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THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Frustrated With Joe Biden?; Mitt Romney a High School Bully?; Obama Slams Romney on Auto Bailout Claims; Polls: Obama, Romney Tied in Ohio, Florida; Twin Blasts Destroy Syrian Intel HQ; Prisoner Swap with The Taliban?; House Passes Bill Undoing Defense Cuts
Aired May 10, 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: frustration inside the White House, as Joe Biden -- the frustration at Joe Biden as the president admits the vice president inadvertently forced him to announce his support for gay marriage sooner than planned.
Also, allegations of high school bullying by Mitt Romney, he's speaking out about it for the first time. We are learning new details.
And frustrated parents of a captive American soldier revealing U.S. negotiations with the Taliban to try to win his freedom.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Anyone cheering President Obama's new stance on same-sex marriage has Vice President Joe Biden to thank. The president himself is now confirming what many had suspected, that the vice president forced the president's hand when Biden announced his support for gay marriage over the weekend. And now we're hearing that's a sore subject, at least among some White House insiders.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working the story for us.
What are you hearing over there, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are times when a president is more forgiving than his aides. And this may be one of those times.
Some of the president's top aides here are deeply annoyed. They acknowledge the president was going to come out and speak out in favor of same-sex marriage before the Democratic Convention, but, boy, are they frustrated that Vice President Biden made it happen sooner than they wanted.
YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama says he was planning to say this some time before the Democratic Convention.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
YELLIN: But Vice President Biden forced up the timing with his unscripted remarks on "Meet the Press," or, as the president put it:
OBAMA: She got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit. Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without, I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure. But all's well that ends well.
YELLIN: Some of the president's aides are not as forgiving. Senior officials say they're frustrated, annoyed the vice president got out ahead of the president's policy and possible plans for a rollout.
But this is hardly the first time Biden's gone off-script. Remember this?
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.
YELLIN: Or when the administration was trying to reassure the public it's safe to fly during swine flu outbreak?
BIDEN: You are in a confined aircraft, when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be at this point if I -- if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway.
YELLIN: Adding to the frustration, some officials here say the vice president had previously counseled the president against speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage because of the potential political risk.
But officials say the president has a close personal relationship with Biden which will trump his advisers' frustrations. And they add the president knows sharing the building with Biden comes with risks and rewards, as the president has acknowledged.
OBAMA: He's warm, he's cuddly, loyal, enthusiastic. You just have to keep him on a tight leash. Every once in a while, he goes charging off in the wrong direction and gets himself into trouble, but enough about Joe Biden.
YELLIN: Wolf, and if you need any indication that Biden is not being kept in the doghouse, so to speak, he is out on a campaign swing to Ohio next week, two days in that crucial battleground state.
And I will tell you that sources tell me that the vice president, of course, does feel regretful that he put the president in a tough position, but, again, all sides saying that this does not end up souring the relationship between the two men. They have a close bond -- Wolf. BLITZER: I know that's absolutely, positively true. They do have a very close relationship. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Mitt Romney isn't saying much about the president's new stance on gay marriage, but he is being forced to explain incident of high school bullying decades ago against a fellow student who turned out to be gay.
Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here.
What are you hearing about all of this? What's going on?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf.
One day after the president's comments in favor of sex -- same- sex marriage, Mr. Obama wasn't doing the most damage control today. Instead, it was Mitt Romney after an account from his high school days in "The Washington Post" forced him to offer an apology of sorts.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Five of Mitt Romney's former high school classmates all told "The Washington Post" the same story. In 1965, at the elite Cranbrook prep school in Michigan, those classmates say Romney and a group of his friends tackled and cut the hair of a fellow student who was rumored to be gay.
The alleged victim of the bullying incident, according to "The Post"'s account, cried and screamed for help. Within minutes of going up on the newspaper's Web site, the story blew up on Twitter. The Democratic Party tweeted a quote from one of the classmates mentioned in the article, who said it was vicious.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I played a lot of pranks in high school. And they describe some that -- well, you just say to yourself that, back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things. And if anybody was hurt by that or offended, well, obviously, I apologize.
