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AMERICAN MORNING

When Did House Leadership Know about Foley?; Scandal Leads to Uncertainty for Florida GOP; Drive-By Shootings Target Iraqi Civilians; Leading Conservative Weighs in on Foley Scandal; Does Bush Help or Hurt GOP Candidates?; Exercise Boosts Low Testosterone Levels

Aired October 5, 2006 - 08:00   ET

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


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, where House speaker Dennis Hastert's political future is the big question this morning. Will he stay or will he go?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken in West Palm Beach, Florida, where a vote for Mark Foley is not a vote for Mark Foley.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Arwa Damon in Baghdad, just back from a recent embed. I'll tell you how the U.S. military is doing in an incredibly deadly month that is only five days old.

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: Fire and ice, raining from the skies over Ohio. People there picking up the pieces, following devastating lightning strikes and some big hail, as you see there. That's ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Let's begin with the very latest on the growing Mark Foley e-mail scandal. The House Ethics Committee is scheduled to meet in just about two hours. The heat is being turned up on House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

CNN's Dana Bash, live for us on Capitol Hill. Good morning, Dana.

BASH: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, you know, fellow Republicans were already furious with the House speaker, because they thought that he did not do enough to stop the -- Mark Foley, to stop his conduct. But now there are new allegations that, actually, the House speaker's office knew long ago about Mark Foley's inappropriate behavior.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A top House Republican aide says he warned the House speaker's chief of staff more than two years ago that Mark Foley was having inappropriate contact with pages, well before GOP leaders say they knew about it. The aide making this new claim is Kirk Fordham, who was then Mark Foley's chief of staff. Fordham's attorney tells CNN Fordham told the speaker's top aide, Scott Palmer, that he was worried about Foley's conduct with pages. The attorney would not give specifics of the conversation.

In a statement Fordham says, "Even prior to the existence of the Foley e-mail exchanges, I had more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest levels of the House of Representatives, asking them to intervene when I was informed of Mr. Foley's inappropriate behavior."

If true, this would contradict a timeline the speaker's office released over the weekend, saying it only found out about Foley's conduct at the end of 2005, after a former page complained he got an e-mail from Foley asking for a picture.

But the speaker's chief of staff flatly denies that Fordham had warned him about Foley's conduct, saying what Kirk Fordham said did not happen.

Fordham dropped this political bomb hours after he resigned as chief of staff to New York Congressman Reynolds. The new charge put the speaker back on the defensive as senior GOP lawmakers continued to distance themselves from him.

The No. 3 Republican, Congressman Roy Blunt, seemed to take a shot at Hastert, telling reporters back home in Missouri he would have handled the Foley matter differently, had he known about it.

"You have to be curious. You have to ask all the questions you can think of," Blunt said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And this new challenge to the speaker's account of when his office knew about Mark Foley's conduct is putting even more pressure on him from Republicans who were already being bombarded back home on the campaign trail from voters and reporters about this whole issue, the Foley issue.

Now I asked a senior Republican official this morning whether the speaker can survive this, and I got this short reply: "It's not good."

Soledad, one other thing: in a couple of hours, the House Ethics Committee will be meeting for the first time since they were charged with investigating this. But it is the first meeting. This committee meets very much in secret. It's unclear at this point how far they're going to go in terms of their investigation. But you can be sure Democrats will try to make sure they investigate Republican leaders -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Everybody wants to know what they're going to come up with. All right. Dana for us. Thanks, Dana -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ground zero for this political bombshell is the district in Florida Mark Foley used to represent, a district that was not in play at all. Foley's reelection was all but guaranteed. But this morning, Foley's name is still on the ballot, and voters are confused and angry.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is right there in West Palm Beach.

Good morning, Bob.

FRANKEN: Good morning, Miles.

And they're going to be more confused when they go to the polling place, and if they haven't been keeping up with the news, are going to see Mark Foley's name on the ballot. And if they have been keeping up on the news they're going to probably not be inclined to vote for him, no matter how many explanations there are that he is really now just a surrogate for the newly appointed Republican candidate, Joe Negron.

