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THE SITUATION ROOM
Final Presidential Debate Monday; Yachtsman Rescued by Air Canadian Airplane; Benghazi Attack Examined
Aired October 20, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama and Mitt Romney, they are preparing for their third and final debate. This time on issues where they're both potentially vulnerable.
Also, shocking video shows workers for a U.S. security contractor in Afghanistan allegedly partying up, seemingly so drunk and drugged they could hardly speak.
Plus, a reason to take the window seat. We have the amazing story of how airline passengers spotted and help save a man who had been stranded at sea for nine days.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.
Monday's third and final presidential debate will be a serious challenge for both candidates. It's focused on international policy and arena where both Mitt Romney lacks experience and the Obama administration is under growing criticism, especially when it comes to the situation in the Middle East.
Let's start with CNN's White House correspondent Dan Lothian.
Dan, I assume officials at the White House in the Obama campaign, they know the president has questions he's going to answer.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Wolf. And you know, first of all, there doesn't appear to be much of a big difference between the two candidates when it comes to foreign policy. But the president is getting prepared in study hall this weekend out at Camp David.
You know, I think when you talk to folks out there, most people believe the president does have an advantage going into this debate. We expect he will talk plenty about getting Osama bin Laden. But no one here at the White House, no one with the campaign is under estimating Governor Romney. He won the first debate. He had a strong performance in debate number 2, and that's perhaps why you saw the president out on the campaign trail this week warming up, hitting Mitt Romney on foreign policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the next debate on Monday is going to be about foreign policy. It will be interesting to hear what Governor Romney has to say. He said, he thought it was tragic the way we ended the war in Iraq. He said double down on this. He said we should still have troops in Iraq. He just said this a couple weeks ago. I think that was a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: The president still remains vulnerable on Libya, even as more information comes out about what the intelligence community knew shortly after those attacks. As you know there was this narrative that the controversial film may have been behind the attacks. So there are mounting questions about transparency here at the White House and Libya no doubt will be a big issue at the debates, Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume not just Libya, but Syria, Iran, what's going on with U.S. relations with Russia and China. There is a whole bunch of international issues. And of course the whole war on terror. Lots of questions on that as well. So, what is he, spending the weekend? Is he going through all these issues, issues he's dealt with in the fast four years?
LOTHIAN: He is going through all those issues, Wolf. And as you know, the campaign has been secretive about specifics when it comes to preparation going into the debates. But clearly, they understand that Mitt Romney will come out swinging on all of these issues that you have just listed. The both, not only the Romney campaign, but Republicans in general have been critical of this president not only on his domestic issues but how he has been handling all of these issues overseas. And so, the president preparing to counter all of that at the final debate.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us. Thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper right now. Let's discuss the state of the race and look ahead to Monday's final presidential debate.
We're joined by CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our CNN contributor Ryan Lizza. He's the New Yorker magazines Washington correspondent.
Gloria, how important is this final debate to both of these candidates?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very important to both of these candidates because it's the last time you are going to see them together. Talking to Republicans though, they are sort of scratching their heads about how it was that the foreign policy debate has been the last debate for Mitt Romney.
You know, in 2008 foreign policy was the first debate and when you are the challenger, you would rather not debate the commander in chief who has had a great deal of success, particularly killing Osama bin Laden, as your last debate. So I think there's some head scratching among Republicans because, of course, Romney is at a disadvantage when you are up against a commander in chief who has had some foreign policy success.
BLITZER: But didn't both campaigns, Gloria, agree to the terms of these three presidential debates?
BORGER: Yes, I said outside Republicans.
BLITZER: Outside Republicans.
BORGER: Outside Republicans are scratching their heads.
BLITZER: All right. So they knew what they were getting themselves into.
BLITZER: Ryan, what are the strengths and weaknesses of both of these candidates on these foreign policy issues?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know the strength of the challenger is you don't have to -- for Romney is you don't actually have to be all that consistent. You don't have to live in the real world. And so it makes it easier to criticize and attack.
You know for instance on China, watching this debate on China with Romney playing the China bashing role and Obama trying to sort of the much more diplomatic about relations with China, it reminds me of '92, it remind me of 2000. These guys always use China as an issue in the election, and they get in there and have usually a more pro-engage, I mean, accommodating view of China. So, in that sense, it makes it easier for the challenger because Romney doesn't have the responsibility of actually being the commander in chief right now.