ACOSTA: In a radio interview, Romney said he didn't recall the incident, but he did remember the classmate who was allegedly bullied.
ROMNEY: I certainly don't believe that I or -- I can't speak for other people, of course, but thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.
ACOSTA: The story from Romney's past emerged less than a day after the president declared his support for same-sex marriage, when the GOP contender seemed reluctant to pounce on the controversy.
ROMNEY: This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues.
ACOSTA: In a interview with a Denver TV station, Romney got testy with a reporter who had pressed him on same-sex marriage, among other issues. ROMNEY: Aren't there issues of significance that you would like to talk about?
QUESTION: This is a significant issue in Colorado.
ROMNEY: The economy, the growth of jobs?
ACOSTA: That may be because it's not 2004 anymore, when many pundits say John Kerry lost the presidency in the state of Ohio, where a same-sex marriage amendment drew scores of Christian conservatives to the polls, handing George W. Bush a second term.
Ohio put its amendment on the ballot after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, ironically, when Romney was governor. But attitudes have changed. Back then, 55 percent of Americans said same-sex marriage should not be legal. The public is more split today.
While President Obama's comments may cost him support among independents:
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He is going to lose, I think, a few Reagan Democrats in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and North Carolina, working-class white males.
ACOSTA: But consider how quickly House Speaker John Boehner changed the subject back to the economy -- 14 seconds.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And the president and the Democrats can talk about all this all they want, but the fact is the American people are focused on our economy, and they're asking the question, where are the jobs?
ACOSTA: Both campaigns appear ready to move on from the issue of same-sex marriage. The Obama campaign put out a rash of new ads today that focus on the economy. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, is talking up Mrs. Romney, who has got an op-ed out on the virtues of motherhood just in time for Mother's Day, Wolf.
BLITZER: This coming Sunday.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: Everyone is getting ready for Mother's Day.
ACOSTA: Absolutely. Sure.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
BLITZER: Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Joe Klein, the columnist for our sister publication "TIME" magazine.
Gloria, first to you.
Are you surprised that Republicans are not necessarily coming out swinging at the president a day after his dramatic announcement?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No. I'm not really surprised.
I mean, when you look at the number across the country on gay marriage, you see how it's shifted over the last 15 years. You know, 15 years ago, there was about a 27 percent approval rate for gay marriage. So that -- that has really shifted. When you look at independent voters, the majority of independent voters approve of gay marriage. Women approve of gay marriage. A majority of women approve of gay marriage.
So, you know, I think there's a downside to staying on that issue. And I think they're smart to say, you know what? What really matters right now is the economy. They want to get back to the economic message they have, because they think that that's very salable during the campaign.
BLITZER: You're an excellent political observer, Joe. In terms of politics, is the decision by the president a net plus looking ahead to November or a net minus?
JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": Oh, I think it's hard to say, Wolf. I agree with what Gloria just said.
The difference between now and 15, 20 years ago is that a lot of -- an awful lot of homosexuals have been liberated. They live among us. We know them. They're our friends, they're our families. And we know that they are who they are. And it's become very uncomfortable for a lot of people to abide by the old prejudices.
So I think that it's right for the Republicans to move off of this. I think we in the press are making a big deal out of something that will probably have -- say more about the president's place in history than what happens in this coming election.
And, you know, when you look at the Republicans, their one path to victory in this election is the economy. It's not social issues. It's not foreign policy. It's the economy. And that's why they want to get back on it.
BLITZER: You heard Jessica, Gloria, say that some of the president's aides are upset at the vice president for sort of forcing his hand on this issue. What do you think about that?
BORGER: I think the aides get very upset because, of course, it's their job to protect the president. They had a plan -- or so it seems -- for a rollout of this. They say the president always intended to come out in support of gay marriage.
But the president likes to do things on his -- things on his own timetable. He doesn't like to be forced by the vice president. So the vice president did get out in front of the president. That's not a good thing. In the end, though, as Jessica said before, I think they have got a good relationship, and the president has kind of come to expect that these kinds of things could sort of happen with Joe Biden. So they may try and keep him more to a script if they can in the future.
