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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Reveals Plans for Jobs Speech; Report: Up to $10 Billion Wasted by the Pentagon; President to Tour Storm Damage in New Jersey; Rick Perry New GOP Frontrunner; Factions Forming in Tea Party; African Immigrants Jailed by Rebels in Libya; POWs Languish in Libyan Prisons; House Speaker John Boehner Asks President Obama to Delay Jobs Speech
Aired August 31, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, President Obama sets a very big stage for the rollout of his new jobs plan, with Congress as his backdrop. His prime time plans could create problems from the Republicans, though, who want his job.
Plus, the Tea Party movement deals with new divisions, while stirring up red hot anger among liberals in Congress. This hour, why some Democrats see the Tea Party as their worst enemy.
And newly released images from the 9/11 attacks and a new state of alert as the nation prepares to mark the 10th anniversary. We're digging for inside information on the FBI's latest concerns and whether Americans should be worried.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We now know that President Obama wants to deliver his big speech on jobs next Wednesday night before a joint session of the House and Senate. With millions of Americans out of work -- and this address will be a make or break moment for the president and for his campaign to keep his job for another four years.
Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, this speech, though, may not happen Wednesday night, as the White House wants.
What's going on?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Even before the speech, there's already a standoff between House Republicans and the White House.
Now, first, a little background. Whenever a president wants to speak to a joint session, he needs both the House and the Senate to approve it.
Now, a senior Senate aide told me that they're ready to give approval for the speech. But I got word immediately after the White House's announcement that Republicans weren't yet on board. And now, Speaker Boehner has released a letter saying, quote, "It is my recommendation that your address" -- to the president -- "be held on the following evening, when we can assure that there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks."
Now, technically, Republicans are saying that they don't have enough time, when the members are back from break, to approve the president's request to speak.
But the White House says there are actually ways to work around that.
So, Wolf, what's really going on here?
Well, in part, there's some irritation among Republicans that they were not given advanced notice by the White House about the president's request to speak. And, in truth, they probably wouldn't mind pushing off the speech to another night, when it won't compete at all with the Republican candidates' debate. And keep in mind, it could get lost the following night against an even bigger TV draw, when it's the opening night of the NFL.
BLITZER: The Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. It doesn't get much bigger than that.
So why does the president even need a joint session of Congress to present his plan?
He could just go to the Oval Office and deliver a speech to the American people from the White House.
YELLIN: Sure. Well, the president has made clear, and even in his interview with you, Wolf, that he is going to square off against Congress now, demanding actions from Congress on jobs. And there's clearly no better setting to do that than speaking directly to Congress. So a prime time speech also guarantees him a big national audience. He gets the picture of members listening to him present them with specific legislative proposals.
And, frankly, it's his one shot at trying to drive this process. Because after he delivers the speech, it's all in the hands of Congress. They can take his plan whole. They can take individual pieces that he suggests or, frankly, they cannot pass any element of it at all.
BLITZER: Is there any White House reaction, Jessica, to Speaker Boehner's letter yet?
YELLIN: So far, no official reaction. A lot -- a lot of my Democratic sources asking why they can't just do this, given that the House hasn't technically left? That House is technically in session. And they point out that there are ways to get this passed and approved. But no official White House reaction -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did the president --
YELLIN: A lot of frustration.
BLITZER: -- did the, as far as we know, did the president give Speaker Boehner the courtesy of consulting with him before asking formally, publicly, for an address before the joint session Wednesday night?
YELLIN: My sources tell me that there was not an official heads- up in advance. The answer is no.
BLITZER: So, in other words, no phone call from the president --
YELLIN: No advance notice.
BLITZER: -- to Speaker Boehner?
YELLIN: That's right.
BLITZER: And so that -- that, as you point out, could be irritating to the speaker, that the president could have at least given him a phone call?
YELLIN: Right. That -- that's part of the irritation here. Yes.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica.
Much more on this story coming up, the back and forth between the president and the Republicans in Congress, especially in the House.
Let's move on now to a shocking new tally of your federal tax dollars wasted completely by the Pentagon. Tens of billions of dollars squandered on defense contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is looking into this for us.
