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THE SITUATION ROOM
Afghan Protests Erupt Near U.S. Embassy; Search For Missing Cruise Ship Passenger; Chicago Teachers' Strike Enters Second Week; Obama Touts Hard Line against China; Interview with Jon Huntsman; Battle for Voting Rights; Baby Panda
Aired September 17, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The first batch of new phones is going to be in customers' hands this Friday. And we're not even talking about the long lines of people who are going to show up at the store trying to get one at the store, Joe, but hot property there.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: That's for sure. Tell you what, everybody wants the iPhone. I guess it's the bigger screen, wouldn't you think?
SYLVESTER: Yes. Do you have an iPhone? I don't know if you have one, Joe. I have one and I love it.
JOHNS: I tell you what, I've been looking hard, though.
SYLVESTER: Put that on your holiday list is what it is. I think that's what it is. So, we know now. IPhone 5 for Joe Johns, everyone.
JOHNS: You got it. Thanks, Lisa.
You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, new claims of an attack at a major Iranian nuclear facility. Was an alleged power outage really an attempt to sabotage the country's mysterious nuclear program?
Plus, he ran against Mitt Romney in the GOP primaries and served under President Obama. Ahead, you'll want to hear how form Ambassador Jon Huntsman responds when I ask him if he's willing to serve in a Romney administration.
And, a special delivery right here in Washington, D.C. All eyes are on the panda cam for a first glimpse of an amazing cub years in the making.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Joe Johns. And you're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: New claims of an attack on Iran's nuclear program disguised as an alleged power outage at a key nuclear facility. Let's go straight to CNN intelligence correspondent, Suzanne Kelly, for the latest. This is quite a story here if it turns out the way it sounds.
SUZANNE KELLY, CNN INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: It is. It is, Joe. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization is warning against terrorists and saboteurs who he says are trying to damage Iran's nuclear program. This comes just ahead of an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
KELLY (voice-over): Iran says this time it was the power lines leading to its heavily fortified nuclear enrichment facility at Fordo that came under attack by saboteurs. A power outage says an Iranian official could damage centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium. The announcement comes as Israel pushes the U.S. to set red lines.
Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, telling CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday that the world can't afford to wait on Iran.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: They're moving very rapidly to completing the enrichment of the uranium that they need to produce a nuclear bomb. In six months or so, they'll be 90 percent of the way there.
KELLY: U.S. defense secretary, Leon Panetta had a different time line in mind when he spoke to CNN last month.
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The viewpoint of the intelligence community is that if they made the decision to go ahead in order to develop the enriched uranium and develop the kind of weaponization that they would have to do, then we're probably looking at approximately a year.
KELLY: Iran's nuclear program and those associated with it have been targeted before. There was a mysterious explosion last November at an Iranian military compound where U.S. defense officials believe volatile fuel for a rocket motor for a large ballistic missile was being mixed. Some attacks, though, have been more personal.
Iranian officials said a top scientist at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant was blown up in his car last January, the fourth nuclear scientist to be targeted in two years. Iranian officials were quick to point to the U.S. and Israel as the culprits. Both denied involvement in the killings.
Attacks have also come through cyberspace, where computer viruses like the now famous Stuxnet virus caused centrifuges to spin out of control, rendering them useless.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KELLY (on-camera): Now, this latest twist in accusing saboteurs of targeting fordo has some western nuclear experts concerned that Iran may be trying to establish a justification for not allowing international inspectors back into the country.
And Joe, as you know, experts feel that that access that those inspectors are given are really the only verifiable way that western countries can really confirm what's going on there.
JOHNS: So, a little potential there for subterfuge, perhaps, on the part of Iran.
KELLY: Yes. Well, you know, there's always potential. That's why that program is so important than inspection program and that's why they're really pushing to get back in.
JOHNS: Suzanne Kelly, thank you.
JOHNS: Turning to what's now a second week of bitter anti- American sentiment sweeping the Middle East in the wake of an offensive anti-Muslim film made in the U.S. that recently surfaced online.
One of the fiercest hot spots, Afghanistan, where hundreds of demonstrators attacked police officers on a road leading to the U.S. embassy in Kabul just days after a brazen Taliban attack on a coalition base that left two U.S. marines dead.
