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New Wisconsin Poll Numbers; Investigation Continues Into Family Research Council Shooting; Feds See Political Motive in Shooting; Romney's Low Tech Economic Pitch; Romney: I Never Paid Less Than 13 Percent; Biden Gaffe Fallout; "Going Negative" Is Nothing New; Syria's War Spills Into Lebanon; Salt Creeps Into Mississippi River

Aired August 16, 2012 - 16:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brooke.

Happening now: breaking news.

We're about to release our very latest polling from Wisconsin. Will Paul Ryan make his home state another battleground? Our John King reveals the numbers in just a minute.

Also, new evidence of a political motive in the shooting at the headquarters of a prominent group of social conservatives right here in Washington, D.C.

And the devastating drought is shrinking the mighty Mississippi River. Now people who live along it face a new problem with their drinking water.

I'm Joe Johns in for Wolf Blitzer today. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JOHNS: We begin with breaking news.

Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin is suddenly up for grabs in the presidential election. It went for Barack Obama in 2008 and has been leaning his way again this year. But our brand-new polling shows a dramatic change may, may be under way.

Let's right go to CNN chief national correspondent John King.

John, what do you have?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Democrats have been saying they're happy they don't see any evidence of a huge national bounce when it comes to Paul Ryan. But you just noted we're making a big change today because of some evidence Paul Ryan is helping in his home state of Wisconsin.

Here's the electoral map we had when we woke up this morning. President Obama leaning stronger 247 electoral votes, Governor Romney behind at 206. Dark blue is lean Obama -- dark blue solid Obama, excuse me, light blue leaning Obama. We're switching Wisconsin today to a tossup state. Why are we doing that? I will come back to the electoral map in a minute, but let's show why. We have a brand-new poll out tonight that shows this, that shows a tighter horse race. Now, the president is still ahead 49 percent to 45 percent, but we see some evidence, Joe, in these closer numbers of a Ryan bounce, maybe a little bounce, but some bounce.

Plus, anecdotally, I was in Wisconsin and even the Obama campaign concedes this pick, the Ryan pick, will make a difference in this state that hasn't voted Republican for president since back in the 1980s.

What do the people of Wisconsin think of these politicians? As you see here, Congressman Ryan actually has a higher favorable rating than his boss, the number one on the Republican ticket. The president though still has a strong favorability rating which is why Democrats think we may call it a tossup now. They're still reasonably confident about it.

Let's switch over here and look here. How was this pick? What do the people of Wisconsin think about this pick? Well, 31 percent say it was an excellent choice, 23 percent say pretty good, 21 percent only fair and 20 percent poor. You see even in Wisconsin -- remember the recall of the governor, the attempt to recall the governor, it's been a polarized political state.

So even the home state candidate has some negative detractors out there. But is he qualified to serve as president? Well, 56 percent of the people in his home state say yes, 35 percent no. As you shift the poll aside and you go back to the electoral map, here's what you get, a more competitive battlefield at the moment for Governor Romney, Wisconsin now a tossup state.

And if you notice, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, it tells you that this election could be decided right out there in Ryan's home territory, Joe, the Midwest.

JOHNS: So, John, if Romney can actually turn Wisconsin red, which as you noted hasn't voted Republican since 1984 for president, how does that affect the race to 270 in electoral votes?

KING: Let's run through a couple hypothetical scenarios to show how much this would help the Romney campaign. If this were to go red, in the short term it gets Governor Romney closer. If Wisconsin is voting Republican, it's a reasonably safe bet that Ohio, a state that is even more Republican in terms of its DNA than Wisconsin, then you would have to assume Governor Romney was getting Ohio as well.

I'm going to leave Iowa for now. But the Romney campaign would be more confident. It's critical -- we need to say this -- Romney needs to win in Florida. It's almost impossible to come up with a scenario for Romney to get to 270 without Florida. But if he won Florida, and if he won Ohio, and if he won Wisconsin, Look what that does, Joe.

