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Elite Team Tried to Help At Navy Yard; Gunman's Mom Apologizes; Is Gun Violence on the Rise?; Government Shutdown Looms; Miley's "Wrecking Ball" Parodies

Aired September 18, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, we have new information and there are new questions about the response to the Navy Yard massacre. And a lead tactical unit was close to the scene when the alert sounded, but the officers were immediately recalled. We'll tell you what happened.

In the wake of the slaughter, there are new stories of heroism and survival and a man who refused to leave his blind colleague behind during the panic and a woman who huddled under a desk as shots rang out.


BARBARA BOSTIC, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: First, it sounded like a grenade. And then we hear the pow, pow, pow, pow. We hear the gun firings.


BLITZER: And a government shutdown could be looming, as President Obama gets into a serious standoff with House Republicans. I'll speak with presidential adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, and "CROSSFIRE" co-host, Newt Gingrich.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


As the Washington, DC region reels from the staggering death toll at the Washington Navy Yard, we're learning stunning new details about an attempt to stop the shooting that was called off. An elite tactical team of the U.S. Capitol Police which handles threats against Congress was close to the scene and attempted to help right after word of the shooting went out. But the officers were told to return to their positions at the Capitol. That was about a mile away.

The Capitol Police have opened an investigation into that decision.

Meantime, tough new questions are being asked about security lapses that may have allowed the shooter to carry out his rampage.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Brian Todd.

He's over at the Navy Yard -- Brian, what are you learning? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, before those security lapses we're going to talk about, we have some new information tonight from our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He says that a federal law enforcement official is telling CNN the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, made unexplained etchings into the shotgun he used in his attack. The etchings read, quote, "better off this way" and, quote, "my elf weapon" but that investigators do not know what those phrases refer to.

That information just coming in from our justice reporter, Evan Perez.

Meanwhile, Wolf, questions about security now focus on police manpower here at the Navy Yard ahead of the shootings, as well as continuing fallout about the warning signs exhibited by the shooter before the rampage.


TODD (voice-over): One of America's top military officials sites obvious red flags that came up before Aaron Alexis went on his rampage at Washington's Navy Yard.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Why they didn't get picked up, why they didn't get incorporated into the clearance process, what he was doing. Those are all legitimate questions that we're going to be dealing with.

TODD: Questions over why Alexis got and kept a secret security clearance after he had run-ins with the law. Last month, Aaron Alexis told Newport, Rhode Island police that someone he'd gotten into an argument with "sent three people to follow him and keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body." That's from the police report, which relays Alexis saying people were "talking to him through a wall." And when he went to another hotel, "he heard the same voices talking to him through the walls, floor and ceiling."

I asked CNN contributor, Tom Fuentes, what should have been done after Newport police notified Navy police of that incident.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: I think they should immediately follow up with the police officers and with him and determine, you know, what degree of mental problem does he have and, if necessary, suspected or revoke his clearance.

TODD: A senior naval officer tells CNN that was a clearance Alexis received even after Navy officials found out about his 2004 arrest in Seattle for shooting the tires of a car, in what police said he described as a blackout fueled by anger.

And there are new questions about security at the Navy Yard before the shootings. Anthony Meely, an officer with the Navy Yard Police and an official with the police union told me his force was badly undermanned before the attack.

(on camera): What was your manpower that morning before the shootings? ANTHONY MEELY, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: Five was assigned to the morning shift. One of those five was brought from a Navy research lab, which is a military individual. Our overtime person made the sixth person, that worked midnight shift that night. And the chief of police made the seventh.

TODD: Only seven responding officers, some without vehicles, he says, who had to run from one side of the base to the other. Meely says they needed about twice that many officers and that they used to have dozens more on the force. He believes if they had enough officers, they could have prevented some loss of life.


TODD: Meely also has an issue with the way the weapons are issued to police officers here at the Navy Yard. He says that the Navy Yard Police are not given take-home weapons. So the police officers who were off-duty that day and tried to rush back to help first had to run to the armory to gather their weapons and then to respond. He said that caused even more of a delay.

