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Earth Goes Mars Crazy; Presidential Name-Calling; Romney: Obama's Gutting Welfare Reform; U.N. Pulls Monitors Out of Aleppo; What Was The Gunman's Motive?; Will GOP Convention Speakers Help Obama?; Should Sarah Palin Get A Big Convention Speech?; Do Political Parties Care About You?; Mars Rover Sends New, Better Pictures

Aired August 7, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're tracking the gun used in the Sikh temple slaughter. And I will ask the local police chief about the shooter's apparent links to the white supremacist movement. Were there any warning signs?

Also, Mitt Romney's been taking heat from the Obama campaign. Now he's coming up with some insults of his own. We have got Romney Hood vs. Obamaloney. Are they just getting started with the name- calling?

And after its dramatic arrival, the Mars Rover is already hard at work sending back what scientists call awesome new images from the Red Planet.

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

We're learning much more about the shooter and his victims in the Sikh temple slaughter in Wisconsin. I will speak with Oak Creek, Wisconsin, police chief, John Edwards. That is coming up shortly. We will speak live. We will hear exclusively also from two men who lost their mother in the killings.

But, first, we're getting new details on the weapon. Our own Brian Todd is joining us now live. He's in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Brian, you have been tracing the gun. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Spoken to the gun store manager, Wolf. New details on that weapon that authorities believe was used in this shooting. That information comes from the gun store manager who is still shaken by the experience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Subjects down. Got officers down. I need ambulance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have one officer shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Subject with a gun, balding, white T-shirt. Officer down. TODD (voice-over): It was less than a week before this carnage that suspect Wade Michael Page stopped here and picked up the .9- millimeter semiautomatic pistol he's believed to have used in the rampage at the Sikh temple. That's according to a law enforcement official and Eric Grabowski, Manager of The Shooters Shop just outside Milwaukee.

(on camera): When you heard about this, what was going through your mind?

ERIC GRABOWSKI, THE SHOOTERS SHOP: My first reaction was I was hoping that we didn't sell him the firearm.

TODD (voice-over): Grabowski can't say if he was working in the store when Page bought the weapon on July 28 or when he picked it up two days later after a background check.

He says Page likely paid about $700 for a model known as the XDM similar to this one. According to Grabowski and law enforcement officials, it was all above-board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The firearm was purchased legally.

TODD: As for the occasions when Page was in this store...

(on camera): Did anything about him strike out at you or the employees here who might have dealt with him that day?

GRABOWSKI: He was un-rememberable, not rememberable to any of us. There are two types of people we remember, longstanding customers, as well as people who rub us the wrong way and then they don't buy a gun here.

TODD: So you do refuse service to people who give you a bad vibe?

GRABOWSKI: Very often. Yes, we do.

TODD: And he didn't?

GRABOWSKI: No. He wouldn't have purchased a firearm here if he did.

TODD (voice-over): Employees here tell us that gun is mainly used for target practice and self-defense.

(on camera): A law enforcement official tells us Page also bought ammunition at The Shooters Shop and came down here to use the shop's firing range. The owner says he used this range on July 30, the same day he picked up the weapon.

(voice-over): Assistant manager Brian (ph) Grabowski, Eric's brother, demonstrates the firepower of a similar .9-millimeter. Brian says each magazine holds at least 17 bullets. In the store, I asked Eric Grabowski, who has worked here for a decade, how he feels looking back on this. GRABOWSKI: It hurts. I mean, it's not something that I would ever want, obviously. You know, that community is just is in pain. You know, us here at The Shooters Shop -- I'm at a loss for words. I'm sorry. You know, I know a year ago this month, I lost my daughter. So I understand what it's like to lose a family member. I don't want -- I don't like knowing that that's what happened and -- something I had sold.


TODD: Eric Grabowski and the gun shop's owner tell us there is surveillance footage of Wade Michael Page buying that pistol and footage of him using it in their firing range.

They say they have turned that over to law enforcement, Wolf.

BLITZER: So they don't have a copy. They're not going to release the footage of him actually walking in that store, purchasing that weapon.

But generally, Brian, how would officials in Wisconsin or the federal law enforcement authorities have checked this guy's background? What would they look for?

TODD: Well, according to the gun shop owners and federal officials and state officials who we talked to, he would have filled out two separate forms for the background check, which they showed us at the store.

