Wolf.

BLITZER: The pictures are very, very graphic indeed.

All right, thanks very much for that, Lisa.

We heard President Obama say that Rick Perry needs to be more careful about what he says. I'll talk about the Republican presidential campaign strategy and his lines of attack with a reporter in Texas who's covered him as Texas governor. And we've seen many pictures of the conflict in Syria, but none quite as graphic and as heartbreaking as the images we're about to show you. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Here are some stories we're working on for our next hour.

President Obama warned me about it yesterday. Now weeks before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, new concerns about an alleged lone-wolf massacre, like that deadly Norway siege that could occur right here in the United States.

And new questions about drones following a collision with a U.S. cargo plane. Is a more serious accident just around the corner?

And one day after my candid interview with the president, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, will be joining us live. His response that the president's claim that some in the GOP blocked a better deal on the debt agreement for simply political reasons.



BLITZER: All right, it's less than a week after Rick Perry formally ran into the race for the White House. He's showing he's not shy at all about attacking the president and generating campaign buzz.

Let's talk about his strategy with a reporter who has covered the Texas governor for some time now.

We're joined by Wane Slater, senior political writer from the "Dallas Morning News."

Wayne, thanks very much for coming in.

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let me play the clip of what President Obama told me yesterday responding to some of the recent comments from Rick Perry, and how Rick Perry responded today in New Hampshire.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: You know, Mr. Perry just got into the presidential race, and I think everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn't like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress and you've got to be a little more careful about what you say.

But I'll cut him some slack. He's only been at it for a few days now.

PERRY: The president said I needed to watch what I say. I just want to respond back, if I may.

Mr. President, actions speak louder than words. My actions as governor are helping create jobs in this country.


BLITZER: Now the two most controversial things he said, as you know, Wayne, one about Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, that he could be engaged in treasonous acts. That if he came to Texas, it would not be -- it could be pretty ugly if he came to Texas. And the other controversial thing he said is that the men and women of the U.S. military would respect a commander-in-chief who actually wore the uniform, as opposed to the current commander-in-chief.

Are you surprised by these kinds of comments that the governor is making?

SLATER: Well, I think the "treasonous" comment probably went further than the Perry folks wanted, but he's trying to do something very specifically. Actually, two things.

One, he wants to establish himself as a fighter, as the kind of candidate who ideologically could win the nomination and be supported by the constituencies that really count, Tea Party, Evangelicals, but also as someone who will take the fight to Barack Obama. And what Barack Obama did yesterday with you was obviously a smart thing to do, try not to engage Perry, try not to engage and make this a story between Barack Obama and Rick Perry. There's plenty of time for that if he were to win the nomination.

What Perry did was absolutely the right thing to do politically. Make this a race already in the minds of Republican voters between Obama and Perry, and that Perry is the kind of guy who has the fire and the grit to take on the president.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've heard over the years, there's no great love between the George W. Bush camp, the advisers that the former president had, and Rick Perry's camp. Is that right?

SLATER: That's absolutely right. It's fascinating, because Mitch Daniels and maybe a couple of other Bushies, people that the Bush people liked, are now talking about Paul Ryan, as you know. Anyone but Rick Perry, it looks like.

Look, this went back, it's gone back for years. There are a series of tensions and slights. But what it really is, is this -- for about the decade of the '90s, the George Bush people and Karl Rove ran politics in Austin, Texas, and in Texas, and more recently, in the last decades, it's been Rick Perry and his people. It's been who is in charge, who actually is the king of the mountain. It's kind of like the Dalton Gang and the James Gang. The Dalton Gang, the Bushes ran things for a while. Now the James Gang -- that's the Perry people -- are running things for a while. And it's really not been enough -- I guess the town of Austin has not been big enough for both of them. So you see that spilling out now in this race.

BLITZER: And that's why some of those Bush types are now suggesting maybe some other candidates like Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan or some other -- Chris Christie of New Jersey might jump into this context.

But you know what? Say what you will about Rick Perry, he's been governor now for more than 10 years. He's never lost an election. He's created a lot of jobs. Maybe not all of them high-paying jobs, but he's created a lot of jobs in Texas.

So he's pretty formidable, I take it, in your state.

SLATER: Yes. Let me tell you, I get a sense the Obama people are going after Mitt Romney, the purported front-runner in the party, and like the idea of facing Rick Perry, think that he's some wacky guy who talks about secession, that pops off about treason, and may be the kind of person who can be defeated in a head-to-head. And maybe that's right, maybe that's wrong.

But I think if they think Rick Perry is going to be easy -- you're right, he's never lost a political race -- they are underestimating a very tough, very shrewd political fighter at their own peril. Rick Perry is actually much shrewder politically than George Bush, he's more partisan, and he may be exactly the kind of candidate that Republicans in this primary year really could rally around, especially if the economy stays bad.

