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Interview with Vice President Joe Biden; President Obama's Surprise Visit to Iraq

Aired April 7, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, rescuers are clawing through the rubble. They're still trying desperately to find survivors. But as the death toll climbs from Italy's killer quake, aftershocks right now posing a dangerous new threat to Central Italy. And a chilling letter that forecasts the mass killings at an immigration center -- police say it's from the gunman.

But does it offer an explanation for the bloody rampage?

And New York City is trying to shock people into giving up smoking.

But is the ad campaign going too far?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The vice president, Joe Biden, takes the gloves off. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, recently said the Obama administration has made the country less safe. Now, his successor is firing right back. In our exclusive interview, the vice president calls Cheney -- and I'm quoting now -- "dead wrong."

Listen to this.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are more safe. We're more secure. Our interests are more secure, not just at home, but around the world. We are rebuilding America's ability to lead.

I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office -- and he was a great guy. I enjoyed being with him. And he said to me, he said, well, Joe, he said, I'm a leader. And I said, Mr. President, turn and around look behind you, no one is following.

People are beginning to follow the United States again as a consequence of our administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. Gloria Borger and I spoke exclusively with the vice president earlier today. Part two of our interview coming up this hour. I think you're going to want to see it.

Meanwhile, other important news we're following. The death toll from Italy's killer quake now 207 and certain to continue to rise. Aftershocks posing a new danger to rescuers who are clawing through the ruins, but with dwindling hopes of success.

Robert Moore reports from the scene.


ROBERT MOORE, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 24 hours, they had been digging in the rubble -- increasingly hopeful they could pull one last survivor to safety. And the confidence was justified. Balario Esposito may be the last person saved from this earthquake. For her rescuers, she even managed a smile of monumental relief.

But at times, the work here is dangerous -- aftershocks forcing rescuers to run for their own safety.

This is the more familiar sight -- one by one, bodies emerging -- adding to a relentlessly rising death toll. The faces around us tell the story. This resident weeping for lost friends and, she said, because she would never feel safe in her own home again.

(on camera): This difficult moment was always going to arrive -- a realization that at this student hostel, no one else could be left alive. The rescue teams have now moved aside to make way for the heavy machinery.

(voice-over): Beyond the tragedy of lost lives is the issue of where tens of thousands of people will now live. Many buildings that are still standing are structurally damaged. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Medieval hill towns where people are reduced to living in tents. These are now eerily abandoned ghost towns -- no one trusting the weakened and ancient buildings to survive the aftershocks.

SIMON CRITCHELL: You should really be wearing a helmet because the -- the roof is falling down.

MOORE: Simon Critchell who has family in England, lives here. He has no idea when he can return.

CRITCHELL: Yes. There's nobody in the village. Everybody is at the camp or -- or going away.

MOORE: He only briefly dared re-enter his home. Like many others here, he received last month e-mails that he showed me that warned of an imminent earthquake. The government has said the scientist who gave that warning was guessing and emphasized that quakes cannot be accurately predicted.

Can there still be hope for others still missing here?

There have been sudden calls for silence. Those rescuers strain to hear a human cry from below.


BLITZER: That was Robert Moore reporting.

We're going to have more on the aftermath of this earthquake. That's coming up.

Other news -- a chilling letter forecast last week's mass murder in Binghamton, New York, but it reached its destination after that bloody rampage took place. Police are confident it's from the gunman who killed 13 people at an immigrant center before taking his own life. The letter seems to offer an explanation for the rampage -- seems the critical word.

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff.

You've read the letter, you've studied it and today there was news authorities believe it's genuine.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The authorities say they're quite sure that this rambling paranoid letter, indeed, was written by the killer.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): "I am Jiverly Wong shooting the people," the letter begins -- a document, police say, that appears to be authentic.

CHIEF JOSEPH ZIKUSKI, BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK POLICE: We have no reason to believe it's not. We're in possession -- we are now in possession of that property. It's got the shooter's original driver's license, his -- his pistol permit and we have every -- there's no reason to believe it's not.

CHERNOFF: In broken English, the writer complains of harassment, claiming police spread rumors about him, made him lose his job, even touched him and robbed him as he slept in his bed

"Cop bring about this shooting. Cop must responsible," it says.

