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Obama Administration Officials Grilled Over Libya; Romney on the 47 Percent; Should Race Matter?; Vice Presidential Debate

Aired October 10, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama finally explains his poor showing in that first debate with Mitt Romney. Was it just a question of manners?

Also, while polls show Mitt Romney turning things around, he still faces a big hurdle in a critical battleground state. Why Ohio's so- called Wal-Mart moms may not be sold on the Republican nominee?

And should race or ethnic background be considered when students apply to college? The U.S. Supreme Court weighs a new challenge to affirmative action.

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: The Obama administration got a grilling today over the assault on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of the United States ambassador and three other Americans. State department officials took a lot of heat in a partisan Congressional hearing, and the White House was also bombarded with questions today about the handling of the entire incident.

Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got the very latest. Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, this was the first briefing that we've had in about two weeks because the president has been on the road. Some tough questions about what the White House knew about the Benghazi attacks and when -- what they did with that information.

Remember, it took Jay Carney more than a week to finally label it a terrorist attack. Today, he stood by those early briefings where he suggested that that video which led to unrest in the region also may have contributed to the attack that killed the four Americans. And he said that all that information was based on the information that they had gotten at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Initial assessments in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Benghazi were made. And there was a government wide assessment that was the foundation of what Ambassador Rice said, what I said and what others said. It is what we knew based on the limited facts we had available to us at that time.

LOTHIAN: When did the white House learn that there was no protest in Benghazi?

CARNEY: Now, we've been very forthright all along on the information that we've had based on not opinion, not what folks have said or want to say on television, but on the assessments by those who make these assessments for the United States government.


LOTHIAN: Now, since he sidestepped that question I asked him again when the White House found out that there was no protest out there. I got a similar answer. Now, there's been a criticism that the White House has not been transparent in this entire process. But White House spokesman, Jay Carney, is saying that the American people have not been misled, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, the president today addressed that lackluster behavior performance he had in the first debate. Tell our viewers what he said.

LOTHIAN: That's right. You know, we've heard the president at a couple campaign events, post-debate joke about his debate performance. Well, he was asked for the first time on the Tom Joyner morning show this morning about why or what happened, what went wrong. The president seemed to be blaming good manners. Take a listen.


VOICE OF BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The debate, I think, it's fair to say I was just to polite, because, you know, it's hard to sometimes just keep on saying what you're saying isn't true. It gets repetitive. It's fair to say that we will see a little more activity at the next one.


LOTHIAN: Now, some would argue that there was a much bigger problem than being just too polite in that debate. Either way, campaign aides tell us that the president will be much more aggressive in that second debate, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll find out soon enough. Thanks very, very much.

Jack Cafferty is joining us right now. He's got a little bit more on how the White House has responded to that attack in Libya. Jack's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: While President Obama talks about Big Bird on the campaign trail, the real topic begging for answers is what happened in Benghazi on September 11th? The murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans amid what appears to be insufficient security is not something that this administration, this president, wants to talk about.

Consider this, until today, there had been no White House press briefing for more than two weeks. Meanwhile, it took the FBI three weeks to get to the scene in Benghazi after that deadly attack allegedly for safety reasons. Three weeks. This is rightfully raised concerns about sensitive documents being left unsecured at the consulate compound.

The state department insists no classified documents were left on the premises. Really? A CNN reporter walked into the compound and retrieved the ambassador's personal journal three days after the attack. What else was left behind? The administration continues to change its story about what happened and why.

Initially, we were told the attacks were a reaction to a film made by an American mocking the Prophet Muhammad. More than a week later, they called it a terrorist attack, potentially linked to al Qaeda, after it was learned that a Libyan security official had warned of a possible attack three days before it happened.

And now, we learn that repeated requests for additional security for that compound were ignored. Finally, the Benghazi timeline shows there were no protests before the attack. There's a reason the president doesn't want to talk about Benghazi, the way it was handled both before and after the murders is a disgrace.

Expect Mitt Romney to ask the president about all this when a future debate turns to the subject of foreign policy.