For Obama, I think, you know, the big advantage is if you just look at the numbers, most voters are still -- his big advantage is foreign policy, right? So at the end of the campaign is about foreign policy, the numbers right now tell us that that's a strength for Obama.
So I think Romney is going to try and look for some ways to bring it back to domestic issues, to find ways to use foreign policy, to talk about some of the pocketbook issues that a lot of Americans seem more concerned with right now.
BORGER: And I think what Romney is going to do is try to turn the issue of foreign policy into a question of leadership. His leadership numbers have really been coming up. He would like to turn the Libya issue, for example, the question of what the White House knew, when it knew it, how it behaved, how it told the story to the American people, as a question of presidential leadership. Because that's an area they believe the president has a vulnerability.
But as you saw at the last debate, the president did very well on the Libya question. They are going to have to have a better way of handling it coming into this foreign policy debate. BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure, Ryan, that Romney will try as often as he can to pivot some of these international issues to domestic economic issues by pointing out if the U.S. has a weak economy, if the U.S. has huge deficits, needs to borrow money from China it's that's going to weak globally as well. And that is an issue that could resonate for him.
LIZZA: Exactly. He has had an advantage on some of these polls on who do you trust more to do something about the deficit and the long term debt. And that's an issue he's just been hammering and China is directly related to that so I suspect he will talk about that a lot.
I mean, one thing I hope they'll talk about, I think the big defining issue for Obama is how he's dealt with the Arab spring and there's a debate on both sides about the classic tension between supporting democracy and supporting our strategic interest in the region. And there's a big debate in the Republican part on this issue. People like Paul (INAUDIBLE), who wants us to support democracy everywhere no matter who comes to power. And other folks who say no, we should have prevented in Egypt the Muslim brotherhood for coming to power. We should stuck with Mubarak.
So I'll be interested to see where Romney comes down on that question. Does he criticize the president for some of his decisions during the Arab spring?
BLITZER: Let's look at some of the battle ground states, Gloria. Our most recent polling results coming in to CNN/ORC poll, Florida for example, likely voters, choice for president, Romney 49 percent, Obama 48 percent. That's a tie, obviously.
If you take a look at Iowa, this is the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" - Marist poll, 51 Obama, 43 Romney.
The Wisconsin poll, also the NBC poll, 51 Obama, 45 Romney right now. These are the key states, a lot of these are eight, nine, maybe ten states that will determine who the next president is.
BORGER: Yes. And the Romney people would like to see their numbers a little better in Florida. They really believe that they've got a really good shot at winning the state of Florida. If they lose Ohio, Wolf, and you look at Iowa and Wisconsin, they've got to win one of those states and so far they're behind it. And what's behind it is the gender gap which so far is really not working in Romney's favor.
BLITZER: Women are voting reportedly for President.
BORGER: Absolutely. Women, in Iowa and Wisconsin by double digits, Wolf. And that's Mitt Romney's problem.
BLITZER: You've been doing some reporting, Ryan, on Nevada right now. Unemployment has gone down slightly but it's still above the national average. What do you see there?
LIZZA: Yes. I went there to try to figure out why in a state with 12 percent unemployment has Obama led, almost every poll this year. It's just a demographic story there. And you know, it is really just the demographic story there. The Democrats there say that the adult Latino citizen population has grown 39 percent since 2008 and they've worked for the last four years to really register those voters and get them to turn out for the Democrats.
So in Nevada, it could be a firewall if Romney kind a runs the table with Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire, where he has a home, then Obama has to hold Wisconsin and Ohio and win either Nevada or Iowa.
So, that to me, looks like the sort of division right now. Those first states I mentioned, Romney, those are the states where Romney has really done well since the first debate. So you could see Nevada as a firewall if Obama keeps his lead in Wisconsin and Ohio.
BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, thanks very much. Gloria Borger, thanks to you as well.
Don't forget, 7:00 p.m. Eastern Monday night, our coverage begins, the third and final presidential debate. Stay with CNN for that.
September's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has become a major issue in the presidential race. CNN's Arwa Damon who actually visited the scene in the days after the attack. She is joining us. We are going to go over what really happened.
