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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Report Says Iraq's Leaders Are Unable to Govern; Interview With Barack Obama

Aired August 23, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, potential turning points in the Iraq War. A new intelligence report says Iraq's leaders are, "unable to govern," and a highly respected Republican senator now calling on President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq by Christmas.
Barack Obama says much of the talk about Iraq is a distraction from a more important issue. You're going to hear what he thinks. A CNN one-on-one interview with him coming up. We'll also see the presidential candidate's jump shot.

One school wants to give women college degrees on sewing, raising children and loving their husbands. It's causing some controversy out there.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now in what could be a major turning point in the war, a respected Republican Senator wants President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq by Christmas. Senator John Warner of Virginia says the United States needs to send a very clear message.

I think no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that in consultation with our senior military commanders, he's decided to initiate the first step in the withdrawal of armed forces.

Also Happening now, A new intelligence report paints a stark picture of

how well or how bad things are in Iraq. It says some of Iraq's killing is actually going down, but that too many people are still dying. It also says Iraq's political leaders are not -- repeat not up to the job of effectively running their government.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is joining us -- Jamie, this intelligence report doubtful about the Iraqi government's future.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, if you think of this National Intelligence Estimate as a report card on Iraq, then it's full of failing grades.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The brightest spot in the otherwise bleak NIE is its conclusion that there has been measurable but uneven improvement in Iraq's security situation since the last report, issued in January, before the surge.

But it's hardly a pretty picture. Among the key judgments, violence remains high, sectarian groups are unreconciled, Al Qaeda is still able to conduct high profile attacks, Iraq's political leaders are unable to govern effectively and Iraqi security forces have not improved enough to take over.

But the Bush administration is pointing to another hopeful trend -- local sheikhs making their peace against Al Qaeda, even as the national government of Nouri Al-Maliki founders.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: there is a bottom up reconciliation taking place. It's noticeable and tangible and real, where people at the grassroots level are sick and tired of the violence, sick and tired of the radicalism, and they want -- and they want a better life.

MCINTYRE: But the intelligence assessment warns those bottom up agreements come with a big risk -- setting the stage for increased factional violence, such as what's happened in the south, where British troops have pulled back.

BRIG. GEN. RICHARD SHERLOCK, JOINT CHIEFS DEPUTY DIRECTOR: The key to that is tying that bottom up reconciliation to the central government's efforts so that they don't become splintered again.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And, Wolf, perhaps the assessment's most controversial conclusion is the idea that pulling U.S. troops back now will make things worse. It says changing the mission from a counter-insurgency to combat support would simply erode the gains that have been made so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie thanks very much.

The report, by the way, puts even more pressure on Iraq's prime minister. He's already embattled for failing to unify Iraq's deeply fractured sectarian and ethnic communities. And that's caused some to call for his ouster.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware -- Michael, who takes over in Iraq if Nouri al-Maliki should go?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's truly a plaguing question, Wolf, because to be honest, there's no immediate candidates. I mean to use an example from Afghanistan, there is no Hamid Karzai waiting in the wings, as a single political figure who has even the vaguest prospect of unifying this country.

Indeed, let's bear in mind, Wolf, Nouri al-Maliki was not the answer either. He was the compromise candidate of all compromise candidates, with very little support from anyone and absolutely no power. So even he wasn't a solution.

Now, there are a number of people who are out there on the fringes trying to jockey and maneuver. And, of course, Iraq's neighbors -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan -- they're also providing support to some of these potential candidates.

So, really, the question is after Maliki, what happens?

If he goes, will he go constitutionally by, say, a no confidence vote in the parliament?

Or is it going to be a non-constitutional upheaval, like a coup d'etat?

Or, as former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi calls for, an emergency government?

That will be one of the things that determines who might lead next. But, honestly, America has to pick one of the horses in the race and back it because Iran certainly will be doing the same.

BLITZER: I don't know about you, but I keep hearing suggestions from some influential elements out there that what Iraq really needs is a strongman, someone not necessarily like Saddam Hussein who was a thug and a killer, but someone, let's say, like a Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan or a Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Forget about democracy for the time being, but get someone who is pro-American, pro-West, but at the same time can get tough and crack down on what's going on there.

