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THE SITUATION ROOM
Options for Iran; Mormon Church's Baptism of Daniel Pearl; A Military Strike on Iran's Nukes?; Advertisers Fleeing From Limbaugh; Devastating Storm Up Close; Syria Expands Violent Crackdown; Putin Claims Victory In Russian Vote; Prince Harry Rescued By The Media
Aired March 5, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a controversy out of control for Rush Limbaugh, losing more and more advertisers amid the uproar he sparked by calling a contraception advocate -- quote -- "a slut."
Also, new polls just into CNN on this Super Tuesday eve offering clues and some surprises ahead of tomorrow's biggest battle yet for the Republican presidential hopefuls.
Plus, a sense of urgency as President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the White House to discuss a possible Iranian nuclear weapon.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's made a fortune stoking conservative passions while poking and prodding liberals and Rush Limbaugh has seen his share of controversy in his decades on talk radio. This time, apparently, though, it's different. The outrage he sparked when he called a conception advocate a slut and a prostitute has snowballed. One after the other, major advertisers are now pulling their ads from his radio show and there's no sign that the uproar is dying down.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us.
Lisa, what's the latest on Rush Limbaugh and all of his advertisers?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, we're up to at least eight advertisers walking away from "The Rush Limbaugh Show."
And Limbaugh today on his radio show apologized again for his choice of words, but does he seem concerned about losing those advertisers? The answer is no.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.
SYLVESTER: The reaction was swift and fierce. Advertisers are pulling spots from "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW," including Quicken Loans, ProFlowers, and the latest, AOL, which says -- quote -- "We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh's comments are not in line with our values," part of the backlash Limbaugh now faces after Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke with these fighting words on his February 29 program.
LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
SYLVESTER: Fluke had appeared at a Democratic congressional hearing arguing in favor of broad health care coverage for birth control, but Limbaugh didn't back down and, instead, ratcheted up his attack.
LIMBAUGH: Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we're going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the video online so we can all watch.
SYLVESTER: Saturday, Limbaugh issued a written apology saying -- quote -- "My choice of words was not the best. In an attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize for Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
And he followed up today on his radio show.
LIMBAUGH: The apology was heartfelt. The apology was sincere.
SYLVESTER: But that has hardly put the issue to rest. Women's groups like the National Organization for Women are demanding Clear Channel, which syndicates his radio show, pull him the air altogether.
Terry O'Neill says this is more than an insult against one woman. She sees it as a broader pattern of conservatives attacking women.
TERRY O'NEILL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Rush's comments are part of a coordinated attack on women's access to birth control. That honestly has wakened a sleeping giant.
SYLVESTER: Limbaugh is taking full aim at liberal groups and accusing them of orchestrating a campaign to silence him. He said there are plenty of commentators on the left who have said inflammatory statements against Sarah Palin and other conservatives without being condemned. And to the advertisers, this message.
LIMBAUGH: Those advertisers who no longer want your business, fine. We will replace them. It's simple, really. Advertising is a business decision. It's not a social one. Only the leftists try to use extortion, pressure, threats, to silence opposing voices. We don't do that.
SYLVESTER: Fluke appeared on the show "The View" not swayed by Limbaugh's apologies. SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I don't think that a statement like this issued saying that his choice of words was not the best changes anything.
SYLVESTER: Right now, though, Rush Limbaugh still has the backing of Clear Channel. And there is reportedly a backlog of advertisers wanting to advertise on his show, Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see how that washes out and continue to follow this for us. Lisa, thanks very much.
Let's get some more now on the political ramifications of this Rush Limbaugh controversy.
Joining us is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
This is the last thing the Republicans needed right now because they're having trouble getting women's' support.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, there's a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll that came out today. Take a look at these numbers.
The question was about women's attitudes towards the Republican Party and if you see, 30 favorable, 44 percent unfavorable. That's not a gender gap right now. That's a gender gulch. This isn't just because of Rush Limbaugh. If you look back about what's going on in politics lately, I think it's a combination of things. You have had Rick Santorum out there on the cultural and social issues.
