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AMERICAN MORNING

Sarah Palin Takes Center Stage at the RNC Tonight; Fred Thompson Slamming Barack Obama Last Night; Word that North Korea is Putting a Nuclear Facility Back Together Again

Aired September 3, 2008 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up now to the top of the hour. And we are back live this morning from the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Republican National Convention. Coming up in just a few minutes time, we're going to speak with Obama supporter and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
And then later on this hour we are going to talk with former Tennessee senator and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson. Thompson spoke about John McCain's character last night at the convention. And later on, we're going to speak with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Ventura made waves at Ron Paul's revolutionary rally yesterday here in the twin cities. We're going to get his take on McCain and Barack Obama.

Tonight, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska takes center stage here at the RNC. Palin will officially accept the number two spot in the ticket with John McCain. Just moments ago she did a run-through at the podium that we caught on camera. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is going to give the convention's key note address this evening as well.

Former presidential Candidate Fred Thompson slamming Barack Obama last night and praising McCain's choice for a running mate, calling Governor Sarah Palin, quote, "a breath of fresh air."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. TENNESSEE SENATOR: The Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who is actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit.

It's pretty clear there are two questions that we'll never have to ask ourselves. Who is this man and can we trust this man with the presidency.

The Democrats present a history-making nominee for president. History-making in that he's the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president.

Now, our opponents tell us not to worry about their tax increases. They tell you they're not going to tax your family. No, they're just going to tax businesses. So, unless you buy something from a business like groceries, clothes or gasoline, or unless you get a paycheck from a business, a big business or a small business, don't worry. It's not going to affect you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Fred Thompson last night here at the Republican National Convention, and a lot of people were saying where was that Fred Thompson 12 months ago when he was running for president.

Candy Crowley is here. Sarah Palin, we saw her do the walk through just a little while ago. Very dynamic individual. What does she have to do this evening to prove to people here in the hall and at home that she is qualified to be vice president.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think that's going to happen in a single speech. I think this is going to be an on going thing over the next couple of months as we run up to the election. But tonight she basically has to introduce herself. This is a woman who so far has been defined by stories about her, not about her own speech.

And when we heard her obviously talk about John McCain a little bit about herself when she was selected. But tonight, she has to tell a little bit about who she is. And you know, to me, this may well be the most important speech for the McCain ticket during this convention.

It's a little bit like -- remember when we were waiting for the Clintons at the Democratic convention. I think this has that level of anticipation to it because she has to prove herself something other than a small town mayor and a two-year governor of Alaska. She has to show that she has some stuff, that she can rouse the crowd. No, it's not a big deal here to rouse this crowd because they're for her. But she's got to connect through that TV screen and say here's who I am. And most of these people haven't even heard her voice.

ROBERTS: Yes. And you know, there are so many things about her that we do not know. She's a relative unknown to most of America, which is why we ask the tough questions about a person who could have the most powerful job in all of the world. But here at the Republican convention, she has become the darling of the week, has she not?

CROWLEY: Absolutely, and elsewhere. I mean, John McCain when he put out his financial disclosure on what the campaign has done, raised $10 million since he selected her. So she is very popular at the core of this party. And frankly, it's what he needed to do. If he doesn't have a core of this party and most of the base of the Republicans, he can't win this race. So, he needed to solidify that. And he seems so far to have done that with Palin.

ROBERTS: Well, it would be really an interesting moment to watch here.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: It will be great. Yes.

ROBERTS: Making history in politics this election year. Candy, thank you so much.

Kiran?

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And the U.S. we're talking about tonight's featured speaker which is going to be Sarah Palin. Last night, day two of the convention, Senator Joe Lieberman's speech where he slammed Senator Obama. The Democrat turned independent giving a strong endorsement for Senator John McCain saying that he has substance while Obama only has style. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: Senator Barack Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead. But, my friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: And it was just eight years ago that Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential candidate running with Al Gore. Joining us now with reaction to Senator Lieberman's comments, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an Obama supporter. He's live for us in Santa Fe this morning.

Good to see you, Governor Richardson.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CHETRY: What do you think of Lieberman after last night's speech? You know, you guys knew he was going to be speaking but did you know he was going to go after Obama that hard?

RICHARDSON: No, we didn't. And I've known Joe Lieberman for a long time. I'm just frankly so surprised at the almost violent transformation he's taken. Here he gets up there and criticizes our nominee. And then basically boosts the vice presidential candidate who has views diametrically opposed to Joe Lieberman on issues like gun control, on abortion, on many civil rights issues.

