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Historic Change at Augusta National; Republican Under Fire Over Rape Comments

Aired August 20, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: an uproar and now an apology. Can this Republican congressman's campaign survive what he said about rape?

A naked swim in a sacred sea lands another lawmaker in trouble.

And historic change at the home of the Masters. Two famous women are the first to join.

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

It was certainly a closely watched race before, but now all eyes are on Missouri Congressman Todd Akin and his Senate campaign, which may, repeat, may be on the verge of imploding. Akin is apologizing for a remark about rape and pregnancy that has fellow Republicans scrambling to distance themselves from him.

But the apology may not be enough to calm a controversy whose ripples are being felt by the Romney/Ryan campaign as well.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is with the Republican ticket in New Hampshire right now.

Jim, how is this controversy playing out, out there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after being roundly criticized by every top GOP leader in the country, including Mitt Romney, embattled Missouri Congressman Todd Akin is essentially a man without a party tonight.

But as he tweeted and said on conservative talk radio earlier today, he's not going anywhere, at least not for now.


QUESTION: What about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: Well, you know, people always want to try and make that as one of those things.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In an interview with a Saint Louis TV station, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, the GOP's candidate in a hotly contested Senate race, made an explosive claim when asked whether abortion should be outlawed for rape victims. AKIN: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

ACOSTA: Not only did his Democratic opponent pounce.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: This is not somebody we want speaking for us and our values on the floor of the United States Senate.

ACOSTA: So did Republicans. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown said Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign his nomination.

Mitt Romney took time out from campaigning in New Hampshire to denounce Akin's comments as well, saying they were insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong. But a Romney adviser says the GOP contender is not calling on Akin to drop out.

Democrats are now using the controversy to put Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, on the defensive. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted that Ryan once supported a bill in Congress that said taxpayer funds should only go to abortions for cases of incest, the life of the mother, and victims of "forcible rape."

After a public outcry, the word forcible was later dropped. But listen to how Akin explained his comments on Mike Huckabee's radio show when he vowed to stay in the race.

AKIN: Yes, I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word. Yes. And the good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter. And my belief is we're going to take this thing forward. And, by the grace of God, we're going to -- to win the race.

ACOSTA: In its first reaction to Akin's remarks, the Romney campaign stressed the GOP contender would allow for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and the mother's life, drawing a distinction from Ryan's personal views. He would only support an exception when a mother's life is on the line. Advisers say it's the Romney position that counts.

The abortion issue flared up just as the GOP campaign was touting Ann Romney as the upcoming Republican Convention's first speaker. Over the weekend, the campaign allowed a reporter to observe the couple at a Mormon service in New Hampshire. And with Ryan joining Romney on the trail, this was supposed to be a week to go on offense.

QUESTION: So, what are you going to do to combat the lies the leftists are telling about you?

ROMNEY: Yes, thank you. It seems the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now, as for Todd Akin, the clock is ticking. He has until tomorrow evening to voluntarily remove his name from the Missouri ballot.

If he misses that deadline, he will need a court order to do so some time next month and he will have to cover the costs of putting the new candidate's name back on that Missouri ballot. But, Wolf, he's getting pressure from all sides to drop out of this race. Cindy McCain tweeted earlier this afternoon -- quote -- "Rape is rape."

He also heard the same message from the president of the United States, who also used that same phrase. But as a spokesman for Todd Akin said to our Chris Welch earlier this afternoon, Akin is not dropping out of this race. For now, it appears he is standing firm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pressure building. Tea Party Express has just issued a statement urging him to drop out as well.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

The controversy plays right into the hands of the Obama campaign which is trying to paint within Republicans as hostile to women and the president himself spoke about the rape remark in a surprise appearance at the White House Briefing Room, where he took questions from reporters.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us and she has got details.

Tell our viewers, Brianna, what the president is saying about all of this.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama tried to make this abortion debate relative to his battle to hang onto the presidency. No doubt he's courting the female vote here.

He's doing pretty well with women when you compare him to Mitt Romney, but he has lost some ground this cycle. And this is an issue that could help him with female voters.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me.

