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Interview With David Axelrod; Donald Trump's Political Dud?

Aired October 25, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama refers to Mitt Romney using a nasty name. I will ask senior adviser David Axelrod what the president meant.

Romney tries to win an important battleground by borrowing one of the president's campaign lines.

And Donald Trump's political bombshell blows up in his face.

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

Twelve days until America's choice, we're seeing two different ground games from the presidential candidates. President Obama is going wide with events in Florida, Virginia and Ohio and a detour to Chicago to cast his vote.

Mitt Romney is zeroing in on what could be the most important battleground state, Ohio.

He has three rallies -- he has rallies there in three cities today. Jessica Yellin and Jim Acosta are in Ohio for us.

First, let's go to Jessica. She is covering the Obama campaign.

A very busy day for the president, including a big endorsement and a new slap at Romney, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We are back in Ohio. It will be the president's second stop in this state as part of his battleground blitz and his team is saying, don't pay attention to the public polls. They say there are so many public polls out there, soon, there will be an Outback Steakhouse poll. That's what one of his advisers told me.

They say that internally their polls show that the president is leading among women voters and either leading or tied in all six of the battleground states we visited.



YELLIN (voice-over): Fresh off on all-nighter.

OBAMA: My voice is getting a little hoarse. YELLIN: The president didn't break stride delivering his closing message.

OBAMA: You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

YELLIN: The campaign says it's not too late to make the case Governor Romney can't be trusted. And they got a boost with a surprise endorsement.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012.

YELLIN: On CBS's "Early Show," General Colin Powell echoed the message, calling Governor Romney's positions a -- quote -- "moving target."

POWELL: The governor who was speaking Monday night at the debate was saying things quite different than what he said earlier. So, I'm not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.

YELLIN: In a moment of candor, the president drove home that theme, telling "Rolling Stone" magazine and historian Doug Brinkley he thinks Governor Romney is a -- quote -- "," but he's keeping it clean on the trail.

OBAMA: He's hoping that you come down with a case of what we call Romnesia.

YELLIN: And picking up his pace.

OBAMA: Just got to keep on keeping on until every single person out there who needs to vote is going to go vote.

YELLIN: Hopscotching from Florida to Virginia, hometown Chicago and Ohio. Strategies are three. One, turn out the early vote, which their ground operation can move and measure. This new memo from Chicago says they think they're winning in firewall, Ohio.

OBAMA: It's up to the young people here to choose the future that you believe in, that you want to see.

YELLIN: Boost turnout among voting groups already leaning to the president, youth, Latinos, union workers. Three, woo undecided women, including with this new ad.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade.

Hopefully, reverse Roe v. Wade. Overturn Roe v. Wade.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, the president cast an early ballot in his hometown of Chicago demonstrating that it is an easy, no-fuss way to make sure that your vote is cast in case you're busy on Election Day and can't get to the polling place.

Bottom line there, their early vote theory is they think they have the numbers. They just need to drive the turnout, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president did vote early in Chicago. Jessica, thanks very much.

The Romney camp says the president has nothing left to give on the campaign trail, but insults.

Let's go over to Kate Bolduan. She's working this part of the story -- Kate.


The candidate himself is working very hard to stay on message. Romney is putting all his energy today into the fight for Ohio.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with Romney, literally traveling with Romney on the bus right there.

Hey there, Jim.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How's this for a role reversal? In Ohio, Mitt Romney is declaring he's now the candidate of not just change, but:

ROMNEY: Big changes, big changes, big changes.

ACOSTA: And President Obama who won the White House four years ago with the slogan of hope and change is now in Romney's view just more of the same.

ROMNEY: The path we're on does not have new answers. The president has the same old answers as in the past.

ACOSTA: On a bus tour across this critical swing state, Romney appears to have settled on a final line of attack, that after months of campaigning, the president has yet to present new ideas to jump- start the economy.

ROMNEY: The Obama campaign doesn't have a plan. The Obama campaign is slipping because he's talking about smaller and smaller things, despite the fact that America has such huge challenges. And that's why on November 6, I'm counting on Ohio to vote for big change.


ACOSTA: Among those smaller things, the Romney campaign points to comments Mr. Obama made in the latest issue of "Rolling Stone" magazine. "You know, kids have good instincts," the president said. "They look at the other guy and say, well, that's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I can tell." The Romney campaign fired back, saying: "President Obama is rattled and on the defensive. He's running on empty and has nothing left but attacks and insults. It's unfortunate he has to close the final days of his campaign this way."