Now, in response to all of this, a Navy official who we contacted said, quote, "The secretary of the Navy has ordered a review of physical security and we will fully support it" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian.

Thank you.

Disturbing new developments.

Meanwhile, the mother of the Navy Yard gunman, Aaron Alexis, is now speaking out for the first time. She's issued an emotional audio only statement expressing deep regret over the mass killings.

CNN national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, was there for the statement. She heard the mother speak out -- Deb, tell our viewers how that went.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we were allowed upstairs to the third floor apartment just in this building behind me. It was very difficult for Cathleen Alexis to express herself. She was choked with emotion. This is very hard for her. Like everyone else, she will not -- never know why her son did what he did. There are so many questions.

But she really seemed just emotionally drained. She had pastors, one on each side of her. And at one point, she even leaned into one of them for support. She said her message was for the victims.


CATHLEEN ALEXIS, MOTHER OF AARON ALEXIS: Our son, Aaron Alexis, has murdered 12 people and wounded several others. His actions have had a profound and everlasting effect on the families of the victims. I don't know why he did what he did and I will never be able to ask him why.

Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone and for that I am glad. To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken.


FEYERICK: Now, she did not want to sit during the statement that she had printed out on a single page of white paper. She stood throughout the entire thing. Her sadness, Wolf, was really palpable. You could hear it in her voice. You could see the strain in her face.

She returned home Monday afternoon, just a couple of days ago, when she heard, initially, about the shooting. She said she hasn't left since.

She's concerned about going back to work, Wolf. She said she just doesn't know how she's going to be received. But she does want her privacy back. She wants to be able to process this and grieve, as a mother does -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a terribly sad story.

All right, thanks very much for that, Deborah Feyerick.

As witnesses relive the shock and the terror of Monday's mass shooting, new stories of heroism and survival are emerging.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

What are you picking up -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, imagine being blind in the middle of all that chaos, in a part of the building you're not familiar with and without the escort who normally guides you around. That's what happened to one man, until one of his co-workers decided not to run.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Guns firing, glass shattering, people screaming and one blind worker left exposed in the atrium of Building 197.

OMAR GRANT, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: In the cafeteria, we heard three more shots, and, really, people running then and getting -- basically getting out of there. I looked around and we were the only two there.

LAWRENCE: Instead of running, Omar Grant went back for his blind colleague.

GRANT: So I took him by the arm and I told him every step of the way what we were doing.

LAWRENCE: Another eyewitness told ABC he was close enough to see the face as Aaron Alexis shot a woman he worked with. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY ABC NEWS)

JOHN WEAVER, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: When he looked at her, he looked straight at her, clenched that jaw and just boom.


LAWRENCE: Barbara Bostic was in the atrium as she saw bullets breaking glass all around her.

BARBARA BOSTIC, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: First, it sounded like a grenade. Then we hear the pow, pow, pow. We hear the gun firings.

I could see the second floor people running down to the first floor. Two girlfriends of mine threw me into a woman's office. We hear running. One girl started crying. I said, shhh, be quiet.

LAWRENCE: That was the kind of chaos Omar Grant had to guide his blind colleague through.

GRANT: I had to explain every single step of the way and, you know, which hand to reach out, you know, a railing is on your left or on your right and how many steps there are and how close we are to the exit.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Omar refused to leave his friend behind.

LAWRENCE: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs himself publicly praised Omar by name.

DEMPSEY: The urge to run toward danger to help someone in need is a testament to an American's character.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Why did you stop and go back to try to help him?

GRANT: I was the only other person there. And I said, I'm not going to leave this person behind.


LAWRENCE: Amazingly, Omar did not even know the man's name until that morning, when they were trapped in the middle of all of that. He said he had seen him around constantly and that's how he knew that he did not have his escort with him. But, Wolf, certainly someone who could have run away and chose not to.

