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Mitt Romney Calls Health Care Law a Tax; No Power, No Food; Interview with Pakistani Ambassador to United States

Aired July 4, 2012 - 16:00   ET




MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They said it was a tax, didn't they? So, it's a tax, of course, if that's what they say it is.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney boldly contradicting a top adviser and firmly stating his position on the landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama's health care law. Is his campaign message back on track? Or did he give Democrats a new line of attack?

Plus, an unimaginable crisis unfolding right now in West Virginia. Hundreds of thousands of storm victims already dealing with no power, and now many of them are dealing with no food. We're live on the ground to find out what's being done.

And a state lawmaker accidentally undermining her party and her principles with the press of a button.

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

First to a dramatic moment on the campaign trail, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, firmly stating his position on the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling upholding Obamacare and directly contradicting what his top campaign adviser said earlier in the week.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is covering Romney in New Hampshire on this July 4. She caught up with him earlier in the day.

How did that go, Dana?


Remember, it was a revolt against taxes imposed by the king of England that spurred this day we're celebrating today, Independence Day. So perhaps it is fitting that whether or not the health care mandate is a tax was the question of the day here on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): At first, the ever-disciplined Mitt Romney refused to answer. Earlier, Romney taped an interview with CBS to give a carefully crafted response to a thorny question for him, whether the health insurance mandate is a tax.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I told you. Take a look at it.

BASH: But, finally, he gave CNN the news.

ROMNEY: The Supreme Court is the final word, right? Isn't that the highest court in the land? And they said it was a tax, didn't they? So it's a tax. Of course, if that's what they say it is.

BASH: The main reason the already cautious Romney was especially careful here is because the GOP message on the mandate is already muddled. Earlier this week, a top Romney adviser said the candidate did not think the insurance mandate is a tax, but rather a penalty, what Democrats call it.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax.

BASH: That infuriated Republicans in Washington preparing to pound the president for imposing what they call the biggest tax in American history. Democrats here shadowing Romney's event didn't miss a beat.

RAY BUCKLEY, CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I think people see the president as being a strong leader standing up for his principles and moving forward. We will let Mitt Romney argue with himself.

BASH: Romney's news came during a brief bit of Independence Day action in an otherwise quiet week with his family at their New Hampshire vacation home.

(on camera): Here comes Mitt Romney down the parade route. This is exactly the kind of scene you see from politicians all over the country on July 4. But there's nothing more important than a Republican presidential candidate on July 4 before Election Day. It's very clear watching Mitt Romney working this crowd.

ROMNEY: Happy Fourth of July, guys. How are you?

BASH (voice-over): But the large Romney family, 30 counting grandchildren, hardly had the parade route to themselves. Team Obama was there in full force, since New Hampshire's four electoral votes are critical for the president's prospects for reelection.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: And Barack Obama handily won this state four years ago against John McCain. But right now the polls show a dead heat between the president and Mitt Romney.

And, Wolf, that is in large part because he has one of his adopted homes here. It's one of his adopted states, I should say. And, of course, he was the governor of the state next door.

Speaking of Massachusetts, we should add that one of the questions following the fact that Mitt Romney said that he believes the mandate is a tax is whether or not he believes the health care mandate that he signed in Massachusetts is a tax as well.

Well, in that CBS interview, they released a transcript. He gave an answer, which he said that the Supreme Court actually says that when it comes to states, they don't need to require them to be called taxes to be constitutional. All that I think this really sums up for us is that this is a very complicated issue and it certainly won't fit on a bumper sticker.

BLITZER: Are the Romney folks, Dana, acknowledging that what the candidate said today is very different than what Eric Fehrnstrom said on Monday?

BASH: They're not, actually. They're not acknowledging that at all.

They're trying to, again, explain this in ironically kind of a lawyerly way. If you even look on the Romney campaign Web site right now, they still have a quote up from one of their spokeswomen from earlier in the week slamming the president for this tax, but still saying it is a penalty, not a tax.

So this is something that they're not admitting is a contradiction. They're trying to explain it, but they're trying to explain it in a very confusing way because, frankly, this is a very confusing issue. And it was a difficult opinion to read.

BLITZER: Dana is on the campaign trail in New Hampshire for us. Dana Bash, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little deeper right now into all of this with RealClearPolitics national political reporter Erin McPike.