Then those are sent to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. That agency checks out anything in his background as far as any felony convictions, any possible insanity pleas or any instances of maybe mental illness, and whether the courts have ever told the person in question that they can't buy a firearm.

We're also told by state officials that the federal law enforcement agencies get involved in the background check as well. So it would have run through all of those checks, Wolf. And, apparently, it did. And it came back saying that this man could purchase this weapon.

BLITZER: The weapon was purchased legally, as the law enforcement authorities there said. Thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Of the six people killed over at the Sikh temple, just one was a woman, gunned down just as she offered a last prayer. She left behind two sons. And they spoke exclusively with CNN's Poppy Harlow.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for every person killed in this tragedy, there are countless loved ones grieving. The two sons of Paramjit Kaur, one of the victims of the shooting, opened up to us earlier today about the anguish that this has caused.

(voice-over): It didn't take long for Kamal Saini to learn what happened to his mother.

KAMAL SAINI, VICTIM'S SON: My aunt told her that there is a shooting going on outside. We need to get up and leave. And rather than just getting up and leaving, she wanted to just bow down and pray for the last time and then get up and leave. As she was just getting up, she was shot in the back.

HARLOW: Murdered in her sacred place.

K. SAINI: She collapsed there. She didn't have a chance. They said she was dead on the spot.

HARLOW: Paramjit Kaur, 41 years old.

K. SAINI: I called her a few times and she didn't answer her phone. And I went to the scene, and they had every road blocked off and they wouldn't let us through.

HARLOW (on camera): You tried to go find your mom.

K. SAINI: Yes, and told the police officer that, my mom's in there. You have to let me through.

HARLOW (voice-over): Twenty-year-old Kamal left his younger brother, Harpreet, at home, trying to protect him. As survivors emerged, Kamal searched among them.

K. SAINI: I went downstairs in the basement where the rescuers were and looked for my mom, and she wasn't one of them.

HARLOW: Reality sinking in.

K. SAINI: I had an idea that she didn't make it, but I just didn't want to believe it.

HARLOW: Paramjit Kaur went to the gurdwara every Thursday and Sunday, often arriving early to help prepare food.

K. SAINI: She was a good woman. She was a great mom. She lived for us. She worked for us. Anything she did, it was for us.

HARLOW (on camera): What was she like when she walked into a room? What was she like?

K. SAINI: Always had a smile. She always had a smile.

HARLOW (voice-over): Paramjit saved every penny for the past eight years to take her family to India last month to celebrate Harpreet's 18th birthday. It was their first time back since emigrating to the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was probably the greatest experience we have had together was going to the Golden Temple. And she always wanted to go there.

HARLOW (on camera): What were your mother's dreams for you? K. SAINI: She just wanted us to be educated. She told us education is everything here.

HARLOW (voice-over): Both Kamal and Harpreet want to go into law enforcement.

K. SAINI: It's the land of opportunity they told me when I first came here.

HARLOW (on camera): Do you still believe this is your land of opportunity?

K. SAINI: Took my world away. All it takes is one ignorant person, one ignorant person to take somebody's world away.

HARLOW (voice-over): Now the brothers want answers.

HARPREET SAINI, VICTIM'S SON: Why would you do that? Why did you do that?

HARLOW (on camera): For what?

H. SAINI: For what reason?

K. SAINI: I just want to know where she was laying. I want to go back and look.


K. SAINI: That was the last time she was...

HARLOW (voice-over): The only comfort they have is that their mother's last moments were in the place she loved.

(on camera): And Kamal, the older son, is currently studying criminal justice. Both the sons told me that this situation has just strengthened their resolve to go into law enforcement, to become police officers and to make their mother proud.

And they also wanted me to relay this, Wolf. They said they are immensely grateful to all the first-responders, the police officers who responded to this horrific tragedy -- Wolf.


BLITZER: What a heartbreaking, heartbreaking story.

Poppy Harlow, thanks for bringing it to our viewers.

Were there warning signs before the Sikh temple massacre? I'm going to speak live with the police chief, John Edwards, of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Police Department. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM at the half-hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is election time, as you're probably aware, and the politicians, as they are want to do, will do or say anything to get your vote. Starting with President Obama and Mitt Romney and all the way down the line, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want you to believe that they feel your pain.

It's an open question though if any of them really do.

Ron Paul was the rare candidate who actually connected with voters these last two election cycles. He attracted a groundswell of support from people who were looking for some real answers. But it was never enough support to propel him to the next level.

