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Gas Prices and Politics; New Lines of Attack Open in AZ Debate; Democrats Slam GOP on Contraception; Romney Comes Out Swinging; Palin's Inner Circle Fights Depiction In New Movie; Violence In Syria

Aired February 23, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: A fierce political rivalry is growing more bitter with new lines of attack opening up in last night's CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate.

Also, gas prices surging their way into the presidential political arena, as Republicans try to pin them on the White House, sending the president on a counteroffensive.

Plus, an unflattering portrait of Sarah Palin in a brand-new HBO movie. Now members of her inner circle, they are pushing back. One calls the film, and I'm quoting them now, factually false.

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

No holds barred on the campaign trail today, with the front- runners, Mitt Romney Rick Santorum, hammering away at each other at times with new lines of attack they unveiled in last CNN's Arizona Republican presidential debate.

It was a difficult contest for Santorum, but polls show he still has momentum, while Romney still cannot seal the deal with some Republicans, which means the next stage of the race could get even more messy.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us from Phoenix, Arizona right now.

Jim, what's the latest on the fight between the front-runners?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's pretty clear last night's CNN debate has touched off a very personal tone in the race for the GOP nomination. That's because there's a lot riding on the next several days.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope you watched the debate last night. It was kind of fun.

ACOSTA: The morning after the debate dubbed the mud-fight in Mesa, Mitt Romney had a smile on his face and a rhetorical baseball bat in his hand, swinging away at Rick Santorum.

ROMNEY: I don't know that I have ever seen a politician explain in so many ways why it was he voted against his principles.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're entitled to your opinions, Mitt. You're not entitled to --

ROMNEY: I have heard that line before. I have heard that before, yes.

SANTORUM: -- misrepresent the facts.

ACOSTA: Romney took aim at Santorum's debate performance when the former Pennsylvania senator tried to justify his vote for the No Child Left Behind education law when he was in Congress.

SANTORUM: Sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.


SANTORUM: Politics is a team sport, folks.

ACOSTA: In front of a big crow, Romney knocked that one into the bleachers.

ROMNEY: I wonder what team he was taking it for.

ACOSTA: But the Santorum campaign is firing back, launching a new ad that recalls Romney's past support for abortion rights and blasting out to reporters this video, pointing out Romney wants backed No Child Left Behind's well.

ROMNEY: By passing No Child Left Behind, we're now able to see which schools are succeeding and failing. And that is ultimately the source of our competitive strength.

ACOSTA: Santorum is also suggesting there may be a secret alliance between Romney and Ron Paul, noting just who the Texas congressman was hammering during the debate.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has to go along to get along and that's the way the team plays. But that's what the problem is with Washington.

ACOSTA: By contrast, Paul rarely takes jabs at Romney in the debates. Add to that what the Texas congressman's son, Senator Rand Paul, told a Kentucky public radio station earlier this week that he would be honored to be Romney's running mate in the fall. Santorum couldn't resist.

SANTORUM: You have to ask Congressman Paul and Governor Romney what they have got going together. Their commercials look a lot alike and so do their attacks.

ACOSTA: A new poll showing Santorum and Romney neck and neck in Michigan explains why the race could get bloody. A Santorum win the state where Romney grew up could send the GOP race into a tailspin and lead to a brokered convince this summer, a possibility Gingrich surrogate and Texas Governor Rick Perry acknowledged in the spin room.

(on camera): Could this race go all the way to the convention?


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Oh, it could.


ACOSTA: As for all of that talk of a Romney-Paul conspiracy, both Romney and the Paul campaigns are laughing it off, and a Romney adviser called it whining silliness.

Another late developing item this afternoon, Wolf, that pro- Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, has a new ad out. It turns out it's nearly word for word the same ad that the Romney campaign used in 2008. But considering Mitt Romney's love for the TV show "Seinfeld," I guess you could call this ad a rerun, Wolf.


BLITZER: Very funny. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, reporting for us.

Gas prices, meanwhile, are increasingly becoming a major campaign issue, and the average price jumped more than three cents overnight to $3.61 a gallon. It's up 10 percent so far this year, thanks in part to the tension with Iran.

Republicans want to pin the price jump on President Obama. Take a look at this Web ad by the Republican National Committees using the clip of President Obama singing this week over at the White House.



NARRATOR: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.


BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and she's in Miami where the president was trying to fend off some of that criticism.

