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THE SITUATION ROOM

Police: Teens Beat WWII Vet To Death; Obama One-On-One With CNN's Chris Cuomo; Fort Hood Gunman Guilty in Deadly Rampage; Federal Employee Warns of Race War; Chemical Weapons in Syria?; Biden Joins Obama on Bus Tour

Aired August 23, 2013 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, HOST: Happening now, breaking news. A jury finds the admitted gunman in the deadly Fort Hood shooting massacre guilty. We'll go live to Fort Hood, Texas.

Plus, President Obama's first comments on reports of terrifying chemical gas attacks in Syria in an exclusive interview with CNN. With details, our Chris Cuomo, about those horrific new images which are shocking the world.

And the country's most dangerous job revealed. It has a death rate topping any other American profession. The details of a surprising new report just ahead.

Wolf Blitzer is off.

I'm Jessica Yellin.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin now with breaking news out of Fort Hood, Texas, where a military jury has found Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan guilty on 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in that November 2009 shooting rampage. The conviction makes him eligible for the death penalty.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Fort Hood, Texas -- Ed, you have been following this closely.

What is next in all of this for Nidal?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jessica, the verdict itself, it has hardly has been a surprise given that Nidal Hasan's first words in this trial were that, clearly, this evidence was going to show that I was the shooter.

So the guilty verdicts today by no means a surprise. But now we move on to the sentencing phase, the punishment phase. That will start on Monday morning. And because of the convictions and the guilty verdicts in the murder charges, Nidal Hasan is eligible for the death penalty.

The most -- the minimum sentence he could receive is life in prison. And so that testimony begins. Prosecutors say they will call about 19 witnesses starting on Monday morning. Many of those include at least one family member from each of the victims that died, as well as three other soldiers that were wounded in the attack, as well. So they will -- you will hear directly again from those people.

It's not exactly clear what Nidal Hasan it's going to do. He has just finished telling the judge a little while ago that he will continue to represent himself in the sentencing phase. The judge told him that she thought that was unwise.

But it is the decision he continues to make. And, as you know, Jessica, Nidal Hasan, over the course of the last three weeks, has had very little input into the trial, asking very few questions, as he's acted as his own attorney, and even his own assisting attorneys, early on, said they believed that Nidal Hasan was essentially working with the prosecution to ensure that he get the death penalty.

YELLIN: It is so unusual -- Ed, if he does get the death penalty, it might be the first time in some 50 years we see that in a military trial.

What would some of the family members you've talked to say they'd like to happen to him?

LAVANDERA: You know, it's interesting, I just spoke with the husband of one of the survivors. Remember, the victims, you know, who testified throughout the course of this trial was not allowed to speak, because the judge is not allowing that to happen until this trial is over.

But the husband of one of those victims told me, in his words, that he thought that the death penalty would be too lenient of a sentence, that he would prefer to see Nidal Hasan spend the rest of his life in prison. And essentially, that's because he's listening to Nidal Hasan essentially want to be sentenced to the death penalty. And he doesn't want to give that to him or, you know, have him dictate exactly -- or get what he wants in this case. So I thought it was kind of an interesting twist on what is going on.

But I think regardless, you'll see prosecutors push strongly for the death penalty starting Monday morning.

YELLIN: It's something we're going to follow closely.

Thanks so much, Ed, for your ongoing reporting on this case.

LAVANDERA: You bet.

YELLIN: Ed Lavandera from Texas.

And joining us on the phone from McKinney, Texas is Leila Willingham. Her brother, Jason Dean Hunt, was killed in the Fort Hood shooting massacre.

First of all, Leila, our hearts and thoughts go out to you and your family at this time. What are your feelings now that you've heard this verdict?

LEILA WILLINGHAM, BROTHER KILLED IN FORT HOOD SHOOTING:

WILLINGHAM: This is not a surprising verdict at all. He obviously admitted at the beginning of the trial that he was the shooter. So a guilty verdict is not surprising.

YELLIN: Talk to us for a moment, if you would, about your brother, Jason. He served in Iraq. He was 22 years old when he was killed just under four years ago.