BLITZER: Well, thank goodness for that.

All right, thanks very much for that.

Chris Lawrence reporting.

Up next, it seems like mass killings may be on the rise, but the numbers may tell a different story. We'll update you on that. And a game of chicken between House Republicans and President Obama. A government shut down could be the result. We're going to hear from a senior adviser to the president, Dan Pfeiffer. He's standing by live at the White House; also, the "CROSSFIRE" co-host, Newt Gingrich.


BLITZER: Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, now the Washington Navy Yard -- in the wake of so many horrible shootings, it may seem like gun violence is on the rise. But the numbers paint a more complicated picture.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with a closer look -- Tom, we've seen so many of these mass shootings in the past few years, I'm sure a lot of people think it's never been this bad before.

What can you tell us about this?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you're right, Wolf. It's horrifying. It's a terrible thing to witness these. It makes people feel terrible. And you can't help but feel less safe when you see these horrible events.

But what we've done here is we've pulled together a graph here that shows all of the mass shootings in which more than eight people were killed since back in the 1960s.

Now, more than eight people were event, that's completely arbitrary. Some people would say you should use four or five or six. But we broke it down by eight to make it at least comprehensible and things that are undeniably a lot of people being killed.

It starts way over here. This was the shootings at the University of Texas that happened way back in the 1960s. You remember those well.

If we move to some of the other ones here, you can see the years that we had big spikes here. For example, this was in 1984. This was the San Ysidro, California McDonald's shooting, which a whole bunch of people were killed there.

You can move on to some of the other big landmark ones which many of us remember, Columbine High School, 1999.

And then if you move all the way down here, you get into this big block down at the end here, where you have Virginia Tech as part of this. You can go beyond Virginia Tech and talk about what happened at Sandy Hook school, and, of course, what we just had at the Navy Yard.

So there's really a tremendous number of murders that happened in this period of time, including the Aurora theater shootings out there.

So, look, if you just look at these pictures right here, you can see, yes, indeed, there has been a clustering of a lot of these big shootings in a very short period of time here, Wolf. There's no question about that, if you look at it and if you use that parameter of eight or more.

BLITZER: What about -- what does this mean for folks who are watching us right now? Does it mean we're likely to be caught up in such an event? Is it more likely or less likely than in earlier years?

FOREMAN: That's really where it gets tricky, Wolf, because technically, by a tiny, tiny fraction, I guess, it's more likely but you have to consider how rare these events are. If you look over the past ten years by this criteria that we have here, there were 167 deaths as part of these mass murder events. But look at this as a percentage. If you break that down, and you say let's look at all murders that happened just last year alone, there were about 14,000 of them.

So, you're talking about a tiny fraction all of the deaths for the past ten years versus one single year here. So, the odds of this actually happening to you if you're out there, it is serious importance. Something we all have to be concerned, but the odds are actually not particularly any worse despite what we've seen here, and more importantly, look at the big picture, Wolf.

If you change it and you look at the overall murder rate in this country, for the past 20 years, it has been steadily moving down. Your chances of being involved in violent crime or being murdered despite all of these terrible, terrible headlines and events are actually much less today than they were 20 years ago.

BLITZER: Interesting numbers, indeed. All right, Tom, thank you. Some good perspective.

Coming up, President Obama under serious pressure right now as the government shutdown looms potentially within days. We'll talk about it with his senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. He's standing by live at the White House.

And caught on tape, a burglary suspect tries to escape from a moving police car. We're going to show you what happened.


BLITZER: Let's take a closer look at some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. At least six people are dead and 30 injured after a passenger train slammed into a double-decker bus early this morning in Ottawa, Canada. Several of the injured are in critical condition. Ottawa's fire department says all the casualties were on the bus, including the bus driver.