ROMNEY: This fall, I'm supporting Richard Mourdock for Senate.

ACOSTA: But Romney's campaign also has been on the defensive this week over his continued support, including this ad, for Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said pregnancies resulting from rape are what God intended.

At a breakfast shop in Cincinnati, Romney ignored questions from reporters, who asked whether he would like Mourdock to pull the endorsement spot. Any sudden movement could alter what is almost a tie in Ohio. The latest CNN poll of polls has President Obama with a slight edge. But polls also show the president is far ahead among voters who have already cast their ballots, which is why Romney and his top surrogates are urging their supporters to get busy.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: At the Board of Elections right now, they're open for business. So how about after this event we get in our cars and we go down to Broadway and vote early to be sure we can bank our votes?


BOLDUAN: That's our Jim Acosta traveling in Northwest Ohio for us this evening.

Ohio may be won or lost on the issue of jobs and the economy. Take a look at this. The Ohio unemployment rate was 7 percent in September 2008, shortly before Barack Obama won the state and the election. It climbed then above 10 percent a year later. But it's fallen since then. Ohio's jobless rate was back at 7 percent last month. We will have one more jobs report, Wolf, before the election.

BLITZER: The Friday before the election. Thanks for that.

So, did the president mean to insult Mitt Romney? I will ask the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, about the controversial remark.

And a new explanation about the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the Pentagon chief on why American troops didn't intervene.


BLITZER: The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is responding today at all the second guessing that has been going on about that deadly attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

BOLDUAN: Yes, you're absolutely right.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, for more on this.

Chris, Panetta offered some new information about why the U.S. military didn't step in during the attack on the consulate. What are you hearing?


Secretary Panetta confirmed that they did consider sending troops into the situation, but bottom line, they didn't have enough information. In some of his most expansive comments yet on the issue of Benghazi, Secretary Panetta said they had fast reaction teams in the region, ships off the coast of Libya, but ultimately, that this attack only lasted a few hours and by the time U.S. officials had figured out exactly what was happening, it was over.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what is taking place.

As a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground or in that area was General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.


LAWRENCE: I also spoke with the defense official who put this in somewhat context.

He said he couldn't get into the specific response times of some of those fast teams because it's classified, but he said even just accounting for the transportation aspect of it, it would have been physically impossible for them to get from say Rota, Spain, in time to intervene in that attack.

Secretary Panetta also made some comments today criticizing what he called "Monday-morning quarterbacking." The official I spoke with said this was aimed not only at the criticism coming from Capitol Hill, but at pundits as well who want to go back and sort of what he called take another look at what happened and the decisions that were made.

He said that when you looked at everything, when you looked at the movie, the fact that it was 9/11 and in various areas and you had trouble in various spots around the world, he said the U.S. military wasn't a "fire department" that could be anywhere in the world and run to the rescue within a matter of hours.

And I think you're hearing some of that pushback coming from the Pentagon now, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And you have heard some of the same pushback coming from the State Department as well. Chris, there have also been some reports that a drone overhead saw the attack. Did they offer any clarity on that?

LAWRENCE: They did.

And Secretary Panetta confirmed there was a drone in the area and I talked to sources here who said that drone wasn't flying directly over the area when the attack started, but that it was diverted and moved over the attack. It got there in time to see what was going on, but the official I talked to said what it was seeing was buildings, a lot of fires, a lot of chaos on the ground.

He said it was very hard for them to discern exactly what was going on. He said, yes, there were U.S. security forces on the ground who had eyes on the scene, but they were in a firefight, not able to provide a situation of awareness report, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We will continue to follow it. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thanks so much, Chris.

Other news we're following, including whether the East Coast of the United States bracing for a Halloween nightmare. Even the National Weather Service now calling Hurricane Sandy Frankenstorm. You're looking at live pictures now from South Florida. We will have the latest forecast. That's coming up.



BLITZER: The Romney camp says President Obama is stuck playing defense. I'm going to ask Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod about the campaign's confidence level right now.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: We don't think there's one battleground state where we're not well in the game. And we think we're leading in most of them. We have got the ball, we have got the lead, and we're going to execute and we're going to win.



BLITZER: The Obama campaign has accused Mitt Romney of being a flip-flopper many times before, but now the president has taken that line of attack to a different level by using one very controversial word.