You know, it's a little bit sad because Joe Lieberman has been a distinguished public servant. I guess he's gotten very bitter after his Senate...

CHETRY: Go ahead.

RICHARDSON: Go ahead. No, I was just saying I think he must be very bitter after his Senate -- his Senate issues with Democrats and the fact that he wasn't supported in the primaries. But this is just going too far. And I'm very disappointed in Joe.

CHETRY: Does it almost bolster his argument in this way, that he's saying I'm so concerned about the direction our country would go, about the need for the presidential -- the president to be able to lead, that I'm going to support John McCain even though there are many, many things I don't agree with, even when it comes to his VP pick?

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't believe that Senator Lieberman still has credibility among Democrats because he's been an independent, he's denounced Senator Obama, and he's basically said that anybody like myself and many others that have opposed this war, that want to bring our troops home safely but as quickly as possible, are basically not just wrong but unpatriotic.

And I think that's turned a lot of Democrats and a lot of Americans off. So, again, obviously, he has a right to share and express his views. He has had a good record as a senator. I like him personally, but I don't think that attack he made last night is going to have much credibility because if you look at the Biden ticket with Senator Obama, it's a ticket of good judgment, foreign policy experience, a record, a distinguished career, both of them have had, and a new direction in our foreign policy and national security.

And what Senator Lieberman has been pushing is a George Bush policy with John McCain because they're exactly the same. John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. It's more of the same.

CHETRY: I just want to ask you quickly, if we can. Sarah Palin is going to be the featured speaker tonight. A lot of buzz around here. If you were advising her, what should she talk about tonight, focusing on the personal story or focusing on policy?

RICHARDSON: I think she has to convince the American people that foreign policy, national security experience is something that obviously she doesn't have. And to have a vice president without those credentials is going to be a problem.

I think she has to introduce herself to the American people, explain her national security philosophy. But again, it's going to be very tough with not having the ability to meet that threshold of national security experience. I know her. We served as governors together. She's personable. She's engaging. She's had probably a good start as a governor. But to thrust her as a vice presidential candidate without that national security experience is going to be very tough. And can she do it? Can she overturn that in one speech? I think it's going to be very difficult.

CHETRY: All right. Well, everyone will be watching tonight for sure. Governor Bill Richardson, always great to see you. Thanks.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

Red state, red carpet, looking for the A-listers in St. Paul? So are we. Lola Ogunnaike goes on the hunt. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: This year, when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for our country, not for the party you happen to belong to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Senator Joe Lieberman, former Democrat turned independent, urging Democrats to cross party lines and support Senator John McCain. And eight years after his last run for the White House, Republicans now rallying behind John McCain and coming to the defense of his running mate Governor Sarah Palin who speaks tonight in her acceptance speech.

Joining me now is John Avlon. He's a registered independent, author of "Independent Nation." Julian Epstein, Democratic analyst also with us this morning. And Tracey Schmidt, former press secretary for the Republican National Committee.

Tracey, just walk us through tonight what Governor Palin needs to do. Because as I explained with Mayor Giuliani earlier and Candy Crowley, for many people in this country she's a virtual unknown and she wants to be at the side of John McCain, may potentially take over the most powerful job in the world. People, I believe, have a right to know her policies, her positions and how she would react in crisis situations.

TRACEY SCHMITT, FRM. RNC PRESS SECRETARY: Absolutely. And my sense is that she's excited to share those. You know, tonight is really a unique opportunity for her to sort of walk the country through why she is so qualified for this office. And she really can appeal to that new voting bloc of fans club voters. It's the soccer moms, it's the hockey moms, it's the working and middle class. I think that's why we have such an exited base right now.

Democrats need to be careful. The notion that just because someone does not have experience in Washington for that -- to say that that means they are not qualified to lead is really offensive to some people. I mean, Obama has spent more time probably in the last couple of years in the green rooms than he has in the state of Illinois. And this is someone that's really shaken up the status quo in Alaska. I mean, it's an important speech for her, no doubt.

ROBERTS: John, from the independent perspective here?

JOHN AVLON, INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ANALYST: No question. I mean, look, the truth is Sarah Palin does have executive experience uniquely among all the members of the two tickets. That's a historical anomaly but it's a reality. But her combination also undercuts the experience argument that John McCain was making over the course of this general election. That's a reality as well.

