Return to Transcripts main page


Western Journalists Killed in Syria; Republicans Prepare to Debate in Arizona; Interview with Author and Former Senator Russ Feingold; Obama's Faith Under Fire; Slash Taxes, Close Loopholes; "Breathable Energy" Under Scrutiny

Aired February 22, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: high stakes and high pressure for the four remaining candidates preparing to wage verbal warfare in tonight's CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate.

Also, two Western journalists killed in Syria, including a veteran American reporter who described the situation only hours before her death as the worst she had ever seen.

Plus, President Obama unveils his long-awaited plan to overhaul corporate taxes, including dramatic reductions in both rates and loopholes.

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

We're in Mesa, Arizona, counting down to tonight's CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate. It's almost a month since the candidates last faced off. And since then, this tumultuous campaign has seen even more upheaval. Rick Santorum is now the surging candidates and the one for Mitt Romney to beat tonight.

Both men were campaigning here right down to the wire today and may have given each some fresh ammunition to use tonight.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here with us, and he's going through all the details.

What's the latest specifically with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the top two candidates going into tonight's CNN debate, the devil is in the details. Two potential flash points tonight, Mitt Romney's new tax plan and Rick Santorum's faith-based brand of politics.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney made what could be a risky move in the hours before CNN's debate, laying out an aggressive new plan that could come under fire from his opponents.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to lower rates across the board for all Americans by 20 percent. ACOSTA: Romney's tax proposal would slash income tax rates for all Americans by 20 percent, setting the top bracket for the wealthier earners at 28 percent, and he would cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, lower than the 28 percent proposed by the president, but higher than his GOP rivals.

Romney would offset some of those cuts by limiting popular deductions for the wealthy on mortgages and charitable contributions, a potential turnoff for some conservatives.

ROMNEY: For high-income folks, we're going to cut back on that, so that we make sure that the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they're paying or more.

ACOSTA: And Romney's use of the term 1 percent, a phrase vilified at Occupy Wall Street rallies, may be impossible to resist for Rick Santorum, who welcomed his rival's new tax plan, saying it's more like his own.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Welcome to the party, Governor. It's great to have you along.

ACOSTA: Santorum would like to change the subject after an avalanche of media coverage of a speech he gave in 2008, when he said Satan was attacking America. When we caught up with the rising GOP contender, he offered no apologies.

(on camera): Senator, any chance you can respond to this headline that was splashed across The Drudge Report today about the speech you made in Florida?

SANTORUM: You know, I'm a person the faith. I believe in good and evil. I think if somehow or another because you're a person of faith and you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we are going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president.

ACOSTA: And he worked in a dig at the conservative Drudge Report, which is widely known in political circles to have close relations with the Romney campaign.

SANTORUM: If they want to dig up old speeches talking to a religious group, they can go right ahead and do so, but I'm going to stay on message.

ACOSTA: Santorum told CNN that his campaign has raised $6 million this month and he understood what could lie ahead if he somehow beats Romney in Michigan and Arizona. It's the talk of Washington, the possibility of a brokered convention.

SANTORUM: Obviously, nobody gets enough delegates, then we will have to deal with that, but it's a long, long way to go. We feel good about where we are headed right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: All of this new attention for Rick Santorum has overshadowed Newt Gingrich, who like Santorum is a Catholic, on this Ash Wednesday.

Newt Gingrich did not go to Ash Wednesday services, but Rick Santorum did, and Gingrich did say he is giving up desserts for Lent, although Republicans know the debate stage is often his sweet spot.

BLITZER: Like a lot of us, he could stand to lose a few pounds, as we all know.

John King is here.


ACOSTA: Especially after all this time on the road.

BLITZER: Don't go away.

John, you're going to be moderating the debate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You got me in right after "could stand to lose a few pounds."

BLITZER: We all could. I'm not saying just you or Newt Gingrich. All of us could stand to lose a few pounds.

Let's talk a little bit about the setting for tonight, John. It will be a little different. Normally, you -- this will be your third debate. I have done three. You stand. Everyone stands up on the stage. Today will be different.

KING: Today will be different and our viewers are probably familiar with the debate format we have had.

Moderator stands. We have had the podium set up. Started with seven candidates. I think at one point we had eight. Now we have the final four

Tonight, we will be seated at a table. The four candidates will be seated. It's Congressman Paul, Senator Santorum, Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich. I'm at a separate table just across, close proximity to them.