What's your sense of that?

WARE: Well, look, Wolf, you know, what we're talking about here is essentially what's dubbed the Musharraf option, precisely what you're talking about, putting a strongman in place.

Now, this is something that was -- has been talked about and mooted (ph) since even before the invasion. It's now known that that was the CIA's preferred option for regime change. They said coup d'etat. Cut off the head, put in our own guy and then cut out the cancer of the Iraqi Baathist apparatus as we go.

I certainly know very influential special forces commanders and other leading generals here in the country who have been pushing for solutions just like that since way back in 2004.

Now, coupled with that, coupled with that, a period of, say, an emergency government with a quasi democracy or a constitution not abandoned, but merely suspended until this place can hold itself together and blunt the Iranian interference. To go with that must be an empowerment of the tribes. Now, it's a very famous line, but back in 2003, the U.S. administration here blithely, glibly said that the tribes have no future in the new Iraq.

Well, how wrong they have been. The tribes are vitally needed to rebuild this country and support whoever can really control this place and keep it an ally of America, as opposed to the mess and the almost anti-American shemozzle (ph) that it currently is.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Michael, thanks.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

You know, you've got a book coming out. He should write a book, too, don't you think?

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: I don't even want to follow him. I mean he's so good, I feel like just going in my office now and closing the door. I'll wait until 7:00.

He's magnificent. I love listening to his stuff.

All right, here we go. We can all sleep easy tonight, Wolf. China is going to meet with international health experts in Beijing next month to talk about strengthening food safety rules.

Hey, there's an idea.

The World Health Organization says these talks have been in the works for a year. But it's interesting timing, nevertheless, because they're coming on the heels of a string of safety problems with Chinese exports, including recalls of everything from toxic toys to toothpaste to tires to seafood.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have announced the beginning of a nationwide safety campaign focused on food and drugs, along with increased monitoring of exports. That program will run through December. I don't know what happens after that.

It bans false advertising, requires all food producers to be certified and increases inspections for food, drug and agricultural products. The Chinese media are also reporting that some toymakers are going to face tougher quality checks.

So here's the question -- how confident are you that China can clean up its act when it comes to its exports?

E-mail your thoughts on that to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

One presidential candidate is not playing around. He's nailing jump shots -- at least one jump shot -- while firing off some rough political shots regarding the Iraq War. Our Don Lemon goes one-on-one with Senator Barack Obama off the basketball court.

And the Midwest is awash in floods. The bad weather isn't over yet. We'll take you to some of the hardest hit places.

And many women are raising their children and loving their husbands.

But should they earn those skills from a college degree?

One university says yes. That's causing some controversy.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to the Midwest right now, where flooding is blamed for more than two dozen deaths. Heavy thunderstorms still pour on the region. Hundreds of people are driven from their homes.

We have reporters in Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa.

First to Brad Harvey of our affiliate, WTOL, in hard-hit Findlay, Ohio -- Brad, are things getting any better out there?

BRAD HARVEY, WTOL CORRESPONDENT: It is amazing the difference from just 24 hours ago, Wolf.

You can see behind me, there is no water on the main street of Findlay, Ohio, which is an incredible thing.

Where I was standing -- where I'm standing right now, if I were here yesterday, I would have water literally up to my neck. It was up to the rafters in the buildings behind me.

We had a visit today from the homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff. He said he's going to take all of this information back to the president. We also had a visit from FEMA today, who has assured us that we're pretty much assured to get some sort of federal assistance here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brad, for that.

Brad Harvey reporting for us.

Let's go to CNN's Keith Oppenheim now.

He's in Brownsville, Minnesota, where flooding and mudslides have been especially destructive -- Keith.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the mud came along with it. This is the home of Sharon and Lynn Parkington. As I walk down this rough, muddy, slope, you can see how this house is sitting on the hillside. It was actually knocked a good 150 feet off its foundation. Inside, Sharon, the grandmother, along with her son Austin. Fortunately, Lynn Parkington, Sharon's husband and Austin's grandfather, was able to get into the house after it tumbled down. He got in and he got them out. So they survived.