Independents are going to be listening to her making a case as governor of Alaska. She was a fiscal conservative, cut taxes and spending, was tough on reform, took on members of her own party. Those are messages that resonate really well with independents. What might resonate not well is her social conservative positions. The things that excite the base so much are also the things that could alienate her from swing voters. JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: Well, it's clear that the Republican convention survived Hurricane Gustav. It's not clear that they survived Hurricane Palin. We're midway through the convention right now. The convention is still struggling to make the case for McCain. All we've been talking about is the Palin controversy. They have not made a case against Obama. And they certainly, they certainly have taken the central argument that they had, which is the argument of experience, the argument that we Democrats feared the most going to this general election. They've taken that off the table.

They essentially have no message right now. Unless Palin really hits it out of the park, and she's got a tall order tonight, that this convention could end up being a negative for the Republicans.

ROBERTS: A lot of people going to be watching tonight.

Coming up here on the "Most News in the Morning," we're going to be talking with former Senator Fred Thompson, former presidential candidate as well, a fierce defender of Governor Palin. We'll be back in just a minute.

Sex ed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want public schools telling my children how to have sex.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Her teenage daughter was pregnant. So where does Governor Palin stand on the issue of sex education? Jason Carroll is checking the facts. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: My friends, we need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Fred Thompson going after Barack Obama during his speech at the Republican convention last night. But tonight is Sarah Palin's night. And as she prepares to deliver her big convention speech, Americans are talking about her teenage daughter's pregnancy. That news drawing attention to the VP pick's position on abstinence and sex education. It's a position that she does share with John McCain.

CNN's Jason Carroll is looking at that now and he joins me with more.

Hi, Jason. JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And hello to you. What it comes down to is funding for sex education programs, both Palin and McCain say if the government is paying for it, abstinence is the best and only policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Sarah Palin's announcement her teenage daughter is pregnant has thrust the 17-year-old into the national spotlight. It's also drawn attention to Palin's record on sex education.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: You can argue forever about whether the privacy rights of a young lady were violated. But you can't really argue that the policy itself is not worth discussing.

CARROLL: Both Palin and Senator John McCain support the Bush administration's policy of promoting abstinence and not funding sex education that includes other methods of preventing teen pregnancies. In a 2006 gubernatorial questionnaire, Palin wrote, quote, "explicit sex ed programs will not find my support."

In 2005 and in 2006, McCain voted against funding sex education programs that promoted teaching alternatives to abstinence only.

CECILE RICHARDS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: When you take the position as extreme as Governor Palin or Senator McCain are taking, it means you leave millions of kids whose parents do want them to have information completely out in the dark.

CARROLL: The head of Planned Parenthood points to recent statistics showing the United States leads all industrialized nations in teen pregnancies. Abstinence only, Cecile Richards claims, doesn't work.

RICHARDS: Honestly, they don't get it.

CARROLL: But Lisa Schiffren says McCain and Palin do get it.

LISA SCHIFFREN, NATIONAL REVIEW: I think the government should be in charge of a bunch of good things. And this is something that the government should not actually be trusted to do.

CARROLL: Schiffren authored a controversial speech regarding women's issues in 1992, for then Vice President Dan Quayle.

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone.

CARROLL: The comment sparked a debate about single motherhood. Schiffren says McCain and Palin's position speaks to mothers like her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a mother of daughters, I don't want public schools telling my children how to have sex. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Another example of how committed Palin is to all of this, Alaska will submit into application for the federally funded state abstinence education grant program which would promote abstinence to at risk teens until the end of 2013.

CHETRY: You know, certainly a very personal debate on how you feel about that and where you want your children to learn about that. And you know, people, certainly the water cooler talk is the irony, I guess, between her public policy stance and her personal life.

CARROLL: Of course. Obviously that's what a lot of people are talking about. But you know, those who support the abstinence program will tell you -- look, it may not be perfect, it doesn't obviously work every single time, but it's better than having government go in and teach sex education and teen pregnancy prevention types of programs.

CHETRY: All right. Jason Carroll, very interesting story. Thank you.

We also have breaking news right now. It's a reportedly putting a nuclear reactor back together again after just blowing it up a couple of months ago. We're talking about North Korea's government. Why the reversal. Christian Amanpour is here to explain.