That would leave him at 263, only seven electoral votes of winning. He could get those in a number of ways. Virginia would put him over the top if that happened. I will bring that back though. A combination of New Hampshire and Iowa would put him over the top. So if the goal here for Romney is to stretch the map, the map at the moment favors the president. By putting Wisconsin now in play and go back to having it as a tossup state, by putting that in play, it gives him more options and it also forces the president to spend time, money, precious resources in Wisconsin that he might rather say spend in Florida.

JOHNS: Starting to get a whole lot of fun right now. Thanks so much for that, John King, and be back with you soon.

A quick reminder, you can check out all the important Electoral College vote totals any time and try out your own combinations by changing states' colors just like John did. Go to our Web site

At the White House today, lots of people were wondering what President Obama told Vice President Joe Biden during their private lunch. The bottom line, despite this week's furor over the vice president's remark that Mitt Romney's economic policies would put people back in chains, Biden stays on the ticket.

Here's CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, you know, it's not breaking news that Vice President Biden is gaffe-prone. This is something that he often will joke about.

But this one is getting a lot of heat, not only from Republicans, but also Democrats, even as the White House continues to defend him.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden tried to clean up his chain remarks.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I said instead of unshackled, unchained.

LOTHIAN: But that was hardly enough to stem the flood of harsh criticism.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: This guy just isn't bright. He's never been bright. He isn't bright. And people think, well, he just talks a little too much. Actually, he's just not very smart.

LOTHIAN: GOP vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, who along with Mitt Romney had been the target of Mr. Biden's original remarks for their plans to reform Wall Street, said this kind of rhetoric was a sign of desperate campaign.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They had a terrible record. They can't run on it. So they're going to kind of sink this campaign to these low levels to try and distract people, to try and stoke the emotions of fear.

LOTHIAN: Now the National Tea Party is fund-raising off the vice president's "ugly words." In this e-mail, they ask supporters to defend representative Paul Ryan, to fight back, to donate.

Less than 24 hours after the president stood by his vice president in interviews with "Entertainment Tonight" and "People" magazine, White House spokesman Jay Carney was still working to defend Mr. Biden at a briefing dominated with questions about the controversy.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know he was talking if you look at what he said about Wall Street reform. The vice president was talking about a policy issue. This is a -- as I said before, a non-issue. The vice president was talking about Wall Street reform.

LOTHIAN: But that wasn't the only problem this week. While campaigning in Virginia, the vice president got his states mixed up.

BIDEN: With you, we can win North Carolina.

LOTHIAN: Then his centuries.

BIDEN: Where is it written we cannot lead the world in the 20th century in making automobiles?

LOTHIAN: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain piled on, saying the president should bump Mr. Biden from the ticket.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He would be wise to do that, but that's not going to happen, obviously, for a whole variety of reasons.

LOTHIAN: Carney was ready for that one.

CARNEY: The one place I would not go for advice on vice presidential running mates is Senator McCain.


LOTHIAN: One campaign aide told me that they are surprised by how much attention this is getting. They don't believe that it has been a distraction from the president's message, specifically yesterday on his last day of that bus tour in Iowa, when the president went after the GOP opponents on their views on Medicare -- Joe.

JOHNS: So, Dan, do you think this question is actually settled for the election? Or do you expect it to come back again?

LOTHIAN: Jay Carney says it's settled for now, right? He says, yes, he remains on the ticket. That has been settled.

But the president did have that lunch with him today. Unclear whether or not this came up during their lunch meeting. I should point out that that's nothing unusual. The vice president and the president do sit down for lunch once a week if in fact the president is in town. And so we shouldn't read too much into that lunch meeting today, at least according to the White House.

JOHNS: Dan Lothian at the White House. Thanks so much for that, Dan.


JOHNS: A new group of veterans, including former Navy SEALs, accuses President Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The group says it's nonpartisan. But a CNN investigation finds it has close links to the Republican Party.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

This sort of has shades of 2004 and John Kerry.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the Swift Boat campaign. That's right.

We have just discovered some links this group has to the GOP, links that the group has not freely acknowledged. Its new Web video just rakes the president for his campaign references to the bin Laden raid.


