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JOHN KING, USA

Where is Gadhafi; Deadline Given; Huntsman's Jobs Plan; Hurricane Irene's Aftermath

Aired August 31, 2011 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. John King is off tonight.

Breaking news in the mystery of Moammar Gadhafi's whereabouts, two of Gadhafi's sons surfaced today with different messages. A few hours ago al Rai (ph) TV broadcast a defiant audio message from Saif Gadhafi, claiming his father and closest followers are hiding in Tripoli's suburbs and their morale is high. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The leadership is fine, the leader is fine, and we are fighting and we're drinking tea and coffee and we are sitting with our families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Saif Gadhafi also had a message for people he calls his brethren in Tripoli and across Libya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are saying to everyone to move now. Now everyone has to move from now to attack all these gangsters of the rats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The people he's calling rats are the rebels who drove the Gadhafis from power. Just a few hours before that fire and brimstone message, another of Gadhafi's sons contacted CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. Nic joins us now from Tripoli, a city by the way dangerously close to running out of water. Nic, first, what was the message from the other Gadhafi son?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a completely opposite message to Saif's message. He was saying that he is talking to the National Transition Council military leaders about the possibility of a cease-fire. He says scuttling rumors that he's about to surrender, he says that he's not going to surrender, that this government of the National Transition Council has destroyed the country. But the very fact that he's saying he is talking, (INAUDIBLE) wants a cease-fire to avoid bloodshed, is just such a variance with his brother. This is the first time we've heard either of them talk publicly since the -- since the fall of Tripoli. And this is the first time we've seen really a division in the family. And perhaps an indication that the family really is beginning to crumble, their backs are to the wall. And, of course, Saif al Islam's speech went out several hours ago, and despite that gunfire going on behind me, which is celebratory gunfire, there has been no rising up in the city in the past hours of Gadhafi loyalists, his message clearly falling at least here very, very flat -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Well right and the truth is, it sounds kind of delusional, what Saif is saying and that they must be in a bunker somewhere and either not understand the reality or they're just, you know, whistling in the wind.

ROBERTSON: They're whistling in the wind. They're whistling at whoever they think are still their loyalists. I mean they are living in their own sort of deluded situation. He's certainly not living as best we can see -- I think anyone can see that he's not living in a suburb of Tripoli. He would have been picked up by now. What he's trying to do is just rally anyone else that's willing to fight for the Gadhafi regime, perhaps give them cover and time to get out of the country.

Particularly the key towns in the south right now, Sirte, that the rebels have surrounded, they've given them a deadline until Saturday to put their weapons down, and Bani Walid (ph) about 120, 130 miles southeast of Tripoli is believed quite possibly that's where Gadhafi could be, other members of his family could be, and that town is surrounded by the rebels holding out, also on a deadline to put down his weapons until the weekend, so perhaps it's a rallying call to anyone he thinks can support them there, but certainly I don't think anyone rational here really believes what he's saying. That he was in his -- that he was in his father's main compound in Tripoli in the last few days. I don't think anyone buys that, utterly ridiculous -- Candy.

CROWLEY: And so, where are we now in terms of what Gadhafi could actually mount? I know it's hard to know how many soldiers would still stick with him, but here in the U.S. there's been all this talk about the mustard gas depot, about these shoulder-to-air missile launchers that are all over the country. Does Gadhafi have anything left in his arsenal, not to win, not to take back Libya, but to do serious damage, or is he out of ammo as well?

ROBERTSON: You know, it's interesting you mentioned water at the beginning there, and that is perhaps one of his strongest weapons to undermine the National Transitional Council, hundreds of miles south of here in the desert are the wells, hundreds of wells, that are used to sort of feed water into this city. This city normally uses 4.5 million liters of water a day, a massive amount of water and right now 60 percent of the city is cut off. So, what he is doing by cutting that water off, and that's the assessment of the National Transition Council, the European Union, is using that water as a weapon of war to undermine morale in the city and undermine the National Transitional Council trying to form a government.

And he said that -- Saif al Islam said that they have 20,000 men with weapons in Sirte. I don't think anyone in their right mind believes that either. Do they have weapons like mustard gas? I think most people think probably not. It's an open question, but they also think that he would have used them already. A lot of the key oil facilities are on the coasts here. The rebels control them already -- could Gadhafi's loyalists damage oil fields further south in the country? There's a possibility of that. Ten to 15 percent of the oil production facilities in the country already damaged according to a government minister. But I think he's probably played out the best of his weapons arsenal that he has already -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Nic Robertson in Tripoli for us. Thanks so much, Nic.

