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AMERICAN MORNING

President Bush to Announce Iraq Troop Drawdown; Voters on VP Pick: Who Can Handle a Crisis as President; Eric Shanteau Surgery; How Much Can Hillary Help Obama?; Tracking Ike; Change in Pakistan

Aired September 9, 2008 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Texas Governor Rick Perry already announced a disaster declaration for 88 counties ahead of the storm.
The U.S. is reportedly selling a $7 billion missile-defense system to the United Arab Emirates. Experts say the country is concerned about retaliation from Iran. In the event of a possible strike on nuclear facilities by the U.S. or Israel, the system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles both inside and outside of earth's atmosphere. The deal still needs Congressional before it goes ahead.

And breaking this morning, a plan to bring more troops home from Iraq. Today President Bush is expected to announce that 8,000 troops will come home by early next year. Here's CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr with the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be President Bush's last big decision about Iraq. Mr. Bush has approved modest troop cuts to be completed by February when he has gone from office, accepting his commander's recommendations to draw down 8,000 troops from the current level of about 146,000. It's a cautious approach that doesn't really help either presidential candidate's arguments.

WILLIAM DOBSON, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: They're going to be able to find fodder to help make their arguments -- the arguments they're already been making. They will be able to look at this announcement and find what they want to find to make the case that they've already made.

STARR: But they will need to tread carefully. For McCain, the lone number could undermine his ticket's message that the surge has worked. But don't expect the Republicans to move off that message.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our opponent finally admitted what we've known all along and thanks to the skill and the valor of our great troops, the surge in Iraq has worked.

STARR: But for Obama, the small number of troops hardly reflects the one to two brigades a month he's calling for in reductions. Still, the Obama campaign sees the move in a positive light.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're doing what Barack Obama has suggested over 14 months ago -- turn responsibility over, and draw down our troops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And when the president makes that official announcement later this morning, the path will be set. A substantial number of U.S. troops will remain on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan well into the next presidency, no matter who wins in November -- John.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr from the Pentagon this morning with that breaking news. And, of course, CNN will cover the president's announcement later on today -- Kiran.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And now, here to offer his perspective on this drawdown plan is CNN's Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. Thanks for being with us. So we heard what Barbara Starr is telling us about this drawdown of troops. Partially political?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think so. I mean, the tone certainly suits. Is it coincidence or is it by design? It's difficult to say.

One thing is clear, though. The conditions on the ground, which was always to be the prerequisite for a drawdown, do justify some pulling out of U.S. troops. I mean, let's look at it.

But all the measures that the U.S. military uses, violence is down by between 40 to 80 percent. Civilians who are dying at 4,000 a month 18 months ago are now dying at 500 a month. U.S. troops in the last May, 126 were killed. This May, 19.

So, the violence has come down. So, there is an argument that, yes, you can start freeing up troops. But as we keep saying, what no one is looking at is what's the price for that success.

CHETRY: And what you've talked about every time you're here...

WARE: Yes.

CHETRY: ... is the growing Iranian influence and that once the U.S. troops leave, somebody is going to fill that vacuum and void. Who will it be? Chances are possibly Iran.

Is there any way to head that off? Meaning that, are we just delaying the inevitable by not having -- by keeping U.S. troops there?

WARE: In a sense, yes, it is delaying of the inevitable. Although, however, I believe with the ongoing presence of the U.S. troops will increasingly become, it's not so much a force to keep violence down, a force to strike al-Qaeda. It's going to be a force to try and consolidate the Sunni's position, to protect that Sunni interest, which is so important to America's Arab allies.

Listen, by this point, Pentagon strategists, the White House, the mission on the ground from the embassy have all conceded in one way or another that Iran has the upper hand, politically and certainly in terms of their militias and paramilitaries. So it's like given that people have come to that realization, now it's making the best of a worse situation.

CHETRY: That's one of the things that Bob Woodward talks about in his new book that he wrote, revising what winning means and what success is in Iraq, and something we'll be talking about with you over the coming days.

Thanks for being with us, Michael.

WARE: Great pleasure.

CHETRY: Also, you can watch President Bush in the National Defense University. He's going to be addressing them. It's live this morning, 9:55 Eastern time right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: There are brand new poll numbers out today asking voters which vice presidential candidate has the ability to take over as commander in chief. CNN's Ed Henry is going over all of the brand new numbers, and he joins us now live.

Good morning, Ed. What are the numbers telling us?

ED HENRY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, it's interesting. On the question of who do you essentially trust to handle a crisis, which is obviously a very important question as charges about experience are thrown back and forth, these new numbers in the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll among registered voters, 61 percent say they'd be confident of Joe Biden being able to handle a crisis; 37 percent saying they'd be uneasy for Sarah Palin, the Republican pick. Fifty-three percent saying they'd be confident with her in a crisis, 45 percent saying they'd be uneasy.