What are you finding out -- Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's just one example of what the report found. A modest agriculture program in Afghanistan that was supposed to give vouchers to farmers for things like wheat and fertilizer, what began as a modest $16 million project ballooned into a $360 million project. And at one point, the U.S. government was spending $1 million a day to pay these villagers for what they used to do on their own.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): At a time when every dollar counts, the U.S. government is wasting billions on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found at least $30 billion in waste and fraud and possibly as much as $60 billion.
KATHERINE SCHINASI, COMMISSION ON WARTIME CONTRACTING: We're wasting up to $12 million a day. Maybe that will make a little bit of difference in the attention that people pay to this.
LAWRENCE: Or look at it like this. Thirty billion dollars. Billion is the annual budget of the National Institutes of Health. And $60 billion would pay for universal preschool for every 3- and 4- year-old kid in America, with pretty small class sizes.
The Commission also condemns the Pentagon and State Department for funding projects that Iraqis and Afghans have no way to pay for themselves.
DOVE ZAKHEIM, COMMISSION ON WARTIME CONTRACTING: What is the point of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that will then fall into disuse?
And then we'll have a Hobson's choice -- either to let it fall into disuse and write it off as a waste or to keep spending our taxpayer money, for God knows how long, in order to keep the projects going.
LAWRENCE: The Commission recommends phasing out some security contractors, establishing a permanent inspector general and getting better upfront estimates.
DAVID BERTEAU, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AND STRATEGIC STUDIES: At the front end, determining what your requirements are sounds easy for me to say. But it's really hard to do when you're in a wartime operating environment.
What do you need?
How much do you need?
When do you need it?
Where do you need it?
The military has to make the best guess they can.
LAWRENCE: David Berteau has three decades in defense contracting. He says, say you plan to feed 5,000 troops in a war zone, but for several weeks, only 1,000 are actually on that base and eating.
Did the government waste the other 4,000?
Berteau argues, no, because they had to prepare to feed all of them.
BERTEAU: You're still going to have some gap between what you thought you were going to need and what you end up having. Is that waste?
It's easy to call that waste looking backwards.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAWRENCE: Now to be fair, some experts say the numbers that the Commission cited are a little inflated. We were on the Pentagon all day to try to get some response to this report. They put out a written statement just about a half hour ago, basically saying that they support what the Commission found and that they've already taken some steps, such as cracking down on some of the people involved in fraud, making the punishments more strict, also, trying to bulk up their acquisition force and get them better trained so they can make better estimates up front on what they will need from some of these contracts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It isn't really, Chris, you know, planning for 5,000 troops, only 1,000 troops showing up. It's basically, there are billions of dollars simply wasted on projects that no one wanted, no one needed, that the Afghans and the Iraqis didn't even like, just going forward and building stuff that -- that simply is useless, for all practical purposes. All of that is documented, as well as simply money going illegally to various middlemen or whatever. It's that kind of abuse and fraud that is so outrageous and adds up to nearly $60 billion.
That's what we're talking about right?
LAWRENCE: Yes, exactly. And, look, the American people basically signed off on this and said we don't want our military doing transportation and outside security and preparing food. We outsourced that to these contractors. The thing was, everybody was thinking you can turn the contractors on when you need them, you can turn them off when you don't. The problem is nobody expected these wars to go on for maybe 10 years or more now. And that presents a problem and it opens up a wide range of areas where there's just been a tremendous waste of money.
BLITZER: Yes, a total waste of money. And a lot of people, unfortunately, got very rich as a result of this fraud and waste.
Chris, thanks very much.
In New Jersey right now, residents say the flooded Passaic River looks more like Niagara Falls. Rescuers are trying to get to some people trapped in the area where the river crested yesterday.
In Vermont, we're told vehicles now are able to reach most Vermont towns, where roads have been swamped by floodwaters.
But flood warnings remain in effect for many Northeastern states hit by Hurricane Irene. More than 1.5 million households along the storm-battered East Coast have not yet received power. It hasn't been turned on yet. And the death toll from Irene has climbed to 43. The White House announced just a little while ago that President Obama will travel to Paterson, New Jersey on Sunday to see the flooding and the hurricane damage up close.
Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is in Little Falls, New Jersey.
That's not very far away from Paterson -- Susan, what can the president expect to see when he gets to New Jersey?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more likely than not, he is going to see flooding. But hopefully, by then, he will see a bit less of it.
I am coming to you from, literally, the Passaic River. I'm standing next to a vacuum cleaner that's part of a car wash. And stepping down from that vacuum cleaner, I guess if you pulled your car up here, you could get your car washed just by sitting in the Passaic River.
This is one of many areas of the city that remains cut off from the rest of it, because a lot of areas remain flooded. Now, the flood stage earlier today here was at twice what it should be. Seven feet is the flood stage. It was 14 feet earlier today.
We had a chance to visit some areas that remain underwater. And I talked with a man who is one of those who has refused to leave. His name is Ken Wilkerson (ph).
We're on one of many streets in Little Falls that has been flooded. In fact, we hear it's the third time in the last, what, 16 months, that they've had flooding from the Passaic River.
I've got the waders on. I would say this is about, what, three- and-a-half feet or so?
Walking on down the street, people have their sump pumps going. Some people have kayaks. Some people have rowboats. And many people here have stayed put.
On the other hand, many have also left.
But this gentleman up on his porch, obviously, is one of those who has decided to stay.
Quake, why do you still live here and why are you staying?
KEN WILKERSON: I was born on this street.
CANDIOTTI: And this is home?
WILKERSON: This is home, really. But we want to get out of here, but nobody is going to buy these houses.
CANDIOTTI: And is there anything that you lost this time that maybe you -- you weren't able to salvage? WILKERSON: My heart. It's -- this one really got to me.
CANDIOTTI: And, in fact, there's a sign of the times. A lot of the streets here still cut off from the rest of town. And panning over to where I am now, here's something else that you can point to. And that's that little bridge.
You see, it's got a seven foot height limit there?
But, as you can see, when we first arrived, it was up to about five feet. You can see that the water is receding. So it is slowly going down.
But as for poor Mr. Wilkerson, he no longer has flood insurance. He used to, but got tired of all the floods he had and tired of paying for all that insurance. And so he told me, you know what, I just don't keep as many valuables as I used to.
He sure can't sell the house," he says -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: And where you're standing in New Jersey, there are, as you point out, a lot of other areas very similar to the disaster that you're experiencing.
CANDIOTTI: That's right, a number of different areas where they're -- they continue -- the National Guard is helping the local police out here, taking out rescue boats, trying to get people to leave. But a lot of those who refused to get out are creating some problems, because when they say -- when they do call for emergency services, that means they have to get the rescue boats out and go back in there, because authorities have been unable to convince them to leave.
Some of them say, I have enough food and water and we're staying put. We want to protect our property.
There is, you know, no telling how long it will take, of course, for all the waters to recede. But there is surely a lot of clean up that already has begun.
BLITZER: Yes. It's not just New Jersey. It's Vermont, Connecticut and some other states, as well.
We going to check in with them later in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Susan, thanks very much.
Some Democrats are reviving allegations that the Tea Party movement is racist. We're taking a closer look at what they're saying and how the Tea Party is responding, while it also deals with problems from within.
And new defiance by Moammar Gadhafi's son, who vows he will never surrender. We'll have the latest on the hunt for members of Libya's ousted ruling family.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the Republican Party has apparently found itself a new messiah in Rick Perry. The conservative Christian Texas governor has come out of nowhere and already lapped the field in the Republican race for the nomination. In the two short weeks since he entered the race, Perry has shot to the top of the polls and now leads his nearest competitor by double digits.
The latest CNN/ORC polls show 27 percent of Republicans supporting Perry, followed by Mitt Romney at 14 percent, Sarah Palin, who's not a candidate, at 10, Michele Bachmann and Rudy Giuliani, also not a candidate, at nine. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul come in at six.
Perry's supporters tend to be old, white, and rich. And his strongest backing comes from Tea Party supporters. He holds a 23- point lead over Michele Bachmann among Tea Partiers in one poll. It's an astonishing impact in so short a time, especially when Perry has managed to jump to the top of the pack without laying out a single plan or idea for solving this country's many problems. Instead, Perry's spent the last two weeks making several dumb comments while, in the proud tradition of George W. Bush, pretending he's a cowboy.