The Libyan rebels delivered their own ultimatum to Gadhafi's fighters even before his sons surfaced today. They have until Saturday, as you heard Nic say, to surrender. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is with the rebel forces in Misrata, east of Tripoli.

Fred, I think that my first question to you is that for so many weeks, you and I have talked, have talked with Nic, and we always think that, you know, it's on the edge. You know, Libya's on the edge of getting rid of the Gadhafis, and it hasn't happened. But listening to Nic tonight, and I want to get your take on this, do the rebels feel that they are very close to having the Gadhafis or at least going into these last bastions that are there? Do they believe they have the strength and that Saturday will be the end of it, at least so far as territory is concerned?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure they really believe that Saturday is going to be the end of it, Candy, but I certainly do get the feeling that they believe that they are very close to ousting completely the Gadhafi forces from the town of Sirte and also from the town of Bani Walid (ph), which is also one of the few strongholds that pro-Gadhafi forces still hold. Now talking to the rebels on the front lines, they say they don't really want to do that.

They don't want to go into these places but they say they will if they have to, and they certainly believe that they have the forces that they need to accomplish that as well. They're moving on to Sirte from two sides from the east and from the west. They're amassing a lot of gun trucks there, rockets, also multiple rocket launchers. They have some artillery also that they'll be bringing to bear there as well. Now again, they say they don't want to use that.

They also say that they believe that there is going to be a battle for Sirte, that it's going to be probably even more bloody than what you saw in the Tripoli area. So, it's not something they want to do, but they do certainly believe they have the strength and they say if they get the order from the National Transitional Council then they will move in there from two sides. So it seems as though right now everybody is looking towards Saturday seeing whether or not a large- scale assault is going to happen, it might not happen on that day, but certainly could very well happen in the days following Saturday. And what we're hearing from the National Transitional Council, Candy, is that at this point in time the negotiations that they had going with the tribes in the Sirte area are not getting anywhere -- Candy. CROWLEY: And let me ask you, Fred, this is about as blunt as I can put it -- do the rebels want Gadhafi on trial or do they want him dead? What best suits the need to move forward?

PLEITGEN: That's a -- that's a very good question. It certainly varies depending on who you talk to among the rebels. If you talk to the front -- the guys on the front line, which is what we did today, obviously, you know, these are fighters who have been through a lot. They've been through a lot of battle, a lot of combat, and so they tell us if they find Gadhafi, they're flat-out going to kill him.

They said they're going to burn him up. They'll kill him if they find him. That's what they feel is the best thing to do. And if you move along the front line you'll see almost everywhere these Gadhafi dolls you know hanging in a noose and I mean, they just say they're going to flat-out kill him. Now if you talk to politicians or people from the National Transitional Council, they'll tell you they'd rather have Gadhafi alive.

And what they want to do is they want to put him on trial here in Libya. They say they might at some point hand him over to an international court, but they want him and his sons tried here in Libya to then have a verdict against them inside a Libyan court. So it's a very different picture depending on whether you're talking to you know the politicians in all of this or you're talking to the frontline guys, so it's really anybody's guess what would happen if in fact you would have these guys closing in on Gadhafi and there would be some sort of firefight which way that would then in effect go -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much Fred Pleitgen in Misrata for us tonight. We appreciate it.

In a minute we're going to turn our attention to presidential politics. Jon Huntsman unveiled a jobs plan this afternoon. Among other things it overhauls the tax code and eliminates popular deductions, even the one for home mortgage interest. We will talk with him next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Tonight, the man who's running against his old boss beat him to the punch by unveiling a plan to grow jobs and the economy. Right now President Obama's fighting with Congress over setting a date for his big speech next week. But the president's former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, rolled out his own jobs plan this afternoon in New Hampshire.

I want to welcome you, Governor Huntsman, to the show. I want to just give the audience just a quick couple of bullet points from your plan. You propose creating three tax brackets from the current six, eight percent, 14 percent, 23 percent. You would eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends. You would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, and you would reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Correct.

CROWLEY: Let me zero in on the lowering of the corporate tax rate, because here's what I think people don't understand. You would bring down corporate -- the tax rate by 10 percent and close some of the loopholes dealing with corporations. But I want to show our audience -- and I'll try to describe it to you -- just a graphic that shows, on the left-hand side of the screen is the growth in jobs over the last eight quarters, two years, and then you see the growth in corporate profit. And people look at this and see jobs flat lining and corporate profits up by 40 percent and think, seriously? We're going to lower their taxes?