Here's the question, why won't President Obama talk about Benghazi instead of Big Bird? Go to, post comment on my blog or you can go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Get ready for lots of comments, Jack. Thank you.

With the latest polls showing a tightening race for the president, Mitt Romney has closed the gap in many, many key areas. But in the all-important battleground state of Ohio, he still faces a huge hurdle, the so-called Wal-Mart moms. Here's CNN's chief national correspondent, John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Governor Romney is back in play here in Ohio, because he's improved his standing in the suburbs and among independents. But if there's one big warning sign here, it comes from white women.


KING (voice-over): The lights still on past midnight, another 20-hour day for Jessica Lundgren.

JESSICA LUNDGREN, UNDECIDED VOTER: I'm a single mom to a five-year- old little girl who's fantastic. I work full time and go to school full time. So, my day usually starts around 4:45 in the morning and ends close to 1:00 a.m. You do what you have to do in this economy.

KING: Her vote, she says, is for Jillian's future. She was leaning Mitt Romney until his own words pushed her back to undecided.

LUNDGREN: Speaking about, you know, the 47%. And, I can't really worry about them. You know, how can you put your faith and trust in a candidate that doesn't care about everybody?

KING: To win Ohio and other key battlegrounds, Romney must overcome the doubts of working moms like Jessica. New CNN polling shows a post-debate Romney Ohio bounce, but still a narrow Obama lead. White women are the battleground within the battleground. Our new CNN poll shows 52 percent support the president now. That's up from the 47 percent he received here in 2008.

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: They're all worried about putting food on the table, raising kids who are happy and healthy who are going to have a good future, going to graduate into an economy where they can find a job.

KING: Democratic pollster, Margie Omero, has been studying so-called Wal-Mart moms for several years.

OMERO: We've seen them prove to be swing voters over the years. In 2008, they voted for Obama. In early 2010, they were a little bit more divided. By November 2010, they were decidedly Republican.

SARAH MINTO, ROMNEY SUPPORTER: I was wondering if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and Josh Mandel can count on your vote in this election.

KING: Like Sarah Minto, a 2008 Obama voter who is now a Romney Ohio volunteer.

MINTO: He let me down. I was very, very hopeful that he was going to be the guy to turn everything around in America and make everything better. And he just -- his words were empty.

KING: But Romney might have only himself to blame if more White middle class moms side with Obama this cycle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Lord Jesus, thank You for this food --

KING: Sharon Wiseman is a conservative Christian, a 2008 John McCain voter who recently went from undecided to lean Obama offended, she says, by Romney's 47 percent remark.

SHARON WISEMAN, LEANS OBAMA: I think I heard it on an Obama ad and then I Googled it. I feel like he's out of touch with what everybody's going through. I mean, Ohio was one of the hardest places hit.

KING: It hit home because the Wiseman Family got some government help while husband, Ray, was unemployed for a bit.

WISEMAN: My reaction to what he said is, that's me. He's talking about me.

KING: Three teenagers and a husband who just found work two hours away shaped Sharon's politics. And while she promises to listen, the hour is getting late. Governor Romney running out of time to prove he understands her struggles.


KING (on-camera): Governor Romney hopes that 47 percent remark fades as the debates continue and the election nears. But some local Republicans aren't so sure and are arguing among other things for an Ann Romney TV ad aimed directly at those women with doubts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thanks very, very much.

This important programming note, you can watch tomorrow night's vice presidential debate right here on CNN. Our extensive coverage starts 7:00 p.m. eastern. The question that appeared to catch Mitt Romney off guard. You're going to hear parts of my interview with the Republican presidential nominee. Also our "Strategy Session," we'll assess.

And millions of cars recalled for a problem that could cause fires. Is your car on the list?


BLITZER: A Pakistani girl attacked for speaking out against the Taliban is recuperating right now from a major surgery. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, doctors worked for three hours to remove a bullet lodged in her neck after the attack. Taliban militants opened fire yesterday on the 14-year-old blogger on her way home from school. Last year, she was awarded Pakistan's first national peace prize for her online writing. And she spoke with our Reza Sayah about why she was speaking out.


