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Obama Interview a Gift to Romney; Libyans Rising Up Against Militias; Romney, Obama Battle over China; Baby Panda Dies

Aired September 24, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a United States ambassador killed inside an American consulate. Was he left vulnerable to attack?

And a one-word job description, death. We spend a chilling day in the life of the Syrian army sniper.

And we're also learning new details about the heartbreaking loss of a baby panda right here at Washington's National Zoo.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: And just in to the SITUATION ROOM, new questions about security and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. We're now learning that the villa of the building that was burned in sack (ph) in the hours-long assault did not need standard U.S. security requirements for a United States consulate.

CNN's intelligence correspondent, Suzanne Kelly, has been working the story for us. Suzanne, what are you picking up?

SUZANNE KELLY, CNNS INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We are learning that that mission in Benghazi was operating under a security waiver at the time, and that basically means that the typical security standards that would have been required at other diplomatic missions did not apply in this particular volatile area, mainly because the villa, which was being used to carry out the U.S. mission there, was temporary in nature.

Now, according to diplomatic security experts, that decision to allow the mission to operate under a waiver would have been made in consultation with someone in Washington along with their Libyan counterpart, and of course, the ambassador, himself. Take a listen.


FRED BURTON, FMR. DIPLOMATIC SECURITY SERVICE SPEC. AGENT: Someone made the decision that the mission in Benghazi was so critical that they waived the standard security requirements which presents unique challenges to the diplomatic security service, as you can imagine.


KELLY: Now, if you think about those unique challenges from a security perspective, a typical security standard would include things like barriers surrounding the facility, a safe room, and there would have been multiple layers of armed security, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what kind of security did it have?

KELLY: Well, we know that there were three armed Americans who were assigned to that embassy full time to protect that location, as well as two Americans who are traveling with Ambassador Stevens. There were also four Libyans armed who were assigned to protecting that facility full-time.

Now, it can take years for a U.S. embassy to meet the pretty stringent security standards that are required. And as we know, this mission hadn't been operating that long, Wolf.

BLITZER: But this wasn't an embassy, this was the consulate, the same requirement out there for a consulate and an embassy, because the embassy is in Tripoli, this was a consulate in Benghazi.

KELLY: Not if it's a temporary location, which is one of the things that they've pointed to. Another point of this, Wolf, is looking at the timeline of this attack and what had happened. And you know, we've been working very hard over the past couple of weeks to put that together. I spoke a little bit earlier with an American who is in Benghazi. He spoke directly to Ambassador Stevens.

By his account, it would have been about 45 minutes before this attack took place. Some interesting clues here. He said the ambassador sounded upbeat and calm, was very enthusiastic about the next day's meeting. About 20 minutes after that, the source spoke with a security officer and that's when he realized something was going on.

Now, the officer told him, we've got a real problem here, hung up to go and deal with it. It was about 20 minutes after that, he says, when he started hearing RPG fire from about a mile and a half away from that U.S. mission location, Wolf, where we now know the ambassador died.

BLITZER: Sad story indeed. All right. Thanks very much, Suzanne Kelly, for that.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's member of the CIA external advisory committee. Last month Fran visited Libya with her employer, McAndrews and Forbes.

Fran, what do you make about this waiver for less security at this consulate in Benghazi? Is this a common practice? Does this change something in the overall Libya investigation?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, I don't think it really changes anything. I mean, certainly, as part of the investigation now, we'll want to understand who made the recommendation. It would have gone -- the regional security officer would have been involved in what were the mitigation measures.

If it couldn't meet the full standards, what were the requirements and how would they be met? For how long did they plan to operate under the waiver? And of course, the ambassador would have had to sign off on that request for the waiver that went to Washington. And so, I think this turns out to be just part of what will be this ongoing investigation.

BLITZER: You saw, I assume, "The New York Times'" front page story today that U.S. intelligence in Benghazi suffered a huge blow because immediately after the death of the ambassador and the three other Americans, basically U.S. intelligence operatives pulled out of that area, "The New York Times" quoting one U.S. intelligence official as saying, "we got our eyes poked out."

Here's the question, how concerning is this that U.S. intelligence may be blind in Benghazi right now?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, you know, just because -- you know, there's many places, many dangerous places around the world that U.S. intelligence can't be present and works with the local service. Here's the particular problem in Libya. Of course, with the new government being established, the security service, the intelligence services there are themselves trying to stand up.