I imagine this is hard for you to talk about, but what would you look people to know about him?

WILLINGHAM: The people who loved him remember him for who he was, a very sweet, loving, very smart, intelligent, sweet human being who was very proud of what he accomplished in the military and was very happy to be doing what he loved.

YELLIN: You heard Ed Lavandera, our reporter, just a moment ago, say that Army Major Nidal Hasan's attorneys believe that he might actually want the death penalty so he could go on to be seen as a martyr by some. I understand that you spoke to Nidal's attorney.

What did you find out about Hasan by talking to him?

WILLINGHAM: Well, I did have a private meeting with Major Hasan's attorneys. I just wanted to get some more insight on his quality of life and his feelings. I learned some very surprising things about him.

The reason why he did not, according to his attorney, did not cross-examine any of the witnesses was that he did not want to cause any further harm to the victims. And I thought that was a very surprising statement from him.

YELLIN: After he admits to having shot so many, now he, at the same time, didn't want to harm those who are still living.

I'm curious then, you wanted answers about what your brother's final moments were like. I know you attended some of the trial.

Did you get any of those answers?

WILLINGHAM: I did. It was very, very difficult. We saw pictures and videos, the crime scene video. We saw autopsy photos. I saw a picture of my brother with holes in his back. I mean it was horrifying and awful. But it did give me some answers as far as where he was and how he was shot and who helped him. I did get a lot of those answers.

But more so in the meeting with Major Hasan's attorneys. I got some more -- I wouldn't say closure, but just some more pieces of the puzzle that I need to be able to move on. YELLIN: And I understand you feel there is no closure, but at least information is helpful. In that light, it's now on to the penalty phase. And Army Major Nidal Hasan, he could face the death penalty, as we said.

Are you worried that the death penalty would actually be a victim -- a victory for him, that he could be seen as a martyr?

WILLINGHAM: I actually feel very differently than that. And, you know, everybody has -- is entitled to their own opinion. I can't imagine what it's look to look at the man who shot you, to look him in the eye and be confronted with him again. But I am not a supporter of the death penalty. I don't believe it's anybody's right to take another man's life, even his. I know, as a family member who has lost somebody, what it's like to go through that. And I've met Major Hasan's family, as well. And they're very good people. And I know what they would have to go through if he was, in fact, sentenced to death.

YELLIN: I'm interested about this. You know, Major Hasan was not tried as a terrorist. That did allow the case to go more quickly than it might have gone if he were in a another kind of a proceeding.

But do you wish he had been tried as a terrorist?

WILLINGHAM: I do. And the main reason for that is there are a lot of victims who are not receiving proper support that they need if he was classified as a terrorist.

Hasan himself has admitted that he is an enemy of the United States, which is the exact verbiage needed to obtain a Purple Heart. And if those victims receive that status and they receive a Purple Heart for being in a hospital hostile fire with an enemy of the United States, they can receive medical benefits and support that they desperately need.

YELLIN: All right. Leila Willingham, we are grateful for your time and very, very deeply sorry for your loss.

WILLINGHAM: Thank you.

YELLIN: Thank you.

And in another military court today, a U.S. soldier who admitted he gunned down 16 Afghanistan civilians during a 2012 rampage was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Thirty-nine-year-old Army Staff Sergeant, Robert Bales pleaded guilty to 30 criminal charges against him, including 16 premeditated murder counts this year.

When we come back, he is a government employee who also happens to be a black supremacist warning of an imminent race war.

Just ahead, details on his online tirades are now getting a lot of attention.

Plus, a raging wildfire burning inside Yosemite National Park -- the latest on the blaze that's already charred more than 100,000 acres.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: He's a militant black nationalist ranting about whites and gays and warning of an imminent race war. He works in federal law enforcement. And now his online tirades are attracting a lot of attention.

CNN crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is with us with more -- Joe, this is a bizarre case, to say the least.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. And I have to tell you, it's our understanding that the government is investigating the situation, even though they tell us that they, frankly, cannot discuss personnel matters.

This is a very strange case indeed, Jess.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE FROM YOUTUBE)

AYO KIMATHI: We need warriors, militant (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) kickers.

