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President Barack Obama Ends Middle East Visit; Harry Reid Introduces Gun Bill; House Passes Ryan Budget Plan; U.S. Military Officer Benjamin Bishop Arrested; Interview with Paul Ryan; Interview with Rand Paul; Syrian Conflict Update

Aired March 23, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president wraps up his Middle East charm offensive. Was it a bigger success than expected?

Plus, two top Republicans and potential presidential rivals here in the SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for my interviews with senator Rand Paul and congressman Paul Ryan.

And when salt kills. New warnings about hidden dangers, especially for young kids.

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

I covered the Middle East for a long time. I have watched American presidents try to navigate the mine fields of the region and the peace process. Overall, I say President Obama sets the right tone this week during this, his first trip to Israel since taking office. But there's certainly a lot of hard work ahead, if he hopes to make any real inroads towards peace and deal with huge dangers in the region now.

Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is standing by. Also, our chief national correspondent John King, they are both joining us from Amman, Jordan, where the president wrapped up his Middle East trip.

What a week it was. He had an impressive speeches, guys, in Israel. He has done well in Jordan.

Jessica, so now, the really, really hard work begins. Where do we all go from here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the president, the White House feels that he accomplished what they set out as his primary goal, which was to reconnect with the Israeli people and convince them that he understands where they're coming from on the primary security issues.

The big question as you point out, can this lead to real accomplishments, that would be on the peace front with Palestinians, there is simply too many questions that remain outstanding when it comes to settlements there and when it comes to exchange of prisoners, other major issues that the Arab world and Palestinians are unsatisfied with.

And Syria, Iran, these are still just two looming trouble spots that are unaddressed at this point, but what we do know, the president and Bibi Netanyahu who is the leader of Israel ended the note of such renewed - not renewed. What would you call it, they are seems to be --


YELLIN: The frost has melted. They are engaged, He got a major concession from Netanyahu. They now have a real partnership, ability to work together which is a breakthrough.

KING: And I think they both gave a little. The president's position on peace, well, if you this very well, the president has tried to get them back to the table, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been demand, the Palestinians demand he stopped settlement construction. And the president did insist it. He said he wants them back at the table. He didn't accept the precondition idea.

So, the president moved a little on the substance, Netanyahu was right there. But I think just is right from the White House perspective, this is difficult. You covered this for more than 30 years now, Wolf. I think he may have raised hopes too high. But in terms of just this trip itself, from the White House perspective, you have to say it was picture perfect.

BLITZER: What was the reaction, Jessica, specifically on the ground. I know you went to that event, the Jerusalem convention center, where the president spoke to several thousand young Israelis. What was the reaction you felt and saw?

YELLIN: They were moved, moved by the president's speech and a little surprised, Wolf. Because the criticism by Israelis of the president has been that he lectures them too often, and that he doesn't, on an emotional level, understand why Jews in Israel feel so fiercely that they have to act early in self defense in many instances.

And for the first time, many of those critics felt he understood because he connected it to his own experience as an African-American. He was been through the civil, understood the civil rights movement and because of the history of America and because he said several crucial phrases, essentially said that Israel will never go away. And so, he sort of laid out the honey, and then he went and gave the vinegar line saying, you know, you are going to have to actually now do a few things you don't like, and here they are. His business what's important to me. He did a good job in that speech from the Israeli critics' perspective.

KING: Right. The Palestinians aren't happy with what the president said here. Because they think, Wolf, both in terms of the disproportionate amount of time that was spent in Israel and what he was asking of the two leaders. He made no public demand of Netanyahu while in Israel he talked about the settlement issue in his press conferences. But the Palestinians were the one with the big question mark her, And that is very different than four years ago, on the Arab street, including in Ramala, when people thought this president would be different. Now, the Israelis think OK, we understand each other a lot better here.

BLITZER: One thing the president did succeed in doing, and it think this strategically very important, John, is that president set up a phone call between the prime minister of Israel and the leader of Turkey, the prime minister Erdogan, and they both agreed Turkey, a NATO ally, Israel a close ally, after a couple of years of serious strains in their relationship, that they were going to try to normalize the relationship. This is really important for the region. It is very important for the U.S., John, as well.

