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Will Storm Hit GOP Convention?; Republican Congressman Digs In; GOP Convention Site Braces for Isaac; West Nile Virus Explosion; "You Didn't Build That"; Republicans Clarify Abortion Stance; Courting The Female Vote; Hurricane Center's Latest Isaac Update; Train Derailment Delays Terror Trial; LL Cool J Nabs Intruder At Home; Test Drive On Mars

Aired August 22, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: The embattled GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin digging in, admitting he's even refused a personal request from his party's vice presidential candidate to get out of the race. Can Republicans across the country whether this storm?

Plus, all eyes on an actual storm. Isaac may be headed toward the GOP Convention site in Tampa just as festivities get under way. We will have the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. It's about to be released. We will also bring it to you just as soon as it comes in.

And an explosive outbreak of West Nile virus consuming much of the United States right now, the death toll already topping 40 people and the number of cases has more than doubled to over 1,000.

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

But, first, the headache that won't seem to go away for Republicans. Just days before what should be a shining moment for Mitt Romney, the campaign continues to contend with a controversy over the embattled Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin.

The Republican Missouri congressman is refusing all calls to get out of the race, despite the backlash over his now infamous "legitimate rape" remark.

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

Jim, what's going on?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, before Mitt Romney accepts his party's nomination next week in Tampa, he will have to weather a couple of storms first, one named Akin, the other named Isaac.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney came to Iowa with some new lines of attack aimed at getting not just his campaign, but his party back on message. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His policies of substituting government for free people have not worked.

ACOSTA: Romney's up against a president who's spending much more time out of the White House.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But Republicans in Congress let -- no, no, no, no. Don't boo. Vote.


ACOSTA: And while his running mate, Paul Ryan, has whipped up excitement for the GOP ticket --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is President Obama's imaginary recovery. It's not here.

ACOSTA: -- the Wisconsin congressman is now facing questions about a bill he co-sponsored with embattled Missouri Republican Todd Akin, who caused an uproar when he said it's rare for women who are raped to get pregnant.

That bill which would have limited taxpayer funding for abortions said only victims of -- quote -- "forcible rape" should be covered. Ryan was pressed by Pittsburgh TV station KDKA to explain that.

QUESTION: What is forcible rape?

RYAN: Rape is rape, period, end of story.

ACOSTA: Later on his campaign plane, Ryan was asked if he regretted the bill.

RYAN: I think we had 251 votes, 16 Democrats. I'm proud of my pro-life record. Mitt Romney's going to be president. The president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign released a statement saying "Ryan may hope that American women never learn about his record, but they deserve an answer to why he wanted to redefine rape."

The Romney campaign is trying to focus back on the economy, seizing on a new report on the massive budget cuts looming as part of the so-called fiscal cliff compromise. The Congressional Budget Office shows the cliff which Ryan supported would end years of trillion-dollar deficits. But it may also keep unemployment high.

Still, it's the weather reports that may matter most. Forecasters are eying Isaac, a storm that could strengthen into a hurricane and head toward Florida just in time for the convention.

BOB BUCKHORN, MAYOR OF TAMPA, FLORIDA: Well, absolutely we're prepared to call it off. Human safety and human life trumps politics. I think the RNC recognizes that. The organizers, certainly Governor Romney recognizes that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Mitt Romney will also be competing with President Obama next week. Mr. Obama is planning on campaigning here in Iowa, also in Virginia and in Colorado. That is a lot of distractions for Mitt Romney during his big moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right. Stand by, Jim Acosta reporting for us in Iowa.

Republicans slowly seem to be coming to terms with the fact that Todd Akin is hunkering down for the long haul to November, whether they like it or not.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is taking a closer look at this part of this story.

I know the Republican establishment, the leadership, the Tea Party leaders, none of them are happy with Akin's decision.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. In fact, I talked to an exasperated senior Republican source earlier today who said that the Republicans at a high level have concluded they have to "grind it out for a while," since despite throwing Todd Akin under the proverbial bus, backing it up, going forward again, he still isn't going to quit.


