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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Presidential Poll Numbers; President Obama's New Campaign Strategy; Rick Perry Dismisses GOP Debates; Interview With New York Republican Representative Peter King; American Teen Killed by Drone; Support for Gun Control at Record Lows; Can They Occupy Congress Too?
Aired October 26, 2011 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now: the most revealing polls yet showing how the Republican race for the White House is shaping up in the first states to cast their ballots. New numbers. We're about to release them to you.
Also, President Obama's new strategy against the GOP. James Carville and Ari Fleischer, they are here to talk about it.
And the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee calls for the U.S. to expel all Iranian officials in the United States, saying many of them are spies. We will talk to Congressman Peter King this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But just into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, new poll numbers painting a very telling picture of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. We can now report that Mitt Romney is the candidate to beat in at least two of the crucial first four voting contests of the 2012 election, with Herman Cain a sometimes close, sometimes distant second.
Our new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll of Republican voters just released shows Romney on top in Iowa's January 3 caucuses, leading Herman Cain by three points, but that's well within the sampling error of plus or minus five points. In New Hampshire, the first primary state, Romney has a comfortable 27-point lead over Herman Cain. In South Carolina, a scant two-point edge for Romney, again, within the margin of error.
Look at this though in Florida. It's Romney 30 percent to Herman Cain's 18 percent.
Before the polls came out, Romney made it clear he's setting his sights very high.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the greatest threat to my success would be President Obama, and I'm planning on beating him soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's talk about these brand-new poll numbers with our chief political correspondent, the anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley.
Candy, it looks like Romney is doing incredible well right now, especially even in South Carolina and Iowa, states that some thought he wouldn't do that well in. New Hampshire, we knew he would always do well.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he needs to do well in New Hampshire because if he doesn't end up doing well in the caucuses, New Hampshire is where he can reset the Republican primary.
But, look, we should put a cautionary note out there, because polls about a caucus are always very tricky business. But what it does show you the totality of this is Mitt Romney remains what he was when he started. The weak front-runner. We have called him that from the very beginning and we have seen the number twos come up, go back down again.
And in the end, it reminds me of the election season when Democratic voters dated Howard Dean and married John Kerry. It seems to be that in the end, here's going to be the primary question, which it always is. Who has the best chance of beating President Obama? And in the end, that may well be Mitt Romney. He's certainly on his way and has a great numbers of polls for him.
BLITZER: But say what you will, at least the snapshot right now. We knew he would do well, as you say, in New Hampshire and in Florida, for that matter, but the fact that he's doing as well as he is just ahead of Herman Cain in both Iowa and South Carolina, that's pretty significant, especially Iowa, because there was talk he wasn't even going to try to compete there.
CROWLEY: And he's now sort of taking a second look at it. But Iowa is a different banana when it comes to those caucuses. South Carolina, we should point out, so much talk about will his Mormonism really be a problem with evangelicals?
Evangelicals are a very powerful vote in South Carolina. But independents can also come in and vote in South Carolina. So, that certainly can sway the outcome. So he is sitting pretty well at this point obviously.
BLITZER: Rick Perry, these numbers are not doing well in any of these states. Got much more on that. Stand by for a moment, Candy.
While Republicans are battling to find their challenger, the president is reframing his fight against the Republicans and their eventual nominee.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now.
Jessica, so, what is this emerging new White House strategy all about? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the president's West Coast swing this week, you have seen him roll out plans to help homeowners and recent graduates with their student loans.
Now, those policies and his speeches give voters a glimpse of the Obama campaign's current reelection strategy.
YELLIN (voice-over): Have you picked up on the president's new message?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job.
We can't wait for Congress to do its job.
We can't afford to keep waiting for them if they're not going to do anything.
YELLIN: Yes, he's running against Congress, but there's something else. Notice a new message discipline? He was famous for it in 2008.
OBAMA: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
YELLIN: Now it's back.
OBAMA: Pass this bill. We need to pass this bill. Pass this jobs bill.
YELLIN: It began with his push for the jobs plan.
GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: One thing that sometimes hasn't occurred in the past in this administration is the president saying the same thing over and over again. Repetition matters in politics. And he's been repetitive about the jobs plan. And he's out there selling it and giving people a real understanding that he has a direction for the county in terms of not just jobs in the short term, but in rebuilding the country's economic strength for the long term. So that's very important.
YELLIN: Important because right now, the president has a chance to define his message on the economy before there's a Republican nominee.
Anita Dunn was the White House communications director.
ANITA DUNN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Presidents needs to lay out their vision. That's an important part of what the president is doing right now.
YELLIN: For Democrats, it's all about drawing a contrast with Republican plans for the future.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He seems to have made the turn strategically, and say, wait, I got to talk about the future. What are we going to tomorrow? How are we going to create jobs and how are they going to cost jobs?
YELLIN: But this Republican thinks it's already too late.
WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: The fundamental problem for the president's message is that three quarters of the country believes we're off on the wrong track. And so, they have pretty well closed their ears to the president's message. President Obama's message is not resonating with most Americans.
YELLIN: The president's trying to reverse that now.
Wolf, talking about polls, the current Gallup tracking poll shows 71 person of Americans right now say the economic outlook is getting worse. And 50 percent disapprove of the job the president is doing.
Those are difficult numbers for an incumbent president to overcome.
BLITZER: Because as you know, Jessica, pollsters love to look at that key question. Is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction? And if it's moving in the wrong direction, you know who they're going to blame.
YELLIN: Right, but if you can move that into the right direction, that's the key factor for the Obama campaign, moving that number in the right direction.
BLITZER: Yes. He's got a year to go and he's got a lot -- hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign money he will have to help him make that case. And as they say, money talks.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jessica, for that.
Let's bring back Candy Crowley.
We were talking in this brand-new CNN/"TIME" magazine/ORC poll, Rick Perry, you know, he was doing a month ago so well. But if you look in these states, in Florida, he's at 9 percent. In Iowa, he's at 10 percent. In New Hampshire, he's only 4 percent. In South Carolina, he's at 11 percent. In every one of these states, he either comes in third, fourth or fifth, for that matter. It's not where he wants to be.
CROWLEY: It isn't. And I think Rick Perry has been his own best looking-back strategist, when he said I shouldn't have done those debates, because, in general, the way most Republicans have seen Rick Perry has been in these debates. He seemed as though he tried. He seemed as though he didn't know what he was talking about. He would garble things.
And they really hurt in. Remember, he came in and, boy, swept right to the top. And every debate, his numbers just went lower. He's got time, they all have time, but not much. It's November. As far as we know, the first contest will be in the first week of January in Iowa.
BLITZER: Yes. No one forced him in that debate to pick that fight with Mitt -- that last debate with Mitt Romney over a lawn service that was years ago, and this lawn service that Mitt Romney hired may have had some illegal workers there. That was Rick Perry who decided to get into a fight with Mitt Romney on that.
CROWLEY: Well, absolutely, and so he has been his own worst opponent at this point. And I think he was -- he's perfectly right in saying I shouldn't have done those debates.
Now, the problem is, you can't not do debates, because then everyone would have written he's avoiding debates because he can't go without a script. It wouldn't have worked the other way, but the debates have done him damage. He needs to do better.
There are plenty of opportunities between now and January in debates for him to do better.
BLITZER: Because if any of these Republican candidates avoid the debates, you can make the case they're afraid to debate their fellow Republicans. How could they ever expect to debate the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who is a pretty good debater?
CROWLEY: Exactly. And there have been debates in the past -- not many, but there have been debates in the past that have been fatal. There's been a fatal mistake made in them by a candidate or two, so again, there's time to make it up, but, boy, they're running out of it.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Candy, thanks very much.
We're going to have much more on the president's new strategy, much more on the Republican race for the White House. James Carville and Ari Fleischer, they are both standing by to join us in our "Strategy Session" this hour.
Also, millions of tons of debris from Japan's tsunami found floating in the Pacific. Here's the question, will it reach the West Coast of the United States?
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Bit of a surprise, Wolf.
More Americans are against gun control than ever before.
Gallup's annual crime poll shows support for various gun control measures at historic lows, including a ban on handguns.