HUNTSMAN: Candy, first of all thank you for having me, and I would remind you that timing is everything to your earlier comment. Our tax code, the individual tax code, and the business tax code, they are broken. They are absolutely not 21st Century competitive. They are perpetuated by people who can afford the lobbyists and the lawyers to keep their tax breaks and loopholes and corporate welfare, and all I'm saying is it's time to stop. It's time to end it all.

It's time to prepare for the 21st Century. We're there. And we've got to recognize that we're behind in the game. And when it comes to the corporate tax, I'm guessing that most people aren't paying the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent. Why? Because they can afford to have people lobby on their behalf and basically find loopholes or deductions of various kinds. All I'm saying is wipe it all away. Get rid of it. Let's clean out the cobwebs and let's establish a rate that's 25 percent.

Not only is it more realistic, based on where you can get everybody paying in, but I believe it's the kind of thing that is going to create jobs, and it's going to be a signal to the marketplace that we're back in business and there's some predictability in the economy that will encourage people to hire, that will encourage people to deploy capital expenditures. They're not doing it today because there's not predictability. There isn't confidence in our economy and there's no ability to see around the corner to see long term what taxes are going to be.

CROWLEY: Sure, but to the question, Governor, it's just that corporate profits are up 40 percent in two years and I think people look at this and think right now with the country in so much trouble. You know, we're hearing now that FEMA may not have enough money to help rebuild some of these devastated places after the hurricane, and yet then why not just make corporations pay their taxes rather than lower their tax rate? I think it's just -- maybe it's an optics -- you know I'm sure your numbers crunchers have looked at it, but you understand that there's kind of a PR problem here.

HUNTSMAN: Of course, of course -- again, it all goes back, Candy, to a broken tax system and we've got to clean it out and we've got to rebuild it. But more than that, we need jobs in this country. We need the revenue flow that will come from jobs. We need more taxpayers in this system that will come from increased jobs and we're just not going to get jobs, which ultimately are going to allow states individually to rebound and allow this company to rebound, until such time as we have a 21st Century competitive tax code. And, listen, Candy, I'm not speaking from some theory or some academic textbook here.

We did it as governor. When I was governor of the state of Utah, we reformed taxes. We got the state going in a direction that suggested that it was the most competitive state in America or certainly one of them. Investment came. Entrepreneurs started expanding. College graduates stayed. We took unemployment down to unprecedented levels. Our revenue increased and we were able to pay the bills unlike any other time. That meant we could pay teachers what they were worth. It meant we could expand infrastructure like roads for the fastest growing state in America.

CROWLEY: Let me -- let me read you something that caught our attention. It's from your brother, Peter Huntsman, who is CEO of the family business, Huntsman Corporation --

HUNTSMAN: That's always dangerous.

CROWLEY: -- in which -- you know brothers -- in which he said to Bloomberg -- this is in mid-June -- "We -- meaning Huntsman Corporation -- now employ more people between China and India than we do in North America, which is really quite phenomenal when you consider that about 90 percent of our associates 10 years ago were in North America." In your plan, does Huntsman Corporation begin to lower that ratio and bring back American workers and where is that in your plan?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I will tell you that first and foremost we need a competitive environment here to get our manufacturing base back in the United States of America. We've got to start making things again. But you have to realize the reality of the global marketplace, Candy. You have engines of growth that are bringing their populations up, greater consumer spending and therefore, demand for products.

And when you're in a global industry, like the chemical sector, like automobiles, heavy manufacturing, you've got to meet the needs of your customers wherever they exist around the world. It would be great to be able to do more of that from the United States, but the reality today is many companies, of course, are finding that they have to be closest to wherever their customer base is. It isn't necessarily that they're manufacturing abroad and sending back here.

They're simply selling to a much larger consumer base in parts of the world that even a few short years ago didn't exist. But what this tax code begins to do, Candy, it begins to create a competitive dynamic in this country, and if we can combine that with regulatory reform, which we also talked about today, we can re-create what made in America used to mean to so many people. We were in awe of it here and so was everybody around the world. Nobody did it better than workers in the United States of America. We've got to get back to those days.