KEILAR (voice-over): And with that, President Obama effectively elevated the comments of a little known Missouri congressman Todd Akin and used it to cast the Republican Party as trying to butt into women's personal health decisions.

OBAMA: Although these particular comments have Governor Romney and other Republicans them to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions or qualifying forcible rape vs. non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.

KEILAR: The president was also asked about the tone of the election, specifically commenting on an inaccurate ad made by the main super PAC backing him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A short time after that, my wife became ill.

KEILAR: An ad that links Mitt Romney to the death of a steelworker's wife.

OBAMA: I don't think Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad.

KEILAR: The ad was made by the super PAC run by two former White House aides, a group President Obama personally endorsed to raise money for his reelection. But the president said he did not approve the ad and slammed the Romney campaign for another spot that has also been judged false by fact-checkers.

OBAMA: Now, in contrast, you have got Governor Romney creating as a centerpiece of his campaign this notion that we're taking the work requirement out of welfare, which every single person here who has looked at says is patently false.

KEILAR: As the Obama campaign continues to call on Romney to release more tax returns, the president said the criticism is fair game.

OBAMA: That's a precedent that was set decades ago, including by Governor Romney's father. That is what the American people would rightly expect, is a sense that particularly when we're going to be having a huge debate about how we reform our tax code and how we pay for the government that we need, I think people want to know that, you know, everybody has been playing by the same rules, including people who are seeking the highest office in the land.


KEILAR: President Obama was challenged on this issue by reporters, including for the fact that his deputy campaign manager raised the possibility that perhaps the way Mitt Romney has handled his taxes could be a felony.

And, Wolf, President Obama pushed back on that, saying essentially that it wasn't true. And he also said that he's comfortable about the campaign that he's running and that the issues he's talking about are the issues that matter to American voters.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar at the White House for us, thank you.

All of this comes exactly one week before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Today, the big reveal of the stage where Mitt Romney will formally accept his party's presidential nomination.

You see it there. We will be covering all of it live from Tampa, starting next Monday, Monday night 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, Candy Crowley, John King, they will be with us every night along with our expert political analysts for coverage you won't find anywhere except right here on CNN.


BLITZER: It's the sacred sea, if you will, where the Bible says Jesus walked on water. But now we're learning about a late night romp by United States congressmen, one of whom went skinny dipping there.

Also, at 41 past the hour, the end of an all-male era at an exclusive American golf club, and a very famous woman is among the first females to join.

And swimming through shark-infested waters from Cuba to Florida, this 62-year-old is following a dream, and we're following her.


BLITZER: Certainly not unusual for Americans traveling abroad to sometimes cut loose. A night of drinking followed by skinny dipping isn't necessarily scandalous to some folks out there, until we find out it involves United States congressmen on an official visit to Israel, and one lawmaker in particular who took a nude swim in the very sea where Jesus is said to have walked on water.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been learning new details about what happened. It's pretty shocking when you think about it on many, many levels.


And one level is that this happened over a year ago and the House Republican leadership sat on it. And, in fact, we also learned that the FBI investigated to see if any congressmen broke any laws. We learned today that they decided the answer was no. But it is definitely fueling the frustration with Congress, and it has made a nightmare day for Republicans even worse.


BASH (voice-over): It was the end of a hot August day last year in Israel and a long dinner with plenty of alcohol when some 20 GOP congressmen and a few aides jumped into the sea of Galilee.

Congressman David Schweikert was there for dinner, but not the swim.

REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT (R), ARIZONA: There's no question there was a sense of lightheartedness, and there were those who were drinking alcohol.

BASH: Multiple GOP sources tell CNN the episode, first reported by "Politico", turned from slightly weird to completely inappropriate when freshman GOP Congressman Kevin Yoder decided to take his clothes off and swim naked.

In a statement, Congressman Yoder tried to explain his skinny dipping escapade.

"A year ago, my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. After dinner I followed some members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit. It was my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and for any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize."

The morning after, House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the Israel but absent from the late-night swim held an emergency meeting with the 30-something lawmakers on the visit and scolded them.

SCHWEIKERT: I remember a high level of annoyance from some of the leadership.