Wong's sister maintains the document appears to be a forgery, telling NBC News the letter's penmanship doesn't match her brother's.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just like a make-up story. It just -- it did not make sense at all.


CHERNOFF: The FBI confirms it will analyze the document at its lab in Virginia to make sure Wong is the author. Wong had recently lost a job assembling vacuum cleaners. Former co-workers say he felt he was being teased for his poor English. (END VIDEO TAPE)

CHERNOFF: Wong had taken English classes at the American Civic Association -- the very place he went on the rampage. The envelope is postmarked Friday, April 3rd, the date of the shooting. But the letter is dated March 18th -- evidence that the attack was planned well in advance.

Authorities also are analyzing Wong's computer for any further clues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If you get some more of those clues, let us know.

How eerie is that letter?

I read it and it -- it is chilling, indeed.

All right, Allan.

Thanks very much for doing that report.

Now let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now for the Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: As millions of Americans pound the pavement looking for work, it turns out that they may have better luck finding a job in certain parts of the country than in others. No doubt, the national unemployment situation remains bleak, as you've been hearing on this program -- five million people losing their jobs since the beginning of 2008. Last month, the unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent. It could go higher -- the highest in 25 years, though, right now.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that some places are faring better when it comes to jobs. A study of 372 metropolitan regions shows that 20 areas had unemployment rates below 5 percent in February. These places include Ames, Iowa; Manhattan; Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Lubbock, Texas; and Lafayette, Louisiana.

A Harvard economics professor describes how some places are better able to weather an economic downturn than others because of specific characteristics of that area. For example, he finds a strong correlation between a skilled workforce and lower unemployment. Research shows the higher level of education in an area, the lower the unemployment rate. Also, there's a link between unemployment and manufacturing, which is why the old Rust Belt industrial cities like Detroit or Youngstown, Ohio have double digit unemployment rates.

Of course, not everybody can just pick up and move in order to get a new job. Family considerations or being locked into a house you can't sell can often keep people in a certain geographical area. But if you're mobile and willing, there are some opportunities out there.

So here's the question -- are you willing to relocate in order to find work?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: My dad always used to say, you've got to make a living somewhere.

CAFFERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: You've got to do what -- you've got to put food on the table.

CAFFERTY: Yes. You go where the job is and where the money is.


CAFFERTY: I've -- I've moved from Reno to Kansas City to Des Moines to New York in the course of my lifetime. And I'm sure you've lived in more than one area, too.

BLITZER: Yes. I moved from Buffalo, New York to Washington, D.C.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, a lot of people move from Buffalo, New York just to get out of there.

BLITZER: All right. Never mind. No more Buffalo jokes.


BLITZER: It's a great place.

All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

International outrage over that new Afghan law effectively allowing husbands to rape their wives -- is this what U.S. troops are fighting for?


BIDEN: The question is, if that were the only thing that existed, would we send my son and other sons there to risk their lives to die?


BLITZER: So what is the U.S. goal in Afghanistan?

We have much more of my interview with the vice president of the United States, including your ireports.

Also, a brutal new antismoking campaign -- does it cross the line?

Some critics are calling it atrocious. We've got the ads. You can decide for yourself.

Plus, the first lady Michelle Obama honored in a rather unusual way -- in wax.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden says the objective in Afghanistan right now is to rout Al Qaeda and make sure terror groups don't have a base from which to attack the United States.

CNN's Gloria Borger and I spoke exclusively with the vice president today.

Here's part two of our interview.


GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me ask you, it's sort of a question of semantics here, because Secretary of State Clinton said last week that the administration has officially stopped using the phrase "global war on terror."

Why is that?

Aren't we still in a global war on terror?

BIDEN: No. We are. And I -- I didn't hear her say that. And I don't doubt you. I'm sure she said that. And it reflects our policy.

Look, under the rubric of a global war on terror, we ended up in a series of policies that made no sense and made us weaker, in my view -- and in the view of the president of the United States.

And so what we have decided to do is look at things in their discreet -- as discreet problems.

Here you have a situation, it is not a global war on terror in Iraq. Iraq -- the problem we have in Iraq right now is leaving behind a government where Sunnis, Kurds and Shia get along, where they can share power and be stable, not a threat to their neighbors and secure in their own boundaries.

Conversely, in the Fatah -- the eastern part -- or the western part of Pakistan, in the mountains on the Afghan border -- that is a war on terror. That's where Al Qaeda lives. That's where bin Laden is. That's where the most radicalized part of the Taliban is.