You have had this issue of contraception which the Republicans wanted to make into an issue of personal liberty and the role of government. And it's been turned on its head now. And that is becoming a problem for Republicans, who are doing very poorly, Wolf, with suburban women.
They were up for grabs and right now they're looking at the Republican Party and saying I don't think so.
BLITZER: They're going to have a major effort...
BORGER: Absolutely, to change.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Super Tuesday tomorrow, 10 contests.
We have a brand new CNN/ORC poll in two of the most critical states. Georgia, the largest delegate count tomorrow. Look at this. Likely Republican voters tomorrow in Georgia, Newt Gingrich, who is from Georgia, 47 percent, way ahead of Mitt Romney, 24 percent, Santorum 15 percent and 9 percent for Ron Paul in Georgia.
But look at Ohio right now. Look at how close it is in Ohio in this brand new CNN/ORC poll. Romney and Santorum both at 32 percent, Gingrich at only 14 percent and Ron Paul 11 percent. It's a dead heat, Gloria, in Ohio.
BORGER: Right. It's a dead heat. Very tight.
Just a week ago Santorum was ahead and now Mitt Romney seems to have the momentum, and let's take a look at why. First of all, there's the issue of momentum. Mitt Romney has had five wins in a row. After a while, the electability argument begins to really make itself and the inevitability argument comes into play.
Secondly, Catholics, of all things, Mitt Romney is up with Catholics by six points. If you look back at the Rick Santorum campaign, remember when he said the JFK speech on the separation between church and state made him want to throw up? He's since said that was not a good choice of words, but, again, it's hurt Santorum with Catholic voters.
And women, again, we just talked about how Republicans are having real problems with women. But among Republicans, Mitt Romney consistently does well with female voters. This will all help him in the state of Ohio.
BLITZER: What does Santorum need to do to pull it off?
BORGER: Well, Santorum can win in a whole bunch of ways. This is a very tight race and it's close.
Here's where Santorum has the advantage, digging deeper into our poll. Tea Party voters, up 10 points. This is a group Romney has consistently had trouble with. Evangelical voters, again, they like Rick Santorum. Mitt Romney is a Mormon, always skeptical about Mitt Romney.
And conservative voters, up eight points with conservatives. Very skeptical about Mitt Romney, which is why Rick Santorum has been making the case over and over again that Mitt Romney supported health care mandates, and you cannot have a Republican nominee who provided the basis for Barack Obama's health care plan.
BLITZER: It's tied right now between Santorum and Romney in Ohio. They close the polls tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. It could be a long night before they finish counting all the ballots. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Right now, both Romney and Santorum are focusing in on Ohio, the grand prize in tomorrow's Super Tuesday voting.
Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns is following the 11th-hour campaigning for us. He's in Columbus right now.
Joe, what's the latest there? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Rick Santorum just finished up an event here in the Columbus area, and he's headed to Cleveland.
He's really been trying to lower the expectations here in Ohio, even as the polls show him in a dead heat with Mitt Romney.
JOHNS (voice-over): With his lead in the polls in Ohio now looking more like a thing of the past, Rick Santorum was hammering home a few simple themes in the last day before Super Tuesday.
The first theme was how badly he's been outspent by Romney and his supporters. By Santorum's estimate, the ratio is something like 12-1. When you count the money of both his campaign proper and the money from the pro-Romney super PAC.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I come to the people of Ohio as a candidate who shouldn't be here, shouldn't be here if you looked at any political expert and you looked at the money that's been spent, at the airtime that's been given. But we're here for a reason, because -- on experience, on principle, on values, on energy, and enthusiasm and grit.
JOHNS: In a conference call, Santorum couldn't have been clearer on how he's framing the race.
SANTORUM: To suggest this is David and Goliath is probably a little bit of an understatement.
JOHNS: Still, Santorum was getting help from his friends here. Robo-calls from conservatives were blanketing the state, attacking Romney for his stance on gay issues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you vote tomorrow, please vote for social sanity and Rick Santorum, not for homosexuality and Mitt Romney.