Brianna, is the White House beginning to feel the heat on this very, very sensitive issue?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was clearly a lot of concern as President Obama was here at the University of Miami defending his energy policies and really firing back against Republicans.

Specifically he seemed to take aim at Newt Gingrich and his promise of $2.50 a gallon gas when he talked about phony election year promises on gas prices. He slammed Republicans, saying they're capitalizing on bad news.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last week, the lead stories in one newspaper said gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops. That's a quote. That was the lead, licking their chops.

Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more, they're licking their chops.

And you can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plan for $2 gas. And I will save you the suspense. Step one is to drill, and step two is to drill, and then step three is to keep drilling.


KEILAR: It is very much a battle for the message.

President Obama here today claiming credit for domestic oil production being at an eight-year high as the Republicans blame his energy prices for the spike in gas prices.

I spoke with an independent energy analyst today who really questioned the veracity of both those claims saying it will be years better you can really see the effect of the president's energy prices and determine how they affect the gas pries, but also saying that the Bush administration deserves much of that credit for setting in motion the things that caused the increase in domestic oil production, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, did the president announce anything to try to bring down these gasoline prices?

KEILAR: Nothing in the short term. He was clearly here managing expectations. He said there was no silver bullet to solve the problem.

He was pointing to some of the external factors causing the spike in gas prices, Iran, increased demand from China and India. The administration though did today announce some new research dollars for natural gas and biofuels, but the president didn't even mention them in his speech. Instead this was very much a rebuttal, a defense as the high gas prices threaten the economic recovery, and also then his bid for reelection -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In our next, hour, I will be speaking with David Axelrod. We will get his reaction to all of this, the gas price issue and as well as the debate last night and the very tough, angry rhetoric against the president. David Axelrod in our next hour.

Brianna, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now in gas prices.

Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is joining us. Ali, put this into perspective for us. How bad is it right now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's not as bad as we have seen it. Obviously, we have seen gas prices above $4 a gallon nationwide.

The issue here is the spike. Right now, nationwide, we're paying about $3.61 for per gallon for a gallon of unleaded self-serve gasoline. The issue is how much it's gone up. It's gone up 3.5 cents overnight, and we have seen a 10 percent increase over the course of the last -- since the beginning of the year. That's what has got people concerned. What's driving it higher?

We don't see an increase in demand. We're not bumping up against the height of our refining capacity, which has been the problem in past years. And we're actually exporting refined gasoline to other paces, so if it's not a supply issue, what's the problem? Why are we seeing this happen?

Well, we have seen oil prices go up, not as much as gasoline prices. Those oil prices are going up in part because of the concerns in Iran. And that will explain some of the increase, but we will have to dig deeper to find out what the rest of that increase is. You can guess, though, Wolf, a lot of people are pointing to those tried and true speculators as the reason, people who think the price of oil and gasoline will go up. So they're investing in it and that is what causes it to go up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I don't know if you know the answer to this, but in the short term and medium term, how much worse is it likely to get?

VELSHI: If I did know the answer to that, Wolf, as I have told you believe, I would be calling in this report from my yacht.

But hard to tell exactly what will happen Usually you see an increase steadily in spring, as they change over from winter mix gas to summer mix gas and demand increases. Americans drive more in warmer weather than they do in winter. But the bottom line is everything has been upended in the last several years. We're not seeing that increase in demand.

Traditionally you would say from now until spring you would see prices going up, but that would be witchcraft for me to try to figure out what the answer to that is, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to joining you on that yacht one of these days, Ali.

VELSHI: You're always welcome.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Deadly fallout, meanwhile, from the burning of copies of the Koran at an American base in Afghanistan. U.S. officials say two U.S. troops were killed today by a man wearing an Afghan national uniform. The killings came amid continued protests outside Bagram Airfield, where officials say Muslim religious material was destroyed by mistake.

President Obama has now sent a letter to the Afghan President Hamid Karzai apologizing for what he called an inadvertent error.

In Iraq, a series of attacks has killed at least 44 people, injured more than 200. They took place within a two-hour time frame in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities, and included suicide bombings, roadside bombs as well as gunmen. Officials blame militants. They say the militants were trying to undermine confidence in the Iraqi army and the police. There's been a dramatic rise in coordinated attacks since U.S. troops left Iraq at the end of last year.

The uproar over contraception turning into political theater on Capitol Hill, as Democrats hold an unofficial hearing with just one witness.

