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THE SITUATION ROOM
Cleaning Up After Irene; President Obama's Jobs Plan?
Aired August 30, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very worrisome development.
Chris Lawrence, thank you.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Floodwaters and the death toll from Hurricane Irene still rising days after the storm, leading to dramatic rescues today. And we are tracking, guess what, another storm.
President Obama hints at the highly anticipated jobs plan he is unveiling next week.
We have details on what it could include.
And two men who want to replace the president slam his policies to an audience of veterans. We will hear what Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are saying.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news and political headlines all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
People who think the threat of Hurricane Irene was exaggerated should consider themselves lucky to have escaped the storm's deadly impact. As of this hour, the death toll has now climbed to 42 with floodwaters still raging in some areas. And that number could continue to rise.
You are looking, for example, at Paterson, New Jersey today, water as high as 18 feet on some city streets. Rescuers are still working desperately to save lives.
CNN's Mary Snow is in Paterson right now. She's joining us live.
Mary, the danger still very real.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.
And you only need to look behind me to see why. We're about three blocks from the Passaic River and this is what many streets here in Paterson look like. You will see here the urban search-and-rescue teams from New Jersey have been out throughout the day. Rising waters forced evacuations. And what these crews have been saying is that what looks like a few inches quickly turns into a few feet. Add the current to that and there were dozens of rescues and evacuations today by boat.
SNOW (voice-over): For a city that is used to flooding, this became too much. As people could no longer get out of homes on their own in Paterson, New Jersey, rescue crews and boats had to bring them to safety from adults to babies.
The Passaic River hit levels not seen in more than a century. This woman had gone to her mother's house with her two children -- 30- year-old Connell Kelly said he ignored evacuation orders because he has experienced many floods before. He lives on the second floor, but when waters topped the doors to his building, he waited by his window for help.
CONNELL KELLY, HURRICANE VICTIM: I had food. I had water. I had things to live, survive with. So I was pretty much all right. But I just got -- it just got scary to me. At that time where I see the water keep elevating and elevating, I just knew I had to leave.
SNOW: This father and son were swept away by currents. This YouTube video shows crews rescuing them and they were said to be checking on their property when the water took hold of them. Rescue crews later found them holding on to a log.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were scared. They were more scared than anything. They were holding on and they yelled out in the beginning. There were a lot of people around they were able to see that they couldn't get to them. And they were the ones that were really screaming.
SNOW: While Paterson has a history of flooding, city officials say what's different this time is that some areas not prone to flooding were underwater. It's just one of several communities in northern New Jersey seen here on Monday that have been inundated by water following the heavy rains dumped by Hurricane Irene.
SNOW: And, Wolf, the Passaic River here in Paterson did crest this afternoon. So it's not expected that the waters here will continue to rise.
You might see that line on the sidewalk here. That is where the water reached earlier today. You can see it's receding just a bit, but there were a couple of high-rise apartments here in Paterson that also had to be evacuated because the basement was flooded. That's where their power systems were. They had to cut power, so all these people also had to leave their homes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, where are these people going?
SNOW: Well, the mayor has been working to open a couple of schools. At this point, they're opening three schools because there's many more people than they anticipated who had to leave their houses.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. Good luck to all those people over there.
We are also keeping a close watch on a new potential threat, Tropical Storm Katia expected to become a hurricane within the next day.
BLITZER: We are also looking right now at what is going on Libya, where rebel fighters are pushing towards Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. There is speculation that Gadhafi may be hiding in the area.
We want to tell you that as rebel commanders tell CNN, they insist that at least, their words, at least 50,000 people have now been killed in this six-month civil war. That's what rebel commanders are saying. We have no way of confirming that.
There are though alarming, very alarming reports of human rights violations by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. These reports are escalating right now.
CNN's Arwa Damon has been looking into some of these reports for us. She is joining us live now with more on one disturbing story of a member of Gadhafi's renowned female militia.
Arwa, this is an awful story. But tell our viewers what you have learned.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is very disturbing, Wolf, and the doctors who are now caring for this young woman say that she was deprived of her family, deprived of her dignity and her self-worth. And they say that Gadhafi forces turned her into a monster.
DAMON (voice-over): She's 19, with soft features, warm brown eyes, and full lips. And she became an executioner for Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
"One of them had facial hairs like this," Nisreen Mansour gestures, recalling the face of one of men she shot dead. Mansour now lies in a hospital bed with an armed rebel guard out front. She doesn't want us to show her face.