JOHNS (voice-over): His name is Ayo Kimathi, 39 years old. And what's troubling many is that he's a federal law enforcement employee with the Department of Homeland Security, in Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

KIMATHI: That's how we're going to put a foot in this cracker's austerity and bring an end to him or planet Earth, with black male aggression.

JOHNS: But it's his moonlighting videos on the Internet that are attracting attention.

KIMATHI: Ain't nobody going to be allowed to confuse us and make us think that when we see a black man that's a warrior that we're looking at a homo and when we're looking at a homo that's talking black talk, then we're looking at a black man.

JOHNS: His Web site, called War on the Horizon, says its purpose is preparing black people for an unavoidable clash with the white race.

HEIDI BEIRICH, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: He's propagating some serious hate, including the mass extermination of whites. He's got anti-gay, anti-Semitic material on there. It's really, really extreme.

JOHNS: The liberal leaning Southern Poverty Law Center says Mr. Kimathi is the individual known on Internet Web videos as the Irritated Genie, a fiery black nationalist.

KIMATHI: No brother, we love the white boy. That's OK. JOHNS: And while there are thousands of hate videos and Web sites, what makes War on the Horizon different is the apparent connection to a government employee.

BEIRICH: You can't, as an employee of DHS, just do whatever you want. You have to report this kind of material, given the sensitive nature of the law enforcement work.

JOHNS: ICE put out a statement: "ICE does not condone any type of hateful rhetoric or advocacy of violence of any kind against anyone. Every ICE employee is held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct. Accusations of misconduct are investigated thoroughly, and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken. "

But both left and right have strong reactions, including Sarah Palin, who called it "unflipping believable."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

JOHNS: We reached out to Mr. Kimathi both on the phone today and by e-mail with no response. He apparently wasn't at work.

Government employees, in these types of situations, have to get clearances for outside activities. But the Department of Homeland Security would not comment when we asked whether Mr. Kimathi had fully disclosed the nature of his outside activities. And so far, no indication from the government that he's been suspended or placed on administrative leave.

YELLIN: I have a feeling they'll be looking into this one pretty thoroughly.

JOHNS: Of course.

YELLIN: Yes.

Thanks, Joe, so much.

A World War II veteran who survived being shot during the battle of Okinawa did not survive an assault by two teenagers. They robbed him and beat him to death in the parking lot of his Eagles Lodge in Spokane, Washington. CNN's Alina Machado has more on this latest random act of deadly violence. Hi, Alina. What are police telling you?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, police continue to search for the second suspect. They are asking for the public's help. That suspect is 16-year-old Keenan Adams Kinard (ph). Police just send out the poster with his picture. He's wanted for first degree robbery and murder. The other suspect, is also 16, he was arrested last night and has already charged with those crime.

Now, the victim in all of this is 88-year-old Delbert Belton (ph) known to his friends as "Shorty." He was a World War II veteran, as you mentioned, and a retired aluminum company worker. He was also a regular at an Eagles Lodge where he was waiting outside for a friend to play pool Wednesday night. That's when police say Belton was robbed and beaten in the parking lot.

The murder appears to have been random. Now, this killing comes just days after police in Oklahoma say three teens shot and killed a 23-year-old Australian college baseball player. The suspects in that case, Jessica, are in custody.

YELLIN: Alina, any indication what the cause of death was in this case?

MACHADO: Yes. The coroner's office has ruled Belton's death a homicide saying he died from blunt facial and head injuries.

YELLIN: So upsetting. All right. Alina, thanks for that report.

Coming up, police accuse of recording mostly female DUI suspect undressing and using the toilet. Details of a new lawsuit.

Plus, President Obama speaking bluntly about Washington gridlock. He talks exclusively to CNN's Chris Cuomo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Let's take a quick look at some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM.

The rim wildfire is burning inside Yosemite National Park with 11,00 acres now impacted near the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. There was explosive growth in the last 24 hours. The fire grew by 63 square miles. It's charred more than 105,000 acres of the Sierra.