And so, I think it's sort of a double hit. Not only do you not have U.S. intelligence officials still in Benghazi, but you've got an intelligence service in this new government. And so, you don't really have a fully productive partner. I think those two things together do make it very challenging, but we ought to be clear.

There'll continue to be networks of informants. There'll be all sorts of surveillance, whether that's technical, signals intelligence. And so, they will continue to collect against the intelligence requirements. They just have -- they're going to be certainly more challenged.

BLITZER: Fran, don't go away. I got more questions, but I want to get to this right now. A war between Israel and Iran, is it imminent? CNN's Piers Morgan put that question directly to one man who could determine whether current tension over Iran's nuclear program escalates into something far more serious and deadly. Listen to this part of Piers' interview with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: If Israel does launch a strike against your country, what will your response be?

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): The response of Iran is quite clear. I don't even need to explain that. Any question and any nation has the right and will, indeed, defend herself. But my question is this, why should the world be managed in such a way that an individual can allow himself to threaten a rich and deeply rooted historical, ancient country such as Iran?

A great country such as Iran based on an excuse of his own fabrication? So, anyone can do this. Another country can say I am guessing that country be is doing activity X, therefore, I will --

MORGAN: Do you fear --


MORGAN: Do you fear war is imminent? Do you fear there will be conflict, perhaps even before the end of this year, between your country and Israel?

AHMADINEJAD: Of course, the Zionists are pretty much -- very adventuresome, very much seek into fabricate things, and I think they see themselves at the end of the line. And I do firmly believe that they seek to create any opportunities for themselves and their adventurous behaviors.


BLITZER: All right. Piers is joining us now with more. Piers, I'm curious. What did you think of Ahmadinejad?

MORGAN: Well, you and I attended an event with him a few months ago, Wolf. And he's, you know, he's a very combative, unpredictable and at times very fascinating character. He's been a leader in Iran now for a considerable amount of time. This is his last year in office. I get a sense that he's aware of his legacy. And you know, the nature of the interview, it lasted an hour.

It's a real roller coaster. I mean, at times, it's very heated, especially over gay rights and over his refusal to accept the holocaust and we get (ph) to some detail about that. At other times, he makes perfect rational sense, you know, when he talks in a more broad-brush stroke way about the Middle East and about Afghanistan and Iraq and America's response to 9/11.

You know, you think you're dealing with a perfectly rational world leader espousing a view that he shared by many other leaders in that region. But there are moments of real agitation, particularly, when you get to Israel. And there's no doubt that he believes, as he said, that Israel has reached what he perceives to be the end of their line. And he's calling their bluff. He's saying, look, they say I am enriching uranium to produce a nuclear bomb, and I'm not.

Now, he's calling their bluff. He's saying, if they do air strikes against me, I will hit back ,because what they are saying I'm doing with this uranium is not true.

BLITZER: Yes. I'll remember a few years ago, Columbia University said there were no gay people in Iran. You raised that whole issue about gays in Iran with him. What did he say about that? What did he say about the holocaust, because in the past, he's denied that six million Jews were killed during the holocaust? MORGAN: Well, I repeatedly pressed him on this. I repeatedly asked him the same question, which is do you believe, Mr. President, that more than six million Jews were annihilated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the world? Do you believe that or not? And he tries to filibuster me, really, and won't give me a clear-cut answer.

He keeps calling for more research as if we need anymore research into the holocaust. So, I think that's a very telling exchange where he can't bring himself to admit that. Also I thought what was fascinating was the exchange over his now very notorious comments that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map.

When I really pressed him on that to clarify what he actually meant, because he -- disputed, that it was interpreted the wrong way. He said that he wants the occupation as he sees it of Palestinian territory by Israel, he wants that wiped off the map. In other words, to remove what he sees as Palestinian land that is occupied by Israelis.

So, that's a different position from what he said before. So, lots of fascinating stuff. Two shocks, really. One for me on the issue of gay rights. He's incredibly bigoted, I mean, to a westerner, certainly. But I take him on and that's very challenging, but when I asked him, expecting one -- again, another one, about whether he would feel comfortable if one of his children dated Jew, he surprised me.

He said he would be perfectly OK with that. So, he's an unpredictable character, as you know from your dealings with him. And I think people should watch tonight and make their own minds up about him.