She admits she murdered 11 rebels, all prisoners of the Gadhafi regime. "They brought one person in at a time and they said, 'Shoot him,'" she tells us. "There was someone on either side of me and one behind, and they all said, 'If you don't shoot, we will shoot you. '"
She speaks haltingly, often falling into a tortured silence. "I would turn my head away and shoot, and then I saw the blood dripping. It just kept flowing. "
Nisreen was a member of the female unit of Gadhafi's popular militia. She says she was forcibly taken from her mother who is battling cancer by the head of the unit, a family friend. She was trained here at the female military academy to handle weapons, banned from seeing her family. Some of the other women at the academy were ardent regime supporters. Nisreen says she wasn't, but she couldn't leave.
"My brother came and tried to get me out," she says. "He was threatened and told to leave. "
Nisreen says her commander kept her here at the headquarters of a brigade based next to Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound. She says that as the uprising began in February, she was brought to see the commander of the brigade. He raped her.
"I screamed," she tells us. "It happened twice again at the hands of two other commanders. " She says all the women were raped, but they were forbidden to speak about it.
As the rebels closed in on Tripoli, Nisreen was assigned to the Bousalim neighborhood where some of the heaviest fighting was taking place. It's with there, she says, that she was forced to be an executioner.
She finally escaped, jumping from a second story window as a firefight erupted. Although the rebels plan to put her on trial, many of them pity her. So do the hospital staff. One of her doctors, Nadia Benyounis, says she was speechless when she first heard about her case.
DR. NADIA BENYOUNIS, LIBYA: You think I get angry from her? I have maybe -- no. I feel she's also innocent, but she was manipulated by someone. Maybe she has no real intention to kill.
DAMON: "All I want is to go home," she says. "I want my mother. "
DAMON: And the doctors say that Nisreen needs severe psychological help. She needs to have a strong social and family network around her if she is to ever hope to recover from her ordeal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, you speak Arabic. You are fluent in Arabic. You spent years, as all of our viewers in the United States and around the world, covering what was going on in Iraq pre- and post-Saddam Hussein.
Have you ever seen stories emerge like you are seeing in Libya right now in Iraq, for example? These are brutal tales over these past several days, the stories that you and Nic and Dan Rivers and other reporters have been telling us.
DAMON: They most certainly are, Wolf. And in fact a lot of us have been discussing that very issue, comparing Iraq to Libya.
And when it came to Iraq, there were significant atrocities that were uncovered by Saddam -- that were carried out by Saddam Hussein's regime that were uncovered after he fell. But by and large, they were atrocities that had been committed in the past.
I think what is so chilling about what we are seeing now is just how fresh and recent all of this is. The bodies that are being uncovered, newly burnt, torched by Gadhafi loyalists as they are fleeing, the cases of this young woman and what she had to go through, and then just the notion that there is so much more out there that has yet to be discovered. It really is quite chilling.
BLITZER: We do remember the mustard gas and the killing of a lot of Kurds in the northern part of Iraq by Saddam Hussein's forces. Obviously that is well-documented right now.
Arwa Damon doing amazing reporting for us.
Arwa, thanks very, very much.
An ambitious plan to slash unemployment and put millions of Americans back to work. We're learning new details about the jobs initiative that President Obama will unveil next week.
Plus, it's a memoir Dick Cheney says that will have heads exploding in Washington, D.C. But will it also embarrass his old boss?
Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It's a perfect storm that history has shown can topple a presidency, high unemployment and low approval ratings. That's exactly the situation President Obama is facing as he prepares to unveil a major new jobs initiative next week. We are learning new details about what his plan is likely to include.
Let's get those details from our senior White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's over at the White House.
Jessica, what are you picking up?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this plan promises to be a combination of proposals that will stimulate short-term jobs growth and also include some longer-term investment.
Already, the president's critics are taking aim at the plan even before it's been unveiled, which is just a sign of how much expectation has been built up for this jobs proposal before the announcement.
YELLIN (voice-over): Even during a speech to the American Legion in Minnesota, the president couldn't resist a preview of his highly anticipated jobs plan. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Next week, I will be speaking to the nation about a plan to create jobs and reduce our deficit, a plan that I want to see passed by Congress. We have got to get this done.
