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Romney Attacks Obama Over Economic Numbers; Democrats the New Party of National Security?; Jobs Fallout for President Obama; President Obama Flexes Foreign Policy Muscle; Biden: Bin Laden Is Dead And GM Is Alive; Obama In Clinton's Shadow?; Curiosity Gives Us New Look At Mars

Aired September 7, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: fewer new jobs and fewer people looking for jobs. We're taking a closer look for any hopeful signs in these latest jobs numbers.

Also, we're seeing or trying to find out how the presidential candidates are spinning the jobs numbers to their own advantage.

And some convention watchers noticed an interesting switch. After decades of playing defense, the Democrats now claim they're the party of U.S. national security.

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

Normally, a drop in the nation's unemployment rate would be considered good news, but not today. The government's brand-new report shows employers added only 96,000 jobs last month. That's far fewer than expected or needed.

And even though the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from July's 8.3 percent, it really isn't a good sign.

Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is joining us now to explain why.

Explain why if the unemployment rate goes down from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, why that's not a good sign.


Every month, we bring you two numbers, the number of jobs created or lost and the unemployment rate. They are not connected. They are actually two different surveys. The way you take a poll, the government calls and conducts two different surveys.

One gives you the jobs created. One gives you the unemployment rate. The problem with the unemployment rate is that it's a percentage of the number of people who are either working or looking for work. Not a percentage of everybody able to work.

And what we found out is that, in August, 368,000 people left the work force. They dropped out. Now, there are several reasons why you drop out. You are retiring, you're going to school or you're disenchanted. You can't find a job. Let's say you live in a part of Indiana where your home price is so low that you can't sell it, so you can't move to get a job.

The labor participation rate, which is also on that screen, that's something interesting to remember. People say if the unemployment rate is 8 percent, that means 92 percent of the population is working, right? Wrong. Of the population available to work, the number of people employed today is 63.5 percent.

Now, there are lots of reasons why it's not higher than that. Like I said, some people are in school. Not to be funny, but some people are in jail. Things like that. But the labor participation rate, 63.5 percent is the lowest it's been since 1981.

Number three, Wolf, manufacturing jobs. We lost 15,000 of them in August. That's a bad sign. We have been losing manufacturing jobs generally for a couple of decades. But we evened out, we bottomed out a couple years ago and we have actually been slowly gaining every month. That's a bad sign that America's losing manufacturing jobs.

So, all in all, and you know, Wolf, you and I have known each other a long time, I'm optimistic. This is a glass-half-empty situation.

BLITZER: All right. Because they say if only 96,000 jobs were created, they say just to tread water you really need about 150,000 to 200,000 jobs a month...

VELSHI: Correct.

BLITZER: ... just to try to stay even.

VELSHI: That's right, because people retire, people pass away. Young people enter the work force. They have come of age to work and we have immigration.

To offset that, we always have more people, about 150,000 extra people coming into the work force every month. You have got to create 150,000 new jobs roughly just to tread water. When you're creating 96,000, you're not solving any problems. You're actually adding to them. I have been getting a lot of feedback from people to say why are you negative about 96,000 jobs?

That's 96,000 people working who weren't working the month before. I agree with that. It's better than losing jobs. But it's not enough. Wolf, in fairness to the Obama administration, we have created jobs in the private sector, which is where you want them created, for 30 months in a row. The trend is correct. This just isn't a big enough number.

BLITZER: And they did revise the previous two months to show that 40,000 jobs they thought had been created really weren't. Isn't that right?

VELSHI: That's correct. So every month, we get revisions to the two prior months. In this case they were revisions lower.

What that means is if President Obama were to want to claim that he has made up for all the job losses since the day he took office, he needs another 260,000 jobs created in the next two months. There will be two more jobs reports before the election. The last one will be four days before the election.

It's a milestone that doesn't matter to most people. And if you're unemployed, it certainly doesn't matter to you. But it will give him the ability to say, I inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and I made up for every job loss on my watch.

You can be sure they achieve that, there will be a nice Democratic ad the weekend before the election.

BLITZER: Very quickly, one final question. All of the bad numbers, relatively bad numbers, disappointing numbers, I should say, right now, does that put added pressure on the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, to take action in the coming weeks to try to turn things around?

VELSHI: Right.