Also, he's outspoken, independent and he's got his mind made up on a candidate. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura tells us his pick for president. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: I want to ask you whether you are an independent, a Reagan Democrat, a Clinton Democrat, or just a plain old Democrat, this year when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for our country, not for the party you happen to belong to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: That was Joe Lieberman, an independent, speaking at the Republican convention last night. Another independent, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is here in town for the political convention but not the one that you might think.

Yesterday, he gave a rousing speech at a shadow convention being held by congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul who appeared with us yesterday here. Ventura is the author of "Don't Start the Revolution Without Me," so is he now joining the Ron Paul revolution? He joins me now.

So, you spoke at the convention yesterday. What was that convention like? JESSE VENTURA (I), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Fantastic. I mean, there were about 14,000 to 15,000 people there at 3:00 in the afternoon, which bolds well for the people who believe that, you know, our constitution has been violated too long. The Democrats and Republicans ignore it. They don't care about the constitution. They violate it whenever the need serves them to do so. I can give examples if you would like to hear them. Terri Schiavo was a great case.

How is it that our constitution clearly states you cannot pass a law for one person? And yet the president signed it and Congress passed it, violating the constitution.

ROBERTS: There's no question that Ron Paul has a devout following. Let me ask you this question. We talked a little bit about your book the last time you were on a couple of months ago.

VENTURA: Sure.

ROBERTS: "Don't Start the Revolution Without Me." How long are we supposed to wait?

VENTURA: Well, yesterday may have been the start, wasn't it? Because I walked out and I looked at the crowd and said don't start the revolution without me and they erupted. So revolution is in the air.

ROBERTS: This is not your revolution. This is Ron Paul's revolution.

VENTURA: Well, it is not Ron Paul's revolution either.

ROBERTS: That's what it's called.

VENTURA: That's just a name. That's just a name.

ROBERTS: Now, he is supporting, he has tried to, through this revolution, attract some like-minded candidates to run for Congress. There are 17 that he is supporting thus far and more are coming in over the transit everyday. Why aren't you among them?

VENTURA: Why aren't I among them? Because I -- it's a personal choice of whether you want to serve or not. I have already given 14 years of my life to public service, 6 years in the Navy, 4 as a mayor, 4 as a governor. I'm at a point in my life right now where I've already determined that time is more important than money. And...

ROBERTS: But at the same time --

VENTURA: See, for me to go to Congress, why would I want to spend six years hanging out with people I don't even like?

ROBERTS: But at the same time, governor, how do you talk about igniting a revolution when you don't want to take part in it.

VENTURA: I'm taking part in it. I can be as effective not being elected as I can elected. Don't hold your breath. I'm not done yet. You know, I was handcuffed for three years. I wasn't allowed to speak out because of a contract I was under. Well, the contract is over now. I can speak out now. So I will be as much or more effective in the private sector with this revolution as I ever would getting elected and having to go vote on things.

ROBERTS: Well, we look forward to what you have to say. Former Governor Jesse Ventura.

VENTURA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Good to talk with you.

VENTURA: All right.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

Kiran?

CHETRY: John, thanks. Well, breaking news this morning. Word that North Korea is putting a nuclear facility back together again. The North blew up a cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility. This was back in June, paving the way for the U.S. to then lift sanctions.

CNN chief international correspondent Christian Amanpour was there to witness that explosion. She joins us now for more on this newest development.

First of all, you come with a caveat about it.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, this is a report by the Japanese news agency. And neither the Japanese government nor other governments involved in the nuclear talks with North Korea have commented on it.

But, there is an area of concern. That is that there's a dispute right now between North Korea and the United States about the steps and what North Korea and the United States are meant to be doing to continue the denuclearization process.

In June we were there when North Korea gave its nuclear declaration. Then, President Bush went on television and announced that North Korea would be removed from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and that some sanctions under the trading with the enemy act would be lifted from North Korea.

Then, we went to Pyongyang and we went to Yongbyon, the facility, and we saw North Korea blow up its cooling tower. All of this was a carefully choreographed group of activities designed to show that this process was moving forward. But under that agreement the North was meant to provide a verification regime to show that it was actually denuclearizing, disabling and providing all its information on its nuclear activities in the past.