YELLIN: It's an effort to jump-start the economy and shore up his dwindling poll numbers.
A recent CNN/ORC poll shows only 37 percent of Americans approve of how the president is handling unemployment. So, next week, he is rolling out a package that is likely to include an extension of the payroll tax cuts for workers, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Also possible in the plan, businesses could get a tax break for each new worker they hire or even an additional credit for hiring the long-term unemployed.
Outside policy-makers consulted by the White House say other possible inside include a program that gives the long-term unemployed job training experiences with local businesses and new spending on infrastructure. They could bring back Build America Bonds, which make it cheaper for cities and states to build roads and bridges or fund school renovations and programs to make low-income housing more energy-efficient.
The White House is tight-lipped on the details and we're told that's because the president still hasn't signed off on a finished product.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is still having conversations and meetings as he works to finalize his plan.
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, in addition to proposing this jobs plan, my White House sources tell me that the president will also propose a separate package to that congressional super committee of spending cuts, which would offset any additional spending in this jobs plan, so that there would be no overall new spending in the entire package.
So, two different proposals coming from the White House in the coming days, Wolf.
BLITZER: Will those spending cuts, though, Jessica, be enough to satisfy the Republicans?
YELLIN: That is the big I should say hundred million dollar question, but $1.5 trillion-plus question at this point.
The White House says it should be because it will ultimately be revenue-neutral. But as you know, Republicans are already beginning to criticize the outlines of this jobs plan, saying that even what they are hearing is not enough, because they have other concerns with it, not just with the spending -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Could be a make-or-break speech, as I say, for the president. Jessica, thanks very much.
The former Vice President Dick Cheney has a brand-new book just out today entitled "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir."
He has already promised it will in his words have heads exploding all over Washington. And now he is dismissing questions about the possible impact it will have on his former boss, President George W. Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't set out to embarrass the president or not embarrass the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about the book with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, is this book going to embarrass the former president?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it might anger him in some ways because the vice president talks about private meetings in which, for example, he acknowledges that he wanted to bomb Syria and nobody else around the table raised their hand.
He is very complimentary of George W. Bush, but, Wolf, I would have to say it's unprecedented really to have a former vice president so quickly after leaving office write this kind of an unvarnished memoir. And I would have to say it's in keeping with Dick Cheney. He's a pretty candid guy. He has been out there very critical of the Obama administration, while former President Bush kind of hung back.
And I think really in a way, this is about setting the record straight. This is about Dick Cheney's legacy. And he wants to tell the story as he really saw it. So it's quite a candid memoir.
BLITZER: And there once was a time when historians would write these kind of books about presidential administrations, but that has changed.
BORGER: Well, we live in the age of Twitter and we live in the age of the Internet and we live in the age of lucrative book contracts.
You have had lots of former White House aides -- I remember going back to the George Stephanopoulos in the Clinton administration, Dick Morris. Scott McClellan, of course, angered the Bush administration when he wrote his memoir. Now people are rushing to write their versions of history.
And something that is interesting that happened in this particular memoir is that you had Colin Powell, former secretary of state, write his book with his own version of events in which he blamed George Tenet, the director of the CIA, for giving him the wrong information on the war in Iraq.
Dick Cheney takes on Colin Powell very directly in this book. Let's listen to what he says about Powell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: I did feel that the State Department did not serve the president well. I would hear discussions, for example, that Powell had objected to or opposed our operations in Iraq. But that never happened sitting around the table in the National Security Council. It was the kind of thing that seemed to be said outside to others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Ouch. Ouch, right? That's pretty, pretty direct. And so the question is being asked, what's the difference between writing a memoir and settling scores? There is a little bit of score-settling going on, particularly with Colin Powell.
BLITZER: But we have come over these years to expect brutal candor, shall we say, from Dick Cheney.
BORGER: Yes, we are. And that's why this really is in keeping with his character.
He provided the president with very candid advice. But it always stayed inside the room. That advice, lots of that advice still remains inside the room. But I think there is a larger question here, Wolf, for presidents. And that is, is anything they do or say with anybody else in the room, whether it be in the other Situation Room or the Oval Office, is any of that ever off the record? And I think you would have to say the answer to that is no.
BLITZER: I will be interviewing the former Vice President Dick Cheney next Tuesday here in THE SITUATION ROOM. If our viewers want to send me some suggested questions, tweet them to me @WolfBlitzerCNN. I would love to hear some...
