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New Presidential Polls; Millions Without Power; Health Care Spin

Aired July 2, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: on the verge of a deal between the United States and Pakistan that ends a seven-month standoff.

Record heat and millions of people still without power after killer storms.

Plus, an American student fighting for life after a bizarre attack at a world famous refuge.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's so frustrating to hear political spin. Like all of you, I'm certainly used to it, but I still don't like it very much. The latest example, the White House spin in the wake of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision.

First, let's take a look at what the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, wrote when he upheld the health care law and gave President Obama a huge, huge victory.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax." It says it right there, a tax. That's what saved the health care law, because the Congress and the president certainly have the constitutional authority to raise taxes.

But on the Sunday talk shows, we heard something totally different from the White House chief of staff.


JACK LEW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He went through the different powers that Congress has and he found that there is a power, whatever you call it, to assess a penalty like this.

QUESTION: He called it a tax.

LEW: What the Supreme Court said was this was constitutional. They said it didn't matter what Congress called it. It is a penalty for the 1 percent.


QUESTION: Wait a minute, sir. (CROSSTALK)

LEW: It is a penalty for the 1 percent who choose not to buy insurance.

QUESTION: Mr. Lew, they call it a tax.

LEW: First of all, the law is clear. It's called a penalty. Second of all, what the Supreme Court ruled was that this law is constitutional. It's time to move on, to implement the law.


BLITZER: Look, I know the White House chief of staff, Jack Lew, and he's a very, very intelligent man. He graduated from Harvard, the Georgetown University Law Center. He twice served as the White House budget director.

But on this, he's refusing to budge from what the president said back in 2009. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For us to say that you have got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you.


BLITZER: But take a look at this. It's getting awkward right now. The Romney campaign is actually on the same page as the Obama administration is on this, insisting that the penalty imposed in Massachusetts on those who don't purchase health insurance is not a tax.


ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.


BLITZER: Politically, both sides are trying to stay away from anything that implies raising taxes on the middle class, whether you call it a penalty, a tax or both.

Like I do, I think it's a penalty and a tax. It will still cost money for the so-called free riders who don't buy health insurance, even though they have the money to buy health insurance.

So enough of the spin right now. Let's focus in on the facts, much more on this story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's take a look at some of the other top stories in the situation right now. Kate Bolduan is working those.

What's going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been a wild weekend for many across the country and we are talking about massive power outages really across the Mid-Atlantic. Two million people from Indiana to Maryland dealing with these power issues after that intense storm. An in this intense heat, this power outage isn't just uncomfortable, it's dangerous.

At least 19 people have died from the storms and the power companies say it could be the end of the week -- ouch -- before the lights turn back on.

Our Brian Todd is live in Arlington, Virginia.

Brian, what do you have, any relief in sight?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not for this neighborhood, Kate. When you talk about those numbers that you just mentioned, we will give you an idea of what some of these neighborhoods are up against.

We're on South Aberdeen street in Arlington. Take a look at this downed power line right in front of me between me and our photojournalist, John Benna (ph). He's going to scope down here. This goes down that ravine down here. This was a domino effect of poles being taken out by a falling tree, 12 poles in all in this neighborhood down.

They have got the new poles in here ready to install and they have a transformer there. This is basically what did it over here. John, if you can just show them this mangled mess. This tree came down and took out that pole. Again, that pole got taken out and then a domino effect.

We talked to Josh Little of Dominion Virginia Power a short time ago. He says they're not only battling weather and just some of the odds here, they're battling fatigue.


JOSH LITTLE, DOMINION VIRGINIA POWER: We have been working around the clock doing storm restoration for almost six, seven days now. The heat starts getting to them. They take a break. They get well hydrated.

But, yes, they get frustrated because they're not getting the lights on as fast as they think they should. But they're only human beings. So they're starting to wear out. They're wearing down a little bit, but they are very determined to get these people back on lights.


TODD: About 4,000 people are deployed from Dominion Virginia Power just in this region. They're getting help from crews as far away as Florida and Canada. But even with that, we're told the very last people in this general region to get power may not get it back until late Friday night.

BOLDUAN: Brian Todd, thank you. It's still amazing, even though we lived through it, to see the pictures you have behind you. Pretty amazing stuff all the damage that storm did in such a short period of time.

Brian, thank you.

Also, firefighters in Colorado say they're making progress against the Waldo Canyon fire. It stopped growing and tens of thousands of people have gotten the OK to go back home, but some of them may not be coming home to much. Check out this video just coming into CNN, about 350 houses utterly destroyed. You can barely tell what you're looking at. You're seeing some video there. Authorities say the crews may not have the fire fully under control until the middle of the month.