Meanwhile, the poll numbers must have Mitt Romney's people tearing their hair out. Romney's supporters are urging him to kick up his campaign a notch before it's too late, which is likely why Romney has changed his schedule to attend two separate Tea Party events in South Carolina and New Hampshire.
And as "Politico" reports, Perry panic has also fired up the left, something even President Obama is unable to do these today. Liberals are terrified at the thought of President Perry when it comes to his stance on issues like women's rights, gun control, the death penalty, and the separation of church and state.
So here's a question -- why is Rick Perry suddenly the darling of the Republican field? Go the CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog there, or you can go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks very much. He is doing very well nationally among Republicans in the polls, as you point out. Jack Cafferty will be back.
Meanwhile, some big new bumps in the road for the Tea Party movement as it revs up for the Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. In the midst of new fighting and confusion within the movement, some Democrats are leveling fresh allegations that the Tea Party is racist. Let's bring in CNN's Jim Acosta -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is one of the key questions in the race for 2012. Will the Tea Party make or break the Republicans in their quest to take back the White House?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're have a Tea Party across this land
ACOSTA: If President Obama is searching for a way to energize parts of the Democratic base, look no further than the Tea Party. The conservative anti-big government movement which just scored a big victory in the debt deal on Capitol Hill, has liberals in Congress hopping mad.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: The Tea Party can go straight to hell.
ACOSTA: At a series of town halls and job fairs in Democratic districts, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have accused Tea Party-backed Republicans of kicking the poor and even outright racism in their zeal for cuts in government spending.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Some of them in wrong right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me hanging on a tree.
ACOSTA: Asked about those comments later, Congressman Andre Carson defended his remarks to CNN.
CARSON: I stand on the truth of what I spoke. My intentions weren't to hurt anyone or any group.
ACOSTA: As the Tea Party Express was launching its latest bus tour across the country, the group's chairwoman seemed to wear some of the criticism as a badge of honor.
AMY KREMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: It's a testament to the power that this movement is having. We have them running scared right now. We are a threat to their leftist liberal agenda and they don't know what to do.
ACOSTA: Another Tea Party leader, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, arguing the movement is inclusive.
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would know racism if I saw it. I do not see it, nor have I experienced it in the Tea Party movement.
ACOSTA: But there are other Tea Party questions brewing, such as some of the small crowds at its events, and there's infighting. When the Tea Party express recently allowed Mitt Romney to speak at a gathering this weekend, another Tea Party group, Freedom Works, bailed from the bus tours. Freedom Works Brendon Steinhauser says Tea Partiers will go to the speech to protest Romney, a man some conservatives call the father of "Obam-ney-care."
BRENDAN STEINHAUSER, TEA PARTIER: He's been dismissive of the Tea Party movement, but now that he's struggling in his polls, he now seeks to pander to the Tea Party movement in New Hampshire and around the country
ACOSTA (on camera): You think he needs the Tea Party movement now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. I think he wants the Tea Party vote.
ACOSTA: Then there's Sarah Palin -- first she's in, then she's out, then she's in at a Tea Party event scheduled for this weekend in Iowa. Coincidentally, Christine O'Donnell was disinvited twice from the same event. One of the event's organizers blamed it on logistical concerns. Wolf?
BLITZER: That's a little confusing, I must say. Thanks very much, Jim.
By the way, I'll be the moderator when CNN hosts a presidential debate 12 days from now in Tampa, Florida, along with the Tea Party Express and several Tea Party groups. That's Monday night, September 12th, 8:00 p.m. eastern, the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate.
Moammar Gadhafi's son is in hiding but not silent. Both are speaking out today. We're going to tell you what they're saying about rumors of a surrender and the condition of their fugitive father.
And President Obama is getting some pushback after telling Congress he wants to deliver a major jobs speech. The story and our strategy session and a lot more coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Stories we're working on for our next hour. A new report shows pilots are forgetting how to fly after years of relying on autopilot. Details of this disturbing trend and its deadly consequences.