BORGER: Maybe Colin Powell will send you one or two.
BLITZER: Maybe he will send me a question @WolfBlitzerCNN.
BLITZER: We will see you on "JOHN KING, USA" at the top of the hour for our North American viewers. Gloria, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Tough talk on foreign policy from the man leading the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls. For the first time since entering the race, Rick Perry is giving some insight into how he would deal with the rest of the world.
And Perry's closest rival in the latest polling slamming the president's approach to the uprisings in the Middle East.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The White House was so tentative and so eager to continue its policy of engagement, that Iranian protesters questioned whether President Obama was with them or not. What a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He is leading the Republican pack of presidential hopefuls in our latest CNN/ORC poll. And so far, Rick Perry has been campaigning on his decade of experience as Texas governor and his disdain for Washington.
But he hasn't said much, not a lot, about foreign policy, at least until now. Perry gave a revealing speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in San Antonio. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism. We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened. And we should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom-loving people. It's not our interest to go it alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So where does Governor Perry stand on other hot-button foreign policy issues.
CNN's Ed Lavandera has been investigating.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rick Perry tweeted this picture after a meeting with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Interesting because Perry's foreign policy philosophy is still very much a work in progress.
Ray Sullivan, one of the governor's longest-serving advisers, argues Perry is already on the international stage.
RAY SULLIVAN, PERRY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We are the largest exporting state in the country. We have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico. our energy industry is a world leader. So we have had an awful lot of interaction with international trade, international business and international relations. LAVANDERA: There are clues into Perry's foreign policy thinking. We have learned former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has put the governor in touch with other officials from the George W. Bush administration.
JOSH ROGIN, "FOREIGN POLICY": Rick Perry is drawing upon a wealth of conservative, hawkish, militaristic foreign policy ideas and foreign policy personnel here in Washington that includes a lot of people who have been on the sidelines during the Obama administration who are more than eager to get back into the game.
LAVANDERA: Perry opposes timetables for withdrawing troops from the battlefield and on Afghanistan says only the United States needs to be sure that its interests are truly at stake before it commits troops. But aides dispute his foreign policy strategy will be just like the last Texas-governor-turned-president.
SULLIVAN: The governor has no interest in going backwards. He's interested in going forward.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Rick Perry's tough talk on foreign policy will probably go over well with staunch conservatives, but there is one particular issue that could cause him some political problems in his own party, and that's immigration.
(voice-over): Perry says strict Arizona-style immigration laws are not right for Texas. He has pushed for a guest-worker program, and he approved a law giving illegal immigrants the right to pay in- state college tuition, a Texas version of the DREAM Act.
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: I think some people would be surprised, at least on the far right would be surprised at some of the positions he's taken.
LAVANDERA: Henry Cuellar is a friend of the governor, a South Texas Democrat in Congress. He thinks Perry will soften on immigration.
CUELLAR: Inside of him, you still see what I call the -- the Perry that I know. And so -- but I think for now what you're going to see is see him running to the right so he can win the primary.
LAVANDERA: And that means a focus on security.
(on camera) People are going to want to know: does he support a guest worker program and support the DREAM Act? Where does he stand on those?
RAY SULLIVAN, PERRY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: I think Governor Perry's focus will be on border security. It is broken.
LAVANDERA: The delicate dance around hot-button issues is in full swing.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Austin, Texas.
BLITZER: Governor Perry' closest rival in the polls addressed that same veterans' convention today. And Mitt Romney slammed President Obama's foreign policy, saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "What a disgrace."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE In the Middle East, we're pressuring our closest ally, Israel, to make concessions while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians. The administration was quick to criticize Israel but slow to criticize Syria's strong man, Bashar al-Assad, even though he facilitated arming Hezbollah, allowed terrorists to cross this border and go into Iraq where they killed American troops and turned weapons on his own people.
Instead of calling Mr. Assad a reformer, this administration should have called him what he is: a killer. President Obama's reticence to criticize Mr. Assad echoes his unwillingness to say a harsh word about the ayatollahs of Iran when they cracked down on the dissidents who bravely protested the stolen 2009 election there. The White House was so tentative and so eager to continue its policy of engagement, that Iranian protesters questioned whether President Obama was with them or not. What a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: While Romney was slamming the president, President Obama was also speaking to the veterans some 1,200 miles away in Minneapolis. At the American Legion national convention, much of his speech was focused on jobs ahead of a major new initiative to be unveiled next week.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is traveling with the president -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the large crowd of mostly military veterans gave President Obama a respectful reception as he talked about creating jobs, catching Osama bin Laden, and the upcoming 9/11 anniversary.