Meanwhile the Air Force is taking its C-130s off firefighting duty after one of the planes crashed while fighting a wildfire in South Dakota. There were casualties, but we have no other details right now and no word yet on what caused that crash.

When equipped to fight fires, the C-130s can drop 3,000 gallons of water or flame retardant in about five seconds and they can be refilled in 12 minutes, but this is the second time within two months that an air tanker has crashed. We will be following that very closely.

Also, now that convicted sexual -- serial child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky is behind bars there are new questions about what Penn State officials knew about his crimes. CNN has obtained the verbatim of e- mails sent among the university's former president, former vice president and former athletic director. It seems they considered telling police about one of the abuse incidents, but allegedly decided it would be more -- quote -- "humane" to keep quiet.

And now Joe Paterno's family wants Penn State lawyers and the attorney general to release all e-mail evidence saying the leak of selected e-mails doesn't tell the full truth.

And it's being called the largest case of health care fraud in U.S. history, the perpetrator, health care giant GlaxoSmithKline. It's agreed to plead guilty and pay $3 billion to resolve allegations that it advertised drugs like Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses like weight loss.

And it seems Mexico has a new president. Enrique Pena Nieto is the projected winner of last night's election. His competitor though isn't conceding just yet, but Pena Nieto is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party which ruled Mexico more than 70 years before falling out of favor about a decade ago.

One of his campaign pledges, reduce the drug violence that has claimed 47,000 lives in five years. They're going to begin the official individual vote tally starting Wednesday, a very big moment for the people of Mexico.

BLITZER: A huge moment in Mexico and in the United States, given our very, very significant relationship with our partner in the south.

BOLDUAN: That's an excellent point, Wolf. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Stand by, a lot more to discuss.

Other important news, a 7-month-old crisis, a real crisis that's truly jeopardized the war in Afghanistan and cost the U.S. taxpayers already $100 million a month may soon be over.

The U.S. and Pakistan said to be close to a deal on reopening critical supply routes used by the American military.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us right now.

Chris, tell our viewers what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, our sources here in Washington and in Islamabad are both saying that an agreement is now expected very soon, and that could mean big changes for the supplies coming to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Vital American military supplies could soon be flowing over the Pakistani border again, bound for the war in Afghanistan. Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials say the two countries are moving closer to reopening border crossings into Afghanistan, which could save the Pentagon a billion dollars.

The Pakistani official says his country's military leadership will meet in the next few days to try and finalize the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of the technical issues have been resolved, but we have to keep talking about it politically.

LAWRENCE: U.S. Commander General John Allen has made two trips to Pakistan in the last week, along with American diplomats. Now, publicly, State and Pentagon official would say not confirm the deal, but a U.S. official tells CNN one issue has been for the most part settled, how much it costs the U.S. to move supply trucks across the border.

Last year, it was paying about $250 per truck, but the Pakistanis had been reportedly demanding $5,000, which U.S. officials called price-gouging. The negotiated price is expected to be higher than the original, but nowhere near $5,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not saying that we will not negotiate. We are still negotiating. But what Pakistan wants is some space. Give us some space to move forward. LAWRENCE: The U.S. has been relying on a complex set of backup supply routes that wind through a dozen nations and cost the Pentagon $100 million more every month. Pakistan closed its border crossings in November when NATO troops unintentionally killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers near the border. Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted tough issues remained.

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the important thing right now is that both sides in good faith keep working to see if we can resolve this.


LAWRENCE: Recently, Defense Secretary Panetta indicated that the U.S. was not going to offer an unconditional apology. So far, the U.S. has said that it regrets the incident, that it was an unintentional shooting, but a U.S. official now says there has been some movement on the U.S. side to sort of amend that or nuance that saying, and he says there also has been some flexibility on that point from the Pakistanis as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: So do we know, will there be an apology, won't there be an apology? Because we know the Pakistanis, they have told me repeatedly they will not allow these thousands of American trucks, the trucks carrying American military hardware to U.S. and other NATO troops in Afghanistan to go forward unless there is a full, robust American apology for killing those Pakistanis.

LAWRENCE: It may be something short of an open-ended apology, Wolf.

You know, a lot of -- as you know from your years of experience, a lot of the diplomacy involved is in the nuance of the words that are used, so there may be some wiggle room in that nuance that can satisfy both the Pakistanis and still allow the U.S. not to sort of go back on what it's already said.

BLITZER: And we will see what the final number is, $200 a truck, as opposed to $5,000 a truck. There's a huge gap in between. When you find out, let us know, but, obviously, this is a critically important issue for the continuing U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.