The U.S. says that this hasn't happened. The North now says the U.S. hasn't taken us off its states-sponsored terrorism list and therefore we may reassemble parts of Yongbyon. The reality is, that it's going to be difficult to do that. Because we did watch them disable, we've had confirmation from U.S. and U.S. technical experts who on the ground in Yongbyon, that the disabling process is taking place and it wasn't being used definitely since last summer, the facility. And the cooling tower has been blown up.

Of course, all of this can be reassembled but it takes a long time. I think it points very strongly to the need for continued negotiation and try to get over this impasse. Because it was a very important moment in summer -- between the U.S. and North Korea.

CHETRY: Yes. So where do you go from here? Because once again, it's the posturing and the question's about who's going to blink first. Right now they're saying we're going put it back together unless you take us off this list.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, ambassador Chris Hill from the U.S. State Department and his colleagues in China and South Korea, Japan and all the countries that are dealing with this issue, is going to have to go back and do what they do best. And that is, pain-staking negotiations, more hard work, more laborious efforts to try and get this thing back on track.

Because again, we don't know, we do not know exactly what's happening there. We know that the North Koreans have threatened to reassemble. But, the fact is the plant is not working and hasn't worked for almost -- more than a year now. And that this thing needs to get back on track and it's going to take more diplomacy.

CHETRY: All right. Christiane. Great to see you. As always, thanks.

Well, just outside of the Xcel center, chaos erupting in the streets. Police say some protestors tried to make their way into the convention hall. Officers in riot gear that fired back with tear gas.

CNN's Joe Johns witnessed that confrontation and joins me now to talk more about it.

What was it like to be there? You talked about actually being in the midst of tear gas explosions before. What was it like yesterday?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it wasn't the worst I had seen, quite frankly, Kiran. But the interesting thing was sort of the contrast. Tuesday was a very quiet day and then the night came and it sort of all changed.

You had between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals marching through the streets. It was a poverty march. And for the most part that march was peaceful. Police said though a small group of people sort of peeled off as has been the habit here, and started trying to go over the fence, which is the perimeter leading to the convention complex. They were basically having none of that, the police were. And they essentially made an announcement and said, if you don't leave here, you're going to be subject to all sorts of unpleasant things. And right before that announcement finished, the police launched not just tear gas, but also what they call distraction devices, things that are designed to make a lot of noise. They also put some smoke out there. And you see the result. It was bedlam. People started running and it also had its desired affect that the crowd disbursed rather quickly.

The interesting thing also, we're told no arrests, no one hurt that I could see. We did also note there as we have in several other places out here, the presence of individuals who are members of the National Guard. They are essentially just here for crowd protection to help the police.

So, another day here in St. Paul, and the police are going to be watching very carefully to see how it goes. Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Joe Johns for us in St. Paul. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Coming up now on 34 minutes after the hour. Pumping up the GOP. Former Senator Fred Thompson blasting Barack Obama and saying that John McCain knows about hope. He survived on it. The former presidential candidate joins us live, previewing Governor Palin's big night tonight.

And President Bush's economic legacy. Major tax cuts and trillions more debt. A look back at just how far the economy has come in the past eight years.

You're watching the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: President Bush gave high praise to John McCain last night but he is leaving a tough economy behind for whomever wins the White House.

Gerri Willis is here with a look back at the economy over the past eight years.

Hi, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good to see you, Kiran.

Yes, let's take a look at the numbers. Starting with what Bush wanted to be his largest and most important economic legacy. That is cutting taxes. It's something he campaigned on and tax cuts were passed in 2001, and 2003. The impact -- the positive impact that was, for mostly people who were wealthy.

Let's take a look. Federal tax rates for earners of $5 million or more went from 40 percent to 34 percent. And of course, the Bush administration believes that that's going to expand jobs by providing incentive for wealthy people to invest in new businesses and in stocks.

Let's look at the impact of GDP growth. Negative growth in 4 of 31 quarters during Bush presidency. That's a pretty good comparison. That's a long time to have only four quarters of negative growth.

Now, I want to show you something about the impact on individual Americans. Let's look at joblessness. Check out this chart. The fever line that's orange is for Bush. You see jobless numbers going up here from 4 percent to 5.7 percent. The opposite of this -- line that's going down, that's the number that was Clinton's number. Unemployment rates fell during his two terms from 7.3 percent to 3.9 percent. So, it's a pretty stark contrast that you're seeing here.

Of course there were a few years during the Bush term where unemployment rates fell. You can see that. Now, the Republicans like to say that personal incomes has grown during this time. It has expanded but it's not keeping up with inflation right now. And that's really the big payoff for so many people out there.