BASH (voice-over): Todd Akin is dug in and defiant.

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: This is not about me. This is not about my ego. But it is about the voters of the state of Missouri. They have chosen me because of principles that I stand on.

BASH: Appearing on two morning TV shows, the embattled GOP nominee for Senate made clear he won't buckle under the weight of party pressure to quit.

AKIN: It makes me uncomfortable to think that the party bosses are going to dictate who runs, as opposed to the election process.

BASH: This was the sentence that set off the firestorm.

AKIN: 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.

BASH: Akin apologized for using the term legitimate rape and now admits he was wrong to suggest the female body can somehow prevent pregnancy from rape.

AKIN: That's not true. I was misinformed, and I recognize that.

BASH: A pretty big mistake from a Republican member of the House Science Committee. But generally speaking, Akin's staunch anti- abortion views match those of the Missouri congressional district he currently represents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cringed, because, basically, I agree with his stance on abortion. But the way he said it, it could have been worded different.

BASH: Plenty of Missouri voters say they're still with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people are looking for something to accuse Todd or to drag him down.

BASH: In the last presidential election, 39 percent of Missouri voters, nearly four in 10, called themselves evangelical or born- again, a lot, but not enough to unseat the incumbent Democrat.

And Akin's comments caused a national problem for Republicans by turning the narrative to divisive social issues. It's why Paul Ryan, who co-sponsored anti-abortion legislation with Akin, called and asked him to quit, but failed.

RYAN: He should drop out of the race. He's not. He's going to run his campaign. We're going to run ours.

BASH: Privately, senior Republican sources are panicked their huge deficit with female voters will get worse, especially since heading into their convention, the Akin controversy shined a light on a party platform position opposing abortion without exception for rape.

Anne Stone is a Republican for abortion rights.

ANNE STONE, REPUBLICANS FOR CHOICE: The Republicans don't know -- even know what women want. They are gender-blind and I would say gender-stupid when it comes to dealing with women and women's policies.

BASH: Even Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who co-chaired the GOP Platform Committee, admits her party has a problem.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: We have some very articulate, accomplished women who are elected officials at the local, the state and the federal level. They have all shown the ability to lead.

And I think what people are wanting to do is to see women step forward and take a more prominent leadership role in our party.


BASH: What Blackburn and other GOP officials tell me is that even though they did not succeed in forcing Akin to drop his bid for Senate, they hope they at least were successful in signaling to those key swing voters, especially women, they don't stand for what he said.

But as far as Akin's future goes, Republican officials tell me that they're just waiting to watch a couple of key dynamics play out. Wolf, those dynamics are, first of all, how much support he really thinks he has now that he's back from his consultant's office in Ohio. He's back in Missouri. And, secondly, most importantly, money, whether or not given the fact that the national party key outside groups have said they're not giving him a dime more, whether he can raise money from angry grassroots conservatives who are not happy that the party bailed on him.

BLITZER: The only person who's really, really happy is Claire McCaskill, who is the Democratic candidate who now thinks she has a pretty good chance of staying United States senator for Missouri, if, in fact, he stays in the race. There's another deadline at the end of September. He could still withdraw. That would be more complicated, but it would give the Republicans a chance to put somebody else on the ballot November 6.

BASH: It would be complicated, it would be financially costly for the party and for him. But it is possible. But at this point, it would take a lot to get him out of the race.

BLITZER: Yes. We will see what happens. Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats alike are playing the blame game when it comes to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office suggesting that if the so-called fiscal cliff takes effect next year, the U.S. deficit will -- the U.S. deficit outlook will improve, but, and it's a huge but, scheduled tax increases and spending cuts could push the country into another recession and boost unemployment up to 9 percent.

Let's bring in chief national correspondent, John King. He's looking at all of this for us.

Will this new CBO report put this issue once again front and center?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is front and center in the campaign.

Look, the Todd Akin controversy has dominated discussion in recent days. You heard Jim Acosta. Governor Romney wants to get back to the economy. Governor Romney today issued a very strongly worded statement blaming this problem on the president.