JOHNS: One of the main things the Santorum campaign is hoping could still bring Romney down to size is an attack on his health care plan in Massachusetts. Polls show most registered voters in swing states don't like the president's health care plan and think the individual mandate in the plan is unconstitutional.
So Santorum has been pointing out the similarities between the president's plan and Romney's plan in Massachusetts.
SANTORUM: So not only did Governor Romney institute the first government-run health care system in this country with Romneycare. He instituted it at a state level. But he recommended to President Obama that he adopt Romneycare as the template for Obamacare. And guess what? They did.
JOHNS: Romney, by the way, was pushing back and repeating his promise to repeal Obama health care. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our plan dealt with the 8 percent of the people in my state that didn't have insurance. Obamacare deals with 100 percent of the people. It takes over health care for everyone. It's not just about the uninsured. It's about all of health care. It doesn't make health care better. It makes health care worse.
JOHNS: Regardless of the outcome here in Ohio, Rick Santorum appears to have a very full schedule booked all the way through at least the end of the week, expected to go to Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, and Mississippi, Wolf.
BLITZER: A week from tomorrow, Alabama and Mississippi, their contests coming up.
Joe, thanks very, very much.
An American-Jewish reporter murdered by terrorists and now we're learning baptized after his death by Mormons, baptized by the Mormons. The widow of Daniel Pearl is speaking out to CNN about the controversy.
And is Israel close to launching a strike against Iran's nuclear program? Details, plus expert analysis, my personal take as well on President Obama's meeting with the Israeli prime minister.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some good news, Wolf.
Four in 10 Americans say the U.S. economy is growing. That's up from 27 percent last April and only 3 percent in 2008. The flip side of this new "USA Today"/Gallup poll is 46 percent say the economy is in a recession or a depression.
But they survey definitely suggests that there is growing optimism about the state of the economy. It's reflected among both men and women, among all age groups, religions, regions of the country and political parties.
But politics plays a role here. Democrats, nonwhites and shelf- described liberals are the most likely to say the economy is growing while Republicans and conservatives are the least likely to see the glass as half full.
What might be a sign of concern for President Obama is about half of the independents say that we're in a recession or a depression. There are several factors causing concern for lots of Americans when it comes to their personal economy.
Housing market -- that's the biggest asset for most of us. It's still in trouble. Home prices recently fell to their lowest point in more than a decade.
And then surging gasoline prices which affect almost everyone in one way or another. AAA says gas prices hit a national average $3.77 a gallon, and have risen for 27 straight days. In several states, gas is already or near 4 bucks a gallon and we're hearing $5 talked about.
Some economists worry that gas prices could be the tipping point that eventually brings on a new economic downturn but not today.
Here's the question: is your personal economy improving?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
How's your economy, Wolf?
BLITZER: You know, like everybody else. You know, we're watching it very close. We have to. Mine is probably a lot better than most of the viewers. I have to admit.
Jack, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's political rise has meant much closer scrutiny of his church. Now, the Mormon is at the center of a shocking new controversy that comes 10 years after the controversy of the American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. At issue, Mormons in a secret baptism.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He's got details of the latest -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Mormon Church has apologized recently for doing this kind of thing. Mormon officials say they're getting to the bottom of it. But Daniel Pearl's family, after going through such intense pain after his death, is angry that he's now part of this controversy.
TODD (voice-over): Reading a statement confirming he was Jewish. A decade later, murdered reporter Daniel Pearl is caught up in the religious and political brushfire surrounding posthumous baptisms by Mormons. It's been discovered that Pearl was baptized in June of last year.
MARIANE PEARL, DANIEL PEARL'S WIDOW: I'm shocked by the fact that, you know, anybody would do something like this, really.
TODD: I spoke with Pearl's widow, Mariane, via Skype, from her home in Spain.
PEARL: If you had honest intention, the very least you would do is contact his family and explain what is going on and why you would want to do that and seek their approval. I think that would be, you know, the normal course of things. So, the fact that the church didn't find it necessary to do these kinds of things and to be respectful, really, to the -- to his parents, I think, is a problem.
