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Dems vs. Dems in Health Debate; 'Two Black Men' Not in Gates 911 Call; 'Cash for Clunkers' Offers Big Rebates

Aired July 27, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: T.J., thanks very much. Happening now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants health care reform. Can a freshman Democrat and others like him stand in her way in the reform push? Democrats' main opponent may be other Democrats.

We have a 911 call that lets out Henry Louis Gates' arrest. But what sparked a fierce debate over race never mentioned the words "two black men."

And what's called America's front yard draws millions of visitors. But with foul water, crumbling monuments and filthy bathrooms, some say the National Mall right here in Washington is in danger of becoming a national disgrace.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's commander for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, a new sense of urgency toward health care reform. The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is huddling with her Democratic deputies. The goal, deflecting Republican criticisms keeping Democrats from defecting and defining their plan to you. One development they're playing up right now, new analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says the government-run plan Democrats want could coexist with private insurance plans without destroying private insurers.

Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got the latest for us.

Dana, first of all, where are you?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm in the basement of the Capitol, Wolf. We are here waiting as the Democratic leaders are speaking, as you said, just upstairs.

The reason why we're here is because just down the hall, House Democrats are about to start, Wolf, a five-hour seminar. That's right, a five-hour seminar to help explain their health care plan. And they are certainly going to seize on what you said, this CBO report, saying some good news from the Democrats' perspective about their idea for a government-run health insurance option. They're hoping that that will help persuade skittish members of their own party, especially some conservatives who are worried about answering to their -- conservative Democrats worrying about answering to their constituents. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Talk to Congressman Gerry Connolly about the House Democrats' health care plan and you hear this...

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think it's premature to be talking about a tax increase.

BASH: Connolly is a freshman Democrat elected from a traditionally Republican district in northern Virginia, and Exhibit A of an ironic twist. A big reason for the Democratic divide delaying health care reform may be that Democrats are a victim of their own election year successes.

Democrats' huge House majority comes from winning and holding 27 Republican districts in 2006 and an additional 26 Republican seats in 2008. That means Democrats like Connolly have to answer to and represent conservative-leaning districts wary of many aspects of their party's health care reform.

CONNOLLY: I think it's very important to remember that a lot of suburban districts such as mine switched and supported both President Obama and Democrats in Congress. And I think it's very important that the message we send to those districts not be a negative one, that we're taking into account their concerns.

BASH: Concerns like tax increases, which Republicans are already stoking with press releases and a media blitz in the works targeting Connolly and other vulnerable Democrats.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Democrat leaders are going to walk their members down the plank on nationalizing our health care system here in this country and require them to vote on a massive new tax increase in small businesses.

BASH (on camera): Are you worried that if this is done wrong, that this could jeopardize your seat and others like you?

CONNOLLY: Well, when you run for Congress on some of these big issues, you want to make sure you get it right. And that's really where we are right now. We want to make sure we get it right.


BASH: Much to the chagrin of the White House and Democratic leaders, that is something we're hearing more and more from rank-and- file Democrats. And there is also concern that they don't really know what's in the Democratic leaders' plan. It's over a thousand pages, and that is why we are down here, because we are waiting for a meeting where House Democratic leaders are going to try to educate and persuade their rank-and-file Democrats to go along with their bill.

It's going to start just down this hall. And this is really interesting and important to note -- five hours long. It is slated to start just about now and not end, Wolf, until 9:00 tonight. That's how long they are taking to try to explain this huge, huge bill and try to persuade the Democrats who are not very happy about it to go along with them.

BLITZER: Because without those so-called Blue Dog Democrats, those conservatives, those moderate Democrats, they may not have the votes to get this thing going in the House of Representatives.

BASH: You bet.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

It's your health and will affect your care. Would Democratic plans for reform come between you and your doctor, as Republicans claim? Would Republicans cause health costs to spiral out of control, as Democrats say?

We're trying to get to the bottom of all of this, and we're going to have a debate this hour. The number two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, and the number two House Republican, Eric Cantor, they're here this hour live. They will debate these issues before all of us.

Can they all just get along -- President Obama, the Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates, and the Cambridge police officer, Sergeant James Crowley. Today the White House says all three will meet at the White House this week. Last week, President Obama said they'd drink a beer.

A casual drink may help end the controversy over Gates' arrest, but could a just-released 911 call from the incident spark more outrage?

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's watching all of this in Boston for us.

All right. What's going on today, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we should tell you first of all that CNN did reach out to Professor Henry Gates for reaction to these latest tapes that were released, but he declined to comment. Cambridge police, however, say the tapes speak for themselves.


QUIJANO (voice-over): The 911 call that eventually led to Professor Henry Gates' arrest never mentioned two black men.

OPERATOR: Are they still in the House?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're still in the House I believe. Yes.

OPERATOR: And were they white, black, or Hispanic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there were two larger men. One looks kind of Hispanic, but I'm not really sure. And the other one entered and I didn't see what he looked like at all.