As for most of us, the two major political parties -- Democrat and Republican -- often seem interchangeable.

And a new poll suggests the vast majority of voters are staying loyal to the party they supported four years ago. There is just a little switching sides going on.

The Gallup Poll shows 9 percent of 2008 Obama voters have switched over to supporting Romney this year, while 5 percent of McCain voters have switched to supporting President Obama.

The groups most likely to change presidential preferences or be undecided include Hispanics, Asians, independents, political moderates, Eastern residents, those with a high school education or less and unmarried men.

The pollsters say that because loyalty to the president is slightly less than loyalty to the Republican candidate is the reason that this race appears to be tighter now than the one in 2008.

The deepening mystery in all of this is why, after continually being disappointed by both parties, so many people continue to support them. What is wrong with us?

The list of problems the country is mired in suggests the two major parties are the problem, not the solution.

And that's our question: How much do the two major political parties really care about you?

Go to and post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on the THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

So what are authorities in Wisconsin learning about the Sikh temple shooter's apparent links to white supremacists? I will ask the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, police chief, John Edwards. He's standing by live.

And Syria's bloody civil war has sent thousands fleeing in fear and horror. We are going to introduce you to the family in tent number 257 at a Jordan refugee camp. And extraordinary new images from Mars coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- why scientists are so excited.


BLITZER: In politics today, Mitt Romney launched a new attack on President Obama, accusing him of trying to gut welfare reform.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with the Romney campaign. He's in Iowa right now.

So, Jim, what exactly is Mitt Romney saying on this issue?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is out to pit one Democratic president against another. Earlier today, he accused President Obama of trying to gut one of Bill Clinton's signature legislative achievements, namely welfare reform. He unleashed this line of attack in Mr. Obama's home turf of Illinois earlier this morning. Here's what he had to say.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope you understand that President Obama in just the last few days has tried to reverse that accomplishment by taking the work requirement out of welfare. That is wrong. If I'm president, I'll put work back in welfare.


ACOSTA: Now, all of this got started earlier this morning when the Romney campaign released a new TV ad that seized on a memo that was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services last month. That memo basically was designed to provide waivers to states in implementing the welfare program. All of this drew a harsh response from the White House, which says the memo itself points out that the goal at the Department of Health and Human Services is to get more people back to work.

And here's the take from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let me say that this advertisement is categorically false and it is blatantly dishonest.


ACOSTA: Now, the Obama campaign is also hard at work, responding to this latest line of attack from the Romney campaign. They put out this letter. We'll put it up on screen for you, Wolf. It shows that back in 2005, Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, along with other Republican governors across the country, sent a letter to Congress, seeking waivers of their own in implementing the welfare program in their individual states. The goal in that letter it states is to help move people from welfare to work.

And the Obama campaign is also pointing out that when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he supported a program that provided car insurance and AAA automobile coverage to welfare recipients who received donated cars. The Romney campaign said that that program actually saved money when he was governor of Massachusetts.

But really, Wolf, this is part of a larger theme from the Romney campaign. And Romney's been hitting it several times over the last few weeks. He is trying to accuse the president of increasing government dependency. It is something the Obama campaign and the White House vehemently denies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you know, Jim, last night, the president launched a new line of attack against Mitt Romney, saying he was Robin Hood in reverse. He called him "Romney Hood", he got a good laugh at that fundraiser in Connecticut when he said that. Today I understand Mitt Romney is responding with a line of his own.

ACOSTA: That's right. He's calling all that Obama-loney, which I think if you were to extrapolate that out, I think it means Obama baloney. So, both candidates having fun with each other's names.

It kind of gives you a sense of where this campaign is and how low it's gotten. And we're still three months out from election time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A little name-calling by both sides. We're going to have more on this part of the story later this hour. Jim Acosta traveling with Mitt Romney in Iowa right now.

Meanwhile, other important news we're following around the world. The United Nations pulled its monitors out of Syria's largest city, citing the deteriorating security situation. That means the all-out civil war that's raging in Aleppo as the city is pounded and pounded by artillery and aircraft, Syria is torn apart, its people are fleeing to neighboring countries by the tens of thousands.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now from neighboring Amman, Jordan.

What's going on over there, Barbara? What are you seeing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you say tens of thousands of Syrians now making the run for safety across the border here into Jordan. They are now, however, in a crisis situation on this side of the border.