CROWLEY: Let me -- my time is running out here and I want to turn you to politics really quickly and play you a new ad from the Democratic National Committee. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN, POLITICAL AD: We've got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right and we have zero substance. If we were to talk about his inconsistencies and the changes on various issues, we'd be here all afternoon. Well I don't know if that's pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas. I'm not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate. We have no good ideas that are being circulated or talked about that will allow this country to get back on its feet economically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Governor, the DNC quoting you. That's all of you talking about your opponents. It says at the end don't take it from us. Take it from one of their own. You have gone from the candidate who was going to be positive and who wasn't going to go on to attack to a candidate that is now be quoting by the DNC. What is your tactic here? Is it to try to get out of that one percent? I'm assuming yes, but it doesn't seem to -- it attracts the DNC. Does it attract Republicans?

HUNTSMAN: Well listen, nobody worries about the numbers at this point of the game because of -- we used a similar barometer in '08 and '04, you would have had a much different outcome, so numbers are meaningless at this point of the game. This is a point in a campaign where you begin to draw out differences in the various candidates, so when asked a question, I'm a straight-up commonsense, practical person. I'm going to give a straight-up answer --

CROWLEY: So you don't believe you broke your "I'm going to have a positive campaign" with all these comments about --

HUNTSMAN: Listen, there's nobody more positive than me. I'm a blue sky optimist, but when you're asked to compare and contrast your differences, you're going to have differences with your opponents and that's OK. I believe that a sense of respect can co-exist with the facts. And that's the way it's always going to be with me. You just rely on the facts and somebody's record when asked a question, you answer in an honest and straight-up fashion.

That's what campaigns are all about, but ultimately they forgot to play the part about my comments regarding the president. He's had 2.5 years to do what the American people felt so strongly he needed to do on day one and that is to expand this economy, create jobs, and get us prepared for the 21st Century. We are behind in the game, Candy, and we've got to get going again --

CROWLEY: Somehow I don't -- somehow I don't think they're going to put that in one of their commercials. But thank you so much for the time tonight, Republican presidential-candidate Jon Huntsman, we appreciate it. In flood-drenched New Jersey tonight, thousands of people still can't go home. Major roads remain closed and the governor says we're not out of the woods yet. We'll take you there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: President Obama travels to New Jersey this Sunday to look over damage caused by Hurricane Irene. There is plenty to see. Tonight at least 18,000 people can't go home mostly because of flooding, 147,000 utility customers don't have power more than three days after the storm made landfall. Governor Chris Christie showed federal officials around some of the hardest-hit areas today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY: All the rivers in New Jersey have crested and are beginning to recede. The Passaic River at Pine Brook (ph) and at Little Falls may remain above major flood stage until Friday morning, though, so we're clearly not out of the woods yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti joins us now from Little Falls, New Jersey -- Susan, just start with what you have seen today.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've seen a lot of flooding in a lot of areas. You mentioned the number 18,000 as the governor did, 3,500 of those people live in this Little Falls, in this particular Passaic County area. I'm coming to you from the middle of a parking lot, a parking lot for a car wash. So, I guess you could argue that if you want to get your car washed, you wouldn't have to pull it through the scrubbers. You could just pull it right through here, because the current here, Candy, is very strong.

You get a sense of how deep it is. I'm five feet tall, and if you look over that way just a little bit, you can see a car, the water comes halfway up the waterline there, so you have a parking lot, a lot of businesses here are flooded out. But I spent a large part of the day also looking at a lot of homes. Flood stage here earlier today was 14 feet above the flood stage, so it's more than twice of what it should be. And we went down that street down there, where a lot of people live as well.

So, it covers a lot of different areas. People who got out and who are paying attention -- did pay attention to those evacuation orders back on Friday. But we also ran across a lot of people who chose to stay inside their homes, refusing to leave. These are people who have gone through many floods before, and all of them say this is the worst one they've been through in many, many years. A lot of people have flood insurance. Some homeowners also told us they had given up on it.

Given up on it because they're tired of paying the premiums and they're tired of losing so much because it only covers so much. And, Candy, if you move over here a little bit, we can tell you that the water has been receding ever so slowly. You see the cars over here -- the roads over here, rather and you've got people who are out for a walk just to see how bad things are. They hope things will get better by the weekend -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Boy, Susan Candiotti in Little Falls, New Jersey, just about 20 miles west of New York City. They look pretty bad. Thanks, Susan.

In Vermont today water, food, medicine, diapers, formula and other necessities are being delivered by air and ground to communities cut off by Hurricane Irene's flooding. State emergency officials say between four and eight more aircraft will join the re-supply effort tonight and the National Guard will start helping with road repairs.