QUIJANO: At one point, the caller herself raises the possibility the situation might not be an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if they live there and just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they kind of used their shoulder to try to barge in. And they got in.

QUIJANO: Cambridge police also released audio of the police radio transmissions from that day. The dispatcher can be heard repeating the 911 caller's description of two suspicious persons or SPs.

OPERATOR: Both SPs are still in the House. Unknown on the race. One may be a Hispanic male. I'm not sure.

QUIJANO: Later, after Sergeant James Crowley arrives, this...

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT: I'm up with the gentleman who says he resides here, a little uncooperative. But keep the cars coming.

QUIJANO: Then an unidentified voice in the background can be heard as Sergeant Crowley calls in the identification.

CROWLEY: I've got ID of a Henry Louis Gates.


QUIJANO: Now, Cambridge police say that they are forming a committee not to conduct an internal investigation into what happened but, rather, to see what lessons can be learned from it.

Meantime, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, as you mentioned, said he expects that this week, that get-together at the White House to talk about the incident over beers with President Obama, Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates will happen sometime this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Elaine. Thanks very much.

What else was said by the woman who initiated this 911 call, arresting officer Crowley and by Professor Gates? We'll be running the entire 911 recording from the incident. That's coming up just in a few minutes.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty though right now. He's got another "Cafferty."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Another "Cafferty File."

BLITZER: File. Something like that. Yes. I've said that before. I can say it again.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: Why, thank you, Wolf. While quitting in the middle of her first term as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin's blasting many who she sees as her critics, including, of course, the news media. In the kind of speech only Palin can give, she said freedom of the press was an important right and that soldiers have died to protect it. Adding, "So how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?"

Palin also said, "Our new governor has a very nice family, too. So leave his kids alone." Talking about the lieutenant governor who's going to replace her because she's quitting in the middle of her first term.

The former governor did not elaborate on her criticism of the media, but in the past, Sarah Palin's talked about her and her family being unfairly treated by reporters and bloggers. It didn't seem to be a problem for her, though, when she was using the news media and her family to promote her candidacy as vice president along with John McCain during last fall's election.

Sarah Palin also criticized so-called Hollywood starlets who are active against gun rights along with "the partisan operatives" who filed ethics complaints against her. She even went after an unidentified, undefined group, who she said, "seemed to be just hell bent on maybe tearing down our nation, perpetuating some pessimism and suggesting American apologetics."


As for Palin's future, she's being equally vague, concluding yesterday's campaign-style speech by saying, "Let's all enjoy the ride."

Palin has plans to write a book, or, more accurately, probably to have somebody else write the back and then she'll put her name on it, and then campaign for ore Republicans. Some people think she'll wind up hosting a radio or TV show or hit the speaker circuit. Others say that Palin has her eye on the White House in 2012.

So, here's the question: Has Sarah Palin been treated unfairly by the news media?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

What do you think, Wolf? Have we been fair to...

BLITZER: I think we, meaning you and me, I think we've been fair.

CAFFERTY: There you go. I agree with that. We can't speak for anybody else.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Something old can turn into something new. If you're driving an old clunker, you can now get cash toward a new car.

Is the depressed housing market coming back to life? There are new positive signs for sellers that came as a surprise.

And regarding that plane that crashed into a home this year near Buffalo, just-released recordings one pilot's shocking complaints against the airline she worked for.


BLITZER: If you have an old gas-guzzler you've been dying to unload for something more fuel efficient, now may be the best time to do it. The government's so-called Cash for Clunkers program kicks into high gear today. The Obama administration has high hopes that it will fly.


RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The CARS program does three things. First, it helps struggling consumers to buy reliable vehicles they can depend on to get to work while lowering their costs on gas and maintenance. Second, it helps community dealerships, which are small businesses, after all, to weather the bad economy. And third, it helps to lower CO2 emissions and reduce fuel consumption, because any new vehicle purchased through this program must be more fuel efficient than the one that's traded in.


BLITZER: CNN Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis is in New York with a lot more on this subject for us.

All right. Tell us what's going on, Gerri.


This program technically started back on July 1st, but many auto dealers have been reluctant to do these deals until they understood the requirements. On Friday, final rules were published detailing how dealers can get their checks and dispose of cars.

The official name of the program is the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, for short. It goes from July 1st to November 1st 2009, or until funds run out. So, anyone who might have already trading in their clunker in the past couple of weeks is still eligible for a rebate as long as they meet requirements.

So, to qualify, your old car must be less than 25 years old on the trade-in date. It has to get 18 miles per gallon or less, and must be registered or insured under your name for at least a year. And the new car needs to get at least 22 miles per gallon.

The credit will be anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500 based on how many more miles per gallon your new car gets. And you could get more. Since the program requires the scrapping of your trade-in vehicle, the does he recall must disclose to you an estimate, however minimal, of the scrap value of your trade-in.