Only 26 percent of Americans -- a record low -- now favor a handgun ban. That's down from 60 percent when Gallup first asked this question back in 1959. Also, the poll shows that for the first time, there's more opposition than support for a ban on semiautomatic handguns or rifles, 53 percent to 43 percent.
In 1996, not that long ago, these numbers were nearly reversed. Congress passed a ban on assault rifles in 1994, but that law expired in 2004.
Overall, support for making gun laws more strict is at its lowest level ever, 43 percent. As recently as 2007, a majority of Americans favored stricter laws.
It's worth noting the growing opposition to gun control shows up among all groups.
Only Democrats, Eastern residents and those without guns in their homes still favor stricter gun laws. And there's not a single group with a majority in favor of banning handguns.
What's interesting here is that Americans are shifting to a more pro- gun stance, despite high-profile incidents of gun violence, like the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others.
Gallup suggests the reasons for this trend don't appear to be related to crime or to an increase in gun ownership.
Instead, pollsters say the trends may reflect a growing acceptance of guns and of support for the Second Amendment.
What was it then-candidate Obama said back in 2008? That when people in small towns lose their jobs, they get bitter and -- quote -- "cling to guns or religion" -- unquote.
Here's the question: Why is support for gun control at record lows?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good question. Jack, thank you.
When a giant wall of water slammed into Japan in March, it killed thousands of people, flattened homes across the country's northeast coast. The water receded, carrying countless pieces of lives out to sea. All of a sudden, in the middle of the Pacific.
Chad Myers is tracking millions of tons of all this debris that's out there somewhere.
Chad, what do we know about the debris and is it headed towards the United States?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It sure is -- floating buildings, refrigerators, parts of cars, propane tanks -- all thought to arrive in about three to five years.
BLITZER: Appears to be quicker now; why? MYERS: The models the researchers got into were looking at debris not floating above the water. They were thinking about stuff that sits in the water and only goes with the current. Well, this stuff is getting blown along faster and eventually will become a hazard.
We're talking 5 million to 20 million tons of stuff. This is all the lives that were taken from these people. Their lives, their livelihood, their buildings, their homes, boats. This is what they found near Midway Island. They didn't expect this to arrive for another three months because it was above the water line.
So people are out there trying to get this debris out, but let me tell you, there is so much stuff in the water, Wolf, we will have this on our shores many, many years. It will be 15 or 20 years before this stuff actually goes away and boating may actually and recreational boating in the Pacific may be become slightly - a hazard and also even into the hazards of trying to surf in Hawaii when you have a refrigerator floating in front of you.
BLITZER: Do we know for sure, Chad, that the debris that's out there in the Pacific right now, this junk that's out there is actually from Japan or just junk collected in the ocean, if you will?
MYERS: Well if you go walk along the beaches of Oregon, Washington and California, you see stuff washing up from Japan, china, Thailand, all the time. But we know that this blob of stuff is from Japan because the boats that are floating literally have, Fukushima on the sides of them. So the boats that are in the water, floating on top being identified as from those areas around where the tsunami hit. Yes, we know that this stuff is from Japan for sure.
BLITZER: And you say, originally they thought three to four years it could take for the debris to reach the United States, but now it's speeding up. What's the cause of that?
MYERS: You've got to look at this. Just take a look at this and think of a boat. If a boat was flat in the water, it would be a very slow boat. This is not a boat. This is not flat in the water. This is like a sail. So now when the wind hits this sail and not only this building probably sunk already by now. But other things are floating above the water and all of that wind is pushing it much faster than the current, so the speed is, the researchers in Hawaii think it could twice as fast now. By 2013 on the west coast of the U.S. and into Hawaii sometime early next year.
BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story together with you.
Thousands of women in Yemen Are gathering to protest the government. We're going to tell you why it included a fiery demonstration.
And the Texas Rangers could clinch the World Series tonight, but the game has been postponed. Those and other top stories, coming up.
And later, Rick Perry blames one thing for any mistake his campaign has made. James Carville and Ari Fleischer, they are here live to talk about that and a lot more. That's coming up the bottom of the hour.