We will see. Some people say if you sit down, sometimes you lose some of the energy, some of the passion, although I think it was a Bloomberg News debate some time back where they got a little feisty, but does that change the tone and tenor of the debate? We will find out tonight. Certainly more comfortable as you get to four candidates, maybe a little more cozy.

BLITZER: It's really cozy when you get down to two candidates. I remember four years ago I did the debate when there were two left with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the Kodak Theatre. Everyone was seated for that one. And it got a little exciting.

Will there be questions from the audience, from the Twitter universe, if we will, Facebook also?

KING: That part will be familiar to the viewers of our past -- this is CNN's seventh debate this cycle. I will moderate, I will steer the discussion, but yes, we will take some questions from Arizona Republicans in the hall tonight, we will take some questions. You still have time to send them in.

If you're doing it on Twitter, use the hashtag CNNdebate. Or you go to Facebook, or, the old- fashioned way, straight to our political Web site. As you know, this is one of the things we like to do at CNN is involve not only the audience, but involve people around the country who are watching this debate.

And it's important, because Michigan and Arizona vote on Tuesday, but this is the last debate on the books, could be the last debate of the primary cycle, but we are certain it's the final state before 14 states, Arizona, Michigan, Wyoming, Washington State, and then 10 states on Super Tuesday, March 6, so a lot at stake here.

BLITZER: A lot at stake. This is the first debate that Rick Santorum, I think it's fair to say, at least if you believe the national polls among registered Republicans, he's now the front- runner.

ACOSTA: That's right, and it is in Mitt Romney's interest to go after him tonight because the momentum has changed.

One thing we have seen in Arizona, there's a new NBC/Marist poll that might show that maybe Romney might be OK here in Arizona. But that is not the case out in Michigan. If Romney should somehow lose Michigan to Santorum, it will create this whole conversation inside the Republican Party. Mitt Romney cannot win the state where he grew up, Mitt Romney can't win states in the Midwest. Rick Santorum can.

And it does go to this conversation that I had with Rick Santorum last night of this possibility of a brokered convention. It's sort of what everybody is talking about in Washington. It's the parlor game in the Beltway right now.

BLITZER: Are you still tweaking questions, or is that done?

KING: We're still tweaking questions. I heard you talking earlier today about how we do this. You have done three of them. We have what we call the cone of silence, a staff-only room, small group of us who are working on the debates.

And we always look. We look around what happened today, what did the candidates say today, what Jim just talked about, the new Romney tax plan, Senator Santorum's response to that. And you look at everything that happened this day and then you look at your questions and you say, do we need to tweak them a little bit to make suer it's timely up to the last minute?

We will also look at those questions coming in online, Twitter, Facebook, CNNPolitics, all the way through the debate up to the last minute to try to keep it as fresh as we can.

BLITZER: Hashtag CNNdebate.

KING: Amen.

BLITZER: We will be watching. Guys, good luck tonight.

KING: Thank you.

KING: And I'm and will be watching closely.

Be sure to join John later tonight as he moderates the CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate. It begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. It will go out live around the world.

And opposition group in Syria says at least 60 people have died across the country today and almost 9,000 since the government's crackdown began. This is the scene in the city of Homs today, where two Western journalists were killed, one of them American Marie Colvin of "The Times of London."

She spoke to Anderson Cooper just hours before her death.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: the Syrian regime, their representatives have continued to lie. they have lied on this program to us directly.

Marie, I mean, you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. How does this compare?

MARIE COLVIN, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons. The last one -- I mean, I think the last time we talked when I was in Misrata. It's partly personal safety, I guess, there's nowhere to run. The Syrian army is holding the perimeter. And there's just far more ordinance being poured into this city and no way of predicting where it's going to land.

Plus, there's a lot of snipers on the high building surrounding the Baba Amr neighborhood. You can sort of figure out where a sniper is but you can't figure out where -- you know, where a shell is going to land. And just the terror of the people and, you know, the helplessness of these families hiding on the first floor. Just -- all they can do is hope it doesn't hit them. That's very, very difficult to watch.


BLITZER: Joining us now from the neighboring country of Turkey is CNN's Ivan Watson.