The Democrats, who almost never have a ghost of a chance here, now have a substantial chance here.

This is a community that is trying to puzzle through this. Mark Foley's lawyer, the other day, added to the list of reasons that maybe Foley acted the way he did, is that he had been abused by a clergyman when he was a child. Now he went to a parochial school for a while. At that school they said they had no idea what he's talking about.

Meanwhile, the voters are trying to get some idea of what to do. One of the proposals out there had been to put a sign up at the polling places, saying a vote for Mark Foley is not really a vote for Mark Foley. But election officials say that can't be done any closer than 100 feet from the ballot box itself.

Meanwhile, the Republican chairman here, well, let's just say he has an uphill battle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SID DINERSTEIN, REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN, PALM BEACH COUNTY: It is very possible that there are some voters who would have voted for our side, who would say, "You know, you guys just upset me too much. I feel that there is a certain amount of trust I had in you, which may be at this moment is not deserved." My answer is, I understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Now, people have to understand that this is an extremely Republican district. And so the victory by a Democrat is not a sure thing -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken for us this morning. Thank you, Bob.

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is still alive. That's according to U.S. military officers. American authorities say they do not believe that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed. DNA tests, though, are under way to make sure. That contradicts earlier reports from Arab TV that he was killed by coalition forces. The sectarian violence is continuing in Iraq. Gunman killed five people in a Baghdad coffee shop, wounded six others during the holy month of Ramadan. Many people gather in coffee shops during their day of fasting.

Let's get right to CNN's Arwa Damon. She's got more on the surging violence. She's live in Baghdad.

Arwa, good morning.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

That's right. Tragically, the violence here does continue to mainly target Iraqi civilians. As you just mentioned, that coffee shop attack, a group of Iraqis just trying to go out, perhaps trying to relax, attacked in a drive-by shooting.

Also earlier this morning, we had another incident that involved a drive-by shooting, this time at 6:30 in the morning. A group of construction workers, Iraqis just looking to try to make a living. Twenty of them were wounded in a drive-by shooting incident.

Following that, a car bomb detonated, killed another two Iraqis, wounding two more.

Meanwhile, this has also been an incredibly deadly month for the U.S. military here. At least 19 troops have been killed across Iraq. And of those 19, at least nine troops were killed in Baghdad in incidents that involved small arms fire.

Now, I just got back from being embedded with the U.S. military, with the 1st Infantry Division that operates in eastern Baghdad, and they have suffered a number of casualties over the last month and a half that they have been in country.

They're operating in an incredibly volatile environment, Soledad. These troops go out, and they're greeted with smiles and hand shakes. But the atmosphere in the streets can change in an instant. And it really is very deceptive and very, very volatile for them out there.

And when you speak with them about how they're able to cope with this, how are they able to go out every day, knowing that each step they take, the atmosphere in the street could change, could become deadly. They will say that it is very, very, very tough. But at the same time, they do draw a lot of strength from each other, and they do continue to go out there every day, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon is live for us in Baghdad this morning. Arwa, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening in America, in Pennsylvania today, funerals for four of the girls killed in Monday's shootings at an Amish school. A service for the fifth girl killed will be held tomorrow. Five girls still hospitalized, three in critical condition, two in serious condition. In Virginia, a bomb threat has shut schools in Culpeper County today. Police say they got the threat late last night. No specific target given. But officials believe the intended target could be children. So police are closing all public and private schools while they conduct a thorough search.

Two men accused of the shooting of five Duquesne basketball players in court, now headed for trial. Derek Lee and William Holmes face attempted homicide charges in the shootings on September 17. The shooting apparently sparked by an argument over a girl after a campus party.

In the New Orleans area, the owners of St. Rita's nursing home, plead not guilty. Thirty-five people died there in the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. Salvador Mangano and his wife Mabel are charged with negligent homicide and cruelty to the infirm.

In Georgia, a wanted sex offender found living in a hole in the ground behind an elementary school. Police got a tip that 50-year-old Timothy Primrose was hiding in a 4x8 six-foot deep hole. Primrose wanted by authorities in Virginia. He faces extradition.