BLITZER: And he has a proven track record, Wayne, in raising money. He could raise a ton of money. He has in Texas during all those campaigns.

SLATER: Yes, he has. He's raised $100 million from big-time contributors since he first began as governor a decade ago. And a lot of those big-money contributors, although they can't give more than $2,500 individually, are going to turn up on his bungler list, people who raise all the big money.

Perry has also worked very hard in the last two months going to the West Coast and to the East Coast, both Wall Street, and Los Angeles and San Francisco, trying to raise money, prepare for raising money for this presidential race. He's shown, as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which he just gave up, that he has contacts with big-money people on the Republican side all across the country. I think you're going to see some of these people behind Perry if they think he's a winner.

BLITZER: Well, what's his weakness, his Achilles' heel, if you're looking ahead?

SLATER: I think there are two things. One, right now you look at Wall Street and the establishment of the Republican Party, so we talk about the primary. A weakness is they thought -- they want a candidate who's a good businessman, has a friendly business attitude -- Rick Perry does -- is electable as the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. And what they may have seen in the last 72 hours is not that candidate, but Yosemite Sam, this kind of odd character.

Perry understands that and will need to reassure the Republican establishment of that. Now, if he becomes the nominee, his big problem will be some of the thing he's talked about and written about in the past in his book "Fed Up" about questions about Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, raising questions about Medicare.

These are the kinds of things that could get you in big trouble when you come to moderate voters who might not be so comfortable with that or his association with some marginal types on the religious right. That could be his Achilles' heel.

But again, Wolf, you know if the economy remains bad, and voters really want a change, then Perry thinks and his people think that he would be a formidable challenger to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News."

Good analysis. We'll certainly have you back. Appreciate it very much.

SLATER: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: The death of one little girl is driving home the horrors of the Syrian government's crackdown. Stand by for a story and the pictures that will haunt you.


BLITZER: Now death and brutality in Syria as you probably haven't seen it before. Stand by for the very, very disturbing story of one little girl, one of more than 2,500 people, reportedly killed in the Syrian government's crackdown.

Some of the images you're about to see are graphic and not suitable for children. We're showing them to you because we believe it's important to understand the horrors experienced by innocent victims of the conflict in Syria.

Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.



ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Syrian security forces' crackdown on the coastal city of Latakia has focused on the al-Ramel neighborhood, a center of anti-government demonstrations. Residents say they were bombarded by sea and by land. We are about to show you video said to be from that neighborhood. It is difficult to watch.

Syrian security forces told residents to get out. So it's understandable that many families would decide to leave.

According to anti-government and human rights activists, that's exactly what Arlad Jablowi's (ph) parents tried to do -- flee.

"She's just a child. He killed her, the evil Bashar al-Assad!" the voice on the clip shrieks. According to activists, the 2-and-a- half-year-old was with her family when the car came under fire. Her father, activists said, was shot in the shoulder and believed detained. Her mother's fate, unknown.

(on camera): From outside the country, it's very difficult to determine precisely who was responsible for this child's death. The U.N., various global leaders, and human rights organizations have all urged the Syrian government to allow humanitarian workers, U.N. representatives, and the media to the country. All to no effect.

(voice-over): The Syrian government denies it used naval forces against the neighborhoods in Latakia. Its forces, it says, were in pursuit of armed gangs. A state-run news agency reported that casualties were caused by gunman shooting and blowing up dynamite.

This, a second video posted to YouTube, shows Arlad's (ph) body wrapped in a white shroud. A voice on the clip says, "Look. These are Bashar al-Assad's reforms." An innocent caught in the crossfire of the intensifying battle between those calling for freedom and a regime intent on staying in power.


BLITZER: And Arwa Damon is joining us now in Beirut.

Arwa, that's very, very shocking video. The pictures are really disturbing.

What's been the reaction so far to these images?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, we haven't really heard much from the Syrian government. Whenever we do try to get in touch with them, they simply tell us to watch state-run television or go to the official state-run news agency.

When it comes to the activists, the protesters, of course, they describe this as being shocking and gruesome. But at the same time, they'll tell you that this is what they've grown accustomed to. And not just in this most recent uprising, Wolf.

They say that this has been the regime's attitude ever since it came to power for around four decades now. And they do say that it is not just adults that the regime targets when it's cracking down on any voice of dissent. It is, in some cases, children being deliberately targeted. Not in this case, though. In this case, it's a child quite simply just caught up in the middle of this increasingly violent uprising.

BLITZER: Horrendous, indeed.