But the bad news is they lost just about everything that they have and they don't know if their insurance will cover any of this because the policy did not cover mudslides. They may very well be reliant on federal and state aid at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Keith.

Keith is in Minnesota.

And swamped portions of Iowa. Meanwhile, more rain is forecast.

MEGAN REUTHER, KWWL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm Megan Reuther in New Hartford, Iowa.

I'm standing in the middle of Main Street, where it's just one of the many streets in town flooded and barricaded because of the heavy rains. City officials are urging people to stay off the roads and at home, if possible. As you can see, not everyone is heeding that request, as cars and bicyclists go through the streets. Now, a big reason for the street and ditch flooding is the city is bypassing wastewater because heavy rains have overloaded that system.

Also, school has been canceled today because of the massive flooding, as they try to clean up. And with clouds in the sky, many fear the situation here in New Hartford could get worse -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Megan, thanks very much.

Megan Reuther from our affiliate KWWL.

Even if homeowners hit by the Midwest floods had special insurance, there are limits. According to the Insurance Information Institute, flood insurance is available only through FEMA's national flood insurance program. Some private insurers offer supplemental policies. Standard policies do not cover flood damage. Maximum coverage for the structure of the property is $250,000. Maximum personal property coverage is $100,000. Keep in mind, though, this is for depreciated value, not replacement value. Premiums just for flood insurance average $500 to $600 a year.

Have a basement?

Note -- basement coverage is limited. Also, any flood policy takes effect 30 days after signing up, so don't wait until the last minute.

As the floodwaters rise in the Midwest, we watched image after image of air rescues of stranded victims.

CNN's Rick Sanchez spent time with the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard to get a sense of what goes into a difficult task.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been watching some of these helicopter rescues -- some of them good, some of them not so good. So we called on some experts to see how the job is supposed to be done.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The seas are unusually rough, with 10 to 15 foot swells, as I head a mile-and-a-half off the coast of West Hampton, Long Island.

MAJ. JOHN MCELROY, 106TH RESCUE WING: I'm counting six jumpers...

SANCHEZ: With Major John McElroy and Lieutenant Glenn Weir (ph) of the 106th Rescue Wing.

MCELROY: You don't have troubles and need rescue on a calm, nice, beautiful day. It's days like this that are even worse that we're called in to act.

SANCHEZ (on camera): How difficult does it make the operation?

MCELROY: Extremely difficult. That's why we train every day for this type of rescue.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): For the first drill, pararescuemen, also called P.J.s, jump out of a C-130 aircraft, along with a package that contains an inflatable boat.

(on camera): They've got six jumpers coming out and we're about to see that that package is going to be landing right out here.

PARARESCUEMAN JULES ROY, 106TH RESCUE WING: These guys have to release, get out of their chutes. They've got to intercept that package.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): There's a problem. When the package hits the water, the chutes don't release. The P.J.s have to chase the boat down.

(on camera): Because it was moving. Because the parachute was stuck to it, right?

MCELROY: Yes, well, trying to chase down a big package with a parachute on it in the water could be an exercise in futility, to say the least.

SANCHEZ: It's always tough?

MCELROY: Yes, absolutely.

SANCHEZ: More problems. The parajumpers have trouble starting the boat, which shows why these rescues can be so challenging.

(on camera): What happens if you get a rip in this thing?

MCELROY: You get a new one.

SANCHEZ: Talk about grueling. We have to recover the chutes quickly to make room for this -- another jump from a Pave Hawk helicopter where they practice hoisting a victim out of the water with equipment that's called a horse collar.

MCELROY: They'll send down two horse collars at the same time, one for the P.J. the pararescueman, and one for the survivor.

SANCHEZ (on camera): So that giant green mark on the -- what is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called (INAUDIBLE). It's a way to mark our position. You turn around, fly away and then come back to it and be able to find it again.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The helicopter circles, giving them time to prep the victim. Then, it returns and hoists. Now the gurney drill, using a device called a stokes litter.

MCELROY: They'll go out with the stokes litter, put a survivor in the stokes litter and then the helicopter will load with a cable. And then we'll hook it up to the stokes litter and hoist them back out.