A health investigation has found at least one case of hepatitis C linked to a Tulsa, Oklahoma dentist office. State officials shut down the practice of W. Scott Herrington in March and asked 7,000 patients to be tested for hepatitis and HIV. Eighty-nine tested positive for hepatitis C, four for HIV. Although, at this point, only one case of hepatitis can definitively be linked to his office.

The Federal Reserve says it will keep purchasing bonds at the current pace. The surprise announcement that led to a banner day on Wall Street. The Dow and S&P 500 hit record highs and all three major indices closed up more than one percent. Many investors had inspected the fed to announce that it was finally ready to begin cutting back or taper off its stimulus measures. Didn't happen today. And check out this, this video from Dayton, Ohio. A burglary suspect tries to escape from a moving police car by unlocking the door through an open window. Only instead of breaking free, he slams on to the pavement and is detained again within seconds. Dayton's assistant police chief says they'll investigate why the suspect wasn't wearing cuffs and why the window was open which are both, quote, "clear violations."

Up next, President Obama under serious pressure right now a showdown with the Republicans on spending. Lots of troubles with even some fellow Democrats. Is the second term at least right now in some sort of trouble?

And the UNICEF ambassador and actress, Lucy Liu, saw firsthand what life is like for refugee children in this "Impact Your World."


LUCY LIU, ACTRESS: Hi. I'm Lucy Liu, and we can make an impact for Syrian children. There is civil war going on that is creating absolute pandemonium, and people are fleeing into Lebanon, into Jordan, into Iraq. These children are suffering. They have lice (ph). They're scabies (ph). And they've lost family. They can't go to school.

They're not getting the medical attention they need. They're not getting the nutrition they need. There's going to be a lost generation of children if this continues. The children deserve to have a childhood. What happens on the other side of the world isn't just their business. It's our business, because we share the same water. We share the same environment.

If we understand that, we are actually one community, then it makes the world so much smaller and much more tangible for people to understand. UNICEF is currently desperate for donations for Syria. It's our duty as human beings to give back.

Join the movement. Impact your world.


BLITZER: Happening now --


BLITZER (voice-over): A showdown with the republicans over Obamacare and a looming government shutdown. They are putting the president right now under lots of pressure. A senior adviser at the White House, Dan Pfeiffer, he's standing by live. We'll talk about that and more.

Also, advice on a government shutdown for the House Speaker John Boehner from someone who's been there, the crossfire co-host, Newt Gingrich. He was speaker during two earlier government shutdowns.

And Starbucks takes a stand on guns some customers will love, others are sure to hate. We have an exclusive television interview with the Starbucks CEO.

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


BLITZER (on-camera): Right now, House Republicans are playing a game of chicken with themselves and with President Obama. The end result could be a government shutdown. But while both sides could pay a price, it's President Obama who increasingly is taking some serious heat right now. Just ahead, I'll speak with his senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. He's standing by live over at the White House.

But let's turn first to CNNs Athena Jones. She's also at the White House with some background. What's going on, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the president has been taking a lot of heat lately on a whole range of issues. Today, the White House budget office ordered federal agencies to get ready for a potential government shutdown. Congress and the White House need to reach a deal on a new spending bill by September 30th to avoid a shutdown. But the chances of that happening began to look a lot worse today.



JONES (voice-over): Under pressure at the government shutdown showdown looms, President Obama spoke to business leaders Wednesday about the battles ahead.

OBAMA: What we now have is ideological fight that's been mounted in the House of Representatives that says we're not going to pass a budget and we will threaten a government shutdown, unless, we repeal the Affordable Care Act.

JONES: On Capitol Hill, House Republicans announced plans to vote to block the president's signature domestic achievement, Obamacare.

JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: The law is a train wreck.

JONES: As part of a bill to keep the government running past the end of the month. The latest impasse leaves the president facing growing concerns about his ability to get things done on Capitol Hill. Nine months into his second term, his agenda appears to be in trouble.