TODD: Researcher Helen Radky, a former Mormon, who discovered Pearl's baptism and others calls this one of the most appalling cases she's come across.
HELEN RADKY, RESEARCHER: I'm incensed about is the fact that this was done secretly and it was done behind the backs of Danielle's widow and his parents.
TODD: Contacted by CNN, Daniel Pearl's parents issued a statement, saying they appreciate the good intentions, but "Danny did not choose to be baptized nor did his family consent to the uncalled for ritual."
This comes after recent discoveries that Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including Anne Frank and a parent of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, were given Mormon baptisms by proxy.
(on camera): Mormon officials say these baptisms are against their policy, that it's distressing when someone willfully violates those rules. They say Mormons are only supposed to request posthumous baptisms for their own ancestors and they are committed to making sure the practice stops.
(voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) say Mormons who do this don't mean to offend anyone, but do it because they believe people have to be baptized as Mormons to get into heaven.
As we ended our interview, a captivating image, Mariane and Daniel Pearl's 9 1/2 year old son, Adam, who never saw his father, sat down with his mother.
(on camera): What do you say to Adam about the whole concept of the tolerance that religions have for each other?
PEARL: I'm a Buddhist and I have very strong feelings that, you know, the world would be a much better place if people could choose their religion.
TODD: Mariane Pearl says she has a lot of faith and trust in her son and wants him to make his own choice of his religion when the time is right -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, do Mormon officials know who actually baptized Daniel Pearl posthumously? Will they punish that person?
TODD: We pressed them on that. The officials we spoke to say they don't know who did it. On punishment, they say when they find out who does these baptisms, they deny their access to the genealogy databases which are the basis for these ceremonies.
Helen Radky and other says they don't do enough to punish these people. But over the weekend, a letter was read to Mormon congregations worldwide, basically telling people to stop this. And saying that the corrective action will be taken if they don't stop it, including denying them access to family and church privileges.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks as usual.
The Iran nuclear issue taking center stage as President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over at the White House. Last time the two met, there were some tense words in front of the television cameras. Did it happen again today?
And I'll talk to two of the world's leading experts on the region about whether or not strikes on Iran are imminent.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Iran's nuclear program is at the top of the agenda over at the White House today. A meeting between the president of the United States and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The leaders affirmed their common goal of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but Netanyahu emphasized Israel is in control of its own security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue. But ultimately, the Iranians regime has to make a decision to move in that direction -- a decision that they have not made thus far. And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions.
I reserve all options and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think that above and beyond that, are two principles -- long-standing principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech, that Israeli must have the ability, always, to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. And that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has a right -- the sovereign right to make its own decisions.
I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself. And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny.
And that's why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel, is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's dig deeper with two men who have written extensively about this. Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for "The Atlantic" magazine. Ronen Bergman is senior military and political analyst for the Israeli newspaper, "Yedioth Ahronoth," also the contributor to "The New York Times Sunday Magazine."
Ronen, first to you, if the Israelis are all that serious about potentially striking Iran's nuclear facilities in the coming months, why are they talking about this public so much right now? You'd think they'd want to keep things quiet and just do it.
RONEN BERGMAN, SR. MILITARY & POLITICAL ANALYST, YEDIOTH AHRONOTH: Yes. Well, in Israel, Wolf, usually, you need to differentiate and decide between a conspiracy and just regular sloppiness. You go for the second one.
Israelis talk - they usually talk too much, and sometimes, they're not very obedient and disciplined. So Israelis talk.
But there's also another point. I think that Israel is trying to create a sort of an alibi to say we have said, we have declared publicly that if the world is not going to take a more stand vis-a-vis Iran, if the world is not going to impose stronger sanctions, if the world is not able to stop the Iranian nuclear project, that we -- as we just heard Prime Minister Netanyahu, we are going to decide on our own destiny and we are going to strike.