In Texas, a tense overnight hostage situation ended just a little while ago. Earlier SWAT teams surrounded a house where a man was barricaded. He was holding a 4-year-old boy hostage. The unidentified man now under arrest. Police say he shot and wounded three people before the standoff began.

In New York City, the T-shaped steel beam known as the ground zero cross is moving. The 20-foot beam is moving three blocks to St. Peter's Church.

Meanwhile, New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has been nominated to head the World Trade Memorial Foundation.

Central Ohio recovering from severe storms this morning. Trees and power lines were no match for the wind and hail the size of ping- pong hails. The hail, rain and wind were so severe traffic was brought to a halt on many roads. Lightning strikes also caused a lot of damage. Check out this 100-year-old barn. It was obviously old, dry wood, and it became kindling after it was struck by lightning.

Which brings us to the forecast. Rob Marciano, ping-pong ball sized hail. Reminds me of the old "Captain Kangaroo Show", you know, when the ping-pong balls came down. But that's serious business. That can actually cause a lot of damage to people's cars.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Rob, thanks.

Ahead this morning, the fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal. Some say House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign over it. We're going to talk to a leading conservative activist about why he says Hastert should stay. Plus, President Bush hits the campaign trail to help out Republican candidates. Is he doing more harm than good? We'll take a look ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: It might not be a household name, but Paul Weyrich is one of the most powerful conservative activists in Washington. He founded the Heritage Foundation, coined the term "moral majority."

So when he said yesterday that Dennis Hastert should resign as speaker of the House, people were listening. Hastert himself called Weyrich to plead his case. Did he change his mind? Mr. Weyrich joins us from Washington with the answer.

Good to have you with us on the program. How did the call go and did you change your mind?

PAUL WEYRICH, FOUNDER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: He did, actually. I've known Denny Hastert for many years. I know his staff very well. Scott Palmer, his chief of staff. And they are honest people. I mean, I have never, ever had the speaker dissemble, lie, mislead me, whatever.

And so when he walked me through the whole situation and swore that he never heard anything about this until last week -- or, well, first heard it, I guess the end of last year, but didn't know about the salacious activities until ABC broke the story, I believe him.

And these people that are coming forth now that are pointing the finger at him, I think, are trying to deflect the finger from themselves. So he did convince me, mainly because he's an honest man.

S. O'BRIEN: You believe him. All right. Well, I want to share with you just a brief passage from an editorial written by Tony Blankley, who's with the "Washington Times" now, used to be chief of staff for Newt Gingrich. I'm sure you've seen this, but I want to show our viewers.

It says this: "Defending Denny Hastert's decisions is ethically wrong, would undermine our party's commitment to the defense of traditional moral values and is politically stupid in the bargain."

How do you respond to those criticisms?

WEYRICH: Well, I don't say that the speaker has handled everything perfectly. He has not. And he admits that. The question is, did he lie or didn't he? And in my opinion, he did not.

If he did not, then I can't see throwing him under the bus, because if we do, the next target will be Congressman Reynolds. And after that will be Congressman Shimkus. And after that, the majority leader, Boehner. And who knows? So, you know, I just think there's going to be a feeding frenzy, and if we get behind the speaker, it will stop. M. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this, if -- assuming Republicans prevail and hold the House in the midterm elections, would you be firmly in favor of Dennis Hastert remaining as speaker of the House?

WEYRICH: Well, I would, but we'd have to see at that time whether there was any challenge to him, and who the challenge might be from.

I note with great interest that my good friend, the majority whip, Roy Blunt, has distanced himself from the speaker, in that Roy called me and told me they never told him anything. And here he was, a former president of a Christian college who had dealt with these problems on a number of occasions and knew what to do with them.

And he said, "You know, I would have handled it a lot differently if they had only asked me."

So I got the feeling that maybe he would challenge the speaker, and if he did, then I would be probably hard-pressed to continue the support of the speaker. But right now, I think the speaker should stay.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. But if there's a challenge, you might switch allegiances.