KING: The strain goes back, Wolf, a couple years, when Israeli commandos killed some Turks including a Turkish-American citizen. It was part of humanitarian effort to bring aid to Gaza. And the Israel had up a blockade at the time because of its disagreements, a military disagreements with Gaza, Hamas in Gaza. And so, this has been long running feud between two very proud Prime leaders, Minister Erdogan and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Essentially, their pride getting in the way of a resolution here.

So, the president helped broker it. They said the Turks are saying, we got what we want here. We got an apology, we got compensation for the victims. And from the U.S. perspective, this is an incredibly important.

Because just look at a map. Look at the map. This is the president first trip to the region since the Arab spring. And if you look around, Syria, Iran, questions about Palestinian process, Hamas still lobbying rockets from Gaza, Egypt is a big question mark, Libya is still a big question mark. who does the United States trust in this region? Well, Israel and Turkey. But traditionally, they are on both sides of Syria, for example. They are traditionally, the governments the United States wants to trust, needs help when there are difficult things, you need a push from the region that the United States maybe can't do. It is usually Turkey and the case of Syria.

So, to have this relationship back on a better track, let's not say it is completely there, but to have it back on a better track is critical for the region, for Israel and for Turkey, but it is a huge, huge assist for the United States.

BLITZER: John King and Jessica.

YELLIN: (INAUDIBLE) as well that he had got this done. And he pushed Bibi Netanyahu, a very, very stubborn man sometimes to do this. A real accomplishment for the president who set very low expectations, Wolf. So he exceeded yet low expectations they set probably deliberately.

BLITZER: That Turkey, Israel developed a very significant achievement. And the president played a critical role in that.

Jessica, John, have a safe trip back here to Washington.

Now to the latest rounds of threats from North Korea. Ominously, they come from the country's supreme military command which regularly parades an arsenal of missiles and rockets through the streets of Pyongyang. They now claim North Korea has the capacity to hit military bases in both Guam and Japan.

CNN's Tome Foreman is in our virtual studio for a closer look.

A lot ominous discussion there, Tom.


But, you have to put it in context. Couple weeks ago, North Korea was talking about putting a nuclear missile on the U.S. mainland, and a lot of analysts out there said this was a fantasy. They don't really have the technology and the control to target something 5,000 miles away with the nuclear.

But, this latest claim is much more plausible. Let's look at why. Japan is only about 800 miles away. There are 38,000 U.S. troops there, army, Navy, air Force, Marines. All the graduate representatives. Guam, about 2,000 miles away, that's a longer shot, 5700 troops there. But really attractive target, because this is also one of the United States' most important bomber bases in the entire world, Wolf.

BLITZER: What would North Korea, Tom, use to deliver such attacks?

FOREMAN: Likely, if you are talking about a missile attack. Do you remember when they launched that multi-stage missile into space not longer a rocket, this was a huge accomplishment to them because they hadn't been able to do it before. This is still, though somewhat experimental, they haven't been that good at it. They do have, however, this typo dong series missiles out there, which have been more reliable. They are not as powerful. But, they might be able to carry a small nuclear pay load, certainly, a conventional war head. And they would have a reasonable chance of hitting some of these targets, Japan for sure. Maybe, all the way down to Guam with some control -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Some people will point out the bases are protected with missile defense systems. Supposedly could thwart a surprise attack. Is that true?

FOREMAN: It is possible. But, one thing important to remember about missile defense systems, they haven't proven anywhere in the world to be quite as reliable as we would like them to be. And they work better when you have more warning time and a longer flight, when you know that this missile is going to be in the air long enough to give you one, two, three, four, five shot at it, numerous attempts to bring it down.

Shorter range shots, harder to do that. The bigger deterrent here though, really, Wolf, is simply what the response would be. If North Korea dared to do this, undeniably, the response from the U.S. and its allies would be overwhelming.

Major, major military war. Let's not forget, there are a million North Korean troops right north of the demilitarized zone north of South Korea. This would be a disaster for everyone if that would happen. Let's hope it doesn't.

Tom Foreman in our virtual studio. Thanks.

This week, Congress managed to avoid (INAUDIBLE) a government shut down in the short term, but there was plenty of partisan fighting over this 2014 fiscal year budget. Is there any hope for a long term grand bargain between the president and Republicans?

Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now.

Dana, very different budget approved by the house and the Senate. They have to supposedly reconcile the differences.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I like that you said supposedly because I cannot wait to see that happen. You're right, they could not be more different.

You know this, Wolf, the budget that each chamber put out, that each party puts out really reflects their political priorities. And boy, do we see in black and white now, the very reason why it has been hard to come together on economic policy.