Also, dozens of corporations are reportedly paying more to their CEOs than to Uncle Sam. You're going to find out how that's possible. That's coming up.
And in many major U.S. cities, minorities are now the majority. We're going to tell you what's behind this significant shift.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A message of defiance from Moammar Gadhafi's son. In an e-mail to CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, Saadi Gadhafi insisted he will not surrender to rebel leaders. Nic's joining us now from Tripoli with more on this exclusive report.
What exactly did he say, Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he says he's not going to surrender. But at the same time, he says he has been talking to rebel military commanders about the possibility of a ceasefire. It seems to fly completely in the face of what his brother, Saif al-Islan, who has spoken now publicly for the first time since Tripoli has fallen. Saif came on a television station based in Syria loyal to Gadhafi to say how he was living in the suburbs of Tripoli, something incredibly hard to believe.
But it was a message absolutely the opposite to his brother, saying no surrender. This is a time for their supporters to attack. As far as the government's offer of a possibility of negotiations until the weekend, he said, "Try and attack Sirte. We're ready for you. We have 20,000 young men with weapons waiting to attack you." Saif al-Islam Gadhafi also said that town is saying they're not going to surrender.
So a message of defiance and a message also saying that Moammar Gadhafi is fine. He is well. He is fighting. He is having tea and coffee and sitting with his family. So two divergent messages, Saadi saying he's trying to make a ceasefire, and the older brother saying, no, let's go to war. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very interesting. Nic, you're also hearing from people imprisoned by rebels accused of being Gadhafi loyalists and mercenaries. What are they telling you?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, they're saying if you're an African on the streets of Tripoli these days, the chances are you're going to get picked up, suspected of being a mercenary. When we went to the jail to talk to them, they were very, very frightened.
ROBERTSON: They are frightened. Up to 15 crammed to a cell, the stifling heat amplifying their fear. They are Libya's new despised, African migrants rounded up in their droves, accused of being Gadhafi loyalists. In this rebel jail they are disproportionately represented, the vast majority of 300 inmates. This Ghanaian prisoner says he was on his way to his day laboring job when he was picked up.
IRRAHEEM ENAS AFSENI, AFRICAN PRISONER: Yes, I'm afraid because they're saying we work with Gadhafi. We are not working with Gadhafi. We are here struggling to get money and go back to our country.
ROBERTSON: They all have similar stories.
BLASNINA DAWALI, AFRICAN FEMALE PRISONER: I feel sad. I feel sad every day. When I look at my boys, I cry. (INAUDIBLE) It is unfair.
ROBERTSON: Dawali, a Nigerian, says her husband was arrested a week ago, and she was picked up when she went out to buy food.
DAWALI: They removed the money. They take everything from us.
ROBERTSON: The man in charge of the jail, a computer sciences graduate with no experience of managing inmates, admits half the prisoners are probably innocent.
ALAA AL-AMEEN ABU RASS, PRISON MANAGER: I'm not allowed to release them because I didn't bring them here. Someone else brings them here, and he signed for this. So that's the one who's responsible (INAUDIBLE).
ROBERTSON: A few hours later, he's replaced by professional jailers. But prisoners say nothing else changes.
(on camera): The shambolic situation here is symptomatic of the chaotic transfer of power across the country. But amidst it, there is an undercurrent of retribution that runs rife. Many believe the Africans here are Gadhafi's mercenaries, where in reality, hundreds of thousands were in the country before the war, working as simple day laborers. You only have to look at how the Libyans are being treated to see the difference.
(voice-over): Their conditions, almost luxurious by comparison. Fewer to a cell, more space to move around, better access to the scant water supplies. This Libyan prisoner picked up when he went to see his family.
FIRAS SALANEDDIN MUSTAFA, LIBYAN PRISONER: Right now it's good. But some people come here and they call us dogs, and they go like, "You work for Gadhafi or something," but most of us don't.
ROBERTSON: Regardless of nationality, what unites the prisoners here, however, is fear.
MUSTAFA: I don't know if they'll kill me or I don't know what's going to happen. They might be shoot me. I don't know what's going on.