Ivan, let's start with Marie Colvin, a very, very courageous, wonderful journalist. You certainly met her a few times. I interviewed her on a few occasions as well, but tell us a little bit about this remarkable woman. IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I remember being in southern Lebanon with her. She was the next room over during the Israel/Hezbollah war. This was a fiercely committed journalist, who I had seen in hot spots around the world again and again, who I looked up to, who was kind of a legend, an institution.

And the fact that this small journalist community has lost her and Anthony Shadid in less than a week, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, that comes as a big blow to this, as I have called it before, shrinking tribe of foreign conflict correspondent.

But even more than that, the death of so many journalists in such a short period, also the French reporter Remi Ochlik, who's an award- winning photographer, highlights just how many Syrians are dying day after day in a conflict and a crackdown that's been going on for 11 months.

And I think Marie Colvin would have really wanted to draw attention to the baby that she witnessed dying in Homs last night, and focus on that, rather than on her own death, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Ivan, another person who died in Homs yesterday was the Syrian blogger Rami al-Sayed. You recently spoke with him. He was a remarkable individual.

WATSON: That's right. Two weeks ago, I talked to him on the phone to try to get a sense of what was going on.

This government siege of Homs, one of the biggest cities in Syria by Syria's own army had begun just a few days before. And he was warning about shortage of medicines. He was calling for some way to help evacuate women and children from there and trying to draw international attention to the horrific situation there.

Then we learned last night that he is yet another victim of this indiscriminate Syrian artillery bombardment again of one of Syria's largest cities.

I'm going to warn viewers, the video that was filmed of loved ones gathered around his corpse, it's disturbing to watch. This man had helped put out many other videos prior to that, documenting atrocities in Syria. He managed to get live images up day after day of the Syrian bombardment of Homs, and it's people like him who have been documenting the human rights abuses, Syrian activists putting their lives on the line and smuggling the video out over Internet over the course of this 11-month crackdown that's claimed by conservative estimates more than 7,000 lives.

These are very brave people and they are paying for their activist work with their lives, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the scene for us, also a courageous journalist, Ivan, thanks very much.

CNN's Arwa Damon new Marie Colvin well, was in Syria with her only the other day. We will speak with Arwa in our next hour. Also, my interview with Marie Colvin last year only months ago when she was covered the revolution in Libya. We spoke about how dangerous that was and whether she feared for her life.

We will also go inside President Obama's blueprint to overhaul corporate taxes, how he plans a huge rate cut without adding to the deficit.

Plus, the president's faith under attack again. We will talk about that and much more. Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson, they are standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The moral of the following story is this, if you're ever thinking of running for president of the United States, watch your mouth. Barack Obama should be sending Rick Santorum flowers today.

Republican presidential candidates under fire for a 2008 speech in which he said Satan is attacking the great institutions of America. Speaking to students at Ave Maria University in Florida, Santorum said, quote, "Satan has set his sights on the United States of America." He described a spiritual war and asked, quote, "If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?" He suggested it was natural for the father of lies, as he called Satan, to go after a good, decent, powerful and influential country.

Fast-forward four years -- instead of acknowledging that the dialogue might have been extreme, Ricky Boy is digging in his heels, he's defending those comments, saying that he's a person of faith who believes in good and evil. Santorum insists he's going to stay on message and talk about the things Americans want him to talk about, like economic recovery. He says his views on Satan are not relevant to what's being discussed today.

Really? I'll bet some would disagree.

And when you want to be president, well, it's all fair I suppose. Santorum is leading the Republican field in several national polls. He's tied with Mitt Romney in Romney's home state of Michigan. We'll see if at tonight's debate, Santorum's thoughts on Satan come back to bite hem. I'll bet they do.

Here's the question. Rick Santorum said Satan is attacking America. Is he right?

Go to and post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much. As I blogged today, I think you got a problem if you're a presidential candidate and you got to defend your views on Satan. But that's another issue. Check out my blog at our SITUATION ROOM Web site.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories right in THE SITUATION ROOM right now as well, including divers found even more victims today inside the partially sunken Italian cruise ship.

What's the latest there, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Eight more bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of the Costa Concordia, including the body of a 5-year-old girl. Officials say they were found in a submerged part of the ship known as Bridge 4. The death toll now stands at 25, with seven people still missing. Meanwhile, prosecutors are investigating seven Costa employees, including the head of Costa's crisis unit, who was on the phone with the ship's captain the night it struck rocks and capsized.