Two mosques bombed in Lebanon, and the moment of explosion captured on closed circuit TV. The twin blasts killed more than two dozen people, 600 are injured. It happened in Tripoli, and there's concern it's a sign of growing sectarian tension between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. The state news agency says both mosques have imams with ties to Syrian rebels.

Police in Washington State have been hit with a lawsuit alleging officers videotaped DUI suspects deemed attractive undressing and using the toilet. The plaintiffs are 11 women and one man. And their attorney says the jail was look a peep show. Police and the city deny any wrongdoing saying the video monitoring is part of jail safety.

And, for the first time since 2004, logging is the nation's most dangerous job. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 64 loggers were killed last year, more than double the rate from four years ago. The death rate for loggers is nearly 40 times higher than it is for the average U.S. worker. The high rate could be a result of a boom in home construction that may have forced the industry to hire more inexperienced workers.

And all eyes are on the Smithsonian Zoo pandas-cam. The giant panda, Mei Xiang, is in labor. Zoo officials say don't think this is a false alarm. And they just tweeted that the labor could last up to ten hours. Folks across the nation have watched this panda closely and especially here in Washington, D.C. Zoo staff members saw Mei's water break around four o'clock this afternoon. We will continue to watch this one closely.

And coming up, President Obama talks about his call to the Georgia school shooting hero, sharing details in an exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Happening now --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN (voice-over): Chemical horror in Syria puts more pressure on the U.S. to do something. Now, the Pentagon is taking another look at potential targets.

President Obama talks exclusively to CNN's Chris Cuomo about college costs, Washington gridlock, and more.

And we'll hear from both a school shooting hero and President Obama about their phone call.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN (on-camera): President Obama is wrapping up his two-day bus tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania today, but not without stopping to sit down with CNN's Chris Cuomo for an exclusive wide-ranging interview. In it, the president talked about a number of critical issues facing the country, including tense gridlock with Congress right here in Washington. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's come back home, because you could make the argument that the most perilous situation for the president of the United States exists in Washington, D.C., right? You have had a very difficult legislative session that you've had to deal with down there.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, there hasn't been a legislative session as far as I can tell.

CUOMO: Well, right. I guess, if you're going to judge on the basis of past legislation.

OBAMA: Yes.

CUOMO: But there's been a lot going on.

OBAMA: Yes. There's been a lot of talk. CUOMO: There's been a lot of talking going on. That's what the place is about these days. when they get back in session, do you believe you know the way to get things done for the American people so that we don't have another shutdown of the government which effectively punishes everybody else except the lawmakers?

OBAMA: There is a very simple way to doing this, which is the Senate passed a budget. And the House passed a budget. And, you know -- maybe you're not old enough to remember schoolhouse rock, but

CUOMO: Oh, I remember it.

OBAMA: Remember how the bill gets passed? You know, the House and the Senate try to work out their differences. They pass something. They send it to me. And potentially, I sign it. And, you know, we like to make things complicated, but this is actually not that complicated. The job of Congress -- Congress doesn't have a whole lot of core responsibilities. One core responsibility is passing a budget, which they have not done yet.

The other core responsibility that they've got is to pay the bills that they've already accrued. And, if Congress simply does those two things when they get back, then the economy can continue to recover and folks out there who were working hard were trying to find a job, will have some sense of stability.

And, we can start thinking about things like college education and some of the big structural changes that we have to continue to make to ensure that we're competitive.

CUOMO: Nobody knows better than you. It is a big part of the job of the president to make that happen. How much of the lack of action in Washington do you put on yourself in terms of blame?

OBAMA: Well, look, ultimately the buck stops with me. And so, anytime, we are not moving forward on thing that should be simple, I get frustrated. And, you know I have said before and I continue to say, you know, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get Congress and Republicans in Congress, in particular, to think less about politics and party and think more about what's good for the country.

There is nobody out there who thinks that us not paying bills we've already racked up is good for the economy, is appropriate, that America losing its reputation and the full faith and credit of the United States would somehow improve the prospects of working families or businesses around the country. Nobody thinks that. So, why are we even talking about that?