STARR (voice-over): This family of nine is now living in two plastic tents after escaping from Syria.

Thirteen-year-old Amani (ph) has a broken heart. She tells us.

"My mother was murdered. She was outside. We were inside. And there was a bomb. She was hit by shrapnel."

Amani simply says -- "She was everything to me. She brought us up and died. She would take us wherever we wanted to go. I was the one most attached to her. What else can I tell you?"

Jordan does not allow the refugees to leave this desert camp. It worries that agents of the Assad regime are coming in disguised as refugees and could cause trouble. Jordan is preparing for another hundred thousand refugees in the coming days as the fighting grows worse.

The chief Jordanian spokesman says the world has to step up. Telling us --

"We tell the whole world and not only President Obama to move closer to the details of the Syrian crisis."

Thirty-two-year-old Agnan (ph) worked in a restaurant. He and his family escaped with hundreds of others, coming under fire as they approached the Jordanian border.

"The Free Syrian Army helped us. We crawled until we got out of that area, but there were some who were wounded. Some came out with us. Others died."

Every day at camp now, a long walk for food and supplies. Already, there is worry about a disease outbreak. Water comes out of a tap. Young girls do the family laundry in a bucket.

The United Nations is the first to say things must get better and fast.

ANDREW HARPER, UNHCR: It's a terrible situation. The question is, would you want to put your family in a place like this? No. But we're in emergency operation.


STARR: You know, Wolf, the United Nations, the Jordanian relief agencies are doing everything they can as fast as they can to make the camp better. But everyone will tell you, it is desperate circumstances up there. And indeed they are expecting tens of thousands of possibly additional Syrian refugees in the coming days and weeks as the fighting grows worse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A related question, Barbara, while I have you. Are you learning anything else about the defection of the Syrian prime minister and some other Syrian cabinet ministers?

STARR: Wolf, that's one of the big mysteries around Amman tonight. Still, he has not surfaced. None of these defectors have publicly surfaced.

What we have learned is that the former Syrian prime minister had been planning this escape really for months. But about two months ago when he was offered the premiership of Syria, he felt he had to take it or he would be killed. That is what opposition groups are saying. And he began to plan his escape trying to get secretly across the border.

The hope, the plan is, the word is that he may surface publicly somewhere in this region in the next couple of days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr in Jordan for us watching the situation unfold.

At the top of the next hour, we'll go live to Syria. Our own Ben Wedeman is on the ground for us near Aleppo.

We're also following important new developments in a Tucson, Arizona, courtroom. The man accused of trying to assassinate the Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, has just changed his plea. Stand by. New information coming in.

Also, a volcano erupts for the first time in more than a century.


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

Lisa, what's going on?


Well, this afternoon, Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty 19 charges, in a deal that's expected to avoid the death penalty. Loughner's January 2011 shootings killed six people and wounded 13 others, including then-Congresswoman Giffords. Loughner's change of pleas came just after a judge ruled him competent to stand trial.

And if you think the U.S. economy is bad, well, it's far from worse. And what's worse actually depends on how you look at it?

The International Monetary Fund says in terms of economic growth, the world's worst economy is Sudan. Instead of growing, that economy's shrinking at 7 percent a year. By another measure, it's Congo, where the economy generates just $231 per person per year. And the world's worst inflation rate, 66 percent, it's in Belarus.

And people in New Zealand are cleaning up a big mess. A thick coating of volcanic ash from the eruption of one of the three volcanic peak's on the country's north island. Scientists admit yesterday's activity took them by surprise. The volcano's last eruption on this scale was 115 years ago. There are no reports of serious damage or injuries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Lisa. Don't go too far away.

So what are authorities learning about the Wisconsin shooter's motive? Just ahead, I'll speak live with the Oak Creek, Wisconsin police chief John Edwards.

Also, NASA scientists are calling them, quote, "awesome." The rover's first pictures from the surface of Mars.


BLITZER: The more we learn about the background of the Sikh temple shooter, the more questions are being raised. Let's discuss what's going on with the -- with Chief John Edwards of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Police Department.

Thanks so much, Chief, for coming in. Our hearts go out to everyone in your community, especially the victims' families. I know this is a very difficult time. Thanks for joining us.

Let me get right to the questions. Do you have any new information about Wade Michael Page's possible motive in going into that Sikh temple and starting to shoot and kill?