Let me just -- a final thought from you. How is it -- you're as in touch with the conservative base, as it is called, as anybody. How do you think this is going to play? Will social conservatives, conservatives in the Republican Party, will they stay home this election, this midterm election? Will this really have an impact?

WEYRICH: I think it will. I think it's most unfortunate. Reagan's pollster, Dick Wirthlin, coined the term "the embarrassed Republican vote." And he mentioned that because the Democrats won this huge landslide in 1974, only the vote for them was the same as it was four years earlier in 1970, the difference being the extraordinarily drop-off of Republicans.

I think we might see the same thing this time. And if we do, of course, the Democrats will take over the Congress.

M. O'BRIEN: Paul Weyrich with the Free Congress Foundation. We thank you for your time, sir.

WEYRICH: Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

WEYRICH: Bye-bye.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, the time was an election year visit from the president would give just about any candidate a big boost at the polls. But this year the president's coattails might be a little toxic. More now from senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): If it's Monday, this must be Reno.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dean Heller is the right person for the United States Congress.

SCHNEIDER: Tuesday, hello, Stockton.

BUSH: I'm proud to be here on behalf of Richard Pombo.

SCHNEIDER: Republican candidates had better consider this question: is Bush a drag? He certainly wasn't in 2002, when the president barnstormed the country, and Republicans unexpectedly gained House seats.

But this year, with the Iraq war deeply unpopular, most Americans say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes President Bush than one who supports him. So Bush is a drag, right? It could be more complicated.

Bush clearly rallies the Republican base. Eighty-four percent of Republicans say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the president. But he also rallies the Democratic base. Ninety-two percent of Democrats say they'd be more likely to vote for an anti-Bush candidate.

PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Patrick Murphy.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats all over the country are trying to make President Bush the issue.

MURPHY: Whether it's the war in Iraq, whether it's stem cell research, privatizing Social Security, the things that President Bush wants to happen, my opponent goes along.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans believe their base can overwhelm the Democratic base because Republicans have the edge in money and organization.

What about swing voters? Bad news for Republicans. By a huge margin, independents say they'd prefer a Bush opponent to a Bush supporter. Republicans have to reassure themselves that if 2006 is the usual low turnout midterm election, most independents won't bother to vote.

(on camera) The story is told that many years ago the campaign manager of a very unpopular presidential candidate called a local Ohio congressional candidate.

"I have wonderful news for you," he said. "We're going to be there to campaign in your district."

"That is good news," the local candidate responded. "But I'm afraid I'm going to be in Florida visiting my parents."

"Wait a minute," the campaign manager said. "I haven't told you when we're coming."

"It doesn't matter," the local candidate said. "Whenever you show up, I'm going to be in Florida visiting my parents."

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, the Senate unanimously passes a bill to fight a disability that affects thousands of kids: autism. So why is it being held up in House committee? We'll take a look at that just ahead.

Plus, low testosterone in men. Some say it's male menopause. We'll take a look at how it affects men's health and what they can do about it. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: This morning in our health series for people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, avoiding male menopause. Judy Fortin with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 7 a.m., and 58-year-old Chuck Naegeli has already finished an hour run. Since his early 30s, Chuck's been exercising to avoid male menopause.

DR. YASSAR OUSMAN, WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: As men age, there's an age related decline in their testosterone levels. This decline is usually slow but progressive.

FORTIN: Testosterone levels can affect mood and sex drive.

CHUCK NAEGELI, FIT AT FIFTY: My doctor thinks I'm doing fairly well. He's not making any extra recommendations, because I'm already doing probably more than the average person.

FORTIN: In their 30s, men may begin to see a gradual change in muscle mass and endurance. They might start to slow down and lose a bit of their vitality as testosterone levels begin to even out. But if the levels fall too low, there could be other health problems.

OUSMAN: The symptoms that we a tribute to low testosterone can see in other medical instances (ph): anemias, heart disease, liver disease, lung disease. So it's really difficult to make a diagnosis.