Also, the interview question that made President Obama bristle, saying, and I'm quoting him now, "I'm not the king."

Plus, some of Sarah Palin's closest advisers have harsh words about a new HBO movie about the former vice presidential nominee.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Republican Party is beginning to resemble a circular firing squad these days. They may manage to lose an election they well could have won against a weakened incumbent in a troubled economy, which is why a lot of Republicans are dissatisfied with the state of the GOP race for the president and with the remaining candidates.

We got you Mitt Romney, who's been running for this thing for six years, has all the money in the world and still can't get the party to line up behind him. Newt Gingrich seems to have done himself in. Ron Paul has rabid supporters, just not enough to make a difference. And, of course, Rick Santorum, the current flavor of the month, who has a history of controversial comments, including about Satan and who lost his own U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania by double digits.

It is no wonder some Republicans are still looking for a savior. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the top choice among Republicans if there winds up being a brokered convention. Christie gets 32 percent support, followed by former Governor Sarah Palin and Jeb Bush at 20 percent, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels at 15 percent.

One of the reasons a lot of people, including me, like Chris Christie is because he's such a straight talker. Most recently, Christie told Warren Buffett, to, quote, "just write a check and shut up." You got to love it.

Christie is a Romney supporter who insists he's not interested in running himself, is too bad. You could put Obama/Christie debates on pay-per-view and retire the national debt. Other Republicans are still might jump into the race include Congressman Paul Ryan, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

So, here's the question: Who can save the Republican Party from itself?

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

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

All right. This is just coming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Attorneys general from seven states have now filed a lawsuit against the government mandate that requires religious employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control. They argued that it violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This as both sides on Capitol Hill go back and forth on the issue. Today was the Democrats' turn, calling on a female witness to testify -- this in response to an all-male panel that testified last week.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is covering all of these developments. She's up on Capitol Hill.

What's the latest, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest, Wolf, is that Congress is not in session this week at all. So, this, quote-unquote, "hearing" was really an unofficial partisan event. Democrats brought this one witness, somebody who promoted their idea that contraception is really about women's health care. One lawmaker said she was, quote, "out of central casting."


BASH (voice-over): At this Democratic event on contraception, a lone female witness, choreographed to contrast this Republican hearing last week, a witness table with all men.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: A hundred percent of those who give birth and plan their families are women. There was not one single woman on that panel. What is wrong with this picture?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: If this were a hearing a prostate cancer and there was a lineup of women and no men, I guarantee you, men would not have stuck around, because they would have said to themselves, come on, give me a break.

BASH: At issue, the Obama administration's controversial requirement that health insurance cover contraceptives, even at religiously affiliated institutions. Democrats say it's critical for women's health. Republicans say it's stomping on religious freedom, not about health care.

It's one reason Chairman Darrell Issa refused Democrats' request to let Sandra Fluke, a 24-year-old Georgetown University law student testify last week.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN: The minority chose the witness we had not found to be appropriate or qualified.

BASH: Democrats stage this unofficial hearing for Fluke to tell stories about friends whose health problems got worse because Catholic institutions denied coverage for the pill.

SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN LAW STUDENT: Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove it as a result.

BASH: So much political theater, the room erupted with applause for Fluke several times.


BASH: Democratic sources say the issue is helping rally critical female swing voters.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: It's been very hard over the years to convince people that the fight here has been about contraception.

BASH: And Democrats spent as much time piling on Darrell Issa as highlighting the contraception issue.

MALONEY: Can you think of any reason why he would be so adamant that your voice should not be heard?

FLUKE: I think unfortunately Chairman Issa's head is somewhere I don't want to go.

BASH: Issa declined to respond. But Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry did.

REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY (R), NEBRASKA: The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act which the original hearing was held upon does not restrict access to any legal drug or procedure in America. It simply addresses the issue of rights of conscience of all Americans' religious liberties.


BASH: Now, that Republican argument that the Obama administration is effectively waging war on religion became such a political problem for the White House that they relented and said that religious institutions don't have to actually pay for it, that insurance companies, well, they try, if you remember, Wolf, have a compromise. But Democrats in the House, especially those who had these hearings today, they think that this issue was a big political plus, especially as they try to bring women in swing areas back into the fold, into the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: I think you're right, Dana. I don't think this issue is going to go away, despite the fact that a lot of people would like to go away. This is going to be out there for some time to come.