He says there's lack of leadership on the White House part. The president issued a statement saying, no, it's the lack of leadership in Washington, it's a lack of bipartisanship and it's the House Republicans' fault, the president says, for not cooperating.

This is front and center. Look, the Akin controversy will be with us. We're going to go into the platform discussions at the convention. But Governor Romney hopes to turn the convention much back toward deficits, debt, spending and jobs.

BLITZER: He's talking about those issues, he's on strong ground. If he's talking about social issues, some of the other issues, not necessarily so strong.

What are the takeaways from the CBO report for both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign?

KING: If you're the Romney campaign, you can say another trillion dollar plus deficit, what happened to the broken promise from then senator, candidate Obama and President Obama to cut the deficit in half in his first term? It hasn't happened.

The president can say a deeper recession than he imagined. No cooperation from House Republicans. The president has his answers to that question. But Governor Romney can say promise made, promise broken. The president can say, this is proof that nothing can get done in Washington and he has to make the case that he is the answer and that if you let the Republicans win the election, they will just have more tax cuts for the rich and that won't help the deficit problem where he would get some from the rich.

It's a familiar debate. We will watch it play out front and center. Will anything be done in the short term? You read this report, it's pretty ominous. Pretty ominous. A recession in 2013 is possible. Higher unemployment is possible. Before the election, will anything be done? No. Potentially a lame-duck session after the election, they can deal with this.

That will be handily influenced by who wins, not only in the presidential race, but in the congressional races as well.

BLITZER: Excellent point. That lame-duck session, if you and I think November 6, we're going to be done, we're going to be working hard between then and the end of the year because that lame-duck session will have direct impact on all the people watching us right now.


BLITZER: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Republicans may have more than just political storm on their hands. We're also tracking Tropical Storm Isaac, which could be headed straight for the convention site in Tampa.

Plus, could Todd Akin's plans to stay in a critical Senate race mean an automatic win for the Democrats? I will ask the Obama campaign national press secretary, Ben LaBolt. He's here. He will join us live.

And an explosive West Nile outbreak is spreading across the country -- the latest on the soaring death toll just reported by the CDC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Turning now to the GOP convention site in Tampa where it's -- just isn't a political storm Republicans are worried about. Tropical storm Isaac is gaining strength in the Atlantic and could become a hurricane as soon as tomorrow. The storm is expected to have a devastating impact on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Where it goes after this, that is still uncertain.

CNN political director, though, Mark Preston is already at the Tampa site of the convention. They'll be bracing for the worst. Contingency plans are already in place. What's the latest on this front, Mark?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wolf, convention organizers are, in fact, expressing optimism that they don't think that the storm is going to march into the gulf and then turn into Tampa.

However, we heard from the Florida governor today. He put out a statement saying, in fact, that they are working with convention officials, they're also working with local officials to address that if it were to happen.

But let me tell you this, Wolf. We walked a little bit along the waterfront behind me with the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn. He explained to us a little bit more about those preparations. He also told us what the devastating effect would be if that turned into a category 3 hurricane, came into Tampa Bay and marched up right behind us.

Let's hear what he had to say, Wolf.


MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN, TAMPA, FLORIDA: The apparatus is already in place. Command structures are already in place. We know the evacuation routes. We know what to do. We know how to clean up.

And so, the only additional burden would be we'd have the media here to document our success or failure. And you'd have the delegates. You know, it's just all about moving bodies out of harm's way.

PRESTON: What happens if the hurricane comes up to the gulf? Going to take all that water and move it up through the bay, which way does it come?

BUCKHORN: Well, if you had a cat 3 storm and with a direct hit on Tampa Bay you would literal push 15 to 20 feet of water through Davis Islands, through the convention center into downtown Tampa. That would require a direct hit. You know, absent that you will get some storm surge depending on what the tides are.