A gunshot fired in Mexico hits a woman walking nearly a mile away in Texas. El Paso police believe the woman's leg was grazed by a bullet that came from a gunfight between Juarez police and a carjacker. Police say the timing certainly adds up. And if the theory is current, authorities say it is the first stray bullet from Juarez violence to hit someone in El Paso, Texas.

Forty-six thousand Honda Odysseys are being recalled because their power tailgate could suddenly drop on someone standing underneath. Honda says the problem lies in faulty gas-filled struts that hold the minivan's tailgate open. The automaker says two minor injuries have been reported -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa.

He was part of the Democratic casualty list in the midterm elections, but former Senator Russ Feingold is still speaking out loudly about a lot of key issues facing the country. He's going to join us live to talk about those issues, his new book and President Obama's reelection campaign. He's now an Obama campaign cochairman.

Plus, the role of religion, especially when it comes to President Obama -- certainly has become a hot-button issue in the Republican presidential race. We're going to talk about that in our strategy session and a whole lot more.


BLITZER: He lost his reelection bid back in 2010, but former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has been keeping rather busy since leaving office. He's just been named the national cochairman for President Obama's reelection campaign among other things.

He's also written a brand-new book about U.S. foreign policy and national security. The book is titled "While America Sleeps: A Wake- Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era."

And Senator Feingold is joining us now.

First of all, congratulations on the new book, Senator. I want to get to some of the key issues, but what's the most important thing you recommend we do, this wake-up call, for America? Give us a sentence or two, what we need to know in order to be ready in this post-9/11 world.

FORMER SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, AUTHOR, "WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS": Wolf, good to be talking with you again. Look, we've all got this wake-up call in 2001. We were surprised. We were taken by surprise. We made a vow as a people, I thought, to make sure that we wouldn't be surprised again.

But I don't think we're paying serious attention to the various situations around the world, presence of al Qaeda operatives in north Africa, and Somalia, and Nigeria. And even China's influence in Africa, Iran's influence in Latin America. It seems like we pulled away and basically have gone back into domestic feuding instead of making sure that we are active and concerned about what was happening in the rest of the world.

BLITZER: What should the U.S. be doing right now as far as Syria is concerned? Because it's a disaster.

FEINGOLD: That's a great example. In the book "While America Sleeps," I point out we have this tendency to just invade one country at a time, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan. We sort of have this attitude that you either have to invade it and stay there forever or do nothing.

I think what President Obama did with regard to Libya shows you don't have to do that. You can see that there's a tipping point.

Now, with regard to Syria, obviously it's more complex. But we don't have to talk about American troops on the ground. There are other levers, whether it'd be arming those who are trying to resist Assad -- whether I'd be getting China and Russia to come around in the United States, the willingness of the Arab League, which is almost unprecedented, to confront one of their members. This guy has to be removed from office, but you don't have to do it in an unending invasion. There are other ways to do it, and we have to make that happen.

BLITZER: Do you regret, Senator, being the only U.S. senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act right after 9/11?

FEINGOLD: Absolutely not. That was probably one of the best things I have ever done. It was a difficult thing. I read the bill. You know, it was sort of unique thing. I thought maybe I should read this thing.

And I can see that it was sort of like, as the late Bob Novak said, it included an old wish list of the FBI, things that didn't have to do with terrorism, like going after people's library records who had done absolutely nothing wrong. I also point out in the book there's such a thing as sneak-and-peek searches of people's houses without a warrant. These weren't even used for terrorist situations after it was put in the PATRIOT Act.

So, it was a power grab. It was an example of what I talk about in the book, which is the use of al Qaeda and the fear to manipulate our domestic politics. And you're going to see that tonight in the debate, where you'll see these Republican candidates trying to use phrases, attacking the president for allegedly apologizing for America, as a replacement for having a real policy.

The president actually has real understanding of the international situation. And in my view, President Obama is doing an excellent job on the international front. And if he's reelected, as I expect he will be, I think he could end up being one of our great presidents from the point of view of our international policies.

BLITZER: And you are a national cochairman for his reelection campaign, but that doesn't stop you from disagreeing with the president, even being critical, including -- I'll read a line from your book. You write this, "I'm concerned about the tone of the statements coming from this administration, for they seem unnecessarily triumphant and are likely to send out the wrong message to the rest of the world and especially to Americans."