The house passed the Ryan budget which they say balances the budget in ten years, but it does it with huge amount spending cuts and even tax cuts as well. And of course, on the Senate side, by Democrats, they raise taxes by a trillion dollars, cut spending by about the same, and don't balance the budget in the near future.

So, ultimately this doesn't have to become law, these are blueprints, but ultimately if there's any chance at dealing with the debt and deficit, these two, very different philosophies and visions, it has to come together.

BLITZER: They say in early April, the president will comes up with his budget recommendation. A lot of people are really hoping that all of this will eventually result in what they call the grand bargain, a real deal looking down the road, everyone on board basically. A deal that would avoid, for example, having to worry about raising the debt ceiling end of July, early August. Is that at all doable?

BASH: It is possible. I wouldn't go as far as saying doable right now. But what I will say is the difference in approach now versus say two years ago when they tried this and it failed and it was, you know, the almost the end of the world as the U.S. bumped up against the debt ceiling, the difference is they are going through what we call here in Washington regular order. So, everything is done in the open.

And I think that really has lead to a different kind of atmosphere on Capitol Hill where people know what's going on, they're actually voting on measures, and they're not waiting to see the white smoke, so to speak, from the White House when the president and house speaker and others are having this private meetings that nobody is involved in. The fact that they didn't trust each other, and then rank and file didn't trust them behind closed doors that they were involved in, that really added to the problem. For the fact that it is happening in the open could help.

BLITZER: At least the president is engaged in the so-called charm offensive, speaking with Republicans, inviting them for a lunch, going out to dinner, that can't hurt either.

BASH: And by all accounts, it really is helping.

BLITZER: I think it does.

Dana, thanks very much.

In a little bit, I will ask the house budget committee chairman Paul Ryan if he thinks President Obama is sincere about trying to get a but deal this year, about his own ambitions for 2016.

Also coming up, another contender for 2016, senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

When we come back, the push for tougher gun control in the Senate. Why one key lawmaker said she's not going to lie down and play dead.

Plus, it did almost everything we now, new research shows the health price we are paying for too much salt. It may be a lot higher than anyone thought. We have details here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just over three months since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. The senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has formally introduced a gun bill that he says will be debated once lawmakers return from their two week recess.

Joining us to talk about that and more, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. HE is the "National Journal" editorial director.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Dianne Feinstein, she is not very happy that apparently the assault weapons ban would be included as amendment as opposed to part of the actual bill. Let's listen to what she told us.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is very important to me. And I am not going to lay down and play dead. I think the American people have said in every single public poll that they support this kind of legislation, not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust as I would see it.


BLITZER: She will get a vote as an amendment, but it won't be part of a comprehensive bill, and it is almost certainly going to die.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think that's not a surprise to a lot of people. And normally people say let's blame the Republican party for that. The truth of the matter is that there are a handful of Senate Democrats up for re-election in pro-gun states like Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota, for example, who would be in real trouble on an issue like an assault weapons ban. People believe it is a constitutional issue in their state.

So, I think that the Democratic Party as well as the Republican party is reluctant on this issue. If it had been easy to do, they would have renewed the ban on assault weapons when it expired.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, first of all, we are seeing a change in the very fact that we are debating this. This issue was under a gag rule, really, for a decade after Al Gore's defeat in 2000 and the national debate encouraged action in blue leaning states like Colorado, New York, and Connecticut.

But the problem, as Gloria suggested, is that Democrats are divided by geography on guns and Republicans are unified by ideology. The red state Democrats, traditionally, have been reluctant to vote for this, even going back to 1994 when it passed, they had a lot of defection among red districts and red state Democrats. The difference is that the gun control advocates haven't been able to put pressure on Republicans from blue places to vote for it. They make up for those votes. And as a result, it does not seem to be anything near even, not even majority. Much less a 60 votes.

BORGER: And Harry Reid, by the way, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate who made this decision is from Nevada, which is a pro-gun state and he opposes it.

BLITZER: The vice president was in New York, meeting with the mayor, Michael Bloomberg. We all know what Joe Biden would like to see and what the mayor would like to see. Let me play a little clip from Biden.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It must be awful, being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can't take action because of political consequence you face. What a heck of a way to make a living. I mean that sincerely. What a heck of a way to have to have to act.