The situation we have, as it relates to problems that exist in other parts of the world, they aren't all related to terror.

BLITZER: So is there still a global war on terror?

BIDEN: There is a war on terror. Terror is a legitimate threat. It is a threat that comes from Al Qaeda and those organizations that have morphed off of Al Qaeda. But there are other interests we have beyond merely -- for example, the situation in the Middle East is not a global war on terror. But it matters to us mightily whether or not we end up with an accommodation between the Israelis and the Palestinians and... BLITZER: I want to get to that. But I want to -- I want to press you on this point, because in Afghanistan right now, the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has signed into law an edict, in effect, allowing men to rape their wives if they don't want to have sex on that day. And a lot of people are outraged that a U.S. ally like Hamid Karzai -- who now says he's looking at this law -- could go forward.

Is this what U.S. troops are fighting and dying for in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: It is an outrageous -- an outrageous, outrageous law, number one. Number two, we are not in Afghanistan to make the point, to see to it that we make everything right in Afghanistan.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

This is the difference between us and the last administration. We're there to defeat Al Qaeda...

BLITZER: And the Taliban.

BORGER: But...

BIDEN: And the Taliban.

BLITZER: But the Taliban looks like it's making a comeback.


BIDEN: No. Let's get it straight. The Taliban, that presents an international threat to the United States of America. The bulk of the Taliban -- the phrase that Richard Holbrooke and I have been using separately, but similarly -- 5 percent of the Taliban are radicalized Islamists that are no different than Al Qaeda.

BORGER: But wouldn't you use your leverage that you have on an issue like this, which -- which you call outrageous -- BIDEN: Yes. But that's not...

BORGER: ...the president himself has said is abhorrent?

BIDEN: I am not prepared to send American troops to die for that.


BIDEN: I am prepared to send American troops to protect the United States of America, to kill Al Qaeda, to root out extremists and to prevent them being able to use Afghanistan once again as a platform to attack the United States of America.

Do we find it abhorrent that that law exists or that it is being considered?

Absolutely, positively. But we also find abhorrent what's going on in China in some places. We find abhorrent a lot of things. But the question is, if that were the only thing that existed, would we send my son and other sons there to risk their lives to die?

I don't think that is a legitimate use of...

BLITZER: Now that you have access to the presidential daily brief...


BLITZER: ...the most sensitive classified information about threats facing the United States...


BLITZER: ...are you more or less concerned about a terror threat facing the United States?

BIDEN: I am no more concerned than I was when I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and had access to a similar brief, not as much in detail.

What I am concerned about is that Al Qaeda, under the last administration, was able to reconstitute itself, in large part, in those mountains that exist between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- actually, in Pakistan. And that there has been no -- up until now -- no targeted policy that has as its goal the elimination of that element of extremism in the world directed at the United States of America.

That's why, if you look at the defense budget, we spend a lot more money on intelligence services. We spend a lot more money on things relating to technical weapons to deal with the real enemy.

BORGER: Let's talk about jobs on Wall Street, because President Obama essentially fired G.M.'s CEO, Rick Wagoner.

I guess the question is, now that we're giving all these money to the banks, are the bank CEOs next?

Do they have to watch out?

BIDEN: Look, there's two different things here. As repugnant as it is to me and everyone else in America to bail out the very financial institutions that got us in this trouble, if we don't, no one is going to have a penny to buy a car. Forget whether G.M. is healthy or not -- and Chrysler. Assume they were booming. The problem here is that there is no credit throwing -- flowing through sort of the economic veins of this country.

Therefore, people can't borrow money to send their kids back to college. They can't borrow money to buy a house. They can't borrow money to buy a car. And so we have to get credit flowing.

The model that we're talking about with regard to the automobile industry is, are we going to put money -- which we have and in the republic -- and the recovery package money, as well -- into an industry that, in fact, is not sustainable? We think that, like everyone else in and out of government thinks, the automobile industry has to demonstrate they have a sustainable package for growth, that the money we're going to lend them through the taxpayers' money is likely to provide for a model that they will be able to be healthy in the out years.

BLITZER: So what's the answer to the question?

Do you see a day where the president of the United States might tell the CEO of Citigroup or Bank of America you're out?