Thanks very much.

Rick Santorum is getting shaky reviews for his performance at last night's CNN debate. Did he come across as too much of a Washington insider? We're assessing. That's coming up.

Plus, a police officer caught stealing people's lunches. Wait until you hear his excuse.

And a lot of thing can go wrong on live TV, but what happened to this Tampa reporter is not usually one of them.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, outrage swelling around the world over the bloodbath in Syria. What's the latest?


Well, we begin with gripping amateur video of tanks firing at rebels in Idlib, the rocket narrowly missing the camera. A U.N. report now accuses the highest levels of Syrian government of severe violence. It considers crime against humanity. Opposition forces say thousands have died in the conflict, more than 70 people were killed today.

As the U.N. calls for immediate political dialogue to end the crisis, international groups plan to meet in Tunisia tomorrow to demand humanitarian access be given to Syrian civilians.

Two military choppers collide in flight, killing seven Marines on board. Investigators are looking into last night's crash near Yuma that involved the Super Cobra attack helicopter and Huey utility chopper. Six of the Marines were from Camp Pendleton. A spokeswoman says they were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is headed to Cuba for surgery. The leader says he likely has a cancerous lesion in the same place he had one removed last year. Chavez told state media if the tumor is malignant, another round of chemo would surely slow him down. The procedure comes just seven months before Venezuela's presidential election.

And the Tampa TV reporter's live on high gas prices becomes action-packed. Take a look here -- two cars slam into each other right behind WFLA's Adrienne Peterson. She didn't miss a beat. The drivers of the car and the cab -- well, despite the looks, authorities say there were only minor injuries.

And a man in blue caught red-handed. A Texas police department set up secret surveillance and found one of their own raiding the fridge. He took people's lunches, drinks, even 60 pounds of deer sausage. Charged with misdemeanor, thief and suspected without pay for a month, the officer told investigators that he was just trying to clean out the fridge because no one else would do it.

Wow, look at those pictures, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you say deer sausage? Is that --

SYLVESTER: Deer sausage, 60 pounds of deer sausage. Yes.

BLITZER: Wow. Do you like deer sausage?

SYLVESTER: I've never had deer sausage. Confession, Wolf, never had deer sausage.

BLITZER: Me either. All right. Thanks very much.

SLYVESTER: Somebody's gong to --

BLITZER: The president of the United States is hitting back at Republicans who want to replace him. President Obama's campaign is using the auto bailout as evidence of why Michigan should support him rather than his rivals.

Sarah Palin's fans usually enjoy seeing her name in lights, but not when it comes to a brand new movie that's just coming about her.

And Syria's government isn't making it easy for reporters covering the war. We're going to show how far journalists go to show the rebellion up close.


BLITZER: Let's talk about CNN's Arizona Republican debate last night.

Joining us in our strategy session, CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist Terry Holt.

Let me play a clip. Mitt Romney going after Rick Santorum and mentioning this. Listen to this, guys.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's not forget that four years ago well after Romney care was put in place, four years ago, he not only endorsed me, Laura Ingraham said this is the guy who is really conservative and we can trust him.


BLITZER: You know, what was impressive, Terry, and you know a lot about this, the opposition research that Mitt Romney had going into this debate. He clearly was well prepared.

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He was. You know, this is deja vu, remember back in Florida, the week before the election, Mitt Romney went on the air, went on the attack against Newt Gingrich at that time.

He had his facts straight. He was sharp. He was incisive. He was on an issue that he knows well, the economy, lower taxes, and so he had probably his best day since he won Florida yesterday I think, Wolf.

BLITZER: How did he do, Paul, from your perspective? We're talking about Mitt Romney.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He did very well. Terry is right. He had a game plan and then he executed successfully. You know, so fine for like (INAUDIBLE) like me to advise these guys behind the scenes.

But they have to go out and execute, and Romney executed flawlessly. Think about this he went after Rick Santorum for, for example, voting for Title X contraception assistance when Romney attended a Planned Parenthood rally.

He attacked Santorum for earmarks even though himself have gotten an earmark for the Olympics that he led in Salt Lake City. He continually stayed on the offense instead of defending himself. That's the sign of a good debate.