BASH: The trip, organized and paid for by an arm of American- Israel lobbying group AIPAC had turned into a potential public relations disaster. According to multiple GOP sources, House Republican leaders were bracing for it to go public and debating damage control. Not only because of the perception of debauchery in the Holy Land but because of the timing. It was soon after a disastrous debt ceiling debate. And the same day the Dow plunged 500 points.

The fact that it came out a year later may lessen the political damage for Yoder, the skinner dipper, but maybe not for Congressman Ben Quayle. He was a swimmer and now in a GOP face-off later this month with Congressman Schweikert, who is trying to capitalize.

SCHWEIKERT: In regards to someone like Ben Quayle and the history of bad decision-making. And let's face it, when you tie alcohol and some of the personal history there, you start to get squeamish of what may have happened.


BASH: Now, Congressman Quayle's campaign hit back that Schweikert is opportunistically promoting the story and that Quayle did nothing inappropriate, but rather he swam in the Sea of Galilee for religious reasons, since that's where Christians believe Jesus walked on water.

In fact, I'm told that that is why several of the congressmen decided to do this. One jumped in hand in hand with his 21-year-old daughter, another with his wife. And they were planning on doing this when they were even going over there, saying that they wanted to have a spiritual experience. The fact that it happened at night, the fact that one of them decided to take their clothes off of course made it not so much a spiritual experience, but a political embarrassment.

BLITZER: And the fact that alcohol apparently was used that night as well.

BASH: Right.

You know, it's varying accounts and sources I talked to about how much alcohol was actually consumed. Congressman Schweikert was not a swimmer. He says he doesn't drink at all and he never does. Others also said they didn't drink.

Unclear exactly how much was consumed. Again, it wasn't paid for by the taxpayers. It was paid for but by an arm of AIPAC. And some sources say that the bill was exceptionally high.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, good reporting, Dana. Thanks very much.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Regardless, the skinny dipping is now overshadowing the entire rip.


BLITZER: It's hard to believe. You can't make this kind of stuff up, though.

BOLDUAN: No, you cannot.

Dana, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: This controversy is putting these kinds of congressional trips definitely in the spotlight. Who pays for them? What responsibility do lawmakers have when they are on them? That and more coming up at the bottom of the hour.

And also coming up next, will the fourth time be a charm for Diana Nyad? We're tracking her latest attempt to swim the Florida Strait.


BOLDUAN: Just a quick look at some of the stories that are trending right now on

Number four in our trending list tonight, a 62-year-old woman is reportedly making good progress in her attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida. Diana Nyad has reportedly covered more than a third of the 103-mile total distance, just amazing, and has been in the water since Saturday afternoon. We wish her luck. She's amazing.

Number three in our tending list, Apple has become the most valuable publicly owned public company in history. The company's stock hit new highs in Wall Street trading today, bringing overall capitalization to $623 billion.

Number two trending tonight, in Paris, customers of McDonald's can now pay -- now order and pay for their meals using their smartphones or tablets. It's part of a growing trend of skipping cash or even credit cards and if successful could spread to other McDonald's around the world.

Finally, our final item trending tonight, film director Tony Scott died in an apparent suicide when he jumped from the bridge -- a bridge in San Pedro, California. Scott was best known for the films "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop 2."

ABC News is reporting that he was suffering from inoperable brain cancer. CNN, though, has not yet confirmed that information.

Still, so amazingly sad, Wolf.

BLITZER: So sad, and very, very...


BOLDUAN: A lot of questions of why. He had a lot of projects he was working on.

BLITZER: Those films he directed were really excellent.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A huge, huge stumble by a Republican Senate candidate talking about what he called -- and I'm quoting him now -- "legitimate rape." Fellow Republicans are condemning his remark. Can his campaign survive? And at 41 past the hour, an elite golf club opens its doors to women for the first time in 80 years. One famous name will be among the first to walk through.


BLITZER: Happening now: President Obama draws a line in the sand for Syria.

Also, lawmakers behaving badly -- one of them skinny dipping during a junket to Israel.

And an exclusive boys club opens up to women. Two famous females are the first to join Augusta National.