TODD (voice-over): In a campaign ad, Bill Clinton praises President Obama's courage for ordering the Navy SEALs to launch against Osama bin Laden.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Suppose they'd been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him.

TODD: On the campaign trail, the president emphasizes it himself.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promised to go after al Qaeda and go after bin Laden, and we did it.

TODD: Now there's a counterattack.

BEN SMITH, FORMER NAVY SEAL: Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden. America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not.

TODD: That's former Navy SEAL Ben Smith in a new video slamming President Obama. The 22-minute film titled "Dishonorable Disclosures" features former SEALs, special forces members, intelligence officers skewering the president for taking credit for the bin Laden raid.

The Obama campaign pushes back, saying the president has repeatedly credited SEALs for the bin Laden operation. The Obama team also points to this interview Wolf Blitzer did recently with the commander of the raid, Admiral William McRaven.

ADM. WILLIAM MCRAVEN, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS: At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions.

TODD: I pressed Ben Smith on that.

(on camera): Does the president get no credit here? Should he get no credit here?

SMITH: He gets the credit for having Osama bin Laden killed under his watch. If he gave the order, wonderful. But taking all the credit with the I, I, I, me, I, I about it and using us as a political ad is wrong.

TODD (voice-over): The film also blasts the Obama administration for allowing classified information on the raid and other security operations to become public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had tactics, techniques, procedures that were compromised. We even knew the name of the dog that was on the operation.

TODD: The Obama team denies taking part in any leaks and says the Republicans are resorting to swift boat tactics, a reference to the blistering 2004 attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam War record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry cannot be trusted.

TODD: This new film was made by a group called OPSEC, for Operation Security. A spokeswoman for the group says it's completely nonpartisan, but CNN found many links between the group and the GOP.

The president of OPSEC, a former Navy SEAL named Scott Taylor, who appears in the video, once ran for Congress as a Republican. A spokesman for the group has done similar work for the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress.

Ben Smith, that former SEAL, told me he's an independent voter, but says on his Facebook page that he was once a spokesman for the Tea Party.

(on camera): And OPSEC lists its headquarters as being in this building in a certain suite. We found out that also in that suite are two Republican strategy groups and no other groups. We were not allowed to film inside, but were told by someone in the suite that OPSEC doesn't have much more than a desk there and that no one from OPSEC was there to talk to us.

An OPSEC spokeswoman told us where they're located has nothing to do with the message they want to get out.

(voice-over): Could that message hurt President Obama like Swift Boat damaged John Kerry? DARRELL WEST, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It could hurt Obama politically in the sense that it's a very competitive election. It's going to come down to 20,000 or 25,000 votes in a handful of states. We don't know now what's going to move those voters. But national security's a very sensitive issue for many people.


TODD: And OPSEC is now one of three groups of former special operation members coming out with campaigns against the president over the security leaks. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA would comment on the latest video or confirm the military experience of those in the film, Joe.

JOHNS: Million-dollar question, do we know where the money from this group is coming from? Or is it hidden like so many other examples this election year?

TODD: The answer would be the latter. It's hidden. It's not clear. The group has set itself up as a specific kind of nonprofit under the tax code where it does not have to reveal its donors. It can keep its donors a secret.

The group has told us that it has about $1 million at its disposal and it's going to run ads in swing states in the coming weeks. We will see how many resources it really has.

JOHNS: Thanks so much for that, Brian Todd.

Despite all the complaints about this year's political attack ads, U.S. presidential campaigns have a long history of going negative. Our John Berman has proof it's been much worse.

Plus, the government says the shooting at a prominently social conservative group's headquarters was politically motivated and the head of the Family Research Council is pointing his finger.


TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.



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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Joe, there's a chorus of voices out there suggesting that President Obama ought to dump Joe Biden as his running mate in light of the vice president's latest gaffe. Biden told a mostly black audience in Virginia this week that Romney's vision of regulating Wall Street would, quote, "put y'all back in chains," unquote. Not good. Even though the White House is standing by Biden, a lot of people think those comments were unacceptable.