BLITZER: One quick clarification. When he said Palestinian occupation in the past, he said all of Israel was part of the Palestinian occupation, not only the west bank or Gaza but the pre- 1967 Israel as well. All of that should be Palestine. Did you get into those specifics with him on that?

MORGAN: No, he didn't get right into that nitty-gritty, but certainly, it was a world away in terms of the language he used from saying he wanted Israel and its entirety wiped off the map. I got the feeling, and you can decide, Wolf, when you see it that he was slightly reining back from that, it's all got to go. I mean, he goes into some detail about it. But you know, he answers in a very laborious way.

And he -- when you actually study the transcript, it can often be very illuminating as to what he really says about some of these things.


MORGAN: But, you know, I found him very combative. It gets pretty heated from time to time, the interview. He is a fascinating, complex character. And I always believe that he's kind of talking to two audiences, one, the west and the media here who have a view about him which is predominantly negative.

And secondly, the Iranian public where he's in the last year of his tenure and he's not the most popular president right now in his own back yard. And I think a lot of what he tells me is aimed directly at the people back home. So, you know, it's a fascinating hour.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it later tonight. Piers, thanks very much.

I want all of our viewers to know that the interview, the Piers Morgan interview with President Ahmadinejad will air later tonight, "Piers Morgan Tonight," 9:00 p.m. eastern only, only here on CNN.

A strong response from the White House to Ahmadinejad's defiant remarks, among other things, a spokesman saying, President Ahmadinejad's comments are characteristically disgusting, offensive, and outrageous. They underscore again why America's commitment to the security of Israel must be unshakable and why the world must hold Iran accountable for its utter failure to meet its obligations.

That statement from the national Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor. Let's bring back our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, who's spent a lot of time studying Ahmadinejad. How much power within Iran does he still have right now, because there's been some dispute about whether he really is powerful or just a mouthpiece? What's your assessment, Fran?

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, as you watch him and during his period in office, his power has really waned. The people believe in the foreign policy and intelligence communities that the decision, for example, on the nuclear program would have to come from the supreme leader, the ayatollah. And so, Ahmadinejad can sort of bluster all he wants, and he is, indeed, characteristically offensive.

But it's not clear that he really has the power to make these decisions. You know, Wolf, in that clip that we played of the Piers interview, he kept saying that the Israelis were fabricating. The answer is this is the IAEA. It's not just -- it's certainly the Israeli prime minister as the legitimate concern.

The people who have looked at the nuclear issue and made the allegation that they've continued not to meet their obligations and enrich is the IAEA. And he doesn't seem willing to take them on. This is a much bigger geopolitical issue than simply Israel.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.

It's a must-win state for both candidates, and now, President Obama's launching a new offensive against Mitt Romney in Ohio. We have details of his strategy.


BLITZER: Presidential elections aren't what they once were. Jack Cafferty is following that story in the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, election day is six weeks from tomorrow. But tens of millions of Americans will actually have already cast their ballots long before November the 6th. Early voting is already starting. By the end of the month, voters in 30 states will be able to cast absentee ballots or vote early in person. That includes voters in key swing states like Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.

It's expected more than one-third of voters, that's more than 40 million Americans, will vote early this year, according to Politico. In 2008, early and absentee voters made up more than half of all voters in some states. In Colorado, 79 percent of the people voted early. That's not lost on the candidates.

In a tight race, early votes could make the difference in who wins the White House. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are working to get their people out to vote early. It's something the president's campaign did very well in 2008. Early voting also has changed the way the candidates and their campaigns approach the elections and us.

For starters, it's not worth saving up all those precious advertising dollars until the last days and weeks of the campaign if one in three votes has already been cast by then. And, it increases pressure on the candidates since any gaffe or mistake or controversy that happens now could be the last thing the early voters remember before they go into the booth to cast their ballot.

And with modern technology and all the problems that can happen on Election Day at the polls, we've seen that over and over again, it seems a fair question to ask why we even have an election day where people have to actually go to the polls to vote. Seems there ought to be a better way.

That's the question. How would you change the way we hold our elections? Go to You can post a comment on my blog or go to the post on our SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll do, Jack. Thank you.

And the current campaign has become a battle to see which candidate can seize on the other's remarks fastest and run with them. Mitt Romney's 47 percent comment fell right into President Obama's hand and President Obama may have just returned the favor to a certain degree for Romney.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following this verbal warfare for us. Brianna, what's going on here?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, last night, President Obama and Mitt Romney were both on "60 Minutes" on CBS. And Mitt Romney is now seizing on some comments that President Obama made, saying that he is trivializing the deaths of four Americans in Libya, and the White House is firing back.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama left the White House Monday and touched down in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly, his appearance on "60 Minutes" the night before grabbing headlines.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path.