BLITZER: You know, Terry, another problem I felt that Rick Santorum had is he spoke like a real Washington insider. Let me give you a few examples.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I did say there were good earmarks and bad earmarks. We wouldn't have the V-22 Osprey. I support -- I support the (INAUDIBLE). I voted for (INAUDIBLE) so we could do just that.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck it down. I voted for large appropriation bills and there were things in there I didn't like, things in there I did. I've never supported it and on an individual basis voted against it. That's why I proposed Title 20 to counterbalance it.


BLITZER: The one thing I didn't hear him say really, Terry, was that he was in favor of (INAUDIBLE), but only in out years. I mean, we're talking real Washington speak here.

HOLT: You know, over the last couple of months, I had almost forgotten Rick Santorum was a United States senator, but last night I was reminded of that very clearly. This is the obvious pitfall of a senator running for the presidency. His record is there for everyone to see, to pick apart. It's just hard to square clear political rhetoric on the campaign trail with the muddier, more complex world of being a United States senator.

BLITZER: Even me -- I don't know about, Paul, but I've been a Washington insider, I guess, for a long, long time. I got lost in some of the Title X, Title 20, all that kind of stuff.

BEGALA: Yes, and I thought -- this is two out of two where Terry is right. He's exactly right. In our history, David Gergen actually made this point last night after the debate and it's a powerful point.

In our history, we've had 44 presidents. Only three have come directly out of United States Senate. As a rule, we don't make senators president. Yes, Barack Obama is the president today and John F. Kennedy.

HOLT: But he wasn't a senator for very long. That's part --

BEGALA: For about 5 minutes, that's right. Had he stayed, he would have diminished his chances to become president. We tend to makes governors, vice presidents and civil war generals so far only from the union side as presidents.

That's not -- Santorum you saw him. He felt that he's a terribly smart guy, Rick Santorum. He knows what he's talking about. I think he knows Romney care better than Romney does, but last night he got caught in the weeds of nomenclature of Washington and that is a disaster for him.

HOLT: That's true. If it had been about Obamacare and if that was the topic last night then this may have turned out very differently, but the fact of the matter is, because Romney ruled the day with his tax plan that day. Obama was talking about taxes on the same day. The issues just pivoted to the wrong thing for Santorum at the wrong moment.

BLITZER: So Terry, quickly give me one piece of advice for Santorum. What does he need to do now?

HOLT: Boy, God, if I was doing that, I would already be president myself. I think he's in a tough spot, as long as the campaign was about social issues, and about his outsider status, he had an advantage.

I think Michigan becomes very tough now and Super Tuesday isn't so super for him. You've got Massachusetts, Ohio and other places where he's going to have to compete against a stronger Romney operation.

BLITZER: Paul, listen to this ad, this is an ad that the Obama, the re-election campaign is now airing in Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When a million jobs were on the line, every republican candidate turned their back even said let Detroit go bankrupt. Not him.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Don't bet against the American auto industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A retooled, restructured industry is back because of the grip and sacrifice of Michigan workers.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Don't bet against the American worker. I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message.


BLITZER: Isn't that a little early, though, Paul, for him to be running ads in Michigan? The election isn't until November.

BEGALA: Well, yes, but there was a poll out in "The Des Moines Register" last Sunday that showed President Obama trailing all of the Republicans. In fact, Ron Paul mentioned that in the debate last night.

Even Ron Paul is beating President Obama in Iowa. Why? Because the Republicans were able to attack him unanswered. I think the president, his allies, the "PAC" I advice "Priorities USA Action" we've got an ad up there as well, I don't think the president can afford to let the attacks go unanswered. That bailout is a great American success story, right. It was opposed by the Republicans. It was courageous, and guess what? It worked.

HOLT: It was about his only accomplishment, Wolf, he has to defend that accomplishment, even if it's not in a particularly timely moment in the campaign cycle.

BEGALA: Well, but here's the deal. Mitt Romney is running saying he was a businessman. This was a business decision.

HOLT: No, it wasn't. It was a government decision to get involved in a private sector operation, but we can debate that all day.

BLITZER: It was also a decision that was launched by the Bush administration, continued by the Obama administration.

HOLT: Good point.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: So let's make sure we have the history straight there. Guys, thanks very much.

Immigration reform has languished during the Obama administration, but the president says don't blame him, he's no king.

Sarah Palin has emerged as the queen of political media, at least among some. A new movie though takes a peek at her swift rise.


BLITZER: It wasn't all that long ago that most of us had not even heard of Sarah Palin. A new movie though looks at her shocking selection as the Republican vice presidential candidate back in 2008.