Israel, by saying this, by outing this, Israel is trying to create a sort of legitimacy or at least, as pointed out by minister of defense, Barak, understanding to a strike when it happens.
BLITZER: My own sense -- and Jeffrey let me bring you into this conversation -- is based on past experience. In 2007, when the Israelis bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor, no one talked about it and no one knew the Syrians had a nuclear reactor. Same thing in 1981 when they bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, they just did it.
My own sense right now is the Israelis are trying to put pressure on the U.S. to get this military option under way as opposed to the Israelis themselves.
But you met with the president. What's yours?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I mean, that explanation is highly plausible. And let's not forget that this is not the equivalent of the Iraq operation or the Syria operation. This is a very, very complicated mission.
And not only that, it's a mission against a country that's also America's premiere adversary in the Middle East. And so, the Israelis understand full well that they could be drawing some fire on to America as well as themselves if they try to preempt Iran's nuclear program.
So, I think those are a couple of explanations about why this is being talked about so much. But I think your analysis is correct.
What Netanyahu did today and what he's trying to do, is understand exactly how far Obama will go, because obviously, his own military experts are telling him that as good as the Israeli air force is, it's not as big or as good or as far-reaching as the American Air Force.
And so, obviously, if you're an adversary of Iran, you're going to want the most potent air force in the world to do this job. So, that's part of the conversation as well.
BLITZER: Because the Israelis certainly don't have the bunker- busting equipment bombs that the U.S. has.
Ronen, if you take a look at the situation and you've been writing a lot about this very lately -- my own sense is that the Israelis, if they are going to do something, they would probably want to do it this years, as opposed to next year, assuming that President Obama is re-elected.
They think he would be much more assertive, much more supportive of them this year, election year, as opposed to next year. But is that a factor do you think in the Israeli deliberation?
BERGMAN: It is. You know, some Israelis say that President Obama might like to fulfill his own promise and that he's determined to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state and after winning the election, might do it himself.
But the time frame, the time scale of the Iranian nuclear project does not allow Israel to have this sort of time because Iran is going to enter the so-called "zone of immunity" during 2012.
Therefore, I would say what Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted from the president and as far as I know he did not get, are assurances that if the U.S. and Israeli intelligence learn during 2012 or afterwards, the supreme leader of Iran, have ordered the beginning of production of real warhead.
Then the U.S. would go to a military strike and the president, President Obama, did not give such assurances. Therefore, from the Israeli perspective, the pressure on the U.S. has not yielded the sufficient result and Israel remains with the decision by itself, whether to strike or not.
BLITZER: Because as you noted in your interview, Jeffrey, last week in the "Atlantic" when you sat down with the president and discussed this, there seems to be a difference as far as the so-called "red line" is concerned.
President Obama says there's no containment as far as Iran having a nuclear bomb. Iran will not have a nuclear bomb, but the Israelis say their red line is the capability of Iran to build a nuclear bomb, not wait until they actually have one.
That's a significant nuance and a significant difference between the U.S. and the Israelis.
GOLDBERG: Right. The most important red line in effect is a functional red line, which is to say, the Israeli red line is when we no longer can actually take out this Iranian nuclear program militarily.
And for the Israelis, that comes a lot sooner than it does for the Americans because of the American capability, because the American military capability. So -- this is the nub of the entire controversy and the nub of the entire problem that they were discussing today in the White House.
That the core of this is -- Barack Obama can be more relaxed about this? Even if he thinks that he's going to stop the Iranian program he doesn't have to think about it today. Because he has the capabilities that Netanyahu doesn't have.
So what Netanyahu was trying to figure out if he doesn't do this, will Obama ultimately do it? That's the core of the conversation they had in the White House today.
BLITZER: And you've written about this, the disagreements within Israel, within the intelligence community, the military establishment of Israel.
Yes, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, they seem to be on the same page, but military and intelligence leaders, they disagree on the inevitability or the need right now for this. Talk a little bit about the differences within Israel.
BERGMAN: Well, there are some leaders or former leaders of the intelligence and the security establishments who maintain, like the former director of the Musad that it is not the last minute.