ROBERTSON: Their jailers promise justice, but amidst the appearance of prejudice, it may be hard to find.
ROBERTSON: And it may be some time before they get justice, before judges are in place, before the legal system gets its wheels turning. We saw outside that jail families of some of those prisoners turning up, wanting to know what's happened to their loved ones -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson, on the scene for us, doing some great reporting.
Thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with Professor Fouad Ajami. He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Fouad, thanks very much for coming.
First of all, do you want to comment on what we just heard on Nic's report on the way these rebels are treating those who have been picked up?
FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: You know, Wolf, the world is not a perfect place. We know that an order has collapsed in Libya. We know that when we say that half of these people are day laborers and half of them are mercenaries, and how in the hell can we determine which half we're talking about?
We do know that Gadhafi had many mercenaries. We do know that many of the mercenaries came from Niger and Chad. We also know that many, many of the mercenaries came from Algeria as well. So, it's tumult, it's chaos. Any chronicle of the French Revolution, when Nic uses the word "retribution," will tell us that whenever an order falls, whenever an order that's been oppressive comes apart, there will always be retribution, there will always be dark deeds.
BLITZER: Here's what you write in an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" today, among other things, and I'll just put a little bit up on the screen. You say, "Libya is not the historical knot that Iraq was. And for all the surface similarities, Gadhafi was never the menace that Saddam had been."
All right. Explain what you mean.
AJAMI: Well, I think if we take a look -- there is some similarities. Clearly, an order collapsed in Tripoli, and an order collapsed eight years ago in Baghdad. The statues have fallen but, in fact, if you take a look at the situation in Libya today, it's much better.
I think this is the argument I made. It's much better than when Iraq -- than the condition of Iraq in 2003, because Gadhafi was always an outlier of the Arab experience. He was totally an outlaw in many ways.
Saddam was much more strategic to the region, and Saddam had his own community. He had the Sunni community in Iraq invested in his power.
Gadhafi has no such thing. Gadhafi is looking -- regardless of what Saif al-Islam said -- you know, Gadhafi is having Tea and coffee -- he is on the run. He is looking for a spider hole. And he will not be able to haunt this new order in the same way that Saddam haunted the order in Iraq eight years ago.
BLITZER: But Fouad, you've seen these reports that have been coming out over the last few days, Arwa Damon's reporting, among others, Nic Robertson's reporting of the way Gadhafi's henchmen tortured people, including young girls, and rape as an act of policy, in effect. These were pretty horrendous reports we were getting.
AJAMI: Well, absolutely. I mean, it's a close race, as they say. It's a close race between the kind of way that Saddam ruled and the way that Gadhafi ruled.
There are reports from Libya if they are true that are truly monstrous. There are reports that 50,000 people may be missing. So, each society, whether it's Iraq, under Saddam, whether it's Syria, under Bashar, whether it's Libya under the Gadhafis, each one of these tormenters of society offered its own tales of grief and tales of horror.
BLITZER: What happens if they don't find Gadhafi? AJAMI: Well, I think they have to find him because, in fact, for these people to rest easy, if you will, for them to feel at home, they have to catch this monster. He ruled them for 42 years. He conditioned their imagination.
They can't feel safe. They can't feel secure unless they find him. Whether they find him in Libya or whether they find him elsewhere, we don't know.
The Algerians who, as you know, offered asylum to Gadhafi's wife, to his daughter, to two of his sons, are saying they will arrest Gadhafi because he's wanted by the International Criminal Court. I have my doubts about the Algerians. But they have to hunt down Moammar Gadhafi and they have find his son Saif al-Islam as well.
BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, thanks very much for coming in.
AJAMI: Thank you.
BLITZER: We heard an African-American Democrat say the Tea Party wants to see him "hanging from a tree." We're going to talk about Andre Carson's provocative statement in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos, they're standing by live.
And look at this. Russia's Vladimir Putin riding a Harley- Davidson before thousands of cheering fans. We've got that story coming up as well.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, a shocking announcement from Venus Williams. The tennis champ says she is withdrawing from the U.S. Open because she is suffering from an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren's syndrome. She says the disease is affecting her energy level and causing joint pain.