PRESTON: Well, you know, Wolf -- you know, wolf, we talk about the politics and how this could affect the Mitt Romney campaign and certainly his convention. This could also affect so many lives if that hurricane were to hit here in Tampa, or if it were to hit anywhere in the United States. Even if it doesn't hit in Tampa, if it were to make landfall elsewhere and cause devastation, that, too, could affect the Romney campaign, the Romney convention, much like it did John McCain's convention back in 2008 when we saw hurricane hit on the Gulf Coast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember that first day. They had to abbreviate all of their convention activities because they didn't want to be in the middle of a lot of hoopla as people were suffering in Texas and elsewhere.

All right, Mark. We'll see you in a couple days. I'll be down there myself. Mark Preston reporting for us.

BLITZER: We are also right now in the midst of one of the biggest outbreaks of West Nile virus ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a dramatic increase in the number of cases over the past week.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is following these ominous developments for us.

How bad, first of all, has it gotten, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a really big jump for just one week. In fact, if you look at the third week in August in previous years, we've had more cases this year than in any previous year.

So, let's take a look at this jump. Last week, the CDC reported that there were 600 -- I'm sorry, there were 26 deaths. This week that number has gone up to 41. Again, a big jump in one week.

When you look at illnesses, we've gone from 693 in this country to 1,118. Now, most states are reporting some West Nile activity. The activity is really focused on these five states -- 75 percent of the cases are in South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and the state with the most cases is Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, should people be scared right now? What's the recommendation?

COHEN: You know, I think people need to take certain steps to protect themselves. I also think that we need to put this in perspective.

First of all, of all the mosquitoes out there, only about 1 percent of them carry the West Nile virus. So, most of the mosquitoes you meet in your daily life do not carry West Nile. And even if you were to be bit by a West Nile mosquito, 80 percent of us will not get sick. We wouldn't even know we were bit by a West Nile mosquito. Twenty percent of us would have mild symptoms of fever, nausea, wouldn't necessarily have to go to the doctor.

Now, one of 150 people would get severe symptoms, maybe even a coma or paralysis or, you know, sadly even death. And elderly people, wolf, are the most at risk. I shouldn't say elderly. I should say people over the age of 50. Now that I'm approaching that age I don't like to call it elderly.

BLITZER: All right. A little bit older people.

What about prevention? What can we do to prevent West Nile virus if we're in one of these high risk areas?

COHEN: Right. I think the key here, Wolf, is to remember we're not helpless and hopeless. There are things you can do especially if you live in the hot zone. So, first of all, what you want to do, when you go outside wear an insect repellant with DEET. Look for DEET in the ingredients list. Also dress in long sleeves and long pants.

Dusk and dawn is when mosquitoes tend to be out. So, be really careful those two times. And also, if you have any standing water like a bird fountain or kiddy pool, get rid of it. Drain it. That's where mosquitoes love to breed.

BLITZER: Good advice, a lot of Ds there are. Thanks very much, Elizabeth Cohen.

A suspected gunman is formally indicted. We're going to tell you the charges a Virginia man is facing in last week's shooting over at the Family Research Council right here in Washington, D.C.

And taking the Mars rover out for a spin. We're taking a closer look at the new pictures that are just coming back to Earth.


BLITZER: New developments involving that shooting at the headquarters of a Christian conservative group here in Washington, D.C.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, charges were filed today against the accused gunman, 28-year-old Floyd Corkins II. He now faces a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted. Police say he opened fire in the headquarters of the Family Research Council last week. The building manager was shot in the arm but was able to wrestle the gun away. Corkins volunteered for a center that serves the gay community. And according to the criminal complaint, he targeted the organization for its views against homosexuality.

And the winner of last week's $337 million Powerball jackpot has come forward. Michigan lottery officials, they got a call this morning, but they're not yet saying who it is. The ticket was sold at this gas station in Lapeer, just north of Detroit. It is the third largest jackpot in Powerball history. And the winner takes home a lump sum of more than $200 million. They have a year to claim it.

Federal agents rounded up more than $1 billion worth of marijuana in raids across seven western states. The so-called Operation Mountain Sweep targeted illegal pot farms on public lands. Nearly 100 of those farms have been shut down since the operation began July 1st. And more than half a million marijuana plants have now been destroyed, 14 people in California facing charges.