Arwa, there's some other powerful video that aired on Syrian state television, but it may not be what the Syrian state television says it is.

DAMON: That's right. And that would be video that the Syrian state television said was depicting tanks leaving from that very same neighborhood where we aired that story, from where that story was said to have taken place, al-Ramel.

They were saying that as tanks were leaving, it most certainly appeared from the images that residents, at the very least, were friendly, on the sidelines. And in one shot, you actually see a soldier with flowers, it appears, attached to his weapon or something.

Now, we spoke to a number of activists from that area, and they said that two or three military vehicles had left. They do not know where, but the area most certainly was still the scene of a very intense military campaign.

And they were claiming that that crowd we saw in the video was actually people who, since this crackdown intensified on Sunday, had been herded, corralled, effectively held inside this stadium. They said that they had been forced to go out, partake in what appeared to be a pro-government rally. What is disturbing though is that their fate after that little show of support is unknown.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, reporting for us from Beirut.

Arwa, thanks very much.

Mounting pressure on New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, to jump into the Republican race for the White House. Will it be enough to change his mind.

We'll talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile. Also joining us, the Republican strategist, Rich Galen. He's publisher of

Are these suggestions we're hearing from some Republicans, Rich, that maybe Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin, that they should reconsider and throw their hats in the ring?

Anything going on here that we need to know?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think so. It's a little bit like sitting in the stands of a Redskins game. The most popular guy in the stadium is the backup quarterback because he hasn't thrown an interception, he hasn't fumbled a snap from center. You don't know if he can move the team either, but you're a little concerned about the fact that the guy is in there, he's doing it. And I think that's what this is about.

It's kind of roiled, which I think is fine for the process. I think letting people have another look. But there's a lot of other people. Mitch Daniels could be back in.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani told Piers Morgan last night he'll make a decision by the end of September.

And Donna --

GALEN: This year.

BLITZER: Don't forget, there's a former vice presidential nominee whose name happens to be Sarah Palin. She'll still weighing in.


You know, Rich, I really do believe that there's a lot of money sitting on the sideline, there's a lot of establishment Republicans who are still looking for a candidate. So my guess is that we'll see a couple of other candidates, more candidates into the race in September, and the field will probably settle sometime by Halloween.

BLITZER: But when she says establishment Republicans, she means Bush Republicans who don't like Rick Perry, and other Republicans who are establishment who don't like, for whatever reason, Mitt Romney.

GALEN: Yes, but here's what it's going to come down to, I believe, as at least of right now. First of all, we're about 4.5, 5 months, depending upon --

BLITZER: Early February.

GALEN: We have a long way to go before the first person actually casts the first caucus ballot.

BLITZER: Not that long.

GALEN: Well, it's five months away.

BLITZER: Not that long. It goes quickly.

OK. Wait a minute. Let him finish his thought.

GALEN: But what I really think is going to happen is that people are going to -- when they get closer to it, when it comes down to actually pulling the lever or handing in your card, people are going to say, which of these people can beat Barack Obama? And the ideology and all the other things are going to fade a little bit into the background. Forefront will be, what do the head-to-head polls say? Do I really think that this person can beat the president? BLITZER: Who's more of a threat at this point on these two supposed front-runners right now, whether it be Rick Perry or Mitt Romney? Who's a bigger threat in a general election to the president?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I think we have to take all the Republican candidates seriously, because on the Republican side, there is an enthusiasm gap. The Tea Party, they are active, they are energetic. But still, the mainstream of the Republican Party, they're reticent to embrace any of those candidates, so we have to take all of them seriously.

But, you know, the one thing I have to say is that you have got to file, you've got to get the delegates all lined up, because after all, to win a nomination, you have to secure delegates. That's the reason why they have to get into this race sometime before October 31st.

BLITZER: Remember, if Hillary Clinton's people had understood the caucus rules, she would be president of the United States.

BLITZER: We don't know that, but that's your opinion.

Let's talk a little bit about what Jessica Yellin --

BRAZILE: He might be a little right.


BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent, at the top of the hour reported the president is going to give another major address right after Labor Day outlining a specific plan on creating jobs and dealing with the economy. By the way, here's the president going up to the microphone. He's got another town hall in Illinois right now. He's going to be welcoming a lot of people, thanking them. We'll dip in later.

But what do you think about this notion, Donna, that another speech, more ideas, but this time, supposedly, a big specific plan?

BRAZILE: You know, I'm looking back at the president and I see corn and, of course, commodity prices, which also influenced the economy over the last couple of months.

Look, this is an opportunity for the president to set the stage for the Republicans and Democrats who will come back and figure out this so-called grand bargain. Let's hope that the grand bargain not only includes cuts, but also job creation, more stimulus.