BLITZER: What do you think, Joe?
KLEIN: I think it's a very, very bad thing for politicians to be seen stage-managing their position -- their positions on moral issues.
I thought it was a -- it was a mistake for Obama to try to do this on his time. When he came to the conclusion that gay marriage was an OK thing, he should have just said so. There are things that you roll out, complicated policy platforms, positions on the economy, you know, position -- a new position on Afghanistan, but when you change your mind about gay marriage, you just come out and say it.
And, you know, thank God that we have some politicians like Joe Biden who say it when they mean it.
BORGER: I agree. I agree.
You know, I actually give Joe Biden a lot of credit here, because he answered a question honestly. I think he had to know there were going to be some repercussions coming out of the White House, but he felt it was an issue that he really couldn't fudge anymore.
Don't forget, Joe Biden is someone who has evolved himself. I mean, this is a man who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act when he was in the Senate. So there is only so angry that I think the president can really get.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys.
KLEIN: I don't think he's that angry.
BLITZER: I don't -- and I don't think he's that angry either.
BORGER: Right. Right.
BLITZER: All right, guys, take a look at the cover of "TIME" magazine, the new issue. There it is, "Mom Enough?" It's one of the reasons why I suspect why "TIME" magazine is now the magazine of the year, just got the award.
Congratulations to Joe Klein, to Rick Stengel, Michael Duffy, all of our friends over at "TIME" magazine.
You guys are doing an amazing job. Keep it up. Good work.
And that cover, I have got to tell you, Joe, it's generating a lot, a lot of buzz out there.
(CROSSTALK) KLEIN: Wolf, I had nothing to do with that cover.
BLITZER: I know you didn't write the cover story this week, but you have written many others.
BORGER: Nor did he pose for it, right.
KLEIN: No, I didn't pose. That isn't me.
BLITZER: A bold cover on "TIME" magazine.
KLEIN: I may look like a baby sometimes, but that wasn't me.
BLITZER: All right. All right, guys. Thank you.
President Obama, gay marriage and black voters. Jack Cafferty is up next with "The Cafferty File."
Also, the president accuses Mitch Romney of a -- quote -- "Etch A Sketch moment." What's going on?
And dramatic video of police thwarting a suicide attempt with only seconds to spare.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, President Obama's support for same-sex marriage is sure to fire up parts of the liberal base it could alienate other parts including black voters. In other words, backing gay marriage might be a risky proposition for the president in an election year when it comes to one of his core voting blocs.
In 2008, you'll recall African-Americans were crucial in making this president the first black president. Exit poll showed 96 percent of black voters supported Obama and they made up 13 percent of the electorate. Fast forward four years, while polls suggest America on the whole is moving toward supporting same-sex marriage, ABC/"Washington Post" polling shows 55 percent of black voters are still opposed to it, that compares to just 46 percent of whites.
And this opposition from blacks could hurt the president especially in the South. Just this week, North Carolina, blacks voted two to one in favor of a constitutional amendment in that state banning gay marriage. North Carolina is a swing state, where unanimous support for Mr. Obama secured his election victory in 2008.
So, what if even some black voters in a state like North Carolina choose to sit the election out because they don't like the president's position on same-sex marriage. Groups on both sides of the issue they like to compare the struggle for civil rights, but a lot of blacks don't like that comparison, and black churches tend to see the issue in religious terms, with ministers playing a big role in the opposition to gay marriage.
While it's unlikely blacks will suddenly decide to vote for Mitt Romney, that ain't going happen, if some of them decide to stay home, it could make a difference in the outcome of the election.
Here is the question: Will President Obama's support of same-sex marriage cost him black votes?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to my post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Every decision the president makes , makes somebody happy and somebody not so.
BLITZER: Comes with the territory. We're going to be watching a lot of the ministers in those black churches all across the country this Sunday to see what message they're sending about the president and his decision, Jack. I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think and we'll get their e-mails. That's coming up.
CAFFERTY: You got it.
BLITZER: We're also getting new information right now about an alleged murderer who is accused of kidnapping two young girls.