MALALA YOUSUFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST: So, I thought that I must stand up for my rights, the right of education, the right for peace. So, I did it.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some people might say, you're 14, you don't have any rights. You just have to listen to mom and dad.

YOUSUFZAI: No, I have rights. I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: What an amazing girl she is. And the Taliban issued a chilling threat, though, today saying if the teenager survives this time, they will, quote, "certainly kill her the next."

And Toyota is announcing a global recall of more than seven million cars, about two million of them here in the U.S. due to a power window problem that poses a fire risk. No accidents or deaths have been reported. The recall which includes a variety of models across multiple years is the company's largest since its infamous sticky accelerator issue back in 2009 and 2010.

And if you've had your air bags replaced in the last three years, federal officials are warning they could be counterfeit and dangerous. Authorities tested ten fake air bags seized as part of a criminal investigation and each one failed. They say you're most at risk if you've had the bags replaced at a repair shop, own a used car, or purchased the air bags on the internet. For more information, you can go to

And the man many of us came to know on the football field and later as Webster's lovable guardian on the hit 1980s sitcom has died. Alex Karras first catapulted to fame in 1958 as a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions but was later suspended for gambling on league games.

It was soon after that that he turned to acting, which ultimately led to movie roles and the Webster series. He was 77. A lot of people remember that very popular series, "The Webster."

BLITZER: Our deepest, deepest condolences to his family. Alex Karras was a great, great actor, turned out to be a great actor, also great sports caster, also, he was a great football player.


BLITZER: Grew up watching him.

President Obama now says he was too polite in that first debate. Should the president have taken off the gloves? What should he do in the next debate? I'll ask Roland Martin and Rich Galen, they are both standing by in our "Strategy Session." Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan are getting ready right now to go head-to-head in their first and only vice presidential debate that starts a little bit more than 24 hours from now.

But it's Mitt Romney's huge debate win that still has a lot of people talking. Yesterday, in my exclusive interview, I asked Romney if the man who prepared him for that performance, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, was actually a tougher debater than the president turned out to be.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Portman is very effective. I think President Obama and I both had a good chance to describe our respective views as to how we'd do a better job. And I, frankly, think I benefitted from the fact that rather than having people learn about me from ads prepared by my opposition, they got to actually hear what I would do from myself.

And I think that helped me. I think the president also got to lay out his plans. And people were able to make a comparison. But as for Rob Portman, he's pretty effective guy.

BLITZER: Were you surprised by the president's performance?

ROMNEY: I actually thought he described pretty appropriately and pretty effectively his policies. I just happened to disagree with those policies. I mean, when we talked about the economy, he really is not proposing anything he hasn't talked about for the last four years, which is another stimulus, hiring more government workers, picking winners and losers in industries that he favors, raising taxes.

These are ideas he's had for some time. And frankly, we've tested those ideas over the last four years. And they have not led to the kind of job growth Americans want. But you know, I think the challenge that he has is that his ideas are just not demonstrating the kind of results he would hope for and people recognize that.

BLITZER: Are you confident, governor, that Paul Ryan will take on Joe Biden Thursday night the way you took on the president?

ROMNEY: You know, I don't know how Paul will deal with his debate. Obviously, the vice president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime. Experienced debater. This is, I think, Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school. I don't know.

But, you know, it would be a new experience for Paul. But I'm sure he'll do fine. And frankly, Paul has the facts on his side. He has policy on his side. And we also have results on our side. So, I think he'll -- I think you'll find in the final analysis that people make their assessment on these debates not so much by the theatrics and the smoothness of the presenter, but instead, on whether they believe the policies being described, the pathway being described will make their life better or not.

And I just think the American people recognize that the president's policies are not something we can afford for four more years. We just can't afford more of what we've gone through. And they want something new.


BLITZER: Governor Romney speaking with me yesterday. Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session." Joining us right now, CNN political contributor, Roland Martin, and Republican strategist, Rich Galen. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me start with you, Roland. Representative Ryan, he says now he expects Joe Biden, the vice president, to come at him like a cannon ball, his word, cannon ball. Is there concern that Biden could be too forceful as opposed to the way the president behaved in that first debate?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of course not. First of all, if you look at Vice President Biden's speech at the Democratic National Convention, he knows how to shift tone. Look, this is a guy who's owed the judiciary committee in the Senate, of course, doing those confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices.