Senator Bernie Sanders drove through a pair of badly damaged towns today after getting an aerial tour of the flooding yesterday. Senator, let me just start and have you tell me, you went to the hardest-hit areas, what did you see?

SEN. BERNARD SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, we saw a lot of destruction and a lot of human despair. Yesterday I was in Ludlow, Vermont, that's a small town, central part of the state. Five bridges in that one small town are out. Today I was in Waitsfield, Vermont, and in Moretown, Vermont, a lot of homes were severely damaged. Town offices were seriously damaged. Nearby there's a trailer park where 80 trailers were severely damaged.

So, we're seeing a lot of pain in the state, and, in fact, what we understand the case to be is this is the worst natural disaster in the history of the state of Vermont. Roads out, bridges out, many, many homes damaged. So, there are some serious problems in our state today.

CROWLEY: The pictures are awesome in the bad sense, Senator. What is the latest information you have about the number of people you might have in Vermont that are isolated, that are cut off from any kind of supplies?

SANDERS: Well, I think we're making progress, Candy, and breaking through that isolation. And my understanding is that by the end of today we should have it broken through and people will be able to get in and out in virtually every one of those towns.

CROWLEY: What's the most urgent need you have?

SANDERS: Well, obviously we have to make sure that people have access to homes that are safe. One of the things that I worry about is that people have gone back to their homes. There is a whole lot of fuel on the carpets. They may not be safe. We want to make sure that everybody in the state has access to food. We want to make sure that those people who need medicine, who are sick are also getting the care that they need.

CROWLEY: And what is your level of confidence? And I ask this because the FEMA director today said sort of flatly, we don't have the money to rebuild. Right now, they've got the money to -- you know, meet some of these urgent needs. But I wonder looking forward, Senator, how confident you are that there will be the money there from the state or from the federal government to help right what is just had been such tremendous destruction in your state?

SANDERS: Well, Candy, it's not just my state. We heard about what's going on in New Jersey and other states.

CROWLEY: Right.

SANDERS: Candy, we are the United States of America. We are one nation.

And as everybody knows, when a disaster strikes one part of the country, whether it is Katrina in Louisiana, whether it is the terrible tornado in Missouri, whether it is earthquakes in California, what being a nation is about is that we say when communities have been devastated, we all come together. That's what being an American is about.

So, it is very hard for me to imagine that anyone in Congress would turn their backs on the pain that we're experiencing in Vermont, what's going on in New Jersey or in other states. That's not what America is supposed to be about.

So, if you're asking me do I think we will get the resources that we need, that historically have been provided to communities in trouble, I certainly do. We are a great nation, and we're not going to turn our back on brothers and sisters and neighbors who are hurting.

CROWLEY: Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, thank you so much tonight. Hope we'll be able to check in with you in the future to see how things are coming.

VERMONT: Thank you.

CROWLEY: The Gulf Coast did manage to dodge Hurricane Irene, but tonight trouble's brewing down in the Gulf of Mexico. Further out in the Atlantic, a tropical storm is about to become a hurricane.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras -- is it going to be wet on Labor Day? I guess that's the thing everybody is worried about is more rain.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're going to see a lot more rain, actually. The Gulf Coast could potentially have a washout of a weekend from this thing, Candy. We just don't know who's exactly going to get the worst of it just yet.

You know, this big blob, if you will, or these big clusters of thunderstorms have yet to organize, so they're in their infancy stages but most computers models are developing this into at least a tropical storm if not a hurricane within the next two days.

Now, there's a ton of potential for flooding and that's going to be one of the big concerns with this thing.

One computer model solution here putting as much as six to 12 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast by Saturday morning. Now, this is just one possibility. If we took all of this rain and pushed it over towards the west, as some of the models are predicting, that could actually end up being really good news for Texas, with the wildfires that continue to burn and all of the drought that is ongoing.

So, we could get a sit-and-stall situation. We could get a wet, we could get an east. We'll have to wait to see what happens. But for sure we'll get a lot of changes.

We also got tropical storm Katia, which is forecast to become a hurricane later. But right now, we're not expecting it to impact land at least not for a good week -- Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, you can't say you don't have enough to do at work. Thanks so much.

Texas and Oklahoma could really use some rain tonight. Next, wildfires burning through homes, barns, and thousands of acres.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now:

A devastating new report from Amnesty International documents the horrific beatings and torture suffered by Syrian detainees including burns, blunt force injuries, whipping marks and slashes.