BLITZER: One of the most dramatic moments of the second presidential debate was when the candidates attacked over the attack of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. That happened last month. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. With revelations still coming in, we can expect Libya certainly to be front and center during Monday night's presidential debate.
Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us now from Beirut.
Arwa, unlike all the politicians here in Washington, you were actually there. You were in Benghazi and the days that followed the horrendous killing of the U.S. ambassador, three other Americans including two navy seals. You spoke to eyewitnesses, did they appreciate right away or did it take time for them to realize this was a terror plot rather than some spontaneous demonstration resulting from that anti-Muslim video?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, all of the eyewitnesses that we spoke to at the scene at the consult them self, some three days after the attack took place, all said that they heard a crowd whose chants were louder and louder as they approached the compound and then suddenly the attack began from three different directions. Most certainly they were all saying that this seemed like it was coordinated because it did come from three different directions. They said they used both light and heavy weapons. Rocket propelled grenades and other forms of artillery as well. That is what we know. We also do know when it comes to this attack is that it was the location, the consulate in and of itself that had been targeted in the past. We do know of the extreme elements that do exist in Benghazi, elements that the U.S. itself had been monitoring, and had the consulate, had U.S. interest and western in their size and had been systematically targeting them over the few months before the attack on the consulate itself -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So it sounds like there was a plot there, they were anxious to go there and do damage to the United States, kill American diplomats, but make they just used the excuse of the video to launch the attack? Is that what I'm hearing, Arwa?
DAMON: That is one theory that is out there, Wolf. And we really don't know what the exact motive was for the timing of the particular attack that did take place. Was it in fact using the excuse of the video to go ahead and target this location? Was it the fact that it was 9/11, that of course greatly symbolic in and of itself or was it that they saw this was the perfect window of opportunity for them to launch this sort of attack?
We do know, however, that these types of groups are always looking for weaknesses for vulnerabilities. And tragically, the U.S. consulate, the way the security was set up there did provide these extremist groups with something of a vulnerable target. The Libyan government very shortly after the attack, again when we spoke to the head of the general national Congress on the scene at the consulate itself, said that he believed that this was some sort of premeditated assault that was carried out with the intent of wreaking maximum havoc on U.S. interest for the main intent of damaging relations between the U.S. and Libyans.
The Libyans themselves, other military officials that we had been talking to had been saying that they had been warning the Americans that quite simply their position, their stance in Benghazi especially was increasingly vulnerable. So it seems, as though, unfortunately all of the factors were in place to allow this kind of an attack to take place.
BLITZER: Unfortunately indeed. All right, Arwa, thanks very much.
All right. Stand by for some shocking video that is coming in the SITUATION ROOM. Video that shows workers for United States security contractor in Afghanistan allegedly partying it up, apparently drunk and drugged.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring it to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The video is shocking. Americans working for a top U.S. security contractor in Afghanistan allegedly so drugged or intoxicated, they could hardly function.
Our Brian Todd is working the story for us - Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a security contracting firm that's received almost $900 million worth of contracts from the U.S. government. One watchdog group says the behavior of the employees in this video undermines America's diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.
TODD (voice-over): Staggering around half naked, seemingly drunk. Wrestling. Shouting at the man videotaping them. This is amateur video from earlier this year of people working for an American security contractor in Kabul, Afghanistan. This man identified as the security manager for the contracting firm George scientific.
JOHN MELSON, SUING SECURITY CONTRACTOR: It reminded me many times I visited my friends in college that were in fraternities. The parties at the frat houses that were out of control.
TODD: John Melson is one of two former employees of George Scientific filing a seven figure lawsuit against the firm for allegedly committing fraud on the U.S. government. They say they were harassed for trying to blow the whistle. The company denies that. The plaintiff alleges rampant drinking, drug use, the misuse of firearms at that facility in Kabul which they say prevented the firm from carrying out its assigned duty. The video was shot on a cell phone by another former employee, Kenny Smith. He tapes himself complaining that he is being awaken by the behavior.
How often did you observe this behavior?
KENNY SMITH, SUING SECURITY CONTRACTOR: The misbehavior actually was almost every other night. Several times a week. It was just at any time you could see get together tonight and walk outside. Typically at the end of the evening, sometime late afternoon.