Now, that seems to back up some of these Democratic claims that with Senator Obama's pick of his VP that sort of reassured people a bit across the country about the question of experience. But I think, on the other hand, the McCain camp could look at these numbers and say wait a second, there's only an eight-point gap there. And with Joe Biden in the Senate for decades having that foreign policy experience, you would expect he would have a much bigger edge against Sarah Palin.

And that's why I think this is really just an early snapshot. It will be much, much more important as when these two square off in that one and only vice presidential debate and see, you know, who really handles that better -- John.

ROBERTS: We hear election cycle after election cycle, Ed, that voters don't vote for the vice presidential running mate. Perhaps this year will be a little bit different. But Sarah Palin getting an awful lot of buzz on the campaign trail. Overall, how is she viewed by voters?

HENRY: Very interesting numbers. In this poll, we also found on the question of whether you look at these two veep candidates favorably, 57 percent said they found Sarah Palin favorable. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable view of her, 16 percent unsure.

Joe Biden only 51 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable, 21 percent unsure. Not a huge difference, but a six-point edge for Palin. I think that's reflective of what we're seeing on the campaign trail. Certainly, John McCain at least getting a boost at these rallies. A lot more people showing up because of this buzz about Palin -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes. Certainly done a lot to solidify his base with the pick of Governor Palin.

HENRY: No doubt.

ROBERTS: No question about that.

Ed Henry for us this morning in Washington. Ed, thanks so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

CHETRY: And back to our top story this hour, Hurricane Ike getting stronger as it gets closer to the Gulf Coast. Rob Marciano tracking it all from the CNN weather center.

Looks like we're more concerned now about the Texas coast, places like Brownsville, easing some of the worries for folks in Louisiana.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: At least for now, we'll see where the path out here over the next few days. Right now, winds of 80 miles an hour. It's about 80 miles to the south of Havana. So being right in front quadrant, that city certainly getting the full force of this for the most part.

It is still over water, so for that reason it's holding itself together quite nicely. And then, Hurricane Hunter airplanes are going in there flying around Cuba to get there. And now, this is going to go through the western tip of Cuba.

The track brings it to the Gulf of Mexico. Waters still here really warm even after Gustav rolled through. So we bring it to major hurricane status. Here you go.

Tomorrow Thursday night and Friday morning, Category three in the central western gulf and the track has shifted somewhat to bring the cone completely out of Louisiana, at least for now, and maybe possibly even out of Houston. So maybe along the border of Mexico at some point Friday night into Saturday morning, this could very well shift back towards the north but the National Hurricane Center doesn't like to do what we call windshield wipe. Go from one extreme to the other.

So the models are beginning to shift this thing a little bit farther to the south. And this thing actually jogged south yesterday. Key West and the Florida Keys getting some decent feeder bands rotating around this system, so you will see battering wind and waves throughout the day today and a bit of a storm surge anywhere from one to four feet.

One of the reasons this is shifting a little bit farther to the south, two areas of high pressure kind of squishing it down. By the way, New York and the I-95 corridor, you may see a fair share of afternoon thunderstorms today.

Kiran, back up to you, or John.

CHETRY: All right. Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: You got it.

ROBERTS: It's coming up on nine minutes after the hour. It is a huge influence in her life, but does it also influence the way she governs. Ahead in a CNN exclusive, we go to Anchorage, Alaska, to talk about Sarah Palin's faith with her former Pentecostal pastor.

CHETRY: The fight of his life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on a second.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Dr. Sanjay Gupta catches up with the Olympic swimmer who put life-saving surgery on hold to compete for his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Eric's prep reads ready to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: And welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." The CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could walk away with millions of dollars. The government, as you know, took over these two mortgage giants firing Richard Syron and --

ROBERTS: I know. It just chokes you up, doesn't it?

CHETRY: I got it, I got it.

Firing Daniel Mudd as well. Syron, who ran Freddie Mac, could walk away with severance up to -- this is what I'm choking on -- $14.9 million, according to "The Washington Post" and Mudd could get as much as 9.8 million. You can expect shareholders to challenge those compensation packages.

(CROSSTALK)

Are they able to do that?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Because the shares of those companies -- the shares of both of those companies yesterday closed at less than $1. So they never drop 80 percent in a year, they dropped 80 percent in a day.

CHETRY: So how does that happen?

ROBERTS: So not to stick at anybody's cross.

VELSHI: Anybody who has invested in this company is going to have something to say about that. I think you can definitely expect that you haven't heard the last of that one.