That the Iranian crucial moment of production of bomb is not eminent and there is still time. The sword is not on our neck. The mayor has told me and others in the military who maintain that Israel cannot protect its own civilians from the inevitable day-after effect.
The reign of rockets that are going to be fired at Israel from Iran, from Hezbollah in the north and Lebanon, and from Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But at the end of the day, the minister of defense, Barack, when I asked him about that, he says, I'm in favor of a debate.
I can hear everybody, but at the end of the day, when the leaders of the military look up. They see myself and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. When we look up we see only nothing, but the sky. The faith of the Jewish people and the Jewish state is on our shoulders and we must take a decision during 2012.
BLITZER: Ronen Bergman and Jeffrey Goldberg, guys, thanks very much for coming in. The story is not going away. We'll continue to stay on top of it. Paul Begala, by the way, has a very serious political warning about an Israeli strike against Iran. He's standing by to discuss this with Rich Galen in our "Strategy Session." Much more on this subject coming up.
We'll also talk about the Rush Limbaugh controversy and it's potential impact on the entire Republican Party.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Rush Limbaugh, his comments, his apology and the impact on the Republican Party in our "Strategy Session." Joining us right now, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Paul Begala and Republican strategist, Rich Galen.
Rich, how much of a problem is this for Republicans right now?
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, right now, it's a problem because everybody is being asked to talk about it, but the election isn't until November. By that time, this will be -- won't be talking about.
BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Paul?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You know, the problem that they have is that Rush Limbaugh, I said this two years ago, Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party. He is their intellectual leader.
He's not just an entertainer. He's not just a carnival barker. He's the leader of the Republican Party. He's their intellectual leader. Once it was William F. Buckley, a brilliant man. Now, it's Rush Limbaugh and they're going to have to deal with it. He's the face and the voice of the Republican Party.
BLITZER: And what about that, Rich?
GALEN: I'm sorry, I have a big problem. I couldn't hear.
BLITZER: Is Rush Limbaugh, as Paul says, the leader of the Republican Party?
GALEN: I'm sorry, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is Rush Limbaugh the leader of the Republican Party as Paul says?
GALEN: No, of course not. He's a radio commentator and he has millions of listeners. The notion of anybody changing their vote, and he doesn't do this that I believe.
I don't think that he actually says -- vote for so and so -- and then people who are going to vote for so and so say they will. That's not what he does. He does things that generate these kinds of activities that generate these kinds of controversies that generate new listeners and he's wonderful at it, but he certainly isn't the leader of the Republican Party.
BLITZER: You know, a lot of people are tweeting me and sending me e- mails, Paul, saying, you know, Bill Maher, who just gave $1 million to the pro-Obama "Super PAC" and you're involved in that.
He used a very vile word in describing Sarah Palin, not that long ago, what's called the "c" word, if you will. But, no one is suggesting at least among the Democrats right now that that money should be returned from the "Super PAC." Are you guys considering that at all?
BEGALA: No, certainly not. Here's why. I love Bill Maher and I'm a big fan, but that word is offensive. It's inappropriate in any setting. But it's instructive that that didn't blow up in Bill's face and this did blow up in Rush's.
The big difference is this. A three-second joke about a very, very powerful figure, Sarah Palin, one of the most powerful people in America versus a three-day rant against a very vulnerable young woman, a law student.
I mean, that Bill is poking fun with offensive language, but poking fun at powerful people. That's what he does. Rush is a bully. He's attacking, bitterly, an innocent woman who's not a powerful person and has no real capacity to respond.
Rush is a bully and Bill is a comedian. That's why this thing didn't blow up in Bill's face and it has blown up in Rush's face.
GALEN: I think what they both do there, Paul, is they both used words to push the envelope as far as they possibly can. I've done Bill Haher's show, it was a great experience, but boy, it's not something you want to go home and tell your mom.
You were just involved with or listened to or watch. That's what they do. They use words as weapons and they both use them to their own benefit and they're both very good at it, by the way.