BLITZER: It is interesting because polls show that if nationally the overwhelming majority of the American public wants stricter rules, but they can't get it through politically.

BROWNSTEIN: And that's what's really interesting about this. The legislative and presidential politics of this are different. Legislatively, Democrats face the problem of geography. And the senate, small state bias magnifies the impact of small rural states where this is not politically sellable in most cases.

But, as you point out, in national politics there's majority of support, for mostly said yes, a especially among what's become the Democrats' coalition of the ascending. Young people, minorities, college educated voters, especially women.

These are majority issues. So, while it is difficult to pass them congressionally, blocking them and kind of unifying the Republican opposition against is not without cost in terms of peeling away from those constituency only to win back the White House.

BORGER: Think of it as sort of a presidential race, when you look at the national numbers, that's one thing. When you look at the battleground states, that's what is really important. And that is the same kind of issue here.

I just want to say one thing about Joe Biden. Joe Biden was part of the coalition that got the ban on assault weapons passed.

BLITZER: That was a long time ago.

BORGER: He feels very, very strongly about this issue. As you know, Joe Biden is a visceral kind of politician. And whether he was saying in that sound bite that you just showed in the press conference that I kind a feel sorry for all of my political colleagues because they have to vote this way, even though they don't really believe it. When you think about that, I mean, it is a tough statement.

BROWNSTEIN: Gloria, the problem is more the opposite. In '94 when they passed it, they had 38 House Republicans from blue districts who felt compelled to vote for it. Today, gun control advocates have not been able to, it really have to go out to mayor efforts and others, if they are going to change the politics on this, they have to beat some Republicans in blue leaning areas who have voted against it and they haven't shown they can do that.

BLITZER: Some Democrats, if you remember in '94, they paid a pretty significant price for that.

BORGER: They did. And that's why they haven't touched it since, Wolf, they're afraid. They are absolutely afraid.

BLITZER: These are not repulsive to this.

All right Guys, thanks very much. Ron and Gloria.

When we come back, a defense contractor with top secret clearance allegedly seduced to give away some of America's nuclear secrets. We are going to find out how it happened. That's next.

Stay with us. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It is the kind of plot you may find in a spy now, but an older man who falls for a beautiful young women who is up for something and it isn't love. That's what allegedly happens with this defense contractor and former army officer. He is charged with passing nuclear secrets to his Chinese girlfriend.

Here is CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is an army reservist with top secret clearance, doing contract work for the U.S. military specific command in Hawaii. Benjamin Bishop now stands accused of leaking military secrets, including information on nuclear weapons, war plans, early warning radar systems. U.S. officials say he gave them to a Chinese woman 32 years younger who he was having a relationship with. Bishop has been arrested and in is in custody. His attorney says this.

BIRNEY BERVAR, BENJAMIN BISHOP'S ATTORNEY: He served his country honorably for 29 years. And he maintains he would never do anything to intentionally harm the United States.

TODD: Is the woman a Chinese spy? Court documents identify her as person one, 27-years-old, a Chinese national. The documents say she met Bishop at a defense conference and quote, "may have been in the conference in order to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information regarding person One's purported interests.


TODD: Eric O'Neill, former FBI counter intelligence officer says a spy master sends an attractive target person to lure a target with sex or blackmail to give up information.

O'Neal took down FBI agent Robert Hanson who spied for the Russians. O'Neill was portrayed by a Ryan Philip in a Hollywood movie "Breach" on spies that use honey traps.

When they are in the compromising situations, how they actually get the information from?

O'NEILL: They can use a couple of different things. If it is a prostitute, for example, pillow talk. Pillow talk, you know, that pillow talk comes from this, from the honey trap, from spies. You talk to someone. You get them to talk, you know, after you're done and you are very relaxed, and all the endorphins are flowing and the happy things are going on in your brain, and people's tongues loosen.

TODD: It is not exactly a new phenomenon. One of the most famous cases of a honey trap was the (INAUDIBLE), an exotic dancer who during World War I was accused of seducing military officers and diplomats into giving up their secrets. She was eventually executed by the French for spying for the Germans.

Peter Earnest, a former CIA officer that runs the international spy museum says it is not always female spies approaching male targets. PETER EARNEST, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM: During the cold war, these Germans under Marcus Wolf had a very active program of sending Romeos as they were called into West Germany, seeing who they could meet and develop relationships with them, if they had access to intelligence.