FORTIN: In their 40s, some men face more obvious problems, like lower sex drives and severe fatigue. Many may even begin to suffer from depression.

Women also carry certain amounts of testosterone in their bodies. In their 40s, women's hormones begin to change.

OUSMAN: They may also experience a drop in the testosterone, and therefore, they may experience a number of symptoms, particularly related to their sexual life and their sexual satisfaction.

FORTIN: Men in their 50s can begin to experience stronger mood swings and erectile dysfunction or E.D.

According to the American Urological Association, hormone patches and gels can help. In extreme cases, medication for depression and E.D. is available. But for most the answer is simply to get off the coach. Exercise can bump up low testosterone levels, improving sex drive and giving men extra muscle mass as they get older.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that could help thousands of kids who are diagnosed with autism. The bill is, though, being held up in the House. We'll talk to the bill's opponent. He'll tell us why.

Also, did authorities wait too long to investigate the Mark Foley scandal? We'll find out why one watchdog group says the FBI dragged its feet for months. Those stories ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice left Tel Aviv. That happened earlier this morning. She's been pressing Israel to ease some restrictions as a way to boost the image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rice's next stop -- well, so far, that's a secret.

A warning from the U.S. envoy to those stalled North Korea nuclear talks. He says the U.S. will not live with a nuclear North Korea, and he's warned them not to conduct an atomic weapons test.

And for millions of Americans who are suffering with ragweed allergies, relief could come in a vaccine. Researchers say a new ragweed allergy vaccine is just a few years away.

Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

We'll get you to the latest on the congressional page scandal. A new allegation from a former chief of staff for the disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley. Kirk Fordham says he told Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aide that he was concerned about Foley's behavior as long as two years ago. Fordham resigned yesterday as chief of staff for another Republican leader, Tom Reynolds.

Now, Speaker Hastert's office offered a one-line response: "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen" is what it reads. The House Ethics Committee wades into this mess this morning. They must decide how any ethics investigation would go forward. That meeting scheduled to get under way at 10:00 Eastern time. Kirk Fordham's attorney says his client is ready to cooperate with the FBI. Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Behind this door in what used to be Mark Foley's office sits his computer, disks and other materials that could be considered evidence. A senior justice official says the Justice Department requested it all be kept under lock and key and not touched, pending a full criminal investigation.

When the time comes to remove it all, agents want to do that themselves, and don't expect any challenge from Congress. In the meantime, investigators are questioning former congressional pages about their relations with the former congressman.

DAVID SCHERTLER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: To the extent that the FBI gets information from pages, leading them to conclude that there was e-mail correspondence between a particular page and Congressman Foley, it could provide the FBI the necessary probable cause basis for obtaining search warrants.

ARENA: Officials who have been briefed say investigators have enough information to warrant a full sex crimes investigation. But the attorney general is refusing to comment at this stage.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Obviously we consider these allegations very seriously. It's early in the process, and so please give us an opportunity to do our jobs, to ensure that our children remain safe.

ARENA: The investigation has been moving very quickly over the past 48 hours. The woman who first brought the original e-mails to the FBI's attention back in July says she doesn't know why it took so long.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY & ETHICS: It took literally less than 24 hours after the first set of e-mails were revealed for all the rest of the instant messages to come out. So if the FBI had just done even just a modicum of digging, they would have found out much more about Mark Foley.

ARENA: She alleges the FBI dragged their feet and her watchdog group sent a letter to the Justice Department's inspector general, asking him to investigate.

(on camera): The FBI is refusing comment, but government officials insist that the FBI did investigate. In fact, they say, three squads looked at the e-mails: a public corruptions squad, a criminal squad and finally, a cyber squad.

We're told agents determined that there wasn't enough evidence at the time to suggest any criminal activity.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) S. O'BRIEN: Well, the Foley scandal certainly has taken the attention off some of the work that Congress did not accomplish before they head to recess.