So there are a few ways to stimulate job growth. One is government policy. The other one is fiscal policy, which is the Federal Reserve making more money available to the banks, which means they can make more money available to businesses at a lower interest rate even though interest rates are pretty low right now.

The Fed meets next week. And that does put pressure on the Fed to say while we think this is a government policy problem and the government should solve it, if the government can't do it, we may have to. You might see some action. It will be next Thursday. I'll be available if it happens.

BLITZER: I know you will be. Ali, we can always count on you. Thank you.

Both presidential campaigns are spinning the jobs numbers as best they can.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, standing by over with Mitt Romney's next campaign stop in New Hampshire. Our White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is in Iowa right now where the president will be speaking in a little bit. We will have live coverage of that.

Let's start with Jessica.

How is the president responding to these disappointing numbers?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president acknowledged the numbers, but he looked for a silver lining. Here is what he said when he was speaking in New Hampshire earlier today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Business once again added jobs for the 30th month in a row,a total of more than 4.6 million jobs.

But that's not good enough. We know it's not good enough. We need to create more jobs faster.


YELLIN: That's not good enough, Wolf, that was his nod to the shrinking labor force and the slow growth of the economy.

But senior administration officials, senior Democrats say they do not think that the weak economy, that these new numbers are going to have a negative impact on the race. Why? Because they believe that this is already factored into voters' consideration. And the race is essentially tied -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they say -- as they say, in the markets, they have already discounted that factor, shall we say.

Set the scene. We're about to see a special event, the president, the vice president, their wives. What's going to happen? Because we're going to have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

YELLIN: Well, I'm in Iowa City, where the president and vice president will appear in about two hours, a little over two hours, speaking at a university campus.

One of the topics I expect the president to take on is the different economic philosophy he shares that he embraces and how he will draw contrasts from Mitt Romney. And a topic he will take on no doubt is this top issue of taxes.

One of the ways he's drawing distinctions in a new theme, something he embraced last night and something we heard from him in New Hampshire was a little bit of a joke. I want to play a piece of it for you right now, Wolf.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All they have to offer is the same prescription they have had for the last 30 years, tax cuts, tax cuts, gut some regulations. Oh, and more tax cuts. Tax cuts when times are good. Tax cuts when times are bad. Tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds. Tax cuts to improve your love life. It will cure anything, according to them.



YELLIN: So he's building on this theme that there's a choice between two different economic messages, suggesting that there's one, his, that will move you forward, hint, hint, and as you have heard before, Mitt Romney's he suggests would take the nation backwards -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much. Don't go too far away because we will be coming back to you. The president and the vice president, their wives at a joint event, we will have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's check in with Jim Acosta right now. He's in New Hampshire seeing how Mitt Romney's reacting to these latest numbers.

What's he saying, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney will be at this minor league baseball park in a few hours here in Nashua, New Hampshire, to make his pitch on the economy. The latest unemployment report from the government served up a major league softball to the GOP contender.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney tried to offer sobering words on what he called the hangover after President Obama's convention party, yet another disappointing report on the nation's stagnant jobs market.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been 43 straight months above 8 percent. It's a national tragedy.

ACOSTA: At a brief news conference, Romney had a new line for where the president is taking the country.

M. ROMNEY: The president's plan is four more years of the four last years. And I don't think the American people want four more years of the four last years.

ACOSTA: Romney also hit back at the president's charge that he has yet to offer many specifics, promising that his plan will create 12 million new jobs, with tax cuts, fewer regulations and more domestic energy. And listen to how he vowed to tackle the deficit.

M. ROMNEY: Balancing our budget. President Bush and President Obama, neither one made the kinds of steps on that front that I think needed to be made.

ACOSTA: And as for that jab from the president at Romney's gaffe on whether the British were ready to host the Olympics...

OBAMA: You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.

ACOSTA: ... the GOP nominee punched back.

M. ROMNEY: I'm very pleased that my Olympic experience allows me to talk about the Olympics in a straight-talk manner. And I think it would be appropriate if the president would talk to China in a straight-talk manner.

This president can tell us it was someone else's fault.

ACOSTA: As soon as the president's speech was finished, the Romney campaign announced an aggressive ad blitz aimed at eight battleground states all captured by Mr. Obama four years ago.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT M. ROMNEY: I should tell you that I feel right at home because I'm in a barn.


ACOSTA: Ann Romney was in one of those targeted states, Virginia, urging voters to turn the reins on the economy over to her husband.