Why aren't we just getting that done? When it comes to the budget, we know that we shouldn't be cutting more on core investments like education that are going to help us grow in the future. And we've already seen the deficit cut in half. It's going down faster than any time in the last 60 years. So, why would we make more cuts in education, more cuts in basic research? Nobody thinks that's a good idea. And then finally now what we've got is Republicans talking about the idea, that they would shut down the government. Bad for the economy, bad for not just people who work for the government, but all the contractors who -- the defense folks and everybody who is impacted by the services that they receive from the federal government, we should shut that down because Republicans, after having taken 40 votes to try to get rid of Obamacare, see this as their last gasp.

Nobody thinks that's good for the middle class. So the question is ultimately if you are putting the American people first, if you are prioritizing them, then this shouldn't be that difficult. And I've made this argument to my Republican friends privately. And by the way, sometimes they say to me privately, I agree with you. But I am worried about a primary from -- you know, somebody in the Tea Party back in my district, or I'm worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio.

And so you've got to understand I'm -- it's really difficult. Well you know what? I can't force these folks to do what's right for the American people because they're independently elected. This is a separate branch of government. And I don't have a vote in Congress. But what I sure as heck can do is stay focused on what I know will be good for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Frustrated sounding President Obama. We'll discuss that -- those comments coming up in a moment. But first, much of the president's focus on his bus trip has been on colleges and the skyrocketing costs of getting an education. He talked to Chris Cuomo about that as well. Here's what he had to say there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The problem we've got right now is that on -- when it comes to liberals they've tended to say, let's just give more money to the system and increase student loans and grants and aid. And then, you know, you've got some on the right, who've said money doesn't matter. And young people should be able to figure it out on their own. And what we're saying is, no, we should provide more help to young people.

Government shouldn't be in the job of profiting from students who need to go to college. But we should also expect something from the colleges which is their controlling their costs better and we should expect something from the students.

One of the problems we found is that a lot of students, because in part they're not well-informed, they're taking out a lot of loans, but they're not thinking through how fast they need to graduate. They never graduate. And they can't pay back the loans. That means the taxpayer is getting stuck and the young person is no better off than they would have been they're worse off.

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S NEW DAY: True. But when we say it's a priority -- that's what you're going to say. This matters the most.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: This is the new reality for our economy is what you know.

OBAMA: Exactly.

CUOMO: You can tie it to the treasury rate. You make sure that students are going to borrow at a rate that's much higher than banks get, right? Because our government is effectively allowing banks to loan to money to whomever they want and borrow themselves at about zero percent. They're going to borrow, these students, at almost twice the rate of a home mortgage.

Why not make this the new home mortgage? Treat it like that. Get the rates lower so that the students don't pay the most, more than banks, more than homeowners?

OBAMA: Well, as I said, Chris, actually, because of the deal that was cut, they're not going to borrow at a rate higher than your mortgage. That had happened because Congress hadn't acted.

CUOMO: Right.

OBAMA: They hadn't done anything. Now the key here to understand, though, is that the student interest rate need to stay low. But if you're borrowing $100,000 and you are a teacher and you're making $35,000, then, whether the interest rate is 3.5 percent, or the interest rate is at 6 percent.

CUOMO: You're under water.

OBAMA: You're going to be underwater. So what we need to do is to figure out how can you come out with less debt in the first place and keep those interest rates low. And that is achievable. But to do that everybody is going to have to work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: All right. A lot to chew over in that, and to break it all down with us our CNN chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she, as you know, is the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," and "TIME" magazine's Washington, D.C., bureau chief, Michael Scherer.

Thanks to both of you.

Candy, let me start with you because we all heard what the president just had to say about Congress and how difficult Republicans can be. But listen to what his Republican friend, Senator Tom Coburn had to say about President Obama on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: What you have to do is you have to establish the criteria that would qualify for proceedings against the president. And that's called impeachment. (APPLAUSE)

But that -- but that -- you know, that's not something you take lightly. And you have to use a historical precedent of what that means. You know, I think there is some intended violation of law in this administration. But I also -- but I also think there is a ton of incompetence of people who are making decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: All right. Candy, this is a man who is the president's friend. They came to Congress together. He's saying this about a man who is his friend. Does this make the president a lame-duck already?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think for a variety of reasons the president is fighting lame-duck status at this point. Certainly we are -- it's sooner rather than later for him.