POLICE CHIEF JOHN EDWARDS, OAK CREEK POLICE DEPARTMENT: We're looking at all the obvious indicators, something that would happen in somebody's life that would cause them to snap. Trying to eliminate things such stressors, things like that that occur that make somebody do this.

You look for the obvious, you know, somebody said he said this, he posted that, he did that, we're not finding anything like that. Obviously, I have seen as well as everyone else all of what's been put out there about the people he was associated with, the things he was involved with.

But we need to determine what the motive was. And I'm not going to say that was the full motive or we're not going to do that until we can eliminate everything else.

One of the things we may have also is we may end up with just a lot of facts of what he's involved with, who he may be associated with, but we may never know that motive because he died. And that motive died with him.

BLITZER: Have you come upon any writings? Any computer evidence, if you will, of what he was thinking, if he was plotting something? Have you come across, for example, a laptop that may have had some evidence in there?

EDWARDS: The FBI evidence response team has recovered some items and they're going through all of that. At this point, there's nothing to indicate any of that.

BLITZER: So he didn't leave a note --

EDWARDS: We're still going through all of that.

BLITZER: So you didn't find a specific note I'm planning doing x, y and z? You haven't come across anything at least not yet along those lines? EDWARDS: No. That's what I had mentioned earlier. You look for those obvious that usually in a situation like this somebody says he said this, he posted that, he wrote that. We haven't come across that.

BLITZER: Is there any indication anyone was involved or anyone else may have known what this individual might have been plotting?

EDWARDS: No. We're confident he was the lone gunman and he was the only one that knew he was going to do this for what reason we're trying to determine.

BLITZER: Are you getting full cooperation from his family? I know he had an ex-girlfriend in that area. Are they all cooperating with you?

EDWARDS: From what I understand everybody is cooperating with the investigators and talking to them and giving them the information that they know.

BLITZER: Did they say there were any warning signs that might have been missed?

EDWARDS: Nothing yet. I haven't seen anything. As mentioned earlier, that's one of the things that usually comes out that people come forward and give us those warning signs and maybe say I should have called, I had an inkling. We have none of that at this point. Nothing.

EDWARDS: You suggested yesterday he had been in Wisconsin only a relatively short time and was in this apartment in your community. What else can you tell us about the time he spent in Wisconsin?

EDWARDS: There really isn't much to say. There's not much of a record. He's been here a short time. He didn't actually live in our city, a neighboring community. And he's been here less than a year. And there really was no contact with law enforcement or anything that would put him on the radar or anything.

BLITZER: You've seen the photos that have been released MySpace and Facebook, some of the pictures showing him with a white pride t- shirt and another one standing in front of a swastika flag. What other conclusions should we draw by simply these two photos?

EDWARDS: Well, the problem with that is everybody draws -- they connect the dots differently. Those facts are out there. Nobody's going to say they're not out there.

But we're looking to see if that does have something to do with this. Right now, we're not going to say that had something to do -- that might have happened, we don't know. But obviously that's the best out there. It's being looked into.

Look into that background and trying to determine if something of this nature was responsible for this or something else. Yes, that's out there and that's what he was involved in. We just want to be very positive on what we're going to say.

Like I say, we may never know exactly what the trigger was for this. There was some speculation on the individual had a 9/11 tattoo. He did not have a 9/11 tattoo anywhere on his body.

BLITZER: What kind of tattoos did he have?

EDWARDS: He had numerous tattoos. Some they're still checking into the meaning of. I haven't been shown all of those. That was a specific one I was given information on because that seemed to be something everybody was focusing on and it wasn't there. There was not a 9/11 tattoo.

BLITZER: Your colleague, Lieutenant Brian Murphy, he was shot. He's in critical condition. Can you update us on what's going on with him? We're obviously praying for his recovery.

EDWARDS: I did see him last night. I haven't got an update today. He was alert. He was awake, obviously sedated. Met with him, a lot of officers met with him very short period of times. He looked at me, smiled, mouthed the words to me that he was sorry, couldn't speak.

Just the kind of individual he is. He's feeling sorry that in his mind created a commotion here. In my mind, what he did was he saved many lives. He did exactly what our officers are trained to do when we run into an active shooter situation. He drew the attention to himself and away from the defenseless.

And our other officers arrived on scene and did the same thing. What they did -- we don't know how many lives are saved. I guess, what I could look at is how many bullets he had left is we can have a good idea.