And so, I think he relishes the opportunity to actually do this here, because team Obama, frankly, needs to have a different narrative. And so, I would suggest to Congressman Ryan that he do prepare for a tough grilling. But also, keep in mind, it was Vice President Biden who was lead negotiator for the White House in these deficit talks.

And so, Ryan won't be able to come in and somehow own the economic conversation. Biden gets to show his foreign policy experience as well. I think this is going to be a much more pivotal debate. And I think it is important for Vice President Biden to turn the corner in terms of the momentum for Ryan to continue it based upon last week.

BLITZER: These debates obviously do matter. Just take a look at what happened last week.

MARTIN: Right.

BLITZER: So, Rich, you think it's going to get nasty? or will it be very polite but substantive?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think the latter. I think it will be polite but substantive. But Roland, you know, I wrote this morning in "Mullings" that I can't imagine that Chicago wanted the narrative and the pivot point of this campaign to rest on the shoulders of Joe Biden in his debate with Ryan.

And the other part of this is that, you know, the vice presidential debates, the younger of these folks -- I go all the way back to Dan Quayle, the bar is much lower. And you remember, Wolf, that if you were in the hall that night of the Quayle -- who was it the guy from Texas --


MARTIN: A fellow Texan, come on, Rich.

GALEN: Yes, yes, I know. I just couldn't think of his name. But the people in the hall thought Quayle did well enough it looked different on television. Sarah Palin the last cycle did well enough. Biden clearly won the debate, but she didn't make a fool out of herself. So, the bar is much lower for Ryan than it is -- MARTIN: No. I can't accept that, Wolf. And at some point, we've got to be honest we're having these conversations. We are having a vice presidential debate tomorrow. This is for the person who is a heartbeat away from the presidency. I don't want to hear any conversation about a low bar.

I wrote a column last week on saying I'm tired of lowering expectations for people who are running for president or the vice president. I have a high bar tomorrow night for Vice President Biden. A high bar for Congressman Paul Ryan. I don't want somebody to simply come out and say their name and it's all good.

They should be able to converse about policy. They should be able to talk about it. And so, forget just it's OK, no. Raise the expectations. We do it for our kids in the classroom. Let's do it for the folks who want to be VP.

GALEN: Well, this isn't for you or for me. We know who we're voting for. It's for the people who may still be on the fence.


GALEN: I understand that. But I think when we're talking about how people will react to this, I think the expectations for the vice president are far higher than they are for a congressman who's got far less experience.

BLITZER: Hold that thought for a second, because I want to just put on this screen this poll we did before the first presidential debate back at the end of September. We asked who will win the vice presidential debate? Thirty-nine percent thought Biden would, 55 percent Ryan. Remember, that was before the debate.

That's expectations pretty high for Ryan going forward. But let me play this clip. This is the president today speaking on the Tom Joyner morning radio show talking about his performance last week.


OBAMA: The debate, I think, it's fair to say I was just to polite, because, you know, it's hard to, sometimes, just keep on saying what you're saying isn't true. It gets repetitive. But, you know, the good news is is that's just the first one. You know, I think it's fair to say that we will see a little more activity at the next one.


BLITZER: Was it just, Roland, that he was too polite in that first debate? Was that the reason he didn't do as well as Romney?

MARTIN: He was way too polite. He should have been far more aggressive. He allowed far too many of Romney's lies to simply go by and not slapping them back. And so, he should have been far more aggressive in terms of challenging Mitt Romney. And as my good friend, Joe Madison, of Sirius XM radio has said on my show, it's very simple. President Obama showed up. Candidate Obama showed up. And so, I think he got a swift kick in the butt, and he realizes that he simply can't go in there and be Mr. Nice. He has to get his head in the game and focus when Romney sits here and makes something up, you tag him on it. You don't simply led it slide. (INAUDIBLE) moderator to do it.