Firefighters thought they had a Texas wildfire 25 percent contained today, but then high winds whipped up the flames, and now it's unclear how much is contained. The fire has grown to 7,500 acres. At least 20 homes have burned and another 125 are threatened. It's unclear what started the fire.
Tropical Storm Katia is churning out in the Atlantic and will likely become a hurricane tonight. Now, it's almost as strong as a hurricane right now with 70-mile-an-hour sustained winds. Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is working on the latest forecast, and we will have that at the top of the hour.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is revving up the election season in true Putin style. Take a look there. He officially kicked off the campaign by hitting the road with his three-wheeled Harley-Davidson, leading a convoy of bikers called the Night Wolves. Parliamentary elections will be held December 4th, ahead of a presidential vote in March.
And he makes that look pretty good. He's a great biker there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he obviously knows what he's doing.
All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, they're not seeing eye to eye on the proposed date of the president's big jobs speech. We're going to tell you what's going on.
And for the first time, the public will get an up-close look at haunting artifacts of the 9/11 attack.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, two CNN contributors. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. Alex Castellanos is a Republican consultant.
Alex, I'll start with you.
What do you make of this decision by the Speaker basically to say no to the president, who wrote a letter asking that there be a joint session of Congress Wednesday night so he could deliver his long and majorly anticipated speech on jobs?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Hardball politics has broken out in Washington, Wolf. You know, I think Republicans are looking, this is not so much as a speech from the president, but from a candidate.
The president has made it very clear that he's going to run against the Republicans in Congress. Out on the campaign trail, he's even questioned their patriotism. He said that they're putting politics ahead of what's good for the country. Pretty tough stuff.
So now he schedules his address on jobs at the same time we've had a long-scheduled Republican debate at the Reagan Library. So Republicans are playing political hardball right back.
BLITZER: It's all politics, Donna? What do you think? Because the Speaker said, you know what? We can't do it Wednesday night for various technical reasons, but we could invite you Thursday night.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, as you well know, this is politics, but the president shouldn't focus on where he delivers his remarks, but essentially he should focus on the strategy that he lays out to the American people. The Republicans are now on record as opposing just about everything the president would like to do in terms of creating jobs and getting this economy moving forward. So I think the president should just go ahead and deliver his speech that evening at the Oval Office.
There are so many other locations. And if the Republicans want to basically listen to their candidates, so be it.
CASTELLANOS: Well, Wolf, I have a slightly different point of view than Donna, as you might expect.
I think Republicans are looking at the content of the president's address and seeing the same old, same old, that he wants to create jobs with more spending from Washington, more political and artificial job creation from Washington, as opposed to do it the way we've always done it in this country, natural, organic job creation from out in the real economy.
So, are they saying no to what the president wants? Yes. He wants more spending, and Republicans are just not going to go for that.
BLITZER: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is being told by a White House official, Alex, that the president and the White House did reach out privately to the Speaker in advance to ask for this joint session of Congress Wednesday night. No objection was mentioned. That's the reporting that we're getting just now from Jessica.
And then all of a sudden, the Speaker writes a letter saying, you know what? You can't come Wednesday, but you can come Thursday.
I don't remember a time -- maybe you do, Alex -- when a president of the United States has asked the Speaker and the Majority Leader for permission to address a joint session of Congress and they've said, not tonight, another night.
CASTELLANOS: And Wolf, I think that's true. I don't either.
BRAZILE: And this is a crisis.
CASTELLANOS: Well, and it's been a crisis for a while. And the way the president has addressed that is with very hardball politics, you know, walking right up to the edge of saying Republicans are treasonous.
These are the people that he says he wants to work with, while on the campaign trail, he's saying, I'm going to run against you, I'm going to crush you. And by the way, you're being unpatriotic. You're putting your own political interests ahead of what's good for the country. So I don't think I can excuse the president's political intent here.
BLITZER: But the other argument is -- Donna, the other side of the argument is that the president knew, the White House knew there was a major presidential Republican debate Wednesday night. And he didn't necessarily have to poke his finger and say, you know what? We're going to try to upstage what the Republican candidates are doing. They were irritated, obviously, by that.