KEILAR: CBS News' Steve Kroft asked President Obama about the recent turmoil in the Middle East.

OBAMA: There are going to be bumps in the road, because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.

KEILAR: Conservatives including Mitt Romney are calling the comment insensitive.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are not bumps in the road. These are human lives. These are developments we do not want to see.

KEILAR: White house press secretary, Jay Carney, bristled calling those criticisms --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a certain, rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage. And in this case, that's profoundly offensive.

KEILAR: In the interview, President Obama downplayed pressure from Israel to take a harder line against Iran as it makes progress on its alleged nuclear weapons program.

OBAMA: Any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people. And I'm going to block out any noise that's out there.

KEILAR: Conservatives called it a dig at one of America's closest allies.

CARNEY: There's obviously a lot of noise around this issue at times. His point was clearly that his objective is to take every step possible to enhance Israel's security.

KEILAR: This is what the Obama campaign wants Americans focused on. Mitt Romney's own words caught on hidden camera at a fundraiser and recently revealed. They appear in an Obama ad, airing in the key battleground state of Ohio for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney attacked 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax, including veterans, elderly, the disabled.

ROMNEY: My job is not to worry about those people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone?


KEILAR (on-camera): And it is a big campaign week in Ohio. Paul Ryan campaigning there. Mitt Romney and the president will be campaigning in Ohio this week. And a new CNN poll shows President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by five points in this key battleground state -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thanks very much.

New presidential campaign ads are circulating. The candidates each slamming the other for being weak on China. We're going to check the facts of the accusations. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The mission to find missing avalanche victims in Nepal is over, at least for now. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very sad, Wolf. Rescuers in Nepal have suspended their search for three mountaineers still missing since an avalanche wore down in Himalayan mountain call Manaslu (ph) yesterday morning. Officials think the three climbers may be dead. Eight climbers are confirmed killed by the giant wall of ice and snow, and 12 others were injured.

A republic airlines flight attendant has been cited for having a handgun in her carry-on at the Philadelphia International Airport yesterday, but that's just the half of it. TSA screeners saw the weapon when she passed through security. A police officer tried to unload the gun and fired a shot into the wall.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. The attendant who is licensed for that gun says she forgot it was in her bag.

And a banner day for Google. Shares of the tech giant have closed at an all-time high, $749.38, and that tops Google's previous record set back in November of 2007. At one point, the share price inched over $750, but it settled back, still record close. Google's domination in search and strides (ph) with its android platform are credited for its stock market surge.

So, very good news if you happen to hold on to some Google stock.


BLITZER: I guess a lot of people made money on that stock. Thank you.

Almost two weeks after the deadly attack on America's consulate in Libya, more violence erupts in the same city, this time, you might be surprised at who's targeted.

Plus, rare access to the Syrian army sniper as we're taking you to the front lines.


BLITZER: Libya's revolution may have ousted Moammar Gadhafi but the power vacuum left behind has been partially filled by heavily armed militias and now they're the target of a new uprising. Here's CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tragically, the violent assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi may have been the sort of catalyst needed to galvanize change. Blamed loosely on Islamist extremists in a country awash with weapons and no real rule of law.


DAMON: For the majority of residents in this city, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution, it was the final straw. Thousands took to the streets on Friday demanding an end to armed militias. This is not the new Libya they sacrificed for. That same night, hundreds marched on the headquarters of the Islamist militia group (INAUDIBLE), forcing the militia that so many here loathed and feared to retreat into the shadows. It was an atmosphere of jubilation and euphoria. But what happened next would underscore just one of Libya's many complexities.


DAMON: The crowd targeted a second location. It would turn out to be (INAUDIBLE) Battalion Headquarters, a militia backed by the government, part of the February 17th Brigade, one of the most powerful revolutionary units. Left exposed after the battalion withdrew to prevent more bloodshed, the weapons it was tasked with protecting.

(on camera): This is what was so critical to keep off the streets of Benghazi. This is the weapons storage facility. And there is just about everything. Here we have anti-aircraft machine gun rounds. There are all sorts of rockets, artillery. This is a 130 millimeter rocket round. The Army commander here is telling us that when he and his men arrived on site, looters were already going through this facility. They'd made off with most of the light weapons, things like rocket propelled grenades. But this is what the Army has been sent to secure.