Erin, thanks for coming in on this July 4.


BLITZER: What I want to do is play the clip, the exact clip of what he told CBS, Romney today, because he's very, very precise. As you know, he's a very precise politician. Listen to this.


ROMNEY: While I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it's a tax and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken.

There's no way around that. You can try and say you wished they'd decided a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax. That's what it is. And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made. He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle income Americans.


BLITZER: Because the Obama folks, obviously the Democrats, say they modeled their so-called tax on what Romney did in Massachusetts.

So that he now thinks it's a tax in Washington, it was a tax in Massachusetts presumably as well.

MCPIKE: Well, you parse his words, and he personally, his personal view is that he agrees with the dissent. I think that's key.

BLITZER: The four Supreme Court justices who were in the minority.

MCPIKE: Right.

And his agreement is essentially deferring to the high court, which as you know, President Obama has taken some heat in the past for criticizing the high court. So I think this is more about showing some respect for the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Yes, because he is very, very precise. It is the law of the land. The Supreme Court is the third branch of the U.S. government, equal to the legislative and the executive branch of the U.S. government.

But it does open him up now to some practical consequences in what's a complicated process called reconciliation. If he now says it's a tax, and if he's elected president of the United States, he has promised that on day one of taking office he would move to repeal what's called Obamacare. And whether it's a tax or not a tax has very practical ramifications.

MCPIKE: It does, because Republicans in Congress want to repeal this via that reconciliation process, as you said. But the important point to know...

BLITZER: The reason is because reconciliation requires 51 votes to repeal, a bare majority, as opposed to a filibuster. If it's not a tax, then you have to deal with a filibuster, which would require 60 votes.

MCPIKE: But here's what hasn't been reported yet. In order to go about doing this via reconciliation, they must first pass a budget.

And Congress hasn't passed a budget since 2009. So what that means is Republicans will need to win four Senate seats in order to get 51 votes to first pass a budget before they can even start this reconciliation process to repeal health care. BLITZER: But he says he's going to start that process on day one if he takes office. It's obviously going to be a difficult process to repeal it. And if President Obama's reelected, then he, of course, could veto whatever Congress imposes. Then you need a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

MCPIKE: So override it.

BLITZER: To override it.

MCPIKE: Exactly.

BLITZER: On the budget, the House keeps passing a budget. The Senate, which has a Democratic majority, doesn't pass a budget.

So what you're saying, for the whole reconciliation process to begin -- this is what you're being told -- they first need to pass a budget.

MCPIKE: That's absolutely right.

BLITZER: You have been on the Hill today checking your sources.

MCPIKE: I was actually talking to one of Mitch McConnell's top aides just yesterday and he said we are going to do this or die trying. But the first thing they have to do is flip four Senate seats.

BLITZER: Were you surprised by what Romney said today? Because it does on the surface seem to be way different than what his senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, said on Monday.

MCPIKE: I was a little surprised. But this is something Mitt Romney has struggled with for years.

I covered him five years ago in his first run for the presidency. And I remember asking him in the fall of 2007. He said that under his health care plan, he could get every American insured within four years. I said, governor, how are you going to do that without a mandate? And he said he would implement a system of incentives and sticks, so that states could deregulate their health insurance markets and then force all of their citizens in each of those states to get insurance. But sticks to me sounds like penalty.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Thanks very much.

MCPIKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Erin McPike coming in from RealClearPolitics. Appreciate it.

To West Virginia now and a situation so dire, it's almost unimaginable in a country with as many resources as the United States. It's been five days now since those devastating storms hit hundreds of thousands of people and they are still without power. And now the food supply is starting to dwindle here in the United States of America in the state of West Virginia -- 3,000 people in one housing complex alone reportedly had no food for two days.

Brian Todd is on the ground for us right in the middle of all of this.

Brian, give us the very latest. How bad is that situation in West Virginia?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The food shortage, Wolf, is continuing.

And officials here are scrambling to deal with it. We just visited a shelter where they're distributing food to people, some nonperishable food to people who are in there who lost their power. We're going to have a little bit more on that later.