Chris Lawrence with the latest for us, thank you.

They're among the most important states in the race for the White House. We have brand-new CNN/ORC poll numbers from 15, not 14, not 16, but from 15 battleground states that could decide who will be the next president of the United States.

Plus, an American graduate student is mauled for almost 15 minutes by chimpanzees at a world famous refuge. We're now learning how it happened. That's ahead at 45 after.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: They are the critical states that could make or break the election for the president of the United States or for Mitt Romney. We have brand-new poll numbers just out showing Romney ahead in states that matter the most on Election Day, now only four months away.

CNN's Joe Johns takes a closer look.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even though the president maintains a slight edge in our nationwide polling, it appears to be a different story in the 15 battleground states, including Iowa, where we met this group of young voters at the Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company in Des Moines.

Our latest CNN/ORC poll indicates Mitt Romney is out to an eight- point, 51 percent to 43 percent advantage among registered voters in the 15 states we consider in play, the seven true tossup states and the eight states leaning either towards the president or his Republican challenger.

Nick Pottebaum (ph) has supported Romney since the Iowa caucuses and says he sees the candidate's pragmatism as a key selling point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if you look at his record in terms of his ability, the private sector, being governor of Massachusetts, there's definitely some good insight into his ability just to solve problems. And Barack Obama has had four years to solve some problems. I think he's lacked leadership in a lot of direction. And so I think Mitt Romney is just really strong when it comes to just solving problems and being very pragmatic.

JOHNS: The news is not all good for the Republican challenger. As a presidential election approaches, few things are seen as more important than voter enthusiasm and the incumbent president seems to have it on his side at least for now.

In March, only 46 percent of Democrats said they were enthusiastic about voting in November, and now that number is up to 59 percent, a 13-point increase.

KATHERINE VALDE, VOTER: I'm very excited for this election. And I have been really pleased that President Obama has put his neck out on the lines for students.

JOHNS: For Romney, not so much. Republican enthusiasm has remained almost constant, 52 percent in March vs. 51 percent now. It's a very different race from the last time Obama and Romney ran for president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think our generation is less connected with this election than they were in 2008, primarily because in 2008 most of us were first-time voters.

JOHNS (on camera): The poll also shows that 79 percent of voters say they have already made up their mind on who they're voting for in November. Anecdotally, here in Iowa, we didn't find anyone that said they were still on the fence.

Joe Johns, CNN, Des Moines.


BLITZER: CNN's Tom Foreman has more now on three of those battleground states, Colorado, Ohio and Florida.

Tom, tell us what you're seeing.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you look very carefully at this overall picture, the battleground states here shown in light pink and light blue, in the yellow states in here, all of those areas, you can look at this big number that Joe just mentioned, big advantage to Romney in the battleground states, 51 percent to 43 percent.

But that may not tell the whole story because, one, we do not know how that's divided among those states. For example, if there's a very strong showing here in Florida for the president, comparatively, that could trump a strong showing in some other states that don't have such strong electoral leads.

Plus, every place like the president is doing well, for example, over here or up here in Missouri where he's putting Romney on the defensive at all gives him some advantage because it keeps Romney from attacking his strongholds.

But let's look at these three states because they do tell us something. If we look at Colorado out here and we see that last time John McCain won here, here's one of the big differences that has to be factored into this. Since April, look at the amount of spending that President Obama has done in Colorado to try to get his message out and get attention, almost $4 million worth.

Just $1.3 million for Romney in the same place. Romney has had more appearances since January than President Obama, but that's counting all appearances there and that spending is key. Let's look at another state here. If we move over here to, for example, Ohio, in this state, look at this, same thing. Romney has spent close to $8 million -- excuse me -- President Obama has spent close to $8 million. Governor Romney has spent under $3 million in that state.

And the same thing if we move down here to the big powerhouse, Florida, that everybody is interested in. Same thing here, but even more so. President Obama has spent close to $9 million getting his message out in that battleground state, Governor Romney, $111,000, and yet it remains a battleground.

So when you look at the overall result of that poll, Wolf, even in the battleground states, you have to take into account how active the candidates have been in those states and how much that is going to change in the next few months because that kind of spending that you see from the president here will certainly be matched by Governor Romney and they will both keep spending and spending and spending, and that could change the battlefield many, many times.

So, right now, the numbers suggest that Mitt Romney is doing well for the amount of money he's spending in those states. But there is a lot of fighting still ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it, Tom, those numbers don't include the super PAC money, because the Republicans have a lot more coming in, in their respective super PACs than the Democrats have.