What are you referring to?

FEINGOLD: You know, I have a good fortune of knowing the president, from having served with him in the Senate. One of the things I like about him, he's not afraid to have allies and friends who don't always agree with him.

Now, I happen to think that Barack Obama has done brilliantly in making sure that we don't have to deal with bin Laden anymore and al- Awlaki, and also Gadhafi.

But I've heard statements from some White House officials saying, well, we think al Qaeda is pretty much on its last leg. That's not my understanding. Whether it's al Shabaab in Somali, or whether it's the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Northern Africa, or whether it's Boko Haram, a group that maybe affiliated with them in Nigeria, I just want to point out that the job isn't done.

And the great thing about President Obama is he cares about understanding those things. He has a broad vision. He isn't just trying to score political points in order to attack his Republican opponents. He's trying to do what's right to protect the American people.

So, you bet I'll mention my disagreements, but on 95 percent of the issues, I certainly agree with him, and I'm awfully pleased that he's the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Do you agree with him that all options should be on the table when it comes to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, including the military option?

FEINGOLD: I do. I think it's not read to lead with the talk about military, or any option of that kind, because that would be very difficult. But, you know, we have a right to self-defense. And we have a right to defend our allies. And if it came to that, so be it.

But I think again, just like Syria, there are many other levers that can be worked. I think Iran is beginning to suffer from the sanctions. As the sanctions go higher, the pressure is greater.

Iran is not like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, where one guy completely ran the show. There are different power pockets, different pressure points. And the people of Iran do not necessarily have negative views about America if we don't play into the hands of the regime's anti-Americanism.

So, I think there are many ways that we can stop them from doing the nuclear weapons, but we cannot allow them to have them. I do agree with the president strongly on that point.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era." It's a powerful and very important book.

Senator Feingold, thanks so much for writing it.

FEINGOLD: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's continue the conversation right now in our strategy session. Joining us two CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Erick Erickson, he's editor-in-chief of

Guys, thanks very much for continuing this conversation. A quick thought on Russ Feingold and I want to go out to some other stuff. You know, he disagrees with the president on some sensitive issues, but is now a national co-chairman.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, one of the good things about the Democratic Party is that we don't have to agree 100 percent to have, you know, a good membership in the party. He's a strong leader and he's going to be a very good spokesperson for the president's re-election.

BLITZER: Sort of sounded like Ron Paul on the opposition to the PATRIOT Act. Ron Paul opposed it in the House of Representatives as well.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the PATRIOT Act long term doesn't have a long time to live as more and more Americans realize. We don't need our library cards checked. I'm a supporter of the PATRIOT Act, but I think it needs to be reworked.

BLITZER: All the Republican candidates, at least three of them, have really been saying stuff about the president's religion. Let me play a little clip and then we'll discuss.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is what the president's agenda -- it's not about you, it's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology, not a theology based on the bible, a different theology.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why the Obama war against religion is profoundly un-American and a fundamental violation of our constitution.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with and their agenda, a secular agenda, they have fought against religion.


BLITZER: What do you make of this criticism of the president and his religion?

BRAZILE: I find it appalling. I also find it retro. It's like they're going back to the old playbook that we saw in the 1980s where you try to divide Christians versus non-Christians or even people of Christian faith.

We have differences as Americans. I would hope they would stop trying to preach to the choir and look at the congregation. We are made of different religions and different faiths, and some people with no faith, but you know what? This is about getting red meat from an audience -- well, really more than that.

BLITZER: Some Christian leaders got together and issued a statement today critical of all these Republican presidential remarks. I'll read it to you.

The cynical attempts to use faith as a weapon of political division are bad for our country, especially harmful to the Christian witness. We can disagree about what it means to be a Christian engaged in politics, but Christians shouldn't bear false witness.

ERICKSON: Wolf, the Southern Baptist Convention has almost as many members as all those denominations represented in that letter today. You know, I would take those leaders more seriously had they come out when the president issued his contraceptive mandate to the Catholic Church. I think they're playing politics as much as they accuse the other side.

BLITZER: But he did come up with a compromise on that, which some Catholic leaders say it's fine.