We can also update you on the power outages. The latest numbers we have this afternoon are that roughly one-quarter of the customers in this state, about 270,000 of them, still without power today. It's really miserable out here. It's about 100 degrees and very humid. It's not typical weather in West Virginia this time of year. It's usually significantly cooler. So, that's really kind of a calamitous turn of events as far as nature is concerned for the people here.

And, you know, a lot of complaints about the power crews just not getting to places fast enough and not moving fast enough for the customers. Well, this is what they're up against. Take a look at this. Our photojournalist, Jon Benna (ph), and I are going to walk you through this downed power line situation here.

These cables, obviously the oak tree just snapped in half, came right on to these cables, knocked out a pole over here and disabled it and is across the road. One power company official warned us when these cables are still kind of suspended like this, when they haven't hit the ground, they could still be energized and that's a real hazard for crews.

We talked to Charles Patton earlier. He's the chairman and CEO of Appalachian Power. He also talked about some of the obstacles his crews are fighting against.


CHARLES PATTON, CEO, APPALACHIAN POWER: Our employees and contractors are out on 16-hour days in this sweltering heat. And we have to wear insulated protection. So think about it. They're in rubber suits, half of their bodies are in rubber suits for a significant part of the day in 100-degree weather.


TODD: Another obstacle they have is that in a lot of areas, especially in West Virginia, it's not like this. The power poles are not on roads. They're in the middle of valleys, in the middle of mountains. These crews have to park somewhere, walk a long way, maybe up a steep incline, maybe climb a tree or something to get to a downed pole, something like that. It's really tough work for them especially in the more remote areas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, I hope those lines behind you, those power lines, aren't live. I'm sure a lot of viewers are seeing how close you are to those lines and they're beginning to get a little worried.

TODD: I can tell you what we're told is -- I haven't touched any yet and I won't.

BLITZER: Don't touch it.

TODD: But what we're told is if they're hitting the ground -- right, I won't touch it.

We're told if they're hitting the ground, they're pretty much de- energized because they kind of trip themselves off. But if they're suspended, like this, as we said, there's a chance they could still be energized and you have the tree just hanging on this thing. It could snap, a pole could come down.

This is what the crews are up against when they approach these areas. You have to be very, very careful. Also, residents, plenty of people driving and walking around here. It's pretty treacherous. And this is a scene repeated throughout this state, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I want folks to be really, really, really careful out there. Don't get too close to those power lines.

I know you're going to have a full report in the next hour, but the food situation, this is something that troubles me deeply, as you can imagine. There are a lot of people who are hungry right now in West Virginia. Food apparently is having a tough time reaching these folks?

TODD: Well, it has, Wolf.

A lot of people live in very remote areas. When they got knocked out of power, they were trying to get to their local food store. Those were without power, too. And after maybe a day, those stores had to throw out all their perishable foods.

So they ran out of food very quickly. A state official told me that two food banks in this state, two food banks that serve the entire state of nonperishable food, they're depleted. They have started a food drive. They're getting people into shelters. They're trying to get food to people in those shelters and into remote areas.

But it's slow-going. They're mobilizing as fast as they can. It's a crisis with food and water right now.

BLITZER: We will see what the federal government in the next hour is doing, FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services. Brian will have a full report on that. I know folks are deeply, deeply worried.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that report. There's one thing everybody expects on the Fourth of July, but this year towns and cities all across the country are going without fireworks. But it may not be for the reason you think.

We will also meet a California family that rebuilt after losing everything to a wildfire. Now they're worried about losing everything again.

And Pakistan's ambassador to the United States is in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's getting ready to explain what the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, accomplished simply by saying one word: Sorry.


BLITZER: Nothing says Fourth of July like fireworks. But this year, they may be noticeably absent from celebrations all across the country due to a number of states desperately strapped for cash.

Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She's been looking into this story for us.

You got details. What are you learning?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, some fireworks shows have been canceled because of the recent storms, some because of wildfires out West.

But in other towns the sky will not be lit up tonight because of the weak economy. We look at two cities facing the same problem.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The red, white and blue bunting is out, the door of the Broadway Diner in Red Bank, New Jersey, wishes patrons a happy Fourth of July. But this year something is missing.

JANET SHAHEEN, RED BANK RESIDENT: I mean, the whole county would come here. And everyone would get together. It was like a Norman Rockwell picture. That's really what it was.

SYLVESTER: Val DeFazio says this would have been the diner's busiest day of the year.