BLITZER: And David Axelrod is joining us now from Chicago. He's a senior adviser to President Obama and his reelection campaign.

David, thanks very much for coming in. AXELROD: Sure, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: I assume you know by now that the comments that the president made in that "Rolling Stone" magazine article, the interview he gave to "Rolling Stone" magazine, causing a bit of a stir, angry reactions from Republicans, including Romney.

For our viewers not familiar, in the article, one aside, the president was talking about some young people who support him, and he said: "You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say, well, that's a" -- and then he used an expletive, "bull- something, and I can tell."

And I just wanted to clarify. I assume the president did say, did use that word.

AXELROD: I assume so. That's a transcript. I have no reason to dispute it.

BLITZER: Was he referring directly to Mitt Romney?

AXELROD: Well, I think he was referring to the practice of sliding around, trying to change positions, to offering yourself as a champion for the middle class, when your policies would pummel the middle class, trying to walk away from positions in the 11th hour.

I think he was referring to that. And I think, if they're reacting strongly to it, it likely has something to do with their own self-consciousness about what their strategy and tactics have been.

All of you have done stories on it. Everybody has noticed it. It was the story of the last couple of debates, all of the debates really. So, it shouldn't come as a great surprise.

BLITZER: Because Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, issued a statement just a little while ago.

He said: "President Obama is rattled and on the defensive. He is running on empty and has nothing left but attacks and insults. It's unfortunate he has to close the final days of his campaign this way."

That's Kevin Madden, an adviser to the Romney campaign.

AXELROD: Well, look, I understand we are in the final days of a campaign, and they're going to do their posturing and so on.

The president is out there on the stump every day making a strong case for where we have to go as a country and the kind of investments we have to make in education, energy, research and development, and in the middle class in this country, manufacturing. And he's pointing the way to the future.

And these guys, frankly, are spinning their wheels because they know they're losing their race, they're behind in virtually all of the battleground states, and time is running out. So, you know, a lot of things are going to be said in the final days of a campaign. What matters is what's going on out there in the country, and we're really encouraged by what we see.

BLITZER: "The Des Moines Register" had a headline, "Obama Sharpens Criticism, Romney Expresses Optimism."

And I will play a little clip of what Romney has been saying about the president out there on the campaign trail. Listen to this.


ROMNEY: He has now resorted to talking about saving characters on Sesame Street and word games. And, of course, he continues to launch these misdirected attacks at me.

And he knows they're not accurate and they're not making much progress for him. And so his campaign gets smaller and smaller, focused on smaller and smaller things.


BLITZER: They're saying that the president is diminishing the office of the presidency, which is pretty strong words.

AXELROD: Well, those are strong words.

They don't mean a whole heck of a lot, because they don't reflect what's going on out there. I haven't seen Governor Romney on the trail with us. He's not traveling with us and he really doesn't know, perhaps, what the president is saying and doing.

Or perhaps he does, and it concerns him. The president is making a strong case for what we need to do to rebuild the middle class in this country and the kind of prescription for a genuine, genuinely strong economy. And Governor Romney, you know, he says, I represent change.

He represents an echo of a failed past. He's offering the same prescriptions that got us into this mess in the first place, big tax cuts for the wealthy, rolling back rules on Wall Street. And he wants to talk about anything but that. And I understand that because that's a losing formula, and now the American people have concluded that.

And, so, in the 11th hour of the campaign, he's out there, you know, prattling on about things that aren't central to people's concerns.

BLITZER: They are also saying that this new brochure that you guys just released in the last two weeks of the campaign, "The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs and Middle-Class Security" -- it's about a 30-page booklet outlining what the president would hope to achieve over the next four years.

What took so long? Why wait until two weeks before the election to release a booklet like this? AXELROD: Because we're in the last two weeks of the election, and there are people out there who are making their final decisions, not a lot, 5 percent to 10 percent probably making final decisions in this race.

And we wanted them as they made those final decisions to take a very hard look at where we would take the country and where Mitt Romney would take the country. And it's valuable for them to have this in their hands to make that contrast.

All the ideas that are in that are the ones that the president has been campaigning on in this campaign. It's the ideas that he's been working toward as president. And, so, it's not that the ideas are new. And they have been posted on our Web site for quite a long time.