Republican senator, former presidential candidate John McCain told the F-word network, quote, "It might be wise for Mr. Obama to swap out Biden for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton." Well, today, the White House says it's not going to happen. And they added, and I love this, that the one place they would never go for advice on vice presidential running mates is to Senator McCain. President Obama told "People" magazine that Biden's an outstanding vice president. The president said people get obsessed with how something was phrased, even if that's not what was meant.

The former Democratic Virginia Governor Doug Wilder thinks that Clinton would be a better choice. Wilder actually called for a switch to Hillary back in 2010 and said if the president had replaced Biden on the ticket several months ago, he'd have a bigger lead over Mitt Romney now. As for Hillary Clinton, she's made it quite clear many times she's not interested. But then again, we've learned never to count a Clinton out, right?

Legal experts tell the weekly standard that it's still possible for President Obama to switch his running mate. The Democrats have more than 20 days until September the 6th when they formally nominate their presidential ticket.

So here's the question, should -- should President Obama consider replacing Joe Biden on the ticket? Go to and post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

You know, Joe, the comments to that audience in Virginia aside and you could argue whether they were appropriate or not, Joe Biden is liked by a lot of people because he comes across as a kind of straight shooter and a real guy. And they don't have any of those in Washington, D.C.

JOHNS: That's for sure. And he always did also even when he was on Capitol Hill, as a senator, people thought he was very genuine. It's interesting.

CAFFERTY: Yes. The real deal.

JOHNS: You bet.

All right. Thanks, Jack. We'll be back at you.

CAFFERTY: All right, partner.

JOHNS: Federal prosecutors say the shooting at Washington headquarter of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, was politically motivated. This afternoon, Tony Perkins, who heads the socially conservative organization, angrily blamed a group that tracks extremists and labeled the Family Research Council a hate group because of its opposition to gay rights, he says.


TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shot yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues and our friend, Leo Johnson. But Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.

And I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology that is leading to the intimidation and what the FBI here has categorized as an act of domestic terrorism.


JOHNS: CNN's Sandra Endo is keeping track of the new developments.

Sandra, what do you have?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, according to FBI officials, they have not yet determined that this is a fact of domestic terrorism. But you heard from Tony Perkins there angrily pointing the finger at what he calls reckless terminology, taking issue with the fact that the FRC is being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They were put on that list in 2010. And now, this is just another factor surrounding the motivations behind this shooting as the investigation continues.


ENDO (voice-over): You could still see the blood splatter inside the building's lobby Thursday morning.

LEO JOHNSON, FRC BUILDING OPERATIONS MANAGER: My instincts just sort of took over and I just reacted. I wasn't afraid or anything. I just reacted. And once I saw the weapon, my natural reaction is to attack.

ENDO: Speaking from the hospital, Family Research Council's building operations manager, Leo Johnson, describes what happened right before being shot in the arm. Johnson says Floyd Lee Corkins entered the building saying he was there to interview for an internship, then opened fire.

JOHNSON: It was after, after I had him apprehended he said it wasn't about me. It was about the organization.

ENDO: The 28-year-old suspect was in court this afternoon charged with a federal firearms violation and assault with intent to kill. The criminal complaint filed Thursday says the suspect's parents described their son as having, quote, "strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner".

Officials also found 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches and extra ammo in Corkins' backpack. Chick-fil-A has sparked debate over its staunch public stance against same sex marriage, a view FRC shares. The company says authorities have not contacted them about the shooting.

The head of FRC says.

PERKINS: We are thankful that yesterday's incident did not turn out to be any worse than it did. We are grateful for Leo Johnson who acted heroically. But I also want to say that I'm proud to lead a team of individuals who cross through these doors each and every day, to stand for faith, family and freedom.

ENDO: Corkins, seen here being led away from the shooting scene Wednesday, has a masters degree from George Mason University and was a volunteer at The DC Center for the LGBT Community. The center's executive director denounced the violent act as have both presidential candidates who were notified about the shooting on the campaign trail.


ENDO: Now, this afternoon a judge ordered a mental evaluation for the suspect who appeared in court with a red swollen eye. And he is being held in custody until his preliminary hearing next Friday -- Joe.