But perhaps the loudest applause came when he touched on the issue of service members dealing with emotional scars.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): For the first time in public remarks, President Obama explained why he reversed his policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The days when depression and PTSD were stigmatized, those days must end. These Americans did not die because they were weak. They were warriors.
LOTHIAN: The president says his administration is committed to improving outreach and suicide prevention programs for those in the military. Hoping to also ease the pain of unemployment for troops returning from the battlefield, Mr. Obama is pushing private companies to hire vets and proposing tax breaks as an incentive.
OBAMA: For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working.
LOTHIAN: Charles Fattig, who served in the Army and Marines, says sacrifice deserves to be rewarded at home.
CHARLES FATTIG, U.S. ARMY AND MARINE CORPS VETERAN: They've come from the chaos of the battlefield. And, you know, they bring their baggage back with them. and when they don't have a job, that just, you know, compounds through the problem.
LOTHIAN: About the same time President Obama was addressing legionnaires in Minneapolis on the need to create jobs faster, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was criticizing his record if a speech at the VFW national convention in San Antonio, Texas.
ROMNEY: We' stand near the threshold of profound economic misery. Four more years on the same political path could prove disastrous.
LOTHIAN: Romney also chided the president for proposing cuts to military spending. In a heated political climate where Republicans and Democrats struggle to find compromise on fixing the economy, Charles Hartman, who fought in Vietnam, has faith that Washington will find a way to help get unemployed veterans back to work.
CHARLES HARTMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS VETERAN: You know, whether you agree with their politics or not, either side of the aisle, they have been willing to work with us to try to get some of these things passed to take care of our veterans.
LOTHIAN: President Obama says that the U.S. has a responsibility to all those who serve the country and that it is not about politics, but rather a moral obligation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian, traveling with the president, thank you.
Tremendous jobs pressure on the president, especially from some African-American leaders. Now the president is taking action to try to quell the criticism also.
An inferno wiped out an entire neighborhood and killed eight people. Now a scathing report is laying blame.
And we'll explain why a Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell, won't -- repeat won't -- be appearing with Sarah Palin.
BLITZER: A grim milestone for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Wolf. Some sad statistics to tell you about right now. August is now the deadliest -- deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war started almost 10 years ago.
Sixty-six American troops have died so far this month. Almost half of them were killed when insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter on August 6.
Also, the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been reassigned. Kenneth Nelson is headed to the Justice Department in the wake of Operation Fast and Furious. The controversial program allowed thousands of heavy-duty assault-type weapons to be bought illegally. Critics blame it for the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in December.
Now Todd Jones, a U.S. attorney from Minnesota, will become the acting director of ATF.
And consumer confidence has plunged to its lowest level in more than two years. According to a research group called the Conference Board, half of consumers say jobs are hard to get, and one quarter say business conditions will worsen in the next six months. Consumer spending makes up 70 percent of the economy. Important to watch.
Also, a Tea Party group has canceled Christine O'Donnell's speaking appearance at an Iowa rally. The group says it was a scheduling screw up on its part. By the way, Sarah Palin is giving the key note address on Saturday, and organizers say she will make a, quote, "major statement." We'll have to be watching for what that statement could be.
BLITZER: Hinting she will run? Hinting she won't run? Major...
BOLDUAN: There's been a lot of hinting with Sarah Palin. Come on now.
BLITZER: At some point she's got to say yes or no.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Come or go.
BLITZER: Maybe Saturday. We'll see.
Stay with CNN to see the Republican presidential candidates face off in less than two weeks. I'll be the moderator when CNN hosts the debate, along with the Tea Party Express and several Tea Party groups in Tampa, Florida. That's Monday, September 12, 8 p.m. Eastern. The CNN Tea Party Express debate, only here on CNN.
President Obama is ramping up efforts to hold onto a key part of his base: African Americans. Is it too late, though?
And new words on who is responsible for a gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people outside San Francisco last year.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There is increasing criticism from some African- American lawmakers and some other black leaders who say President Obama is not doing enough to address unemployment in their communities. The White House is now moving to counter those concerns. But how concerned should the president be? CNN's Tom Foreman is breaking down the numbers for us.