Also want to talk a little bit about what happened to the national debt during this time. We had a dramatic increase in the national debt, from $5.6 trillion to $9.6 trillion. You can see the numbers right there. One of the most contributors to that national debt, of course, the Iraq war which is expected to cost $2.7 trillion.

And of course, one other comparison we want to show you here, the trade deficit ballooning here. Pretty dramatic changes in that number. And of course, this is a longer-term trend. We've been seeing American exports declining over time, cars, furniture, textiles, electronics, all of those categories suffering. And a bit of a turn around here, once the dollar was weakened, we saw some improvement but that has come really at the tail end of Bush's two terms in office. So, all in all, when you look at how regular Americans have experienced these last two years, the folks in the highest tax brackets, the people who are the wealthiest, have done the best.

CHETRY: All right. Very interesting. Gerri, thank you.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

CHETRY: Let's go back to John, in St. Paul.

ROBERTS: Coming up on 40 minutes after the hour now. Former Senator Fred Thompson ran against John McCain during the Republican primary, but offered nothing but kind words for the senator last night in St. Paul and some really, really tough words for Senator Barack Obama.

Senator Thompson joins me now to talk about the convention and a preview tonight of Governor Palin's speech.

Good to see you.

FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.

ROBERTS: Things have been good for you since you got off the campaign trail? We haven't seen that much of you.

THOMPSON: Yes. We got started eating like a normal human being and getting a normal human being's sleep.

ROBERTS: Yes. I just want to point out that we've had so many Republicans come by talking agent your speech last night saying, where was that 12 months ago when you were running for president?

THOMPSON: Well, I was giving a speech and nobody was paying any attention to it.

ROBERTS: I tell you, they thought you were energized last night. And you launched a spirited support of Governor Palin last night.

Let's take a listen quickly, to what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So tell me, Senator, why is she the right candidate for you to be the running mate?

THOMPSON: She is the mirror image of John McCain in a lot of ways. Some people say that's a good thing, a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. John McCain is the man. I mean, he's the man under scrutiny. He's going to be the presidential nominee. Barack Obama, on their side. And is McCain for real? Or is over cynically saying which state can I pick off, the way so many do in choosing in vice presidential nominee. Or does he do for some other reason?

He brought in someone who believes like he does. He brought in someone with a track record, someone with executive experience, someone who's a reformer. Someone who takes on tough challenges, Democrat or Republican and wins. And he just has a hard time getting past personally admiring somebody and their personal characteristics. And I think that went a long way toward him doing what he did.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you this about Governor Palin.

Do you know enough about her as you would like, at this point?

THOMPSON: I know enough about her, but I want to know all I can about her.

ROBERTS: And what do you want to know?

THOMPSON: As we --

ROBERTS: Because we're asking these questions about experience, about world view, about how she would conduct foreign policy.

THOMPSON: I want to hear her talk about where she thinks this country is going. I want to hear her talk about the kind of country she thinks she grew up in, whether or not she's proud of her country. Why she got into politics, what motivated her, what her priorities are, what does she think about things like taxes general.

Obviously, we got to have them you know, to operate the legitimate functions of government. But, how much does she think ought to be taken out of a person's pay check. You know, what should be the maximum for a government? What about individual responsibility in these areas? What does she think about free trade and the issue of protectionism.

ROBERTS: Do you even know what she thinks about the Iraq war or what we should do in Afghanistan, yet?

THOMPSON: Basically, yes. Basically.

She has a consistent, conservative reform record. Now, that doesn't answer every detail about everything. But -- and I know pretty much what she's going to say about some of the things that I just pointed out. But the details there, I want to hear it because I think the country needs to hear it because they're going to be pleasantly surprised that this is an articulate woman who knows what she's talking about. You don't get to be governor of a state any more without, No. 1, undergoing a lot of scrutiny. The best scrutiny a person can go under by the way --

ROBERTS: And you don't become vice president or president without a lot of scrutiny.

THOMPSON: No. That's exactly right.

ROBERTS: So, is it fair -- leave the personal stuff out of this, the daughter, whether she's a woman, whatever, gender, leave all of that out of it.

It's fair to scrutinize her policies and positions?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. It's necessary.