Here's a look at one important issue that was left in the lurch. The Senate unanimously passed the Combating Autism Act back in August. The $1 billion in the proposed law would be used to try to find the cause of autism and also possible treatments. The bill, though, is in the House, it's stuck there, and its future is now uncertain. The families of well over a million Americans are waiting for some help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): They look like a typical American family: Ralph (ph) and Michelle Ilanarti (ph) and their young sons Jackson (ph), Bennett (ph) and Luca (ph). But look closer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our three kids have an autism spectrum disorder. So everything we do, you look at, you look at from a therapeutic angle.

S. O'BRIEN: The Ilanartis certainly aren't alone. One in 166 children is diagnosed with autism, one in every 104 boys. That's more children than are diagnosed with cancer and AIDS and diabetes combined.

For this suburban New York family, the most pressing number though, is three. All three boys require constant attention, and 40 hours of therapy every week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't go anywhere. You know, we haven't -- Jackson has never, ever taken a week off from therapy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That affects every single facet of your day and your life. Everything.

S. O'BRIEN: On August 3rd, the Combatting Autism Act was approved unanimously in the Senate. Among its provisions, allocation of $920 million over five years for autism research. It requires the National Institutes of Health to implement a strategic plan to fight autism, and it creates grants for states to develop early screening programs.

Early detection is half the battle. The Ilanarti's eldest son Jackson is five years old, still hasn't spoken a word, still isn't toilet trained. He was diagnosed late. But when the twins were born two years later, Ralph and Michelle knew what to look for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We wanted them to make eye contact at like a month old. You know, Look at me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, yes. That was like Luca at like four or five months. But they had little things that we obsessively looked at and brought to the pediatrician's attention. And this time, the pediatrician, you know, agreed.

S. O'BRIEN: The Ilanartis say the Combatting Autism Act is a step in the right direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've always tried to support research for autism, for several reasons. You know, our kids have suffered.

S. O'BRIEN: And they hope it's a chance to bring wonderful children like theirs out of the darkness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: So the autism legislation is dead in committee. Congress is in recess. Washington's distracted by a big scandal. Is anybody paying attention?

Well, Senator Rick Santorum co-sponsored the bill in Senate. He's in Philadelphia this morning. Congressman Joe Barton is the chairman of the House committee that's considering the bill. He's in Fort Worth, Texas.

Gentleman, nice to see you both. Thanks for talking with us.

Congressman Barton, why don't we begin with you. First, you are chair of the committee that could have brought this bill onto the floor of the House. Why won't you do it?

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Well, I passed the -- the House passed the National Institute of Health reauthorization bill, 412-2, and we sent it over to the Senate, and we have asked Senator Santorum and other senators to bring that bill to the Senate floor. It includes most of what is in the autism bill that Senator Santorum has worked so hard on. And we feel like that if we can get the Senate to work with us on the NIH bill, we're more than willing to work with the Senate on Senator Santorum's autism bill.

S. O'BRIEN: So clearly, Congressman Barton, Senator Santorum, likes the NIH reform bill a little bit better. Is it true that, in fact, what's in the NIH bill pretty much is the same thing that's included in your bill?

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, it's not the same thing. There are some reforms, clearly. And we actually wrote the Combatting Autism Bill to fit into the NIH reform bill that Congressman Barton has been working on for many, many years. And as this congressman knows, I was in constant conversation with him and many House members all last week in an attempt to help the NIH bill come through the Senate, as well as to try to move the Combatting Autism Bill through the House of Representatives.

But there's some very key provisions in the Combatting Autism Bill that we've worked on for literally over a year that are not in the NIH bill that are critical. And one is the Center of Excellence for Environmental Causes. One of the things the autism community is very concerned about, and is suspicious about, is the research that's been done with respect to what causes autism. And many believe that there are environmental factors and that we need a congressionally mandated center of excellence to focus on those environmental causes. The NIH bill does not do that. In fact, it says you don't have congressionally designated centers. I think in this case, because of the suspicion about NIH and the research that's been done, we need that center and we need it congressionally mandated.