BLITZER: And Arwa is joining us now from Benghazi in Libya where it's still a very dangerous place. Arwa, what steps has the Libyan government taken to deal with these issues?

DAMON: Well, over the weekend, Wolf, they announced the formation of a joint security operations room. That is pretty much where the units just end in Benghazi and it's supposed to encompass the various Army police units, as well as the Revolutionary Brigades, leaving out any of these militia groups it deems to be illegal, thereby allowing it to go after them. When it comes to Tripoli and the surrounding areas, they've announced a 48-hour deadline for all of these militias that are deemed to be illegal to evacuate their various bases. But at this point in time, Wolf, this is still very much a band-aid solution. The real issue is going to be fully dismantling these militias and then setting up a true national army and police force.

BLITZER: And that will take time as we all know. Arwa thanks very much.

From Libya to Syria right now where rebellion wears on and an opposition group says at least 67 more people were killed today in the violence. At the center of the conflict is the city of Homs and death there can come silently and unseen. Reporter Bill Neely followed Syrian army snipers as they did their deadly work.


BILL NEELY, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is ready to kill. A Syrian army sniper aims through a crack in the wall. This is the hidden front line. From their firing point, they target rebel positions just 50 yards away. Every day men die here. This is Homs, the heart of the war, and here it is stalemate. The streets here are so deadly, we move through holes in walls in houses, up to near darkness and another sniper.

He waits in total silence.


NEELY: It's never quiet for long. These Syrian troops are trying to take back whole districts the rebels have held for months.


NEELY: They are edgy. The rebels killed five of their men just hours earlier. So in Homs, they run for their lives and we do, too. They've been doing it for longer than they ever expected. Why is the war lasting so long?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be continued months, today, one year. We don't know. We don't know. I'm ready to die. And all of these (INAUDIBLE) are ready to die for Syria.

NEELY (on camera): One and a half years after it began and the battle for this city and for Syria grinds on relentlessly. The bombardment of Homs, the war here, is as intense as ever. These soldiers say they have the rebels trapped in this area and that the battle will be over soon.

(voice-over): Whole neighborhoods here are a wasteland, the signs of battle on every building. Few civilians remain. It's almost a shock to see them.

(on camera): In your heart when you see your area like this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I have no heart at all. Can't imagine this (INAUDIBLE). I feel very sorry for what has happened (INAUDIBLE).

NEELY: How long will this go on for here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. God alone knows. God alone knows.

(SHOOTING) NEELY (voice-over): The war here is almost macabre (ph). Bizarrely a mannequin marks the deadliest junction. The few places here are safe for anyone. So as world leaders at the United Nations begin to talk again of Syria, deadlocked in disagreement, the snipers on both sides take their positions. Death on their minds, victory in their sights.

Bill Neely, ITV News, Homs.


BLITZER: Bill Neely was referring to the United Nations General Assembly which gets under way tomorrow in New York. President Obama is scheduled to address the General Assembly during the 9:00 a.m. Eastern hour. You'll of course see it live here on CNN.

So who's tougher on China? Mitt Romney and President Obama, they are both making some very pointed accusations against each other. We're checking the facts.


BLITZER: Let's get back to politics and the race for the White House. A battle over China is one of the latest skirmishes in this presidential campaign. Who's tougher? Who's doing more to protect U.S. jobs are some of the subjects of some pointed campaign ads. We asked Brian Todd to check the facts for us. All right Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, like so many campaign ads and other claims, we think these are maybe about half true. Both campaigns are making claims on how their guy is tougher on China. But dig below the surface and you find that their criteria for those claims is pretty narrow.


TODD (voice-over): They're both hitting the trail in Ohio this week. That means telling voters what they're doing to fight for the American worker and what the other guy isn't. Their battle lines play out in new ads, sparring over who's tougher on China. Mitt Romney's latest commercial accuses the president of not standing up to China when he had the chance to formally label the Chinese currency manipulators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: Seven times Obama could have taken action. Seven times he said no.

TODD (on camera): Is that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Technically, yes.