Our Brian Todd is learning stunning new details about the attack from U.S. and British military sources, and he joins us now -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, we've learn just how long the firefight lasted and some other new details on the tactics used by insurgents, including the location where they made their breach.
TODD (voice-over): The attack began under cover of darkness just after 10:00 p.m. local time, according to U.S. and British military officials. Some 15 Afghan insurgents organized in three teams first got through a fence on the eastern side of Camp Bastion, right by the airfield where NATO aircraft are parked on a flight line according to a British military source.
The attackers were carrying automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers, suicide vests, and were wearing U.S. army uniforms. Jeffrey Dressler is an analyst who's been to Camp Bastion.
JEFFREY DRESSLER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: Unfortunately, you can go to any bazaars on a Pakistan/Afghan border and buy U.S. army uniforms, because what happens is when these supply convoys are going through Pakistan and trucks get seized or destroyed, a lot of that cargo gets taken to the local bazaars and then it sold. TODD: U.S. and British military officials tell CNN, British troops from a royal air force protection wing along with a group of U.S. marines were the first to respond to the security breach. The firefight lasted 2-1/2 to three hours, according to those officials. When it was over, two U.S. marines were dead, along with all but one of the insurgents.
The sole survivor was captured. The attackers did millions of dollars in damage before they went down.
(on-camera) According to a British military source, once the insurgents breached the fence on the eastern side of that base, they used hand-held IEDs to destroy NATO aircraft parked on that air strip. Six harrier jets were completely destroyed according to NATO officials along with at least three refueling stations. Six hangars were damaged.
(voice-over) But British officials say the attackers never got across the runway, didn't get near the area where British and American troops who share this sprawling base are housed. A British military source says Prince Harry who's assigned to an apache helicopter unit at Camp Bastion was about a mile and a half away from the firefight when it occurred.
And like others who weren't part of a quick reaction force, Captain Wales, as he's called, went on lockdown immediately. Dressler says the base is surrounded by barren desert.
(on-camera) Should they have seen it coming?
DRESSLER: Well, I mean, it was in the middle of the night. You know, that said, there are still ways to sort of keep visibility on what's going on. But you know, to be honest with you, I think where this attack reportedly occurred is probably one of the least well- defended portions of the base because there's not a whole lot of personnel around there.
TODD: A British official tells us steps are being taken to shore up security at that base and an investigation now under way will make specific recommendations on that, Joe.
JOHNS: If they cut through the fence or they blew a hole in it, it seems that they wouldn't really need the uniforms. So, what were the uniforms for?
TODD: They would not of need the uniforms to breach that fence the way they did. Jeffrey Dressler says that they probably used the uniforms to create confusion among the allied forces who responded to that attack, make them not quite sure whether they were shooting at their own troops or maybe at enemy insurgents.
You can imagine the chaos going on if you're trying to respond to an attack and the person you think is your enemy may be your friend. So, that's why they did it. JOHNS: Got it. Brian Todd, thanks.
Much more common in Afghanistan right now than attacks by insurgents dressed as U.S. troops are attacks by those dressed as Afghan police. Here's CNNs Anna Coren with an exclusive report.
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, it's been a deadly weekend here in Afghanistan with more green-on-blue attacks. Afghan soldiers turning on the coalition troops that are training them. Four U.S. soldiers were shot dead after an Afghan soldier turned his gun on them. Two British soldiers were also killed in a separate attack.
Now, this takes the death toll for insider attacks to 51 so far this year. Now, CNN gained an exclusive access with an Afghan police officer who claimed to have killed two U.S. soldiers in a green-on- blue attack three years ago.
COREN (voice-over): In a small house in a Taliban-controlled village is a man who claims to be responsible for a green-on-blue attack. With his face covered to hide his identity, he pulls out his police uniform, something he hasn't worn since the attack on the 2nd of October, 2009.
On patrol with U.S. forces in Wardak (ph) province in Central Afghanistan, this father of two says he waited for an opportunity to launch his premeditated attack. "The Americans went inside the nearby school for a break," he explains. "They took off their body armor and put their weapons down. At that moment, I thought it was the right time, so I took my gun and shot them."
