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Mitt Romney to Speak at Republican National Convention; Isaac Still Impacting Gulf Coast; Mitt Romney Makes His Case Tonight; U.N.: Iran Stepping Up Nuclear Production; Egypt's President: Help Free Syria; Grad School Denied James Holmes; Cop Drunk, Causes Scene In India; Ryan Energizes RNC; Isaac Slowly Battering Gulf Coast

Aired August 30, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're looking at live pictures from the convention floor. There they are. That's the presidential and vice presidential team right there. You're looking at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

They have come out to take a look. Mitt Romney, of course, will be delivering a huge, huge speech tonight. It's his acceptance speech and he's taking a look at the podium and he's taking a look at the floor and getting a little sense of this Tampa Bay Times Forum.

There they are, the Republican presidential nominee and the vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan delivering his acceptance speech last night, getting pretty positive reviews, although there were some questions about some elements of it as well.

These are some top members of the campaign staff that have worked so, so hard, this Romney-Ryan campaign team. They have been working really hard. And the president -- the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate basically going out there to thank them all for what they have been doing and to see some faces out there that are familiar.

These are the people that have worked so hard over these past many, many months. You see Eric Fehrnstrom in the back there with the glasses who was very instrumental in trying to get the former Massachusetts governor, not only the Republican nomination, but also eventually the White House.

November 6 is the election.

Jim Acosta is on the convention floor. As we're looking at these pictures, these are live pictures of the two men walking around.

Jim, you have been covering them almost from day one.


This is sort of a thank you from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to the staff. You mentioned some of the top campaign advisers that work with them on a daily basis, but also behind me, Wolf, are all the young men and women on there the campaign trail every day working very hard as advance team members that us reporters get very familiar with out on the campaign trail.

So sort of a gesture of gratitude from the candidates to his young campaign staff. And I have been talking to Romney advisers today. They are signaling that the GOP nominee will be delivering some tough lines aimed at the president tonight,but he will also lay out a vision of the future and viewers at home, millions of them will also be taking a trip into Romney's past.

It's sort of the political equivalent of Mitt Romney, this is your life.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The speeches from the campaign trail were only the warmup for what is only hours away, when Mitt Romney will accept the Republican Party's nomination for president.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 family members of both Romney and his wife who came in from across the country sat on the convention floor, waiting their turn for the ultimate political souvenir, photographs on stage.

ACOSTA (on camera): Did you see this in him growing up?

SCOTT ROMNEY, BROTHER OF MITT ROMNEY: You know, when I was 12 and he was 6, no. Later on, as time went by I saw him grow into a spectacular leader.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The GOP nominee's older brother Scott Romney hopes voters get a closer look at the man he has known all his life.

(on camera): What should the country know about your brother that they don't already know?

S. ROMNEY: I think they know a lot already about him and they will know more about what a warm, caring and great person he is and what a leader he can be and how he really has been able to fix everything he's ever done and he will be able to do something to fix this country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And it's as if Romney's entire life has been building up to this moment, the son of a former presidential candidate, the successful businessman who lost a Senate race to Ted Kennedy only to then turn around the 2022 Olympic Games and launch a successful run for governor and finally his own White House ambitions.

In contrast to the red meat speech delivered by Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?

ACOSTA: -- this night will show the softer side of Romney, members of his Mormon church from Boston and also in the lineup, Olympic athletes from the Salt Lake City Games Romney helped rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Mitt came in and did the things that he did and put his team together to make it one of the most successful Olympics of all modern time, that was proof for us that he was really behind us.

ACOSTA: The campaign's goal, to show that behind the rallies, attack ads and the gaffes --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like to be able to fire people who provide services to me.

ACOSTA: -- there's a president in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people will look at what he's done as a businessman, what he's done in the Olympics and what he's done as governor of Massachusetts, what his family is like and what he's like as a family man, and they will see the Mitt Romney that they haven't seen yet.


ACOSTA: After tonight, Mitt Romney is not going to get much rest. He has campaign events scheduled in Florida, Virginia and Ohio, a sign that this campaign knows they have a small window of opportunity to continue to get their message out before the president has his own convention, but for now, Wolf, we are waiting for Mitt Romney to come out one more time and do a mike check at the podium and then it's about six hours until game time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he's going to be coming out. At some point later tonight, he's got a special surprise guest that he's going to be bringing out as well. We have got some indication who that person is.