They didn't break any of the covenants that they were offered. Their contract says they get paid this money because the contract doesn't say anything about not being able to handle a downturn in the economic markets and see how you can protect yourself against that.

Basically, they didn't commit a crime or do something bad. They get to walk away with that money. Like I say, I think you haven't heard the last of that one yet.

We're going to talk about energy, though. I want to talk about this continuing series this week that we got about comparing John McCain and Barack Obama's policies on things that matter to you.

When it comes to issue number one, the economy, we're talking about energy policies today. I just want to break down how they differ for you. I want to show you a little later how it breaks down in terms of time.

They both say they want to enhance America's energy security by reducing our dependence on imported oil. So let's start with John McCain.

His big thing right now, he's talking about this a lot is lifting the ban on offshore oil drilling. For those of you who haven't been following this, you know we drill a lot of offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico but there are large parts of this country that are off limits to offshore drilling. John McCain wants to lift that ban.

Barack Obama now saying he'll consider a partial lift of that ban. Both of these men were against that months ago.

John McCain also wants to construct 45 nuclear plants by 2030. Right now, more than half of our energy or electricity is generated from coal. He wants to get a lot more generated by nuclear energy. Also, when it comes to coal, he wants to invest $2 billion for clean coal technology. This is technology that cleans coal before and during its burning so that it emits fewer, less carbon dioxide. And he wants to offer tax breaks to investors who develop alternative energy and invest in producing alternative energy.

Over to Barack Obama, he wants to invest $150 billion directly in renewable energy from the government. He also, as I mentioned, has agreed that he might allow limited offshore oil drilling and Congress seems to be on side with that discussion. Barack Obama would like 10 percent of our energy, our electricity that we burn in this country, to be from renewable sources like wind or solar or hydroelectricity by 2012. And he'd like one million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015.

So, different plans. What I'm going to do is in about a half an hour, I'm going to come back and lay that out to you on a timeline and show you who gets where first. Bottom line is, it will still take many, many years even if we did all the right things to get off of dependency on imported oil. We import three times the oil that we actually produce here in the United States.

ROBERTS: Tell you, I love hybrid vehicles.

VELSHI: Yes. It's totally the future. My next car after my 17 mile- per-gallon vehicle is running to the ground will be a hybrid vehicle then I'll get 100 miles a gallon.

ROBERTS: A hybrid Harley doesn't quite work just yet.

VELSHI: But it could. It will.

ROBERTS: Maybe one of these days.

VELSHI: Yes.

CHETRY: You have to get a speaker to amplify and mimic the sound of the actual Harley.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: That's right. That's why we're very quiet.

ROBERTS: I remember when you were a kid you used to put a deck of cards in the spokes of your bicycle?

VELSHI: Right.

CHETRY: That's right.

VELSHI: We can do that on the motorcycle.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks.

CHETRY: Well, tomorrow, Ali is going to explain where the candidates stand on trade and how their plans impact American workers.

Dead heat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, if John McCain thinks that the economy is fundamentally sound, he needs to come to Flint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Barack Obama on the road in a brand new race. Suzanne Malveaux looks at his newest weapon against Sarah Palin's appeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are on one journey now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Coming up now at 18 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the "Most Politics in the Morning."

Barack Obama missed Michigan during primary season, so he's trying now to make up for lost time. In a state hit hard by the credit crisis and job losses, Obama focused on issue number one, the economy.

Today Obama travels to Virginia which is where we find our Suzanne Malveaux this morning. I mean, just narrowly missed a thunderstorm. You're good to go?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good to go, John. What we're going to see Barack Obama here today. He's going to be in Russell County. It's a town of Lebanon. It's less than 4,000 residents. It's a community of folks who are in the coal industry that went bust but hi-tech industry moved in. And so, what he's trying to do is make the case that this is a model for success and that his economic plan, he can use this town to show that, in fact, will work.

But the big question is whether or not he's going to sell it, be able to sell it successfully to the people. He's performed very poorly here in the primaries and he needs these rural voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): With polls showing Barack Obama and John McCain in a dead heat, the fight to the finish is on.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is good to be back in Flint.

MALVEAUX: Obama in Flint, Michigan, touted his economic plan claiming McCain's would leave working Americans behind.

OBAMA: If you've hang on to your home, you've seen your home values plummet. Now, if John McCain thinks that the economy is fundamentally sound, he needs to come to Flint and meet some of those folks who've been losing their homes.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No way, no how, no McCain, no Palin!

MALVEAUX: She's back but on Obama's side.

CLINTON: Barack and I may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now and that journey leads straight to the White House! Thank you, and God bless you!

MALVEAUX: Hillary Clinton today in central Florida launched Obama's all-out effort to win over more female voters who may be considering supporting the McCain/Palin ticket.