S. O'BRIEN: Congressman Barton, there are so many people who would say autism is crisis. I mean, you just look at the numbers. One in every 104 boys who are born are going to be born autistic. Isn't there a point at which one disease actually deserves the attention and, frankly, the money, as opposed to just handing it over to the NIH?

BARTON: Well, you've kind of hit on the problem there. The NIH, as it's currently structured, has 27 different institutes. It has probably several hundred centers of excellence. There are at least three centers of excellence right now in NIH on autism, and there could be as many as 21, depending on how you'd want to classify and count them. So the House is not anti-autism. Just the contrary.

But we want to reform the entire structure. And Senator Santorum wants to do that, too. We think that the NIH reform package puts in motion the accounting principles, the transparency principles, all the various things to make it possible to focus more on autism. Again, we're not anti-autism. But the senator's legislation has a specific authorization level, which no one outside of the autistic community supports that.

We already are spending more on autism than Senator Santorum's bill would authorize. So I don't see a reason to put a specific authorization level. So the differences between the House and the Senate on this issue are not nearly as great as they're perceived to be. We want to help the autistic community. In fact, almost all of the autism groups endorse the NIH reform package when it came through the House.

S. O'BRIEN: Aren't many of those...

BARTON: It passed 412-2.

S. O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you there, but aren't many of them saying that they support, as Senator Santorum just said, they support sort of both, that yes, I mean, a lot of people would say the NIH needs to be reformed, but at the same time, you have a major crisis here with autism.

BARTON: Well, the point -- and again, Senator Santorum is one of my best friends, and he's worked tirelessly on this issue, and he's to be commended for that. We're not opposed to the principles in the Santorum bill. We have sent back to the Senate, not formally, but unofficially a proposal that mirrors Senator Santorum's bill 95 percent.

S. O'BRIEN: Is that true, Senator Santorum? Do you think you've got something that's coming back to you to that mirrors that 95 percent? Is that 95 percent close enough? SANTORUM: Well, you know, the problem is that there are three major things that are not in the proposal that are just, from my perspective, maybe 90 percent or 95 percent, although it's about two- thirds of the actual language of the bill that's been taken out. I would suggest that it's a bigger chunk than that, and it's very important things.

You know, autism is a disorder that really doesn't have a home in NIH. I mean, it just falls through the cracks of the Institutes. It's sort of parceled out in a lot of different places. And you know, the Senate is not big on passing disease-specific bills. We haven't passed one in five years, because of what Congressman Barton said, you know, the problems over at NIH.

But we believe and the Senate believes, and Senator Dodd is my sponsor on the Democratic side, after looking at this -- and by the way, Senator Kennedy and Senator Enzi, who are chairmen of the committee, they really believe that this was a special case, as you said, Soledad, and that we really needed to do something special, because of this suspicion in the autism community, that the research that's been done at NIH really doesn't reflect the reality of what's going on out there, and that's why we, unlike an NIH reform, we need Congress to step in actually and tell NIH to do this particular kind of research. We need to tell them to take -- to focus on an area, which, to date, the community has not convinced that they've done a good job at.

S. O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, before I let you go, I've got to ask you a question about the Mark Foley scandal. I know you're both prepared to talk about it, because I know it's probably all you've talked about for the last few days. Do you still support the House speaker? Do you think that Congressman Hastert, in fact, if what this new aide, the new allegations, this aide saying that, in fact, the office knew much earlier, do you think he still has you've support as a leader?

BARTON: Well, let me speak first since I'm in the House. I talked to Speaker Hastert yesterday. I totally support him. I think he's a man of integrity and decency. I believe he's telling the truth. I think Congressman Foley is an isolated case. He's resigned from the House. An investigation is being conducted by the FBI. I think we ought to focus on the issues and move on, and let the judicial system and the rehabilitation system take care of Congressman Foley.

S. O'BRIEN: If indeed it turns out, Senator Santorum, that Congressman -- that information about Congressman Foley in fact made its way to Congressman Hastert's office much earlier than was first reported, and first believed, maybe years before, do you think that would be reason for more Republicans to be calling for him to step down?