Even if diplomacy eventually prevails in Syria, the president's abbreviated effort to win Congressional approve for strikes saw resistance from Republicans and fellow Democrats. And it was Democrats who helped quash Obama's top choice to head the Federal Reserve, Larry Summers, who pulled himself out of contention.

STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG REPORT: Many presidents have problems in second terms. But what's unusual is this president has had such solid Democratic support until now, and now, some Democrats are showing that they're somewhat more shaky. JONES: The president's push for new gun control measures and a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration system have also stalled. And critics called his political speech on Monday --

OBAMA: Let's stop the threats.

JONES: Bashing Republicans over the budget as the Navy Yard shooting unfolded just miles away tone deaf. "New York Times" columnist, Maureen Dowd, writing, "The man who connected so electrically and facilely in 2008 cannot seem to connect anymore." So, what does this all mean for the president?

ROTHENBERG: The president needs to change the discussion and I think he's trying to after Syria much more to the Republicans are extreme. The Republicans are well cooperative, change the focus back to the Republican Party. But right now, no question, he's on the defensive. And he has a lot more to prove now than he did just a few months ago.


JONES (on-camera): And even if a government shutdown is avoided, Congress still has to vote to raise the debt ceiling this fall so the government can keep paying its bills and Republicans are promising that a fight over Obamacare will also be part of that effort -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots on the agenda right now. Athena, thanks very much. The president clearly taking a lot of heat. Is he really feeling all of that heat? Let's discuss with the president's senior advisor, Dan Pfeiffer. He's joining us from the White House right now. Dan, thanks very much for coming in.

DAN PFEIFFER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRES. OBAMA: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: So, what do you say to the criticism? He's received a lot of criticism that the speech he gave on Monday shortly after that massacre at the Washington Navy Yard was politically tone deaf because after saying a few words about what happened to the Navy Yard, he went on to start bashing Republicans on the economy.

PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, what happened at the Navy Yard earlier this week is a tragedy. The president addressed at the top of those remarks. He followed it throughout the day. He was updated and briefed by the FBI director. He'll be speaking at the memorial service on Sunday. So, this is an absolute tragedy.

What is also true was that as was pointed out in the previous story, there are very important looming deadlines that Congress has to meet to pass a budget and pay our bills. And if they don't do that, there will be serious economic consequences and the clock is ticking. So, that was an important message as well.

BLITZER: Is the president ready to negotiate with the Republicans on the spending as well as on raising the debt ceiling?

PFEIFFER: Well, we are not negotiating on raising the debt ceiling. The president has been very clear on that. Here is where we are on the debt ceiling. For the first time ever in 2011, the Republicans decided they were going to threaten that if they don't get 100 percent of their way that will allow the United States to default for the first time, causing tremendous consequences to our economy.

We can't allow that to become the norm here where one party doesn't get what they want. They don't win elections. They can't pass things to (INAUDIBLE). So, they hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. We're not going to let that happen. They have to do their job which is paid the bills that they've already incurred. This isn't about spending more money. It's paying for spending that this Congress already authorized.

BLITZER: All right. Hold that thought for a moment. I want to continue this conversation. Let's take a quick break. Much more with Dan Pfeiffer coming up, including this, should the president put Obamacare on the back burner at least for a year to make peace with Congressional Republicans? We'll ask Dan Pfeiffer about that.

And two former defense secretaries who both worked for President Obama get this, they are now voicing some strong doubts about the president's deal with Russia's President Putin. We'll have more with Dan Pfeiffer on that. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Push comes to shove between President Obama and House Republicans, and at the center of it, an effort to derail health care reform, the new law that is about to go into effect. We're back with Dan Pfeiffer, the senior adviser to the president. Some Republicans are reaching out. They're saying, you know, the president has already delayed implementation of some parts of Obamacare. Why not delay implementation of the whole thing at least for a year to get through this current economic crisis?

PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, one, we're not paying ransom for Congress doing their job of paying the bills. That's the first point. The second point is that, the Affordable Care Act is a law passed by both Houses of Congress, signed by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court and then validated in an election.