BEGALA: I do have to say, my mom, a fateful parishioner at the Catholic Church loves Bill Maher. They don't agree on everything, but she loves Bill and she loves his show.
BLITZER: Let me read to you from your blog today and I want you to elaborate a little bit. We don't have too much time, Paul. You wrote this, support for Israel is one of the last issues on which most Democrats and most Republicans agree.
So an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear installations could quickly involve the United States. Oil prices could sky rocket and terrorism against Americans could spike overseas and even here at home. The political fallout is impossible to predict. What's the point you're trying to make here?
BEGALA: Well, people like me are paid to think about politics. I have every faith that our president and the Israeli prime minister are looking at this strictly from the security issue. That's the most important thing.
But under security, I'm not a general or president or prime minister. The politics of this are very, very difficult. First off, I do think and I point out in my article in "Newsweek," that people will rally around the president at first when the terrorists took over our in embassy in Tehran in 1979.
We rallied around President Carter, pushed him to a 34-point lead over Ronald Reagan, but that rally didn't last, right. As the crisis went on, we abandoned Carter. Reagan won in a landslide.
So I was just trying to examine. People who think that this is in the bag for Barack Obama are nuts. There are a thousand banana peels between here and Election Day, and Iran maybe the most important one.
GALEN: You know, we can't tell what's going to happen from Thursday until next Tuesday, much less eight months down the road.
BLITZER: OK, guys, thanks very much, Paul and Rich as usual, good discussion.
Let's dig a little bit deeper into the tensions with Iran. CNN's Erin Burnett is going "OutFront" on the story later tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. You're looking, Erin, at the messaging. What's this all about?
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": It's been very interesting, you know, Wolf. Obviously today, you know, you were writing about it on your blog. You had the photo op and you know, some maybe icy body language, but certainly, in terms of the words, friendship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.
But it does seem that they're still on not really on the same page when it comes to sanctions. The president thinks there's further to go down the path of sanctions than it seems the Israeli prime minister seem to thinks. It's going to be very interesting what happens on that.
Wolf, one thing I wanted to hone in on this question of sanctions is that in order for them to really work, oil has to be fully included. Right now, oil really isn't fully included. You know, I was looking at the numbers.
Over the past couple of months, China, which as you know is the biggest buyer of Iranian crude oil, had sharply cut back its purchases and I sort of thought, well, maybe that's an indication they're going to get on board with the sanctions, which could indeed be transformative.
But it looks like perhaps what they were doing is dramatically cut back to scare the Iranians and well, lock up Iranian supply for the rest of the year at a cheaper price. But as long as Iran keeps selling their oil on the global market, they're going to keep getting money.
And that's crucial and that's obviously what the president is trying to choke off. The question is, how long will Benjamin Netanyahu wait. I was looking at your blog, Wolf, it seems to be a little bit longer than, perhaps, he had indicated to Leon Panetta a few weeks ago.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, we'll be listening and watching your show later tonight, Erin, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." Thanks for the plug for my blog, too, cnn.com/situation room. Check it out. Read it.
Riveting video of the tornado disaster coming in from a CNN I- reporter. He describes a scene and I'm quoting now, "Like the end of the world."
Plus, Britain's Prince Harry, rescued by the news media in the Caribbean.
BLITZER: On top of everything else, snow is complicating the clean up and recovery efforts in Kentucky and Indiana after a series of devastating tornadoes swept across the south and Midwest.
In all, 39 people were killed across five states. These pictures from a CNN I-Reporter in Indiana showed the terrifying power of one of the storms. Here's more now of the dramatic I-report as the storm hit Henryville, Indiana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to get out of the house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy, cow, my friend lives right over there, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In all that storm system brought at least 42 tornadoes to 10 states.
Other news, Syrian troops are expanding their violent crackdown on the opposition. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, according to a human rights group linked to the opposition, at least eight people were killed in cities across the country today including a 14-year-old who was shot by a sniper.