But we wanted people who are going to vote and were making their last-minute decisions to physically have it in their hand, so that they could focus on it as they make their final choice.

The Romney campaign has what they call a five-point plan. But they have chapter heads and nothing underneath it. No plan to revitalize our education system. No real plan on energy other than to give the oil companies everything that they're asking for, including continued subsidies, but nothing for new energy. As you go down and then, of course, the biggest whopper, they're going to take care of our deficits when they propose $7 trillion in new spending, between tax cuts for the wealthy and Pentagon spending for which they have no plan to pay.

So, you know, saying you have a plan for the future doesn't mean you do. What he has is the one-point plan the president has been talking about. Which is the same plan that got us into this mess in the first place.

BLITZER: The main argument that they're making, he did it in his opening remarks in the last debate, in his closing remarks at the last debate, is that more people are unemployed, more people are on Food Stamps and more people are in poverty right now than they were four years ago. Why re-elect a president who has a dismal record, they say, like this?

AXELROD: You know, the reason that they're behind in this race, Wolf, is because that's been their -- that's been their mantra from the beginning. Everybody in this country knows where we were when this president took office and understands that we're in a better place now, we have more work to do.

But the last thing we need to do is go back to the tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulating Wall Street, taking care of folks at the top, abandoning the middle class. That is essentially the strategy that got us into the mess that we were in the day the president walked in the door. So they're not having -- they're not gaining much traction with that argument.

What people are looking for is a vision for how we rebuild this economy and continue this recovery and strengthen the middle class. And the president has offered specific ideas to do that that are real and credible and , and that's something Governor Romney has not done.

BLITZER: We're looking at the polls right now. Among white voters, the president last time around got 43 percent. Right now he's polling around 40 percent. What do your polls show you among white voters nationwide how the president will do?

AXELROD: I think we're doing-- we're doing well, Wolf. I think we will approach the numbers of the last campaign. But certainly, the numbers that we need among all the cohorts in the election. You know, as you look across these battleground states, we're even or ahead in all of them for a reason.

You know, we've made the case. Governor Romney's made his and now people are drawing their conclusions. One of the things that we've watched closely is early voting around the country. And in every single state where it's going on, the pattern suggests the president is doing very, very well in those -- in those early votes.

So, at this point, I'm less interested in the polling and more interested in the tangible acts of voting that are going on by the millions across the country because, in some states, you know, large numbers of votes have already been cast. And we feel we have a strong advantage in that voting.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. North Carolina, Paul Begala the other day on our show said the president has basically given up on North Carolina.

We've moved our CNN Electoral College map: North Carolina no longer a toss-up, leaning Romney right now. The president hasn't been there, I don't believe, since the convention in Charlotte. Doesn't look like he's going to go there. Have you given up on North Carolina?

AXELROD: Well, Wolf, absolutely -- now in fact, we just invested more money in our -- in our television campaign there. We've registered 350,000 new voters in North Carolina during the course of this year. And the early voting patterns to us are very, very encouraging.

So, you know, I love Paul. I think he's a brilliant guy. He's just wrong about this particular point. We're -- we don't think there's one battleground state where we're not well in the game, and we think we're leading in most of them. You saw two polls in the last two days. One in the "TIME" poll in Ohio had us ahead by five points. Today a PPP poll, five points up in Virginia.

So, you know, we're very -- we're encouraged by everything that we see. We're going to work hard. The president is on a 48-hour campaign swing right now. We're going to work hard until the very last moment until the very last vote is cast. But we've got the ball. We've got the lead. And we're going to execute and we're going to win.

BLITZER: David Axelrod from the Obama campaign. Thanks very much for joining us.

AXELROD: All right, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: There is certainly a lot in that interview for Candy Crowley and Gloria Borger to discuss. We're going to talk about it. They're both standing by.

We're also getting -- about to get a new poll, a bunch of new polls on the Obama-Romney race from two critical battleground states.


BLITZER: We heard from Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod just a little while ago. Kate is here. She's watching what's going on, as well. You know, the bad language unusual for a president. Candy Crowley is here and Gloria Borger is here. How much grief, potentially, could use of that bad word, bull, you know the expletive, provide...


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: I think you just put it. Look, do you want your president out there saying stuff like that? No. But on the other hand, look at the time and place. "Rolling Stone." It's, you know, sort of one of those laid-back things. I just don't think that these -- like these little catch phrases. I just think this kind of goes into the daily mix. But I don't think it moves people one way or the other.