So, it's the law. If Congress wants to change it, they should get the votes and repeal it. They don't have that. And so, their job should be to implement the law and help Americans get access to Affordable health insurance. This isn't good thing. It caused something -- we should (ph) not spend all the time refighting political battles.

BLITZER: So, if this is the condition put forward by the Republicans in order to keep the government funded, in order to keep the debt ceiling going up, to at least delay, forget about repealing, but delay full implementation of Obamacare for a year, that's a non-starter as far as the president is concerned.


PFEIFFER: It's a non-starter with the president. It's a non-starter with the Senate, but you don't need to hear that from me. The Republicans know that. The House Republicans are saying that just a few weeks ago, before they were browbeat into this kabuki theater by the Tea Party, by Senator Ted Cruz, they know how this ends. They know what is possible. They know that they do not have the votes to repeal Obamacare.

BLITZER: So, the president says he's ready to negotiate with the Republicans when it comes to keeping the government funded but not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. But other presidents, they've negotiated with the opposition party on raising the debt ceiling, including President Obama did it.

And when he was a senator, he recommended that there'd be some changes before voting to raise the debt ceiling. As you well remember, he later said it was a mistake. He voted against raising the debt ceiling back in 2007.

PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, something fundamentally changed in 2011 when the Republicans in Congress and the House in particular allowed the far right extreme of the party to declare that if they don't get what they want, 100 percent of what they want, they will allow the U.S. government to default for the first time. That would have tremendous consequences for economy.

It would mean -- potentially put us back, set us back many years in our economic recovery. And so, things are different now than they were before. But in the past, people haven't been negotiated over the debt ceiling whether we default or not. They were adding the debt ceiling into other deals they were doing. This is very different. It's important to understand the difference here.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to Syria for a moment, because I was pretty surprised to hear two former defense secretaries, both of whom work for President Obama, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, Leon Panetta also a former CIA director, they were in a forum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and they were pretty blunt, critical of the president on Syria.

Gates saying among other things, "Given the timelines that were involved, I would have advised him against going to Congress." Gates also, "My bottom line is that I believe that to blow a punch -- to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple days to underscore a validated point or a principle is not a strategy."

Panetta adding this, "When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his words." I don't know about you, but I was pretty surprised to hear both of these former defense secretaries raise these questions about the way the president is handling Syria.

PFEIFFER: Well, look, Syria is a very complicated issue that has been going on for a long time. But let's take a step back and see where we were three weeks ago and what the ultimate policy goal here was. With the president declared was that Assad can never use chemical weapons again. Our goal was to prevent him from doing so. Where are we now? Three weeks later, we are at a situation we're not just preventing Assad from using chemical weapons again, it's about actually being involved in a process to remove those chemical weapons from his possession. That is a policy outcome, much better than anyone thought was possible just a few weeks ago.

And that happened directly because of the pressure the president put on Syria by having a credible military threat on the table. So, the goal here is not to blow something up for the sake of blowing it up, it's to actually ensure that those chemical weapons are never used again and that's the process we're on right now. It's more work to do but we made great progress.

BLITZER: Let me wrap it up with a quick question about you, Dan. A lot of us were concerned when we heard you were at George Washington University Hospital with what were described as stroke like symptoms. You seem to be OK at least in this interview. Tell us what happened. How are you feeling? What's going on?

PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, I had a couple of incidents about two weeks ago. I had very good doctors at GW Hospital and here at the White House who looked after me. I feel great. I've been back at work since right after I left the hospital. So, everything is good. And I'm being smart listening to the doctors and I think everything should be good from here on out.

BLITZER: Have you changed anything as far as your lifestyle is concerned? Are you eating better, exercising more, drinking a little bit more fluids, not working as hard?

PFEIFFER: Wolf, have you been talking to my mom?


PFEIFFER: I've been listening to the doctors. I'm being smart and whenever I get overly stressed out. I just turn on CNN just so I can listen to the dulcet tones of Wolf Blitzer at five o'clock every day.