A. ROMNEY: So let's talk some horse sense. Barack Obama said four years ago, if I can't turn this economy around after three-and-a- half years, I'm looking at a one-term presidency.


A. ROMNEY; Well, it's our turn to turn the economy around. And I know Mitt can do it.


ACOSTA: Now, there could be some trouble looming for Mitt Romney if that unemployment rate ticks below 8 percent. That's the number that he has said the president cannot beat. But the Romney campaign does see an opening in the economy, something they plan to drill down on as one adviser put it for the next 60 days, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's wrapped up at least for now several intensive days getting ready for the three debates, the presidential debates, in October, is that right, Jim?

ACOSTA: That's right. He was basically in seclusion this week, Wolf. He only came out of his debate prep with Ohio Senator Rob Portman playing the role of Barack Obama for a couple small events. He didn't even take his full press corps out with him for these events. It was just a small pool of reporters.

He did manage to get his message out on the economy on those two occasions. But some top advisers to Mitt Romney told me that their big emphasis this week was getting ready for these debates. They know this is the next big audience for this Republican nominee heading into the fall, Wolf.

BLITZER: There will be a huge audience, I'm sure.

Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

We're going to have much more on the jobs report, the fallout for the president, the fallout for Mitt Romney, much more coming up. We will also talk about that and more with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the dismal jobs report. The possible fallout for President Obama's re-election campaign.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here to talk about it.

He was urging patience last night, Gloria. The president, listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth.


OBAMA: And the truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.


BLITZER: So the jobs numbers that came out today, which were disappointing.


BLITZER: How does that play as far as what he was trying to say in his acceptance speech?

BORGER: Well, there are a couple ways to look at it. First of all, what you hope when you're a campaign going into a convention is that you're either going to break the race wide open or you're going to get a significant bounce coming out of it. And I think what these numbers could do is affect the size of a bounce if there's going to be any bounce. We saw the Mitt Romney didn't have much of a bounce. Maybe the president wasn't going to get one anyway. But maybe it could sort of undermine the size of it.

On the other hand, Wolf, I will also argue that in the long-term, not in the short-term, but the long-term, I think people's feelings about the economy are already cooked. I think that that probably happened some time over the summer when job growth was pretty anemic. And so I think that the people who are disaffected because of the economy, they'll look at what the president said. And they'll decide whether they want to be more patient or not, because they already know that the state of the economy is what it is and that these numbers are pretty much what was anticipated.

BLITZER: It's a delicate line for Romney and his advisors to walk.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Because you can't seem to be rooting for the country to lose jobs. Here's how he handled that question today in Iowa.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Republicans are fighting for moves to help the economy. My five-step plan is designed to get the economy going. You're not going to get this economy going unless you do the things I described. And if you continue with a president who as you saw last night, had no ideas about what to do for the economy.


BLITZER: So how do they walk that line?

BORGER: Well, just the way you heard him -- you heard him walking. He's essentially saying that the president's incompetent and he's the one more competent to deal with the economy. He doesn't -- he can't seem to be cheering for a bad economy.

But that's why at these conventions we heard so much talk about trust and character and values. The stewardship of the economy is turning into a values issue. And does the president have the right values or understand Americans enough and the trouble that small businesses are having from Mitt Romney's point of view, from the president's point of view he says Mitt Romney lives by a different set of rules and doesn't understand the pain you are suffering.

So that's why we heard so much of this sort of revelations about who these men are, because after all, you need to trust one of them with your economic future.

BLITZER: You know, people are always making fun of these conventions. They really don't matter. I think they do matter.

BORGER: I do too.

BLITZER: And I think that Bill Clinton showed that they mattered, because what does President Obama need to do? He needs to bring back into the party all those people who voted for him the last time, that base -- young people, women, minorities, they can't be apathetic. They might not go out and vote for Romney, but they have to come back and vote for him. And what Bill Clinton for example did is he reassured a lot of those folks.

BORGER: Exactly. They might be staged, aside from Clint Eastwood who was pretty well not staged, they might be staged. But what they do is they tell you what the parties stand for. In this particular year the visions could not be more different.

We heard the word choice so many times from President Obama last night. And I think the people deserve to kind of understand and get it sort of put out there what each party stands for and then make their decision.