JOHNS: And, Sandra, I do hear CNN has reached out to the Southern Poverty Law Center to get some reaction to the comments by Tony Perkins, but we haven't heard back from them yet?

ENDO: That's correct. Hopefully, we will be hearing from them soon, especially after Tony Perkins' comments this afternoon, pointing fingers about being placed on this hate group list - Joe.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Sandra Endo reporting in Washington, D.C.

It's one of the largest Powerball jackpots in history. And we have a winner. Check your tickets. One sold at this gas station is about to make someone very rich.

And later, drought takes its toll on the Mississippi River. Now, Louisiana's drinking water's taking a hit. Chad Myers will tell us why.


JOHNS: Well, we have a lottery winner. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Kate, what do you have?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounded so good, we have a lottery winner, Kate Bolduan. No, that's not actually true.

So if you live in Michigan, you might want to check your pockets. A winner has yet to come forward to collect the country's third largest Powerball jackpot in history. A single winning ticket sold at a Sunoco gas station in Lapeer, Michigan, outside of flint. The ticket is worth $337 million with a cash option payout of $241 million. That sounds nice.

The winning numbers, if I need to remind you, 6, 27, 46, 51 and 56. The power ball was 21. Other news we're watching, the FBI says a Russian passenger jet going from New York to Moscow was diverted to Iceland after a bomb threat. Flight 103 left JFK airport around 9:30 last night. Officials say the threat was called in about 20 minutes later warning that five suitcases containing explosives were onboard. The plane landed at an airport in Iceland. All 253 people on board were thankfully evacuated safely.

And surprise, elation and celebration in Mexico City. After 75 years, the U.S. national soccer team has finally logged a victory south of the border. A late goal yesterday in Mexico City capped the unexpected American win over the Olympic champion Mexico team. It was only the ninth loss for Mexico in 121 games at their stadium.

I thought that was a pretty impressive stat, Joe.

JOHNS: That's for sure. I mean, that's a pretty incredible game for the United States to pull that off.

BOLDUAN: I know. Sounds like a lot of fun. Too bad we could not be there in person.

JOHNS: I know. Maybe next year.


JOHNS: All right.

Still to come in THE SITUATION ROOM: the Republicans' number two guy, Paul Ryan, in Ohio, poking fun at his Democratic rival, Vice President Joe Biden. That's in our 6:00 hour.

And later this hour, another deadly day in Syria. Now the conflict is spilling over into a neighboring country, our Arwa Damon will have that.



JOHNS: Some South Carolina sunshine, a whiteboard and a press core. Republican Mitt Romney had a unique approach to laying out his economic point today. Check this out.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regards to seniors, those are people who are today 55 years of age and older. Today's seniors, if you will, my plan presents no change. The plan stays the same. No adjustments. No changes. No savings. The president's plan cuts Medicare. Excuse me, well, let's see, there we go by $716 billion cut.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, James Carville and CNN contributor Ana Navarro, former Hispanic co-chair for Republican Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign.

James, Romney seems to be making his plan look pretty simple here. What's your take?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he's in conflict with his vice presidential candidate who proposed $700 some billion and the cuts actually through savings that was sort of laid out as to how they would achieve these things.

Why would the American taxpayer want to pay more than the actual cost? And why would a Medicare beneficiary want the government to pay more than the actual cost of the procedure to test that they get? It makes total sense.

If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about Medicare, I think the Democrats would be open to that, quite frankly.

JOHNS: So, Ana, what do you think Governor Romney is getting by taking out the board and the markers here? What's the point?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he's taking a page out of James' playbook. Keep it simple. You know, I think he's trying to make it very simple. I think he's trying -- for a little bit there I thought he was Ross Perot.

I think what he's trying to bring home is the point that, look, this is very simple and basically two choices and two stark choices. One is, Barack Obama who is the one who's cut $716 billion from Medicare. He doesn't want to make changes to the current system. But it's a system that's going to be bankrupt by 2024, which is a very scary proposition for people my age, my generation and below.

And Mitt Romney's offering a responsible conversation on how to tackle this fiscal issue, how to bring it into solvency. And he's saying we are not going to affect at all anybody over 55. But those under 55, we're going --

JOHNS: James, go ahead and jump in there.