Mary Snow is monitoring that, also some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's the latest, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the mother-in-law of Adam Mayes says he may think he's the father of the two girls. The fugitive is suspected of killing their mother and older sister before taking off with the 12 and 8-year-old girls. Authorities are still searching for them and are asking for your help. There's a $175,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
You can start your countdown to the summer Olympics. The traditional Olympic flame was lit today in Greece. The torch will now make its way from Olympia to London. It will take a week to get to Britain and it will travel an 8,000-mile route throughout the country before arriving in east London for the opening ceremony July 27th.
The Dow ended the day in positive territory, snapping a six- session losing streak. Investors welcomed the dip in jobless claims but uncertainty in Greece and Europe as a whole still weighs on traders. The Dow ended up nearly 20 points. The NASDAQ and S&P finished near where they started the day.
And a dramatic scene on a bridge in Oregon as officers race to save a man trying to kill himself. Deputies learned he was heading to the bridge to jump and they got there just in time. One deputy tried to get close enough to keep him from opening his door, but the man leapt out of his car and sprinted toward the railing. Another deputy grabbed him before he could jump -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very dramatic pictures. Thank you, Mary.
President Obama is laughing off a claim Mitt Romney is making. You're going to hear what the president is calling another etch-a- sketch moment for his Republican rival.
And are Republicans nervous about criticizing the president's support of gay marriage? We're breaking it down. Our strategy session is next.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and here are some of the stories we're working on in THE SITUATION ROOM for our next hour.
New details on the double agent who got al Qaeda's latest bomb out of Yemen. We're learning that one got into the terrorist's terror group trusted circles. Stand by.
So, what will it take for Cuba to free the jailed American Alan Gross? I'll speak with a top Cuban government official in Havana. It's a rare interview.
President Obama is getting ready to spend the evening with George Clooney and other wealthy donors. The cash he's stands to take in is record breaking.
Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: But, first, let's get to our strategy session.
Joining us right now, the Democratic strategist and former White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki, and Republican strategist John Feehery. He's the president of Quinn and Gillespie Communications, a bipartisan public affairs firm right here in Washington.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
JEN PSAKI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you. Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's an exchange Robin Roberts had with the president yesterday. I'm going to play it and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Mitt Romney recently says he deserve the credit for the revival of the U.S. auto industry. How do you respond to that?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think this is one of his etch-a-sketch moments. I don't think anybody takes that seriously. People remember his position which was let's let Detroit go bankrupt so had we followed his advice at that time, G.M. and Chrysler would have gone under and we would have lost a million jobs throughout the Midwest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Nice smile there when he was talking about that etch- a-sketch moment. What do you think? Anybody take what Mitt Romney said seriously?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it wasn't one of Mitt Romney's finest moments, let's not kid ourselves. But the fact of the matter is that I think Romney had a better plan for the Detroit bailout than go through managed bankruptcy and then come out stronger. The fact of the matter is that the auto industry has come back and that's a good thing for all Americans. But for a lot of America, the economy is struggling. I think this is still going to be the number one issue in the campaign, and I think Mitt Romney has a better story to tell on economic growth and his plan to grow the economy.
BLITZER: What do you think?
PSAKI: Well, the president with the foresight even when it wasn't politically popular to save the auto industry. Mitt Romney offered an alternative suggestion. So, now, he's doing a little revisionist history. The auto industry is doing well, Detroit is doing better. This is really a great story for the present administration to be telling, ands the contrast.
BLITZER: They both basically, Romney and the president, had some sort of structured bankruptcy program for G.M. and Chrysler. The problem is if you do it in the private sector, none of the banks, none of the investment houses they didn't want to help bailout G.M. and Chrysler at that time.
FEEHERY: Well, you're right about that. I do think, though, at the end of the day if Mitt Romney were president, he would have brought in stronger business sensibility, maybe gotten some more concessions out of labor.
Listen, it's a good thing that the auto companies are doing great. I'm happy to hear that. I'm happy to buy American. I think Ford Motor Company is doing well. I think that's a good story.
But, you know, the Mitt Romney campaign is going to translate this into a bigger story about the economy, and I think ultimately that's where his strength is, talking about economic growth.