But my point is, that once you have become a governor, once you have come up through ranks, some could say the local politics is the healthiest politics in that regard. Once you've been a mayor, once you've been on an important commission, once you've been governor of a state and taking on a sitting governor of your own party, you've been scrutinized.

You've been scrutinized by the feel who know you the best and closest to you. And if you get elected, you know, that says something. It's not like a newborn babe out there that nobody knows anything about.

ROBERTS: Right. We'll see what she has to say tonight.

Governor, if things don't work out for senator McCain this time around, we look forward to more of the speeches in the 2012 cycle.

THOMPSON: Thank you. ROBERTS: All right. Good to see you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Assessing the damage.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It's much easier to get ground troop it is you're close to where the ground is.

ROBERTS: A bird's eye view of a hurricane's wrath. Jeanne Meserve is along for the ride as top officials respond to a disaster. You're watching the most news in the morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Just days after Gustav, and now it's the East Coast's turn to prepare for a hurricane. Hanna, downgraded to a tropical storm now after battering the Bahamas around killing 21 in Haiti. But, she will strengthen once again, possibly to hurricane strength. And this storm could hit anywhere from Florida, up to South Carolina.

CNN's Jacqui Jeras is tracking Hanna for us now from the Weather Center in Atlanta.

Hey, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Kiran.

We're already feeling the impact of Hanna, believe it or not, with strong rip currents. A huge threat today from the Atlantic beaches of Florida, all the way up to North Carolina.

Now, we've got a little trouble with Hanna, in terms of where it's going at this time. Because you know, it's really been falling apart here as it's just north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We thought it was starting to take that northerly turn because we're expecting it to push up to the north and west. But now Hanna has decided to push a little farther off to the east.

So, until we see that consistent northerly turn, we won't have a true handle on who's going to be getting the direct impact from Hanna. But we do think it's going to be eventually taking that north to northwesterly turn, intensifying it a bit. Atmospheric conditions not quite as favorable for a real significant strengthening.

So our best estimate right now is that this will be a Category 1 storm. But that's still something to contend with here. So, don't take it too easy on Hanna. You really need to be prepared from Melbourne on northward. Ike, however, has much more potential, we think, for becoming a stronger hurricane. It's still days away out there with 65-mile-per-hour winds. And we think Ike at earliest could have some type of a U.S. impact if at all sometime early or to the middle part of next week -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Jacqui Jeras tracking it all for us. Thanks.

ROBERTS: President Bush is headed to Louisiana today to get an up close look at the damage caused by hurricane Gustav.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is live in Baton Rouge, this morning. Jeanne, you had a chance to take a tour yourself, with the homeland secretary.

How's it looking down there in the aftermath?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it looks like we're going get more rain today. There's concern about that. Even more concern about those storms Jacqui was talking about, some of the ones forming. One or more of which could deliver another punch to this already battered state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): There was so much debris and so much water in Grand Isles, the helicopters carrying Governor Bobby Jindal and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had trouble finding a place to land.

The officials came here to assess the damage. There was a lot. And offered help to these local officials like this fire captain who had been working with his men to clear sand from the streets.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, LOUISIANA: General, just let me know. We're going to be able to move some guard rails to start helping you clear off some of (INAUDIBLE).

CAPT. JOEL BRADBERRY, GRAND ISLE FIRE DEPT.: All right. Appreciate it. I'll let them know. Thank y'all very much.

JINDAL: No, it's important. We want to help you get back on your feet.

BRADBERRY: All right. Thank you, governor.

MESERVE: Grand Isle was one of several stops at which federal state and local officials generally applauded one another for preparations and response to the storm.

There was wide spread agreement the evacuation of much of the population has contributed to the happy outcome. Citizens had learn from Katrina and took themselves out of harm's way. This tour was proof Chertoff had learned something, too. He was criticizing for appearing disengaged during and after Katrina. This time he was here before the storm.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's much easier to get ground (INAUDIBLE) if you're close to where the ground is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: President Bush was also criticized after Katrina for staying away too long. Undoubtedly a factor in his decision to visit here today -- John.

ROBERTS: Jeanne Meserve for us in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jeanne, thanks so much.

A special request now to you, our viewers. If you would like to help those effected by hurricane Gustav, please go to our Impact Your World page where you will find links to some organizations offering assistance. That's at CNN.com/impact.