And rock band KISS is weighing in on the shakeup on "American Idol." As you may know, the judges, they are changing next season. KISS front man Gene Simmons, well, he's got an idea.


GENE SIMMONS, KISS: The new judge clearly should be Wolf Blitzer. Who else? Wolf, you're a cool guy. He needs to get up there and tell everybody everything, which is what he does on CNN.

PAUL STANLEY, KISS: We loved him when he was a disk jockey, Wolfman Blitzer.



BLITZER: I accept. Lisa, I accept if they offer me to be a judge on "American Idol." I'll take that gig. I'll work around that schedule. I'm sure it's not all that much heavy lifting. I love music.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: So, if they want to approach my agent, go ahead. We'll talk.

SYLVESTER: And you'll, of course, keep your day job here on CNN.

BLITZER: Keep it, absolutely.

SYLVESTER: That's right. Keep your day job. Have a little fun on "American Idol." You'll be, perhaps, sitting next to Mariah Carey and the likes.

BLITZER: I'm ready.

SYLVESTER: I think it would be terrific. I absolutely think it would be terrific. I'd love to see it, Wolf. So --

BLITZER: They do that out in Los Angeles or some place like that?

SYLVESTER: You know what they do at least for the "American Idol" when they're auditions they go around country to various cities.

BLITZER: I'm ready. I'm ready.

SYLVESTER: They should at least have you on as a guest host. So, I'm personally making it fun for you on "American Idol," Wolf.

BLITZER: I accept. I already said, I accept. Let the festivities begin. Thanks very much.

Mitt Romney makes a point with a campaign backdrop. We're going to talk with President Obama's campaign spokesman on the president's, quote, "you didn't build that" comment and how it's playing out on the campaign trail.

New pictures are coming in from the Mars mission. What's fueling the rover as it sends those images back? The answer might surprise you.


BLITZER: The Todd Akin controversy may be dogging the GOP right now. But that certainly hasn't stopped Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, from holding President Obama speak to the fire out there on the campaign trail. Especially when it comes to that one key phrase, quote, "You didn't build that."

Joining us now to talk about that and the whole lot more is the Obama campaign National Press Secretary Ben Labolt is here in Washington.

Ben, thanks very much for coming in. You saw the Romney event today, Ryan event today. They're making a whole big deal about we did build that. That's the big banner. They're wearing t-shirts along those lines, their supporters.

I'm going to make the full context of what the president said more than a month ago. We'll discuss this because it's becoming, once again, a sensitive issue.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.


BLITZER: All right, that's caused this uproar, as you well know. Did the president misspeak?

LABOLT: What the president was talking about is, in fact, that there are steps we can take to create a strong business climate. He's cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. He's invested in education and research and development and infrastructure.

All steps we can take to create a strong business climate. That's why start-ups have gone up under this administration. They went down under Governor Romney in Massachusetts after he cut back in all of those areas and hurt entrepreneurs.

BLITZER: But the key line, if you got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen, that's the line that's causing all sorts of controversy out there. The Romney campaign is picking up in campaign commercials out on the campaign trail.

LABOLT: They've ripped that entirely out of context. You've heard right there he was referring to roads and bridges and infrastructure.

In fact, investments in those sorts of things, while countries around the world are racing to invest in them, we shouldn't be cutting back. That helps small businesses, the engine of job creation to create jobs.

BLITZER: But you understand why some small business owners including this one individual, Chris McMurray, the owner of Crumb and Get It cookie company, he refused to allow the vice president to come to his bakery, why he's now saying this on behalf -- in support of the Romney campaign. I'll play this little clip.


CHRIS MCMURRAY, OWNER, CRUMB AND GET IT: You may remember a month or so ago, our president stood in this very city, and he proclaimed the message that if you have a business, you didn't build it. We are gathered here today to send the message to the Obama/Biden team that we did build it!


BLITZER: All right, it's working out there on the campaign trail. What do you say to this owner of this small business?

LABOLT: Well, we don't disagree with him that he built that business. But the question wasn't raised in the context of the president's remarks.