Two soldiers were killed. Twenty-five-year-old Sergeant Aaron Smith (ph) and 21-year-old Private First Class Brandon Owens (ph). Three other soldiers were injured, including Captain Tyler Kurt (ph). When asked why he turned his gun on the U.S. soldiers training him, he said, "because Americans were oppressing people in my country. They were burning copies of the holy Koran, and disrespecting it."
Having escaped from the scene, he claims he was later captured by the Taliban who thought he was a policeman. "When I told them I had killed Americans, they took me to a safe place, gave me clothes, then they drove me to (inaudible) Pakistan with the Taliban welcomed me very warmly like a hero."
He says he later moved to Iran for three years, returning to Afghanistan only recently after being told it was safe. "They said Americans were not everywhere like they used to be. The Taliban had brought security and I should return home. I'm happy to be back in my country."
(on-camera) Green-on-blue or insider attacks as they are known within the military have sharply increased this year here in Afghanistan. It's an alarming trend that its coalition forces extremely worried, and every single time there is an attack, the Taliban immediately claims responsibility. COL. TOM COLLINS, U.S. COALITION FORCES: The Taliban lie and we know they lie. We think they overstate their influence on these tragic incidents. We think somewhere around 25 percent of them are insurgent-related to some degree.
COREN (voice-over): The majority of attacks, according to the coalition, are related to personal grievances, cultural differences and the psychological fatigue of an 11-year war that is about to enter its 12th year. And while trust has been undermined forcing new measures to be put in place to protect international troops, the Afghanis are determined to ensure these insider attacks don't derail this vital partnership.
SEDIQ SEDIQI, AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: We'll continue to work together. We have been working for the last 11 years. We have built a very good relationship together, and this will continue despite any efforts by the Taliban to make us separate. That will not happen.
COREN: But for this 30-year-old Afghani, he believes these attacks won't stop. "I know they will increase. I know more people will do what I did.
COREN (on-camera): That certainly is a chilling statement and a real concern for U.S. and NATO forces who are in the process of handing over power to the Afghans while trying to prepare for an exit here in 2014 -- Joe.
JOHNS: Anna Coren reporting.
A prominent columnist labeled Mitt Romney the foreign policy fumbler in the wake of last week's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Plus, President Obama hits China with a serious trade complaint. Republicans allege it's political posturing. Ahead, I'll ask the former U.S. ambassador to China and former Republican presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, if he agrees.
JOHNS: Syria's political turmoil on the campaign trail in the wake of last week's devastating attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Joining us to talk about that and more, "New York Times" columnist, Nicholas Kristof. And thank you so much for coming in. And as we look at your article, simply fascinating over the weekend. I wanted to read just a bit of it. The Republican Party, it says, is caught in a civil war on foreign policy and Romney refuses to pick sides.
In contrast to his approach on the economy, he just doesn't seem to have much thought about global issues. My hunch is that for secretary of state, he would pick a steady hand like Robert Zoellick, but Romney has surrounded himself with volatile neocons. How do you think Republicans got to this point?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think the Republican Party on foreign policy is a number of different things. And in the case of Mitt Romney, it's particularly problematic, because this is not something that he just feels at all intuitive about. And maybe the best example of that came when he was looking at his Iran policy and was trying to declare what his red line is and then lo and behold, he misstated it.
And he had to be corrected by his own campaign. As I said, there a lot of candidates who probably haven't written their own policy position papers, but he hadn't even seem to have read his.
JOHNS: A lot of talk now about the Romney campaign coming up with new specifics as they move toward Election Day. On foreign policy, what are the specifics that you think the Romney campaign most needs to address, perhaps, his Middle East policy?
KRISTOF: Yes. I think he needs to discuss more clearly exactly what his policy is, vis-a-vis, Iran. I mean, how basically are we at some risk of going to yet another war in the region? I think he needs to articulate exactly how his policy is different from Obama's on Afghanistan. It's again something that he has been critical of but hasn't really explored the differences of.