BLITZER: Hold your thought, Rich, for a moment. We're going to continue this conversation. We're also going to take a closer look at Mitt Romney on that so-called 47 percent in my interview with the Republican nominee. He explains why he first stood by those remarks and then finally repudiated them.


BLITZER: We're back with CNN political contributor Roland Martin and Republican strategist Rich Galen. But let's first return to my interview with Mitt Romney and that leaked comment he made back in May basically writing off 47 percent of Americans and he suggested are on the dole (ph). At first the Republican presidential nominee stood by those remarks. Then in recent days he repudiated them saying he was completely wrong. I asked him about that turnaround, the evolution. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what I'm saying is that what -- words were that came out were not what I meant. And what I mean, I think people understand is that if I'm president, I'll be president of 100 percent of the people. My whole campaign is about helping the middle class have rising incomes and more jobs and helping get people out of poverty into the middle class. That's what this whole campaign is about. The wealthy are doing fine right now. And they'll do fine most likely regardless of who's elected president. It's the middle class that's having a hard time under President Obama. And my campaign is about 100 percent of the American people. And so that's -- that describes why what was stated in the tape was not referring to what kind of president I'd be or who I'd be fighting for instead was talking about politics and it just didn't come out the way I meant it.

BLITZER: If you had a do-over, Governor, and you mentioned 47 percent, what would you -- what should you have said about that 47 percent?

ROMNEY: Well, Wolf, as you know I was talking about how do you get to 50.1 percent of the vote. I'd like to get 100 percent of the vote, but I figure that's not going to happen. So I was trying to tell contributors how I'd get to 50.1 percent. I think it's always a perilous course for a candidate to start talking about the mathematics of an election. My campaign is about talking about how to get 100 percent of the Americans to have a more bright and prosperous future.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Roland and Rich. Why didn't he just say that on day one once this tape came out, Rich? RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it just -- I mean I think they were shocked. This was five, six months ago whatever, however far back May is. They didn't have a good answer. In fact, I did ask why it took so long for them to kind of come up with something. But you know in this day and age, Roland, you would expect that professional politicians should expect that there are cameras or by the way princesses should expect that there are cameras everywhere all the time. And you just have to be careful about what you say or what you wear.


ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He had a good answer. He had a good answer, Wolf. He gave the answer the night when he addressed it. The problem is and he doesn't want to be honest about it and let's just be honest and not play games here. It's polling data. He saw the effect of those comments. And John King's reporting been spot-on in Ohio. He got nailed when it came to working class white women, a group he was leading President Obama with and so he had no choice but to recalibrate. That's why he had to say I was wrong. And so, Wolf, his answer is purely political. His true statement, his true feelings were what he said that night. I didn't hear him stumble. I didn't hear him stutter. He was quite clear.

BLITZER: He said he was completely wrong, but that was only the day after that first presidential debate --

MARTIN: Right.

BLITZER: He didn't -- and the president obviously missed an opportunity. He didn't even raise --

MARTIN: Yes, he did.

BLITZER: -- that 47 percent during that first debate --


BLITZER: So here's the question for both of you --

GALEN: That's his version of being too polite.

BLITZER: And Rich, let me start with you. How should in this vice presidential debate tomorrow night Joe Biden deal with this 47 percent? And how should Ryan respond if he raises it?

GALEN: Oh, I think -- I think the Chicago campaign, the Obama campaign is -- understands that the strategy they had for that first debate was dreadful and they won't do that again. And I do think that Biden will come out with the 47 percent and for good reason because that's his base. Biden for all the other things he does and for all the other things he says does connect dramatically and perfectly with blue-collar Americans. And I think he's going to bring that up again and again and again over the course of the 90 minutes.

For Ryan, he can go back to his background as well. He can play that pretty much to a tie. He doesn't have to defend what Romney said. He wasn't even the nominee -- I mean he wasn't the vice presidential pick then and he can say well here's the way I would have said it. This is what I would have done. These are the people I want to talk to. So I think it will be an interesting back and forth because their backgrounds are not that dissimilar.