TODD: A program that Earnest says worked very well for the East Germans. We tried to get the Chinese embassy in Washington to respond to the documents indicating the woman in Benjamin Bishop's case is likely a Chinese spy. They haven't responded to our calls and e- mails. U.S. officials haven't yet charged the woman with a crime.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: When we come back, critics are calling for him to quote, "come back to earth." But the House budget committee chairman, Paul Ryan pushes ahead with his plan to balance the nation's books with major spending cuts. He is here in the SITUATION ROOM and he is next.


BLITZER: I had a chance this week to speak with two top contenders for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination. In a few minutes we're going to hear from Mitt Romney's former vice presidential running mate, the Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

But first, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who recently complained the GOP is becoming, in his words, "stale and moss covered," criticism many believed is aimed at Senator John McCain.


BLITZER: I want you to clarify, because there has been a little bit a rift between you and him. You suggested the other day that some of the senators -- and everyone assumed you were referring to Senator McCain when you said the GOP of old has grown "stale and moss covered."

You didn't want to say who you were referring to, but you said everybody knows who you were referring to.

Were you referring to Senator McCain?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KY: I would say it's a figurative sort of sentence in the sense that it isn't to really to be taken literally. And it was also meant for humor. And I think it garnered a little bit of humor, but it really is to say that we as a GOP need to embrace new ideas and grow our party in a way that some haven't. But I didn't really intend it to be directed at one person.

BLITZER: But he was one of those persons that you were referring to?

PAUL: I wouldn't -- I don't -- it is a figurative -- it's an illusion. It's an allegory. It is not really something that is meant to be taken literally for one person.

He and I have some differences but I prefer to keep that on, you know, differences on whether or not the whole world is a battlefield, whether or not you get due process in America.

And I think those are legitimate debates to have, but I don't want to characterize it any other way.

I have a lot of respect for Senator McCain. He's a war hero. He spent many years of his life in a prison in Vietnam and I think he deserves respect for that. And I think we can have a healthy debate and disagreement in the Republican Party and grow our party bigger because if you all agree on everything completely, that's going to be a pretty small party.

BLITZER: He seemed to take it personally. I will play this little sound bite.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: References were made to people who were too old and moss covered and that we need new and fresh individuals and ideas and thoughts, and I agree with all of those, every bit of those recommendations and comments that were made. But there is a little bit of benefit of being around for awhile.


BLITZER: I assume you agree with him on that last point.

PAUL: Yes, I have no dispute with it. I mean, my dad has been around for a while, and I think you do gain knowledge through experience and time. And I think, you know, our elders are to be respected. So I don't take any dispute with that, and I really don't have a personal dispute.

I mean, I think people make more about this than actually is probably accurate. I like John McCain as a person and I really try never to disrespect him and I try to avoid saying that, really of people on either side of the aisle.

But I think there are legitimate debates and discussions about how the Republican Party grows and goes forward. And I think there does need to be a new GOP, not that we give up on what we believe in, but that what we believe in is more explicit and more clear, and we try to reach audiences we haven't been reaching, Latinos, African-Americans, young people.

So I think there is a reason to think that we can evolve in a better direction than we have been.

BLITZER: One final question, because we're almost out of time. You're going to Iowa in May for a major Republican fundraising event out there. Are you running for president?

PAUL: You know, I haven't made a decision. We are concentrating on a lot of the problems we have here, but I do want to be part of the national debate. And people do get more attention when they go to Iowa. You know, people pay attention to what you're doing.

And it helps the party there to grow the party to raise money. But it also helps draw attention to, if I have ideas about how we grow the party, how we reach out to Latino voters and African-American voters. It draws attention to those things by going to Iowa, plus we have a lot of friends we have developed in Iowa over the years.

So I am excited to go there, and hope that I can raise some money for the party.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks so much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: I also had a chance to speak with another top Republican contender for 2016, the Wisconsin congressman, Paul Ryan, who heads the House Budget Committee. He scored a major victory on Thursday when the House passed his controversial blueprint to balance the budget.

I asked him about another major stumbling block out there, though. His plan is now facing that stumbling block, a very different Democratic budget plan coming out of the Senate.


REP. PAUL RYAN, GOP VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Where I am cautiously optimistic on this, Wolf, is at least the Senate is doing a budget. In the past four years, the Senate hadn't done a budget. That means the process stops, what we call regular order where the House and Senate pass a budget, then you try to reconcile the differences (inaudible) --


BLITZER: Can you reconcile?