BLITZER: Because he was talking, Gloria, about his Republican presidential rival, if you will. It wasn't just using that word.

BORGER: He doesn't -- yes, guess what? He doesn't like him. We had -- we always say, "Gee, we wish our politicians were more candid." Then when he actually has a candid moment we're like, "Oh, my God, he had a candid moment. Isn't that terrible?"

So I think it sort of goes away. It's not a surprise to anybody that these two men don't like each other.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's look at some new polls we just released, new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist polls. Let's put those up on the screen, if we have them, of Nevada and Colorado.

First here, we're looking at Nevada. We have Obama 50, Romney 47. So Obama with a three-point lead there.

Take a look at Colorado. They're absolutely tied, 2.9 percent sampling error. What does that tell you? I mean, these are two -- you know, these are two battlegrounds that we've been watching closely.

BORGER: Yes, I think and with the Nevada poll, there's a sampling error of three points. So, it's -- so it's tied.

When you -- when you look at Colorado voters, I think what you see when you look at the internal of the polls is that Mitt Romney is probably doing better with independents than he was and he's doing a little bit better with women than he was, which is why -- which is why these are tied. And...

CROWLEY: Looks like the president is underperforming with men, as well.

BORGER: Exactly. And so -- so, that's an issue that, you know, the president needs to really over-perform with women, if Mitt Romney is doing well with men. So, I think this is where the country is. It's split.

BOLDUAN: And kind of reinforces what we've been really saying, for...

BORGER: Tied race.

BOLDUAN: ... months and months now.

BLITZER: I'm surprised, Candy, though. Nevada, which has a lot of Hispanics, a lot of union workers. The economy is bad.

CROWLEY: A really awful economy. I mean -- awful.

BLITZER: So that's why it's so close. The president, you know, if you look at the demographics, should be way ahead.

CROWLEY: Yes. But, again, it's not -- when you say the economy, there are things that hit home. It's the jobless rate. It's home foreclosures. I mean, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in Nevada, but -- but the demographics definitely favor the president.

BORGER: And Harry Reid...

BOLDUAN: And Harry Reid.

BORGER: ... is in Nevada with a great organization that helped him in his re-election last time around. What's interesting, also, is that you've got a large Mormon community in Nevada, which may split. The Harry Reid Mormons versus the Mitt Romneys.

CROWLEY: I mean, I don't think this reflects Harry Reid quite yet. Let's see what happens on election day, if he actually has got...

BOLDUAN: Gloria, we were talking in the break about also -- I don't think we have a graphic of this. But this is an ABC News/"Wall Street Journal" tracking poll...

BLITZER: "Washington Post."

BOLDUAN: "Washington Post," I'm sorry. Tracking poll that shows Mitt Romney hit the 50 percent mark for the first time.

BORGER: Yes. That's going to be very good news to the Romney campaign. BLITZER: This is national.

BORGER: It's nationally. Again, we have to look at the battleground states. We should preface everything we say by that.

But the internals of this poll are very interesting to me, because on the economy, who's better able to manage the economy, Mitt Romney, 52-43.

And -- and on economic empathy, which is who understands my problems, which Mitt Romney has always been doing very poorly on throughout this entire campaign, he's only two points behind the president on that number.

So that leads me to believe that independent voters are shifting to a great degree towards Mitt Romney on the economic issues. So, his economic message is getting...

BOLDUAN: It could be proof that Ann Romney is really his asset, showing that empathy.

CROWLEY: Well, and they've got -- they've got a couple good, maybe "Crossroads," actually, has one of the ads out. But I've seen ads in Virginia that are dynamite ads. I mean, just in terms of real empathy.

I think one of the things about the tracking poll is just where the president is. I mean, yes Mitt Romney has 50, but for the president to be under 50...

BOLDUAN: Yes. He's at 47 in that tracking poll.

CROWLEY: ... always a bit of a danger mark.

BLITZER: I read today Karl Rove writing in "The Wall Street Journal." He says undecided voters at this stage almost always break in bigger numbers for the challenger to the incumbent.

CROWLEY: Yes, I've heard both ways, actually. I've heard people kind of argue this both ways. They have charts and, you know, everything dating back to, you know, the second inauguration.