CARVILLE: First of all, we're saying it's going to go broke, but Obama's wrong to save money in it. I'm totally -- there's something sort of wrong with that. It doesn't make any sense. If we get savings in there, shouldn't with save the money?

JOHNS: All right, guys. Let's get to taxes real quick because that's another one of the headlines out of the day. Mitt Romney talked at least about his taxes. Let's listen.


ROMNEY: I did go back and look at my taxes. And over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 percent or something like that. I've paid taxes every single year. Harry Reid's charge is totally false.


JOHNS: Now, this has been an ongoing discussion. The Obama campaign fired back with a statement, they said given Mitt Romney's secrecy about his returns coupled with the revelations in just the one return we've seen to date and the inconsistencies between this one return and other financial disclosures, he's forfeited the right to have us take him at his word.

Ana, the question is for you, if Mitt Romney's going to come out and go this far, why not just release the taxes and be done with it?

NAVARRO: I think a lot of it right now is because he has said he won't. And he's not going to buckle under pressure at this point. I have said, Joe, that I am in favor of him releasing more taxes just because I don't want to continue talking about this.

I don't want to continue beating this dead dog. And it is, you know, a distraction. I would much rather be talking about Medicare, be talking about the important issues.

I don't think we're going to see anything more in the second tax he's going to release at some point than we've already seen. He's very wealthy. He's very charitable.

And he's very aggressive in using every legal means to pay as little taxes as possible but within the legal means. I think that makes him perfectly qualified to be president.

JOHNS: I think Mitt Romney's wife also said they're not going to release any more taxes too today. James, before we go --

NAVARRO: Let me tell you, when Ann Romney talks, Mitt listens.

JOHNS: Right. All right, before we go, James, I do have to ask you about one of the questions of the day and that is about Joe Biden.


JOHNS: Do you think there's any reason for this administration to cut him loose and bring in Hillary Clinton?

CARVILLE: I can't imagine why. I think Vice President Biden is a very sort of popular guy. He and Secretary of State Clinton are very close friends that work together closely. No, I think it would look ridiculous. I think he's doing a great job. I can't imagine that anybody would entertain the thought.


JOHNS: Yes, Ana.

NAVARRO: Joe, in order to do that you would have to put Joe Biden in chains. JOHNS: One other question though, James. What advice would you give the administration to sort of deal with the question of the vice president's gaffes?

CARVILLE: You know, if you look at the vice president, ask yourself, what does he have a history of making flub metaphors or flub racial statements? I would say flub metaphors.

That's just part of who he is. Interesting thing about Joe Biden, he was invited by Storm Thermon's family to deliver the eulogy at Storm Thermon's funeral.

He was a very popular man. He is a very good guy, a very bright guy. Sometimes he has ineloquent way of putting things. That's probably going to happen again to tell you the truth. I wouldn't be too troubled by it.

JOHNS: James Carville, Ana Navarro, thanks so much. Good talking to you guys.

The 2012 presidential race is full of attack ads, but president campaigns have been going negative for longer than you probably think. Our John Berman has proof coming up next.

Later, how the drought is turning some people's tap water into salt water.


JOHNS: You know, we hear plenty of complaints about negative attacks in presidential campaigns, but this is really nothing new. And what we're seeing is actually pretty mild.

CNN's "EARLY START's" co-anchor, John Berman, has dug up some of the ghosts of the campaign past. How are you doing, John?

JOHN BERMAN, CO-ANCHOR, CNN's "EARLY START": You know, Joe, it is that time in the campaign where we hear the candidates charging each other with running the lowest campaign ever.

And it's that time of the campaign where you hear the media asking the question, is this the most negative campaign ever? So we thought we would provide sort of an answer to that question. The answer is really, no.


BERMAN (voice-over): Mitt Romney, the ad implies he was more or less responsible for a woman dying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She passed away in 22 days.

BERMAN: A stretch to say the least. Barack Obama, the ad says he wants to end welfare reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't have to work. BERMAN: Not really true either. No, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama do not agree on a lot. But they do agree this campaign has become positively negative.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There's so much negative and so much cynicism.