RYAN: -- agreement. We will find out. But at least they're doing a budget. So I actually am cautiously optimistic because the process is continuing. Now we have a big difference. We balanced the budget, they never balanced the budget. We don't want to keep raising taxes. We just -- we have a $1.6 trillion tax increase that's already beginning this year. We don't want to do more of that, because we think it's going to hurt the economy. Spending is the problem. Under our budget, spending grows 3.4 percent on average every single year, and just restraining the growth of spending like that gets us to a balanced budget. So hopefully somewhere between our budget, the spending cuts we have, the reforms we have, we can find some common ground. We need to keep talking to each other and hopefully, at the end of the day, now that we have a budget process that's moving, we can find some common ground and get some kind of agreement to get a down payment on the problem. BLITZER: Because in early April, the president eventually is going to release his own budget. So there will be a House budget, a Senate budget, the president's budget. Do you believe, based on the luncheon that you had with the president, that he is ready to make compromises, that you're ready to make compromises, by end of July, early August, there will be what's -- what we call a grand bargain?

RYAN: I think he -- it would be helpful to the process if he made them publicly, if he actually said on paper here is what I am willing to do. Because that's what we have been doing for years.

BLITZER: Isn't he going to do that in early April?

RYAN: I don't think so. He's going to produce a budget -- it is two months late. But what he has been leading us to believe is he is not going to do anything new in the budget.


BLITZER: Is he sincere? Do you think he is sincere?

RYAN: I don't know the answer to that question. But --

BLITZER: But you had lunch with him; what was your impression?

RYAN: I enjoyed our lunch. I thought we had a very frank and very candid conversation. I got the impression that he wants to get something done, that he believes the window of getting things done is finite.

The question on sincerity is really one that time will tell, which is will he reengage the campaign in just a few short months? Will he focus on campaigning against Republicans for 2014 or will he work to bridge the partisan divide?

The question is, is will he go back to impugning our motives, making it impossible for compromise to occur, or will he continue to produce an environment where people of different parties can talk to each other so that we talk more and end up finding common ground and getting an agreement at the end of the day?

Time will tell. I am hopeful. But I -- you know, it's trust but verify, as far as I'm --

BLITZER: If there's no deal by end of July, early August, will you vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling? Because that's when it has to be raised.

RYAN: Well, I think this will come down to all of that. I am not going to get into what we will or will not do. I do believe that we can make sure that default is not going to happen. I am not really worried about us defaulting. I think we can give the authority to the president to prevent default from happening.

But I got to tell you, Wolf, we can't keep running up deficits like this. It will damage our economy deeply. And people are saying that we don't have a crisis on the horizon, of course we do. We have got a debt that is on a tear right now. And if the debt takes off like it is projected to do so, it is not only hurting our economy today, it is destroying it for the next generation.

And we just can't sit around and be complicit with that.

BLITZER: Let me get --

RYAN: (Inaudible) the problem is we got to do something about that.

BLITZER: Yes, one final question. Senator Rand Paul yesterday was here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 24 hours ago. He said flatly he is going to Iowa in the next few weeks; he's seriously thinking of running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He thinks that it is a good idea for him. What about you?

RYAN: I am going to make my mind up later. The reason why I think I need to do this job, I am the chairman of the Budget Committee, when we have a budget crisis on our horizon, we've going to get these agreements done. And I don't think it is good for me, it's good for the Wisconsin 1st District, it's good for my colleagues to cloud my judgment at this time with other things.

I need to do what I think is right in this moment, working on the budget, I have a leadership position, I take it seriously, and I don't want to cloud it with ideas of what I may or may not do in the future. I want to do the right thing now. Then I'll consider those things and I will give it serious consideration, but I'm going to do that later on.

BLITZER: You enjoyed campaigning with Mitt Romney, right?

RYAN: I did. I did.

BLITZER: So maybe you'll do it again.

RYAN: We'll see.

BLITZER: All right. Hey, Congressman, thanks very much.

RYAN: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: When we come back, we're going to Baghdad. CNN's Arwa Damon has been there now for several days; she's going to update us on what's going on there.

Also, on the allegations of a chemical weapons attack in Syria.



BLITZER: The United Nations will investigate claims by the Syrian government as well as the rebels that each side used chemical weapons against the other. The Obama administration says at least for now, preliminary evidence shows no intelligence indicating a chemical attack took place in recent days.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is following this story for us; she's in Baghdad now.