Do you agree with Mitt Romney that we should be cutting funding for worker training? Do you agree with Mitt Romney that we should be cutting funding for community colleges?

These things ensure that we have a trained work force that's ready to compete in the global economy. And they're all areas where Mitt Romney would cut back. He did cut back in Massachusetts. And you saw the number of start-ups decline during his tenure as governor.

BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary for him to refuse to let the vice president of the United States come to his small business because of those words the president uttered.

I can see how you say, because in this sentence before, he said if you got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen.

He did say somebody else invested in roads and bridges. What you're saying is that the president said refers to roads and bridges. But as you know a lot of people don't necessarily buy that.

LABOLT: This is just one more example of the Romney campaign not running the sort of campaign they wanted to run. They've criticized our campaign about tone. But they've got a demonstratively false ad on the air right now.

The administration is working to ensure more people in states move from welfare to work. If you're a governor and prove you can move 20 percent more people from welfare to work we'll let you do it.

President Clinton has called this ad false. The architect of welfare reform, Republican co-author has called it false. Yet Mitt Romney continues to run these ads.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about that. John Sununu is going to be joining us in the next hour, a supporter of the Romney campaigh. But let me ask you about Missouri right now, a state that's been in the news. Is that considered a battleground state? Is the Obama campaign spending money in Missouri trying to win that state?

LABOLT: We do have offices --

BLITZER: I know you have offices, but are you advertising in Missouri?

LABOLT: We're not currently up on the air.

BLITZER: Are you going to change your mind based on Todd Akin deciding to stay in this race against Claire McCaskill?

LABOLT: Even prior that there were polls that had the state fairly tight. Our organization is building an organization on the ground in states across the country. If you're a supporter of the president no matter where you are you can contribute to our campaign efforts. We'll see what the impact is on the ground.

BLITZER: So far you haven't bought any advertising in Missouri?

LABOLT: I think there's a broader issue here. You're referring to Congressman Akin's comments.

BLITZER: I'm going to play this clip. This is Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent senator on what she thinks Akin should do. Listen to this.


SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, I disagreed with what he said. He is now just in the last few hours really apologized for what he said. And I think what's startling to me is that these party bigwigs are coming down on him and saying that he needs to kick sand in the face of the Republican primary voters. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She clearly wants him in this race. She thinks he's very vulnerable right now. Does the Obama campaign, you're press secretary, do you think he should stay in this race, Todd Akins?

LABOLT: That's ultimately up to the Republicans in Missouri. There's a broader issue facing voters here. That's the Republican Party, Mitt Romney's Republican Party has now adopted Congressman Akin's policies as part of their platform.

Congressman Ryan, the VP candidate, worked to advance these policies with Congressman Akin in the House, the human life amendment. Romney had previously endorsed a similar amendment, which would ban abortion in all forms.

Including in the cases of rape and incest and could have some implications for birth control. That's now the stated policy of Mitt Romney Republican Party.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney to be precise, he has said in the past few days, said repeatedly including in interviews with me he does support exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Paul Ryan used to oppose the race and incest exemptions. Now as number two on the ticket he says he goes along with number one, the position of Mitt Romney.

LABOLT: Well, I think Governor Romney has told different things to different audiences.

BLITZER: I'm just saying what he said in the last few days.

LABOLT: Sure, he's told Mike Huckabee during the primary that he supported the personhood amendment, which is equivalent to the human life amendment.

During a debate during the last election cycle he said he'd be delighted to sign a bill into law that banned abortion in all forms. He said he'd get rid of Planned Parenthood, strip back funding for it, limit access for free preventative screening for women for things like breast cancer and cervical cancer.

So these have implications across the board. I think this is a debate we expected to hear in the 1950s. Not one you'd expect to hear in 2012.

BLITZER: Ben Labolt is the national press secretary for the Obama re-election campaign. Thanks for coming in, Ben.

LABOLT: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're going to be down in Tampa next week during the Republican convention. Not only the vice president, but Ben Labolt will be there as well.

LABOLT: We'll see you then.

BLITZER: OK, thanks very much.