BLITZER: A striking new study reflects a growing inequality in the United States. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's this all about?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, there's a new study and it shows that the nation's top 1 percent is getting richer at an astonishing rate the rest of the country is not seeing. The Congressional Budget Office report shows income for the top 1 percent of earners grew by 275 percent in the last 30 years. The middle class saw a 40 percent growth while the poorest in the United States, increased by only 18 percent.
And a rare and defiant new twist to Yemen's protest. Muslim women are burning their veils in anger against the regime's ongoing crackdown. It is a highly symbolic act in Yemen, where women wear veils to cover their faces. They claim that President Ali Abdullah Saleh is killing women and is proud of it. At least ten people died in Yemen yesterday in clashes with government forces.
And singer Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning, that's according to an investigation into her death. With alcohol levels more than five times the legal limit. The coroner called it a death by misadventure. The 27-year-old Grammy award winning artist has battled with alcohol and drug abuse for several years. She was found dead in her North London home back in July.
And if you were expecting to watch baseball tonight, well it is time to make other plans. Game six of the World Series between St. Louis and Texas Rangers has been postponed until tomorrow night. The forecast in St. Louis is calling for rainfall throughout the evening. Major League Baseball says it wants to play a game of this magnitude without any weather delays, so sorry, Wolf, you will not be able to sit in front of the TV tonight and watch the World Series.
BLITZER: I'll watch Piers Morgan.
That will be a good show. Watch a little Piers, Walker, no baseball. Thank you.
A week of apparent blunders by Republican presidential candidates. Are they really mistakes or are they political tactics? We'll talk about that plus, our brand new poll numbers just released this hour. James Carville and Ari Fleischer, they're standing by live. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Mitt Romney is the latest Republican presidential candidate to make an apparent mistake in the glare of the national spotlight, or was it something more calculated?
CNN's Joe Johns is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's got some details.
What exactly did he do?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, months to go and it's already been a long race. Even for some candidates who have been running just a short time. Mitt Romney's recent slip-up, if it was a slip up, just goes to show that into every campaign a little rain must fall.
JOHNS (voice over): If Republicans didn't like Mitt Romney's position on the so called union busting proposal in Ohio, all they had to do was wait one day before he changed it.
On Tuesday, outside Cincinnati, when asked if he supports the ballot issue to restrict collective bargaining, being pushed by the state's Republican governor Romney gave the generic almost non-committal answer. Even though he just visited a phone bank where conservative callers were selling the measure to the public.
MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not speaking about the particular ballot issues. Those are under the people of Ohio, but I certainly support the effort of the governor to reign in the scale of government. So, I'm not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives.
JOHNS: But by today, Romney had a different answer.
ROMNEY: I'm sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. I fully support Governor Kasich's, I think it's called question two in Ohio. What I was referring to , is I know there are other ballot questions there in Ohio and I wasn't taking a position on those.
JOHNS: Confusion, perhaps. Among those other ballot questions, one would ban government from forcing people to buy health insurance, which might give pause to a health care reformer like Romney. Raising the question whether what happened was a mistake or a political tactic.
PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: He walked into a call center for these two ballot initiatives and appeared to either not know what these ballot initiatives were about or intentionally tried to dodge them to kind of protect his brand for a general election. So, it's one or the other.
JOHNS: If it was a mistake, Romney is not alone among the contenders these days. Rick Perry's latest goof was stepping all over his big flat tax proposal rollout with off the cuff remarks drudging up long buried questions about President Obama's birthplace. GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's fun to poke at him a little bit, and say hey, let's see your grades and your birth certificate.
JOHNS: And then there was the sheer strangeness of Herman Cain's latest ad, showing his chief of staff, someone most of us have never met before singing the candidate's praises and puffing a cigarette. Author John Avlon sees the ad as harmless, but not some of the other mistakes.
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's worse a reflection on whether that, not only makes the candidates look bad, not only maybe it looks the process look bad, but makes our country look bad.
JOHNS: And adding to John Avlons' point that the Cain ad may be different, that ad has logged more than 100,000 views on his website. A lot of people don't understand it, but he's certainly cultivated the image of an unorthodox candidate. And the ad, Wolf, only plays into that.