First of all, on the confusion surrounding what's going on in Syria two years into this war in Syria, 70,000 dead, a couple million refugees, now reports of chemical weapons.

It seems to get worse, Arwa, every single day.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is getting worse every single day, Wolf. And I think what you have now unfolding in Syria is very much the worst-case scenario. We have a full-fledged civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. You have neighboring countries struggling to deal with the ongoing influx of refugees. You have an increasingly polarized society in Syria, with each side believing that it is fighting for its very existence. You have a civilian population that continues to bear the brunt of the violence of what is taking place, and you also have the emergence, the growing emergence of these extremist groups that are of great concern to everyone, also the United States, of course, watching that development very closely.

But these groups are also gaining strength and respect on the ground the longer this drags on. And at the end of the day, it does not look as if at this point in time, unless something significantly takes place, the situation is not going to change, it is only going to get worse by the day, and the consequences for Syria and for the region are going to be absolutely devastating.

BLITZER: We know where Iran stands in this battle in Syria, the Iranian regime supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. There's a little murkiness, though, as far as Iraq is concerned, even though there are widespread reports that Iranian weapons go through Iraq on the way to the Syrian army.

You're there in Baghdad. What are you seeing, what are you hearing as far as the Iraqi government's position toward the war in Syria?

DAMON: Well, the Iraqi government claims that it is holding a neutral position, that it is neither supporting one side or the other, although it is still continuing to allow, according to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Iranian overflights of weaponry. They are refusing to investigate, to search these planes that are traveling through Iraqi air space. They tell U.S. officials when they're questioned about it that the Iranian manifest says that these are humanitarian supplies and therefore the planes don't need to be searched. And the Iraqi government is incredibly concerned, of course, about what's happening in Syria. It is very worried that there is going to be some sort of a spillover effect when it comes to the situation in Iraq. The prime minister himself has said that as well. But at the end of the day, the Iraqi government right now does continue to make the calculation that it is in the Iraqi government's best interest to continue to try to appease Iran, rather than try to appease the West, despite the cost that America has paid here. BLITZER: An enormous cost over these 10 years in blood and treasure.

Arwa, be careful over there in Baghdad. We will obviously stay in close touch with you, Arwa Damon reporting from Iraq.

Just ahead, toddlers getting twice as much salt as they should. We have a new report all parents out there, grandparents, everyone, you need to hear what's going on.



BLITZER: Just think about what you and your family will be eating this week. Some new medical studies say whatever you're eating, you're probably getting way, way too much salt. Lisa Sylvester has got some details. Some new studies are out now and they're pretty scary.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, so now I am thinking about everything that I eat and everything I feed my children, but the bottom line is we are eating way too much salt and most of it coming from processed foods.



SYLVESTER (voice-over): Karen Noodleman (ph) is a healthy cooking coach. She gets lots of practice feeding her 10-month-old daughter, who is a big fan of carrots.

NOODLEMAN (PH): Hummus on what? On regular bread?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hummus on a sandwich.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): And she has introduced a range of foods and spices to her 4-year-old son, Ryan.

SYLVESTER: There aren't many moms going out there and bringing their children to spice stores.


SYLVESTER: -- 4-year old to a spice store.

NOODLEMAN (PH): Yes, I brought him to the spice store (inaudible) toy store.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But one seasoning this mom uses sparingly in the family meals is salt. But that's not the case in other households. A new report by the American Heart Association finds most Americans consume double the recommended amount of sodium. SYLVESTER: So this is the amount of sodium that an adult is actually supposed to consume, about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. For a toddler, it's about half that amount, about 1,000 milligrams. But most adults actually consume double the amount or 4,000 milligrams.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Too much sodium causes our body to retain excess fluid and over time raises blood pressure and can lead to hypertension. The American Heart Association in a separate study found that some of the saltiest foods are being marketed to children.

The study looked at salt content in baby and toddler foods and found three-quarters of the prepackaged meals and savory snacks found in the baby and toddler food aisle -- like mac and cheese, pizza and chicken and vegetables -- have too much salt, defined as over 210 milligrams of sodium per serving.

That's not a surprise for Dr. Warren Levy.

DR. WARREN LEVY, CARDIOLOGIST: Anything that comes out of a can, anything with preservatives automatically has high sodium. Anything that's easy for us to make usually has high sodium.