CLINTON: I would like to speak to many of our Hispanic Americans who are here, like Wanda and her family. Many from -- many from Puerto Rico where I had the best time campaigning I ever had.

MALVEAUX: And Hispanic voters who favored her in the primaries. The primaries here in Florida and Michigan were held earlier than allowed, leaving Obama to bypass the states during the height of the campaign season. Now, he's making up for lost time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL)

NARRATOR: She stopped the bridge to nowhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: A new McCain ad calling the Republican ticket the original mavericks has the Obama camp seeing red. A campaign spokesman calls it a lie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, John, on Thursday, Barack Obama, as you know, is going to have a private lunch with the former president, Bill Clinton, in New York. And I asked the campaign does that mean we're going to see Bill Clinton still campaigning for Barack Obama?

He said, well, the two men are going to discuss that at the lunch but let's see how that lunch goes first -- John.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning in Bristol, Virginia, which also crosses the border into Tennessee, said to be the birth place of country music. Suzanne, thanks very much.

CHETRY: And Suzanne showed us a little bit of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Is she the Democrats' secret weapon? They're hoping she can stem the enthusiasm surrounding Sarah Palin.

ROBERTS: Sarah Palin's pastor --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR TIM MCGRAW, GOV. PALIN'S FORMER PASTOR: I don't think everybody understands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Randi Kaye talks to the man who guided Palin's spiritual growth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PASTOR TIM MCGRAW, GOV. PALIN'S FORMER PASTOR: She wasn't taught to look for one particular sign. She just knew that God is sovereign and that he is in control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most Politics in the Morning." With faith playing a major role in this year's presidential race, CNN has investigated the religious backgrounds of the candidates. And to that end, we turn our attention to John McCain's running mate.

Our Randi Kaye spoke with Governor Sarah Palin's former pastor. It's a conversation you won't hear anywhere else.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We came here to Alaska to get a good look at Sarah Palin's life inside her churches, not only her nondenominational evangelical church, but also inside her Pentecostal church, the Wasillas Assembly of God. We spoke exclusively with her former pastor, Pastor Tim McGraw. He has known her since the early '90s, and he says he has no doubt that the Pentecostals have impacted her views.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR TIM MCGRAW, GOV. PALIN'S FORMER PASTOR: I believe that everyone does have a world view. In other words, everybody has a view of life that they, that they live by, that a code that they think is real, their understanding of reality, and everybody has that and Sarah certainly does, too. And since her view of the world includes a God that loves us and can be accessed by us, it would be logical for her to frame her world with that possibility in it. And that's a world view and I think that that's open game. Everybody brings a world view even people that say I don't believe in God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: We talked quite a bit with Pastor Tim McGraw about Sarah Palin's beliefs because at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the Pentecostals there believe in the end times. They believe in faith healing and many of them speak in tongues.

We asked the pastor if Sarah Palin speaks in tongues. He says he has never seen her do so but that she does follow the beliefs of the church.

Back to you.

CHETRY: Tracking Ike. Bracing for a killer storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are asking our citizens to be prepared. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The latest path and projection. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 27 minutes now after the hour. And 56 days until Election Day and the candidates scrapping hard. Senator Obama took on McCain's VP pick, Sarah Palin, yesterday, saying, "You just can't make stuff up."

Joining me now in New York, CNN political contributor and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala. And from Boston this morning, CNN contributor and Republican consultant, Alex Castellanos.

Good to see both of you, gentlemen, this morning. Latest poll of polls has got John McCain up by two points, and there appears to be a shift among white women. Alex, is this the Sarah Palin effect?

You know, we can't hear Alex right this second. Alex, hang on for a second. We'll work on your microphone.

Paul, let's get the opinion from you here. Is that the Sarah Palin effect?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it most definitely is. Palin electrified that convention which energized the Republican base. McCain very late in the game has finally solidified his base. And so now, it's off to the races.

You know, now the Democrats are united. You saw Hillary Clinton before the break campaigning for Barack Obama. Now, finally, the Republicans are united and now, I think we're ready for the last 56 days.

ROBERTS: All right. Alex, have we got you now?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let's see here.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes, we do. We have you now.

CASTELLANOS: I got through there? Good morning.

ROBERTS: Yes. Hey, another finding --

CASTELLANOS: I think not only has she --

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Alex, I was just saying -- I was just saying McCain would win by 10 if he'd hired you. It would be a 10-point there.

(LAUGHTER) CASTELLANOS: And Obama would be up by 20 if he had you, Paul.

No, I think she solidified the base. That's important. But she's also done something very important, you know, Wal-Mart mom. We used to have the soccer mom then the security mom, and this is the year of the angry Wal-Mart mom who's tired of the frat party in Washington and if we can change that, maybe this country can solve some of its problems.