TODD: Smith says he and Melson tried to stop the behavior, taking it to the top levels of the company. He says they were told it would be addressed. In this section of the video, a man identified as the security firm's Medic, appears in coherent. There's a syringe on the floor. The plaintiff's claim he'd injected a horse tranquilizer called Ketamine. We were unable to reached the Medic for comment.
Danielle Brian, from the group of project on government oversight which monitors contractors is concerned.
DANIELLE BRIAN, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: How can the Medic be doing his job or the security contractors be able to protect those that are training the Afghanistan police? Then you have the fact that they are having this behavior in the middle of Kabul. So they're blowing up ammunition and bonfires. TODD: That's a reference to this video of a bonfire at the Kabul facility which the sup claims led to injuries. Contacted by CNN, George Scientific issued a statement saying it took decisive action to correct unacceptable behavior of a limited number of employees. The company says it implemented a no-drinking policy and dismantle the bonfire pit. But George Scientific denies committing fraud. Representative for the company say the men identified as the security manager, and the other in these scenes did not have top security roles. That they had administrative and support jobs, sometimes driving. I asked the plaintiff's lawyer about that.
The people representing the company say these guys had no security detail. That they were just administrative support.
DAVE SCHER, THE EMPLOYMENT LAW GROUP: That's a gross understatement of what these individuals did. These individuals are the security manager for the facility and the operations manager of security for the entire country of Afghanistan for the company. They were supposed to protect their own people as well as the local Afghans from attack.
TODD: George Scientific disputes that reiterating those men did not have a protective role for local Afghans and that they would not have been tasked with protecting that facility from attack. The company also denies that the plaintiffs were harassed for blowing the whistle. The company representatives say no one involved with the video is still with them and that the company is conducting its own investigation.
The U.S. military is supposed to over sea these contractors. Contacted by CNN, officials from the NATO command, the international security assistance force say they take these allegations seriously and that the U.S. army's criminal investigation division is looking into the allegations. We made attempts to reach the two men in the video aside from that Medic and were unable to - Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.
Meanwhile a massive show of military power between the United States and Israel. Up next, the message these war games could be sending to Iran.
BLITZER: A massive show of military power between the United States and Israel. The first of a thousand American troops arriving there this week for the largest joint missile defense exercise in the alliance. It call comes amid escalating tensions in Iran and may soon flex its nuclear muscles.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence is joining us for the Pentagon with the latest - Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf. Just recently, an Iranian military commander was in debt, no matter which country attacks Iran, it would retaliate against Israel and the United States. So this exercise is designed to make sure Israel and American systems can coordinate and work together to repel that kind of attack. Coming just a few weeks before the presidential election, it also has political messages as well.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Military commanders won't even say the word Iran. When it comes to these exercises. They don't have to. The Israeli general in charge of planning said the fact we're practicing together is a strong message by itself.
Iran will see how well U.S. ships and troops can work with Israeli rocket shields as they defend Israel from simulated attacks from rockets, missiles and drones. The Pentagon can also test some new technology it helped pay for, like Israel's iron dome, short range missile defense system. In all the exercise will involve3500 U.S. troops. They will be training over three weeks in parts of Israel, Europe and the Mediterranean.
The chairman of the joint chiefs Renkel, Israeli's leader in August when he said the U.S. did not want to be complicit in an Israeli attack on Iran. But, just six weeks later, General Martin Dempsey will go to Israel to personally observed the exercise.
JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think it's a big deal and it's meant to be a big deal.
LAWRENCE: Republicans have accused President Obama of emboldening Iran and damaging America's alliance with Israel.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But, the president said that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel.
LAWRENCE: So, for a president preparing for his final national security debate, the timing of about thousand American troops arriving in Israel couldn't be better.
ALTERMAN: It also by the way helps President Obama in his re-election to reassure people that U.S.-Israeli ties are strong.
LAWRENCE: Now, that said, it doesn't appear to be any political planning behind the schedule here. They have these exercises on a smaller scale every two years. This one was scheduled for earlier in the spring but had to be rescheduled because the Israelis wanted to postpone it.
But Wolf, you're not just talking about American elections here. You have also got early elections coming up in Israel, too. There have been some ordinary Israelis have been anxious about the fact wondering if the U.S. would really step in and help if Israel took a unilateral strike on Iran. These exercises may help Benjamin Netanyahu sort of reassure his own population that the U.S. in Israel are on the same wave length. BLITZER: Tends to underscore strong U.S.- Israeli relationship.