Do you want to share with our viewers?

ACOSTA: That's right, none other than Clint Eastwood, Wolf. So I'm pretty sure, if I may use a pun here that I hope you won't hold against me, but I think it is going to make Romney's day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I will not hold it against you at all.

Stand by for a moment because Candy Crowley is here as well and I want to bring her into the conversation and keep you in the conversation.

It's sort of the question everybody always asks, but I will ask you, what does he need to do tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think in addition to what we have been talking about which is this is his biggest audience and this is time for him to talk about who he is, as opposed to the commercials and everybody else talking about him.

This is his big moment and his biggest audience ever, but in addition to this, we have seen this sort of continuum, this buildup to this speech and what is left now -- we heard Paul Ryan last night talk about the need for big ideas and bringing up some of the subjects, and now Mitt Romney needs to not just introduce himself to those who don't know him in a way that suggests that he understands the problems of middle-class Americans, but he has to say and here's the direction I would head.

BLITZER: And he's going to be introduced by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, very popular, home state of Florida here in Tampa. What are you hearing about that introduction, if you will?

CROWLEY: I am told that Rubio will talk and as many who have followed him over the past several years, it will sound quite familiar because he will talk about being the son of exiles from Cuba, about growing up in an exile community that knows what it's like to lose the country that they love.

And he's going to talk about if there is not a change of course in America that this generation will hand to the next generation a diminished country and that Mitt Romney is the guy that can turn this around. He will talk about it not just he's a great leader, but he's a great dad, great husband, great community leader, as well as a leader in his religious community.

So it will be Marco Rubio's America as seen through his eyes as I say growing up in a community of exiles, and talk about American exceptionalism in the sense of this is the one country you can come to with dreams and pass those dreams along to your children, et cetera, et cetera.

BLITZER: Jim, last night, Paul Ryan's speech was obviously very, very well received by this crowd in Tampa and certainly by Republicans across the country. Whether or not you take issue with some of the factual points in that speech, he did deliver oratorically a pretty powerful speech.

Is there any concern inside the Romney campaign that Paul Ryan potentially could overshadow Mitt Romney?

ACOSTA: The last thing that they want, Wolf, is a situation where they have fire and ice, Paul Ryan being the fire and Mitt Romney being the ice.

Just to get back to what Candy was saying, we will see sort of the totality of Mitt Romney's life laid out on the stage. You're going to see members of Mitt Romney's church in Boston, his Mormon church in Boston come out and talk about how he helped them during personal crises and that's not an area that this campaign has been eager to go to during the course of this campaign and they brushed off reporters in the past who wanted to talk about this subject.

They will be talking about his faith. And I have had the chance to stand next to more than 100 members of the Romney and the Davies family, that's Ann Romney's family, who came from all over the country and so I think the two things they want to get out tonight are family and faith, in addition to his vision for the future. And that is something that Stu Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, told me about as well, that you will hear about Mitt Romney's vision for the future tonight in ways that he has not explained before.

BLITZER: It will be a powerful moment at the end of Romney's speech tonight, Candy. We have seen it before. Romney will be there and I'm sure Paul Ryan will come out. Their wives will come out the children will come out and the grandchildren in Romney's specific case, and Paul Ryan's mom and we will see a huge celebration up on that stage that will go on and on.

CROWLEY: That's what this is about.

It is a big party. And it is a way -- I mean, once you bring out the grandchildren and the children, it really is a visual way for people to relate. Like, here is a family, you know?

One of the things that was such a big hit when President Obama was then candidate Obama was those two daughters of his that are darling and they come out and they just tend to warm up a politician who can't necessarily do it for himself.

BLITZER: We will be watching that. You will be up on the podium and you will have a closer look than the rest of us will.

CROWLEY: If the stage is big enough for all that family.

BLITZER: You will be there as you always are. And Jim Acosta will be out on the convention floor for us. We will stay all over this story, obviously, a huge, huge political day, historic political day, I should also say, right here in Tampa.

But also another story we're following. No one's mind is very far away from the Gulf Coast right now. It's been nearly two days since Isaac made landfall there and the assault is still being felt. The storm claimed its first fatality today, a man killed by a falling tree.