FOREMAN: Exactly. That's also going to be the wild card in all of this, as you know.

As that spending continues in those areas, and a lot of that, as you know, is attack ads on the other candidate. We will just have to see how much of that sticks. We know from the reporting earlier in the show the health care issue hasn't really favored either side right now, but there are groups out there that want it to favor either side.

If the Democrats are energized over that, as Joe reported, some sense of momentum because of that ruling, you know on the other side the Republicans are trying to whip up their base and say come on, come on, this is how you overcome the health care ruling, by defeating it. The first step is electing Mitt Romney. At least that's the message they're going to sell.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Tom Foreman.

Kate, you know that super PAC money is going to be enormous this time around. And when you add that with the respective campaigns, the Democrats and the president, they're going to be outspent.

BOLDUAN: It's astonishing the numbers that are coming in, in terms of what the super PACs are pulling in and let alone -- just wait until we see it all being spent. I think the money game is a huge story in this election. We will be following it. We will continue to follow it.

So coming up at 25 after the hour, Hillary Clinton says Assad must go. The secretary of state talks about the future of Syria just ahead.

But, first, let's take a look at what's trending right now on Number four on our top trending items, there will be no runoff between two sprinters who tied for a spot in the London Olympics. One of them bowed out, but did not explain why.

Number three, the young Georgia woman who lost her left leg, her right foot and both hands to a flesh-eating disease is out of the hospital. Aimee Copeland is headed to a rehab clinic near Atlanta.

The top two trending stories are coming up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BOLDUAN: Let's get back to what's trending right now.

Number four on our top trending list, an Olympic runoff is scratched. Number three, the woman with a horrible flesh-eating infection has left the hospital, thankfully. Number two, a deep-sea search begins tomorrow for Amelia Earhart. The expedition will launch from Honolulu in an attempt to solve the mystery that's been going on for years of the aviator who vanished 75 years ago today.

And the number one trending story, Anderson Cooper, our colleague, reveals publicly he is gay. He says he avoided being so open in the past because he was trying to maintain a level of personal privacy. But now Anderson says he believes there is a value making clear where he stands, saying -- quote -- "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy."

And he will be back hosting "A.C. 360" on Thursday.

Very interesting -- it's a very interesting story, very interesting read. People should read the letter.

BLITZER: Top trending story right now.

BOLDUAN: Our top trending story on

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Looking forward to seeing Anderson back Thursday night.

Making news -- other news that's happening on CNN right now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down with our own Jill Dougherty talking about Syria's future, this coming just after the international community came to an agreement on steps for what's being called a transitional government -- that agreement, according to the secretary of state, doesn't include the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have had lots of experience in this. We just went through more than a year with Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen. And he kept saying he would go, then he wouldn't go.

And people just kept bearing down and pushing forward and eventually were successful. But until today, we did not have the kind of road map in specifics with concrete actions that you could telegraph to Damascus, where I believe they are shocked that Russia and China have signed on to this agreement, which so clearly says goodbye to them in this transition.


BLITZER: Secretary Clinton went on to say that no one would consent to Bashar al-Assad or his cronies with blood on their hands being part of a Syrian government. So, moving on, is it a tax, is it a penalty, what is it? We're going to debate all the spin on the newly upheld health care reform law. That's coming up next. Ryan Lizza, Bill Burton, Grover Norquist, they are all standing by.


BLITZER: Certainly in an election year, we all know that the word "tax" can be a very, very dirty word. I mentioned this at the top of the show. Democrats are using spin when they talk about the fee or the penalty Americans will pay for not buying health insurance.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. So we're going to bring in our guests in a second but first I want to give us a little bit of background about what we're talking about.

Chief Justice John Roberts said Obamacare is constitutional. Surviving under Congress' power to levy taxes. And the White House cheered but it's trying to distance itself now from the "T" word.


JACK LEW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The law is clear. It's called a penalty. Second of all, what the Supreme Court ruled was that this law was constitutional. It's time to move on --


LEW: Well, actually they didn't call it a tax.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: No, it's a penalty. It's a penalty that comes under the tax code for the 1 percent perhaps of the population who may decide that they're going to be free riders.


BOLDUAN: Republican National Committee begs to differ, tweeting this morning, quote, "White House still desperately trying not to call the health care mandate what it is, a tax." And that committee is hardly alone.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The president said he would never raise taxes on the middle class. This is a middle tax-- middle class tax increase.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We now know that that piece of legislation created the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obamacare raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500 billion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: You heard Mitt Romney there calling it a tax in no uncertain terms. But this morning some mixed messages on word choice. Here's Romney's senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom.


ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY ADVISER: The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.


BLITZER: You know what, we're going to -- go in depth on this right now, Kate. We've got three good guests joining us. Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine, he's also a CNN contributor. Bill Burton is a senior strategist for Priorities USA Action, former deputy White House press secretary. That's, by the way, the pro-Obama, pro Democratic super PAC that he's working for now. And Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. And Grover hates any increase in taxes.

Is that right?


BLITZER: Dislikes. Sorry.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. We don't like to use --


BLITZER: Dislikes is good. Did Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, raise taxes on the middle class by imposing this so-called penalty on those individuals who could afford to buy health insurance but decided they didn't want to?

NORQUIST: I'm not focused on what he did there. I mean that's a different constitution, a different fight. What we have here is Obama campaigning saying he wouldn't raise taxes on middle income Americans. There are 20 tax increases. They're talking about one of the 20 and the Democrats are trying to insist that -- they lied to the Supreme Court when they said it was a tax and now it's not.

BLITZER: Eric Fehrnstrom, the senior adviser to Romney, says this wasn't a tax increase, so what the president did or what Romney did in Massachusetts.

NORQUIST: I actually talked to Fehrnstrom this afternoon and he made the case that those conservatives who point out correctly that the president said it wasn't a tax when he put it in and then went to the Supreme -- in order to get around his promise not to tax people, then went to the Supreme Court and swore up and down it was a tax increase.

Let's see, it's collected by the IRS. You pay it on your 1040 statement. It's written in the Internal Revenue Code. And --


BLITZER: But it was modeled on the -- on the pay structure that Romney had, the penalty that he had in Massachusetts. It's exactly what Romney was doing in Massachusetts. So I don't understand why not simply say if it's a tax for Obama, it was a tax for Romney?

NORQUIST: I'm just not familiar with the structure of Massachusetts. The important thing is moving forward, Romney said he wants to abolish this. And -- it is an unconstitutional whatever you want to call it. It's clearly a tax. If you run this through the IRS --


BLITZER: Well, it is constitutional if you believe in the Supreme Court.

NORQUIST: I'm sorry, his argument is this is unconstitutional.


NORQUIST: Four Supreme Court justices say it's unconstitutional.

BLITZER: Unconstitutional but the majority said it was constitutional.


BLITZER: It's a tax, right, Bill Burton?


BLITZER: You're not working at the White House anymore, even though you do work for a pro-Obama PAC. But acknowledge what it is. It's a penalty and there should be a penalty for those who can afford to buy health insurance but decide, you know what, I'll take a chance, I'll be a free loader, I won't -- I won't buy health insurance. I'll just go ahead. And if I get sick, I'll go to -- I'll go to the -- I'll go to the hospital, the emergency room, and let others take care of me.

BILL BURTON, SENIOR STRATEGIST, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Look, I -- the Supreme Court gets to decide the constitutionality of laws but they don't get to decide what words are defined by. And this is -- this is a penalty that is -- that freeloaders pay who get into the system and try to take advantage of the fact that there's health care available for folks and costs everybody else more.

It applies to less than 1 percent of Americans. I mean I personally think it's hilarious that Grover is not familiar with Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts when this was the centerpiece of his candidate's tenure when he was governor of that state. So I think that this is something that is very narrowly going to be applied to folks -- BLITZER: And it's going to be applied by the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, whose main job is what, to penalize people or to collect taxes?

BURTON: It will not be the first penalty that the IRS imposes. There's different penalties that are imposed to try to encourage --


BLITZER: Like what? Like what?

BURTON: -- different kinds of behavior. The SEC imposes penalties --

BLITZER: The SEC is different than the IRS. The SEC is different than the IRS.

BLITZER: Well --

NORQUIST: And it's on your 1040 statement. The people --


BURTON: It doesn't matter what statement it's on. It matters whether or not it's a penalty for a small amount of people who have to -- to try to free load on the system.

NORQUIST: The CBO calls it tax revenue and it's in the Internal Revenue Code. It couldn't be clearer it's a tax. Obama lied his way into office when he said he wasn't going to tax the middle class. By the way, this is one of 20 tax increases in Obamacare.

BLITZER: All right.

NORQUIST: It's not the only one.

BLITZER: I want to bring Ryan in.

NORQUIST: The others are (INAUDIBLE) taxes.

BLITZER: Do you want to weigh in?

BOLDUAN: First I want to bring -- can we bring -- I want to bring Ryan in because, you know, we're talking about tax, penalty, tax, penalty. It's a great conversation here in Washington but it also begs the question why do we care, tax or penalty. It is what it is.