SANCHEZ: Once the gurney is hoisted, the day's training mission is complete.

MCELROY: Thanks for your help.

SANCHEZ: We head back to shore with the 106th Rescue Wing. We'll be at it again tomorrow. And tomorrow it may not be just a drill.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SANCHEZ: Now, remember, these guys have to perform these rescues while being fired at -- while actually going out in combat. They do it all over the world. Sometimes they do civilian rescues, but for the most part they do military rescues. Some of the civilian rescues are more known for. They were in Katrina; also the TWA flight off of New York. And perhaps the most famous incident that they performed rescues in was that incident known as the perfect storm -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Rick Sanchez, thanks very much.

Rick Sanchez on the scene for us.

Up ahead, they're a powerful political force and many want to keep it that way -- Evangelical Christians. Our Christiane Amanpour will introduce you to some of them in her look at "God's Warriors".

And it's a pain no parent wants to bear -- loved ones dying in Iraq. That's happened to one family now twice. And now they hope to protect another son who's serving. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf.

The Senate is planning an inquiry into the mine collapse in Utah. Senator Edward Kennedy says the first oversight hearing will take place early next month. He's demanded a list of documents from the Labor Department about the mine and its operators. Crews are now drilling what's likely to be a final hole into the mine in the search of those six miners who were trapped in the collapse.

Mexican lawmakers are now getting involved in the case of an illegal immigrant who was deported by the United States. Last Sunday, Elvira Arellano was arrested and deported to Tijuana. She's the activist who took refuge in a Chicago church for a year. A Mexican senate committee is urging Mexico's president to send a diplomatic note protesting her deportation. The committee also approved a scholarship to help her 8-year-old son, who was staying in the United States.

A story affecting small businesses for you now. By global standards, Americans are lazy. That's the finding of a new report in "Fortune" magazine. The report cites figures from the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. They show that America is near the bottom of the heap in the number of hours worked per week. The report concludes U.S. workers will not be able to compete globally in the future unless they work harder.

I don't know. I don't know. I know how many hours I work per week and I know what you do.

BLITZER: Yes.

COSTELLO: I mean, it's hard to believe, isn't it?

BLITZER: We're all working pretty hard.

Thanks, Carol, very much.

Our sources have seen some of those secret parts of the National Intelligence Estimate.

Up next, we'll get the real story behind some of the smiling faces, the so-called comforting reassurances the world is getting from Iran's leaders.

And new trouble unfolding near ground zero. See what just happened at one of New York's most dangerous demolition sites.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the Army secretary, Pete Geren, ruling out extending troop deployments beyond the current 15 months. Geren tells the Associated Press the long tours of duty are taking their toll on U.S. military personnel, including an increase in suicides. He says he prefers to scale deployments back to 12 months. We'll see if that happens.

A dire prediction that the current housing downturn could create a recession and send stocks ever slightly south. The Dow Jones Industrial Average blew off an early rally and inched down a quarter point, to close at 13,235.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A scaffolding collapsed over at the site of a building near 9/11 ground zero, injuring two firefighters. It's the same building where two New York City firefighters died over the weekend.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is joining us now live from New York.

What's going on over there -- Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some people in Manhattan are beginning to think that this building at ground zero is cursed. Two firefighters right now at a local hospital are being treated for what a spokesman says are non-life-threatening injuries.

But they were standing beside a construction shed. And you can see, this is the building just behind me right here. They were standing beneath a construction shed when a piece of heavy equipment came flying down 23 floors, crashing into the shed, causing it to collapse and injuring the firefighters. The building is in the process of being demolished. There's a lot of asbestos that they've been going placed inside.

A worker was getting on the elevator there on the 23rd floor when he lost control of a pallet jack. That's a piece of equipment used to lift heavy pieces of machinery or boxes, things like that. The pallet jack then came crashing down, plummeting 23 floors down onto that shed on the ground.