All right. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.
Let's dig a little deeper into this with more. The "New York Times" chief Washington correspondent David Sanger is here. He's the author of the important book entitled "confront and conceal, Obama secret wars and surprising use of American power," an excellent book indeed.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID SANGER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: What do you make of the timing, what's going on in the thousand U.S. troops in Israel for these exercises.
SANGER: Well, as your report indicated, this was supposed to happen back in the spring. It did get put off. But, the timing is a happy coincidence for both President Obama and for Prime Minister Netanyahu. President Obama is going to face Mitt Romney on Monday and Mr. Romney is likely to repeat his line that the president is willing to have day light between himself and Israel.
BLITZER: He has also said he threw Israel under the bus.
SANGER: He has said that. And I think these exercises underscore the point. That while there is certainly great distance between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and their dispute. They are at least two folks that don't like each other very much. The U.S. and Israel on the security issues have worked together quite closely, as you have heard. Not only this, but also the missile defense systems that have been put up. And then, of course, Olympic Games. The cyber program against Iran, which was a joint U.S.-Israeli program. So, you have this oddity of two leaders who really have been going each other and two countries who have been working together closely.
BLITZER: Do you think these exercises are designed to send a message to Iran?
SANGER: They definitely was on to send the message. And the message is no matter what happens if Israel strikes, if the sanctions get tighter, don't even think about trying to mine the gulf particularly the Strait of Hormuz. There's a big fellow of coordinated force out there and it's not just the U.S. and Israel. There will be others involved as well.
BLITZER: You heard Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, suggest there could be a cyber warfare Pearl Harbor against the United States. Was he referring to what Iran is trying to do? Because there's been suspicion that Iran has engaged in cyber war fare successfully against U.S. financial institutions.
SANGER: This line, cyber Perl Harbor, has been used before in congressional testimony. But it was interesting when you heard Secretary Panetta say it the other day, in a speech in New York last week, it came just as there was the beginnings of intelligence that Iran had been behind at least two different cyber attacks.
But, I don't think his phrase was limited entirely to Iran. Before that's been used in regards to China, which of course has been considered responsible for most of the cyber activity in the United States. Also Russia and many others. But Iran is the newest concern, and of course there are many who are saying that the Iranians are doing to the U.S. what the U.S. did to Iran.
BLITZER: When I heard of that latest car bombing in Beirut, I immediately suspected, and I want to know and get your thoughts, that the war that is going on, the slaughter that's going on in Syria is going to spread to the neighboring companies beginning with Lebanon. Do you see that happening?
SANGER: It could well and the biggest concern has been of course Turkey. You seen the cases where the Turkish jet was shot down, there's been other issues along the border there. But Syria, of course, could well try to move into Lebanon to make a point to Israelis and to the rest of the world. We don't know much about this bombing yet it's just happen a few hours ago. So, it's a little bit early to figure out where this all happened from. But you know, could the Syrian conflict expand? Very easily.
BLITZER: You wrote a powerful story this week in "the New York Times" about arms that are getting to the rebels in Syria winding up actually in the hands of Jihadist maybe even al-Qaeda. How big of a problem is that?
SANGER: This is a big problem. Because you have heard President Obama say that while the U.S. would not arm the rebels directly, the U.S. would facilitate that arming and that's been happening through gutter and through the saw Saudis. You have heard Mitt Romney say he would do even more. That he would send heavier weapon and the aircraft and the tank weapons.
The essential problem though, is that no one seems have a very good sense of what the loyalties are of these individual rebel groups. And increasingly it looks like the Jihadists have got the lion's share of the arms. That's not the way this program was supposed to go.
BLITZER: Is there one question you're looking an answer to one question Monday night in the foreign policy debate between President Obama and Governor Romney?
SANGER: There is one thing I'm looking for. You know, we've got a pretty good sense of when President Obama will and will not intervene in military action around the world. He has pulled us out of Iraq. Finally, he has got us out of Afghanistan. Did do the Libya action. Has been great has of on Syria.