BLITZER: Yes, my own sense is what the president did for the auto industry would help him in Michigan, but I'm not convinced Ohio, even though there are a lot of workers that benefited from the bailout of G.M. and Chrysler, I'm not sure Ohio is going to in the president's column.
PSAKI: Well, Wolf, it's not just the auto industry. It's the suppliers, it's people who were employed at small businesses. So, it impacts many parts of the Midwest well beyond Michigan.
I also have to say, you know, Mitt Romney is looking back and suggesting businesses would have come in just because he would have wanted to. Nobody was involved in the process, from both sides of the aisle thinks that's the case. So, that's again, some revisionist history from the Romney team.
BLITZER: On this day after the big announcement by the president yesterday that he supports same-sex marriage, he seems the Republicans want to move on to other issues, as quickly as possible. You heard Jim Acosta earlier.
Here's John Boehner earlier in the day, the speaker of the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And the president and the Democrats can talk about this all they want, but the fact is the American people are focused on our economy and they're asking the question, where are the jobs?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, I've heard a lot of Republicans, and a lot of Romney supporters quickly say yes, Romney supports a ban on same-sex marriage and constitutional amendment, but they want to move on and talk about other stuff.
FEEHERY: The fact of the matter is the Republican base knows where Mitt Romney stands, they know where the president stands, so that's solid. The Democratic base knows where the president stands. So, now, it's about the independent voters.
And what do the independent voters want to talk about? They want to talk about the economy. That's why John Boehner is saying, let's focus jobs and this is our best place to talk. Our base knows where the president is, and that's good for us. And let's go on and talk about the things that we know we can win on and that's the economy.
BLITZER: That really is the major strength that Romney potentially brings, the economy and jobs.
PSAKI: Well, look, the president also has a strong record to run on, 4.2 million people are working today because of the steps he put in place. And, you know, the president himself said yesterday that he wants to talk about issues about the economy and Afghanistan. He made the decision because it was the right thing to do. He felt strongly about it. The politics are not clear cut either way.
BLITZER: Check out my blog today at CNN.com/situationroom on where Romney and Obama agree on gay rights. Here's a hint: "don't ask, don't tell".
All right. Guys, thanks very, very much.
PSAKI: You're welcome.
BLITZER: All right. Here's a look at other political headlines making news on the CNN political ticker:
President Obama and Mitt Romney are tied in two critical battleground states according to two new polls.
A Quinnipiac survey shows a statistical dead heat in Ohio, 45 percent for the president, 44 percent for Romney, 7 percent still undecided. And a Suffolk University, seven news polls show similar results in Florida, once again with one point separating them and a 7 percent unsure number who say they will vote in November.
A huge spike in defense spending under Mitt Romney's proposed plan, more than $2 trillion over 10 years. That's according to an analysis by the Center for New American Security. Romney wants to link the Pentagon's budget to gross domestic product.
So that continued economic growth would mean more defense spending, but he hasn't explained how that would fit in with what his call is for more tax cuts and spending caps and a balanced budget.
The Justice Department is telling controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio it plans to sue him for failing to address alleged racial discrimination.
In December, the department accused Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office of bias against Latinos. Arpaio has denied any discrimination and one of his attorneys calls the government's investigation a witch hunt.
There's something over at the Treasury Department that hasn't been seen in more than three years, a budget surplus. Last month, the government took in more than it spent leaving $59 billion on the books.
The last time that happened was September 2008, before the financial crisis when there was a $46 billion surplus, but the celebration is premature despite the windfall the government was still on track to post a $1.3 trillion deficit for this fiscal year.
For complete political coverage be sure to read the ticker at cnnpolitics.com.
Two bombs that tear apart Syria's capital. Dozens are killed and hundreds are wounded. The government and the opposition are blaming each other, but there are concerns that other group may be to blame. We're going live. Arwa Damon is standing by.
He was captured by the Taliban in 2009. We are learning about the controversial ways the U.S. government is now trying to win his freedom.