Now, the firefighters were on duty monitoring the building. They were on site because of Saturday's deadly fire, which killed two of New York City's bravest from a firehouse which had suffered serious losses on 9/11. This afternoon's incident comes on the day that when one of those firefighters, 33-year-old Joseph Graffagnino was laid to rest. He leaves behind a wife and two small children. This building is the former Deutsche Bank building. It was heavily damaged on 9/11 when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. It is filled, contaminated with asbestos and other toxins. It was in the process of being dismantled floor by floor. What you see is actually 26 stories. It was 41 at one point. But they've been taking that building down. Work has now stopped completely as all of this is under investigation. Fire officials looking into it. Also, the district attorney, to see whether in fact there were any criminal violations that stem from Saturday's fire.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Why is it taking so long to demolish this building? It's been years, obviously?

FEYERICK: Well, that's the whole issue. Many people say it should have come down years ago, but the developers and the insurance companies were fighting over who should pay to ultimately take it down. That's what the big delay has been. Now six years after 9/11, it is finally being dismantled.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Deborah Feyerick watching this story for us in New York.

In another story we're watching right now on the same day we're discussing a classified report about Iraq, we're also learning some details about a classified report on Iran. Let's go to our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She's joining us. This one involves Iran's nuclear program. Is that right, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Wolf. There are now growing and urgent concerns about just how soon Iran could have a nuclear weapon.

CNN has learned a classified national intelligence estimate on how soon Iran could have a nuclear weapon, may be sent to Congress as early as next week. The report will provide the latest intelligence on this uranium enrichment plant near Natanz as well as other Iranian facilities. Critical indicators for the U.S.

MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The critical intelligence is one that you are guessing at. And that is, when have they really perfected nuclear enrichment?

FEYERICK: Earlier this year, a public prediction.

MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The earliest they could produce a nuclear weapon would be early next decade, more likely mid next decade.

FEYERICK: One intelligence analyst told CNN that means it's possible Iran might have a rudimentary nuclear device in as soon as three to four years.

A crucial problem? The U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear efforts is uncertain. There is data from satellites, but by all accounts, the U.S. has no spies inside Iran's nuclear program.

SHEPPERD: I know we're trying, but I'd be very surprised if we have them in positions that will give us adequate intelligence.

FEYERICK: Intelligence officials say there is still a second report coming on Iran's economic and political outlook. The overall conclusion? Despite financial sanctions, a weak economy and some internal dissent, there is no indication the Iranian regime is about to fall from power anytime soon.

And, Wolf, "The Washington Post" reported earlier this year that a former Iranian defense official had been kidnapped in Turkey and was now cooperating with U.S. and Israeli intelligence, raising questions about whether that man has new information for the U.S. on Iran's weapons programs. The Bush Administration isn't commenting.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr working her sources at the Pentagon.

Many in Iraq and certainly many here in the United States, obviously, mourning the blood spilling in Iraq's streets. Right now, one California community is especially mournful. Let's go to CNN's Kathleen Koch. She's joining us. A tragic set of events, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Wolf. This is such a sad story. Specialist Nathan Hubbard of Clovis, California, was one of 14 soldiers killed Wednesday when a Blackhawk helicopter crashed in northern Iraq. 21-year-old Hubbard joined the army to carry on the mission of his older brother Jared who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Jared Hubbard's funeral in November 2004 was a heart-wrenching tribute to a young man dedicated to service and to the best friend who died alongside him in a bomb blast in Ramadi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll cherish our memories until we meet again.

KOCH: It was six months after Jared's burial with full military honors that his two surviving brothers, Jason and Nathan, decided to join the army. Jason told a local paper their goal was to carry on in Jared's footsteps and, "Make the world a better place for Americans, for Iraqis and anyone else affected by terrorists." The town that erected a memorial to honor Jared and his best friend Jeremiah Borrow is now immersed in grief again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a difficult situation. Shock. It's the second son in a family.

KOCH: A family spokesperson says Jason, the oldest son, is returning home from Iraq to be with his parents.