BLITZER: A lot of people are looking at that ad, we played it in full yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM and it would have been a normal ad to a certain degree, although no one knows the chief of staff, and the fact that he winds up smoking like that, that was a little strange.
JOHNS: It's a throwback to the '60s when we saw Marlboro ads on TV, a very different thing. Plus the big smile at the end that Cain gives.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Let's discuss what's going on in the world of politics in our strategy. Joining us now, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist James Carville and the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush Ari Fleischer.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Ari, let me play a little clip from the interview that governor Perry did with Bill O'Reilly last night on FOX, because in that interview, Governor Perry is blaming the debates for his problems. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates. It's pretty hard to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one minute response. So if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one of the campaigns when all they're interested in is stirring it up between the candidates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You think he's got a point in blaming the debate as opposed to himself? ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, there's no question the debates are designed to stir it up among the candidates, but that's what the job of being a candidate is all about. Debates aren't everything, Wolf, but they are important. And if I were Governor Perry, I would recognize the singular importance of debates in this cycle. Plus they become even more important one year from now and Republicans have to pick whoever's going to be able to make the best case against Barack Obama when they debate him.
So he does need to take the debates seriously. He needs to spend more time getting ready for them. And he shouldn't dismiss them. I think there's a wrong approach.
BLITZER: We take a look at the little picture. James, the president just landed at Andrews Air Force base form Denver. We'll watch that as it unfolds as well, talk a little bit about the president in addition. But what do you think about what Rick Perry is saying, James, that you know what, the biggest mistake he's made so far in the month or six weeks he's been in this campaign cycle is that he agreed to appear in all of these debates.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think we can draw some conclusions now. The biggest mistake Rick Perry made was ever running for president, and in my opinion he needs to go back to Texas. This was a massive mistake. He shouldn't have done it. Maybe he had the best intentions, but some of his friends need to come have a little chat with him and bring him back down. This thing is not going well. He's not ready for this. He's, you know, a guy played decent in AA, he just can't handle a major league curveball, whether it's a debate, a speech, anything else. He's in over his head. He's drowning and drowning everybody else with him. It's clear as a bell with everybody that looks at this.
I wish he had done better. I was for him. I wanted him to rough Romney up. I wanted people to watch CNN. I wanted this thing to go on and on. He's just not there. It's done. He needs to quit.
BLITZER: The fact is, Ari, you look at these latest CNN/"TIME" magazine/ORC poll numbers that just came out at the top of the hour, Perry is not doing well at all. He's coming in fourth in Florida with only nine percent. He comes in tied for fourth in Iowa with only 10 percent, tied with Newt Gingrich. In New Hampshire, he's only at four percent, fifth or sixth there in New Hampshire. South Carolina he's fourth with only 11 percent. One thing nationally, when you're looking at these four states, these are the key states that will determine who the Republican nominee almost certainly will be, and Rick Perry is off to an awful start.
FLEISCHER: And you know, Wolf, when you look deeper into those numbers, you also see it's only in the 20s and 30 percent the people who are definitely going to vote for that candidate. So the one arching truth throughout all the Republican race for months and I think is going to go on for a couple of months is tremendous undecided, that people have said it's a volatile race. Nobody has a strong foundation underneath them, including Mitt Romney. And just as people today are saying Rick Perry is down, and he is down. People shouldn't say he can't come back because he can come back. This thing remains very fluid. And candidates learn. They grow. I remember in the debates in New Hampshire between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton when Barack Obama erred and said "Hillary, you're likable enough." It was a foolish thing to say. He emerged from there. People make mistakes. That's what politics is all about.
BLITZER: Four years ago people were writing off John McCain in New Hampshire, as you well remember, James, but he came back. So here's what Rick Perry has going for him. He's the governor of the second largest state. He's got millions of dollars he can use in campaign ads, and he still has a few months to go.
CARVILLE: Nothing would make me happier than for Rick Perry to come back. Understand that. I'm pulling for him. I'm really kind of mad at him that he can't play this game. I wanted him to do well.