I think the question here is, first of all, he is in (INAUDIBLE), as we say, he's in Muskogee, Oklahoma, they're very angry about Obamacare. The -- I listened to that whole hour and seven minutes of it, and I didn't get the -- he didn't say, let's go out and impeach the president. It was more the frustration that I think you hear and I hear a lot, which is they think that the president has exceed his authority as president.

That the Justice Department isn't replying to investigators, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, so it was more sort of institutional thing which happens a lot. But the "I" word is pretty incendiary. And, you know, tends to turn off moderate voters.

YELLIN: And, Michael, what does that signal to you that Coburn, who's usually one of these guys who's willing to stand up to his constituents, stand on principle, is willing to go there?

MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just a sign of polarization. Remember when town halls were actually a place where we thought American people got to meet with their members of Congress and talk about what they're interested in. Really what town halls have become are places to vent. And they vent from one side.

And so if you're in a Republican state, you go and you get the most extreme elements of your base who come there and are furious. And he is sort of channeling and parrying and trying to deal with that rage. And -- you see it in a lot of town halls this --

YELLIN: But then does the president have a point in what he said to Chris, which is Republicans are scared of some of their constituents?

SCHERER: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: Absolutely they are. Well, they're scared of a challenge from the right. There is -- I'm not sure about the Rush Limbaugh part as much as. We absolutely know that there are Tea Party challengers out there on the Senate side and the House side, willing to go after these guys. And the -- the totality actually of that Coburn town hall was about why he wouldn't join Ted Cruz and others to, quote, "shut down" the government.

YELLIN: Senator from Texas. Yes.

CROWLEY: Yes. To shut down the government if they won't defund. He said it's such a bad strategy. It's not going to work. But they were -- these people were not happy with that answer.

YELLIN: So we have heard the president talk about what he doesn't like from, as you say, Rush Limbaugh, Republicans in Congress. What is his play? What can he do to get something done in the budget fights in the fall?

SCHERER: Well, he's got to take it to the American people. You know, I think he looks better here. The White House has learned they always have bad Augusts. It's always better if they can get him out of Washington in August and he looks better on the road, talking from the perspective of the American people about what they need than he does in Washington talking about how he can't do anything.

And so I think this is going to be a campaign moment for the White House. The next two or three months are going to be very difficult. It's probably going to go wrong before it goes right. And Obama is not going to look good in the process. But he's got to position himself where he doesn't really have much sway over what the House Republicans do. To be on the side of the country, the side of the American people, and against Washington --

YELLIN: Candy, do you read that? His only play is to leave Washington? This is the first year of his second term.

CROWLEY: Second term. It is for the moment. But I will tell you that I think that they are -- I know that they are betting in the administration that this isn't something the Republicans can win politically and that they will not do it. Because they know that there are, and we've heard other Republicans out there going, "No, we're not going to shut down the government."

YELLIN: This, meaning a government shutdown as something --

CROWLEY: A government shutdown, right.

SCHERER: There's a difference, though, between whether they can win politically and whether they'll do it.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

SCHERER: Republicans have shown over and over again they will do things --

CROWLEY: That they'll do it.

SCHERER: That they can't win from politically. There's such a -- there's a letter out there now with 80 members of the House. You know, you've got a third of the Republican caucus in the House saying they're for shutting down the government over Obamacare. So this is going to be a very tricky, difficult --

CROWLEY: Well, it's going to be where the House always does any kind of business, it's by pulling enough Democrats over and pulling enough Republicans over to get it through. It's not going to be pretty on the Republican side.

YELLIN: It's just a little bit shocking that at this point in the president's first year there's not a single major legislative accomplishment. And we're saying that the best he can do is leave Washington and make a case to the American people --

SCHERER: The fever -- the fever never broke.

YELLIN: We said the fever would break. And the fever hasn't broken.

CROWLEY: It didn't happen. It didn't happen.