VAL DEFAZIO, RED BANK RESIDENT: It's early, but it's very, very quiet. It hurts a lot of businesses.

SYLVESTER: Red Bank canceled its annual fireworks show for the first time in 53 years. Borough officials could no longer pay for police overtime and organizers couldn't raise enough private donations. It means children having to watch fireworks on television.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: (INAUDIBLE) like stand out more, like they're small on TV. But they're big like in like life.

SYLVESTER: It's a sad reality for several towns in the United States. Red, white and blue might run deep, but it doesn't matter if you don't have green.

MAYOR NOAM BRAMSON, NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK: When you are faced with difficult budget choices, you have to sort out the desirable from the essential. And the city council felt that this was an appropriate cut to make.

SYLVESTER: Sixty-five miles away in New Rochelle, New York, the city also canceled its fireworks display. But they sent out a call to the community asking for donations, and one woman wrote a $50,000 check. She goes by the name of Guru Madeleine.

GURU MADELEINE, THE SELF -- HELP FOUNDATION, INC: It felt good. From the moment I called to do it, I have felt nothing but joy. And I knew it was right. I still know it's right. I saw the energy shift in the people and excitement. And you have to have that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This box right here is 36-shot box. There's 36 small tubes in there. As soon as we hit the ignition switch, the tubes will start firing one after the other.

SYLVESTER: Boxes and boxes of fireworks now being unloaded in time for the show.


SYLVESTER: And in New Rochelle, New York, that show kicks off just after sunset tonight.

Red Bank, on the other hand, became a victim of its success. More and more people when they heard about what a great show it was, but that meant more crowds, more rowdiness and the need for more security. And the bureau in the end just couldn't pay for it, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of these cities are strapped right now. That's obviously one of the things that goes.

SYLVESTER: It's one of the first things, unfortunately, that goes. It's really sad because for many of these celebrations, like the one in Red Bank, that has been going on for 53 years. For the first time, it's been canceled. What they're really hoping that what this will mean as the community will come together and they may get more donations for next year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hope so. A lot of kids are going to be disappointed.


BLITZER: Thank you.

In California, the fireworks are likely to come with mixed emotions for one family still recovering almost four years since devastating wildfires destroyed their home. Having a child with autism makes the struggle all the more challenging.

CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now. He's got more on this story.

What's going out there, Casey?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, back in 2008 this community that you can see behind me was burnt to the ground by a wildfire. As you can see by all the empty lots, a lot of folks never came back. Those who did have mostly recovered, but they still struggle with the fire's legacy.


WIAN (voice-over): For the Reyes family Sylmar, California, Fourth of July fireworks spark patriotic pride and fears that sparks could ignite another fire.

JAN REYES, FIRE DESTROYED HOME: We could see the fires over the valley. So, we watch them from afar.

WIAN: Nearly four years ago, their home and some 600 others were burnt to the ground by a wildfire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flames were coming over the ridge. It literally just took over. And this is all that's left of my house. All this was burning.

WIAN: Their son, then 7-year-old Jonathan, has autism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't do well with change. So this is going to be very hard to explain to him.

WIAN: In 2008, CNN accompanied the Reyes' as they picked through the burnt rubble of their home. Jonathan searched for his beloved Hot Wheels collection.

JAN REYES: He's trying to find a car.

WIAN: This fragment was all that remained.

JONATHAN REYES: One of my cars.

WIAN: The harsh reality of rebuilding their lives began to sink in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of happy memories in this house. And we just had to come here and say good-bye.

JAN REYES: Jonathan, we're leaving. We're not coming back.


JAN REYES: That is what we thought. That was our plan is, that we were leaving. We were not coming back.

WIAN: The next few months were tough, especially for Jonathan. He struggled in school and at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had night terrors is what they call them. And he'd just wake up screaming. WIAN: Therapy helped Jonathan cope. Still, he missed his old house.

JAN REYES: This is part of his routine with autistic kids. This is what he knows. We don't want to mess it up any more than what he's already had to go through.

WIAN: So they rebuilt on the same spot.

JONATHAN REYES: I feel happy that we were going to come back.

WIAN: A year after the fire, the family returned. Today, Jonathan is doing much better. Donations doubled the size of his Hot Wheels collection.

JONATHAN REYES: I got this award.