BIDEN: No, I don't see that as a precise method. What I do see is that there is a -- as the federal taxpayers, like in the case of some of the larger banks -- and some of them are healthy and some are not as healthy. That's why we're doing this whole test here -- going out and deciding which banks, what assets they have are real and what aren't real -- that we, in fact, may end up where we own -- the federal government owns a -- a majority share of their stock, basically.

BORGER: So why not be able to fire the CEO of a bank...

BIDEN: Well, no...

BORGER: ...the same way you'd fire Rick Wagoner?

BIDEN: No, no. No, we could. But that's already happened. But we haven't had to tell anybody to fire anybody in the banks. There's already been a significant change in management in some of the banks.

The issue is not so much, in my view, fire or not fire. The issue is what is going to put the automobile industry into position that, with the help they're going to get, they're going to be able to survive and grow?

What business model is it?

And it's clear to everybody from the automotive industry on, that the business model that was underway and continued to be promoted by the last CEO was one that was not going to be survivable.


BLITZER: And that was part two of the interview with the vice president of the United States. In the next hour, much more of the interview, including his very strong statements involving the former vice president, Dick Cheney. A lot more of the interview coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama's surprise trip to Iraq -- his message to U.S. troops and to the Iraqi government and Americans at home about unfinished business.

Plus, fielding questions and dodging shoes -- yet another news conference takes a violent twist.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Wolf, you have to take a look at this video. India's home minister fielding questions and dodging a shoe at a news conference in New Delhi. Look at that right there. A journalist apparently upset at actions by the minister's Congress Party hurled his shoe and was detained by security, but released without being charged. The minister, as you can see right there, was not hurt.

Meanwhile, the original shoe thrower has had his sentence reduced. The Iraqi journalist who lobbed his footwear at President Bush back in January will now serve one year instead of three thanks to Iraq's federal appeals court.

And Blockbuster may be going bust. The movie rental giant says it's having trouble renegotiating financing and there's "substantial doubt" about the company's ability to continue operating. Netflix and other mail DVD services have taken a huge bite out of Blockbuster's bottom line.

And check this out -- the show goes on at G.M., despite the looming threat of financial ruin. But look at that thing. Well, it's teaming with Segway to produce this electric two seat, two-wheeler called the PUMA, which stands for personal urban mobility and accessibility. This is the prototype unveiled today in New York. And it goes up to 35 miles an hour, runs 35 miles between charges. The cost -- as little as a quarter of a regular car. And I would hope so, because it's about a quarter of the size -- though, Wolf, you'd probably look pretty good in one of those.

BLITZER: No thanks.


NGUYEN: All right.

BLITZER: But you would look lovely in it, too. No doubt about that, Betty.

NGUYEN: It's a tiny little thing.

BLITZER: Tiny. That's better for you, not me.

OK. Thank you, Betty.

Stand by.

America is back -- that's how the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, sums up the president's overseas trip.

Is he going too far?

Paul Begala and Ed Rollins -- they're standing by live to discuss. Plus, face-to-face with both Castros -- members of a Congressional delegation get a big surprise in their visit to Cuba. We're standing by to hear from some of the lawmakers just back here in Washington from Havana.

And the first lady in wax -- Michelle Obama makes it into the famous museum.


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

Happening now, Wall Street retreating further from its four week rally, with a second straight day of losses fueled by worries about the banking and auto industry. The Dow, the Nasdaq, the S&P all lost more than 2 percent.

Sarah Palin warning that her state, Alaska, is under potential threat from North Korea. And she says the Obama administration may be increasing -- increasing the danger.

And a dramatic day in court for a former U.S. senator, as the conviction that likely cost him his job is tossed out and he confronts government prosecutors.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


All that coming up.

But let's talk a little bit about what's going on in Iraq right now. The president of the United States paid a surprise visit to Baghdad.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's not every day that a president flies off to Iraq.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it isn't. You know, in some ways, this was a full circle trip, Wolf. The candidate who launched his campaign on ending the war in Iraq was in Baghdad today as commander-in-chief, warning that it's not over yet.


CROWLEY (voice-over): In an unannounced but not unexpected trip, Air Force One took the commander-in-chief to Iraq to thank U.S. troops and talk of winding down the war -- a popular idea at home and at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They...

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.