But I mean, he's so, such an offensively bad candidate that it's just torturous to watch. He goes out and he says I shouldn't debate. Then he can't give a speech to the values submit. He can't do an interview on FOX. You've got to be able to do something if you're going to do any good, and he can't.
Then he says, well, I'm for the flat tax. I said trying to help him, hey, this might help politically. Then he said, well, you can fill out the flat tax and the regular tax if you want. Well, you just step all over it. Not even to mention how stupid this whole birther thing -- Karl Rove, everybody, Pat Robertson's telling him to calm down.
BLITZER: We're getting new tape of Rick Perry trying to clarify the whole birther thing, whether or not the president of the United States was born in Hawaii as his long form birth certificate clearly shows. Stand by. We'll play that tape for our viewers once it gets in. Guys, we've got to leave it there. Good discussion.
A key Republican lawmaker says Iran's diplomats here in the United States are spying. House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King wants them kicked out. Peter King is joining us next.
And an American teenager killed by a U.S. drone. How did that happen?
BLITZER: A high ranking Republican in the House is calling an alleged Iranian plot to attack targets here in the United States, quote, "a declaration of war." He's making a dramatic accusation and calling for Iranian officials to be expelled from the United States.
And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Representative Peter King of New York. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You dropped the bombshell today at your hearing. You said you want all Iranian diplomats serving in the United States to be expelled, to be kicked out because they're spying really. What's going on here? What are you talking about?
KING: Basically, Wolf, Iranians have diplomats in New York, at least people assigned to the mission in the New York. They also have diplomats in Washington, D.C. I am very convinced from people I've been speaking to really over the last several years that within those groups are people who are one involved with terrorist forces back in Iran. Others are obviously involved in attempting to do espionage in this country.
I'll give you an example. In New York several years ago, had to expel several people from the Iranian office there found to be taking photos and pictures of New York city subway and transit system, which we seen by the NYPD, they were scoping it out and there was a planning of a possible terror attack. So, they are serving no real purpose here in this country other than advancing Iran's interest.
And the main reason I wanted to do it is that what Iran did as far as planning its attack in Washington, D.C. against an ambassador, which they realize could have caused the deaths of hundreds of Americans, that was a declaration really of war against the United States, an act of war against the United States.
A for us just to increase sanctions or to attempt to take diplomatic action, I don't think it would really strike the severe tone. We have it make it clear this was a game changer. They jumped across a red line here. I think by expelling diplomats that would send a clear message. There are other things we can do also. But --
BLITZER: Let me get to some other things in a moment, but how many diplomats are you talking about? How many Iranian diplomats are accredited at the United Nations? How many are working here in Washington D.C. in the Iranian interest section, which is part, technically, of the Pakistani embassy?
KING: I don't know the exact amount. I would say we're probably talking like 40, 50 that I would have concern about. I'm trying to get the exact numbers. But we, to me, should get rid of either all of them or most and send a clear signal. In New York we know that those attacked at the U.N. supposedly to assist in U.N. activities were actually being used to plan activities against New York were out taking photos. Certainly those here in Washington, we have very good reason to believe are involved in spying and surveillance, that type of thing.
BLITZER: Doesn't the U.S. have responsibilities, international legal responsibilities as the host country to the United Nations in New York that it can't simply kick out diplomats accredited to the U.N.? The Iranian mission is obviously accredited to the U.N.
KING: I would say that under these conditions, because of Iran actively plotting against the United States to carry out activities in the U.S. against us, terrorist activities, acts of war against the United States, that the United States clearly within its legal rights to expel those officials from Washington, D.C. and from the United Nations.
BLITZER: This alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was part two of the plot you had a couple of weeks to get more information, also to blow up the Saudi as Israeli embassies here in Washington. Was that just idle chatter, or was there something serious there?
KING: I can't go into all the details. I will say I've seen that totality of evidence and I can say that there clearly it's buttressed to all sides. To totality of evidence both individually and together says that attacks such as this will be planned. I know from talk to foreign diplomats -- I'm trying to see what I can say here that I didn't hear actually in the briefing. From talking to foreign diplomats in a secure setting, I've been told clearly there are attacks planned upon ambassadors. We know there are attacks planned against the Saudis and also the taking of American lives in Washington.