Mandatory evacuations are in place in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi due to a potential dam failure. Officials are intentionally breaching it to relieve some of the water pressure. And in other dangerously flood-prone areas, some residents are stranded.

That said, there is also some good news. New Orleans appears to have bypassed the brunt of the storm. The $14 billion levee system rebuilt in Katrina's wake seven years ago appears to be holding and the city has reported relatively minor damage.

So what will Americans learn about Mitt Romney later tonight that they don't already know? Just ahead, I will speak with two people who know him very well. They were also on his vice presidential short list, the former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and the Ohio Senator Rob Portman. They will both be here with me.

Plus, our own Brian Todd, he will take a boat trip surveying firsthand one of the areas hardest-hit by the storm along the Gulf Coast. Thousands are still being threatened by some rising waters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All right. The Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, you see him there. These are live pictures. He's up on the stage and he's getting ready for his big speech, the biggest speech of his political career. He's going to be speaking and accepting the Republican presidential nomination and he's trying to get a little flavor.

There you see Stuart Stevens, one of his top advisers, standing next to him.

It's not as easy as it looks reading that teleprompters. He's got those teleprompters on the side. He's going to have to go back and forth. He wants to deliver a speech as important as the speech is to the crowd inside here at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

With so much more important is how it comes across to the maybe 50 million Americans who will be watching the speech especially those maybe 10 percent of the voters out there who are still either undecided or switchable as they say.

Our own Jim Acosta is on the floor. I don't know how close you are to the podium over there where he is, Jim, but give us a flavor of what's been going on for the last few minutes.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that the podium that Mitt Romney is standing off right now actually came out of the stage. It rose from the floor and the convention officials who've been working on to the stage today, they actually added to the stage to create a larger sort of platform for this program tonight.

And I can tell you as Mitt Romney is getting ready to speak into the microphone, I don't think he's quite check it just yet, but if you look at the screen on the other side of the floor, you could see what's on that teleprompter. It says four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent. Obviously, that's the Gettysburg address. All of the convention speakers who had their warm-ups have been warming up with the Gettysburg address -- fitting, of course, because he is the Republican nominee. This is the Republican convention and Abraham Lincoln is the father of the party.

I am hearing some people calling out to him at this point. I'm not exactly clear what they're saying. I don't think those are protest, but I can also tell you that standing by his side is his body man Garrett who is out on the campaign trail, Rush Schrieffer (ph) and Stu Stephens are also up on the stage right now. Those are his two senior advisers.

Stu Stevens is very integral in terms of the messaging and speechwriting and stage crafting that goes on with this campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a ton of experience. I want to keep this picture up and let our viewers see it.

Two guests are here. They spoke here at this Republican convention. They have a feeling of what it's like to be up there and read the teleprompter. The former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is here and current Ohio Senator Rob Portman is here as well.

Let me start with Senator Portman as we look at these pictures and I want to keep those pictures up for viewers. What's it like up there? Give us a little flavor what he's going to be doing tonight is a lot different than what you did. Give us a little flavor of getting ready for a speech like this.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: It's fun. It's fun. You've got a stage that's larger than usual and you've got an incredibly enthusiastic audience out there and I know what Tim said was brilliant and what I said was probably OK, they respond favorably to almost anything.


PORTMAN: So, it was a lot of fun.

BLITZER: And with all due respect, to both of you, what you said here is not going to necessarily resonate as what the Republican presidential candidate will say.

PORTMAN: One thing you've got to think about and you mentioned it earlier, is you're not really speaking to the convention. You're speaking to the American people because so many more people will view it on television and certainly in prime time where Governor Romney will be able to talk about who he is and be able to talk about his plans for the future in ways that voters have not been able to see yet, because folks are starting to pay more attention right now and there will be more coverage of this.

So this is a great opportunity for him. I think he'll do great.

BLITZER: Yes, Governor Pawlenty, you have insight on how much of the speech will be personal tonight? How much will be policy? How much will be tough? What are you hearing?

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Well, I don't have privy to the details of the speech, but I know thematic, Wolf, what they'll show is to show a contrast between Barack Obama's failed presidency, the fact that we don't have an economy and opportunity as measured for jobs and otherwise for people all across this country and Mitt Romney's plan and vision to fix that and a goal of trying to connect and further introduce himself to people that haven't yet made up their mind. And so, this is an opportunity for Mitt Romney to continue to introduce himself to the swing or hinge voters.