CROWLEY: The majority of U.S. military personnel will be in Iraq through the December elections. Most will be withdrawn by August of next year. But thousands of American troops will stay in Iraq. Before leaving Turkey, the president was asked for the difference between his policies and those of George Bush.

OBAMA: Just because I was opposed at the outset doesn't mean I don't have responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

CROWLEY: So the stop in Baghdad seemed designed not just to thank the troops but to remind Americans, focused now on an economy in free-fall, that the U.S. military mission is not yet accomplished.

OBAMA: You will be critical in terms of us being able to make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists. That it is a good neighbor and a good ally. And we can start bringing our folks home.

CROWLEY: As a candidate, ending the war was central to Barack Obama's campaign. As president, it's clear he enjoys far more leeway to do that than President Bush had in the last years of his administration.

In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 69 percent of Americans favor the Obama administration's 2010 withdrawal plan, even though 35,000 to 50,000 troops would remain in place.

Critics come mostly from the left by a 2 to 1 margin. Those who oppose the withdrawal plan say they want all troops removed.

A day before the president's visit, a half dozen car bombs killed 37 people in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad underscoring the president's message, Iraq remains a dangerous place of unfinished business.


CROWLEY: The president also personally delivered his message in a meet with reaction prime minister Nouri Al Maliki. The president urged the prime minister to make more political concessions to help stabilize the reaction government, another prerequisite for U.S. withdrawal.

BLITZER: Underscoring that, the Vice Present Joe Biden told me earlier, it's going to be several years before an American president can simply announce that he's going to Baghdad instead of doing these kind of secret trips for security reasons.

CROWLEY: Still shaky. You forget there's been so much improvement, but it's still Iraqi country.

BLITZER: All right. Candy, thanks very much. Let's talk about this and more with democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala and republican strategist and CNN political contributor Ed Rollins. Guys, thanks very much.

Ed, let me start with you. Rahm Emanuel, the white house chief of staff, a good friend of Paul Begala's, he says, as a result of this trip by the president to Europe, and I'm quoting now, America is back. Is he right?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think, as Paul can attest, sometimes your over enthused when you work at the white house. America has a long ways to get back on the economic front. I think the president had a great trip. I think the highlight was this last visiting the troops in Iraq which is very important. I think the message to our troops is even though we're stepping up in Afghanistan we've got not forgotten you. Equally as important to the Iraqi people. We've done everything we can to move you forward. I think that part of the trip was a great part. The other part was obviously a lot of style.

BLITZER: What do you think, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I never have liked Rahm much. No, he's a dear friend. But I think what he means is that America is back in business. Back when Ed Rollins was working for Ronald Reagan there was no question who was the leader of the free world. It was our president. Under George W. Bush, America was at times full of bluster and invading countries that were no threat us to like Iraq and really alienating our allies and insulting them. Or at times being unctuous and Barack Obama looks like a grown-up. He looks like the leader of the free world. That's what Rahm is talking about. The president is over there to do serious business on the economy, on NATO and Afghanistan and now today in Iraq. I thought his visit to Turkey particularly could be historically important because Turkey is right on that nice edge between the west and Islam.

BLITZER: It's true the troops no doubt, Ed, loved seeing the commander in chief just as they loved seeing any commander in chief who shows up in a battle area. But when he sits down, as he did with Ray Odierno, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, and gets the overall story from the commander in Iraq what's going on, that has to have an impact on this president.

ROLLINS: There's no question. There's so much more knowledge you have as the incumbent president than you do as a candidate. And it's not always pleasant. This is still a battlefield. It's not totally won. There's a lot of violence going on. Obviously, the military are giving him good counsel. I think Secretary Gates' proposal for the new defense plan say superb plan in which it emphasizes weapons to fight this kind of war and not weapons of the future. And so I'm -- I think it was a great step and a great part.

BLITZER: It focuses in on the insurgencies as opposed to the old cold war with the Soviet Union that doesn't exist anymore.

ROLLINS: That's the war we're going to be fighting for the foreseeable future.

BLITZER: I think Paul will agree with you. What did you think of the vice president when we just played that part of the interview when he sort of reacts to Hillary Clinton's statement last week while he was in Europe that the Obama administration, Paul, no longer uses that phrase the global war on terror?