And in Iraq, he's been, again, there've been some criticisms of the Obama policy, but it's really hard to see exactly where that would play out from here. So, I think those would be three critical areas, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
JOHNS: Over the weekend on "State of the Union," CNN's Candy Crowley actually interviewed the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu. And, I wanted to play a clip for you. Just listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This is not an electoral issue. It is not based on any electoral consideration. I think that there's a common interest of all Americans, of all political persuasions to stop Iran. This is a regime that is giving vent to the worst impulses that you see right now in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Do you agree with that? Do you think this is not an electoral issue and what do you believe the relationship is between Mitt Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu?
KRISTOF: Well, I mean, when a prime minister of any country goes on Sunday talk shows or on any other, you know, program like that and appears before the American public and makes his case about where America should place its red lines -- obviously, he's interfering in American politics. Obviously, that's the aim. The Netanyahu government has tried to make a case to the Obama administration about putting in red lines, and it failed. It lost that argument. So, now, it's trying to take that to the American people.
He clearly has a close relationship with Romney, maybe not as close as some people have or portrayed it, but it's close. And I think, though, he's probably a little nervous about what happens if Obama is reelected.
JOHNS: Perhaps, a sticky question on Iran. Do you think the United States should be taking more of a lead on issues related to Iran rather than letting, say, Israel take the lead?
KRISTOF: Well, I find it absurd to think that we should follow Netanyahu's advice and place some kind of an additional red line in front of Iran when Israel itself hasn't stipulated exactly where its red line would be. Obama has set a red line. It's actually Iran having a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu doesn't like where that red line is. And that's his right. But we do, indeed, have one, and I'm really nervous about the Netanyahu idea that we should place a red line at Iran developing a capacity to develop a nuclear weapon, getting close. It's really hard to define that.
And there is -- you know, we've been through that, we've been there. I'm not sure we want to risk going to war again over a country as WMD when we can't exactly measure what that is.
JOHNS: Nick Kristof, thanks so much for coming in to the SITUATION ROOM.
KRISTOF: My pleasure.
JOHNS: As the Chicago teachers strike enters its second week, a judge weighs in on a motion to force the teachers back to work. We'll give you some details. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JOHNS: A search is under way off Florida after a 21-year-old woman from Tennessee disappeared from a cruise ship. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe. Well, according to a statement from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, a passenger witnessed the woman falling overboard last night. The coast guard says the ship was about 45 miles east of Ft. Lauderdale at the time. Helicopters, airplanes, and a coast guard cutter are now involved in that search.
And an Illinois judge is refusing to immediately consider a motion which would have forced Chicago teachers to call off their strike while union delegates hammer out a deal with the city school board. The strike entered its second week today. Teachers union delegates are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss a tentative deal with the school board that was reached last week.
And tensions are rising between China and Japan over a string of disputed islands. Angry protesters ransacked Japanese businesses in Mainland China. The islands sit in popular fishing waters in the East China Sea, and they are believed to be rich in oil resources. Both countries say their claim on the islands go back more than 100 years.
And civil war buffs and military historians are among those marking a grim anniversary today. It marks the 150 years since the civil war battle event known as the bloodiest day in American history. Almost 23,000 union and confederate troops were killed or wounded. Historians generally consider this battle to be a draw.
And we were just talking a few minutes ago, Joe. Are you a civil war history buff?
JOHNS: I had a junior high school teacher who made me study every single battle of the civil war, and (INAUDIBLE) I believe also known as Sharpsburg.
SYLVESTER: Yes. You know, and we were saying that this is not actually very far from Washington. In fact, I think you've been there. I've been there before, too.
JOHNS: Probably more than once.
JOHNS: A big memorial.
SYLVESTER: Aha. So, it's a really neat place to go back and relive history.
JOHNS: And you ran there.
SYLVESTER: I did. I did. I ran a 50-mile race a while ago.
JOHNS: Fifty-miles, that's extreme.
JOHNS: Another story --
SYLVESTER: But it goes right through there, which is really fascinating. And I'm sure a lot of folks -- so anyone who's done the JFK 50 will know. They've been through there as well.
JOHNS: Thanks, Lisa.