A nonpartisan panel says the U.S. is losing $12 million a day to waste and fraud in wartime contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total of between $31 billion and $60 billion.

The National Park Service says rain from Hurricane Irene revealed even more cracks in the Washington Monument, likely caused by last week's earthquake.

And while floods are a problem in the East, drought and wildfires plague the West. These pictures are from about an hour ago in Oklahoma City, where flames destroyed a barn. The family got out OK.

In Texas, a large wildfire about 50 miles west of Dallas has destroyed at least two dozen homes and forced the evacuation of more than 125 homeowners.

CNN's Jim Spellman is covering that fire and had to move in a hurry when the fire came too close for comfort.

Jim, have they made any progress trying to contain this blaze?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, Candy, they really hadn't. They had hoped that by this time today, they would have this fire under control. But around midday, the winds picked up and the fire started advancing. Fourteen more homes lost today, 39 total destroyed.

And we watched this fire move towards us quickly, in a matter of about an hour and a half, two hours. They were forced to pull back the command center and with us with it to get out when some embers started flying across the reservoir to our side which we thought was safe and started spot fires on that side, that's when we had to pull back and expand the evacuation area with it, Candy.

CROWLEY: And tell me what the biggest challenge is for these firefighters?

SPELLMAN: It's just that this drought, it's epic. Ninety percent of Texas is under severe drought conditions right now. And everywhere you go, it's this kind of dried-out grass everywhere. The slightest spark sets it going. You add wind to that, and it just takes off.

And with this fire, the real problem is it's not a huge fire at this point, but it's right in a heavily populated area around a resort lake. So, you have the wind, the drought in a populated area is the wrong combination to try to save homes and to try to get this under control, Candy.

CROWLEY: All right. Jim Spellman, tonight, just west of Dallas, we appreciate it.

Next up, the return of gridlock. Tonight, Congress and the president can't even agree on a date for President Obama's big speech about jobs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Look who is here. That can only mean one thing, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is coming up at the top of the hour.

Anderson, what do you got tonight?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": We're about 15 minutes away from the program.

Keeping them honest tonight, as you mentioned earlier, Candy, New Jersey is dealing with some of the worst flooding in Hurricane Irene's aftermath.

Tonight on the program, the fight over FEMA funding. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says that people in his state cannot wait for Congress to figure out budget cuts before sending federal disaster aid.

Here's his sharp words today for his fellow Republicans in Washington:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You are going to turn into a fiasco like the debt limit thing where you are fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks and you expect the citizens of my state to wait. They're not going to wait and I'm going to fight to make sure they don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Governor Christie's anger is directed at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who says the budget cut should be made to upset FEMA's spending.

Keeping them honest, Congressman Cantor had a much different plan years ago when his state of Virginia was hit by a big storm. Back then, guess what? He wanted the money no strings attached. We're keeping them honest.

Also tonight, crime and punishment, a judge in Aruba deciding whether this man, Gary Giordano, the man held in connection with the disappearance of American Robyn Gardner should stay in prison or be released. We'll have a live report from Martin Savidge in Aruba.

And we'll also have the latest on the flooding which is still a big problem in Vermont and even in parts of New Jersey. Live reports from both those two states. Those stories. Also tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Anderson. Just about 15 minutes from now. We'll see you then.

This morning, President Obama asked to hold a rare joint session of Congress next Wednesday for his long-awaited speech on jobs. This afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner said do it on Thursday, which leaves us to believe Washington can't agree on anything.

We want to see if we can reach a little consensus here with CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the political director and a columnist for the "National Journal." And "Politico" White House reporter Julie Mason.

So -- well, first of all, let me start -- before we get to the bickering, why a joint session of Congress? This president can pick any venue he wants. So, what's in it for him here?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICA ANALYST: That's the biggest megaphone there is, and he has shown he likes this venue as a chance to restart. You know, there's a kind of pattern with Obama as both candidate and president he has rough summers and often tries to kind of get a reset in September. Certainly, this is almost exactly the model that he used in 2009 after the brutal summer of town hall meetings on health care when he came back and used a joint session to kind of reframe and restart the debate.

JULIE MASON, POLITICO: Right. And you'll remember it wasn't that successful.

CROWLEY: Right. But part of me says he --

BROWNSTEIN: He did drive it through. MASON: Eventually.