ERICKSON: Well, none of the bishops do. It's a semantic compromise.

BRAZILE: I don't believe that you'll reach compromise with the Catholic bishops because they get their orders from the pope, and the pope gets his order from the bible and the doctrines.

But the president has reached an accommodation. I think what some of those other snooze, it's important we get beyond just criticizing people based on their religious faith and figure out how to bring the country together.

That's what the American people want. They don't want to hear these candidates criticize President Obama's religion. They want to talk about what actually President Obama is doing for the whole country.

BLITZER: You did write yesterday that some of these views that Santorum, for example, are expressing could come back to haunt or hurt him. What did you mean by that?

ERICKSON: Well, there's a problem I think the Democrats and the Republicans both have this cycle, the president on the contraceptive issue and Rick Santorum on this, for example, that it's good to have a principle, and you may support the principle, sometimes the principle can be a political liability.

I think that Rick Santorum, speaking up as loudly as he is on these issues, instead of the jobs and economy issues for the last two weeks, it becomes a political liability for independent voters in the general election.

Many people, myself included agree with what he's say, but this is an auction about jobs and the economy, not about theology.

BLITZER: They may help with a lot of conservative Republicans out there. Help Santorum although the down side is electability. They say to themselves maybe in a general election if you're going after independents, moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats, suburban women or whatever, it could hurt the electability. I think their main goal is trying to defeat President Obama in his re-election campaign.

BRAZILE: Wolf, again it's like being in a church, and you're preaching to the choir. The congregation, it's diversity. They're from all parts of the world. They have different parts of this religious faith, a tenet.

What the Republicans are doing is just preaching to the choir. Women are offended by some of this. Many women see this as an assault on their rights, reproductive right, having full access to a range of reproductive health services including birth control.

So I would hope that they will step back from that pulpit tonight and really understand that there's a larger congregation perhaps they need to talk to.

ERICKSON: And at the same time it is a Republican primary, of course they're preaching to the choir right now. A lot of the women who I think are opposed to some of the (INAUDIBLE) right now probably are predisposed to vote against the Republicans anyway, and they're trying to rally more the blue collar Catholic voters who see what's happening with the Catholic Church.

BRAZILE: And women are the majority of voters and I think most women are open to hearing all of the candidates' views on this subject. At the end of the day, they want to vote for somebody who will respect their rights.

BLITZER: We got to go, but what you're saying tonight, the debate that's coming up in only a few hours. They should really focus in on what will get them points among Republicans and not worry about the general election down the road.

ERICKSON: They have a long primarily fight probably. They need to play to the base.

BRAZILE: Congregation is much larger than a choir.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank very much.

A duelling tax plans, Mitt Romney and the president of the United States, they have brand-new proposals that are just coming out right now, details of where they agree, where they disagree, guess what? They disagree on a lot.

Also, caffeine that you inhale. The controversy over what's being called breathable energy.


BLITZER: President Obama is out with his long-awaited plan to overhauling the corporate tax code, which currently has some of the higher rates in the world.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin is joining us with details. Jessica, what is the president proposing?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's teams laid out a series of bullet points by wading into the Republican debate over tax reform, only the president himself wasn't present to do it.


YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama visited the new African-American History Museum's construction site while his corporate tax reform plan was unveiled. He left his press secretary to face the cameras.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that this is an area where an opportunity exists. An opportunity to disprove the conventional wisdom that nothing can get done in an election year between White House held by one party and the Congress widely controlled by the other.

YELLIN: Treasury Secretary Geithner revealed the details off-camera. Highlights? The current 35 percent tax rate would drop to 28 percent, but the actual rate for manufacturers would drop to 25 percent.

The administration has been touting domestic manufacturing for months. The plan would add new taxes for companies that make money overseas. They say as a way to encourage businesses to invest here in the U.S.

It would simplify the tax code for small businesses so filing taxes wouldn't be such a burden. This would include a bigger deduction for startup and health insurance costs. The administration says the plan would not add to the deficit.

In a statement, the president called this a framework that lowers the corporate tax rates and broadens the tax base in order to increase competitiveness.


YELLIN: Wolf, House Republicans have been mild in their criticism of this plan. In general, their largest criticism centers on small businesses. They say it will increase taxes on small businesses, and the new tax increase on companies that have foreign profits.