BLITZER: Just to be precise, these Iranian diplomats are in New York and Washington. Do you have hard evidence they were actually plotting to undertake terrorist operations inside the United States?
KING: I'm saying they clearly have ties to those in Iran who do those things. We know this from common sense and observation, from talking to people in the community that these people, whether it's actual terrorist activities or dealing with other countries or just facilitating activities with them or with Hezbollah, the fact is they are over here for an ulterior purpose, not diplomacy. It's to advance Iran's interest and, as I said, there have been instances in the past where we've actually caught them doing it, but from people I've spoken to, in the intelligence and law enforcement community.
There's no doubt at all that there's the purpose. They're here also in view of their links and their membership back in Iran.
BLITZER: Peter King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.
KING: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: And now to kicking out those Iranian diplomats at the United Nations, the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nulan told reporters today and I'm quoting her now, "as the host nation for the U.N., we have certain obligation to allow diplomats from all countries accredited to the U.N. to serve there." We'll stay on top of the story for our viewers.
Meanwhile, an American teenager killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. His death is sparking new debate over America's use of drones to go after suspected terrorists. Brian Todd has been investigating the story for us. Brian, where was this teenager killed? What were the circumstances?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he had set out in Yemen looking for his father. The young man's father was Anwar al Awlaki who U.S. officials believe was a key al Qaeda leader in Yemen. The father himself had been killed by a drone two weeks earlier. The family says the son had learned of that, was on his way back to the Yemeni capital when he himself was killed, but it's not clear if the son was a target of that strike
TODD (voice-over): According to a Facebook tribute page, he liked watching "The Simpsons," reading harry potter, listening to Snoop Dogg. He was a U.S. citizen, born in Colorado.
The 16-year-old Abdul Rockman Al Awlaki was like so many other kids his age, but he happened to be the son of Anwar Al Awlaki, the al Qaeda leader seen by U.S. intelligence as a key operative in Yemen.
Two weeks after his father was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, the younger Al Awlaki was also killed by a drone there along with a teenage cousin and several others.
The same strike also may have killed a prominent al Qaeda militant. It's not clear why his Al Awlaki's son was with that man. Was the teenager a militant?
TIM LISTER, CNN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: There's no evidence from anything he wrote, anything he said or anything the family have said that he was a militant. By the same token, he could have decided to embark on a path of Jihad after his father's death. Such honor and duty goes deep in Yemeni society.
TODD: His family denied the younger Al Awlaki was a militant. It's not known whether he was targeted in that attack. U.S. officials have said they didn't know he was with that al Qaeda operative, but have otherwise not commented on the drone strike. The American Civil Liberties Union is troubled by the younger Al Awlaki's death.
CHRISTOPHER ANDERS, ACLU: It seems to be more of an embarrassment to the United States that a 16-year-old American teenager was killed as part of a drone attack on somebody else in a country that we're not at war with.
TODD: The ACLU is also questioning the legality of the drone strike on the father, Anwar Al Awlaki, also an American citizen and has asked for classified documents justifying that killing.
U.S. officials have contended it was legal because Anwar Al Awlaki was planning attacks against Americans. And that targeting people like him doesn't have to take place on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.
JOHN BRENNAN, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: In accordance with the national law, we have the authority to take action against al Qaeda and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each and every time.
TODD: But with the deaths of Anwar Al Awlaki, his son and an al Qaeda member named Samir Kahn, three American citizens have been killed by drones in Yemen over the past month.
And analysts say even if the Obama administration can back this up legally and ethically, it should do more to explain who's being targeted and that the right procedures are being used to ensure that those are right people -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, good report. Thanks very much. If you get some more information, let us know. Jack Cafferty is coming up next with the "Cafferty File."
Then the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, can it translate protest into political power right here in Washington?
BLITZER: Back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour is; Why is support for gun control at record lows?
Pat in Michigan writes, "Here in Michigan, our unemployment is through the roof. Home invasions are skyrocketing. I'm not paranoid, but I am arming myself and my family to protect ourselves. We're scared and when push comes to shove, we'll push back."
Lou writes, "because the Republicans and the NRA have run a very successful campaign to convince Americans Barack Obama wanted to take away their God-given constitutional right to gun ownership.