BLITZER: Major news in Syria today, a deadly new level to the violence in Syria. Two cars packed with a ton of explosives ripped apart the country's intelligence agency. The blast happened on a busy Damascus highway and killed at least 55 people, many of them civilians, wounding almost 400.
CNN's Arwa Damon is following all of the developments from Beirut.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Filming the plume of smoke from the first blast the voice on this video posted to YouTube starts to narrate.
When the force of a second blast seems to knock him over, Damascus, he cries out, his voice filled with panic, God is great. God is great, he repeats, moving back to film the second plume of smoke as the sounds of sirens echo.
On Thursday, two suicide bombers detonated 8,000 kilograms of explosives according to Syria's Ministry of Interior resulting in the single deadliest attack in the capital.
The target, this building, the Palestine branch of military intelligence. Its front ripped off by the force of the explosion. Behind it, a university complex. On the other side of the road, residential areas.
Whole families needed to be rescued, many families were moved away from this alley, this man says. Walls crumbled down. Not a single wall can be seen erected. Houses were destroyed.
Video showed the extent of the carnage, burnt-out carcasses of vehicle lay strewn across the road as rescue workers rushed to the scene. The head of the U.N. viewed the devastation and had this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It needs to stop whomever -- whomever inside Syria or outside Syria that is supporting this they have to realize it is giving more is suffering to the Syrian people.
They need to stop and give the Syrian people a chance to move in a peaceful direction without having innocent people being killed in this way.
DAMON: Images from a hospital, clear evidence of why the bloodshed in Syria needs to end. Both sides of this polarized conflict continuous to point the finger of blame at one another.
The Syrian government call together work of terrorists. The opposition blaming the Assad regime, claiming it wants to tarn earn their reputation.
Since December there have been a series of al Qaeda-style attacks in Damascus and Alepo. The front that emerged at the start of this year has claimed responsibility for the majority of them, a militant group calling for violent jihad against the regime.
The fear shared by all is that the longer the chaos continues, the more extremist groups will thrive and grow. One thing, though, is clear whomever carried out this attack had the desire to inflict maximum damage and had the experience to do it of which there is no shortage in this region.
BLITZER: Arwa is joining us now from Beirut, a powerful piece, Arwa. Shocking what's going on. You know, this week here in Washington, I had a chance to have dinner with Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary- general.
And even he seemed to be throwing up his hand. It doesn't look like those U.N. guys that are over there will achieve much, but what's your sense?
DAMON: Well, Wolf, the issue is not what the U.N. monitors on the ground are going to be able to achieve because at the end of the day their entire mission is based on observing or trying to enforce a cease-fire and at this point in time that most certainly has not materialized.
The real issue is if we do declare Kofi Annan's peace plan dead in the water there is no plan B. The international community has been unable to rally behind any sort of alternative solution.
In fact, it has taken this long for all of the various players, Russia, China, the U.S. and Europe to be able to come together and agree on this one plan itself.
And that is what incredibly frightening prospect, there is no alternative and no other solution at this point.
BLITZER: It looks like a situation potentially will get a whole lot worse and probably fairly rapidly. Thank you very much, Arwa. Arwa is reporting for us from Beirut.
So how far will the U.S. go to win the freedom of an American soldier being held by the Taliban? We are learning about a possible controversial prisoner swap.
And we're getting new information about the double agent who got that al Qaeda bomb out of Yemen before it could blow up an airliner bound for the United States. We are learning about strong ties with the west.
BLITZER: We are learning new details of delicate and controversial talks between the United States and the Taliban for the release of an American soldier who had has been held captive for almost three years.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is working the story for us. What are you hearing, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, U.S. officials say this would have been a good way for the Taliban to show good faith in negotiations.
And that on the U.S. side they probably would not have released all five Taliban prisoners at once. But in any case, those negotiations seem to have stalled out and that has made the family extremely frustrated.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The fate of a captured American soldier may rest on how much the U.S. government will give up to get him back? Behind the scenes, U.S. officials have been engaging in covert diplomacy with the Taliban regarding reconciliation.
A U.S. official tells CNN part of the negotiation involved the U.S. transferring five of its Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bowe Berdahl's release.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First and foremost, our hearts go out to the Berdahl family.