MARTIN: Sorry, Wolf, expect Vice President Biden to nail him when you're talking about those auto workers. You're going to hear a lot of references to Scranton, Pennsylvania. You're going to hear him talking about those folks out there. Jobs were saved not just GM, not just Chrysler, but also the suppliers as well. You're going to expect him to force Congressman Ryan to defend Romney's positions, which also some of them are counter to where Ryan stands. Expect the Ryan budget to come up, Catholic nuns, Catholic bishops opposing those cuts to the poor. Expect that $716 billion worth of Medicare to come up as well. Trust me Ryan is going to have to defend his positions and Biden will be a lot more tougher on him --

GALEN: Forty-six million people on food stamps, Roland.

MARTIN: I understand that.

GALEN: Forty-six million Americans on food stamps.

MARTIN: I understand that. But also 31 consecutive months of private sector job growth that's going to come out. And the question is going to be how will Congressman Ryan's plans decimate early childhood education, decimate higher education --

GALEN: No --

MARTIN: Expect it to come out.

GALEN: -- decimate education what it does it decimates --

MARTIN: No that's not true.

GALEN: It decimates a program of hiring teachers, but it doesn't necessarily improve education. That's the difference.


MARTIN: But Mitt Romney in the last debate said he loves teachers and so now Ryan is going to say let's cut teachers?


GALEN: -- he wants to improve education not just --

MARTIN: Yes, but when you say cut teachers --

GALEN: Not -- no --

MARTIN: -- that doesn't work well --

(CROSSTALK) GALEN: Yes it does. If you look at charter schools that's actually improving education, if your job --


GALEN: -- is just to hire teachers --


GALEN: -- then you can do that. If you want to improve education, you have to expand your thinking.

BLITZER: All right.

MARTIN: Well I've broken down the education plans on my TV One (ph) show and trust me the Ryan budget decimates the education budget. It is not as clear and Romney frankly --


BLITZER: You guys are doing an excellent debate right now. I'm sure there will be an excellent debate tomorrow night as well. Roland, Rich, guys, thanks very much.

GALEN: Thanks --

MARTIN: Thanks so much Wolf.

BLITZER: This programming note for all of our viewers, you can watch tomorrow night's vice presidential debate, the one and only vice presidential debate right here on CNN. Our extensive coverage starts 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Should race play a role in college admissions? That controversial question is back in front of the United States Supreme Court. Could this critical case mean the end of affirmative action on university campuses?


BLITZER: Very high stakes at the United States Supreme Court right now where for the first time in almost 10 years the justices are weighing a critical question. Should race play a role in college admissions? The real question that seemed to emerge today though, has affirmative action essentially run its course? CNN's crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns was inside listening to the questions and the answers, the arguments. How did it go?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very intense session at the Supreme Court today on an emotional legal issue that has divided the country for decades. Is it OK to use race as a factor to decide who gets into colleges and universities? And the struggle at the court showed that tackling the issue today is no easier now than it was the last time they took it up nine years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS (voice-over): Abigail Fisher (ph) dreamed of going to the University of Texas at Austin for most of her life. After applying, she didn't get in, attending Louisiana State instead. But the rejection from U.T. led Fisher (ph) to file a lawsuit against the school claiming she was squeezed out, unfairly denied admission because of her race. She's white. After arguments in her case before the court, she gave a short statement.

ABIGAIL FISHER, PLAINTIFF: I hope the court rules that a student's race and ethnicity should not be considered when applying to the University of Texas.

JOHNS: Here's how the admissions process at U.T. worked. The top 10 percent of each high school class statewide gets in automatically. For those below the top 10 percent, like Abigail Fisher who was in the 11th percent, the university uses what it calls holistic review where race is one of many factors considered to achieve class diversity. Chief Justice John Roberts question whether there is any way to measure when a university had reached the right diversity mix. In sync with Abigail Fisher's lawyers who argue the University of Texas did not have nearly tailored and defined goals for their diversity program.

BERT REIN, FISHER'S LAWYER: We're saying that before you embark on the use of race, you ought to know what you're trying to achieve.

JOHNS: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (ph) said the big question was whether the program admitting top students from Texas high schools wasn't enough diversity by itself. The university's president says no.