Mitt Romney and President Obama have been squaring off on welfare reform and Medicare. In our next hour, we're going to fact check the arguments. We're going to talk to a Romney adviser, John Sununu.

Also, in light of the ongoing controversy over Congressman Todd Akin, we'll take a closer look at how women voters will factor into this election. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Maria Cardona and the Republican strategist and CNN contributor Mary Matalin. Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.

Mary, let me start with you and read from today's "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd's piece, playing off the Todd Akin uproar. She writes this, Paul Ryan, who teamed up with Akin in the House to sponsor harsh anti-abortion bills may look young and hip, but he's just a fresh face on a Taliban creed, the evermore antediluvian core.

Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaur. That's pretty strong words. How much of a problem, seriously, though, has this akin Story been on Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, the national ticket?

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Maureen Dowd is the -- the most colourful, but the most predictable of liberal pride. What she's saying there is the same old liberal hateful tripe that if you're pro- life, then you're anti-woman.

If you're pro-traditional marriage, you're anti-gay. Republican conservatives are not anti-gay. Paul Ryan is a Catholic, Roman Catholic. He believes in the sanctity of life and has opposed federal tax dollars going to abortion.

There's nothing extreme about that. The other is extreme. But to pin the whole party with Akin is such an insult to women. If women judged all men by the dumbest one they knew or the dumbest thing that men they knew said, we'd be a land of singles.

I think women are smart enough to distinguish a really badly and ineptly thing said from a bad candidate and the entire Republican Party, particularly the Romney/Ryan ticket.

BLITZER: Todd Akin, Maria, as you well know, has been rejected, repudiated by virtually the entire Republican establishment from Mitt Romney on down.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure and as he should be. Mary's right. I don't think every Republican believes that what Todd Akin said was correct. So I think they're right in disavowing what his words are.

But here's the problem for Republicans. What he said might have been very offensive and actually factually wrong, and it is both of those things. But his policy positions, his stated policy positions, are no different than vice presidential Republican nominee Paul Ryan's positions.

Frankly, you know, they're really not all that different from what Romney has said in the past. I know Romney now says he does -- he won't oppose abortion in the cases of rape and incest. But the fact of the matter is that the party platform basically opposes abortion in every single case.

And here's the problem with basically Paul Ryan saying that he's not the top of the ticket. He dodged a question today when he was asked whether he would oppose abortion even in the case of rape.

He completely dodged it saying that he's got his beliefs, but he's not the top of the ticket. Guess what? He is one heartbeat away from the top of the ticket.

I suspect Democrats will continue to make that point because of what his position means for many women out there.

BLITZER: Mary, I want you to respond to that, but also in the context of this latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, among women voter's choice for president, 51 percent for Obama, 41 percent for Romney. The Romney ticket has a problem with women out there.

MATALIN: Well, I think that's a great number, Wolf. This follows six or seven months of the so-called war on women. It follows over $100 million of an attack barrage in the swing states on Romney.

And months and months and millions of millions of dollars of distorting what he's proposing and distracting from the campaign. And he's creeping up. The margin is closing.

Particularly in the target states, which shows little impact of all the money and attacks that the Obama machine is foisting on the Romney campaign so I'm -- actually, that's a pretty good gap for women considering what they said and it goes -- they have an advantage and always have. Liberals get younger liberal women.

Republicans get women who have -- who are career women, who have a stake in their communities, who are family women, who are married, who have children. This is just a distraction. Of course, they want to talk about abortion because they want to have a distraction.

Women like men, like children, like everybody in this country, is affected by what he learned today was the fourth consecutive year of trillion dollar deficit. The choice is four more years of failed promises or four more years -- or for good years of positive policy.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But very quickly, give me a final thought, reaction to that, Maria. CARDONA: Well, I think actually the difference is four more years of a Republican ticket wanting to tell women what to do with their bodies. I think that's the reason why you see that gap.

I suspect it's going to get larger as we go into the Republican convention where they should be focused on jobs and the economy, and they're focused on Todd Akin's comments.

BLITZER: Maria and Mary, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

CARDONA: Thank you so much, Wolf.