JANET STOLL-LEE, HUBBARD FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: We don't have a timetable yet for when he will arrive. And the family really is asking for privacy at this time. They are really destroyed by this. KOCH: 21-year-old Nathan had been assigned to the 2nd infantry division in Hawaii, the home base for 10 of the soldiers killed in the Wednesday helicopter crash in northern Iraq. On his MySpace page, Nathan reached out to his big brother Jared writing, as I take my last walk in your boots, guide me. And as the sole surviving son in his family, Jason Hubbard can now ask not to return to combat duty. But, Wolf, the Pentagon says though it is their right, very few service members actually request that exclusion. They are very dedicated.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you. What a story. Heart goes out to that family. Thank you very much.

Up next, we're going to follow the presidential candidate Barack Obama into a southern school. We're going to find out why he doesn't want his children to go there.

Plus, a theological college with controversial classes for women. Their homework involves housework. A lot of people say that isn't fair. We'll explain what's going on.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A quick game of pickup and a roundtable discussion on strengthening U.S. schools. Education was front and center for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's visit to Dillon, South Carolina, earlier today. He spoke one-on-one with CNN's Don Lemon, who got the ball rolling by asking the senator from Illinois why teachers should earn more if they perform better.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: When I talk to the people here, the teachers, just before you came, same thing you handled here. They said, what is he really going to do for us? Because we hear it all the time. Some of them talked about No Child Left Behind. Some of them talked about merit pay. Why shouldn't teachers be paid more if they perform better?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I will, first of all, when it comes to No Child Left Behind, the money was left behind for No Child Left Behind. And I'm not going to vote for reauthorization until we fundamentally fix it, putting more resources into the schools to help them achieve high standards and changing the assessments so that we take into account the fact that kids are going to be starting at different places. And we can't just apply standardized tests over and over and over again as a tool to improving school performance.

But to answer your earlier question about why am I different? Look, I've worked as a community organizer in low-income schools. I've worked at the state level in terms of trying to fix school funding. And I've also worked at the federal level.

And I think one of the things I've come to recognize is, you can't fix these schools with money alone. Parents have to parent. Communities have to support an attitude of excellence when it comes to education. But money does make a difference. And so if we can combine more money with serious reform, including potentially new ways of training and rewarding teachers -- because we're going to have to recruit a million new teachers over the next decade as the baby boom generation retires -- then I think we can make some significant progress.

LEMON: OK, so let's say you lived here. Would you allow Sasha and Malia to go to this school if you lived here?

OBAMA: Well, if I lived here, I would be fighting to improve this school. But I would not want Sasha and Malia to be in a classroom that has no windows. And I wouldn't want them to be in a gymnasium that has no air conditioning. I don't think any parent would.

And the parents who live here don't either. The problem they've got is that the property tax base is so low here that the most they can raise under state law is $3 million, and it would take $16 million to rebuild this school.

And that's where it's going to be necessary for the federal government, under an Obama administration, to come up with a capital program to rebuild schools all across the country. And states are going to have to step up, because right now too many states, I think, are neglecting rural areas, like this one, because they don't have as much political clout.

LEMON: I realize I'm pushing the envelope. This is my last question. The NIE report out today. Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. The surge supposedly is working in some areas, not working in other areas. What do you think of Nouri al-Maliki? Should he go? Do you agree with that? And why pull the troops out if it appears to be working?

OBAMA: I think this is a distraction, this whole notion of, is Maliki the right guy? We can replace Maliki with four or five other guys. If the underlying political dynamic is not changing, then we're not going to see progress in Iraq.

We know that the -- our troops are performing well under the surge and that there's been a temporary reduction in violence. What we also know is that none of the Iraqi factions have taken seriously the need to come to political accommodation. And we can't create a stable Iraq until that happens, which is why I believe that we need to, more than ever, initiate the kind of responsible, orderly withdrawal that will trigger a change in behavior on the part of the factions.

And this is a fundamental disagreement that I have with George Bush. This disagreement is not going to go away. And, you know, as president of the United States, I am going to set us in a new direction.