YELLIN: I have some good news that could unify Washington. I think it's very good news because it happened right here in D.C. and it's great for the nation, too. The National Zoo has just tweeted that a new panda cub has been born. And --

(LAUGHTER)

Been telling it to you guys. Because I really think this is the happiest thing that's happened in Washington in a while.

CROWLEY: Hey, hey, there's a new dog at the White House.

YELLIN: That's true. But look --

CROWLEY: Animal week.

YELLIN: How cute is this?

SCHERER: Pandas trump dogs.

YELLIN: Born at 5:32 p.m. this evening. We're going to have more details.

But, Candy, tell me -- I think this is a panda-cam. An actual --

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.

SCHERER: Live --

YELLIN: I think it's live. Live panda-cam.

CROWLEY: You can go watch some panda-cam.

YELLIN: From the National Zoo. And this is real action footage of the panda that just gave birth. CROWLEY: Yes, and look real hard because it's going to be a while before you see that baby panda because we all know the whole stick of butter thing we talk about every time a panda is born.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: I know. I know.

CROWLEY: Right? That's how big they are.

YELLIN: But who can deny that picture is so cute. All right. Thanks to both of you.

SCHERER: Thank you.

YELLIN: Candy, Michael, good to see you.

And just ahead, Vice President Biden speaking publicly for the first time about his son's health scare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: In his exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, the president made his first comments about what appeared to be horrific new evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Syria calling it, quote, "a big event of great concern."

So what does the United States plan to do about it?

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence joins us now with new information from the Pentagon.

Hey, Chris, so some of the images in your piece our audience might find graphic and disturbing. We want to warn them. Tell us what you have.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we don't show the bodies of children without a good reason. But this is potential evidence that chemical weapons were used. And here at the Pentagon, officials have updated the target list for potential airstrikes in Syria.

Officials are telling us that Assad's forces are moving. And so the options available to President Obama have to be current.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Every new image from the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria pushes President Obama harder to defend his red line.

OBAMA: What we have seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern.

LAWRENCE: But the outrage among U.S. allies is building along with pressure to do more. WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: This is not something that a humane or civilized world can ignore.

LAWRENCE: British officials say inspectors need to analyze the evidence which is deteriorating by the hour.

HAGUE: And that means the U.N. team that is in Damascus, only 20 minutes travel away, being able to get there and to investigate.

LAWRENCE: Even as Russia called on Syria to give the inspectors access, critics of the Obama administration were asking, why the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. sent a deputy to the Security Council emergency session instead of attending herself?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Ambassador Power is on a prearranged trip.

LAWRENCE: The critics took issue with Samantha Power tweeting from her vacation overseas. "Hundreds dead in streets. Including kids killed by chem weapons. U.N. must get there fast and if true, perps must face justice."

A U.S. official says Power has come home and did participate remotely in national security meetings. The Pentagon has just updated a list of potential targets in Syria including the option of using cruise missiles to destroy Assad's capability to deliver chemical weapons.

But Syrian opposition forces say the U.S. has been so hesitant, the Assad regime can ignore White House warnings.

KHALID AL-SALEH, SYRIAN OPPOSITION: We will use chemical weapons again and we will take that red line and we'll toss it in the garbage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Officials stress that what they had presented to the president are updated military options and the risk associated with each. But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been outspoken in his warnings.

General Martin Dempsey saying that al Qaeda fighters are mixed among 50 different factions that are fighting Assad. And right now he says that he is not convinced that if the opposition came to power today that it would take the best interests of the United States into account -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Chris, I have a feeling you're going to be very busy following this in the coming weeks.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

YELLIN: Thank you for these reports.

And coming up a school shooting hero gets a call from President Obama. Both of them talking to CNN about it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: President Obama was joined by his right-hand man, the Vice President Joe Biden, on his bus tour today. It's been a rough week for Biden who was with his son in Texas as he underwent a procedure and medical testing at a renowned cancer hospital. He spoke about that for the first time today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: I just want you all to know since so many of you have asked me about my son. Things are not -- it's not only good to be here, but things are good at home in Delaware. My son Beau is fine. Sends his love.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

He wanted me to say hello to all of you and he wanted to be with his colleague Kathleen, the attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania. So -- but -- but he's doing well. He's anxious to get back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: The president's bus tour is somewhat reminiscent of the campaign trail and CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who knows something of the campaign trail, is here now with the details.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

YELLIN: Jim, you have followed him for a long time today. It's been a long one, huh?