BRAZILE: Well, look, if the White House is saying -- and I have no reason to doubt the White House -- that they were contacting Mr. Boehner during some back channels, then I believe there was a wink and a nod, and maybe there was a disapproval after it went public.
Look, Wolf, I'm not interested in the date. What I'm interested in is the strategy.
And while Alex and the Republicans fail to understand that 9 percent unemployment, people are hurting in the country, they are tired of these political games. They want the politicians to just begin to solve the problems, not point fingers at each other, not pick a fight.
CASTELLANOS: Donna, I'll agree with that.
BRAZILE: They want solutions, Alex. And they don't want --
CASTELLANOS: Donna, I'll agree with that. But, you know --
BRAZILE: -- to hear the Republican argument that it's about Washington spending when, during the last 10 years, we have spent ourselves silly. They want to hear the long-term strategy. What are we going to do to bring job creation, job growth, help small businesses, and create the jobs of the future?
BLITZER: Very quickly, Alex.
CASTELLANOS: Just quickly, I'd say, Wolf, that the president calling John Boehner and saying, look, I'm going to hit you on the head, it doesn't make it more acceptable for him to hit the Republicans on the head and play politics like this. So --
BLITZER: All right.
BRAZILE: Well, stop whining, Alex.
CASTELLANOS: I'm not whining.
BRAZILE: I mean, you act as if the Republicans can't take a punch.
CASTELLANOS: The president should have done this from --
BRAZILE: It's not a punch.
CASTELLANOS: The president could have done this from the Oval Office.
BRAZILE: He should do this from the Oval -- I agree with him. He should not interrupt the Packers and the Saints on the 7th. That's all I'm saying.
BLITZER: And the Saints.
BRAZILE: That's all I'm saying.
CASTELLANOS: Now, that would be unforgivable.
BRAZILE: See, that's unforgivable. See, I have my priorities.
BLITZER: He's got the Packers and the Saints Thursday night. He's got a Republican presidential debate Wednesday night.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's a lot of stuff going on. He wants a half an hour to deliver this speech. I'm sure he'll do it at some point.
Guys, thanks very much.
BRAZILE: We help you every night, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Help is coming at last for some Vermont towns that have been cut off from the rest of the state by historic flooding. We're going live to the flood zone.
And a new warning about holes in America's security just days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: You're going to love these. The question is: Why is Rick Perry suddenly the darling of the Republican field?
Jim in Los Angeles, "Yippie-ki-yo-ki-yay. Perry looks good, smells good, acts good, and thinks average. The cult movie "Idiocracy' gives us a hint at Perry's contribution to the political scene: advertising, commercialism, anti-intellectualism, resulting in a uniformly stupid society. Perry hastens that outcome."
John in Florida writes, "Rick Perry is just the new kid in class. He has got about as much to offer as the other GOP candidates, which isn't much. Interest will wane though when the new girl in class, someone named Sarah, shows up. Jack, it's not about substance with this group."
E.J. in Houston, "The answer is obvious to me, and I live in Texas. Rick Perry is not very bright. Just look at the candidates the GOP seems to fall in love with. They love that folksy, 'ah shucks, he is just one of us' persona. And for some reason, the less bright you appear to be, the more they like you."
"President Bush was a nice guy, but also not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump -- I think you get my drift."
Loren writes, "Because a sucker is born every minute. Perry is just the latest huckster to come down the pike, and unless he says something really stupid, his sound bites appeal to people who are tired of feeling like the government is giving money to everybody but them."
Perry looks good, talks big, says nothing, just like the last darling of our country, President Obama. No wonder the liberals are scared of him."
Kevin in California writes, "Because his message is simple, straightforward, and comes from God."
Jay in Oklahoma says, "He's at the top because there is both a lack of strength and sanity among the Republican candidates. I'm pretty conservative, but I don't know who I'm going to be able to vote for without throwing up a little."
If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- I've got a lot of mail -- or through the post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.
And next hour, we'll talk about the other kid in class, Sarah -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looking forward to it, Jack. Thank you.
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near, a remarkable exhibit is set to open showcasing unforgettable artifacts from that tragic day.
That story and a lot more news coming up, next.