LEMON: Thank you for taking -- being honest with the tough questions. Seriously, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When it comes to online fund-raising, democrats Barack Obama, in particular, are out in front. Now conservatives are launching a new fund-raising tool aimed at channeling Internet donations to republican candidates. Let's go back to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. Abbi, explain what's going on.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's a big gap between what democrats are bringing in online versus republicans. For the democrats, the online fund-raising site ActBlue has been channeling money since 2004 to democratic candidates, house, senate and presidential, almost $26 million raised. In terms of the 2008 race, the democrats are ahead, focusing on small donors who can give again and again online. This is a disparity acknowledged on the site Rightroots, which is newly unveiled this time around for this race and also for the house races, the senate races and the presidential races for republicans. On the site, people can create a slate of candidates they want to support like ActBlue has been doing. A similar but smaller scale effort was done by Rightroots in the midterms bringing in about $300,000. Obviously, a long way to go from there, but the conservative bloggers that are supporting this not willing to seed this ground to democrats.

BLITZER: Thank you Abbi for that. Let's get to a controversy involving a school in Texas. It concerns women and a debate over their public and private lives. Carol Costello is working this story for us. It's got a lot of people talking, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf. Many Baptists believe the home is under attack in the American culture and the noble vocation of wife and mother is being demeaned. How to fix the problem? Offer a course teaching young women to embrace family.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary teaches young men and women to serve God. It sends its graduates into the world to become pastors, preachers and missionaries. And today, it's offering a brand new concentration, a Bachelor of Arts degree with a heavy concentration in homemaking. That's open to women only.

PAIGE PATTERSON, SOUTHWEST BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: It should be the option of a young woman who wants to give herself to her home to have that option and to be able to do that. It's basically a question of religious freedom.

COSTELLO: The new program offers courses in general homemaking, children and families, design and apparel and food and nutrition. Southwestern says the courses provide an alternative to the decline of the traditional family. Its goal is to prepare women to model the godly woman in scripture. Some critics charge it wants to roll back time, turning women into, well, Harriet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure I can eat any pie, Harriet. It's such a big dinner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can handle that. REV. BENJAMIN COLE, EMMANUEL BAPTIST CHURCH: Divinity schools have never offered any courses in sewing, cooking, culinary arts and decorating.

COSTELLO: Benjamin Cole is a Baptist preacher who has been critical of the church's treatment of women. Southwestern's courses remind him of the 1950s, a time when instructional films for women only were shown routinely in America's high schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In home economics, the girls turn to newspapers for help in planning nutritious and economical menus.

COSTELLO: Cole says Southwestern's new homemaking course is one way of pushing women out of church leadership roles, something that culminated in 2000 at the Southern Baptist Convention. Delegates voted that women can still serve in the church but not as pastors, supporting their belief that a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband. Patterson, then the convention's president, orchestrated the moves.

COLE: It seems somewhat strange to me that we've been training able women, God-called women, for these roles only to now send them home without a job and tell them that it's time to start putting their aprons back on.

COSTELLO: Patterson says Cole's charges are ridiculous.

PATTERSON: It's mystifying to us, and as I say, quite amusing to see these people so upset about what a theological seminary is doing to assist in having good homes.

COSTELLO: And Southwestern Baptist is going forward with its newest program, telling me, they expect 15 women to sign up. Now the homemaking program is not open to men because Dr. Patterson says it's tailored specifically for women who choose to devote themselves to family.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thank you.

Still ahead here, Christiane Amanpour. She's about to introduce us to a pastor who is out to keep Christians from committing a sin on Election Day. Don't jump to any conclusions about what sin. It may surprise you.

And do you think China can clean up its act when it comes to its exports? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail. All that right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Carol Costello. A developing story we're following out of Chicago, right?

Carol. COSTELLO: That nasty weather through Chicago. Remember there was a tornado warning. The storm certainly went through there, Wolf. A roof has collapsed at a dock area of an industrial building in Chicago. 40 people were injured. Now, keep in mind, while this storm went through, airplanes, trains, completely stopped in Chicago. There are also felled trees, traffic lights out. Funnel clouds were spotted in the city's suburbs, but we don't have any official report that there was an actual tornado. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Tonight, the third and final installment of a major CNN event, "God's Warriors." our senior international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, focuses in on American conservative Christians. They've become a clear, very powerful political force in the country. Christiane met a Texas preacher who wants to keep it that way. Here's a preview.

PASTOR RICK SCARBOROUGH: We need to realize the seriousness of the hour. It is not the left that is wrecking the country. It is the Christian who is doing nothing.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pastor Rick Scarborough is on a crusade across America.