In addition, some Republicans say it should be done along with reform of the individual tax rate. That means when the Bush tax cuts expire after the presidential election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, why does is it single out manufacturers for a tax deduction?

YELLIN: Excellent question. The administration consistently says that when you help out manufacturing, that has a ripple effects on growing the rest of the economy.

But you also have to wonder, Wolf, if the administration doesn't have in mind some of those unemployed blue collar workers in swing states that the president has to woo in order to win re- election.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly can't do any of this on his own. He needs Congress to approve all of this. What's the next step? Is Congress likely to even take it up?

YELLIN: Well, Secretary Geithner says that he plans to meet next week with House Republicans who are leading on the tax issue and Senate Democrats. All sides say they're open to start working on it, whether or not something this monumental can get done in an election year, that's anyone's guess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is, all right, Jessica, thank you.

So that's the president's proposal. You now know the details, but he's not the only one releasing a plan to overhaul the tax code. We're going to break down how Mitt Romney wants to change what you pay in taxes as well.

And Erin Burnett, she is standing by live right here on THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll go through the Romney tax plan.


BLITZER: Policy shift today from Mitt Romney, only hours before our CNN debate here in Arizona. He had said he would keep the current tax rates for now, but change the tax structure in the future.

Well, guess what? The future is right now. Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett. She's been working the story for us. I want to talk a little bit about the Obama's plan as well.

But first of all, this new structure that the Romney campaign, the Republican nominee's about to unveil in the next couple of days.

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": I think he's felt a lot of pressure. That his plan, the "Wall Street Journal," which obviously the Republican nominees want their endorsement on economic plans, gave a very lukewarm comment on Mitt Romney's -- 59-point more than 100 pages plan.

So I think he felt the pressure. You got to come out. You got to be aggressive. You can't be the guy who has a plan like the president's plan. So he's going to accelerate this and as you know, that means, if you are on the top bracket, you get to cut to 28 percent.

Middle income Americans -- 35 to 28 in the middle from 25 to 20, and at the bottom, from 10 to 8 so everybody would get a tax cut. He keeps his corporate tax rate at 25 percent, which he had already put out before.

But talking to experts today on both sides and I tried to talk to people who are right down the middle. People who I think lean left, people who I think lean right and they say the problem is it doesn't pay for itself unless you get, quote/unquote, "lucky."

A lot of economic growth or big rebounds in housing so again, he's going to put the real details out at the Detroit Economic Club later on this week. So maybe we'll get more on that paying for it problem, but at least right now, at first blush, experts are saying it doesn't quite get there.

BLITZER: You've been speaking with folks over at Treasury too, not only about what Romney may have, but also what the president's new initiative.

BURNETT: That's right. And I actually I talked to a very senior Treasury official today about what the plan is about. They said, look, our bottom line is we want to hire engineers and we want to fire tax engineers.

They really want to get rid of this bloated system that we all know exists of lawyers, accountants and lobbyists. This is a first step, but they really want this to be seen as, look, we're throwing this out there, because we want to negotiate it.

We don't think that we can afford to have the tax rate for companies go below 28 percent, but we're willing to consider it. If someone can come up for ways to pay for it and this crucial issue, Wolf, about taxing money that companies make overseas, which is a really, really big issue. And the corporate lobbying for companies, they want to tax it, but they didn't put a tax rate out. Why, because they want to negotiate it. So they're trying to say this is the first salvo, and we really want to get something done. That's the image they're putting out there. BLITZER: Romney's going to release his plan in Detroit, Fort Field, a big plan coming up, fairer, simpler, we hear those words all the time. Let's see if he can really deliver. You're going to have more on this coming up on "OUTFRONT" later tonight?

BURNETT: Wolf is coming "OUTFRONT" tonight.

BLITZER: I'll be out front with you. Thanks.

A veteran American reporter is one of two journalists killed tragically in Syria today. Coming up in our next hour, we're going to hear from those who knew Marie Colvin including her mother and CNN's own Arwa Damon.

Plus Rick Santorum and Satan. Jack cafferty is next with your e-mail.


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- Rick Santorum has said Satan is attacking America. Is he right?

Doug in Massachusetts writes, "No way. Satan doesn't have the sway to get in front of the big special interest groups already raping this country, Wall Street, big corporations, a crooked congress. Get a clue, Rick, Satan is out of his league in the United States."