As far as his condition, we're very, very positive that he's going to have a long recovery, but he's going to pull through this.

BLITZER: That .9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol had 17 rounds, but he had multiple magazines. Is that your information?

EDWARDS: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: So what you're saying if he had not been stopped, many more people could have been killed.

EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely. Officers are trained when we run into somebody like this or deal with someone that we need to bring them to us or we need to take the fight to them. That's exactly what the officers did in this situation.

BLITZER: John Edwards is the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, police chief. Chief, thanks so much for what you're doing. We'll stay in close touch and please pass along our deepest, deepest sympathies to all the victims, families and everyone in your community. Our heart goes out to you. Thanks so much.

EDWARDS: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on the story coming up later.

We're also going to get back to politics in our "Strategy Session." Will the speakers at Mitt Romney's Republican convention at the end of the month help President Obama or hurt President Obama? Standby.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile along with the CNN contributor, Erick Erickson, he's the editor in chief of the conservative political blog,

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. They're making announcements who is going to speak primetime at the Republican convention. Erick, we just heard today for example, Rick Rantorum will speak, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Not Ron Paul, not yet, at least not yet.

I know the Romney folks are very sensitive about some of the other big names speaking who might alienate moderates or undecided independents and they recall the Pat Buchanan speech at the Republican convention back in 1992.

I remember that convention. But listen to what Pat Buchanan said then.


PAT BUCHANAN: It is about what we believe and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the cold war itself for this war is for the soul of America.


BLITZER: The incumbent President George H.W. Bush some of his supporters believed that speech hurt him badly. Bill Clinton was elected the following November.

So, here's the question. I'll start with you, Erick, should Sarah Palin for example or Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain be given primetime moments at the Republican convention?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think absolutely Sarah Palin should be given a primetime moment. She rallies the crowd and she understands what to say and how to say things.

You know, I'm not sure about Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. They didn't get very far in the presidential race. Sarah Palin however being the former vice presidential nominee who's quite popular with the base, yes, why not?

You know, between the Democratic convention in 1984 that was derided at San Francisco liberals and the '92 Republican with Pat Buchanan's speech, Republicans and Democrats alike have learned lessons on what to say and what not to say at conventions.

And frankly, I don't know that it matters as much anymore because fewer and fewer people pay attention to them.

BLITZER: What's your analysis, specifically, Donna, about Sarah Palin? Will that help or hurt Mitt Romney win the election?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I agree with Erick. She should be given a primetime slot at the convention. After all she rallies the base like no one else.

She may alienate independents and others, but she is part of the Republican fabric. You know, it raises the other question, what about Donald Trump? What about Rush Limbaugh? What about all the other crowd-pleasers?

It's wonderful to see some of the old and what I call the oldies but goodies, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, et cetera. I'm not talking about the age. I'm just talking about, you know, they've been on the shelf for a long time.

But you know, think about the last two years and what we've been talking about here on TV and what the Republicans that Rush Limbaugh who is driving the narrative. It's Donald Trump that provided so much of the lightning inside the party.

So I think Mitt Romney's missing a golden opportunity to bring all his friends and bring them to his wonderful convention.

BLITZER: You want to tell us if you think Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh should speak primetime at the convention, Erick?

ERICKSON: I would love for them to speak primetime at the convention. If Donald Trump focused on Barack Obama's college transcripts the way he did his birth certificate, we would probably see the White House in full meltdown mode by the next week at their convention.

BRAZILE: Maybe it's better than releasing those tax returns because Mitt Romney's holding so close to his vest we couldn't get them out even with a knife.

ERICKSON: He should release those when the Obama camp releases the "Fast and Furious" documents.

BRAZILE: You know, if you start releasing all the tens of thousands of documents that you receive, you'll find that you know everything.

ERICKSON: Yes, I'm sure.

BLITZER: Basically what I hear both of you saying but for different reasons is you want all of these individuals to be speaking. Donna, you want them to speak because you think it's going to hurt Romney with the moderate independent swing voters whether in Ohio or Virginia or some of the other states.

And, Erick, you want them to speak because you think it will turn out the base and there will be a lot more people showing up in some of those states. Erick, first to you.

ERICKSON: Yes, absolutely. I think so and same way with the Democratic convention. I hope they put up Nancy Pelosi and Van Jones, and they'll put up Elizabeth Warren thank goodness.