BEGALA: Yeah, I think it's because it's a dumb phrase. Not the war part. We're obviously engaged in hostilities and against terrorists in many places. But it's this notion that somehow the wars against terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We didn't have a war against blitzkrieg in Nazi Germany. We had a war against fascism. And the question here is who are we fighting? In different places, I thought Biden showed a sophisticated world view. The strategies are very different. In some places, we're going to have a lot more special operations. I think Ed is right. Secretary Gates is moving our defense department toward that. In other places we'll scale down like in Iraq. In others, we'll ramp up like in Afghanistan. It shows a lot more sophistication frankly than the president, I can't recall that Darth Vader looking guy that used to be there before Biden.

BLITZER: A lot of people are not happy they've dropped that phrase, the global war on terror.

ROLLINS: I don't care what you call it so long as we're chasing al Qaeda and terrorists around the world. Just go be effective go get them and make sure Americans are safe. That's what Americans care about. There's a lot of PR that Paul and I are very good at coming up with fancy phrases. The critical thing is what do our troops need, how do they get the job done and that's what matters.

BLITZER: Take a look at this really nice picture, Senator Ted Kennedy. Look at this. He's throwing out the first pitch at his very, very favorite stadium, Fenway Park in Boston. There he is. Nice throw to the Boston Red Sox. They are playing Tampa Bay. I just want a quick thought from both of you as you see Ted Kennedy getting that kind of -- that kind of kudos if you will.

BEGALA: He loves Fenway. I saw his son Patrick this weekend. He told me that his father was going to do this and he was very excited about it. Back in the -- at the convention in august when he said I'm going to be there when Barack Obama is sworn in, a lot of people had tears in their eyes. Not only is he here in April but he's throwing out the first pitch at Fenway. What a hero to all of us.

ROLLINS: I think it's a great tribute to him. I hope that's the strongest pitch that's thrown. As a Yankee fan this year, I hope he was the most effective pitcher they have.

BLITZER: We hope he's around for a long time to throw out a lot more pitches over the years. All right guys. Thanks for that.

The growing concern about Israel launching a strike to take out Iran's nuclear program. The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, has a new warning to the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Much more of our exclusive interview with Joe Biden coming up.

Plus, the ads most agree are effective. Some say they're simply way too disturbing. Why this anti-smoking campaign is causing so much controversy.


BLITZER: Police in Binghamton, New York, now assume a letter mailed to a television station on the day of last week's mass shooting is, in fact, authentic. They are trying to determine if photos included with the letter were taken at a local shooting range. Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Wong killed 13 people before taking his own life. Despite a rash of shooting rampages across the country, congress right now unlikely to pass new gun laws. CNN's Jim Acosta takes a closer look at that. Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as one southern democrat recently said, the way the votes are shaping up these days, gun control is, quote, dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.


ACOSTA: In Pittsburgh, the man accused of gunning down three police officers was afraid the government would take away his firearms. So says his friend.

EDWARD PERKOVIC, FRIEND OF PITTSBURGH SHOOTING SUSPECT: He just believed in his rights to bear arms. He believed that hard economic times, we're going to put forth, you know, gun bans and that sort of thing.

ACOSTA: Here's the reality. Despite mass shootings that have left more than 40 people dead in five states over the last month, congress is in no hurry to pass new gun control laws.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: The whole world thinks we are gun crazy. It's time for some sanity.

ACOSTA: Take Washington, D.C., delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton who has a bill that would give the district its first member of Congress with full voting rights. Pro-gun lawmakers are trying to attach an amendment to the voting rights bill that could scrap nearly all of the district's tough firearms laws.

NORTON: If this gun bill is attached to it and there's blowback from somebody getting hurt in this city, they are going to look to see who let this get past.

ACOSTA: When Attorney General Eric Holder dangled the idea of bringing back the Clinton era ban on assault weapons --

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make. And among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

ACOSTA: The head of the National Rifle Association sounded the alarm.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: Our divine rights, they might have been endowed by a creator, but they are preserved by mortals. If we mortals have the means and the will to make it stick.

ACOSTA: Since then, 65 pro-gun house democrats have fired off a letter to holder urging him to abandon the assault weapons ban. Many democrats like Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia are getting elected with the help of NRA supporters.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL REPORT: I think if you step back and look at gun control as a political issue, you have to conclude that the NRA and opponents to more gun control have won.