Government security forces are also reportedly stepping up raids and have detained hundreds of civilians in the past 48 hours. The U.N. says as many as 2,000 refugees have crossed into Lebanon since yesterday. Thousands of people are rallying on the streets in Russia after Vladimir Putin appears to have easily won re-election to the presidency. Demonstrations for and against him are taking place today across the country today.
Putin said he, quote, "won in opened and honest fight." But the international observers are blasting the results saying they observed ballot stuffing and other irregularities in about a third of the polling stations they monitor. Putin received more than 63 percent of the vote, easily avoiding a runoff.
And these pictures are proof that things don't always go as planned even for British royalty. A speedboat carrying Britain's Prince Harry broke down in the Bahamas and in another strange twist, he was rescued by, guess who? The media.
A media boat took him on to his destination. The prince is on a tour of the Caribbean to mark the 60th anniversary of his grandmother's succession to the thrown. You could see there, lots of folks with happy to meet Prince Harry.
BLITZER: Thank God for the news media as we like to say.
Jack Cafferty is asking, is your personal economy improving? Your e-mail that's coming up.
Also, a new report from the NFL on professional football players being paid extra money to injure, yes, to try to injure opponents on the field. We have information about a secret NFL memo and that's coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jack's back once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question is, how is your personal economy improving? Gallup did a poll where 40 percent of the folks said things were looking up a little bit.
Joan writes, "When my husband was laid off this February, our personal economy took a large hit. He's had a few interviews, but nobody has picked him up yet. I've read all the news reports about the improvement of our national economy, but that's not what's happening at home right now."
Kim writes, "Yes, my personal economy has improved dramatically. I'm a freelance writer for 10 years and my workload plummeted in 2008-2009. And in 2010, many of my clients and editors who's budgets have downsized starting calling me again. And my income bounced back up. This year, I'm busier than ever."
Joe writes, "No. Every time I think it is, I have to get gas again and if that isn't enough my job is coming to an end in nine weeks." Andrea writes, "If I were receiving so-called free money from the government, I would probably say, the economy is getting better.
But if I'm like the 50 percent who pays taxes the economy stinks. The question should be, are you better off than your were four years ago? And the answer is a big, fat, no."
And Frank in Scottsdale, Arizona writes, "Jack, I'm a small business owner in Scottsdale. In January and February have been the best months for me since 2008 so I do see some economic improvement."
Keith writes, "I'm a Republican and it hurts to say, yes, my economy is getting better, but being in the 1 percent, I win either way. If the economy improves under Obama I win. If Romney wins he'll reward those that put him in the oval office and I win again."
Jeff in Minnesota says, if that means it sucks a little bit less, I suppose it's improving. But I still feel like I'm losing ground."
If you want to read more about this, go to my blog on cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on the SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a very nice Facebook page indeed. Thanks, Jack.
We're learning right now, new details about what actually happened inside the oval office behind the closed doors when President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met earlier today one-on-one. We'll have details standby.
But first, the 900-year-old preserved heart of a Catholic saint is reported stolen. We'll give you those details as well.
BLITZER: Iraqi terrorists use a bold and highly coordinated series of deceptions to kill dozens of police officers. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Well, at least 27 police officers are dead after dozens of gunmen disguised as government security forces and carrying fake arrest warrants entered the city of Hadifa.
The gunmen are said to have arrived in the middle of the night in a caravan of black SUVs. They reportedly used forged arrest warrants to repeatedly deceive local police, at one point, even convincing a group of officers to turn off their cell phones before killing them.
Later during a shootout with local authorities, the gunmen reportedly raised the black flag of the Islamic state of Iraq, a group linked to al Qaeda in Iraq. Authorities say three gunmen were killed, but the rest managed to flee.
In Ireland, police are studying security video footage from a Cathedral in Dublin after the preserved heart of the city's patron saint was stolen.
The 900-year-old heart was kept in a wooden box inside an iron cage. Authorities say the bars of the cage were found wrenched open, but there are no other signs of a break in. So a little bit of a mystery there, Wolf.
BLITZER: A mystery indeed. Lisa, thank you.