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

It's certainly the last thing Republicans wanted a week out from their convention: a controversy about rape and abortion sparked by a Missouri congressman running for the U.S. Senate.

Todd Akin ignited a political firestorm as he stated his opposition to abortion in rape cases and used the term -- and I'm quoting him now -- "legitimate rape." Top Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have spent the day condemning Akin's comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comments about rape were deeply offensive. And I can't defend what he said. I can't defend him.

The thing he should consider is what's in the best interest of the things he believes most deeply; what will help the country at this critical time.


BLITZER: Congressman Akin has repeatedly apologized but is resisting calls for him to end his Senate campaign. Let's get some more now with former Republican congressman, Tom Davis of Virginia, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, editorial director of the "National Journal."

Here's what Akin said on the Mike Huckabee radio show today. I'll play it for you.


REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't know that I'm the only person in public office who's suffered from foot-in-mouth disease here. And this was a very, very serious error. On the other hand, there are so many good people in Missouri who nominated me. And they understood my heart, try to restore the terrible economic condition that our country's been brought to.


BLITZER: So would you tell Congressman Akin, like so many other Republicans already are, apparently, that it's over' it's time for him to step down?

TOM DAVIS, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Well, he has two deadlines. He's got till tomorrow, and then he can wait till September, see if he can't weather the storm. If he can't, at that point, it's going to cost him and his campaign some money. But at that point they need to seek -- the Republicans cannot afford to lose the Missouri Senate seat.

BLITZER: Against Claire McCaskill. Are you surprised how quickly, though, they seem to be throwing him under the bus?

DAVIS: Well, way to do national politics. Romney does not want this election to be about social issues. It's got to be about the economy.

BOLDUAN: Ron, talk about this race in particular. I mean, this is one race that as Tom just said, is crucial. Republicans needed to win this if they want a chance at winning the Senate.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: What's going on here? Do you think that this is really going to impact how this race pans out? RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, clearly it will affect it. Whether it will be enough to actually tip it if he stays in is the question. Look, we're moving toward a more parliamentary system of congressional elections. There's less split-ticket balloting, less -- fewer people voting for one party for president and one party for Senate than we've seen since 1960. And that's a tough dynamic for, say, a Scott Brown in Massachusetts that President Barack Obama is going to win by a big margin.

But Claire McCaskill is on the other side of that coin. She's probably the Democrat facing the biggest deficit by Obama in her state. She's going to have to convince a lot of people voting for Mitt Romney to split their ballot and vote for her. This is the kind of thing that gives her a chance, but it's still not guaranteed in a state that the president is likely to lose by as much as Missouri seems on track to produce.

BLITZER: The president...

BOLDUAN: The one person not calling for Akin to step down.

BLITZER: Yes. She wants him to stay in the race.

BROWNSTEIN: This is premature self-combustion, in her opinion. She wanted -- she wanted him as the opponent but wanted to see something like this perhaps later in the race.

BLITZER: President of the United States came into the White House briefing room today. He answered -- answering reporters' questions. The first question was on this subject. Here's what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health-care decisions or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between -- between me and the other party. But I don't think that they would agree with the senator from Missouri in terms of his statement, which was way out there.


BLITZER: Way out there indeed. How worried are you that this blunder by this congressman is going to further expand the president's support among women?

DAVIS: I don't think it's going to have any effect. We go to the conventions next week.


BLITZER: Even if he stays in the race?

DAVIS: Even if he -- I don't think Romney's going to be coming to Missouri and put his arm around Akin, but Romney doesn't need to visit Missouri to carry Missouri.

BOLDUAN: Ron, what do you think? Because look at this.

DAVIS: I don't think it's going to have any effect.

BOLDUAN: Because look at this Gallup poll. This is one of the most recent polls kind of tracking this between support amongst women and men, of course, for Obama and Romney. We have 50 percent for Obama support from women, and Romney's hovering at 42. They've always had an uphill battle with the women vote. This seems to me like an opening for Obama.