Perhaps it's no surprise that Sarah Palin and her inner circle aren't very happy with the new film. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with more. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Palin's loyalists are furious over this film or at least the version they've seen of it, pushing back hard on its depictions of her intelligence and her emotional state during that campaign.


TODD (voice-over): She sometimes comes across as uninformed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, do you know why we're in Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And easily rattled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell me what to say, what to wear, how to talk. I am not your puppet.

TODD: Sarah Palin, warts and all. That's the inside look at the McCain-Palin campaign, the new HBO movie "Game Change" purports to officer. But some current and former Palin aides say based on the trailer they've seen, it's more warts and it's not accurate.

JASON RECHER, PALIN AIDE: It's just factually false. It shows somebody who's depressed, negative, upset, angry, a campaign in complete chaos. That's not what happened. I was there.

TODD: Jason Recher now consults for Sarah Palin's political action committee. He was Palin's trip director after she was nominated in 2008, says he was with her at every step. He calls that campaign one of the most uplifting experiences of his life. As for scenes like this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I certainly don't choose how to get you from the get-go.

RECHER: I never recall seeing Governor Palin rattled during the 2008 campaign or since. She's somebody who has a firm command, firm presence, firm commands of the campaign and it's just against it's a false narrative.

TODD (on camera): HBO, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner. Contacted by CNN, the screenwriter, Danny Strong said he couldn't go on camera with us, but he strongly defended his script and the legwork that he and his team had done to get the movie made.

(voice-over): Strong says the film is based on interviews he did with 25 people involved in the campaign including Jason Recher. In an e-mail to CNN, Strong said we stand by the film as being an accurate and fair portrayal of the events of the campaign. Strong told me this is a multilayered film with several positive depictions of Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you think I can help this country, then absolutely I'll do this with you.

TODD: I asked political analyst, Susan Page, for her take on the 2008 Republican ticket.

(on camera): There was some real fracturing in that campaign, right?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA Today": Well, one of the things I remember most about 2008 was the friction between the McCain people and the Sarah Palin people over almost every aspect of the campaign, over her role, over her debate. That friction is not made up in this movie. That's not fiction. That was nonfiction at the time of the campaign.


TODD: Jason Recher says find me any campaign where there's not friction. He says every campaign has tension between the candidates, headquarters, the traveling staff.

What does Sarah Palin herself say? Last week on Fox she had, quote, "I'm really not too concerned about an HBO movie based on a false narrative when there are so many other things that we need to talk about -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Some of Palin's loyalists, Brian, also had problems with the involvement of one particular McCain aide in this movie. Isn't that right?

TODD: That's right. They blame Steve Schmidt, a top McCain campaign adviser for spreading what they say are falsehoods, which became the basis for the book and the movie.

Schmidt was a source for campaign stories following McCain's loss in 2008, and he's a big part of this film. He's portrayed by Woody Harrelson.

Schmidt told CNN the movie is accurate and truthfully captures the experience of the campaign, and Danny Strong told me Schmidt had no involvement in the film other than being one of the 25 people that he interviewed for it.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting for us about this new movie, this HBO film, "Game Change" about to come out.

Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news on the CNN Political Ticker. President Obama pushed back against the suggestion that he has failed Latinos on immigration reform.

The president seemed to bristle when a radio host asked him if he had broken his campaign promise to Latinos. He tried to shift his focus to where the Republicans stand on the issue.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would only have broken my promise if I hadn't tried, but ultimately I'm one man. You know, we live in a democracy. We don't live in a monarchy. I'm not the king, I'm the president and so I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.

And the truth of the matter is that, you know, perceptions in the Latino community are going to be shaped by community leaders like you. You and I have talked about this extensively. You know the fact that I'm fully committed to this issue.

I speak about it in the "State of the Union" address, I speak about it every opportunity that I get. So, you know, the question is, when am I going to get some help from Republicans to actually get it done?

And that's going to depend on the community making sure that it is focused on those who are preventing comprehensive immigration from occurring and you know, since I am 100 percent behind comprehensive reform, obviously I'm not the road block to making this happen.


BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has some work to do winning over the Seinfeld vote. He made a reference to the character George Castanza at the beginning of Wednesday's debate. Listen.


ROMNEY: I want to restore America's promise, and I'm going to do that -- as George Castanza would say, when they're applauding, stop.