BROWNSTEIN: They did have the momentum to get it through the House and the Senate by December. So --

CROWLEY: You know, people hate it when we talk about, you know, oh, here's how it looks and here's what the message is. But optics matter in politics. What are the optics?

To me, it's like -- here's the president, he's way up on the podium and he's saying to Congress, I'm assuming, the American people need us to come together. They're hurting. We all need -- and he looks over and they're going to look like little people out there who are, like, you know, not willing to go along.

MASON: Well, that's the thing the White House wants this venue. They want those theatrics. They want him up there on the day, maybe even wagging a finger saying, with a much stronger message saying, you need to do this. This is what the American people want, and doing it in their own House, calling them out on the carpet for it.

It would have been great for the White House.

CROWLEY: And tell me, let me now move to John Boehner. So -- huh?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, really. Let's see, all indications are we are looking at another difficult job report at the end of this week, and we are in the period of the longest sustained period of unemployment since the depression. You know, this is the first decade since the depression, since 1929 to 1939 where there are fewer people employed on September 2011 than there were September 2001, that hasn't happened in 20th century America except in that one century.

There's an enormous fall in consumer confidence. You know, we have real problems and this is kind of why Washington is struggling so much at this point with incredibly low ratings for both parties, for the president, for Congress, for every institution that's involved in making national policy.

CROWLEY: I mean, doesn't it make people -- look, John Boehner, the speaker, said there are various reasons why this isn't going to work. You know, we don't have the parliamentary things in place, et cetera, et cetera. It just seems to me that it might be an argument that gets lost on people out there.

MASON: That's true. Apparently, the White House didn't do their back-channeling, usually the things are agreed upon in advance and then it's up to the speaker to invite the president to come speak. The president doesn't summon Congress to a joint session and then arrive and speak.

So, according to the speaker's office, this was handled badly. And so, this is the pushback we're seeing. It's fascinating because you see these two guys, President Obama and Speaker Boehner, they're so much alike. Who's going to back down, who's going to be the one to sort of look weak in this situation?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

CROWLEY: Not long ago, they were playing golf together.

MASON: That didn't work.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, look, it's kind of -- you know, it's kind of a trivial argument and in the end it won't matter very much. I mean, the bigger issue is can Obama regain the country's attention with this plan? I mean, in September?

I mean, he is looking at the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. Today, he's looking at approval ratings that are landslide -- possibly landslide defeat when you're at 39 percent as he is today. He has to kind of regain the country's attention and convince them that he has a plan to kind of move us forward. And this is an important moment for us, maybe not the last moment, the State of the Union and the convention address next year, but this is clearly -- they feel the need for the reset. And so, once we get past the bickering when it occurs and it actually does occur, I mean, the significance is that this is a moment when the country's expecting him to step up and if he doesn't, it could be a very important lost opportunity on the road to next November.

CROWLEY: I want to switch gears a little bit. Tomorrow, the administration has to issue a report that predicts the growth of the economy, which they haven't done all that well since the beginning, really. So, how big a deal is this?

BROWNSTEIN: It's a very big deal, because their projections have been so rosy up until now, and they have a tough choice. They can either to continue to predict very high growth, 3 percent or 4 percent, and continue to be wrong, or scale it way back and admit that their policies have failed.

So, it's a tough one to navigate. It will be fascinating to see where they fail.

BROWNSTEIN: Reality counts, though, right? I mean, what happens

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: That's the great thing about the future, you can't see what the reality is going to be.

MASON: It's a government document, reality doesn't count, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: You can say whatever you want -- I mean, no, you can say whatever you want, but ultimately, what Washington is being judged on, the president is being judged on is kind of the reality that Americans feel in their lives and he needs either to see some material improvement of that or failing that.

And, you know, all the projections from CBO and others is we're looking at very high unemployment in through 2012, he needs to give people a sense that he has a plan to at least make it better. And that's why I think the speech -- the fact that they're asking for a joint session of Congress is a reflection of how important they recognize this to be.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a quick question, if there is such a thing about the census data, which shows increasingly urban areas are becoming majority/minority, which is to say that whites in the cities are now outnumbered by minorities of all sorts.

Politically, does this mean anything? Urban areas are largely Democratic and minorities are largely Democratic voters. So, does it matter, the --

BROWNSTEIN: Every vote counts, right? So, what really matters is the changing demography of the country. When Bill Clinton was elected president in '92, 12 percent of the total vote was nonwhite. When Barack Obama was elected, 26 percent was nonwhite.

He is the first president, Candy, in American history to lose white voters by double digits and win. Not only did he win, he won the biggest victory for Democrats since 1964.