BLITZER: Paul Ryan yesterday was very tough on the president. Do you expect the presidential nominee to be as tough? Or does he leave that to others and the vice presidential attack dog, if you will, as they like to say?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think Barack Obama has got -- shared lumps here at the convention and I know Rob made a few references to him and I did as well. I don't think you'll see some contrast tonight, but I don't think you'll see the entirety of the speech, with the bulk of the speech be focused on Barack Obama. I think a big part of it is going to be what are we going to do as a country and is Mitt Romney going to do to lead this country forward and get this economy moving again and provide jobs.

BLITZER: I want to hold on for a moment and keep these pictures up and get himself adjusted, feel a little comfortable up on that podium as he gets ready to deliver the most important speech of his political career.

But Jack Cafferty is also standing by watch of this all of this unfold.

Jack, you got "The Cafferty File" for us.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a long journey for Mitt Romney, after six years of running, tonight, he has what is probably his last best chance at least to this big an audience, to persuade the American people that he ought to be our next president.

Although voters think Romney is best equipped to deal our ailing economy, the nation's top issue, it's been an uphill battle for him when it comes to human things, connecting on a personal level with these voters. Over the last few days, other speakers and most effectively his wife Ann have made the case that Romney is much more than a rich and seemingly emotionless business executive with good hair.

A lot of Americans aren't convinced though. They don't believe the guy with $200 million in the bank, offshore accounts, private tax returns understands what it's like for the common person who has to struggle.

With that in mind, "Politico" has some advice on how Romney can make the best use of his convention speech tonight. For starters, they say he ought to go bold. That means not only pitching his plans for fixing our economic problems and also revealing some personal details that he hasn't shared with us before. Things like his Mormon faith, his near-death experience when he was in France and even what it was like when he had to shut down a plant when he was at Bain capital.

Another suggestion is to go light on the red meat. That's what Paul Ryan is for and he did so quite handily and eloquently last night.

And lastly, Romney could talk about his relationship with his father, George Romney, by giving some details and showing some emotion about what he learned from his dad. Romney could show us a glimpse of the humanity that many have yet to see and some believe doesn't exist, but that those closest to him insist is there.

The question is this. At this point, how well do you feel you know Mitt Romney? Go to Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks very much.

Let me go back to the floor right now. Jim Acosta is standing by.

You're getting some more information about the big speech tonight, Jim?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. This is from the senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, sending us along some details, not necessarily some details, maybe some overall themes that you'll hear in tonight's speech. He will talk about his father, according from this guidance from the campaign that he has three broad objectives and first is his vision for a better future and we talked about that a few moments ago.

And that he's also going to make the case, according to Eric Fehrnstrom, against President Obama for the failures as they refer to it over the last four years and he'll also talk about who he is and I'm just reading this of my iPhone and there is a quote here from Eric Fehrnstrom, I think you'll enjoy the speech. He's very happy with it and one thing we know about Mitt Romney, is that he always rises to the occasion -- that's a quote from Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to Mitt Romney. So, it sounds like they're locked and loaded. This speech is ready, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They've been practicing. They've written it, and I'm told that he personally worked on it himself and he has good thoughts that he's going to be delivering later tonight. We'll continue to watch these pictures -- these are live pictures and actually, those are taped pictures from just a moment ago.

But let me bring back Senator Portman and Governor Pawlenty.

You guys know him well and you spent time behind the scenes with him, and I spent time behind the scenes with him. And the problem he seems to have is that he's very funny, charming, likable, got a great personality. If he were just sitting around and we were talking, that doesn't always comes through when he's before a big crowd or on television. How do you explain that?

PORTMAN: Well, first of all, I think he's got a great opportunity tonight because he just needs to be who he is and you just summarized it well. He is a charming guy and he is a family man and I love to see him with his grandkids crawling all over his lap last night and I've seen that on the bus as we tour around Ohio.

I think his biggest challenge frankly is to counter the TV ads that have been run in the swing states.

BLITZER: Like Ohio.