ROBERTS: Another interesting finding, Alex, in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of polls that was just out today, is she qualified to be president? Let's take a look at these numbers.

Among men, 57 percent say yes. Among women, 43 percent say yes. No, men 41 percent, 55 percent of women say that she's not qualified.

So, she's bringing more women to the ticket but the majority of women don't think she's qualified. How do you square those numbers?

CASTELLANOS: Well, I'm not sure that anyone is ever qualified to be president. There is no on the job training for this, but you are tested in the campaigns. And that's how we test our leaders and how we pick them. So she's being tested on the campaign trail. I think the intense maelstrom of media scrutiny that she had this past week, people saw a tremendous test of character out there. And she's -- we're going to see her tested again in the first debate with Biden. And we'll see her tested as she does media interviews the coming weeks.

ROBERTS: Paul, there's a lot of controversy about whether or not she supported the bridge to nowhere. We pulled some sound from a 2006 debate in which she appears to at least give tacit approval to it. Let's listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to stand in the way of progress that our congressional delegation and the position of strength that they have right now. They're making those efforts for the state of Alaska to build up our infrastructure. I would not get in the way of progress -- this project or other projects that they are working so hard on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: That would appear, Paul, to end any argument over whether or not she supported the bridge initially. But why can't Barack Obama make that point stick?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because the press won't do its job, John. I criticized Barack Obama when he hasn't been tough enough. Barack's job is to run against John McCain, right. Don't shoot the monkey when you can shoot for the organ grinder. His job is not to focus on number two but number one. But it is the media's job when a politician flat out lies like she's doing on this bridge to nowhere so call her on it. Or this matter of earmarks where she's attacking Barack Obama for having earmarks, when she was the mayor of little Wasilla, Alaska, 6,000 people, she hired a lobbyist who was connected to Jack Abramoff, who is a criminal and they brought home $27 million in earmarks. She carried so much pork home she got trichinosis. But we in the media are letting her tell lies about her record.

ROBERTS: Hey, OK. We got to let Alex respond to that. Flat out lies, Alex?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let's be a little gentle. Look, every elected official in this country works under the system we have, which is you try to get a little bit of your tax money back. You just don't want to leave it all in Washington. The amazing thing about Sarah Palin is when she became governor she actually stood up and said no. And she made it -

BEGALA: That's not true.

CASTELLANOS: She took a strong stand. That is rare and that never happened.

ROBERTS: All right.

BEGALA: That's just not true. You know, John, the facts matter. There's lots of things that are debatable who is more qualified or less experienced or more this or more passionate, whatever. It is a fact that she campaigned and supported that bridge to nowhere. It is a fact that she hired lobbyists to get earmarks. It is a fact that as governor she lobbies for earmarks. Her state is essentially a welfare state taking money from the federal government.

ROBERTS: We still have 56 days to talk about this back and forth.

BEGALA: This is the problem. We have this false debate when we ought to have at least agreed upon facts.

ROBERTS: All right. Paul Begala, Alex Castellanos, thanks so much this morning, guys. Appreciate it.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: It was interesting, John. We're checking out a couple of websites like politifact and factcheck.org. You can check those out and you can read about them for yourself as well and a lot of these issues that the candidates are talking about on the stump and whether or not there's a bit of truth or maybe not so much truth in what they're saying.

32 minutes after the hour now. Some top stories. President Bush plans to bring home about 8,000 troops from Iraq over the next few months without replacing them. That move is based on a recommendation from military officials including General David Petraeus. President Bush also said that if progress in Iraq continues more troops can come home early next year.

Condoleezza Rice says there are not enough African-Americans working in the State Department. She said the absence of black people in the State Department is "not just acceptable." The Secretary of State was speaking at a conference of historically black colleges.

Hurricane Ike is turning west, putting it on course to hit Texas later this week. Right now, Ike is battering Cuba with winds near 80 miles an hour making it a category 1 hurricane. But they expect it to get stronger as it hits the Gulf of Mexico. Our Rob Marciano joins us now from CNN Weather Center, hurricane headquarters. And what are your looking at right now when it comes to Ike.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're looking at the track which has been shifting for the past - pretty much every day. 80 mile-per-hour winds, right now, just south of Havana. And it's going to be traversing across the western tip which is pretty much flat like Florida. So typically doesn't knock these storms down too much. So to get in the Gulf, it will probably become a cat 2 or better. And then the track gets interesting after that. Air current wants to kind of squish it and sneak it west and now we're looking at a cone of uncertainty or probability of landfall anywhere from Houston or just south of Houston towards the Texas border.