And if you look back at these two conventions, it comes down to one thing. What is the role of government in our lives? Is there too much government? As the Republicans believe.

Or as the Democrats believe, do you need government to keep that social safety net and to grow the economy from the middle out?

BLITZER: Much more on the conventions, much more on the jobs numbers coming up.


BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very, very much.

Also other news we're following. It was once a hurricane, will it be a hurricane again? We're tracking the storm named Leslie.

Plus, Prince Harry now on the war zone fresh on the hills of the scandal over his wild time in Vegas.


BLITZER: Militant group blamed for the deaths of American and NATO troops now being officially branded a terrorist organization. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?


Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notified Congress today of her decision to officially designate the Haqqani Network as a terrorist entity. The Pakistani-based militant group has been linked to al Qaeda and Taliban allegedly carried out an attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan last year. The move will make it easier for the U.S. to freeze its assets and go after its supporters.

And the death toll is climbing in a string of powerful earthquakes in southwestern China. The country's state-run news agency says at least 67 people have been killed, 731 others are injured. Nearly half a million homes were damaged.

Four earthquakes struck the mountainous region one after the other in a span of less than two hours.

And what was hurricane Leslie is now a tropical storm. It stalled about 450 miles from Bermuda and now likely will miss the low lying islands. But forecasters are still warning that it could still threaten coastal areas by Sunday with large waves and dangerous rip currents. The national hurricane center expects Leslie to regain hurricane strength, though, once it starts moving again over warmer waters.

And Britain's Prince Harry, he's in Afghanistan. He arrived there today to start a four-month military deployment as an Apache helicopter pilot. The third in line to the British throne will be stationed at a military base in the Taliban heartland. A palace source says he's going to be treated just like any other soldier. Just last month you may recall photographs of the prince naked in Las Vegas made tabloid headlines. I think he's going to want to put all that behind him and focus on other things, focus on the future now that he's in Afghanistan, Wolf.

BLITZER: We just hope he's safe over there. I'm sure he'll be fine. Let's just hope he gets home safe and sound as well.

A seismic shift in foreign policy. Do Democrats now have more muscle than Republicans? We're going to talk about that and more. Our strategy session is next.


BLITZER: President Obama and his fellow Democrats are blasting Mitt Romney and Republicans saying they're weak on foreign policy and national security. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On one side of this campaign, we have a president who has made America lead like America again. And what is there on the other side? An extreme and expedient candidate who lacks the judgment and the visions so vital for the Oval Office, the most inexperienced foreign policy two- some to run for president and vice president in decades.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most of all, President Obama had an unyielding faith in the capacity and the capability of our Special Forces, literally the finest warriors in the history of the world.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy. But from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: An interesting switch. Let's discuss what's going on today's "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist, Mo Elleithee and the Republican strategist Alice Stewart.

Alice, you want to respond? Those of us who have covered politics for a long time, normally it's the Republicans who are hitting the Democrats for being weak on national security.

This time around the Democrats had a huge opening because Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech didn't even thank the U.S. troops. They're on 80,000 or 90,000 fighting for their lives in Afghanistan right now. There was no appreciation in his acceptance speech for what they are doing.

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the question is who is Barack Obama to question anyone's foreign policy experience? You know, to say that Mitt Romney is new to national security and foreign policy is laughable.

He has zero military experience and his policies thus being president of leading from behind has made America weaker in the eyes of the rest of the world.

The way that he has not stood up to Iran and allowing them to continue to build nuclear weapons that's not good and the way he continues his -- the only place he really wants to cut the budget deals with the military.

And whispering to foreign leaders, wait until I get re-elected, I'll be more flexible with you. That is not what we need. We need a leader like Mitt Romney and his plans for dealing with foreign policy would not cut the military budget.

He would support the military and he strongly believes in peace through strength. The only way to have a strong military is to continue to support it financially.

BLITZER: I'm going to let Mo respond to that. But first, why didn't he thank the troops in his acceptance speech?

STEWART: Well, he met with them privately the day before. Granted he talked about many things during that night when he had the time to speak. Granted he probably would not have hurt to mention that.

But he talked about what people across this country are concerned with, jobs and economy. And his middle class plan to help strengthen the middle class and help to turn the economy around and create jobs.

Through his plan for working on energy and deficit reduction, improving skills for American workers, putting America on a level playing field when it comes to trade. These are things that will help strengthen our economy and put people back to work.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead, Mo.

MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think the Republicans and the Romney/Ryan ticket are in a tough spot here. First, the American people think the president has done a fantastic job on foreign policy and national security issues.

As we heard repeatedly throughout the course of this past week, his leadership getting outside of the war in Iraq, beginning to draw down troops in Afghanistan as well as going after al Qaeda and taking out Osama Bin Laden.

Those are just cornerstones along with the broader foreign policy objective of rebuilding our standing in the international community, which was in a terrible place before President Obama took office.

The contrast with Mitt Romney -- my problem is not his lack of experience. My problem is his lack of vision on foreign policy and the fact that he said as a candidate that we didn't need to move heaven or earth to take out one guy, that one guy being Osama Bin Laden.

I think most people would disagree with that. The fact that his first foreign policy trip as a candidate he insulted one of our biggest allies. There's a lot of reason to be concerned about a Romney foreign policy.

BLITZER: Hold on, Alice. Playing off of that, they were clearly trying to drive home the point, the Democrats, at their convention that it was this president who gave the order to those Navy SEALs to kill bin laden. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask Osama Bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We can now proudly say what you've heard me say the last six months. Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: A new tower rises above the New York skyline. Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and Osama Bin Laden is dead.


BLITZER: All right, they clearly think that's a huge winning issue for them. I assume you agree it is an important winning issue, the fact that on his watch he managed to do what President Bush could not do, namely kill Bin Laden.

STEWART: Well, I agree with Mo. You're not going to find an American anywhere that's going to disagree with the fact that the president made the right call with going after Bin Laden. That was a good call.

But there's a lot more involved in foreign policy and national defense than that one call and going around the world in a world apology tour, that didn't help our standing across the world.

And cutting military spending, that doesn't help us militarily. While national security is a big issue and it's critical and hats off and prayers go out to military families, jobs are the number one issue.

And with the jobs report that came out today of 8.1 percent, we have unemployment rate above 8 percent for 43 months. The president promised us it wouldn't go over 8 percent. He said if he can't turn the economy around, this will be a one-term proposition. That's a promise I'd like to hold him to.

BLITZER: Is there a risk, Mo, you're a good political strategist, is there a risk of the Democrats overplaying their hand? Overly politicizing the killing of Bin Laden?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I don't think they're overly politicizing it. One of his accomplishments was not just taking out Bin Laden, but redirecting our national security resources on al Qaeda after they had been really neglected.

Redirecting out resources, taking out and dismantiling the al Qaeda infrastructure throughout the region that is something the American people were very, very concerned about rightfully so. And this president reprioritized that as a national security objective.

And that's something we should talk about as we look at which of these two candidates is going to be best to lead our military's commander in chief moving forward.

BLITZER: Mo and Alice, both of you standby. We have more to talk about including Thursday. Thursday was President Obama's big night at the Democratic convention.

But a lot of people are still talking about the former president, Bill Clinton. Could that hurt come November or will it help?



PRESIDENT OBAMA: America, I never said this journey would be easy. And I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don't turn back. We leave no one behind.


BLITZER: The president's acceptance speech last night. Let's get back to Mo Elleithee and Alice Stewart. Alice, what did you think of the president's speech last night because he's sort of getting tepid reviews, but still a pretty powerful speech?

STEWART: Well, he's a great speech giver. There was a feeling amongst the crowd last night, we were there, it was amazing and people were energized.

But the problem is all they talked about was here's my vision, here's what hopes and dreams, but we need plans. We need specifics on what he's going to do in the next four years. We rolled the dice four years ago on hope and change and we got blindsided.

We can't have it anymore. We need a specific plan, like the Romney/Ryan plan to help the middle class. Last night was a great party. This morning we woke up with a terrible hangover with this unemployment report and we cannot continue down this path President Obama has led us on.

We need real change. We can't continue to have unemployment above 8 percent. We've got the lowest job participation in three decades because people are simply not entering the work force because there are no jobs out there.

We need someone who will go in there, reduce the size of government, encourage private sector growth and get people back to work. BLITZER: I'm going to bring in Mo. But I'll point out a lot of criticism of Mitt Romney at the same time for not being specific himself in releasing details on what he specifically would do including some of the editorial page writers at "The Wall Street Journal" who are basically conservative.