ACOSTA: It really has, Jessica. It's something you know all too well. You know, we should point out that as the president was gearing up for the final day of this bus tour, a White House spokesman was describing that recent apparent chemical attack in Syria as a, quote, "mass casualty" incident. It's another example of how this president has had a -- a tricky balancing act on his hands all week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): There's no election in sight, but President Obama was in full campaign mode, traveling in the White House bus from New York to Pennsylvania, kicking around his ideas for controlling college costs for students, taking friendly questions on his domestic agenda at a town hall meeting.

OBAMA: If you want to get called on, wear the president's face on your shirt.

ACOSTA: And landing a few jobs on Republicans threatening a government shutdown.

OBAMA: They're worried about, you know, primaries in the upcoming election. That can't be how we run a country.

ACOSTA: But half a world away, brutal images of the dead, many of them children, after an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria are a jarring reminder the commander-in-chief has business to attend to back in Washington.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You cannot have a president who's seen on a campaign style mode when people are being slaughtered in the Middle East.

ACOSTA: White House officials defend the bus tour saying the president should be able to do two things at once -- both press for policies at home while keeping an eye on events overseas.

OBAMA: This is something that is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.

ACOSTA: In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Mr. Obama indicated time is running out on Syrian leaders.

CUOMO: Is it safe to say that we have a shorter time frame now in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision --

OBAMA: Yes.

CUOMO: -- in Syria and Egypt?

OBAMA: Yes.

ACOSTA: But nearly one year after he gave Syria his red line warning against chemical weapon attacks, the president indicated he will continue to take his time. How long is the issue.

GERGEN: I think he now has to follow through it in the next few days with some sort of set of policies.

ACOSTA: With the vice president appearing at the bus tours last stop in Joe Biden's hometown of Scranton, Republicans complained the two-day trip is all politics. Calling it a kickoff to a Biden 2016 campaign. But the president's supporters at these events said they're glad he's focusing on their issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that my first year, I'm OK with loans, but I don't want to be crippled with it.

ACOSTA: Even if some say there should be a bigger emphasis on the economy.

ELIZABETH LEWIN, UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO GRADUATE STUDENT: Employment is a big issue. I do have a degree but I need to get employed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now White House spokesmen did stress to reporters that assistance to the Syrian rebels from the United States is on what he calls an upward trajectory. That's an indication that the White House wants the world to know that it is doing something about Syria while it is trying to figure out what to do next.

And Jessica, we should point out, that just as the president was wrapping up his remarks here, you mentioned that campaign-style feel out here in Scranton where he and the vice president were here earlier this afternoon. The president actually mentioned his former 2012 rival, Mitt Romney, when talking about Obamacare saying it used to be a Republican idea.

The governor of Massachusetts tried it up there and it's working out pretty well. So definitely a campaign-style feel out here in Scranton today -- Jessica.

YELLIN: I thought he also gave Biden a shout-out saying picking Joe Biden was the best political move he ever made so a little love for his VP.

ACOSTA: That's right.

YELLIN: All right. Jim, great reporting, get some rest.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

YELLIN: Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: OK. Thank you.

YELLIN: Coming up next, my colleague John King takes over here in the SITUATION ROOM. He'll be watching a looming vote on the future of San Diego mayor, Bob Filner. The city council is voting right now on whether he'll keep his job.

Also ahead, a story you'll only see on CNN. We'll hear from both a school shooting hero and President Obama about their phone call with one another.

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JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the San Diego mayor may soon give his critics what they have been demanding after an embarrassing sexual harassment scandal.

Plus, President Obama reveals his grave concerns about an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. Stand by to hear the president at length.

And a raging wildfire scorching an American treasure. We'll get a live update on the threat in Yosemite National Park.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.