All right. China's trade practices take center stage in the presidential campaign as the candidates accuse each other of not doing enough to protect American jobs. I'll ask former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, to grade each of the candidates on the issue.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: The Obama administration is filing a complaint accusing China of unfair trade practices in the auto industry. The White House says the move will help protect American jobs. CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has more on the issue.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama announced he is taking aim at China for allegedly subsidizing its auto exports illegally, giving Chinese automakers a leg-up on American ones.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are subsidies that directly harm working men and women on the assembly lines in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest.
KEILAR: Obama's announcement that he is filing a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization was the main headline of his campaign stops in Ohio where one in eight jobs is tied to the auto industry. The president is trying to inoculate himself against criticism from Mitt Romney who says he'll take a harder line on China.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also want you to understand that when nations cheat, when they don't follow the rules of fair trade, we're going to call them on the carpet. I will call China a currency manipulator and stop them in their tracks from killing American jobs.
KEILAR: The Romney campaign calls President Obama's announcement too little too late. But the president slammed Romney because his former company, Bain Capital, invested in companies that outsourced jobs overseas.
OBAMA: His experience has been owning companies that were called pioneers in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China.
KEILAR: The Obama administration has hit China on trade several times, especially in recent months. In July, also in Ohio, President Obama announced he was filing another complaint with the WTO because China was slapping tariffs on imported American cars. In May, he ordered tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels. In March, he took legal steps against China for allegedly hoarding metals used in high-tech products and back in September of 2009, he slapped a tariff on tires from China. The president's actions and Mitt Romney's promises to do more have become fixtures in presidential campaigns as candidates appeal to voters.
KEITH HALL, SR. RESEARCH FELLOW, GEORGE MASON UNIV.: Sort of easy to pick this as an issue that's complicated, that people don't fully understand. But you always look tough when you talk tough about dealing with a country like China.
KEILAR: China is a boogeyman, has long been used in presidential election, especially by the non-incumbent candidate. But the thing is, Joe, they tend to take a hard line but if elected, the candidate's line tends to soften when the reality of governing sets in.
JOHNS: Brianna Keilar, thanks for that.
Joining us now is Governor Jon Huntsman. Thanks for coming in, Governor. Good to see you again.
JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: Honored to be with you, Joe. Thank you.
JOHNS: So the president is doing his pushback on China today. What do you make of this, just political considerations or some policy in there too?
HUNTSMAN: Let's face it. Some politics is going to creep into the U.S./China relationship at this point in the election cycle. It is an easy target. It's large and complex and there is a fear factor associated with the rise of China. What I think we're missing out on is a broader discussion about what you do about it because the Middle East is a big story, the economy's a big story. I'm here to tell you, China's going to be a bigger story in the sweep of history.
JOHNS: Be the teacher for me, will you? Give these two candidates, President Obama and Governor Romney a grade. What grade would you give them on their China policy right now?
HUNTSMAN: Well I would say that for Obama it is incomplete because we haven't had the conversation we need. And for Governor Romney, similarly, it would be incomplete because the U.S./China relationship increasingly requires the ability to walk with the American people through what our interests are economically and militarily and how we're going to protect those interests and achieve a better future going forward.
JOHNS: But how realistic is it for the president of the United States to make a move like this on China in the long run?
HUNTSMAN: You're talking about the trade complaint that --
HUNTSMAN: There are going to be trade complaints all the way along the relationship, simply because we now have the second largest trading relationship in the world. People fail to understand that part. Soon it will take over from Canada as the largest bilateral trading relationship the world has seen.
JOHNS: But a good move?
HUNTSMAN: Well I'm sure a WTO case was based on merit. They have to be or they're going to be tossed out. And listen you could have endless WTO cases lined up given the size, the complexity of our trading relationship. The question isn't just how many complaints you have. It's longer term what are you doing to solve them and what are we doing to kind of come together on the trade in the investment front and helping to nurture entrepreneurs in China who are going to be the next generation of change agents. JOHNS: Grading the president in general on China, you of course having been his ambassador to China, you said in 2009, "I have seen our president today who went in both the small meeting and the expanded bilateral, was extremely forceful and comprehensive on each and every one of the major issues we try to manage in our bilateral relationship. Not a single issue that was left out." And you say, "I've got to tell you as one observer and someone who takes this relationship seriously as the on-site manager, I was very proud of our president." Are you still proud of the president in terms of how he's handled China?