We don't have a very good idea on Governor Romney's standards of when he would act. Would it only be when American national interest is threatened? Would it be in a humanitarian case like Syria? Would he act against Iran unilaterally because he thinks it would be better for the United States do see than Israel? Those are all things I'm going to be looking for. BLITZER: I'm looking for all those and a lot more as well.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
SANGER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: David Sanger of "the New York Times". His book once again, "confront and conceal, Obama's secret wars and surprising use of American Power."
The author of a popular children's books is trying to get kids interested in politics. How's this for starters?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody on their best behavior, I want everybody to say hi, CNN!
CHILDREN: Hi CNN!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi Wolf Blitzer!
CHILDREN; Hi, Wolf Blitzer!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: They may not be voting on Election Day in 17 days, but when they grow up, many of America's children will certainly have the chance to. One children's book author is trying to get kids interested in the process right now before it's too late.
Lisa Sylvester caught up with him.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We hear the ads. We hear the chatter. Sometimes, it's hard to figure out what it all means. It's tough enough for adults, even harder if you're a child.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: I think Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are still running for president?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: Every president has to be good at kissing babies. I don't know why, though.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: Jobs are low right now, and right now most things aren't made in USA. Right now we're giving off money and then China is usually getting stuff.
SYLVESTER: Does that give you an idea about the lens through which kids view politics.
NICK BRUEL, AUTHOR, BAD KITTY: I think kids probably pick up more than we give them credit for, because they're exposed to it. Even if they're just watching television with mom and dad.
SYLVESTER: That's where Nick Bruel comes in. "New York Times" bestselling author and illustrator of the popular "bad kitty" series which has sold more than four million copies. His latest book is "bad kitty for president," and introduced us elementary aged children to the world of presidential politics to make sense of all of it.
BRUEL: I wanted to create a book that would be fun and interesting for kids about this whole process that this country goes through.
SYLVESTER: Bruel's character decides to run for president of the local cat club touching on things from caucuses to political ads to campaign finance. And the third graders at Shawnee elementary school in eastern Pennsylvania can't get enough.
DIANE HUNTINGTON, LIBRARIAN, PALMER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: I think they're picking up a lot. Books like this and other things we do in the school system.
SYLVESTER: Sure it will be 2024 before they can actually vote in a presidential election, but Bruel says teaching civics early on can make a difference.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: Why did you pick a cat, why didn't you pick a dog?
BRUEL: They can't vote themselves, but they can go up to their mom or dad who ever is in the house, say hey you, have you registered to vote yet?
SYLVESTER: When he started the book his goal was to create a store I that children loved and inform them along the way.
BRUEL: When I'm writing the stories about kitty, I don't think of her as a cat. I think of her as a little kid who happens to be shaped like a cat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CHILD: It is funny.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: I think it helps kids learn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: I didn't know that they have to go through so many things to finally get to be president.
SYLVESTER: Proving you're never too young to learn.
Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: A skating report about harassment and discrimination complaints on Capitol Hill. Up next, why the bad behavior may be costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: If you're frustrated with what's happening or isn't happening on Capitol Hill these days, a skating sexual harassment and discrimination report may only fuel our outrage.
Here's CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida Democrat accused of sexual harassment last year. The case was dismissed in court but it's one example of a sharply rising number of harassment and discrimination complaints by congressional employees. One hundred forty two people made claims in 2011 and settlements cost $461,366.
Why are my tax dollars going to settle cases of people who are not treating their employees well?
DEBRA KATZ, LABOR ATTORNEY: Well, in an ideal world members of Congress wouldn't be discriminating against their workers.
BASH: Debra Katz is an attorney who represented congressional employees in harassment cases including some against former congressman Eric Massa who two years ago admitted to tickling his male staffers. Katz thinks the real number of harassment cases is much higher than a new report states, but congressional aides are too intimidated to formally complain.
KATZ: It's young aspiring people who want political careers, who want to do great things, who believe in the parties. That the offices that they are working. They don't want to be disloyal and they know that by filing a complaint against these very powerful people, it's the end of their careers, functionally.
KATZ: Before a complaint is filed, the first step is a request for confidential counseling, often a person alleges more than one claim. In 2011, there were 196. That's up from 2010. And if you look at this graph, a significant climb since 2008. The report also tracks retaliation. Last year, there were 108 cases of bosses retaliating against employees. Most complaints come from police officers and capitol support workers, in less political jobs with unions who inform them of their rights. That's not the case for congressional employees.