But we do need to start paying attention to the sodium content of foods we're giving our kids, because high blood pressure is starting at a younger and younger age.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But the Salt Institute believes the recommended daily allowance for salt is not rooted in science but politics.

There are benefits to salt. It regulates blood sugar and the body's hydration. Morton Satin says sodium has unfairly gotten a bad reputation as a cause of blood pressure and heart disease.

MORTON SATIN, SALT INSTITUTE: We're simply eating a bit too much. And we're not getting enough exercise.

SYLVESTER: For Karen Noodleman (ph), it comes down to reading food labels and tasting your children's food.

NOODLEMAN (ph): I think they should. I think you should know what your child is eating.

SYLVESTER: Start them young and eat healthy for life.



SYLVESTER: Now we also reached out to Gerber and they said that they use international dietary standards for sodium and that is a higher level than U.S. standards. Gerber had added that they are currently working at reducing sodium in the toddler meals and they hope to have those in place by the end of this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Cut down on the salt. SYLVESTER: It's always a good reminder. You know, you don't necessarily have to reach in to put the salt, but really it's the processed foods. It's not the --


BLITZER: (Inaudible) already there.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.

Up next, a prom date like no other. How one hopeful young man got this top model's attention. Wow.



BLITZER: When it comes to prom dates, one young man is aiming very high. He's asking a famous model. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everyone wants her. Will this California high school senior get her?

JAKE DAVIDSON, SEEKING PROM DATE: It hit me. Why don't I ask Kate Upton to prom? It's a pipe dream. Everyone was like "That's crazy; you're going to embarrass yourself."

MOOS (voice-over): Instead of embarrassing himself, Jake Davidson ended up on the "Today" show talking to the "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit model on the phone.

DAVIDSON: This just got so much better now that you're on the phone.

KATE UPTON, SUPERMODEL: I absolutely loved the video.

MOOS (voice-over): This video.

DAVIDSON: Inviting to you my senior prom on May 23rd.

MOOS (voice-over): From the chaise lounge to the mirror he wooed her.

DAVIDSON: We can ride around all night long until 11:00, that's my curfew.

MOOS (voice-over): He recounted their commonalities.

DAVIDSON: You're on the cover of "Sports Illustrated." I read "Sports Illustrated.

MOOS: And she being a good sport about your invitation, Jake.

MOOS (voice-over): She even tweeted, "How could I turn down that video? I'll check my schedule."

Other mere mortals have asked out celebrities. Mila Kunis was invited to the Marine Corps Ball via YouTube video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Mila. Sergeant Moore, but you can call me Scott.

MOOS (voice-over): They ended up going together.

And Justin Timberlake got an invite from this Marine Corporal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if you can't go all I have to say is cry me a river.

MOOS (voice-over): Nobody had to cry; Justin said yes.

But Jake Davidson and a film student friend shooting the video took it to a whole new level, a shower scene?

DAVIDSON: Kate, can I call you Katie? OK, Kate works.

MOOS: Nice touch. Bantering from the shower, Jake, but maybe a little too forward.

MOOS (voice-over): Just because Kate Upton goes "polar bare" doesn't mean you have to.

DAVIDSON: You like fine dining, I like fine dining.

MOOS (voice-over): Jake says his friends keep imitating what he calls his nasally voice.

DAVIDSON: You like fine dining, I like fine dining.

MOOS (voice-over): Stricken by allergies, meanwhile Kate Upton's been stricken by pressure, she told the website, Mashable --

UPTON: The pressure is on and I feel like it's, you guys, the news is putting it.

MOOS (voice-over): Please don't let us screw it up for him.

DAVIDSON: What time should I pick you up if you're interested?

MOOS (voice-over): She says she still has to adjust her schedule while he's adjusting his savings to splurge on wheels for prom night.

DAVIDSON: Old vintage Rolls-Royce that I could rent out?

MOOS (voice-over): Jake's got visions of the Rolls-Royce of swimsuit models swimming in his head -- Jeanne Moos --

DAVIDSON: You like fine dining --

MOOS (voice-over): -- CNN --

DAVIDSON: -- I like fine dining.

MOOS (voice-over): -- New York.


BLITZER: I like fine dining, fine dining. Look who I took to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner a couple years ago.

Take a look at this picture. There she is, Mila Kunis. She was my date. How cool was that?

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I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.