LAWRENCE: Berdahl's father has been making direct appeals to the militants holding his son and has told other news outlets he is frustrated with the government's lack of progress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pray this video may be shown to our only son. We miss you, Bowe. (Inaudible).
LAWRENCE: Military officials say they are constantly reminded of their search.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go to the Centcom Command Center, their conference room, there is about a 4 x 6 foot poster of Bowe Berdahl sitting in front of the podium to remind them and therefore for us every day that he remains missing in action.
LAWRENCE: Berdahl disappeared in this rugged region along the Pakistani border where he was stationed in 2009. U.S. officials say he walked off his combat outpost, but in a video the Taliban released Berdahl claims he was captured when he fell behind on patrol.
An administration official says they would have worked out some sort of sequence, perhaps moving two Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to a third country like Qatar and then once Berdahl was released the U.S. would let three more go, but swapping prisoners has been heavily criticized on Capitol Hill.
DAVID PETRAEUS, CIA DIRECTOR: The agency was asked to assess these five individuals, their significance and the risks that could be incurred by their release. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But at one point there is a report that says they're too dangerous to release.
LAWRENCE: Berdahl's family is now telling "The New York Times" and another newspaper that they are now so frustrated that they're trying to learn Pashto so that they can e-mail the Taliban directly to make their appeal.
They're also upset that despite the fact the military officials have hosted them in their office they are yet to get any word directly from President Barack Obama and that to them is very frustrating -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Can only imagine what that family must be going through. Chris, thank you. Let's hope for the best.
New details about the double agent who got al Qaeda's latest bomb out of Yemen. We are learning that one document got him inside the group's trusted circle.
And there are two words that make any flyers' blood boil, baggage fees. But now one airline plans to charge for carry-ons as well and one passenger thinks it's a good idea.
BLITZER: House Republicans have voted to avert mandatory Pentagon spending cuts from taking mono from social programs instead. CNN's Erin Burnett is going out front on the story later tonight. Erin, what's going on over here? What are you hearing?
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "OUTFRONT": Wolf, it's the latest frustration that we all have with the inability of our elected officials to get anything done and to work across the aisle.
This bill just passed this afternoon by House Republicans. Not a single Democrat voted for it so you may say, OK, deja vu. You're absolutely right.
What they're trying to do, Wolf, is avoid the $1.2 trillion of mandatory cuts coming in the end of this year, which are the result of the failure of the "Super Committee."
They want to end about half of those cuts will come from defense and House Republicans want to avoid that. Democrats and Republicans, there are many on both sides who agree that the defense cuts are too draconian and they want to avoid some of them.
But the way to avoid them they do not agree on. And House Republicans, take a look at the bill that they put out there today, $243 billion is what they'll save over 10 years. By the way, Wolf, that's a drop in the bucket of what we spend.
So it's important to keep that in mind. We are having arguments over money that isn't very much, but in terms of what they're going to cut, $1.8 million people could lose food stamps as a result of this. Nearly 300,000 children could lose school lunches.
So this is according to Congressional Budget Office scoring. So they're trying to take money from social programs and they would replace them with better structured programs and as I said, no Democrats voted for it.
It's not going to get through the Senate, but it is a continued proof that this fiscal cliff at the end of the year with the Bush tax cuts expiring and the $1.2 trillion in sequestration and another need to raise the debt ceiling that this country is to deal with serious issues and we don't seem to have the chutzpah to do it in Washington right now.
BLITZER: Yes, the lame duck session in November and December after the elections is going to be important and crucial. We'll be watching 7:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. Erin, thank you.
Let's go to jack right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, will President Obama's support of gay marriage cost him black votes?
Rick in Annapolis writes, "I can't imagine black voters voting for Romney, but it is likely some will sit it out and not vote for Obama because of this single issue. I find it odd that a group of people who suffered oppression in this country for so many years would deny basic civil and human rights to yet another oppressed group."
Joy writes, "Not at all. Black voters identify with him and will continue to do so. Besides, when will the next time be for them to see another black man become president of the United States?"