ROMNEY: What's difference this year is that the president is taking things to a new low.

BERMAN: Different? Different than say Mitt Romney's campaigns against Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?


BERMAN: Or for that matter Barack Obama's campaign against Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama.

BERMAN: If history has taught us anything, it's that every campaign in history seems like the most negative in history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 2010 likely to have the most negative campaign ads ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most negative campaign in memory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most negative campaign any of us can remember.

BERMAN: Yes, negative campaigns existed even before "Super PACs." Lyndon Johnson implied Barry goldwater would start a nuclear war. Grover Cleveland, accused of having a child out of wedlock. Ma, where's my pa?

Andrew Jackson accused of killing a man and having a wife who was a bigamist. John Quincy Adams, it was said he procured prostitutes for the Russian czar.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams supporters once said his election would result in murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest. So until we get charges of robbery, nuclear war starting or prostitute procuring, maybe this will have to wait.

ROMNEY: The president is taking things to a new low.

BERMAN: They might be mean, cruel and cynical, but negative campaigns are not lights on history. They are our history.


BERMAN: You know, if there is one thing that's different this year, it may not be that the negative campaigning is actually starting earlier. It's that the complaining about negative campaigning seems to be starting much earlier -- Joe.

JOHNS: That's absolutely right. And if there wasn't negative campaigning this time of year, what would we be doing? Covering the issues maybe?

BERMAN: Gives us something to talk about, Joe.

JOHNS: You got it. Thanks so much for that, John. All of you early risers be sure to catch John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin on CNN's "EARLY START" weekday mornings at 5:00 Eastern.

So much for keeping the peace, the United Nations sacks its observer mission in Syria where people have been dying every day. What's more the Syrian problem is spreading. Where it's spilling over just ahead.

Also, a hearing today for James Holmes, the man accused in the movie theatre massacre in Colorado. Our Ted Rowlands is there and will join us in the 6:00 hour Eastern Time.


JOHNS: Jack joins us again with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Joe, the question this hour, should President Obama consider replacing Joe Biden on the ticket? They have about 20 days to do that should they decide to.

Mark in Michigan writes, "You know what you're getting with Biden, a short, unimpeded path from brain to mouth. I just wish Obama's spinners would just once acknowledge that someone in the administration screwed up. People make mistakes. And people respect people who own up to it."

Susan in California, "No, Biden's an asset to the team. Kind of like you and me, jack. We're not getting older, we're just getting funnier." I don't know what that means, Susan.

Robert in Florida writes, "It's not Biden that ought to be replaced, it's Obama. Biden's always been a decent guy who reached across the aisle to get things done. Obama dragged him down to the Chicago-style gutter politics. And I really don't think Joe likes it so well."

Mark writes, "Yes, with Hillary Clinton. No need to explain why." Jeff says, "No, Biden is the kind of person you want as vice president, tough and a straight shooter. Kind of like Chris Christie would have been if Mitt Romney had figured out what he needed.

Bee writes, "I like Biden as a person and Biden really has had no role in running the country the last four years. So that has to be good. But if I'm honest, Biden being next in line to be president in an emergency does make me a little nervous."

And Ivan writes from Ohio, "Jack, you and I both know this is all hogwash. Now get on with more important things. I like Joe Biden. He speaks the middle class language and says it like he sees it."

If you want to read more about this, go to the blog or the post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Joe.

JOHNS: You know, it seems like whoever the vice president is, he always takes a lot of gaffe.

CAFFERTY: He does and we always have these conversations what if and what if and what if and yet history indicates nobody ever votes for vice president. The media does this stuff anyway. It's an exercise we have to go through. It's like the swallows going back to Capastrano.

JOHNS: Thanks so much for that, Jack.

The United Nations is giving up on its observer mission in Syria. It expires over the weekend and will not, not be extended. The mission was supposed to make sure all sides kept the peace.