WIAN: And he's winning awards in school. But the family still struggles. Especially with sirens, helicopters --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you lose literally everything you have, I'll still go out to the garage and I got that tool, I know I can fix it. And realize, you know what, you don't have it anymore.

WIAN (on camera): Are you watching what's going on in Colorado now? When you see those flames and what's going on for those people, what does that bring back to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wish you could go help them. You know what they've been through or what they are going through.

WIAN (voice-over): While the threat of fire is ever present, so is Jonathan's attachment to his home.

JONATHAN REYES: I want to back here if it burns again.


WIAN: Reyes' do have a message for those families in Colorado who have lost their homes to the fire there. They say stay strong, stay close to family. Eventually things will get better, Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey, good luck to those folks out there. Good luck to everyone out there. Thanks very much.

Tonight, there are new suspicions that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, may have been poisoned. We're going to find out what turned up among other things on his old toothbrush.


BLITZER: Today, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to start attacking supply trucks making their way from Afghanistan -- into Afghanistan, I should say, from Pakistan -- bringing supplies to U.S. and NATO troops. The threat comes only one day after Pakistan accepted an apology from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and agreed to reopen those vital supply routes.


And joining us now from Islamabad, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Sherry Rehman.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in. Why did it take so long, seven months, to work out this deal?

SHERRY REHMAN, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: It took us a while, but we welcome the strategic patience that all parties showed in this whole process. And I think that today and yesterday mark a historic dawn in this relationship. We have been able to, I think, turn towards building on this opportunity and hope the downward spiral this really could have spun towards.

BLITZER: Because the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, after your government demanded for months and months a formal apology for that incident last November --

REHMAN: That's right.

BLITZER: -- which a couple dozen Pakistani troops were killed accidentally by the United States. She did issue a statement.

She said this, "We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."

Now, the word sorry is not necessarily exactly the same as apologize. Was that an issue? Did you want her to go further? Or is this good enough as far as Pakistan is concerned?

REHMAN: Well, you know, I can speak for the government and most of parliament, which really did ask -- you know, in Pakistan, sorry, an apology, usually, I mean the word sorry does mean an apology. And it's not seen as a soft option.

BLITZER: Ambassador, there were a lot of reports that originally you were charging only about $200, $250 per truck bringing supplies to U.S. and NATO forces into Afghanistan from Karachi in Pakistan.

But at some point you wanted to increase that to $5,000 a truck. U.S. officials thought it was exorbitant. It's going to go back to the way it was, about $200, $250 a truck, is that right?

REHMAN: Wolf, it was never -- I don't know where this $5,000 figure has come from. It just got a life of its own after some speculation in the press.

I would just like to say that there was never any intent to, as I said, you know, make this one of our negotiations or make price an element of our negotiations. It really wasn't about that.

And as you say, it's going to go back to what it was, which we call no-charge because we're not really going into any architecture or levees or transit fees that other countries do charge or may continue to charge.

For us, it's a commitment towards stabilizing Afghanistan. It's our very major contribution to peace in the region and we certainly don't want to be demonized anymore as a country that is holding back.

If anything else, Pakistan has paid more in terms of life and blood and treasure in this entire conflict for the last 10 years than anybody -- than all the joint resources of NATO in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: The U.S. officials are saying though that as part of this arrangement, there will be an additional more than $1 billion a year in assistance to Pakistan, $1.1 billion, $1.2 billion to reimburse the Pakistani military for support along the border, the counterinsurgency support along the border with Afghanistan. Is this new billion-dollar-aid package part of this deal?

REHMAN: I'm not, Wolf, aware of any new aid package. As I understand, if you're speaking about the coalition support funds, I take this opportunity to disabuse anyone of the notion that this is any kind of aid package.

Coalition support funds is the arrangement that was agreed on between Pakistan and the United States for compensation of logistical and other deployment on the western side of the border in support of -- and other mobilization, in support of NATO, ISAF and U.S. forces.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but one final question, Ambassador. Any chance that Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Bin Laden in Abbottabad and has been sentenced to 33 years in prison in Pakistan, any chance you might be willing to reduce that sentence or let him go? Come to the United States with his family?

REHMAN: Wolf, he did not know at any point that he was assisting in looking for Bin Laden. These are actions of the Pakistani courts. He has at least three layers of appeals.