PORTMAN: Like Ohio. We've been bombarded with negative campaign ads in Ohio and the Obama campaign has spent a lot more in Ohio than the Romney campaign. It's about three to one in terms of the campaign.

BLITZER: But that's about to change now that he's the nominee. He's got a lot of money that he couldn't use before that now he can use.

PORTMAN: So many folks don't have the image, and instead he's got another image and many of these ads are inaccurate. Certainly, a lot of them are misleading. So he has the opportunity tonight really just to be himself.

It's an important speech, I agree with that, because he is a great guy and that's going to come across. He's a person who is in it for the right reasons. And that's to help those folks who are hurting.

BLITZER: We're going to do a little game, I didn't tell you about this, but this is going to be fun. You're going to be playing Barack Obama in the debate preparation.

PORTMAN: You're Romney --

BLITZER: No, no, you're going to be Barack Obama because you're going to play him. You did it for John McCain four years ago, you helped him. Now he's got three big debates coming up in October as all of us know.

As important as this convention will be, those three debates might be more important with the still undecided, those switchable voters. So you're going to play Barack Obama, all right? You're going to play Mitt Romney because you understand Mitt Romney, governor. You know him well. I'll play debate moderator Wolf Blitzer.

Governor Romney, what's your biggest problem right now with the Obama administration?

PAWLENTY: You know, Wolf, I have breaking news for you, backstage President Obama admitted to me that he's been incompetent as the president and I want to thank the president for his admission.

BLITZER: Mr. President, did you admit that to Governor Romney?

PORTMAN: Well, listen, I think these debates will be extremely important, as you say. I don't expect President Obama to admit much. In fact, I doubt he'd take advice from me Wolf, although I'll play him, and if he admitted more about the mistakes that he'd made.

BLITZER: How do you prepare to play the president of the United States in these simulated debate preparations?

PORTMAN: Well, you try to get inside their head and figure out not just what they're going to say, substantively, but also how they're going to say stylistically, and you try to be tougher and they will be so that half way through the debate, Mitt Romney will says, it's not bad. I'm glad Portman is not out here on stage.

So, you know, that's your objective.

BLITZER: Four years ago, we had a similar conversation. You were the first runner up four years ago. Both of you were runners up. This time, governor, you have any sort of sense of I wish I were up on that stage right now?

PAWLENTY: Wolf, look, I had my chance. I ran for president last year myself, couldn't get it done. I didn't think to be seriously considered, much less get the V.P.

BLITZER: But you were seriously considered.

PAWLENTY: Yes, but you can't be disappointed about something -- not getting something you didn't expect. So, I really applaud his decision of selecting Paul Ryan, there are other great people in the mix, Rob Portman, first and foremost among them and others. But he made a great pick. I'm excited about the ticket, and as you saw evidence on the stage last night, Paul Ryan is going to do a great job as the nominee for V.P. and V.P.

BLITZER: Any hard feelings, Mr. President?

PORTMAN: No. I'm a big fan of Paul's. We're good friends and we were in the ways and means committee in the House together. I think he's terrific and you saw in his speech why he's going to be so good. He's about being looking forward. He's about reforms that will actually help people get back to where we want.

BLITZER: I always knew he was a smart guy, a policy wonk and good legislator. I didn't know until last night he could actually deliver --

PORTMAN: He gave a heck of a speech, didn't he?

BLITZER: -- had good some oratorical skills as well. So I think I appreciate why Mitt Romney selected him as a running mate, not that either of you guys all that bad.

PORTMAN: Tim would have been great. I'm now suggesting that Tim help run our country as a cabinet member, should this election turn out the way we like it to be.

PAWLENTY: I'm not pitching for that at all, but thank you.

PORTMAN: I think he can do whatever he wants, too. He'd be terrific. He's done a great job in Minnesota, would do a great job for the country. But look, we've got huge problems. The deficit and the debt obviously, with this clock behind us.

BLITZER: One big problem, too, he's got to get himself elected.


PORTMAN: He's going to help makes it happen.

BLITZER: We'll see. All right. Guys, thanks for coming in.

PAWLENTY: Thanks, Wolf.

PORTMAN: Thanks for having us.

BLITZER: Good luck to both of you.

PORTMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: So, do Paul Ryan's congressional votes in the past square with his speech last night? We're going to break that down with the man who knows him very well. The House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, he's here. He's getting ready to join us live.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, some more disturbing news about Iran's nuclear potential, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Iran is putting its nuclear program into overdrive, doubling production of high-grade enriched uranium at an underground site.

The U.N.'s Atomic watchdog says Iran has changed the landscape around a key military site that western diplomats believe is used for nuclear testing. The U.N. is demanding an immediate response from Iran on its findings.

During his fiery speech at an Iranian summit, Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsy insisted there is a moral obligation to help opposition forces in Syria. The newly elected leader says it's time for Assad's regime to leave. The Syrian delegation walked out in protest.

The Free Syrian Army meanwhile claims it shot down a military jet in Idlib Province. Amateur video showed the pilot ejecting from that smoking aircraft.

Before James Holmes allegedly went on a shooting rampage in a Colorado movie theatre, a professor at the University of Iowa recommended that Holmes want be admitted to its graduate program, quote, "under any circumstances."

Another professor agreed and Holmes was turned down from the school in 2011. He is scheduled in court today for a hearing on his contact with a psychiatrist. Twelve people were killed and 78 wounded in last month's shooting.

And it was not just another day at the office for a cop in India. Take a look here. Police say this police officer was caught drinking heavily while on duty.

The drunk cop made a huge scene at the bus station on the country's northern Punjab state. I'm going to guess, Wolf, that his job might be in jeopardy right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good guess, Lisa. Thanks very, very much.

Paul Ryan certainly had the crowd here in Tampa on its feet last night, but we're taking a little closer look right now at exactly what he had to say. Did he tell the whole story?

We're going to talk about that and more with the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He's here. He's getting ready to join me in THE SITUATION ROOM. He knows Paul Ryan very well. Mr. Leader, come on in. Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: We're live here in Tampa as Republicans prepare for the biggest night of their presidential convention. Mitt Romney will take the stage to formally accept his party's nomination.

His number two Paul Ryan recently rallied the crowd here last night. Joining us now his close friend and colleague the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Like everybody else, you were surprised Romney was picked.

CANTOR: That Paul was picked. I think Paul was surprised. I think we were so thrilled, though, to see one of our own and my good friend and colleague Paul Ryan be on the national ticket.

You know, Paul's been very much in the driver's seat as far as our budget's concerned and sort of the blueprint, if you will, for trying to get the fiscal health of the country back in line.

And so it's really the realization of what so many of us wanted to see happen, which is to try and put some of these very big issues on the table for the debate that we're going to have over the next several months leading up to the election.

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk a little about some of those fiscal issues, budget issues and deficit issues and he spoke about it last night and he really went after the president increasing the national debt by $5 trillion or $6 trillion over the past four years.

What he did say was the national debt doubled during the eight years of the Bush administration from $5 trillion to more than $10 trillion. He didn't mention that. So there's plenty of room here to go around.

CANTOR: Listen, I think Paul also was very, honest and straightforward about the fact that there's plenty of blame. You know, the housing crisis he mentioned and there was plenty of blame to go around there as well, both sides. But really I think his point is that it's time to stop the blame game and try to get on with solutions.

BLITZER: But you and he voted for some of the biggest big-ticket items that exploded that national debt over these recent years including you didn't pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than $1 trillion right there. Prescription drugs and benefits for seniors, very important, but it wasn't paid for, huge tax cuts including for wealthy, very important and not paid for. A lot of the big spending items whether defense, discretionary, whatever you guys voted for it, too.

CANTOR: And there's no question. I think though in Paul's remarks, he did say, you know, look, we weren't always perfect and we weren't always right and I know that Paul and I along with Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip in the House, another good friend.

We got together back after we were tossed out of the majority and said, you know what, we sort of deserve that because we weren't living up to our fiscal principles that we had been elected to promote.

And that's when we began an effort to try and re-bring or bring back our party to the point of being fiscal conservatives and to try to get the government right sized.

And to finally get this country back on track, and I don't think there's any question that Paul was about trying to make sure, look, plenty of blame, but let's get solutions now.

BLITZER: So what do you say to the vice president, the vice president and the Democrats when they say, if you like the way the Bush administration ended, when the country was on the verge of a depression, 800,000 jobs being lost at the end -- the final months of the Bush administration, every single month.