TODD (voice-over): But with a caveat says Nicholas Lardy (ph), an analyst on China for the Peterson Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Lardy (ph) says the administration does have a chance twice a year to tell Congress if any country has manipulated its currency. China has often been accused of keeping the value of its currency artificially low in order to boost its exports. But if the White House does tell Congress that a country is manipulating its currency, that would trigger formal negotiations with that country which in turn could prompt Congress to take action to punish the offender. The last time an administration cited China as a manipulator was in 1994. And what results did those talks produce?

NICHOLAS LARDY, PETERSON INST. FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: They didn't really produce very much. But I'm not really very surprised by that because at that time China did not have a big global trade surplus.

TODD: The Obama administration has avoided formally labeling China as a manipulator.

(on camera): But that doesn't mean the Obama administration has never taken any action to pressure China, right, on trade?

LARDY: No they -- I would say they've done two things. They have had a very, very concerted effort at the top of our government and the Chinese government to have very intensive discussions on economic issues and the so-called strategic and economic dialogue. A number of cases have been brought to the WTO where we believe China has not been living up to its international obligations. These have been intellectual property, auto parts is the most recent.

TODD (voice-over): Which brings us to the latest Obama ad on China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: When a flood of Chinese tires threatened 1,000 American jobs, it was President Obama who stood up to China and protected American workers.

TODD (on camera): That refers to the administration imposing stiff tariffs on Chinese-made tires back in 2009. Tire manufacturing jobs in the U.S. did increase by more than 1,000 over the next two years and the imports of Chinese tires did drop. But Nicholas Lardy has a caveat for that, too.

LARDY: It turns out that our imports from other suppliers, other countries, some in Asia, some in Eastern Europe, went up.


TODD: Now we also spoke to the Tire Industry Association, that's the main lobbying group for the American tire manufacturers. They say that because those imports from places like Thailand, Indonesia and other places took up the slack for the Chinese tires that were not coming in, those tariffs imposed by the Obama White House didn't really work directly to save American jobs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The tariffs might have hurt some other people in this country as well, right?

TODD: That's right. A gentleman named Roy Littlefield (ph) of the Tire Industry Association says that it hurt people working in small businesses, businesses that are geared only to bringing tires from China. So it actually hurt people in that sector. Again, you've got to really look at these ads closely and then really dig because about half of them, you know about half of each one may be true. You always have to put context in them.

BLITZER: Context very, very important.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: There are going to be a flood of these ads. Thanks very much.

Tremendous excitement followed by heartbreak. We're learning new details about how that baby panda died at Washington's National Zoo.


BLITZER: Presidential races provide rich fodder for satirists, especially on "Saturday Night Live". They were in rare form over the weekend. Nothing is sacred including the all-important undecided voters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before you get our vote, you're going to have to answer some questions. Questions like --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When is the election? (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are the names of the two people running? And be specific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the president right now? Is he or she running? Because if so, experience is maybe something we should consider.


BLITZER: Very funny indeed. For President Obama, a little campaign advice as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While addressing a town hall meeting on Thursday, President Obama said that you can't change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside. A rare gaffe from the president brings us to our segment, what are you doing? I'm not saying what you said isn't true. I'm saying why are you saying anything during this Romney tailspin?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's review. On Monday, a secret tape is released where Romney insults half of the country and then that same day he stands by those remarks. On Wednesday, he does a town hall for Hispanics and brown face (ph) and Friday Paul Ryan gets booed by the AARP and then instead of just enjoying that, you go, hey everybody, remember my campaign slogan? Yes. I can't do that. (LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't make this hard on yourself. You're like the criminal who gets away with murder and then starts sending the cops puzzles to figure it out.


BLITZER: Funny stuff. Let's go to Jack for "The Cafferty File". That is cute, isn't it?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good stuff. You bet. The question this hour is how would you change the way we hold our elections?

Dave writes from California, "if you don't have skin in the game you don't get to vote. If you don't pay taxes you don't get to vote for those who determine who pays the taxes, how much they pay or how the money will be spent."

J.K. in Minnesota writes "make sure all Americans' right to vote is protected at the federal level and stop these obvious state level attempts to disenfranchise voters."

Paul in Ontario writes "limit the campaign to six weeks. Use pencil and paper ballots. Works here in Canada."

Randy says "Saturday and Sunday, the first weekend in November, set them aside for voting. Paper ballots with receipts for every voting citizen. Public financing of election campaigns, limited access to the public air waves at no cost to each candidate."

Charles says "absolutely no campaigning until 90 days before the election. It's ludicrous that campaigning begins the day after Election Day for the next election."