But Syrian opposition groups report 200 new deaths just today. The violence in Syria also is spilling over into Lebanon. CNN's Arwa Damon is in Beirut.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Syria's civil war is seeping into its tiny and vulnerable neighbor. On Wednesday, angry young Shias blocked the main road to Beirut's airport with burning tires after the head of a prominent Shia clan was abducted in Syria.

The Free Syrian Army had posted this video who they allege is a member of powerful militia, Hezbollah, which supports the Assad regime. Hezbollah denies he's one of theirs. And the family also denies any association.

But the kidnapping resulted in swift retaliation. This family has an armed section that kidnaps Syrians and Lebanese territories, claims one of the clan members. Two of the kidnapped Syrians appeared in the video in front of a banner that reads "the family association."

The clan says they have taken hostage more than 20 Syrians affiliated with the rebels as well as a Turkish businessman and more will follow until Hasan is released. Hasan's brother vows there will be more surprises suggesting the clan will not only target members of the Syrian rebels operating out of Lebanon, but others as well.

Tensions were already high over the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shias by Syrian rebels. The Lebanese government seems powerless to intervene except to call for calm. The posture of government forces at the airport perhaps reflecting the government's paralysis, held captive by dynamics it can't control.


DAMON: The Lebanese are fed up, disgusted and disillusioned. And at the same time terrified that sectarian strife will break out once again. The wounds and the memories of Lebanon's own civil war are still fresh. And the Syrian conflict is not likely to spare the neighbor in its shadow. Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.

JOHNS: The devastating drought is shrinking the mighty Mississippi River. Now, people who live along it face a new problem, their drinking water. That's coming up next.

And in our next hour, anger mounts over Arizona's new battle with Washington over immigration. Some call Governor Jan Brewer's defiance an attack on children and the young. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


JOHNS: The extreme drought that's blamed for decimating crops across the U.S. is also blamed for driving the Mississippi River way down. That in turn is causing salt water to mix with the rivers and Louisiana's drinking water.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins me now from CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. What's going on here, Chad? How can salt water get into the drinking water?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's because the Gulf of Mexico is actually running underneath the river under the back way. It's coming up the wrong way up the Mississippi River. I'll tell you about that in a second.

Let's get to it. There's the Ohio River. Here's the Missouri. There's the Mississippi. All of those big rivers, all very dry this year because literally there's no water, there's no rain, there's nothing there.

So your answer to your question, the Mississippi River has actually been flowing the wrong way underground. Salt water is very heavy. That's why you float better in the ocean.

So down below the fresh water that is the river that you can see, there's a layer of salt water running the wrong way up through 90 miles up the river almost to New Orleans but not quite.

So what the Army Corps of Engineers is going to do, they are going to put a bump, a dirt berm, under the water. Not all the way to the top because they have to get boats over the top, but they're going to put a dirt berm there to stop the water from going up the river.

They're going to take the river -- now, understand the river is going this way. This would be New Orleans and here would be the Gulf of Mexico. And the salt water is coming along the bottom below almost like two layers.

Like oil -- when you get a bottle of Italian dressing, you get the oil on top and vinegar on bottom. Here's the vinegar. It's the salt water going the wrong way. Here's the oil. It's the water. There's just not enough of the water to push the salt water back. And that salt water is now getting into the intake of the water system.

So it's sucking in salt water. So there's a little bit of salt in the drinking water. They're going to fix that by taking barges full of real flesh water and taking it down to the parish, but the big fix is this berm so the salt water can't go up the river.

JOHNS: Wait a minute. You're going to take barges down to replace the water that's missing?

MYERS: Yes. Barges full of water -- fresh water, down into Plaquemines Parish for people to put into their system to be able to drink or of course, you can always buy a bottle of water, but that can get pricey.

JOHNS: Yes, well, that sounds like a lot of water, right?

MYERS: It really is. Millions and millions of gallons will have to be moved until this berm is finished. This dirt berm, it just sounds like they're going to put a bunch of dirt underneath the river shouldn't take too long.

It could take six weeks to build this. The salt water will be going the wrong way for another few weeks until they get this built.

JOHNS: Chad Myers, thanks so much for that reporting.

MYERS: You're welcome.