But Mo, as far as the president's speech last night, was that written for the huge Bank of America outdoor football stadium where there would have been 65,000 or 70,000 people outdoors as was the case in Denver four years ago?

Would it have come across better outdoors as opposed to indoors at that Time Warner Cable Arena where there were about 20,000 or 25,000 people inside?

ELLEITHEE: Yes. Honestly, I don't think the venue mattered one bit, Wolf. I think what people actually cared about was the substance and I got to disagree with Alice.

Big difference between President Obama's speech and Governor Romney's acceptance speech was that President Obama had a vision. That President Obama did talk about the future. All Governor Romney talked about was I'm not Barack Obama.

Well, that's not a vision. That's not telling anybody about where he wants to take the country. I thought this was a very well orchestrated convention with Michelle Obama giving us more insight into Barack Obama the man.

Followed by Bill Clinton talking about the Obama record on the economy and trying to bring people together and then teeing it up for President Obama to talk about what's next. And I thought that was very powerful.

BLITZER: But you know, Mo, the first lady did do a great job in her speech. Bill Clinton did an amazing job as well. The criticism of the president while he set out certain goals and said this is how many jobs I want to create, this is what I want to do as far as exports are concerned.

The environment is concerned. He didn't go into specifics and lay out how he's going to achieve those goals, Mo. That was the expectation at least by some folks and they were disappointed he didn't use that venue to do it.

ELLEITHEE: Well, look, this speech was really the first stop in the general election campaign and this -- I don't believe -- I know there are a lot of people wondering what kind of bounce either side is going to get.

I don't believe there is going to be much bounce for either side because I believe this is going to be a continuous conversation with the American people over the next eight and a half weeks or so.

So the president yesterday laid out the vision, laid out the broad strokes of where he wants to take the country. Between three debates and eight and a half weeks of campaigning, there's going to be plenty of time to fill in those details.

But as I said, he at least laid out that vision of where he wants to go. Something I don't think very many people at all on either side of the aisle are hearing from Governor Romney.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Alice, before I have to wrap this up. The president got a huge, huge super star to go out the next few weeks and raise money for him, do some campaigning, speaking for him namely former President Bill Clinton.

High octane as we all know, very, very popular in terms of bringing back Democrats, independents, moderates or whatever, does Mitt Romney have a similar high octane super star that can go out there and do the job for him?

STEWART: Well, the truth is people don't need a high octane super star. They need a true leader. They need someone that will go in there with a plan. Granted Bill Clinton gave another great speech. He's very energizing and charismatic and the people loved him.

He's not running for president. Unfortunately, Barack Obama is on the Democratic side and you can't take a vision to the bank and deposit it. You can't take a vision and pay your bills. You need a specific plan.

And the Romney/Ryan five-point plan, he has outlined that plan and I don't know why people continue to say he has not given specifics.

He specifically wants to look at energy, trade, skills. He wants to look at deficit reduction. And he wants to repeal and replace Obama care and do away with the burdensome regulations in this country. Those are specifics.

BLITZER: Hold on, guys. We have to wrap it up. We're out of time. The only point I want to make, Alice, those are all goals that he has laid, those five specific points.

But as far as specifics how he's going to cut, for example, tax reform. He says he wants to cut tax rates, but he doesn't say which loopholes, which deductions, what he wants to do to balance some of those tax cuts.

Those are the specifics people are looking for. That's the criticism, but this conversation will continue down the road. Alice Stewart, Mo Elleithee, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

STEWART: Thanks, Wolf.

ELLEITHEE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stunning new pictures from the surface of Mars. We're going to show you what the "Curiosity" rover has been up to.

Plus Clint Eastwood breaks his silence on that rather bizarre speech he gave at the Republican National Convention. He's now revealing how he actually came up with that idea.


BLITZER: "Curiosity" is sending some stunning new pictures of Mars. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the rover "Curiosity" is certainly living up to its name and transmitting amazing new images of the red planet.

A new photo from the rover's camera on the mast shows off the rover's arm against the spectacular Martian landscape, at the end of the arm, a high resolution camera that will examine the planet's soil up close.

Another new photo shows the rover's tracks as seen from an orbiter circling the planet. Scientists can get insights into the changes on the Martian surface by examining these tracks over time. And since landing on Mars on August 6th, "Curiosity" has trekked 358 feet taking pictures as it moves along.