SCARBOROUGH: For a Christian not to vote is a sin.

AMANPOUR: He's traveling the country holding church rallies from now until Election Day 2008.

SCARBOROUGH: Here's the danger you need to see.

AMANPOUR: Like many of his Christian counterparts, he believes America has lost its moral footing.

SCARBOROUGH: Christians don't lose until they quit.

AMANPOUR: And his mission is to raise an army of Christian voters to fix that.

SCARBOROUGH: And evangelical Christians are estimated between 50 million and 80 million. We're the largest voting block in America. If 75 percent of them vote, their values, we win.

I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. I'm a Christocrat. My allegiance is to Jesus Christ.

AMANPOUR: Rick Scarborough is a Baptist preacher by trade.

SCARBOROUGH: We were making progress. We have a conservative congress. We're losing ground right now.

AMANPOUR And author of books with provocative titles such as "Enough is Enough" and "Liberalism Kills Kids." His interest in politics began when he attended an AIDS prevention lecture at his daughter's public high school in Pearland, Texas, which he felt was too explicit and sent an immoral message.

SCARBOROUGH: Every form of sex is fair game. Just make sure you use a condom.

AMANPOUR: Scarborough took his indignation to his congregation.

SCARBOROUGH: Never in my entire life have I seen a group of Baptists get so mad. We wound up encouraging our people to run for public office.

AMANPOUR: Church members took over the local school board and the city council. And while their victory was short lived, Scarborough had found his calling. He turned to Jerry Falwell for guidance to take his message national.

SCARBOROUGH: He said, Rick, since you're not well known, what you need are visible people who lend you their name and recognition.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour's special report "God's Warriors" is an unprecedented event. Be sure to watch tonight, the third and final installment, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Still ahead here in "THE SITUATION ROOM," Jack Cafferty's question of the hour. How confident are you that China can clean up its act when it comes to its exports. Jack gets your take when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty. There he is.

Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I love being in that wall. It's great.

The question this hour, how confident are you that China can clean up its act when it comes to its exports?

P.J., Tacoma, Washington, "Sure. China can clean up their act if we make them and if we hold the American importing companies responsible for what they bring in. why should China care if we don't do anything when they try to poison us. They sell the same junk products to their own people."

Richard in Delaware, "Corporations pay cheap manufacturing costs in China. Then charge the American consumer top dollar for those products here in the U.S. They use the profits to please Wall Street and line the pockets of their executives. Corporations should be made to spend part of their profits to ensure that quality controls are in place and the American consumer is not endangers. Corporations have a responsibility to partner with China to ensure consumer safety."

David writes, "I'm confident China will fix the problems it has with its exports. They know they need to keep the confidence of the American consumer in order to keep their economy afloat." Nancy writes, "Bring back our jobs to America. We can make our own toys, tires, et cetera. Repeal NAFTA now. Stop outsourcing our jobs and letting big corporations make billions off sweat shops."

And Moses in Illinois, I don't think that's your real name but I'll read it anyway. "As confident as you are that the U.S. can clean up its act when it comes to imports. This is a two-way road, buddy." He writes, "And neo liberal capitalism's in the fast lane. The corporations are driving this bus, not the governments not even in communist China."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile where we post more of them online along with video clips of same.

Dr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Jack, "It's Getting Ugly Out There." That's the name of your hot new book. It's not even out yet. September 10th, we're counting down to the official publication date. There it is, a lovely picture. Jack Cafferty, I hope the publisher is getting excited and is going to make sure those books are out there.

CAFFERTY: They've ordered a second printing already thanks to I guess some interest in this thing and I'm delighted. So soon to be a collector's item, no doubt.

BLITZER: The frauds, the bunglars, the liars, the losers who are hurting America, "It's Getting Ugly Out There." Jack Cafferty's got a hot new book. It's not even out yet but we're going to keep that buzz going for you Jack. Thanks.

CAFFERTY: Thanks Wolf.

BLITZER: We're here weekday afternoons four to six, back in one hour.

Let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Lisa Sylvester sitting in.

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