BLITZER: Is it different --


RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORKER: Strictly for semantics because politicians don't want to institute anything that has the "T" word. I think of the -- one of the things that Roberts was saying is you can't play games. If you're going to penalize someone, let's call a spade a spade and call it a tax.


BLITZER: And there's a tactical reason, though, and that's called reconciliation. If it's a tax, it can be repealed with a simple majority in the Senate with 51. If it's not a tax, it might need 60. A filibuster proof.

LIZZA: It's very complicated in terms of what can go through a reconciliation and what can't. I don't know that the CBO and that the parliamentary in the Senate who decides what can go through reconciliation with just 51 votes and what needs 60 votes, I don't know if they care whether John Roberts called this thing a tax or not. That may not be the --

BLITZER: But they may care if the IRS administers it.

LIZZA: That's true. But before this -- before this opinion, the conventional wisdom was the mandate could not be killed through this reconciliation process.


LIZZA: But one thing, Grover, I think you have to -- Republicans have a choice here. You can side with Scalia, right, and say what Roberts did in his opinion is ridiculous, this is not a tax, it was a penalty and this should be declared unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, or you can side with folks who are saying -- with the Republican politicians who are saying, oh, the Supreme Court called this a tax. We agree it's a tax.

There's a debate now in the Republican Party over this.

BURTON: But ultimately the debate is between the two candidates who are running for president of the United States and they actually agree on this issue. They were talking about a penalty, and not a tax. So when people are making that choice, this is not --


NORQUIST: Obama likes the penalty tax that will cost the American people if you add up all 20 tax increases in Obama tax care, $500 to $800 billion over the next decade. Romney says he'll sign a legislation to kill it. So the difference between the two is one wants to take $500 to $800 billion away from you and the other doesn't. And that's what the election is going to be about.


BLITZER: Hold on, guys. Hold on. Because, Kate, you know, you and I were talking earlier, Elizabeth MacDonough, that's the name of the new parliamentarian in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: First (INAUDIBLE) in the Senate.

BLITZER: She's going to be pretty powerful in the months maybe years ahead deciding whether you need a 51 majority, simple majority in the Senate or 60 to break a filibuster. Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate employee, not partisan, the parliamentarian, she will decide --

BOLDUAN: She's probably very happy that we're throwing her name out there now. You know this political --


LIZZA: The other party takes over.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We have much more to discuss. Bill Burton, he made a rather controversial comment today. We're going to tell you what it is, what he said, if he still stands by it. Stand by.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here with Bill Burton, Grover Norquist and Ryan Lizza.

Kate, you know, you're our congressional correspondent. You work these issues every single day.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I am blessed to work these issues every single day and this is, I think, one thing that I hear most on Capitol Hill these days. Yes, Grover Norquist, not a politician. Not an employee of the Republican Party. But if you're on Capitol Hill like I am all the time, he has become seemingly public enemy number one in the eyes of Democrats.

Listen here to the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Grover Norquist is the only Republican leader who can truthfully say he has the entire Republican Party in the palm of his hand. Grover has his control in writing, so if you want to know what Republican position is on any of the enormous economic challenges facing this country, don't waste your time asking Governor Romney, Speaker Boehner or Senator McConnell. Just ask Grover.


BOLDUAN: Somebody stuck out in my mind because that's putting a lot on your shoulders. I mean do you -- do you accept -- are you willing to take credit for that kind of responsibility? I mean you were just over on the Hill just at the end of the June.

BLITZER: Say yes. Say yes.

BOLDUAN: Jus say yes.

NORQUIST: That's Senator Reid's frustration. That is the sound of ultimate suffering coming out. He is unhappy because Republicans have refused to raise taxes to pay for Obama and Reid's big government. And he was sure they would because 10 years ago or 20 years ago, Republicans could be fooled into running up and sweeping up behind the Democrats and raising taxes to put their fingerprints all over the Democrats' tax and spending policies, but now the modern Republican Party has made a commitment to the American people, not to me.

Senator Reid should read the pledge which he hasn't taken. It's a pledge to the American people that they -- that if elected I won't raise taxes. And most Republican have made that commitment in writing to the American people. And Reid is mad at the American people and their objection to his tax increases. If he wants to yell at me, that's fine. I don't care but it's a little bit silly on his part.

BLITZER: You're used to that.

You know, there's something else I want to get to, Bill, because you were on MSNBC today. You said something that generated a lot of buzz, some of it not nice towards you. Listen to what you said.