BILL POWERS, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: There is not a business or a school in the country that if they needed 10 new employees and said let's take resumes, got 500 resumes and then just said go take the top 10 grade point averages, that's who we'll select. No interest in do you have experience in the field, do you have leadership, no one would say that's the only way that we can choose our student.

JOHNS: On the U.T. campus, some minority students we talked to disagree with the point of Fisher's lawsuit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she's fighting the wrong fight.

JOHNS: Minority student leader Bradley Pool (ph) argues that the U.T. admission process is fair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saying it's racist is probably one of the least parts of the holistic review process. I feel like it's harping on the wrong -- on one of the things that -- on the easiest thing that she could have went against.

JOHNS: Others take offense that the lawsuit implies some minority students are less deserving of admission than their white counterparts. CATHERINE RODARTE, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: To hear people saying that some of us Latinos got in here easily and the only reason we got in here is because of our race, that's really disappointing. We work just as hard as anyone else did to get here to U.T.


JOHNS: All eyes today on Justice Anthony Kennedy (ph) who is seen as the swing vote in this important case. He did not tip his hand much today. But the question is whether he's more interested in making a narrow ruling than make some gentle changes to racial preferences or perhaps a sweeping ruling that completely upends the way students are admitted to college in the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We won't know for several months now --

JOHNS: Months -- it could be months for sure.

BLITZER: This is critically a very, very important decision by the Supreme Court. But based on your hearing the arguments with the questions it's very dangerous to make predictions, how did it seem to you? What did you think?

JOHNS: It looked very predictable quite frankly, Wolf. The people on the right stayed on the right. The people on the left stayed on the left. Anthony Kennedy (ph) seen as a swing vote was the hardest guy to read, so he'll be the guy making the decisions in all likelihood. And that's what a lot of people predict --

BLITZER: On health care justice -- the chief justice was the swing vote and we'll see what happens this time. You never know --

JOHNS: That's very true. It's dangerous to make predictions.

BLITZER: Joe Johns our justice correspondent and graduate of the American University School of Law. You spent four years studying law yourself.

JOHNS: Thanks for the plug.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Joe Biden and Paul Ryan couldn't disagree more when it comes to rail travel. A debate night collision could be ahead.


BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of the State Department briefing room right now, the undersecretary of state for management, Patrick Kennedy (ph), getting ready to make a statement, answer reporters' questions on this fiery hearing that took place today up on Capitol Hill, a hearing involving the killing of the United States ambassador in Benghazi, Libya and three other Americans. Once Patrick Kennedy (ph) goes there, I'm anxious to hear what he has to say. He's going to be responding to the committee Republicans including the chairman, Darryl Issa. In the meantime let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is why won't President Obama talk about Benghazi instead of talking about "Big Bird".

Pete writes from Georgia "well Jack, consider his worshipping followers. Ninety percent of them probably think Benghazi's an Italian line of shoes while feeling right at home with stories about "Big Bird", for him to deal with reality on any level, now that's really foreign."

Rod writes "Obama has to distract any attention from his record. They failed to secure our consulate in Benghazi and it tragically led to our ambassador's murder. Watching them try to blame a video was pathetic."

R. writes from Pennsylvania "personally, I don't want him to talk about it, especially when there's an investigation going on. Did it not occur to anyone that maybe there's a reason no terrorist group has taken responsibility? Maybe it's because they're afraid of the consequences. Do you really think it's a safe idea for the president or secretary of state to broadcast everything they know about the situation? I don't."

Mark in Louisiana writes "Obama can avoid talking about what happened because the liberal media won't ask him the tough questions. You guys have been giving him a free ride since 2007."

B.J. says "the administration can't talk about anything bad that's happened on the president's watch. It's so much better and easier to rail on an opponent's comments than to try and defend your own actions."

Hugh in New Jersey writes "because Romney talks about Sesame Street instead of Wall Street."

And Michael in Florida says "why are you always picking on Obama? I've got a big bird for you Jack and it's not yellow."

If you want to read more about this, you go to the blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- a lot of love there, Wolf.