If you like where the country was then on that cliff near a depression, go ahead and vote for the Republicans because they want those same policies that they did then that resulted in that economic disaster.

CANTOR: First of all, I think that it's been four years and it's time for the president and his party to stop blaming President Bush. We have a very unique situation that we are confronted with now.

We know the alarm bells have been run by the entitlement trustees saying these safety net programs are going go broke and the seniors that enjoy the benefits of these programs will not have the programs themselves if we don't do something to act.

We've seen the rating agencies downgrade the United States' debt. These are first time, the latter is certainly the first time that that's happened.

BLITZER: But the Republicans were part of that problem, as well and the credit rating for the United States and a lot of the Republicans didn't want to increase the debt ceiling, if you will, which in effect helped lower that AAA rating.

CANTOR: I don't think that's the primary motivation of the downgrade. The primary motivation of the downgrade is for the inability Washington to rein in the spending and to balance the books. That's where the downgrade came in and we've been the ones to try to put forward the solution on the table and Paul's speech last night in that speech, he said, look, the president spared the lead.

He's not offered up a solution. We've been asking him as well as Harry Reid continuously to sit down with us and try to solve the problem and unfortunately, that's not been the case.

BLITZER: He did say, and it's accurate, the president of the United States rejected the Bowles-Simpson debt reconsideration, debt limit proposals and the president did reject the Bowles-Simpson even though he put them all in place, but Paul Ryan was a member of that commission himself. He voted against it. He didn't point that out last night.

CANTOR: I think the point that Paul was trying to make was the president actually constituted a commission and then seemingly ignored its recommendations completely. Paul wasn't saying he could approve of it or disapprove of it. He didn't do anything. He did not do anything and that's the whole point.

BLITZER: He did try to work out a deal with John Boehner, the speaker and they were fairly close, but in the end it collapsed.

CANTOR: But the point that Paul was trying to make is the president did nothing with the Bowles-Simpson recommendations.

BLITZER: Why did he vote against it? Paul Ryan, because he had a chance, other Republicans went along and Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming. Why did Paul Ryan reject Bowles- Simpson?

CANTOR: For the same reason that I'm not in favor of Bowles- Simpson, but feel like there are some good things in there. We ought to take the good things without the bad and there are two fundamental reasons why I rejected and why Paul rejected Bowles-Simpson.

And that was one, it goes back to economic growth. Economic growth has a big impact on the deficit in this country. We need to get growth going again and taxes have a big part to play in that economic growth.

And Ernst & Young study recently pointed out that the president's call for tax increases will cost 700,000 jobs, OK? It will decrease the ability for us to grow. So the baseline and the assumptions in the Bowles-Simpson commission called for a nearly $2 trillion tax increase over the next ten years.

That is not something that will lend itself to economic growth. The second piece, Wolf, is the fact that the structure of the entitlement programs and healthcare was left in place and we know that that has been ineffective at lowering costs to allow more people access to coverage.

BLITZER: Your good friend is the vice presidential nominee and Mitt Romney is about to do the biggest speech of his political career. You'll be here?


BLITZER: We'll look forward to continuing our conversation, Mr. Leader. Thanks very much for coming in.

CANTOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Eric Cantor of Virginia. That's a key battleground state.

CANTOR: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Do you think you've got it?

CANTOR: We're going to win.

BLITZER: All right, Northern Virginia could be a problem.

CANTOR: We're going to win.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

It's one of the areas hardest hit by Isaac's wrath. Just ahead, our own Brian Todd tours Plaquemines Parish, where hundreds had to be rescued from their homes. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Isaac has just been downgraded to a tropical depression, but it's still battering the gulf coast. Look at this. Just look at how slowly the storm is moving. It's gone 250 miles since it made landfall.

And you can see the storm is massive in size dumping rain from Texas all of the way to the Carolinas. Our own Brian Todd is in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.

He is joining us now in an area inundated by rain. Brian, you had a firsthand look at the devastation with the parish President Billy Nungesser earlier today. What did you see?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw just devastation pretty much everywhere we looked, Wolf. This is the day for assessment in this part of the region. Places like this where there are sea walls set up and trying to shore them up.