Paul in Texas writes, "get rid of the Electoral College, make our elections whoever wins the popular vote wins the election. We may not all like what we get, but at least a majority will have voted for that person."

And Alexandre in Portalegua (ph), Brazil "the United States should look to Brazil, a country of 200 million people that for over a decade is 100 percent electronic when it comes to voting. The system is trusted by the people and the politicians and we have had no fraud claims. The winner is known three to six hours after the polls are closed. Even the indigenous people in the middle of the Amazon rainforest use electronic voting machines."

And we can't do that here? If you want to read more about this, go at the blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We can do it, Jack, except we don't do it because all these states, they have their own rules on how to do it. There's no national rule, if you will, on how to do these elections. That's one of the problems. CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, Florida can't do it. Florida can't do anything when it comes to -- they should not be allowed to vote. We have had this discussion. Florida should -- Florida can remain a state but they shouldn't be allowed to vote because they don't know how to do it.

BLITZER: I like the fact that people in Brazil are watching THE SITUATION ROOM. That's pretty cool --

CAFFERTY: Pretty good, right?


CAFFERTY: Yes, I like that --

BLITZER: We're in 240 countries and territories around the world. They're watching you, Jack, right now. Can you believe it?

CAFFERTY: The "Wolfman" is known everywhere.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack. Don't go too far away. I've got a good story -- not such a good story I should say, but a compelling story, a moving story. Keepers at Washington's National Zoo, they are in mourning right now. Their newborn panda has died less than a week old and they want to know why. We'll have an update when we come back.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In Saudi Arabia, a young boy waves the national flag celebrating Saudi National Day. In Spain, police watch as a forest fire ravages the countryside. In Bangladesh, boatmen maneuver a barrage (ph) through a blockade of water plants and in Thailand -- look at this -- hundreds of birds are displayed in their cages during a bird singing contest. "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.

Delight has given away to disappointment and dismay at the National Zoo right here in Washington, D.C. Keepers and veterinarians are trying to figure out why the baby panda cub born there a week ago died yesterday. CNN's Sandra Endo is joining us now from the National Zoo. Sandy, what did we learn today?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very sad day, Wolf, at the zoo here. All signs showed great mothering by Mei Xieng (ph), the mother giant panda and vocalizations from the cub showed it was also healthy, too, and that's why zookeepers are so puzzled and determined to find out why this cub didn't survive.



ENDO (voice-over): Sounds of distress from giant panda mother Mei Xieng (ph) at the moment she realized there were problems with her newborn cub. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't breathing and its heart had stopped.

ENDO: Using CPR panda keepers frantically tried to save the life of the week-old female cub at Washington's National Zoo but doctors weren't able to revive the newborn who seemed to be in good health since her birth.

DON MOORE, NATIONAL ZOO: The cub's body condition seemed excellent. Had a big, fat belly. It had good physical signs. It felt good.

ENDO: Zookeepers say Mei Xieng (ph) was also a good mother who nursed the baby and at 1,000 times the size was careful not to crush the fragile cub. Doctors do not know the cause of death but say they did find some abnormalities in the baby.

MOORE: There was fluid in the abdomen and we have kind of a hard friable (ph) liver, so sometimes you see an abnormal liver like that and you immediately think, oh, it's abnormal but the reality is you have to take sections of the liver and send it out for histology and look at the cells and see if the cells themselves are normal.

ENDO: The birth of the cub was a welcomed surprise to zookeepers. After five failed pregnancies the artificial insemination worked, but sadly --


ENDO: -- the vocal cub's life was only short lived.

MOORE: It's a roller coaster. It's at once gleeful and then frustrating.

ENDO: A shared sentiment for the public, too.

RALPH CHITE, ZOO VISITOR: We were looking forward to having a permanent member here and we're really sad about it.

BETH GARY, ZOO VISITOR: My son's been asking a lot of questions on why it passed and so forth, so it's been a learning lesson today at the zoo.


ENDO: And the future of the panda's breeding program here is still unclear. Zookeepers say they will talk to the Chinese who own the giant pandas but today is a time to grieve -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sandra Endo, thanks very much.

Happening now, Mitt Romney gets more aggressive in swing states where lost ground could cost him the election.

President Obama tries to block out Romney's attacks on his foreign policy on the eve of the big speech to the United Nations.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger says he is telling all about the affair and the secret child that broke up his marriage to Maria Shriver.

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