See this? Workers' rights on the wall at CNN. That's required by law. But members of Congress are exempt from posting that. The report also unearthed how inaccessible the capitol is to people with disabilities, listing 154 so-called barriers to access, 84 pose safety risks.
This curb ramp right outside the house building is a classic example of a safety risk. Look at this. The cracks are so wide and the slope is so steep that wheelchairs can easily flip over. In fact, 95 percent of all curb ramps outside house office buildings are not compliant with the American disabilities act. This is a law, of course, that Congress itself passed. The fact that people in wheelchairs can't get up on a curb to get to what's supposed to be the people's house --
KATZ: Is disgraceful.
BASH: One bright spot, we did happen to see one curb ramp being fixed.
Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: Airline pilots love to tell passengers what they can see outside their windows. In the case of a rescue at sea, a captain had to ask his passengers to look for something, and lucky for one sailor, they found him.
BLITZER: Even though sparks are expected to fly at the final presidential debate Monday night, for a few brief moments this week, voters experienced a little comic relief from the presidential candidates. President Obama and Governor Romney sharing the same stage at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York City, exchanging one- liners and laughs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.
ROMNEY: We're down to the final months of the president's term. As the president's -- as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room, with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he's thinking. So little time. So much to redistribute.
OBAMA: Tonight's not about the disagreements Governor Romney and I may have. It's what we have in common, beginning with our unusual names. Actually, Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name.
ROMNEY: A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We -- blue jean in the morning, perhaps, suit for a lunch fund-raiser, sport coat for dinner. But it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Very funny stuff. But don't look for anymore laughs when the candidates meet for their final debate in Florida. Our live CNN coverage Monday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, stay with us for that.
Rescues at sea don't come more incredible than this one. A man was plucked from the ocean after his crippled boat was spotted by a passing airliner.
CNN's Michael Holmes has the story.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nine days stranded at sea, this is the moment Glenn Ey made it to safety, rescued in the middle of the night. The 44-year-old had sailed from Sydney, but soon was hit by a freak storm, a huge wave rolling his boat and breaking the mast.
GLENN EY, RESCUED YACHTSMAN: Let me show you, when a monster wave picks you up and just dumps you like that, it's very frightening.
HOLMES: Australian authorities began searching for Glenn's missing yacht on Tuesday after he activated his emergency beacon. They even asked for help from an air Canada flight on its way from Sydney. The captain of the plane called on his passengers to help.
ANDREW ROBERTSON, AIR CANADA CAPTAIN: As we approached the area, I made a P.A. announcement to the passengers.
JILL BARBER, AIR CANADA PASSENGER: We really appreciate it if everyone could look out their window.
ROBERTSON: Please help us look for, if you see anything.
BARBER: Heart started beating a little bit faster. Anything out of the ordinary on an international flight like that is a bit concerning.
HOLMES: Incredibly, they spotted the yacht.
ROBERTSON: Almost immediately, as we closed in on the area, the first officer said, well, I see what I think is the boat. So we proceed right over -- it was almost exactly where they had told us it would be.
HOLMES: The air Canada crew called in the yacht's position and soon after, Glenn heard a rescue plane.
EY: It was absolutely wonderful. It's beautiful.
HOLMES: Glenn's worried parents were waiting for him when he stepped back on land, early Thursday morning. Soon after, Glenn talked about his ordeal on Australian television. He says he had no idea the passenger plane was key to his rescue.
EY: It's fabulous. I wasn't aware of any of this until this morning. I've actually spoken to some Canadian people about it. ROBERTSON: We were happy when we found the boat the first time and we were really happy when we found that this guy was alive.
HOLMES: And now that he's safe, Glenn is in no rush to go back to sea.
EY: I'll be quite happy to sit under a tree for a while, to be honest.
HOLMES: Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's hot shots.
In Cambodia, a Buddhist monk prays in the middle of a street.
In Australia, a man stops to look at a sculpture of a crocodile at an art exhibition in Sydney.
In Germany, a bright sunflower basks in the afternoon sun. Temperatures are unseasonably warm in the southern part of the country.
And in Mongolia, look at this, a young boy takes a toy car for a spin around a public square.
Hot shots, pictures coming in from around the world.
Remember, you can always follow what's going on in the SITUATION ROOM on twitter. Tweet me, @WolfBlitzer.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.