HUNTSMAN: Well I was talking specifically about his very first trip to China. He'd never been before. And I thought in his meetings, he handled himself well and he mastered the subject matter that was covered from human rights right on through to Iran and North Korea. The question becomes not just a one-off meeting, which you can handle well if you kind of are briefed up. But longer term, how do we handle the next 20-year horizon of the relationship? What about a military-to-military relationship that is fractured?
An investment relationship, a trading relationship that has gone off the rails because China's so concerned about the diminution of the international marketplace in Europe and certainly in the United States? They're insecure at this point. And it's a perfect time for us to step up and say we want to forge a new relationship with China on the economic side.
JOHNS: The Romney campaign has a new ad today. I want you to listen to it and we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: My plan is to help the middle class. Trade has to work for America. That means crack down on cheaters like China. It means open up new markets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: You know this subject very well. How much daylight would you say exists between the president and Mitt Romney on the issue of trade and China?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I would say that both candidates are trying to achieve a spot with the American public where they're seen as strong and forceful and protective of America's interests. That's a given. You can trace it all the way back to when Ronald Reagan ran in 1980 and the words he used, and then Bill Clinton in '92, and even Barack Obama in 2008 when he criticized George Bush for going to the Olympics. It just happens. And then once you take office, a new reality sets in. And that is I've got to manage this large complicated relationship and I have to make it work because the world is watching and they depend on our ability to manage economics and to manage the security aspect of the relationship in ways that provide an overlay of confidence. That's what has made the Asia-Pacific region prosper. And given that two-thirds of our trade lows (ph) are in the Asia-Pacific region that's our future. JOHNS: There's a lot of talk today about Mitt Romney changing his campaign, perhaps becoming more specific. What would you tell him to change his campaign, if you had the opportunity?
HUNTSMAN: Well you're looking at a failed candidate. So --
JOHNS: Still (INAUDIBLE) ideas.
HUNTSMAN: So to give anybody any kind of advice -- he is perfectly situated to focus in laser-like on jobs and economic expansion, so --
JOHNS: Does he need to get more specific?
HUNTSMAN: Well, specifics are good. But it's the believability stuff and the consistency that I think he can bring to this dialogue in the weeks remaining. And he can do just fine. He has the background. He's got the credibility. He has the real experience in the business world. And that's what I think the nation is waiting for is a crystal-clear conversation on how we re-fire the engines of growth. It isn't happening on the Democratic side. President Obama is not talking about growth and expanding the marketplace. It's a perfect opening for Mitt Romney to step in and capture that.
JOHNS: What's your relationship with Mitt Romney? Would you serve in a Mitt Romney administration if asked?
HUNTSMAN: Oh of course --
JOHNS: As secretary of state? Would you like to see that?
HUNTSMAN: There's no way that I would be asked. I would not expect that --
JOHNS: Why wouldn't you be asked? Good relationship with him?
HUNTSMAN: Well, it's not neither here nor there. And I always believe in serving when asked, if you can actually add something to that particular job. But, listen, every candidate is able to find their own supporters and their own experts to surround themselves with. That's the way it should be. And in my case, I bring minimal value. So he's covered.
JOHNS: Last question, watching this, do you think this is a well-run campaign so far?
HUNTSMAN: Well, the proof will be in November. A lot of times you see wheels coming off a bus only to see the candidates surge toward the very end and they all look like geniuses when all is said and done.
JOHNS: Governor Huntsman, thanks so much. Good to see you again.
HUNTSMAN: Joe, always a pleasure to see you. JOHNS: The emotional battle over voting rights gripping states across the country. What will it mean on Election Day just 50 days from now?
JOHNS: With just 50 days to go before Election Day, voting rights groups in the key battleground state of Florida are scrambling to get people registered just weeks after a federal judge rejected strict limits on voter registration drives which would have severely limited the number of people signing up. It's also one of the latest hurdles in a heated battle over voting rights gripping much of the country. More than a dozen states have passed new voting rights laws which Republicans say will help prevent voter fraud. But Democrats argue these laws will disenfranchise thousands of voters, many of them minorities.