Mike in New Orleans writes, "When any politician starts campaigning based on their superiority with regard to religious matter, it's time to change the channel. Rick Santorum knows how to pander to bigotry and extremism and a nutty vote counts as much as a thoughtful one."

Rick writes, "Of course not, however, the welfare party, the Democrats is attacking the very fabric of this country, its work ethic and its principles in order to create a socialist dictatorship that no other party can defeat."

Barbara writes from North Carolina, "Santorum is giving Catholics all over the world a bad name. He certainly seems to be off in another world somewhere. We need to know these things. I personally don't want a preacher of any religion in the White House."

Ed in California writes, "Yes, and his name is Rick Santorum. I thought my crazy Uncle Pauly was nuts, but he looks sane when compared to Santorum."

Jeff in Boshore City, Louisiana, "Rick Santorum needs to lay off the Fruit Loops."

And Tom in Texas writes, "And Rick Santorum knows this how. Did he get a phone call? I wouldn't be surprised if he said the world really is flat. The upside to that would be as he moves farther to the right, as if that's possible, he'll fall off."

If you want to read more about this, you go to my blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Syria's government continuing to shell its own people indiscriminately, while other countries watch in horror. But at the top of the hour, we'll investigate the nightmare scenario that may, repeat, may force the United States to get involve.

And it's a burst of caffeine as big as a chopstick. Is it safe, though? You're going to find out. That's next.


BLITZER: It's about the size of a stick of lipstick and it packs the energy boost of a cup of coffee, but is this caffeine spray really safe?

Our correspondent Lizzie O'Leary is joining us. Lizzie, what's the latest on the controversy over this little canister, as we say?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these little tubes are called aero shot. They're sold online, in convenience stores and prompted by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the FDA is now reviewing them. They're taking a look at safety data that no government agency ever had to look at before aero shot got rolled out.


O'LEARY (voice-over): Aero-shot's appeal is not exactly subtle. A sprits of lime-flavored powdered caffeine, the buzz of coffee in the canisters the size of a chapstick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be down to use it (INAUDIBLE) a lot of energy drinks out there that this is bad for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To ingest caffeine directly without anything else, I just think that's a bit excessive.

O'LEARY (on camera): To get a sense of how aero shots caffeine compares to other things, take a look at what you might see in a convenience store.

A Red Bull has about 80 milligrams of caffeine, a 20-ounce Pepsi about 60, one of these 100 milligrams.

(voice-over): Dr. Stuart Seides says an average adult would have to consume 20 to do serious health damage, but a small teenage girl, maybe 3 or 4.

DR. STUART SEIDES, MEDSTAR HEART INSTITUTE: I think there is an exactly 100 percent chance that this will be abused as a party drug.

O'LEARY (on camera): You do?

SEIDES: Absolutely, absolutely.

O'LEARY (voice-over): Here's the key. Like the popular five-hour energy drink, Aero-shot is sold as a dietary supplement. I asked the inventor how he knows it's safe.

DAVID EDWARS, AEROSHOT INVENTOR: We're using active ingredients that have a very long record of safety and safety testing, and nothing more than that, actually.

O'LEARY: But that doesn't mean the government tested it. When a new drug is created, the manufacturer must prove to the FDA that it's safe in order to sell it. With dietary supplements like Aeroshot, companies do their own testing. There's no government approval process.

DAVID SCHARDT, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Manufacturers are free basically to sell almost any product they want and make almost any claims they want about dietary supplements. The law really should be tighter in order to protect consumers.


O'LEARY: Indeed, Wolf, the way the law is constructed, for the FDA to take Aeroshot off the market, they would have to actually go and prove that it's unsafe. The last time the agency did that was back in 2004, with the supplement, Ephedra after a series of people died -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, quick question, when he says, serious health effects, what are we talking about?

O'LEARY: The concept you'd see with caffeine if you're talking about an average adult, a faster heart rate, maybe hypertension. One of the questions, though, because this is injected into the mouth, sprits in.

If you have someone who has asthma, it gets into that you are lungs that may also have serious medical effect. And there's the question of mixing it with alcohol, and which as the doctor said, this is used as a club drug -- Wolf.

BLIZTER: Good information. All right, thanks, Lizzie. Lizzie O'Leary reporting for us.