ACOSTA: Despite all of the recent shootings, the FBI says instant background checks on gun buyers are way up. An indication weapons sales are soaring across the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

New York City is running some very hard-hitting ads trying to get people to simply stop smoking. And the ads are getting a strong reaction. We're going to show you parts of those commercials. Some of you may find them disturbing. Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's in New York. She's been investigating. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one thing people seem to agree on is that the ads grab attention. But it's provoking two very different reactions.


SNOW: New York City's health department doesn't pull punches in anti-smoking ads like this one. Featuring Rolando.

There's also Marie who has had multiple amputations as a result of her smoking. But it is this ad featuring 3 1/2-year-old Alex who gets separated from his mother that has critics asking whether these commercials go too far. The little boy is first afraid, then cries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is how your child feels after losing you for a minute. Just imagine for the rest of their life.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, NYC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: It's clearly a disturbing ad. The reality is even more disturbing, the reality that people die every day from preventable causes. And in ways that are often painful and disfiguring.

SNOW: But on the web, critics are calling it atrocious, evoking images of child abuse. Others like Ad Age's Ken Wheaton call it a strong ad but say --

KEN WHEATON, ASST. MANAGING EDITOR, AD AGE: The only concern on my part is that sort of fuzzy ethics, if you are poking a kid just to get him to cry to make a point.

SNOW: Not so says the woman responsible for the ad which was made in Australia. The head says the mother and son are actors. She says the boy was briefed beforehand. But she admits --

FIONA SHARKIE, EXEC. DIRECTOR, QUIT VICTORIA: They were real tears at the end of it when he briefly lost sight of his mom, but certainly, he was fine and there was no concerns from child welfare or anyone else that was on the set that day.


SNOW: Now the ad's maker says similar issues about the boy's safety were raised in Australia back in November when the ad first ran there. But, she says, the same time many smokers said it was the first time they got the message about quitting smoking.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow reporting.

Too close for comfort? After North Korea's rocket launch, Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin is now speaking out about those proposed cuts in U.S. missile defense programs.

And the first lady in wax. Michelle Obama already makes it into a museum. We'll show you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Barack Obama earning Americans good will on his just completed overseas tour which included stops in Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and now Iraq. The feeling is mutual, at least with those countries. Let's bring in our senior political analyst political analyst, Bill Schneider. Is the map for America changing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, Wolf, and we have a new map to show you of how Americans now look at the world.


OBAMA: America is changing. But it cannot be America alone that changes.

SCHNEIDER: The American public sees a slightly different world. Some things have not changed. Great Britain remains America's staunchest ally of those tested in a CNN/opinion research poll. 90 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Britain. Germany, too, 79 percent.

OBAMA: We are grateful to have such an extraordinary ally.

SCHNEIDER: Freedom fries? That's over. France now has a pro- American president and the feeling is reciprocated. 67 percent favorable. President Obama just visited Turkey, a NATO ally in the Muslim world.

OBAMA: Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership.

SCHNEIDER: Americans like Turkey. But they are uncertain about Mexico, where violence is raging just across the border. The cold war is over. Russia and China are no longer exactly enemies, but they're not quite friends. Americans are uncertain about Russia. China, too.

OBAMA: In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.

SCHNEIDER: So while Americans are uncertain about Russia and China, they are very hostile to rogue nations and unstable countries that have nuclear weapons. Pakistan, just 21 percent favorable. Our biggest enemies? North Korea.

OBAMA: Let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity.

SCHNEIDER: And at the very bottom, Iran.

OBAMA: So, let me be clear, Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat.


SCHNEIDER: Americans have a more favorable opinion of Cuba than they do of Pakistan or North Korea or Iran. You know, Cuba does not have nuclear weapons, so it's not as big a threat. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting you say that, because we're waiting to hear the breaking news, three members of congress have met with Fidel Castro, in Havana, and we're going to be speaking with Representative Barbara Lee, who led that congressional black caucus delegation. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Dramatic development involving Cuba and the United States on this day. Thank you very much, Bill Schneider.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "the Cafferty File."


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is are you willing to relocate in order to find work? There are places in this country where the unemployment rate is less than five percent, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, places like that.

Bill writes, "Jack, three years ago I left Ohio where there is little or not work and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina for a job. Last month, I lost my job in Charlotte. If someone can tell me where there is secure, stable work, I thought I had it in Charlotte; I'd be willing to move again."