Joining us now CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He is the author of the new book out tomorrow "The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court". So, Jeffrey, when you look at this, it's sort of a mishmash if you will, across the country as these cases hit the courts. A lot of judges are making changes to these laws, some of them are throwing these laws out. Nonetheless, there's a real concern that just because judges change or dismiss things, it doesn't mean people are getting that message and a fear even that people won't go to the polls because of confusion about some of these cases. Do you think the effect of some of these laws is still going to remain even though the judges say they're not in effect?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this has really been one of the great lesser-told stories of the 2012 campaign, which is the legal trench warfare over all these laws that were passed when the Republicans did so well in the 2010 elections. You know just to state the obvious, if you look at that map that you just put up of the states that changed their laws, virtually every swing state is up there. So these aren't just sort of random states.
TOOBIN: You've got Florida. You've got Ohio. You've got Pennsylvania. You've got Wisconsin. You've got Michigan. All these states have had controversy. Now, what has been surprising, certainly to me, is how successful the Obama administration, the Justice Department, the Obama campaign, more liberal public interest groups have been successful in challenging these laws. And many of them have been scaled back or repealed. But the question you raise is did they succeed in intimidating people out of voting? I don't know how to measure that. There's probably some degree of intimidation. But you can be sure that the Democratic Party, which is most upset about these laws, is fighting hard to get people registered, especially in Florida over the next couple of weeks.
JOHNS: And the other thing I think you and I have talked many times about this already is the question of voter fraud. Is there any evidence in your mind yet that voter fraud is a real big problem across the country, basically the thing that Republicans say caused these laws in the first place?
TOOBIN: So far, based on the evidence I've seen, voter fraud is the cure for which there is no disease. These laws purport to stop voter fraud. But when you look at the number of cases of actual voter impersonation, people going to the polls trying to fake their way into voting, non-citizens voting, the number is tiny. It's infinitesimal. Now it is true that the United States Supreme Court and the decision by the liberal John Paul Stevens has said voter IDs, picture IDs may be required by states. So the states are sometimes acting within their rights. But is there actual voter fraud? There doesn't seem to be much evidence that this is a serious problem at all.
JOHNS: And the other thing is about the Voting Rights Act itself. Without boring the people who are watching this with too many details, there's something called Section Five in there that applies to certain states. And there's a lot of talk here in Washington, D.C., I'm sure you've heard it, that the Supreme Court actually might throw out Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which could have a big impact. Could you talk a bit about that?
TOOBIN: Right, Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, 1965, basically said there are certain states, almost all in the South that have such a history of discriminating against minorities that they have to go through what's called pre-clearance. Any changes they make in their electoral system, the Justice Department has to approve. The states don't have the autonomy to do it on their own. These states have challenged Section Five and have said, look, what may have been justified in 1965 is no longer justified, that history is over. We deserve to be treated like every other state.
The Supreme Court is almost certainly going to take that up this year. And what we've seen in Florida, which is largely covered by the Voting Rights Act, is that the Justice Department has still said they're discriminating against minorities and that's, again, one of the big issues, both in this campaign but will certainly be before the Supreme Court next year about whether the Voting Rights Act still can be applied against these states.
JOHNS: And there is really a problem in applying it, isn't there? It's not easy to do because you end up with some counties with some rules and other counties with different rules.
TOOBIN: That's right. And you're also getting to the issue of intent. Intent is always hard to prove in legal settings, whether it's in criminal cases or civil cases or it's like why is Florida changing its law? Is it changing its law because they're making a good-faith attempt to stop voter fraud or are they simply trying to disenfranchise people who tend to vote Democratic? That issue is critical in voting rights cases and it's not easy to resolve.
JOHNS: That's for sure. Thanks so much for that, Jeffrey Toobin. I'm --
JOHNS: As you know I'm working on a documentary on that. It should be coming right around the middle of October, so stay tuned for that.