BLITZER: That could probably send you back. All right. Good luck, Dan Pfeiffer.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're hoping you're going to be OK. I know you had a scare -- a lot of us had a scare when we heard about it and I'm sure your mom did as well. But fortunately, you're back. You sound good, you look good, and we hope you're fully mended from whatever it was.

PFEIFFER: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Pfeiffer at the White House, the president's senior adviser. Here's what else is coming up later tonight on CNN.


ANNOUNCER: CNN tonight, at 7:00, "Erin Burnett Outfront." Controversy and the crown, the new Miss America responds to racist comments over her win. Then at 8:00 on "Anderson Cooper 360," remembering the victims who lost their lives in the Navy Yard shooting, and at 9:00 on "Piers Morgan Live," it's a deadly combination, guns and mental illness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way a gun should ever get in the hands of a mentally ill person.

ANNOUNCER: From the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren's son to the shooting at Washington Navy Yard, Piers asks the experts, can anything be done? It's all CNN tonight starting with "Erin Burnett Outfront" at 7:00, "Anderson Cooper 360" at 8:00, and "Piers Morgan Live" at 9:00, tonight on CNN.


BLITZER: And coming up here on THE SITUATION ROOM, advice on a government shutdown from someone who's been there not once but twice, the "Crossfire" co-host, Newt Gingrich, he joins us next.


BLITZER: A government shutdown is suddenly looking a bit more likely. Republican leaders say the House will pass a bill this week that would only keep the government running if President Obama's healthcare reform law is fully defunded, a bill that's certain to die in the Democratically controlled Senate.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash asked the House Speaker John Boehner about all of that today.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Speaker, it's no secret that you did not want to attach Obamacare to -- defining Obamacare to the spending bill. I know it's not been easy to be the speaker over at this caucus. But at this point, have you just kind of lost control over the caucus?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Listen, we've got a lot of divergent opinions in the caucus and the key to any leadership job is to listen. You know, I was here during the Gingrich era. He had a little plaque that was in his office, and it was a management model -- listen, learn, help, and lead.

We listen to our colleagues over the course of the last week. We have a plan that they're happy with. We're going forward.


BLITZER: And Newt Gingrich, the co-host of the new "CROSSFIRE" is joining us now. He was the speaker of the House during two earlier government shutdowns in the 1990s.

Mr. Speaker, thanks very much. Tell me what advice you would have for the current speaker. NEWT GINGRICH, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: Well, I think to do about what he is doing. He is speaker because he leads his conference and he has to I think pay attention to the desire of the conference. He can't lead very far beyond them or frankly he won't be speaker. The conference clearly wants to have a very serious collision with President Obama about a whole series of key issues.

And I think the conference believes that this is not a dictatorship. We don't have to automatically do exactly what the president wants. And the job of the speaker, I think, now is to set up the fight in the best possible way, recognizing that he's going to have substantial elements against him. But emphasizing that he wants to keep the government open, that he wants to help the economy create jobs but that there are significant things that the president simply has to negotiate over.

BLITZER: But a lot of Republicans, especially those who lived during the two earlier government shutdowns, they don't want to see another government shutdown. Listen to Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We can't let the government shut down. We can't be kamikazes and we can be General Custer.


BLITZER: Well you know, that's the problem right now. If there is another government shutdown, all the polls show the overwhelming majority of the American public will blame Republicans if folks aren't getting their checks from the government, if vital government services crawl to a half.

GINGRICH: Well, Wolf, let me mention something that seems to shock a lot of people in the news business. The next election is November of 2014. My advice to the speaker of the House is ignore the polls, do what you think is right. Emphasize that you want to keep the government open. They're going to pass the continuing resolution. They're going to be in a position to keep the government open.