I know Republicans don't like that word, but we need to have more than just a program that cuts spending. We need something that grows jobs.

BLITZER: But you know what? More stimulus requires the House of Representatives to pass spending bills for that. And you know who has the majority in the House of Representatives?

BRAZILE: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Decisively. Are they going to vote for more spending for stimulus?

BRAZILE: Let me tell you something. Their approval ratings right now are so bad, that I think they are going to come back and try to find this grand bargain with the president.

BLITZER: Are Republicans in the House going to vote for more spending, more stimulus?

GALEN: I don't think what we're seeing over this break can lead you to that. It's not like 2009, when Democrats are being set upon over their August break. I mean, that just doesn't appear to be happening.

But more to the point to the president's speech, if he has got a grand idea, let's hear it now. He can give that speech --

BLITZER: It's not ready yet. They're still working on it.

GALEN: Oh. Well, OK. Well, they better hurry, because they only have three weeks, which, as you know, will go very quickly.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

BRAZILE: But you all know the grand idea is not just cuts, cuts, cuts, but it's grow, grow, grow. Grow the economy, grow jobs, so that people will feel good about their future.

Rich and I were talking about we've had seven straight years where voters, during the summer months, they've expressed disappointment with government, disappointment with their officials.

GALEN: Both sides.

BRAZILE: They have been broke, they've been busted, they're disgusted. They want the government to actually work on their behalf.

GALEN: Let me see this about this grand idea, that if he's going to propose a bunch of spending -- whatever, a bunch of tax increases -- closing loopholes, whatever is going to be in this grand speech that isn't ready yet, that's exactly the same time that the super committee is going to start. So, is he going to lay out what they are supposed to do or --


BLITZER: We're told he is going to give some specific ideas for that super committee. The 12 members, they're going to have to come up with their own plan.

But the Republicans, Donna, as you know, have repeatedly criticized the president for not having a specific plan. He's going to have one now. BRAZILE: Well, you know, he's put forward a $2.5 trillion plan. Republicans often forget what the president is putting forward because they don't like it no matter what he's put forward.

But he's put forward a $2.5 trillion, he's put across a $4 trillion. The reason why many of us Democrats know it's because we don't like it.

BLITZER: On that note, the little laughter, we'll leave it.

GALEN: And neither do we. We're together again.

BRAZILE: We don't like it. We want jobs.

BLITZER: This is what I want both of you to do and our viewers to do if they're online right now. Go to Read my blog from today.

Look at these pictures. That's the president back in 2004, the president in 2008, the president in 2011. And you can see how this president has aged over these years. On my blog, I write some impressions.

GALEN: Do we have pictures of you over that same period of time?

BRAZILE: Please.

BLITZER: I aged probably a lot worse than the president, but that's another story.

BRAZILE: He's still handsome.

GALEN: But it really goes fast.

BRAZILE: But he's handsome.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Police fear it could have been as bad as Columbine. We're going to have a full report on a teenage suspect and his alleged plot to carry out a high school massacre.

And exactly 10 years after the attacks on America, it may not be al Qaeda that we should be fearing the most right now. New concerns that a lone gunman could strike on this September 11th.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How much does it worry you if both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have ties to Dominionism. There's a great piece on "The Daily Beast" Web site if you want to read more about this.

Pat in New Jersey writes, "Our nation was founded on separation of church and state. Immigrants flocked to this country so they could worship freely and without prejudice. As an Independent voter, I would never vote for either of them. Decisions for our country should be without religious bias."

What is happening to this country, Jack? This is getting really scary."

Ivan writes, "As a Jew and a homosexual, I guess I should expect the federal funding for a national crematorium after 2012. It seems that history can be repeating itself from 1939."

John in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, "Many things about Bachmann and Perry worry me, but not their Dominionism. As one travels back through time, the correlation between applied Christian principles and this nation's prosperity becomes increasingly undeniable. Dominionism may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but history suggests it might be the most effective cure for what ails us."

Mark in Houston writes, "It doesn't worry me all that much what they think. As far as I'm concerned, they are both snake oil salesmen at the very best. What is much more bothersome to me is that there are many out there who really believe this junk."

Kevin on Facebook writes, "It sounds like a Westernized version of the Taliban. It doesn't sound Christian at all to me."

Bud in Florida says, "As a born-again Christian, it bothers me plenty, Jack. This Dominionism has nothing to do with my Jesus and his gospel. It might as well be from Mars. It sure doesn't belong in Washington."

And Linda in Middletown, Rhode Island, "Yesterday, I was worried that Bachmann and Perry could become serious candidates. Now I'm terrified."

By the way, we asked both campaigns to respond to this, and so far we haven't heard back from either one of them. If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.