SANTORUM: Well, I would just say that this is a very serious matter, and obviously some people, whether it was staff members, certainly no staff members knew about this, you know, as much as now recently reported a couple of years ago, they didn't take it seriously, and that is -- that's -- I can't tell you how much I condemn that. It is absurd that we have -- these pages who are entrusted to us, that they would be made vulnerable to a predator, and that some people, obviously some people knew this was going on and didn't act. And the question is, who knew it. Did the staff members withhold it from members of Congress? If that's the case, the staff members should suffer the consequences. If it's not the case, if the member of Congress actually knew about these transgressions, than those members have to be held accountable. We should have a less than zero tolerance, if that's possible, attitude toward this type of behavior.

S. O'BRIEN: Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, gentlemen, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN Still to come on the program, the crisis in Darfur. For an entire generation of children, the life of a refugee is the only life they know.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta will show us how they struggle to survive. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: The crisis in Darfur is creating millions of refugees escaping the horrors of genocide. In the African nation of Chad, which borders Sudan, more than 200,000 refugees live in camps. Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited some of the children who live there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So happy, in part because they have no idea what they do not have. Life in Jabba (ph) refugee camp. Their smiles conceal a startling fact. This conflict has raged so long, an entire generation of children knows only the life of refugees. They were born into it.

(on camera): No doubt it is not easy to take care of people in a refugee camp. But here's where it gets really difficult. This is a structure built specifically to take care of malnourished children. For example, Ashda Dumi (ph) here, who is two years old and weighs less than 10 pounds. Her mother knows she doesn't have a very good chance of survival, but they're doing the best they can, trying to get her to eat as much as they can.

(voice-over): Just for comparison an average 26-month-old in the United States weighs 27 pounds. Almost three types what Ashda (ph) weighs.

And here, even a slight cough in a young baby can become life threatening.

(on camera): You see so much abdominal breathing here. She's not even using her lungs to actually breathe. That's a sign that she's really struggling to try and get some air. She's in respiratory distress. There's no breathing machine here, there's no breathing machine there, so what happens to a child like this?

DR. HENRY MURAMBO, OJABAL REFUGEE CAMP: Well, we do our best. We'll use what we have here.

GUPTA (voice-over): Without some way to help this baby, it is unlikely she will survive. But in this refugee camp, she's been given at least another day.

But sometimes some of the best treatments are anything but elaborate. Cereals and oils mixed together, part of a nutritional plan funded by UNICEF. It helps little Ashda, who in just days gains a few ounces. Good news.

But as they get older, if they survive to get older, it will get even harder still.

(on camera): It's over 100 degrees here today, but this is part of what life is like in a refugee camp typically. They have to live off the land. They take these seeds, for example, and pound them into a paste that they can eat. Sometimes they'll take these stalks after they harden and actually use them to build the huts.

It is not an easy life for so many of the children that you see here, but it's a necessary one for time being. They're praying that they can get back to Sudan, but that doesn't look like it's happening anytime soon.

(voice-over): They want to return to a place they've only heard about, but never known, their homeland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Sanjay is reporting with Anderson Cooper all this week from Africa. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" airs weeknights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

M. O'BRIEN: Up next, Andy Serwer, "Minding Your Business." Andy, good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Good morning, Miles. CEO pay continues to go to the moon, but not for all executives, as Bill Gates gets his paycheck slashed.

M. O'BRIEN: Ooh, how is he going to get by? We'll figure it out. All right, we'll see you in just a little bit. And, seriously, you know what that means, crew, right?

S. O'BRIEN: Miles Cam!

SERWER: True confessions today, right?

M. O'BRIEN: Miles Cam. It's true confessions. I will answer the question, if you want to pose it, as to how I got fired for being too honest a few years ago. Send the e-mails to milescam@CNN.com. The answers, at CNN.com/pipeline, 10:30 Eastern. We'll see you there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BUSINESS HEADLINES)

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up in just a moment, we're going to have a look at the top stories. And in "House Call," we'll take a look at the flu. There's plenty of flu vaccine out there, so why are so few people planning on getting the shot? We'll take a look ahead, on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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