You know it worked when we saw sales of guns and ammos skyrocket in the weeks and months after he was elected, but before he took office. The nothingness must have bled over into the normal population.
Judy on Facebook writes, "Never owned a gun in my life, but I thought about it more than once lately. Things are slowly coming to a head and all I want is to be able to protect myself."
Jack in Ohio writes, "Mr. Cafferty, small towns, did then candidate Obama ever visit the small town of Detroit? How about Chicago?"
Paul writes, "Honestly, there's likely some truth in the words Obama had spoken. You cannot dismiss the rise in unemployment and economic uncertainty as the population becomes more jittery about the future.
I'm not anti-gun, but nobody will ever convince me why an individual needs an assault rifle that can mow down 40 people in 20 seconds before anybody has any idea of what happened. There's no practice use for a weapon like that ever."
Rick in Ohio writes, "I'm still among those who believe in Second Amendment was misinterpreted by our Supreme Court. I've never owned a gun in my life and at 58, I've never fired one either. I just don't want them to be a part of my life."
Mike writes, "More and more people are coming to the understanding that the Second Amendment protections have nothing to do with hunting."
If you want to read more about this, we get some terrific e-mail on this subject. Go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good work, Jack. Thank you.
Here's something. Is there anything you've ever wanted to ask me? It's your chance to turn the tables. If you want you could be the interviewer, go to CNN.com/situationroom to send me your short video questions. I'll try to pick some to answer. Maybe that will work.
At the top of the hour, mass graves and allegations of atrocities by the fighters who overthrew Moammar Gadhafi, but first, "Occupy Wall Street," can the movement evolve to occupy Congress as well?
BLITZER: The Tea Party Movement certainly rocked Washington by propelling its candidates into Congress in the last election and many are now wondering if the "Occupy Wall Street" movement can do the same thing in the next election.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us. Lisa, what are you finding out?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.
Well, "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, you know, they have momentum and the group is growing and expanding. But a key question is, can they somehow translate all of this anger into real political change in Washington?
Well, there are progressive candidates now on the scene and they are running on a flat form that sounds a lot like the folks occupying Wall Street.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Chances are you haven't heard of them before, but these seven House Democratic candidates represent the progressive wing of the party. They delivered more than 30,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner's office saying we stand with the 99 percent.
Referring to an often repeated slogan of the "Occupy Wall Street" group, among them is State Senator Eric Griego who also runs a non- profit for low income families in New Mexico.
ERIC GRIEGO, DEMOCRATIC HOUSE CANDIDATE: Sometimes the parties forget what they stand for so I think a lot of us, whether it's the occupy folks or progressives or whatever you want to call it, we're just saying let's get back to what we say we believe. Do we really believe in the American dream and restoring it or do we believe that, you know, it's sort of a government for the powerful and government for the wealthy? SYLVESTER: The progressive candidates point to new figures from the Congressional Budget Office highlighting the wealth disparity. In the last 30 years, the net worth of the top 1 percent has increased 275 percent, for the middle fifth, 40 percent and the lowest fifth, only 18 percent.
Their bases are people like Casey Webber of "Occupy Washington." He's been unable to find work since graduating in June.
CASEY WEBER, OCCUPY WASHINGTON: Most people I know after they finish college ended up with the same minimum wage job they had before college, you know, at CBS or whatever the local restaurant was. And they're stuck there now. I mean, they just wasted a bunch of money and got a bunch of debt to go nowhere.
SYLVESTER: The Tea Party Movement was successful turning a loose group of conservatives angry at Washington into votes at the ballot box. The challenge on the left is can they do the same with the "Occupy Wall Street" group?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: There is momentum there and I think there is a place for them to go. The question is, will it become professionalized and if it becomes professionalized then I think they will have an impact on the 2012 election.
SYLVESTER: Our public opinion is still split on the "Occupy Wall Street" group. A new CNN/ORC poll has 32 percent of people saying they have a favorable view of the movement, 29 percent saying unfavorable and a full 39 percent are unsure. Not quite ready to say what they think about this expanding group -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting political development. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.