Jerome in California says, "The short answer is yes. Many minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics are very religious." Virginia in Atlanta, "Sure it will, but it was an honest thing to do."
Steve writes, "Jack, it is going to take more than gay marriage to divide black folks. We've been through too much as a people to allow an issue like this to divide us now."
Paul in Ontario says, "I don't think it should cost him black votes because I presume that blacks are gay in the same proportion as whites. We've had same-sex marriage here in Canada for eight or nine years. And so far God has not punished us."
Ed in Maryland writes, "No way, Obama is the blackest U.S. president ever. If he said he supports people marrying their pets it wouldn't cost him black votes."
I don't know about that. If you want to read more about this, go to the blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Love our viewers, Jack. Thank you.
He's the intelligence mole who prevented the possible bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner and now we're learning more about how he prevented an al Qaeda attack. Stand by.
Outrageous new airline fees, $100 for a single bag. What's going on?
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots." In India, members of a teachers union call for more jobs and the release of almost 150 teachers arrested during protests.
In Honduras, traffic backs up during a transportation workers strike. In Hongkong, the sunrises as hot weather prevails over the region.
And in Germany, look at this, a baby elephant struggles to its feet just days after being born. "Hotshots," pictures coming in from around the world.
You pay for your airline ticket and pay for baggage fees and extra leg room from time to time. Now on one airline you better be ready to pay up to $100 if you're bringing a carry-on bag. And you're not going to be able to leave -- and that's not going to be able to leave your feet.
CNN's Mary Snow is following the story for us. Mary, this airline is known for its low fares, but people know they have to pay for a lot of extras. Tell us what's going on.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do, Wolf, but you know, this particular proposed fee is really hitting a nerve. One consumer group says it should be a wake-up call for the Department of Transportation and it's calling for new rules on transparency for airlines overall about extra costs especially when tickets are purchased online or through agents.
SNOW (voice-over): Mention baggage fees in an airport and expect groans, but passengers really have their hackles up over a plan by Spirit Airlines to charge $100 for overhead bin carry-on bags checked at the boarding gate.
APONTE JUAN, SPIRIT FLIER: I think it's outrageous actually. I would cost more than an actual flight with them. It's outrageous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. It should be free.
SNOW: Spirit built its business on cheap tickets and tacking on extras. So what are you paying for? Photojournalist, Ken Chewy kept tabs on his last-minute Spirit flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles with a stop in Fort Lauderdale. The original ticket was $511 then came extras. These types of fees aren't unique to Spirit. You'll find them on most airlines. A checked bag $38. Seat upgrades another $115. Add $135 for changed flight time.
Taxes and government fees amount to $119. A soda and snack for $7. The total cost, $926.18. What is unique to Spirit, come November if you don't pay for your carry-on bag before you reach the boarding gate, Spirit will charge $100, a new high for a fee the company CEO introduced in this commercial two years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no telling what people will try to put in an overhead bin.
SNOW: It's currently charging $45. Spirit says it hopes no one has to pay the new $100 fee saying much like a speeding ticket, the fee is intentionally set high to deter people from speeding.
We don't want customers to wait until they get to the boarding gate to pay for their carry-on bags as this delays the boarding process for everyone. That's not how passenger rights advocate Kate Hanni sees it.
(on camera): Where do you see this heading?
KATE HANNI, FLYERRIGHTS.ORG: I see it heading toward more fees. In my cynical world I would not be surprised to see them charging for seat belts and oxygen in the future and even pay to potty fees.
SNOW (voice-over): Hanni has been fighting for airlines to be more trance patient, but at one defender of the airline sees Spirit's announced fees as a good thing.
BRETT SNYDER, CRANKYFLIER.COM: I do think it's a good thing for consumers. I know people are watching this and throwing things at the TV at me, but I do think this is good for consumers because if I want to travel somewhere and I don't want all these extra frills, then I'd rather pay less.
SNOW: Since Spirit started charging fees for carry-on bags a few years ago only one airline has followed suit and that's Legion Airlines. It currently charges $35 if the carry-on is checked on at the airport -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect we'll be hearing more. Mary, thank you.