All right, the latest Isaac advisory is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now from the National Hurricane Center. Let's go straight to our meteorologist, severe weather expert Chad Myers. Chad, what's going on?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Let's go back to weather 101 and talk about a cone, the cone of weather, the cone of where this thing could go. It could be to the left side of the cone, to the right side of the cone.

I know we lose this. We stop thinking about this in the middle of the winter. The forecast, brand-new, right off the press here, either from the NASA Bahamas area or all the way into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday at 2:00.

Now I'll just get a little bit sublime because I know we have a convention coming up in Tampa. If you look at the center of the cone, this is not the forecast right now. This is the center of the forecast error. That would be very close to Fort Myers, possibly Tampa, 2:00 p.m. on Monday.

I know we don't want to think about that, Wolf. But the potential is there with a storm in the water turning into a hurricane running right over Port-Au-Prince. People there, 400,000 still living in tents from the earthquake.

And then right over Cuba and up toward Florida. That's five days out. There's a lot of error five days away. But you know where the center of the cone is, just so you know.

BLITZER: You're going to be a really, really busy guy over these next five days. We'll be watching 2:00 p.m. on Monday. Can you imagine if that were to hit Tampa just as this convention is about to get under way? We'll watch it very closely.

We'll watch the entire state of Florida in terms of -- and, indeed, the gulf coast to make sure we're all over this. Thanks very much. I know you're coming back right at the top of the hour with more. Chad, appreciate it.

Yesterday's train derailment had a far reaching effect.

Also, why the terrorism trial of Sheikh Mohammed had to be delayed at Guantanamo. And life imitates art for the actor, L.L. Cool J, what happened in his Los Angeles home.


BLITZER: A freight train that derailed near Baltimore disrupts an important terror trial in Guantanamo Bay. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yesterday's accident damaged fiber optic lines and knocked out internet service as far away as Cuba. That delayed a pre-trial hearing for accused September 11th master mind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others.

We are told that service is back up now. Two college students were killed when the coal train derailed. Police say the teens were sitting on a bridge when 21 cars tumbled off the tracks.

He plays a crime fighting agent on TV. L.L. Cool J helped take down a real bad guy who tried to break into his Los Angeles area home.

The rapper and actor heard a noise early this morning and confronted the-would be burglar. Police say L.L. Cool J was holding the guy when they arrived.

L.L. whose real name happens to be James Todd Smith, he is OK. But the suspect, the other guy, well, he's got a few bruises. I think that's a lesson learned, Wolf. Don't take on L.L. Cool J. He's a pretty big guy.

BLITZER: Wouldn't even think about it. Wouldn't even come close to doing that. All right, thanks very much, Lisa.

Once again, we're keeping a close eye on that Tropical Storm Isaac right now. It's moving through the Caribbean. We're going to have a full report on where it could be heading. That's coming up the top of the hour.

And what's fuelling the Mars rover? We have the answer and it may surprise you.


BLITZER: It's a defining moment for the two-year mission on Mars. The rover "Curiosity" took a successful test drive today. John Zarrella is following all the latest developments for us from Miami. Tell us about the pictures we're seeing that are coming back now, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. NASA releasing one very cool picture today. Kind of like the rover getting its learner's permit on Mars. You're looking at the animation there that actually shows the rover, which moved about 20 feet in all.

And during that 20-foot move, you can actually see in the image that they sent back from space, you can see the image of the rover and the tracks it left behind as it moved to where it is currently sitting now.

And this all sets the stage, because of the success, for moving the rover to its first destination in the next few days or so. It'll set out and travel about 1,300 feet to that first target rock they're going to go look at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very quickly, give us the latest on that bizarre tie that Curiosity has to Soviet -- the Soviet air and nuclear program.

ZARRELLA: Yes, well, "Curiosity's" powered by what's calmed an RTG, Radio Isotope Thermal Electric Generator. That power source is nuclear. It comes from plutonium 238, which is the by product of plutonium 239. The U.S. ran out of 238 supplies. They're getting it now from the Russians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella reporting. Thank you.