Steve writes, "When I was out of work years ago, I traveled across the country in order to provide for my family. I lived in a camper for five years to do it. All too often I have seen people whining about not having a job because they are not willing to take the next step in order to get one."

Melissa in California writes, "If it pays it plays. I am actually looking to relocate from Yorba Linda, California to Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia. Anybody got a job for me?"

Bob writes, "I live in Michigan, enough said."

Tony in Illinois, "Picking up and moving just to try and find a job in this economy is nuts. The only way I would is if I found a job there first and then made plans for the move." Well, yes. Gambling for a job in this matter is like going to Vegas and betting it all on one number.

Randy writes, "I am. It's either I relocate to wherever the job is or I relocate to a tent city."

M. writes, "Yes I am. I've been unemployed seven months and work in the IT field. After scanning numerous job boards on a daily basis, it's very clear to me that there are presently stronger job markets for my type of work. I'm currently looking in Washington, D.C., New York, and California. I own a home, but I won't let that stop me. I can't be unemployed any longer. I am underwater."

And, Wolf, this is for you from Kelly. "I'm from Buffalo, New York. Why would I move anywhere else? Best place in the world to live."

BLITZER: Kelly and I both from Buffalo, and she has a good point, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Right. If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to Buffalo, maybe it's there. Wolf?

BLITZER: Did I tell you, I'm going to go back to western New York and give the commencement address this year at St. Bonaventure University?

CAFFERTY: No. Good for you.

BLITZER: They're going to give me an honorary degree, too.

CAFFERTY: And a fat honorarium.

BLITZER: No honorarium? Just a piece of paper. A nice degree, but it's one of my favorite schools. St. Bonaventure.

CAFFERTY: That's not your alma mater.

BLITZER: I went to the state university in New York.


BLITZER: Buffalo.

CAFFERTY: Of course. Where else? BLITZER: Highly unusual and sharp criticism by the former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Is he out of line? I'll ask the current vice president. Much more of our exclusive interview of Joe Biden including your I-report questions to the vice president.

Plus, Michelle Obama-mania reaching new heights in a highly unlikely place, a wax museum.


BLITZER: First lady of the United States is very popular, now there's a wax statue of her. Let's turn to CNN's Samantha Hayes. She's taking a closer look.

What are you seeing, Sam?

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know you're really popular when people show up to see you when you're not even there.


HAYES: So popular is Michelle Obama that photographers and journalists from all over the world have crowded in this little space just to get a look. At her wax replica, unveiled Tuesday at Madame Tussauds in Washington, D.C.

SHAMEKA LLOYD, MARKETING MANAGER: She's so widely popular, having just come back from her European trip and with the moniker of mighty Michelle, the timing is perfect that we introduce her and immortalize Michelle Obama in wax.

HAYES: During last week's European trip, crowds may have been impressed by the president, but they were fascinated with the first lady. A scene reminiscent of another famous first couple, John and Jacqueline Kennedy.

OBAMA: And to paraphrase one of my predecessors, I am also proud to be the man who brought Michelle Obama to Prague.

HAYES: The media gushed, too.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: It almost seemed like journalists were running out of female icons to compare Michelle Obama to, Jackie O., Princess Diana, Carla Bruni.

HAYES: She made a good impression back at home, too, a new Opinion Research/CNN poll said 80 percent of the Americans surveyed felt that Michelle Obama was creating a more positive image abroad for the United States.

SANDRA MOTUSESKY, ROBBINSVILLE, NEW JERSEY: I think she's great. She's getting a lot of attention, and she should be. Excellent.

HAYES: Which might be why Michelle Obama is drawing crowds in the flesh and the Washington wax museum, onto the third lady on display, Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are the other two.

KURTZ: I'm sure Laura Bush must be wondering where her wax statue is.


HAYES: First ladies usually are thought to be more popular than their husbands, but there's not available polling on that. ABC says, though, in March Michelle Obama had a 79 percent favorability rating. By contrast in July of 2001, Laura Bush was at 64 percent. Hillary Clinton, 57 percent in March 1993. Nancy Reagan had high marks, 67 percent, in April 1981, that wasn't long after her husband was shot, Wolf, and all of these ladies had ratings similar to Michelle Obama, but that happened later on in their husbands' presidencies.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.