Tom, what are you finding?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we all remember the celebration in 2008, particularly in the African-American community, after the president won this historic election. Incredible change. Look at what has changed since then, because it's really huge.
If you look at the country, you break down the red and the blue everywhere that he won and where John McCain won, look at the numbers on unemployment among black voters. You talk about the overall unemployment rate. It has really changed.
This was the turn out in voting back then. It rose more than 5 percent. That was much more than any other group. Much more in that election. That was a measure of the excitement over that election.
But look what happened with unemployment since then. The black community has always suffered much more than the Latino community here in blue or the white community in green.
But today around 9 percent unemployment for the general population; for whites, a little bit below that. Look up here. Think about 15 percent, 16 percent, 17 percent unemployment depending on where you are in this country if you're a member of the African- American community. This is a very profound, serious concern for all communities, particularly for that group.
And the question is what is the president doing about it? And it's not entirely clear that he's doing enough, at least in the minds of some of these folks.
Look at how the election played out. I want to look at a few battleground states here for particular reference. North Carolina for one example.
Look at this. Unemployment among African Americans in 2008 when he won the election, 8.6 percent; currently 17.4 percent in that state. Massive. And look at the margin of error here.
The black vote in the state went almost entirely to him in 2008, 873,000 votes. But he won the state by only 14,177. So if he could keep all of the white votes he had, every one of them; all the Latino vote, all the Asian votes in that state, if he kept all of them, he comes down to a tiny fraction here that could make a huge difference if this group just doesn't turn out because they're not feeling good about that unemployment rate. Same thing down here in Florida. If you look at that, down there you've got an unemployment rate that went from 8.8 percent for African-Americans up to 16, almost 17 percent now.
And also, if you look at the margin by which he won the state, compared to the number of people you've got on the black vote, again, it's a potential vulnerability. And this is the last part of the equation that has the Congressional Black Caucus concerned.
Look at the president's last economic tour. When he went on tour the last time -- I've got to turn off a couple of things here. When he went on tour the last time, he went to these states primarily talking about the economy: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, places where you have large white populations.
The Congressional Black Caucus, when they went on tour, they went to Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles. They're saying the president needs to be getting to more of those places. Listen to what Maxine Waters from California said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATTERS (D), CALIFORNIA: We're supportive of the president, but we're getting tired of it.
Unemployment is unconscionable. We don't know what the strategy is. We don't know why on this trip that he set in the United States now he's not in any black communities. We don't know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: A genuine and heartfelt concern in many parts of the country, though predominantly African-American saying, "Hey, there's a real problem out here," and they need to hear the president speaking to that if they want to have that support in the election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good. Tom, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Roland Martin, our CNN political contributor. As you know, Roland, the president gave an interview to Tom Joyner on his radio show today.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
BLITZER: Let me play a little excerpt.
All right. We don't have it right now, but we're going to cue it up. We're going to get it. He's reaching out. He's starting to reach out. How much of a problem does the president have right now in the African-American community?
MARTIN: As Tom laid out the fundamental issue is going to be turnout. You look at the critical states in 2012. You're looking at Virginia. You're looking at Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina. Yes, he won North Carolina by 14,000 votes. He won Indiana by about 1 percent, as well. And so any kind of shift among African- Americans is vital.
You look at the numbers, it goes beyond unemployment. Fifty- three percent of black wealth has been wiped out as a result of the home foreclosure problem in this country, the crisis in this country. The president's $46 billion home foreclosure program has not been effective, so they have not, frankly, changed enough of those loans.
And so turnout is going to be the issue. Yes, will he get 92, 95 percent of the black vote? Yes, Al Gore got 92 percent. It's a Democratic thing. The question, though, is what is going to be the intensity. Black women voted at a higher rate than any other group in America in 2008. Will you see the same thing in '12? That's why they're starting this process now of really trying to ramp it up, because they are going to be critical as a base voter to set up his reelection.
BLITZER: Let me play that clip, what the president told Tom Joyner on the radio today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We've got on loan that famous Norman Rockwell painting right outside the Oval Office of Ruby Bridges walking to school, and we pass that every single day. You know, she was a little 6-year-old girl surrounded by marshals going into that school house all by herself.