BLITZER: I think I know what he meant there. Never mind. All right Jack, stand by. We're waiting for a briefing over at the State Department. They're going to be reacting to Congressman Darryl Issa (ph) and other Republicans. We'll see what they have to say. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Looking at a live picture of the State Department briefing room. We're awaiting the undersecretary of state for management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (ph). He's going to be making a statement we're told on that hearing today in the House of Representatives, a hearing on the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya and three other Americans, lots -- lots of political acrimony exchanged during the course of that hearing. All of a sudden a suddenly called briefing, statement by Ambassador Kennedy, followed by questions. I'm anxious to hear what they have to say. This is a politically charged story, as you know lots of ramifications. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's take a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In Indonesia, police hold a roll call as part of a security drill. In India, a storekeeper sorts artificial garlands for an upcoming Hindu festival. In Germany, a baker presents her bakery's first fruit bread loaves for the Christmas season. And in England, look at this, a deer roars in the morning light. "Hotshots" pictures coming in from around the world.

The first presidential debate was fairly polite, but will the running mates do the same thing tomorrow night? The vice presidential debate -- and over the years those debates have sometimes turned into bruising battles. Here is CNN's Anderson Cooper on what we might expect.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to meet you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, can I call you Joe?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360" (voice-over): It started with a warm handshake and smiles all around. A friendly start to the vice presidential debate in 2008 hitting Joe Biden against then relative newcomer to the national stage Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain said at 9:0 in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong, 11:00 that same day two monies (ph) ago John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're tired of the old politics as usual and that's why with all due respect, I do respect your years in the U.S. Senate, but I think Americans are craving something new and different.

COOPER: Biden was on his best behavior, carefully aiming his attacks at her running mate John McCain, not at Palin herself and that was by designs.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He had to be careful not to be talking down to her in any way not only because she didn't have any national experience, but also because she was a woman, and both of those things are a little tricky to deal with.

COOPER: Despite a lack of substance in many of her answers, analysts say Palin did just fine in that debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again --

COOPER: Partly because Biden didn't challenge her directly much. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good to see you all.

COOPER: Later this week Biden will be on the debate stage once again against a much more seasoned politician this time and he's expected to come out swinging.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is fast on the cuff. He's a witty guy. He knows who he is, and he has been doing it for 40 years, so you're not going to rattle Joe Biden. Joe is very good on the attack.

BORGER: Don't forget, the traditional role of a vice presidential candidate is to go on the attack. That's their job. So I think we'll see a lot more of that in the vice presidential debate than we did in the first presidential debate.

COOPER: Vice presidential debates have been contentious in the past. In 1984, then Vice President George H.W. Bush seemed condescending towards his opponent, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me help you with the difference Ms. Ferraro between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman Ferraro.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me just say first of all that I almost resent Vice President Bush your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.


COOPER: In 1988, Dan Quayle's self comparison to John F. Kennedy drew this blistering response from his opponent Lloyd Benson (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

COOPER: The debate in 1992 was described as a free-for-all with Dan Quayle and Al Gore continually interrupting each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In foreign countries --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- foreign aid --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, it's in your book on page three --


COOPER: Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards barely kept their debate civil in 2004 with Cheney blasting Edwards for his attendance record in Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.

COOPER: In Thursday's debate Biden is expected to go after Paul Ryan on issues like Medicaid, Social Security, and foreign policy.

BORGER: I wouldn't be surprised if you got a zinger or two from Joe Biden. I don't think he's worried about being perceived as talking down to Paul Ryan.

COOPER: And the personal moments could matter too. Biden showed his emotional side during his last debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured I understand what's it like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid is going to make it.

COOPER: And because the two men have never gone head to head against each other in this debate just like last week's anything could happen.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan face off in their only vice presidential debate tomorrow night. You can watch it live right here on CNN and Our coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Happening now, a politically charged hearing into the killing of a United States ambassador and three other Americans.

The mother of a dead Navy SEAL chastises Mitt Romney. Plus, could Paul Ryan use Sarah Palin's help? He talks about it in an exclusive interview.

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