Hurricane warnings are posted for a good chunk of the western part of Cuba and tropical storm watches are posted for parts of the Florida Keys and they are getting it right now. Battering wind and waves and storm surge potentially flooding anywhere from one to four feet. Time for landfall is going to be, at this point, Friday, Friday night, maybe into Saturday morning and you're right, the Texas coastline at least for now looks to be under the gun. Back up to you.

CHETRY: Rob, thank you. We're going to go down to Morgan Neill. He's live in Havana this morning via broadband with a look at what it feels like to be there right now as Ike moves through. Hi, Morgan?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kiran. Well, what I can tell you is we've had winds coming through Havana all through the night. The meteorologists here and from what I'm hearing from National Hurricane Center as well do not expect hurricane force winds to hit Havana itself. Nevertheless tropical storm force winds is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in a city that has so many old buildings that tend to lose parts of themselves even in a strong rain.

Now, last night we did hear the first four deaths from the hurricane season in Cuba announced here. Two men were up on their roofs, apparently taking down an antenna when they were swept off. Another man had a house fall on him. And a woman had her house partially collapse as well. Now throughout this storm's path we've seen massive evacuations. We're talking, according to the government, about more than a million people evacuated in all Havana.

We've seen evacuations, we went and talked to some people yesterday about just how it works. And they said, it was working and they said a car simply goes down the street with speakers on top and says it's time to start evacuating people, the buses are coming within 30 minutes, be ready. Don't try to bring too much with you. But be ready to get out and find shelter. Kiran.

CHETRY: Morgan Neill for us in Havana this morning. Thank you. ROBERTS: And at 36 minutes after the hour, we're checking out "Issue Number One" today focusing on the energy plans of the respective candidates and our Ali Velshi will be telling us who's got the plan that might work the quickest. Hey, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN, SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. You know, energy independence for the United States is so far away it might seem like a pipe dream. But we divided up the candidates' plan and we're going to show you who is likely to get there first. It might help you make decision about who to vote for.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, typically Ali Velshi joins us here at the desk but he's got so much information this morning, it just couldn't fit here. So, we had to put him at the wall. Good morning.

VELSHI: All this week we're comparing the money policies of the two candidates. We're looking at energy today. Now, one of the problems here, these candidates have two problems. They've got to deal with the amount of energy we consume and how to get that. And we got to deal with the fact that people want to pollute less.

So let's talk about short term and long term what they're doing. First of all, right in 2009 if John McCain gets elected he wants to lift the ban on offshore drilling. He wants to put $2 billion into clean coal and a credit for zero emission cars.

In 2009 Barack Obama is going to commit $150 billion over years to clean energy. Now, let's move on a little bit. 2012, Barack Obama wants 10 percent of the U.S.'s energy to renewable energy or energy to be renewable and in 2015 he wants there to be a million plug-in hybrids on the road.

Now, by 2020 John McCain wants emission levels to be where they were back in 1990. By 2030 he wants 45 nuclear plants up and running to provide energy in the form of electricity. By 2025, Barack Obama wants 25 percent of our energy to be renewable. Take it out to 2050, you got emission, 60 percent below 1990 levels with John McCain's plan and with Barack Obama's emissions down 80 percent from 1990 levels.

The problem here we can tell you how much emission are going to go down. But we can't tell you how much oil we're going to save. We can't calculate that out. That one is nearly impossible. But they are both coming to the same goal as you can see. Barack Obama is heavily loaded on the front end, John McCain's programs seem to stretch out further over the course of the next 40 years. Kiran, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Ali, thanks so much. A little complex but you make it easy to understand. Thanks.

Well, why haven't independent voters picked a candidate yet and what are they waiting to hear from John McCain and Barack Obama. We'll find out when CNN's Lou Dobbs joins us with a look at his independent convention. CHETRY: And the Olympic swimmer who said cancer can wait. Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes inside the OR as Eric Shanteau comes home from Beijing to have surgery. You're watching "The Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It could strike your son or brother. A disease that can target younger men in their 20s or 30s. For Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau, his testicular cancer diagnosis came at a particularly bad time. But he decided that surgery could wait until after the Beijing Olympic games. Well, the games are over now and our Dr. Sanjay Gupta had exclusive access inside the O.R. and he's joining us this morning live at CNN's World Headquarters in Atlanta with a follow up on it. So how did it go?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, such a fascinating guy and what a decision he had to make, John, as you pointed out. It was a roller coaster of emotions for him. We finally heard all that he went through. And I can tell you, the day that we were with him was certainly the most important day of his life. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): He had been dreaming of Beijing all his life.

ERIC SHANTEAU, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: Getting to the Olympics has always been my swimming dream. Since I was eight or nine years old, right after I started swimming, I want to make an Olympic team. That's where I want to be.