This one has a gate in it and this gate was opened a short time ago, but you're right. Earlier today, we went on that side of the Mississippi River to an area where that levee was overtopped during Hurricane Isaac when it was a hurricane yesterday.

We saw just endless, endless devastation in these villages. Billy Nungesser, the parish president told us some 60 square miles or more are under water. They don't know when the residents will be able to get back.

They're still looking for stranded residents and it's not just people who were stranded. I mean, some of the images we saw out there today, Wolf, you wouldn't believe, wild life struggling to hold on to anything that isn't under water.

We saw cows struggling to keep their heads above water. Two cows on the porch of a house just kind of waiting this thing out and that was something we saw and then we caught up to victims of the flood that did not decide to leave even though this place was under a mandatory evacuation.

I spoke to one, Shirley Johnson and asked her why she decided to stay.


SHIRLEY JOHNSON, STORM VICTIM: Because we have nowhere to go and no way of getting out so we stayed together as a family. We don't separate. We get all together every time.


TODD: And many like her and others we came across when we would boat up to these villages and people are just sitting there hanging out at their houses waiting for the waters to recede.

A lot of them said they didn't leave because they knew it would take a long time to get back to their homes. They know this area is very low lying and it gets a lot of flooding even in normal rainfall even without a levee breach they figured this could have been flooded.

They thought it would take a long time to get back to their houses, Wolf, and that's why they stayed and a lot of them came close to paying the ultimate price here.

BLITZER: And in terms of the morale, from what you're seeing, from Billy Nungesser on down to Plaquemines Parish over there, how would you assess the mood of the folks right now?

TODD: You know, many of them are just breathing a sigh of relief that they weathered this. Some are still, you know, again, stranded at their home, but not in a desperate way. They have enough supplies and their homes are high enough above the water so they're OK.

They figure they can ride it out, but Billy Nungesser as he goes around he's still trying to find victims and trying to find people who are stranded and need some kind of help. He was just exhausted.

I'll have a clip of that in the 6:00 hour where he stretches his back and says this is unbelievable. I just can't believe this happened again. He's ridden out Katrina, the oil spill, now this.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us as he always is. Thank you. And to find out how you can help the many people devastated by Isaac, visit our "Impact Your World" page that's at You'll be doing a good, good deed.

Jack Cafferty is asking how well do you feel you know Mitt Romney? Your e-mail in "The Cafferty File" coming up next and in our next hour, my interview with Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots." In Nepal, a young boy jumps into a pool of water. Take a look at this. In Kenya, a camel is prepared to take passengers on a guided tour.

In India, schoolchildren wave the national flag and in Colorado, a CNN I-Reporter sends this photo of two horses chasing a black bear. "Hotshots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Jack Cafferty is back. Right now, he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those are two dumb horses chasing the bear, and if the bear turns around and decides not to run, it's over for those horses. Anyway, the question this hour, how well do you feel you know Mitt Romney?

A voter in Connecticut writes, "How well do we know Barack Obama at this point in 2008? Romney wasn't dropped on top of this mountain of success. Anybody who knows him knows that he worked longer hours, studied harder and wasted less time than anyone else. It's incredibly hard to do what he's done. The fact this guy got there says volumes about how smart he is and how he would work as president."

Barb writes, "His wife says he is funny and an honest man. I see a boring tax evader who would raise my taxes while giving himself and his rich friends more tax cuts."

Lou says, "I don't give two hoots about his personal, religious or family life, strapped his dog on top of the car, big deal. Was a jerk in college? Who wasn't? What I do want to know is what he was like as a businessman because that's the experience that he's selling to us. So far I'm not impressed with his ethics."

Jim writes, "Not as well as I know Barack Obama and I'm not interested in going down that road again. I'll take a chance on what I know about Romney."

Milton in the Netherlands writes, "Not at all. He is a man who plays by his own set of rules and his refusal to release his tax returns makes it difficult even for many people in his own party to know him."

J.D. in New Hampshire says, "The only thing I don't know about Mitt Romney is how he sleeps at night." Bob in Ohio says, "One can never know enough about any politician to trust them."

If you want to read more on this subject, go to the blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

We're counting down to Mitt Romney's taking the center stage tonight for the biggest speech of the Republican National Convention.

Also, Paul Ryan energized the crowd last night and he's going to join us live. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.