BURTON: They look at Mitt Romney and they say, you know, is this clown really going to beat President Obama? And the answer is, well, maybe, if he has four, five times as much money as the president then yes, he may well have a chance at winning in November.


BLITZER: The word -- the word "clown," the word "clown," you're calling Mitt Romney a clown. Now you can disagree with his policies, you might not like what he's doing. But to call him a clown? The Republican presidential nominee?

BURTON: I mean you just look at the words, I -- take a step back, take -- look at the sentence before. What I was saying is, this is what you hear from some Democrats which is that --

BLITZER: So you weren't calling him a clown? You were just saying, others are calling him a clown?

BURTON: The whole point of me saying that was people need to wake up and realize he is a formidable opponent of President Obama's and he is going to outspend the president and the super PACs for him are going to outspend the president and, yes, he could win.

Now I -- you know, I'm not into name calling. I think you can take a step back and you look at Mitt Romney and say, yes, here's a guy that made millions of dollars --


BURTON: -- firing people and driving companies out of business.

BLITZER: Because I hate it -- I hate it when people called the president of United States horrible names, and I also hate it when they call, you know, Mitt Romney, who's distinguished politician, former governor, whether you like him or not, a clown. That's sort of demeaning.

BURTON: Sure, but if you just listen to what I just said to you --

BLITZER: So you weren't calling him a clown?

BURTON: The point of what I was saying was that he is a formidable candidate and he could win if Democrats don't engage in this race.

BLITZER: To just be precise, you were not calling him a clown? You were quoting others?

BURTON: I invite people to go take a look at the video. It's very funny. But no, of course not, I wasn't calling him a clown.

BLITZER: OK, guys, we'll be precise.

LIZZA: You used to call me up and yell me and -- I'm just reporting what someone called Obama, I'm not saying it myself.


BURTON: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: I have a feeling that this is something that I hear most from you is when the heated rhetoric -- when it gets so hot --

BLITZER: I just hate it. When -- you know, because I've been covering politics --

BOLDUAN: You just really burns him.

BLITZER: For a long time, and you know, I love it when we discuss substance and policy issues and we argue on all the important issues of the day, national security, taxes, economic policy, health care, social issues. But to start name-calling, I -- that's when I hated. That's when I really feel strongly about it.

LIZZA: It seems like it's gotten worse recently, doesn't it?

BLITZER: I mean -- believe me, on Twitter, I mean -- what they call me, forget about that but --


LIZZA: I apologize to you.

BLITZER: But you know what, and I think all of us will agree, let's have a serious substantive debate and let's avoid calling the president bad names and --


BURTON: And that's exactly what --

BLITZER: -- let's avoid calling Mitt Romney --

BURTON: And I invite people to take a look at what I was saying there because I don't think it falls in the category of what you're talking about right now.

BLITZER: All right. As a fellow Buffalonian, I'll accept what you say.

BURTON: Go Ryan Fitzpatrick.

BLITZER: At Bill Burton716 at (INAUDIBLE) I'm talking about.

BURTON: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

We're getting more amazing pictures from the storm zone. I want to check in with Kate.

What else have we got?

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. That's something that we're looking at coming ahead.

But -- plus he was brutally attacked doing what he loved. What we're learning about a chimpanzee attack at a world famous sanctuary.


BLITZER: We're learning new details about a chimpanzee attack that severely injured an American graduate student. The animals actually managed to pull him inside their enclosure where he was mauled from head to toe.

Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us.

What an awful story, Lisa, it is. What's going on here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is horrible. Well, we are learning new details. There were actually two fences. An outer perimeter fence and a second main electrical fence. And Andrew Oberle wasn't supposed to go past the outer fence. But for unknown reasons, he did. And that's when two male chimps reached out and grabbed him and tried to drag him underneath their fence into their enclosure. It was a brutal attack that lasted about 15 minutes.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Friends are taking to Facebook to raise money for 26-year-old Andrew Oberle. He was mauled by chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimp Eden in South Africa. The University of Texas student was there doing research for his masters degree. Oberle was showing tourists around when he crossed into an off-limits area between two fences. No one knows why. When he got close enough to the inner fence, the chimpanzees grabbed him. NEVILLE PILLAY, ANIMAL BEHAVIORIST: Chimpanzees are known to be violent and can kill other animals. So -- and male chimpanzees are particularly strong. So violence in chimpanzees is not unusual.

SYLVESTER: Eugene Cussons, Chimp Eden's director and host of the Animal Planet's "Escape to Chimp Eden" show, reportedly rescued Oberle after firing rounds from a handgun in the air and ground. Chimpanzees are known to be extremely territorial and very strong. With five times the strength of an adult male, they can inflict horrendous manage.