So, this does matter. Here's even more interesting harbinger. This year is probably the first year in American history where a majority of newborns are nonwhite.

Now, there's a long lag time translating into political influence, but the kind of the long term trajectory is that we are becoming a more diverse country. And not only those metro areas becoming more diverse, but it dispersing through the country. A majority of congressional districts are now at least 30 percent nonwhite.

CROWLEY: Julie, what's a Republican to do?

MASON: Well, Republican running in a state with a lot of cities is going to have a really hard time because cities are major markets for advertising. It's where you have to spend a lot of money. And you can't just count on the photo in outlying counties and local areas. So, it's going to be very tough run statewide. Governors are going to have to deal with this.

CROWLEY: Come back, I had like a billion other questions.

Thank you so much. Julie Mason, "Politico," White House reporter. Ron Brownstein, "National Journal" and a CNN contributor. Thanks very much.

Up next, a look beyond the human toll of war.

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CROWLEY: War coverage is often harrowing, which makes something our Arwa Damon saw today so amazing. In Tripoli today, people had something to celebrate.

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ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the celebration of independence. These girls sing at the top of their lungs. They say they never used to sing anything in the streets.

Ever, we ask?

We had no freedom they say, shaking their heads no. There may be no gifts or new clothes to celebrate the Eid holiday this year but nobody seems to care.

As we walked to one of the girl's homes, they chatter about the battles that raged around them.

There were no hospitals. They had to treat the wounded in homes. This 13 year old Hawaz (ph) has told us.

That horror has ended but families are still having to deal with a severe lack of water and other basic needs.

The opposition says Gadhafi loyalists sabotaged some of the main water lines to the capital. The U.N. estimates that around 60 percent of the city is without water and sanitation, and warns of a potential health crisis.

Inside 11-year-old Samia's (ph) house, her mother says they haven't had running water in 10 days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: War correspondents see everything, the good and the bad. We often focus as we should on the human toll -- but war affects all creatures great and small.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson was at the zoo and was especially struck by what he found at Tripoli zoo. Take a look.

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NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've just come into Tripoli's main zoo. The gates were locked. We were told that it had been under renovation for the last three years, that there weren't any animals here.

We're just getting a look around. I can see a big vulture up there, certainly a huge bird of prey.

(voice-over): As I'm looking at it, we hear a lion roaring.

(on camera): It's an eerie feeling walking around here. You don't know what you're going to bump into. The gunfire is still going on.

Most of the cages seem empty. We're just trying to follow the sound of that roaring. There he is. There he is. Tiger. He's seen us. Just looking at him, you can see how thin he is the way he's walking. Those thighs, so skinny against his back. He looks like he's going in there to get shade.

(voice-over): Then we see the lions. The male particularly skinny, the deep scar on his head.

(on camera): There's no one here to tell us how often they're being fed, how much they're getting fed. We don't even know if there's a vet here to look after them. All we've seen so far is the food left by the giant tortoises.

These lions look like they're just not getting enough to eat.

(voice-over): Suddenly, we get some answers.

(on camera): The zookeeper has just arrived. So, I'm going to ask him about the animals.

Assalamu Alaikum. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fine.

ROBERTSON: Fine? Fine.

So what about the animals? Are they getting enough food, the lions, the tigers?

(voice-over): He tells me for seven days the animals got nothing. Now, 10 of the 200 staff have returned. They're trying to feed all the animals. The big cats get only half the food they need.

But their biggest problem is water.

He takes us to see the hippos. Of all the animals, they seem the most forlorn.

(on camera): The keeper tells us he tried to get more water in here, even laid this plastic pipe on the floor right in the tank here with the hippos, but it didn't work. And they just left with that fetid water, and even they don't seem to want to go into it.

(voice-over): They're struggling to keep up, and so many animals to feed -- hyenas, bears, moneys, deer, emus. But it's the big cats, the meat eaters, they can't feed enough.

(on camera): Water is these animals most pressing need. Without help in these sweltering temperatures, all of the animals here are going to continue to suffer.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Tripoli, Libya.

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CROWLEY: Please be sure to join us tomorrow night at 7:00 eastern time. We'll have a special report from our Sanjay Gupta who has been looking into the effect of all of dust after 9/11 and the firefighters who fought there. What he has found is increased cases of cancer. It's a groundbreaking report. Please be here tomorrow night for Sanjay Gupta.

That is all for us for this night.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.