GUPTA: At age 24, Eric Shanteau had reached the ranks of a world class swimmer. But just two months away from realizing his Olympic dream an unimaginable twist of fate.

SHANTEAU: One night I found something that I didn't think should be there. And basically went and got it check out a couple of days later.

GUPTA: Test results showed that Eric had testicular cancer. His doctors pushed for immediate aggressive treatment.

SHANTEAU: He tells what I have and he's like, OK, this is what we need to do. Let's get you sign up for surgery. I'm like, hang on a second.

GUPTA: The Olympics loomed just weeks away and Shanteau faced a critical decision.

SHANTEAU: The initial reaction was probably anger. It was a week before the biggest meet of my life.

GUPTA: Eric's doctors cleared him to compete at the 11th hour. Now back from Beijing, it's the night before his operation and Eric has the calm focus of an Olympian.

SHANTEAU: This is me and my brother in the bathtub. That was before I probably even learned how to swim.

GUPTA: He knows testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer for 20-34 year olds. It's also the most curable.

GUPTA: How are you feeling?

SHANTEAU: Pretty good.

GUPTA: Drugs starting to kick in?

SHANTEAU: Yes, a little bit.

GUPTA: It's the day of his operation at Emory University Hospital.

GUPTA (on-camera): So Eric is prepped for surgery. He's ready to go. He's been waiting all day. It's about 7:10: p.m. now. For a long time, he's been waiting for this operation, two months really. Arguably it's the most challenging competition of his career, more difficult than any Olympic competition. He's finally going to get this tumor removed.

So it's about halfway through the operation now. They have removed the tumor and everything seems to be going pretty well. I think about another 15 or 20 minutes before the operation is over. We'll come back.

After a few hours in the operating room, Eric heads to recovery.

So, the operation is over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes the operation is over and I think it went very well.

GUPTA: Any problems at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No problems whatsoever.

GUPTA: And hopefully no problems for Eric who has one message for fans.

SHANTEAU: The early detection thing is you can't stress that enough. Don't be afraid to get out there and see your doctor. It can save your life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: You know, we just spoke to Eric as well. He's very optimistic. Overall, the pathology results in that tumor removal came back. He's not going to need any chemotherapy. You know, he said something interesting that I thought, John, which was that, young people in particular if they have something wrong with their cars, for example, they'll take their cars to the body shop the next day but with their bodies they tend to wait often too long. In this case, in the end, it turned out well for him. That's a message he wants to send out to a lot of people out there. John.

ROBERTS: All right. We'll see if he makes it back in the pool for 2012. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, good to see you. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: All right. Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Independent voters are still up in the air. With the election around the corner now why haven't they've been convinced? We're taking a look at the independent convention.

CHETRY: And 8,000 troops heading home from Iraq. But several thousand more are heading to Afghanistan. Can the new troops make a difference in the increasingly violent region?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the most politics in the morning. Barack Obama is getting some help from a former rival. Hillary Clinton hitting the campaign trail and while she's not exactly singling out Sarah Palin her attacks, many democrats see Hillary Clinton as the key to countering John McCain's popular running mate. Jim Acosta has that for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, the Obama campaign is stressing these were previously scheduled events for Hillary Clinton. But it's safe to say much of the political world was watching just to see how she handled her.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Hillary Clinton may be out of the horse race but some democrats see her riding to the rescue of Barack Obama and it didn't take long to put her own brand on the campaign. From one end of Florida -

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No way, no how.

ACOSTA: To the other.

CLINTON: No McCain, No Palin!

ACOSTA: Her backdrop of voters decidedly female, Senator Clinton never singled out rising GOP star Sarah Palin in her attacks, instead she linked the Republican ticket to an unpopular president.

CLINTON: What does Senator McCain and Governor Palin offer for you and your families? More of the same!

ACOSTA: Returning to her role as middle class warrior, she argued the GOP can't fix the economy.

CLINTON: Choosing a Republican to clean up this mess is like asking the iceberg to save the Titanic, it is not going to work.

ACOSTA: Some democratic strategists say there is only so much Clinton can do when she's not on the ticket.

TAD DEVINE, FMR. JOHN KERRY ADVISER: Hillary can campaign so actively and be such a forceful presence on the national stage that those 18 million voters who supported her can listen to her voice and heed her call. I think in terms of people out there who are not on the ticket, she may be the most important person of all.

ACOSTA: With Hillary Clinton, there is good reason to be a Team Obama player - think 2012.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hillary Clinton and even her husband are going to do everything that is asked of them to help get Barack Obama elected. You know, anything short of it would be political suicide.

ACOSTA (on-camera): If Hillary Clinton pulls out all the stops and Obama still loses in November, the thinking among some democratic strategists is that nobody could possibly blame her and that puts her in the driver's seat for the next election. John and Kiran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY (voice-over): Coming to America. Hurricane Ike is expected to regain killer force. The Gulf Coast getting ready all over again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Complacency is not the game to play now.