But yes, I mean, it makes sense that the person who is most well- known is not the one that the undecideds will break for. Because they know the president a lot better. And that's the theory behind it. And we'll see. That has been -- this may be one of those elections. We have so many historical markers that we put up there. No president has ever won with an unemployment rate this high. You know, you can't win as a Republican, unless you win Ohio. Well, you know, yes, until all of a sudden you can't.

BORGER: I think what we have to say, though, in looking at all these polls, is that Mitt Romney had a good October. Right?

CROWLEY: He clearly had a good October.

BORGER: He had a good October.

BOLDUAN: Good fund-raising October.

BLITZER: First debate was great for him.

BORGER: First debate was great for him, and he's had a good month. Whether he'll keep that momentum.

BLITZER: We have 12 days to go. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

With the federal debt on the rise, some powerful CEOs are now revealing what they're willing to sacrifice to help balance America's books. An important report coming up.


BOLDUAN: It's time to find out what's happening "OUTFRONT" tonight. Erin Burnett is joining us live from New York. Erin, give us a preview.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Kate, we're going to be talking with master of polls, Nate Silver, is going to be our guest and really break down the map, because as we've been asking this crucial question. Can Romney do it without Ohio? Has his momentum fallen or is it surging? Nate Silver with the answers going to come up at the top of the hour.

Plus, Kate, the president has made some very serious promises on how much he's going to cut the deficit and how he's going to do it. Well, we did the math. The administration called us -- the campaign did, I'm sorry -- and said, "Look, we want to take issue with some of that." We did the math again. And Chris Van Hollen is going to be our guest exclusively top of the hour to break it all down.

That's coming up in a few minutes. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: That's very interesting, top of the hour, "OUTFRONT." We'll be there. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: See you, Kate.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen, he's the ranking member of the budget committee, very small guy.

BOLDUAN: Knows Paul Ryan very well.

BLITZER: He played Paul Ryan in the debate preparation...

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: ... for Joe Biden.

Mitt Romney likes to make the point that when he was a corporate executive he had to balance his books. BOLDUAN: Now dozens of powerful business leaders are pressuring political leaders to stop bickering about the federal debt. Lisa Sylvester has more on that story.

Hey, there, Lisa.


Well, you know, something we are hearing from CEOs across the country is that the current U.S. debt level is simply not sustainable any more.

Take a look at this. You can see this is our national debt level. It was $5.6 trillion in 2000. It has now gone up to $16 trillion, and business leaders are saying it's time for Democrats and Republicans to compromise.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Ringing the bell of the New York Stock Exchange -- while sounding the alarm over the nation's growing debt.

More than 80 of the country's largest CEOs are urging lawmakers to reach a bipartisan agreement to bring down the nation's debt level. And they're pushing the most controversial methods. Raising tax revenue, ending tax deductions and reducing spending on Medicaid and Medicare. Among them, David Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell international.

DAVID COTE, CHAIRMAN/CEO, HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL: There needs to be compromise, and compromise, not being a dirty word, but rather being synonymous with governing.

So, yes, I recognize my taxes are going up. I haven't developed a table that says I'll be willing to pay this much more if you're willing to cut this much more. I mean, who knows where that's going to go? But I'd say most companies, most people, expect that they're probably going to have to pay more.

SYLVESTER: An increasing number of CEOs are going on record that they're willing to pay more in taxes to avert the so-called fiscal cliff as part of a comprehensive plan. If Congress fails to act by January, it will trigger $600 billion worth of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that includes drastic cuts to defense spending.

Businesses not certain of what lies ahead have been reluctant to increase payrolls.

COTE: We stop hiring externally. We just -- as jobs attrit (ph), as people leave the positions, we don't fill those jobs. As you look at capital expenditures, we start to slow down our Cap Ex spending. And you see most companies doing that now. Because when you run into an uncertain time, you just question everything.

SYLVESTER: And Colgate is cutting 2,300 workers. Ford is scaling back its European operations and laying off about 4,300 people. HP is cutting 27,000 employees, or 8 percent of its total work force.

Former senator, Al Simpson, and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles offered a debt reduction plan in 2010 that, at the time, was panned by Congress and largely ignored by President Obama. But the campaign to fix the debt now sees the Simpson-Bowles as a possible blueprint for solving the debt crisis.

MAYA MACGUINEAS, FIX THE DEBT: The policies to fix the problem are out there, the political will not so much yet. And so we will get behind any plan that both parties -- House, Senate, president -- can work together on and move forward, hopefully in a really timely manner.