Red state, red carpet. Looking for the A-listers in St. Paul? So are we. Lola Ogunnaike goes on the hunt. You're watching the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": It turns out Governor Palin is a lifelong member of the NRA and a long-time hunter. A long-time hunter. Another vice president who's a hunter. What could go wrong there? Well, what are the odds?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Well, that's a clip from Jay Leno, last night on the "Tonight Show." The Democratic convention was full of big names from music and movies but things are a little different in St. Paul. They're a little decidedly less Hollywood.

So, do the Republicans need the star power on their side? Lola Ogunnaike joins me now.

Hey, Lola.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hi.

CHETRY: It's not what they're known for, right? That's not their thing.

OGUNNAIKE: It's not what they're known for. And particularly this year, they sort of want to move away from the idea of celebrity.

McCain has actually used the word celebrity as a pejorative. I mean, you remember, he pained Obama as this light weight on par with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. The last thing McCain wants to do is be seen cozying up looking like BFFs with Ben Affleck and Sheryl Crow.

But, that doesn't mean that they don't have their own celebrities there, too. I mean, they Daddy Yankee perform earlier this week. You may not know who he is, but he's a huge star in the Latin community. He's a reggaeton artist. It's sort of this hybrid of raggae music and hip-hop and Latin music. He's performed earlier this week. And tonight they're actually going to have a few more big name stars.

CHETRY: Yes. Tell us some of the stars we're going to see. OGUNNAIKE: Well, you're going to see Gretchen Wilson tonight. She's a huge country star. You remember her song in 2004, "Redneck Woman." That put her on the map, it's one of her biggest hits. She sold over 7 million albums. She's huge in the country music community. So, she's performing tonight.

And also John Rich, he's half of the duo Big and Rich which is a country music act as well. But, John Rich is performing without his other half. They're sort of like the Carville and Matlan of the country workd. John Rich is very pro-McCain. In fact, he released a song last month called "Raising McCain."

We have a video here. Let's take a look.

(CLIP OF "RAISING MCCAIN" COUNTRY MUSIC VIDEO)

OGUNNAIKE: So there you have it. He's performing that song tonight. And he's also going to be performing "Our America" with Gretchen Wilson which is patriotic number that's supposed to get the crowd really hyped and really enthusiastic, of course, about America and the Republican Party.

CHETRY: And it's really interesting how Rich did that. Because he actually reached out to John McCain's daughter and said, do you think the campaign would be interested in this song? And so he put it up there for free downloads. And they really loved it. And they say their supporters love it.

OGUNNAIKE: Exactly. And then you have people like Jon Voight will be on hand. Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Kelsey Grammer. So, they've got a few big names there. Not nearly as high wattage as the DNC, but a few names.

CHETRY: All right. Lola, thanks. Good to see you.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Name game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's her name?

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Does it ring any bells?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually no, it don't.

CHETRY: Jeanne Moos gets the most unusual reactions to McCain's big pick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McCain's running mate? Obama.

CHETRY: You're watching the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud that America's first female vice president will be a Republican woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: First Lady Laura Bush last night getting pumped about the prospect of Sarah Palin joining John McCain in the White House. A week ago, pretty much nobody knew who Sarah Palin was. Now, everybody knows her name. Well, maybe not everyone.

Here's Jeanne Moos with an unconventional moment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS (voice-over): Just a few days ago she was so new even those of us in the media needed a pronunciation guide.

BILL MAHER, HOST OF "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Governor Sarah Palin, whatever. I'll learn it.

MOOS: And even now it takes a sec.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait a minute, it's Palin. What's the first name? My, God. Stephanie Palin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin.

MOOS: Her name may not trip off the tongue, but her mini scandal has tongues wagging.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, God, we know her daughter is pregnant. Oh, Lord have mercy.

MOOS: From the cover of the "New York Post" to "US Weekly" makes a VP candidate almost wish she were back telling the news, rather than making it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Sarah Palin is here with sports.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anyway, the battle for Seattle continues to this weekend.

MOOS: So does the battle over her candidacy.

(on camera): Do you care about the daughter being pregnant?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If she can't manage her children --

MOOS (voice-over): This keeps up, she may long for the time she was known as --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's her name?

MOOS (on camera): Does that ring any bells?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, no. It don't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McCain's running mate? Obama.

MOOS: With an unconventional moment, I'm Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

CHETRY: And that's going to do it for us, today. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. Our convention coverage continues now. Here's Soledad O'Brien.

Hey, Soledad.

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