JOHNS: Just as northern Thailand -- it was cleaning up from a major flood last week, a new wave of water. We'll tell you what caused it.
JOHNS: There's new information from a Pennsylvania court on when former Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky will be sentenced. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe. Well former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky will be sentenced as soon as October 9th. Documents now posted on the court website say his sentence will be handed down immediately following a hearing on that date to determine whether he's a sexually violent predator. Sandusky was convicted in June of abusing young boys over a period of 15 years.
And these pictures are from northern Thailand. The area was hit by major flooding last week. Now "The Bangkok Post" (ph) is reporting that a second deluge has been caused by a failed flood wall and efforts to pump water in to an already swollen river. According to the report, about 1,000 households have been flooded.
And a ceremony in Washington today to mark "Constitution Day", the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia. And according to a law passed in 2004, schools across the country are now required to teach students about the Constitution today so you can see it's historic document. We were talking about it at the archives, so a pretty significant day for all the history buffs out there.
JOHNS: Absolutely. Have you ever gone over there?
SYLVESTER: I have.
SYLVESTER: And I have actually really enjoyed, you can see all the tourists and people from not just here in the Washington area, from the United States, but also from around the world to come to take a look at it.
JOHNS: All right, Lisa, thanks so much.
JOHNS: A new bundle of joy and diplomacy here in Washington, just ahead a first look at the National Zoo's first panda cub in years.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: A very special delivery has arrived right here in Washington. The National Zoo is celebrating the birth of its first panda cub in seven years. All eyes are fixed on the streaming panda cam for a glimpse of a little animal that may also do a little for U.S.-China diplomacy. CNN Sandra Endo is at the zoo with details -- Sandra.
SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Joe, it's actually the second cub to be born to this pair of giant pandas here at the National Zoo and for these endangered animals, conception wasn't easy.
ENDO (voice-over): -- at Washington's National Zoo.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard it and then I was like, wait, I need to hear that again just to make sure.
ENDO: Panda keeper Laurie Thompson (ph) was one of the first to confirm the birth of this endangered species.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the most exciting experience you can have as a panda keeper, definitely. Just to get to see this from start to finish.
ENDO: After seven years and five false pregnancies, the mother only had a 10 percent chance of conception. She was artificially inseminated in April and last month doctors believed Mashan (ph) was pregnant again. They started monitoring her around the clock with this panda cam and late Sunday night the zoo's panda team confirmed the newborn.
ENDO: While doctors haven't examined the pink hairless four- ounce cub yet, you can see the mother a thousand times its size rolling over it to take care of the baby by nesting and not sleeping or eating. They're taking every precaution to give her time to bond with the cub, closing down the exhibit to make sure she has peace and quiet.
DON MOORE, NATIONAL ZOO: We're very concerned about survival. Not really sure what the odds are but this baby sounds healthy and Mashan (ph) is acting perfectly so fingers crossed 100 percent survival. Fingers crossed.
ENDO: The pair of giant pandas is on loan from China for more than $10 million, money which goes towards conservancy and research of the bear species known to have a short breeding cycle. With its unique markings and fuzzy coat, they're a big draw.
CARLA DIMATTED, ZOO VISITOR: He is a big panda fan and that's the first thing we always need to do when we get to the zoo.
ENDO (on camera): The stuffed panda bears are one of the top sellers here at the zoo and panda exhibits at all four zoos here in the United States that study these endangered bears are extremely popular. But here in D.C. it will be a while before people can get a glimpse of the new cub.
KIM DIAZ, ZOO VISITOR: We got here and the exhibit is closed so we actually can't see them. It's a little disappointing but we're excited to have a new cub.
XIAN FANG, ZOO VISITOR: We know it's never easy for panda to conceive and it's a big deal. You know? Have another baby panda join a big family so we're thrilled.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I love pandas!
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: And they're so cute.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: And they're so cute, panda, panda, panda, panda, panda, panda.
ENDO: Now the couple's first cub born back in 2005 was named Tai Shan (ph) after a public naming process and zoo keepers here don't know the gender of this cub yet but say they will have another naming contest in 100 days -- Joe.
JOHNS: Sandra Endo at National Zoo, thanks for that.