And you know, inside my office, I've got -- a friend of mine framed the original program from the March on Washington. And, you know, so there are reminders as we go through the day, and we're working hard here to make sure that we're putting people back to work and getting the economy going again, that, you know, we stand on the shoulders of a lot of people who made a lot of sacrifices. And it's important for us to make sure that we're following through on those commitments, even if it's slow and frustrating sometimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: It's interesting, Wolf, that he references the March in Washington. It was called the March in Washington for Jobs and Freedom. You heart Congressman John Conyers, a huge supporter of this president in 2008, say, "Look, we made a similar margin." A lot of folks are saying, "Look, he is the president of the United States. He is the first African-American, but at the same time he is the 44th president of the United States," and so, therefore, he must be held accountable as the previous presidents.
BLITZER: In recent days the Democratic National Committee has reached out to you, to Donna Brazile, Debra Lee, BET, others. I guess what do they -- what do they want from you?
MARTIN: Well, first of all, look, I hosted only -- only Sunday morning political show on a black cable network, and I'm on the Tom Joyner morning show, so it's no shock they're reaching out to me to reach out to Americans.
BLITZER: You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.
MARTIN: Absolutely. So I have multiple jobs, tough economy for a black man. But Wolf, what' going on is that, look, they are reaching out to various people getting the word out, ramping up. And so they've been meeting with Hispanics, meeting with women, gays and lesbians, the core groups that formed, frankly, the coalition that put the president in office.
And so therefore, they're trying to say, "This is what we've done. This is what we're doing and what we're prepared to do," but they know this is going to be a lot tougher re-election campaign. It will not be like 2008. So if anybody is trying to use 2008 as a barometer for 2012, they're crazy. You've got to look at result of the turnout in '09 as well as in '10, and for their core groups, young people, African-Americans, Hispanic numbers were way down. They've got to get them way back up.
BLITZER: A lot of work to do. Roland, thanks very much.
MARTIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Laying blame for this deadly inferno. Details of a scathing new report on a pipeline explosion that wiped out an entire neighborhood.
BLITZER: A scathing government report is laying blame for a natural gas pipeline explosion that wiped out an entire northern California neighborhood and killed eight people. CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now live from San Francisco with more.
What's going on here, Dan?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those of us who were there that day will never forget that enormous fireball we saw in that San Bruno neighborhood. Today the NTSB determined what had caused that fireball, what caused that explosion, and it's a pretty devastating portrayal of PG&E, the utility.
The NTSB really found three things that led up to this explosion, a faulty pipe. There was poor emergency response and lax government oversight. All three things led to this failure. The NTSB calling this a litany of failures. One member actually saying it wasn't a matter of if this would happen; it was when. They're actually saying that an electrical malfunction caused pressure to build in that line.
And the other thing that they talked about is there was this very poor response time. Ninety-five minutes before PG&E could actually shut the gas off. That was a complete failure, according to the NTSB.
We reached out to PG&E for a response. They have not gotten back to us. But they have said that they have done a lot to increase safety. But bottom line here, this is a pretty devastating portrayal of PG&E -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's an understatement. All right, Dan, thanks very much.
With crude oil prices down sharply from highs this spring, can drivers expect the price of gasoline to fall, and just how much? Well, maybe not necessarily. Stand by. We'll explain. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A little relief at the pump. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What do you have, Kate?
BOLDUAN: Hopefully, a little bit of good news here. Drivers can expect a drop in gas prices soon, but unfortunately, not by that much. Gas usually costs less as the traditional summer driving season ends. Also, Hurricane Irene wasn't as bad as expected. Experts say gasoline should only drop, though, by about 30 or 40 cents a gallon. But I guess we'll take what we can get, eh?
The U.N. is warning of a possible resurgence of a deadly avian flu virus, a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus has appeared in Vietnam and China, and might be spreading throughout Asia. It appears this strain of the bird flu can bypass the effects of the vaccine.
And finally on Wall Street, stocks eked out gains after falling early in the day on a weak consumer confidence report. Analysts say the afternoon recovery was fueled, in part, by indications that some members of the Federal Reserve board favor another round of U.S. Treasury purchases to jump-start the economy. A little silver lining there, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of work to do on the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs.
BOLDUAN: Going to hear a lot more about that.
BLITZER: As we like to say, jobs, issue number the -- No. 1. Kate, thanks very much.
Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. No recess for Kate, even though she's our congressional correspondent.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.