BROWNSTEIN: This will be a rare time where I disagree with Tom Davis. But I think, look, if you looked already this year, the fight over contraception earlier in the year, Rush Limbaugh's very incendiary comments, Rick Santorum's comments, all of that has allowed Obama to maintain a very large advantage in the polling among college- educated white women, who are the most socially liberal part of the electorate. He won 52 percent of them last time. He's polling at least that high in the all the national and state polls this time. And this is just one more brick on the load.

And I think the other thing that's been happening in the summertime, as you know, is that Obama has seen some movement among working-class white women who are very down on him. He's beginning to regain some of that ground in polling this summer, largely around he Bain issue.

But I think the Romney campaign understands they're going to have big advantages among white men. The key variable is how much of the '08 support Obama can maintain among white women. And I do think the evidence is this sort of seeps into the presidential campaign around the margins and does make it tougher to cut into those advantages.

DAVIS: That's why they put this thing down so quickly. They came out with a solid statement rebuking Akin on this thing. You can't really associate Romney with this.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the forcible rape, the link back to the legislation that Paul Ryan helped draft. I mean, when, as you were showing before, when Congressman Akin was explaining why he used this language, he said he was reaching for the word "forcible," you know, rape, which was part of that language on restricting Medicaid coverage of rape victims even further that Paul Ryan was associated with. So there is a link there.

DAVIS: Unemployment stats come out September 8. This is going to be history.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on that front. Quickly on this congressional delegation, a year ago they were in Israel, the Sea of Galilee. One congressman, a Republican from Kansas, goes in there naked. Got rebuked, if you will. The story's only out now thanks to Politico.

You've been on these Codels, as they're called, congressional delegations, including at the Sea of Galilee. When you heard about this, what did you think?

DAVIS: It's terrible, terrible optics at this point. This was a private trip. It wasn't financed by taxpayer dollars. As you can see, the congressman, at this point, who is at issue came back, rebuked the thing immediately. Walked it back. Again, it's a one-day story, but it doesn't help congressional approval when they're hovering around...

BLITZER: How badly does it hurt the Republican brand, though?

DAVIS: I don't think it hurts. I think this just reverberates on Congress once again.

BOLDUAN: Which -- could their approval rating get any lower?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you're pretty much down to friends and immediate family at this point. So at that point, maybe employees. But I don't know how much lower you can get.

But I agree with Tom. I think this is a very -- this is a much smaller issue. I do think the other question has potentially more reverberations in the same way that we saw comments from outside of the campaign by people like Rush Limbaugh on contraception, I think did have an effect on way those voters, especially those upscale white woman have moved all year, and have remained very solid for Obama even while other elements of the white community have fallen off.

DAVIS: To the extent this becomes a social issue campaign and not about the economy, it helps Obama in these swing states.

BLITZER: Especially in northern Virginia.

DAVIS: Which I know very well.

BLITZER: Very well. Represented that district for a long time. Tom Davis, thanks very much. Ron Brownstein, thanks to you, as well.

President Obama speaking out about controversial attack ads by two newly-formed veterans groups. The ads questioned his national security policies. They criticize the president over leaks regarding the mission that took out Osama bin Laden. Here's what the president has to say about it.


OBAMA: I won't take this film too seriously. I gather that one of the producers is a birther who still doesn't think I was born in this country. You've got one who was a candidate, a Republican candidate for office. And a proud card carrying member of the Tea Party. So this is obviously a partisan film. I'd advise that you talk to General McRaven, who's in charge of our Special Ops. I think he has a point of view in terms of how deeply I care about what these folks do each and every day to protect our freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He meant Admiral McRaven, instead of General McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations forces, who did tell me in a recent interview that the president of the United States deserves so much credit, all the credit in the world for giving the order to go out there to Abbottabad in Pakistan and either capture or kill bin Laden.

The president goes on to say, by the way, in this interview, and I'm quoting him now, "This kind of stuff happens." And before an election, the president of the United States speaking forcefully in this interview today on what this group is alleging against him, the first response directly from the president.

She was only the second woman to be the U.S. secretary of state. Now Condoleezza Rice will be one of the first to join the Augusta National Golf Club, dropping its 80-year ban on female members. Stick around. We'll tell you what's going on. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Historic change at America's most famous golf club, Augusta National. The home of the Masters tournament has opened its membership to women for the first time in 80 years, and one of the first to join is the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

CNN's Mark McKay is joining us. He's outside Augusta right now. What's the reaction to this historic decision, Mark?

MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, among the golfing community it's been very positive on this Monday, announcing its first two female members. Augusta National opening its gates to female members for the first time in its nearly 80 years of existence.

A number of golfers have been questioned, and officials including the PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem, either with reporters' questions or social networking sites such as Twitter, it's been, as I said, very positive.

We've heard from the four-time green jacket winner, Tiger Woods. He issued a statement Monday that read in part, quote, "I think the decision by the Augusta membership is important to golf. The club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways." Woods continued by saying, "I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice."

Now Wolf, reaction among golf fans themselves a bit mixed, though positive. Many have wondered why it's taken so long.

BLITZER: What exactly forced them to change their mind? I know the pressure over the years has been intense.

MCKAY: Very much so. You remember a decade ago, Wolf, right here on Washington Road outside the grounds of Augusta National, loud protests in 2002 and 2003, led in part by Martha Burke of the National Council of Women's Organizations. Ms. Burke spoke to CNN earlier today. She said that she congratulated Augusta National by making history and didn't take credit for it. Ms. Burke did not. But she said -- she told CNN it's more about women's equality than it is inclusion into this special club, Wolf.

BLITZER: How will this impact the Masters next year?

MCKAY: Well, you know, the tournament itself has continued inside these gates uninhibited through the years, no matter what comes at this club. We don't know a lot that goes on inside the gates of Augusta National, Wolf. We assume there's somewhere around 300 members. And that membership supposedly costs maybe $10,000 a year.

We do know it will impact the golf chairman, Billy Payne. He won't have to answer those questions in that press conference as to when his club will finally include female members. And we do know, Wolf, that both members will receive their green jackets in October when the club opens its new season.

BLITZER: It's about time. Took 80 years or so, but it's about time it happened. Mark, thanks very, very much.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in Afghanistan as concerns grow over an escalating string of insider attacks on U.S. troops. That's coming up next.

Plus, it's not your typical White House state dinner. The oldest guest, in fact, only 12 years old. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Kate has a check of what's going on over at the White House and around Washington. It's always crazy around there.

BOLDUAN: There's a lot going on today.

Let's first go to the White House. President Obama made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room today, but it wasn't just only talk about politics. The president also had some very tough words for the embattled Syrian regime, warning that there's a very specific point in time when he won't hesitate to act.


OBAMA: We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation.


BOLDUAN: Syria is sinking deeper and deeper into civil war. At least 122 people were reportedly killed just today. And the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, is in Afghanistan for meetings with top NATO and Afghan officials. It follows a deadly string of attacks by Afghan security forces that have left 23 Americans dead. The latest incident just yesterday.

President Obama says he's deeply concerned by the so-called insider attacks. He also says he spoke with General Dempsey today.

And it's not your typical state dinner. First lady Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever kids' state dinner at the White House today. It was more of a lunch. It was for the winners of the nationwide recipe contest that's part of her signature "Let's Move" campaign.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You came up with dishes that were packed with nutritious, delicious ingredients, dishes that are good for you, but more importantly, they taste good, too. See? It can happen. Healthy and tasty at the same time.


BOLDUAN: Some of the kids' parents got to attend, as well.

President Obama also dropped by the event. He joked that usually he gets invited to state dinners, but this one he just had to crash.

No more party crashers. We do not need any more state dinner party crashers.

BLITZER: They haven't had a lot of state dinners, the Obamas, but this was a very cool one.

BOLDUAN: This was a very neat one. I'm sure a lot of those kids appreciate it.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will remember it, as well.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Comments from a Republican Senate candidate about rape and abortion sending ripples through the party and the presidential campaign. Let's go to CNN's Erin Burnett. She's "OUTFRONT" on this story.

Erin, you're going to be joined, I take it, by the Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, in the next hour. What's going on?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Well, we're going to -- we're going to get to the heart of the matter, Wolf. I mean, you know, pretty incredible what Mr. Akin said, that -- using the words "legitimate rape." He's apologized for it, of course.