NBC "Tonight Show" host, Jay Leno is taking a $15 million pay cut, that's 50 percent of his salary. Why? Well, to protect the staff of "The Tonight Show" from further layoff.

A source tells CNN that at least 20 employees were let go last month. The source also confirms that Leno has extended his contract until September of 2014.

Clint Eastwood, well, you can say that he stole the show at the Republican National Convention when he addressed an empty chair that he said represented President Obama. Now he is breaking his silence about that moment that went viral.

Calling Mr. Obama, quote, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" Eastwood told a California newspaper the chair was actually a last-minute decision adding, quote, "there was a stool there.

And some fellow kept asking me if I wanted to sit down. When I saw the stool sitting there, it gave me the idea, I'll just pull the stool out there and I'll talk to Mr. Obama and ask him why he didn't keep all the promises he made to everybody.

Eastwood says he may have, quote, "irritated a lot of lefties, but he was aiming for the people in the middle." I know, Wolf, you have some very strong thoughts about that, about Clint Eastwood talking to the chair. I know that you thought it was absolutely bizarre.

BLITZER: You know, it was so awkward. I was on the convention floor in Tampa and I was watching. And I was looking at the faces of the delegates, the Republicans who were there and some of them -- I mean, I know I was squirming. It just felt so uncomfortable.


BLITZER: You know, not necessarily -- I'm sure the Romney folks weren't very happy about it either.

SYLVESTER: Yes, you said the Romney family. I think there were some people said the Romney family --

BLITZER: Yes. Just regular delegates weren't happy either. All right, never mind. We'll talk about it some other time.


BLITZER: All right, block by block, we're moving on in Syria. Shot-by-shot, we have an exclusive amazing look behind the battle lines in an ancient city now caught up in a modern civil war.


BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive. A behind the scenes look at the brutal battle for Syria's commercial capital. CNN's Nick Payton Walsh made it inside the city of Aleppo where snipers stalk the ancient street and the civil war is reduced to a bloody stalemate. Here's Nick's extraordinary report.


NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new dead lying next to the old. Aleppo's old city thousands of years in the making (inaudible) rebel forces as they push into vital terrain and fight for Syria's commercial capital towards a key police station.

They mass in number and surge forward, chaos, but also bravery. They move to a tree of an injured rebel at the very front. Somehow the superior regime fire power let's them escape with their wounded.

When we rejoin them a few days later, they have fallen back the hundred feet they have gained. Civilians in uniform, their taking pot shots at nothing in particular goading their enemy with revolutionary song even offering them a number to call if they want to defect.

But they can't advance again. It's not just the regime's bomber jets that hold them back. Up on the roof we see how snipers, deadly accurate here, can freeze the front line.

(on camera): In this historic part of the city, the rebels are trying to inch forward, but so often pushed back by government forces in this case, held back by a government sniper positioned in the buildings opposite us.

(voice-over): Even from the rebel's sniper positions, the regime is close, but well dug in. There's a conscript years ago, but it's now an electrician. A sniper is shooting at them and he moves across the road to take him out.

But his discipline and marksmanship is the exception. He thinks he got him. It's the older men here who are in charge. Hakeem, a local commander, briefly visits and tells us his brigade has given up on outside help from the west.

This is our final word, he says. We don't want any help from anybody. We're no longer waiting and we have the means to topple the regime. He outlines a plan to the men.

Shortly afterwards this bus appears. One rebel tells us they plan to fill it with explosives then tie a prisoner's hands to the wheel and force him to die driving the bus bomb at the regime.

But even though we saw the brigade take prisoners earlier, that doesn't happen here. The bus leaves. A garbage truck arrives instead, which they plan to place down the street as cover for their gunmen.

Preparations for an operation, handmade grenades, homemade bombs, highly volatile canisters full of explosive, but the men still have to focus shooting in the dark.

Later that night we leave, but they drive the truck down the street. At dawn it's in place in the old position.

(on camera): Overnight they've tried to gain the advantage by moving that dump truck about a hundred feet down the street past their last position, but still these men who have been unable to advance over this incredibly small amount of terrain.

(voice-over): The regime fires grenades setting it alight. The rebels decide to fight back. This is an anti-aircraft gun. They run forward to fire a rocket-propelled grenade.

There's too much smoke to know what they hit. More are game here for the fight to the death, but this is a city of millions pulled apart by every pitched battle for every 100 feet.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Aleppo.