DAVE SAMONI, LARGE PREDATOR EXPERT, "ANIMAL PLANET": Their arms and less are very damaging because they're so strong but the main impact is their teeth. Their teeth, they can bite out softball-sized chunks of flesh. They can bite right through bone. Their jaw strength is incredible. So certainly when they really want to inflict serious damage, it's their mouth that you have to worry about.

SYLVESTER: The Jane Goodall Institute's mission includes protecting chimpanzees that have been left orphaned by poachers or kept chained as pets. In a statement, the institute said, quote, "This is a terrible tragedy that should never happen, all our thoughts and prayers are with this young man and family."

Oberle is now recovering at a Johannesburg hospital with injuries to his hands, legs and torso. His friends say they're shock this happened and say he was very knowledgeable and had worked in zoos for many years.

ANTHONY REIMHERR, OBERLE'S FRIEND: He's pretty much -- loves chimps. It's his passion, what he loves to do and he really cares about animals and really wants to help them and learn about them. And teach other people about them.


SYLVESTER: Andrew Oberle is now in stable but critical condition. And we're learning more details about the rescue by Eugene Cussons. Cussons apparently fired those two shots in the air and ground but that caused the chimpanzees to turn their attention on him. He was able to get back into his vehicle where they continued charging at him. He then shot one of the chimpanzees in the abdomen. At that point, the other chimpanzees, they backed off and then they were able to go and rescue Oberle.

So very, very lucky. I mean Andrew Oberle is actually very lucky to be alive at this point. He still has a long road to recover but he is very lucky.

BLITZER: Yes. What a story. All right, thanks very much, Lisa.

Lisa Sylvester reporting for us.

Friends of the victim, by the way, of the chimp attack are speaking out. They're talking about his life's work, what happened in South Africa. That story, 7:00 p.m. Eastern on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" that's coming up at the top of the hour.


BOLDUAN: The magnitude of the power outage in the mid-Atlantic region, our picture of the day is coming up next.

But plus, something new this hour of THE SITUATION ROOM that we wanted to bring to you. It's called -- well, I've been calling it "Ask Wolf." It's your chance to send questions about the news and have Wolf answer them right here. You can really ask anything you like.

If you have a question, send it to us by iReport at On Twitter, it's @Wolfblitzer, #AskWolf. Or Get creative. Make it news.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: This is some really amazing stuff. It's time for our picture of the day. I was like awe-inspired when we saw this. We've now -- we're now being told it could be days before power is restored in some areas hit by last weekend's killer storms.

And take a look here. This is probably a little bit why it's taking so long. Look at the mangled power lines near Parkersburg, West Virginia. This is the scale of the job First Energy is facing and power companies throughout the mid-Atlantic face. It's a monumental task. It's really amazing stuff. And this is why so many people could face sweltering days without power. We hope not. But it's pretty amazing.

BLITZER: Could be at least until the end of the week for a lot of folks in this area.

Most people wouldn't consider it a dangerous job. But sometimes being a mascot can be brutal. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His critics say that for a winner, he sure acted like a loser, seconds after this French runner won the 3,000-meter steeplechase event at the European championships in Finland. He slapped away a gift bag and then shoved a mascot, the mascot for Helsinki 2012.

(On camera): Turns out that under that boxy, blue-eyed head was a flesh-and-blood 14-year-old girl.

(Voice-over): Now Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad didn't know he was shoving a 14-year-old, but still --

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's he got against mascots? Look at him. OK. Slap.

MOOS: Reaction on the runner's own Facebook page was way worse, "bloody, stinky swine, imbecile, what a psycho."

Benabbad has been hot-headed in the past, for instance when a competitor head-butted him, he came out swinging.

(On camera): And this wasn't the first time that the runner has had a run-in with a mascot.

(Voice-over): Two years ago after winning the same race in Barcelona, he gave the mascot a big hug, asked him to get down on his knees, then pushed him over.

We've seen mascots assaulted before, most memorably when a Pittsburgh Pirate player used his bat on a passing Italian sausage who fell and took out a wiener.

There have been cases of mascot-on-mascot assault. And we've seen mascots help run down rowdy fans, in this case with a belly flop.

(On camera): Those who work as characters say something strange happens, that you become dehumanized and people do things they'd never do to another human.

(Voice-over): It could have been worse for Appy the Helsinki mascot. Look what happened to Elmo when he tried to spread cheer amongst school kids. Tickle-Me-Elmo became torture-me-Elmo, until he managed to danced out of danger.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.


MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Very funny. That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching.

Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.