And I think also emphasize to the country that the president of the United States has an obligation to negotiate. This idea that Barack Obama somehow can sit in the White House, refuse to negotiate, demand what he wants and that the Congress has an obligation to obey him goes against everything we know about American history.

I think the president has as big an obligation to sit down and talk with the House as the House does to sit down and talk with the president.

BLITZER: He says he's willing to talk about the budget and avoiding a government shutdown. What he isn't willing to discuss right now with anyone is whether or not the country should raise the nation's debt ceiling, the creditworthiness of the United States is at stake and you've got to raise that debt ceiling. GINGRICH: Yes, but that's -- look, this is historically nonsense. This is like the other night when I was with you and we listened to the president's speech on Syria and he totally misquoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt, taking his speech that was in 1935 that had nothing to do with what he was saying.

Ronald Reagan signed debt ceilings that had Gramm-Rudman added to it which was a huge spending cut. George H.W. Bush signed debt ceilings that had things added to them. William Jefferson Clinton had signed debt ceilings that had things added to them.

Who is Barack Obama to dictate to the nation that he is not going to follow the precedent and negotiate -- presidents are supposed to negotiate with the Congress. They don't dictate to the Congress. They can't just swagger around and he doesn't get to set the terms of the debate.

Both sides have to come to the table. Both sides have to find a common ground. But the president, in my judgment, makes it very hard to do so given his attitude.

BLITZER: Yes. He says he did that the last time the debt ceiling came up and he's not doing it again. We'll see what happens because that ceiling is about to come up by mid October, if you believe the Department of the Treasury.

Newt Gingrich, we'll see you on "CROSSFIRE," 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

And still ahead here in the SITUATION ROOM, we have new details about the health of the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, and a recent visit to a V.A. hospital.

Plus, CNN's Jeanne Moos when we come back.


BLITZER: Miley Cyrus strikes again sparking a different kind of controversy.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look what you started, Miley.

Kids were having a ball imitating you.

And now students at Grand Valley State University in Michigan have had their ball taken away.

Actually it was a pendulum sculpture, a 500-pound sphere that had been here almost two decades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want our wrecking ball back.

MOOS: All that swinging inspired by Miley Cyrus and even pre-Miley, inspired university administrators to put the ball into storage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just from a safety standpoint.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That ball better be back soon. Otherwise there's going to be a lot of students that are going to be upset.

MOOS: Keep your shirt on or at least your underwear. The students are having protests. They're leaving memorials. The wrecking ball even has its own Twitter account tweeting out, "Just put the ball back and no one gets hurt."

Meanwhile, online parodies have been wreaking havoc with Miley's "Wrecking Ball," reimagining how the song should have ended. Adding "twerk that" and replacing Miley -- with Nicholas Cage.

(On camera): Of course most people don't have a wrecking ball handy so they have to improvise.


MOOS (voice-over): Or nailing it with tires, with the tires shaped like a horse, substituting a light for a ball, a playground swing.

Parodies are featuring everything from homemade balls to exercise balls. To suspended exercise balls that require one to exercise patience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It keeps twisting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, have you mounted a horse before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, yes, but like --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One that I know is not going to fall from a tree.

MOOS: As for the Grand Valley ball, university officials say they hope to eventually relocate it. Other suggested solutions? Electrify the ball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what they do? They grease it down.

MOOS: But for now, the wrecking ball remains moth-balled, no more Miley Cyrus meets Tarzan.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Happening now, the mother of the Navy Yard gunman says she's glad he can't hurt anyone else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken.


BLITZER: Two days after Aaron Alexis opened fire, the Pentagon chief now acknowledging that red flags were, in fact, missed.

Plus, Starbucks serves up a new message for gun owners. The CEO explains to CNN why he's changing his policy on weapons in stores.

And so much for the handshakes and working together. Is Russia putting a deal on Syria's chemical weapons at risk?

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

We could get the autopsy results of the Navy Yard gunman at any moment. A spokesman says the D.C. medical examiner will finish work on Aaron Alexis' body by the end of the day.