These are not Kangaroo courts. He has not been indicted for assisting and abetting with any foreign intelligence agency. He has been indicted right now for assisting and signing agreements with -- and being in a web of complicated agreements in the tribal agency he was working with.

With terrorist groups that are killing and of course, for egregious concern for Pakistan and should be for the United States as well.

BLITZER: Ambassador, we're out of time. Appreciate it very much. I will just leave you with this one thought. There is as you know outrage in the U.S. Congress over this 33-year sentence for this physician. And as you know --

REHMAN: Indeed there is.

BLITZER: -- in retaliation they cut off $33 million in annual assistance to Pakistan hoping that would send a powerful message to your government that he might be released and allowed to come to the United States or whatever.

REHMAN: We're mindful of Americans concerns. Let me say we do hear you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Ambassador Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. We'll stay in close touch. Look forward to seeing you back here in Washington.

State lawmaker casts a deciding vote on an important issue by accidentally hitting the wrong button. They won't let her take it back.


BLITZER: Just getting word of a train accident in Illinois. Lisa's back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, this is what we know. A coal train traveling from Wyoming to Wisconsin derailed in North Brook, Illinois, that's north of Chicago. Several cars went off an overpass and there was a small fire, but it is now out. Union Pacific tells CNN there are no injuries.

And today another car bombing targeted a largely Shiite town killing at least eight people and wounding two dozen more at an outdoor market.

And in separate attacks in Baghdad, gunmen killed two police officers and employee of the Iraqi parliament. A series of bomb blasts killed at least 36 people across Iraq today.

And there are new calls to exhume the body of one-time Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to confirm or deny suspicions he may have been poisoned.

He died after a sudden illness in 2004. In a report broadcast on Al Jazeera, a doctor revealed new tests detected the poisonous radioactive substance, Polonium, in Arafat's toothbrush and clothing. And we'll go live to the Middle East coming up in our next hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa. Meanwhile, here in the United States, a race for Congress in the state of Illinois is getting really, really nasty.

One candidate says her opponent is a loud mouth. Wait until you hear what he says about her service fighting in the war in Iraq.

Plus, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg goes for a record number of hotdog puns in a single sentence, but he isn't very happy about it.


BLITZER: On this Fourth of July, let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now, Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist and Rich Galen, the Republican strategist. Guys, first of all, thanks very for coming in. Happy Fourth of July.


BLITZER: As you know, Mitt Romney was up in New Hampshire walking around, talking including to our own Dana Bash, and he clearly disagrees with Eric Fehrnstrom, one of his top strategic advisors who only Monday said that the mandate was not a tax.

It was a penalty, not a tax. He specifically said that. But listen to Mitt Romney today.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Supreme Court is the final word, right? The highest court in the land, they said it was a tax, didn't they? It was a tax, of course. That's what they say it is.


BLITZER: You got that. He says it is a tax now that the Supreme Court has ruled. Rich, let me start with you. What's going on? Between Monday and Wednesday --

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They're finally figuring it out. In fact, here's what it is. The Supreme Court -- the chief justice ruled that the mandate -- that the penalty could not be a penalty on the mandate because of the commerce clause. It was illegal extension of the commerce clause. So the only thing it could be is a tax.

BLITZER: Which is constitutional. Congress has the right to write taxes.

GALEN: I got that, but states don't have a commerce clause. So it can be a tax in Massachusetts and be perfectly legal because it's not in violation of anything. It's a little bit like quantum physics where light can either be a particle or a wave --

BLITZER: Let's not get into quantum -- who is right, Eric Fehrnstrom On Monday?

GALEN: Eric isn't running for anything. Who cares?

BLITZER: But he's a senior strategist.

GALEN: That doesn't make any difference. Mitt Romney has it right. As a governor of the state, he doesn't have to deal with the commerce clause. It was a tax. So the Romney campaign gets to see, say, this is the largest tax -- not the largest tax, but largest tax increase in history.

BLITZER: Has he said all that, Donna? You know, the Obama administration continues to refuse to acknowledge what the Supreme Court has ruled and saved Obama care, if you will, by saying it's a tax and it's constitutional. Why does the Obama administration continue to refuse to say what Mitt Romney said today, what the Supreme Court said?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, let's make it clear that Mitt Romney in 2006 after he signed the sweeping health care law in Massachusetts called this provision a penalty.