CHETRY: And Sarah Palin's priority. Hailed as a modern-day Robin Hood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She fought to help get us all a little extra money in these hard, economic times.

CHETRY: Slammed for slashing special needs program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a drop in the bucket every single kid in the state could have health insurance.

CHETRY: The most politics in the morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, the Democratic and Republican conventions are now in the history books but there is one more convention on the way. And Lou Dobbs is hosting it. It's a first ever televised convention of independents right here on CNN. And according to the latest CNN poll of polls, there are still eight percent of voters unsure about who they would choose for president and other polling show that independent voters make up about 15 percent of the electorate and even more in some of the key swing states. Lou Dobbs joins us this morning from WOR Radio here in New York. Good to see you, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: Great to be with you, Kiran.

CHETRY: For these voters who are not in lock step with either party, what do they want to hear from the candidates that they're not hearing right now?

DOBBS: Well, they want to hear something about the issues first and foremost. They're getting an introduction to Sarah Palin. They got an introduction to Barack Obama. They're getting a sense of the personalities of all four of the principal contestants in this battle between the Republicans and the Democrats.

But what they're not hearing from either Senator McCain or Senator Obama is what are you going to do about illegal immigration, border security. What are you going to do, Kiran, about $1.6 trillion in infrastructure spending that is necessary just to maintain parity with what is required to support this country. What are you going to do about public education? What are the limits of being a superpower in the 21st century? All of these are critically important discussions that we've not had and we're now less than two months away from the election on November 4th.

CHETRY: Yes and we talk about whether these elections will be decided on character or issues, why do we hear so much about personalities and not as much about the issues?

DOBBS: Because those personalities, the character issue is really very important. People tend to want to put it down. We know, we just want issues, but the reality is, we want to know who will lead this nation to give us a sense of what we can expect because all the issues, all of the challenges and problems and crises can't be anticipated but we can have a sense of what will happen, at least by better understanding the personalities and the individual.

One of the interesting things that has been happening, I talked with Joe Bartlett here this morning in the (inaudible) show here in New York, listeners want to know what is going to happen. We're not hearing that answer right now from these two presidential candidates. We're not hearing a vision of America and the independents, in my opinion, they really want, want to understand emphatically why we can't find representation for the American people in Washington, D.C.? Why lobbying continues to dominate, both political parties. That is the central issue. Finding representation for the will of the majority in this country because it's the fundamental tenet of a democracy.

CHETRY: You know, it's interesting that you bring that up. You talk a lot about the do nothing Congress. Congress returned to Washington yesterday, they had a month-long recess and they're going to be there to debate energy policy but they're only there for three weeks and then they return back home to campaign for re-election. Wait, you know, you can be as frustrated as you want to be, but what can you really do about it if that's the culture of Washington and culture of Congress, how, let's say writing to your one congressman, how would that make a difference?

DOBBS: Well, first of all, write to that congressman, that congresswoman, that senator and let them know how you feel because they cannot absolutely, cannot resist the continual pressure of an electorate that is making itself heard. The second thing that people can do in this country is let's get rid of this victim nonsense. We can blame ourselves for apathy. We can blame ourselves for indifference in the electoral process. That's all nonsense.

Let's get to work and say that we're going to take this coming back. I've suggested for some years, as you know, that people register as an independent. Push back against these two political parties. Don't let them take you for granted. Don't let them continue to let them take you for a fool. They're just branding mechanisms, both of them. They're the opposite wings of the same bird and you know who's getting the bird. It's you, me and our fellow citizens.

CHETRY: What a way to wrap it up for us, Lou. Thank you so much.

DOBBS: You got it.

CHETRY: Be sure to catch "Lou Dobbs" tonight at 7:00 and all week long. And he will host the first ever televised independent convention, right here on CNN. Thanks, Lou.

ROBERTS: Coming to the top of the hour and here are some of the top stories that we're following for you this morning. The Gulf Coast on high alert for another hurricane as Ike rumbles over Cuba this morning.

Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a pre-disaster declaration for 88 counties and has the National Guard on alert. Ike is a category 1 storm right now with winds 80 miles an hour.

Washington is welcoming Pakistan's new president this morning. Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto has been sworn in as the country's 14th president. He replaces Pervez Musharaf who resigned last month after the ruling coalition began taking steps to impeach him. Zardari has been critical of his country's losing efforts against insurgents.

President Bush expected to announce today about 8,000 U.S. troops will be coming home from Iraq by next February. At the same time, Afghanistan will see a surge of several thousand army troops. That will be in January.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon this morning.

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