But late today, Mitt Romney commenting on it and many other Republicans also saying that perhaps -- actually not perhaps. They think he should step out of the race. But will the chief of the Republican National Committee say that?

This is important, because as you know, Wolf, it's highlighted something Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don't want highlighted, which is Paul Ryan's personal views on abortion, which are much more conservative than Mitt Romney's. And in one case, something that 75 percent of Americans do not agree with.

So we're going to talk about that with the head of the Republican National Committee. And also talk with a man who has an incredible story. His wife now going to jail for two years for speaking out against Vladimir Putin. His 4-year-old daughter won't see her mother for those two years. Yet, he believes passionately in her cause.

The husband of one of the Pussy Riot band members is our guest exclusively tonight. Top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. I'm predicting right now, Erin, what Reince Priebus will say, because the Republican Senate leadership has said it, Romney has said it, that Congressman Akin should spend the next 24 hours reflecting with his family on what this means for himself, for the state, for the country, for the Republican Party, which is basically throwing him under the bus and telling him by 5 p.m. Central Time tomorrow, he should be out of this race. That's what I'm predicting Reince Priebus will say. But look, if he says something different, I'll be listening, Erin, as I always do.

BURNETT: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

It looks like something out of a "Mission: Impossible" movie. A woman walks a line between two giant trucks barreling down the highway. Does she make it? Jeanne Moos standing by. She's just ahead. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BOLDUAN: So how many times have you been on your cell phone and felt like doing this?





BLITZER: Here's a competition we did not see at the Olympics: mobile phone throwing. It's an annual event in Finland, home to mobile phone maker Nokia. Fifty people take part, some coming from far -- as far away as India. And here's the winning throw, more than 331 feet by this young man. He says he only had one practice throw and prepared mainly by drinking. Congratulations. It looks like something out of an action movie. But actually, it's a real-life stunt pulled off by a woman on a moving nylon rope. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two trucks hurdling down the highway with a woman walking a line between the two barreling toward a tunnel. Will she get splattered in what looks like a scene right out of a movie like "Mission: Impossible"? Or will she survive like Tom Cruise? And who is this woman?

HENRY ALEX REUBEN, DIRECTOR (via phone): Faith is nuts. And only a crazy person would try anything like this.

MOOS: Take it from the director, Henry Alex Reuben, who shot this last year on a brand-new, hadn't yet opened highway in Croatia.

REUBEN: Many countries said no before Croatia.

MOOS: What Faith Dickey is doing is called slacklining, like walking a tightrope, only slack and bouncy.

FAITH DICKEY, DAREDEVIL: I've high-lined on longer lines, and I've high-lined in harsher winds. But I've never slacklined moving forward before.

MOOS: Faith Dickey is the women's world record holder in various categories of slacklining, which is why they got her for this, what's called the ballerina stunt.

The object was to get across the line before the trucks got to the tunnel. She fell once. They did three takes. Faith was wearing an ankle safety harness.

(on camera) The question is, what is this an ad for?

(voice-over) Is it for shoes? Is it for the camera on her head? Nope. It's for trucks. Volvo trucks, pretty risky for a brand associated with safety. As one of the precision drivers remarks...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too far apart, the rope breaks. Too near together, she falls off.

MOOS: The trucks headed for the tunnel, top speed of about 50 miles per hour.

Some thought more than the rope was being stretched: "Faketastic!" "Megafake," posters said.

To which the director replied...

REUBEN: A little bit of Hollywood editing makes everything seem more exciting, and obviously, we cut three takes together.

MOOS: But Reuben says she came within seconds of the tunnel entrance.

REUBEN: She did do it. She did that stunt, and it was pretty sick. I mean, the crew applauded her afterwards.

MOOS: Ye of little faith, have faith in Faith Dickey.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: Scary stuff. I don't want you to get any ideas from that.

BOLDUAN: I -- you know, I'd like to say I'm that talented, but, no, no, no. I think the best quote of that thing is "Faith is nuts."

BLITZER: That's amazing. That's -- whatever it was.

Remember, you can always follow us going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet Kate, @KateBolduan.

Till tomorrow, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.