And Mitt Romney's on record and supporting the individual responsibility mandate as a penalty. That is the same provision pretty much plagiarized from the Massachusetts law that became part of the Affordable Care Act.

So it is a penalty, Wolf, that individuals who opt not paying health insurance or buying health insurance will have to pay not as part of their taxes, but as part of a penalty for not purchasing.

They're used to sweeping clause that Congress in Article 1 that Congress has under the taxing authority to consider it a penalty --

BLITZER: Donna, it's a penalty, but it's also a tax. The solicitor general, the top lawyer for the Obama administration --

GALEN: Argued.

BLITZER: -- argued before Supreme Court that it was a tax. The IRS will administer it. It will be due on April 15th as a tax. That's what they do. It's a tax. You guys are reluctant to acknowledge --

GALEN: Go back to the uncertainty --

BLITZER: I'm not just saying, it's a penalty and a tax.

BRAZILE: I don't have a problem with the semantics of it, Wolf. I have a problem with Mitt Romney being inconsistent about it. He's not only contradicting his senior advisor, who is a very important senior advisor, but also contradicting things he said himself about this bill. It's not the largest tax increase --

GALEN: It's in the top ten, but that's what I'm saying --

BRAZILE: Top 15 since 1950.

GALEN: Since yesterday afternoon.

BLITZER: Does this show that there's a problem though among the senior staff of the Romney campaign as Rupert Murdoch, Jack Welch are suggesting? They need to get some better people. If you have one statement saying something on Monday, a different statement on Wednesday, there might be a problem.

GALEN: There might be a problem. Wait until we see the Friday unemployment numbers when everybody's going to forget about this.

BRAZILE: But Wolf, the problem is not the senior staff. The problem is a candidate who is not consistent on these issues. He hasn't been consistent from a governor to running for president and he's not consistent now. BLITZER: Let me get to this other issue because there's a tight race in Illinois right now. There's an incumbent Republican, Joe Walsh, he is being faced by a Democrat, Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran.

She lost both of her legs while serving in the U.S. military and listen to both Walsh and Duckworth. They're going after each other. Walsh started it. Listen to this.


REPRESENTATIVE JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: Understand something about John McCain, his political advisors day after day had to take him and almost throw him against a wall and hit him against the head and say, Senator, you have to let people know you serve.

You have to talk about what you did. He didn't want to do it, wouldn't do it. Now, I'm running against a woman -- I mean, my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us that --

LT. COL. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: He really disrespected 23 million veterans across this nation with those comments. Anyone who has worn the uniform of this great nation for a single day has done more for their nation than Joe Walsh has ever done.


BLITZER: Go ahead and talk about this. It's ugly.

GALEN: I think they're both ugly and I think they're both wrong. And they ought to get off this as quickly --

BLITZER: Why is he wrong?

GALEN: Because if you serve in public service, the highest level of citizenship is being in uniform either in the service.

BLITZER: She did. He never did.

GALEN: But the next one I think is being is serving in public office, running for and serving in public office putting yourself out to do that. So I think she's wrong about that.

As the only person at this table that spent six months in Iraq, been around a lot of active duty folks, a lot of veterans I'm still in contact with, some talk about it a lot, some never talk about it. I think he's wrong too.

BRAZILE: As a daughter of a veteran who spent 52 years of my life loving my father every step along the way, we honor their service and sacrifice.

What Tammy Duckworth and millions of our citizens have done, we should be proud of them and proud of their service. What John McCain did, proud of his service.

I think Joe Walsh was absolutely wrong. I would not have come back at Mr. Walsh the way Miss Duckworth did, but I understand the insult he leveled at her and she had every right to speak her mind.

But let's honor their service especially on this very, very important day.

BLITZER: In a later in the interview, by the way, she called him an extremist loud mouth for the Tea Party as well. So it's a tough race out there.

GALEN: It's going to be ugly.

BLITZER: Its' very ugly already.

BRAZILE: It's another race to watch, Wolf. We have a lot of races to watch.

BLITZER: We'll be watching them all.

BRAZILE: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, thanks very much for coming in. Once again, happy Fourth of July.

GALEN: Same to you.