BLITZER: Seinfeld fanatics immediately noted that Romney got it slightly wrong. Jerry Seinfeld delivered the line saying, showmanship, George, when you hit that high note, you say good night and walk off.

Jason Alexander who played George in the show got a dig at Romney on Twitter writing this. He said, "Thrilled Governor Romney enjoys my old character. I enjoyed the character he used to be, too. If he embraced that again, he would be a great candidate."

For a complete political coverage all the time, be sure to read the ticker on

You've seen CNN's reporting from inside Syria documenting the desperate rebellion, but you haven't witnessed the length our reporters go through every day to try to cover the story. That's coming up.

And Marco Rubio has faced questions about his biography before, but what we learned today, I must say was a bit of a surprise.


BLITZER: More violence in war-torn Syria. Watch this. An opposition group reports at least 72 people have died today in various cities across the country.

For journalists in Syria sometimes the hardest part is getting to the story. They travel with heavy equipment over rocky terrain. And if no mules are available, they walk and walk and walk, obvious for hours on end.

CNN's Ivan Watson shows us the side of reporting you don't normally see.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In this province, a rural revolt. You have some villages and hamlets that have joined with the opposition, with the rebels, and some that clearly have not.

As we race through the countryside, trying to keep a low profile, our guides are avoiding those communities that seem to be more aligned with the regime. And this -- this travel between communities is one of the most dangerous parts of getting around.

In fact, some of the residents of towns that we've been in say they don't leave their village at all anymore, because if you go out, you don't know who you'll meet on the open road, and you may never come back.

Looks like we're going to a hike, we have one kilometer high, with four people. So it's going to be tough. It's going to be a tough one, since we don't have the mules this time, but not like when we entered. So we'll see what will happen.

So the trip we are taking, these are the same routes that the opposition here is using. Hang on for a second. We have to walk on foot. You can see our guys over there kind of going across. These types of routes are the ones the opposition is using.

If they want to bring in anything, medicine, ammunition, guns, they have to bring it in this way. They come in by a trickle. When we came in, we saw a few horses being loaded with a couple hunting shotguns and a couple boxes of ammunition.

That's what these people are using to protect their community. These are the ways they're getting in the most basic supplies.

I've done some tough assignments. This is the most difficult one, I would say, for many reasons. I don't know. It's been not just scary, but emotional. Some of the people we left behind, I hate to think what might happen to them. We're out, but I just hope they stay safe.


BLITZER: Very dramatic work. Three western journalists are desperately pleading for help in Syria right now. They were injured in that very same attack that killed the war correspondent Marie Colvin and a French photographer Remi Ochlik. Next hour, how they survived the shelling and how they might escape.

Jack Cafferty asked who can save the Republican Party from itself? Mitt Romney isn't the only prominent Republican facing questions about the Mormon religion right now. We're going to talk about that, and a lot more, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is who can save the Republican Party from itself. Bill writes, "The only person who can save the Republican Party from itself is Barack Obama.

A Democratic Party perfect storm with Barack Obama as captain of the ship is the only thing that could allow the Republicans a chance at the throne.

The $6 gasoline greater than 10 percent unemployment, a new war with Iran and terrorist attack on American soil is about the only set of conditions good enough to make the Republicans look plausible."

Mark in Houston, "Jack, a political party that professes destruction of the environment, calls science a hoax, relegates women to second-class status and wants their religious beliefs to become our laws doesn't deserve saving."

Sharon in Colorado writes, "The GOP is like an old, stained raggedy t-shirt not even good enough to wear for yard work anymore. Well past its time. A relic, it won't make it through another watch cycle. It's time for the rubbish bin. The GOP has become their own death panel and the decision appears to be suicide." That's tough.

Ken in Connecticut, "The Democrats can vote Obama in for another four years then everyone look at the results. The Republicans will win in a landslide in 2016."

Carolyn in Massachusetts, "Jon Huntsman could have. He's articulate, reasonable, accomplished, worldly, smart -- never mind."

Althea in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, "Chris Christie could do it for sure, at least he'll tell you exactly what he thinks, you may not like what he says or his policy, but at least he speaks the truth. How refreshing."

Debra in Colorado, "My favorite was always Chris Christie, but ultimately my favorite will be whoever is running against Obama since he is by far my least favorite."

And Riley writes, "Nobody I can think of. The Republican Party doesn't even want to vote for the remaining four candidates that's why the president is singing and laughing."

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

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.