So I think both conventions rally their bases and let's see what happens. I suspect that independents will be a little more scared of the San Francisco liberal comeback at the Democratic convention than the Pat Buchanan comeback at the Republican convention.

BLITZER: All right, Donna, 10 seconds.

BRAZILE: You know what? What's scary, Wolf is that, it's not just letting them speak, it's reaping the Republican platform and knowing this is what Mitt Romney intends to do to the country.

So I look forward to it. Erick, I look forward to going to the convention with you. And I'll buy the first beer if Sarah Palin is speaking.

BLITZER: All right, I will be there. I'll be speaking at both of those conventions, but not necessarily to the folks inside that room. Guys, thanks very much.

Awesome, that's how NASA scientists describe new images from Mars. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Question this hour is, how much do the two major political parties really care about you? Pardon me.

Alan in California writes, "Absolutely none. If you're not a lobbyist or a big donor, they could careless what's best for the commoners and the country. All they want to do is continue their power and job. Never call them representatives."

Dee in New York says, "The two parties care about me enough to attempt to get me to the polls to elect them to a job with better pay, benefits and retirement than I will ever have."

Gregg in Arkansas says, "They must care about me quite a bit. They send me notices in the mail telling me how much they have accomplished in Washington. They call me regularly at dinner time and remind me how important my vote is to them so that they can continue to represent me.

I'm so important that they even invented a machine to call me when they're too busy working on vital legislation to call in person. I guess I'm so lucky to have these conscientious elected officials working on my behalf. I sleep better at night knowing how much they care."

Jim in Denver says, "Neither of them do. They only care about themselves and donors. But if it really comes down to a decision, I'll side with the Democrats because they seem to care somewhat about the middle and lower classes."

Matt writes on Facebook, "They don't care about us. They only care about the bankers, the lobbyists and the special interest groups that line their pockets. Both parties are bought and paid for."

Kirk in Minnesota writes, "On a scale of one to ten, minus 37." If you want to read more on the subject, go to the blog on or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll certainly do. Thank you, Jack.

Our first color pictures from NASA's new Mars rover. That's coming in. Standby.


BLITZER: Amazing new pictures coming in from NASA's rover "Curiosity" now on Mars. CNN's John Zarrella is all over these pictures. They are amazing, John. Share some of them with our viewers.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're going to do that. I want to tell you right now, you see this is the "Curiosity" rover behind me -- a model of the rover.

And I want to show -- tell people, first off, right now it's 15 degrees below zero on Mars where the rover is. It's actually a warm day there.

And look at this, this is the rover 1997, July 4th, it landed on Mars. So you can see how far the engineers and scientists have come here at JPL from that to this.

And Rob Manning, the chief engineer on the project is joining me. Rob, all these incredible pictures coming back that we've gotten show us that the first ones that we saw, that we actually saw the mountain in the distance.

ROB MANNING, CHIEF ENGINEER, "CURIOSITY": That's right. This is taken by one of the two redundant cams. There's a left and right Haz cam. We have redundant set of those. But this camera right here took the first image of this beautiful mountain almost as high as Mt. McKinley. It's a fantastic place.

ZARRELLA: And if we come around this side of the rover, the images we saw as it was descending through the atmosphere.

MANNING: Well, this camera right here, this is the decent imager made by Mike Malin's company. It's HD quality movie camera that will allow us -- in fact has already allowed us to see a glimpse of what it looks like coming down in the last mile before you get to the surface of Mars.

ZARRELLA: We got less than a minute. Tell us what we're getting next.

MANNING: OK. As of right now, we've made a decision to raise this mass. This mass is currently in its stowed position. Tonight our time it will be in the morning, later this morning on mars time, it will rise up.

Take about a minute to do that and it will take our first panoramas with some of those cameras up there. We're going to start off with taking some pictures of the deck of the calibration targets.

We're going to see how much dust has been left on this thing. We're also going to take pictures around the horizon, take some nice pictures.

ZARRELLA: So we'll get those first pictures of the horizon.

MANNING: We'll get that tomorrow. Yes.

ZARRELLA: So tomorrow, Wolf, they're teasing us again, more great images coming down from Mars, the red planet. As Wolf said, does that mean it's a red state?

MANNING: Red and blue.

ZARRELLA: OK. It's not just a red state.

MANNING: It's a planet for everyone.

ZARRELLA: It's a planet for everyone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. We'll be looking forward to those pictures. John, thanks very much for that.