BLITZER: It's being called one of the most important announcements in the history of science. In a minute, you're going to find out what researchers just detected. It may be responsible for everything you see around you.

Also, why a North Carolina lawmaker wasn't allowed to take back her vote when all she did was hit the wrong button.

And mayor Bloomberg tells an audience what he really thinks about his own latest speech.


BLITZER: Scientists announced a huge discovery today. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that story and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, this is a fascinating story. Vindication today for a British scientist who nearly half a century ago theorized there's a particle responsible for forming all the matter in the universe.

The 82-year-old Peter Higgs was on hand today as scientists announced they have finally detected a particle that fits his description of what's become known as the Higgs Boson.

Others call it the "God particle." Now to detect it, scientists need a $10 billion atom smasher, detectors the size of office buildings and thousands of computers. And they still aren't exactly sure how it converts pure energy into matter.

And India's monsoon rains are blamed for flooding that's killed at least 95 people and left some 2 million people homeless. After visiting the disaster area in the north eastern state, India's prime minister committed $90 million to that relief effort.

Back here in the United States, a tail-wagging thank you to Oregon firefighters who rescued a dog from the side of a gravel pit. Daisy had been missing for about a week when someone spotted her dug in along a ledge along the wall.

No one knows how she got there, but a fireman suspended from the end of a ladder got a harness on Daisy and managed to haul her to safety.

And sometimes politicians, they stick to the script and sometimes they don't. With that in mind, we give you New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, paying tribute, sort of, to Nathan's Annual Hotdog Eating Contest.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: One of their dogged pursuers will finally ketchup and no question it's going to be a dog fight. Think how many we got in one sentence. That was really impressive. Who wrote this --


SYLVESTER: A little candid moment there. This year's winners were the defending champions, Joey Josh Chestnut and Sonja, "The Black Widow," Thomas.

I know that the Black Widow Thomas, she's a little itty bitty thing. I think she only weighs like 100 pounds, but she could certainly put away the hotdogs.

BLITZER: It's amazing what happens on July 4th around the country. Thanks, Lisa.

A race against time to get truckloads of food and water to those who need it most. Ahead, we're going back to West Virginia where a major crisis is unfolding right now only days after that devastating storm.

And a state lawmaker accidentally undermines her party, her own principles with the press of a button.


BLITZER: A state lawmaker in North Carolina says she feels rotten after accidentally casting the deciding vote in favor of something she opposes, new natural gas drilling using a ground fracturing procedure known as fracking.

And get this, she can't take back her vote. Laura Leslie of CNN's Raleigh affiliate, WRAL, shows us what happened.


LAURA LESLIE, WRAL REPORTER (voice-over): Green and red, aye and no. It might seem hard to confuse them, but Representative Becky Carney says that's exactly what happened late Monday night when she accidentally voted to legalize fracking.

REPRESENTATIVE BECKY CARNEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: I made a mistake and I tried to get recognized to change it as people have been doing all night on other bills. And it was too late because it changed the outcome of the vote.

LESLIE: House rules allow members to change their votes as long as it does not affect the outcome of the bill. They do that a lot. They push the wrong button and change their votes later.

But this vote did affect the veto override. So the rules don't allow Carney to change it, says Representative Paul Stam, no matter what her intentions were.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL STAM (R), NORTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: That doesn't count in legislation. It's what you actually -- how you vote, not how you wish to vote.

LESLIE: Carney could have asked for that rule to be suspended, but she never got the chance. Stam used a parliamentary move called a clincher to make sure she couldn't change it. Speaker Thom Tillis defended that maneuver.

(on camera): Is it the best way to make public policy based on a mistake?

THOM TILLIS, (R) SPEAKER, NORTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: I think that the member was well-aware of how to vote, green or red, for whatever reason, maybe it was a mistake, maybe she decided to change her vote, but we can't do that.

LESLIE (voice-over): Carney says it was a mistake and she takes responsibility for it. But she says midnight end of session votes don't exactly help.

CARNEY: I feel rotten and I feel tired. And I feel mistakes are made constantly when people are tired and under the stress of pushing to get out of here.

LESLIE: Laura Leslie, WRAL News, Raleigh.


BLITZER: By the way, a practical effect of all this would be to open a 150-mile long area of Central North Carolina to exploration, but it will also raise concerns about possible water pollution.