SYLVESTER: Now, we received a statement from Senator Simpson who said that he and Erskine Bowles are pleased that there is a growing recognition among the public and business leaders that something has to be done about the problem. And he added, quote, "Fixing the debt will demand that Americans accept some sacrifices in the things they may like for the good of the country."

Now, last week, we ran a story about CEOs sending letters to their employees, urging them to vote a particular way in the presidential election.

In that story, we mentioned Coke industry's president sending a letter to his employees. His letter about the upcoming election inferred if certain candidates are elected, quote, "many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills."

Now, we stated in our story that the letter was referring to President Obama. But the letter never mentions President Obama by name. We also stated that Coke Industries did not return our calls, but they actually did call shortly before air time. Unfortunately, we did not retrieve the message until after the report aired -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Lisa Sylvester, thank you so much.

Still ahead, Donald Trump's big announcement backfires. What was he thinking? Jeanne Moos has the reaction.


BOLDUAN: The long hunt for Florida's mystery monkey is over at last. I know you were very concerned. He's been seen off and on in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for three years, if you can believe it. The search intensified after he bit a woman a couple weeks ago.

Wildlife experts got him with a tranquilizer gun yesterday. After quarantine, he'll end up in a wildlife sanctuary.

So you can sleep well and know that he is also OK.

BLITZER: That mystery monkey.

BOLDUAN: You were losing sleep over it.

BLITZER: I was worried, but he's going to be in a sanctuary. That's good.

BOLDUAN: Going to be fine.

BLITZER: Let him enjoy.


BLITZER: Donald Trump's October surprise turns into an October flop. The reactions have been rolling in, and CNN's Jeanne Moos runs through them for us.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Donald better duck.

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": His bombshell announcement.

MOOS: The bombshell seems to have landed on Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is a circus act.

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": I believe we have the footage of the announcement of Trump making it.


MOOS: From a gorilla on Jon Stewart, Trump was morphed into a donkey by the "New York Daily News." His offer of a check to charity...


MOOS: ... if President Obama would release school and passport records reminded the folks at College Humor of a certain someone.

MIKE MYERS, ACTOR: One million dollars.

MOOS: And presto-change-o, the Donald was Dr. Evil.

There were counter proposals, some too raunchy for the news.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": And I said, "Hey, Don, I'll give you $5 million, if you release that thing on your head. Let it go!"

MOOS: On Jimmy Kimmel's show, the Donald ended up playing the Great Trumpkin in Charlie Brown's pumpkin patch.


TRUMP: A check for $5 million.



MOOS (on camera): But the one that was almost painful to watch, the one that had to hurt the most, came from an old friend of Donald's.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I want to say it to his face. Donald, you're making a fool of yourself.

MOOS (voice-over): Soon Donald was tweeting at Barbara Walters, "You just don't get it." He suggested she end up apologizing to him. "Why did you choose me as one of the ten most fascinating people of the year?"

From one top ten to another.

LETTERMAN: The No. 1 Lame October Surprise, Donald Trump offering $5 million to unearth anyone who still takes him seriously. There you go.

MOOS: But Trump insisted.

TRUMP: The response has been unbelievable.

And I've had tremendous praise, for the most part.

MOOS: At least Ann Coulter came through.

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE WRITER/COMMENTATOR: I totally love it. It's completely showboating, but I support Donald Trump in this. We need somebody like Donald Trump on our side.

MOOS: So far, the only thing released by President Obama was a zinger. When Leno asked him, what's with you and Trump?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya. Yes.

MOOS: Between the president's mockery and Barbara's scolding...

WALTERS: Stop it. Get off it, Donald.

MOOS: Get off it, before you get taken off, a la "The Tonight Show."

TRUMP: If he gives his passport application.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Very funny. I don't know why Donald Trump keeps doing this.

BOLDUAN: He is the master of staying in the headlines, and trying to stay relevant.


BOLDUAN: He's very good at it.

BLITZER: All right.

BOLDUAN: There's been a lot of bleeping on our show today.

BLITZER: It was pretty funny. A lot of bleeping. Bad words. We're not going to say them. No more bad words.

You can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me, @WolfBlitzer.

BOLDUAN: Tweet me, @KateBolduan.

BLITZER: You're going to get a lot of people tweeting you.

BOLDUAN: They already are.