The dealer gets $50 of the scrap value and you'll get the rest. This is in addition to the rebate and not in place of it.

To take advantage of this program, you don't need to register anywhere or at any time, but here's what you'll need at the dealership -- one-year proof of insurance, proof of registration going back at least one year, a clear title. This means it must be free of any liens. If you have any, you have to have them cleared before going to the dealer.

You must also get the vehicle manufacture date. That's found on the driver's door.

To find out if you qualify, check out the CARS hotline at 1-866- CAR-7891, or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Cash for Clunkers.

Thanks very much, Gerri.

And Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, he's going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We'll have more on this potentially significant program for you.

A big surprise from the latest report on the housing market today. The government now says sales of new homes in June spiked 11 percent over sales in May. That far exceeded what many analysts expected.

Joining us now, Correspondent Poppy Harlow.

Does this mean, Poppy, that the housing market is now finally coming back?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Wolf? That's a great question. That's what everyone is asking.

I'd be encouraged with this news. It's a lot better than expected, as you said. At the very least, this is an encouraging surprise.

As far as, have we hit the proverbial bottom? That is to be seen. But Wolf, as you said, an 11 percent spike in new home sales last month alone, far better than expected.

And we should note this is the biggest monthly increase in home sales in nine years. So, some strength there.

This is also the third month in a row that we have seen new home sales rise. But let's be clear. Take a look at what's on your screen, because new home sales in June of this year were still down 21 percent from where they were in June of last year.

And Wolf, when you look back four years during the height of the housing boom, in one month alone in June we sold more than 1.3 million homes. Last month, just 384,000 new homes. So, we have to put it all in perspective. But here's what fueled that surge. We have home prices, folks, that continue to fall. The median home price in this country fell another three percent in June to about $206,000.

Also, you have a glut of inventory on the market. That's what we were dealing with.

What we're dealing with now is fewer and fewer new homes on the market. That's helping in terms of there's just less inventory there and people are picking it up. That is helping.

And also, let's not forget President Obama's $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, Wolf. That's in effect right now. That is certainly helping boost sales in the short term.

It's going to be difficult to see what happens when that expires, Wolf, at the end of December. That could really change the picture. And we're still dealing with mounting foreclosures across the nation.

I want you to know quickly, tomorrow morning, we're going to get a very important read. It's the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index. That tells us where home prices are across 20 major metropolitan areas. When we get that, Wolf, we'll have a much better gauge of where we stand.

But, I'd take the good news for now. The market didn't react to it too much today. Home building stocks just soared today. Wolf. So, some encouraging signs, and some encouraging signs for home builders across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you tomorrow, Poppy. Thanks very much.

For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. Senate is set to talk about a subject that's been off limits, whether U.S. troops can be public about their private lives.

Plus, heading into the night with U.S. forces in an uneasy role. Iraqis are calling the shots now. Americans are taking what they call a massive leap of faith.


CAPT. JOHNNY ULSAMER, U.S. ARMY: We've had some intelligence projects that they can work on. It's a start for them, you know, to hopefully detain somebody.



BLITZER: The role of U.S. troops in Iraq has shifted dramatically over the past few weeks. Where the American military once called all the shot, the Iraqis are now in charge.

CNN's Arwa Damon was embedded with the U.S. military and got a closer look from both sides at how this shift of power and responsibility is going.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're just back from a 24-hour embed, specifically to look at the relationship between U.S. and Iraqi forces now that it's the Iraqis who are in charge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Specifically, we were attacked with mortars the other day, so we want to travel through the area where the mortars came from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Arcon (ph) has a checkpoint.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's basically his area, so he knows it pretty well. These guys know it pretty well.

DAMON (on camera): And does he have any idea who might have fired them, who was behind this?

(voice-over): Iraqi National Police Lieutenant Arcon Mussan (ph) says he does. There are still insurgent elements out there in this Baghdad neighborhood. The Americans link up with the unit.


DAMON: Yes, this is a joint patrol, but it's operating under different dynamics dictated by the security agreement signed by both countries, which completely changed the rules of engagement. But implementing the vague and convoluted document has not been easy.

LT. NICK RAMOS, U.S. ARMY: Well, I'll be honest. Probably the biggest challenge so far has just been several different interpretations of the security agreement.

DAMON: The agreement hands full control of this war to the Iraqis and largely restricts U.S. troop movement. For example, the Americans now need the Iraqis' permission and help to execute this mission.

ULSAMER: We've had some intelligence projects that they can work on. It's a start for them, you know, to hopefully detain somebody.

DAMON: The limitations have caused friction among some units, but here the soldiers say re-established relationships have helped.

ULSAMER: It's a friend asking a friend to go on a mission. It's not, you know, Iraqi commander to American commander.

DAMON: We reach the suspected mortar launch point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had some incidents, you know, in the area around this school.

DAMON: And the Americans want to make sure the Iraqis know to keep an eye on this area.

U.S. forces are now in less of an offensive and more of a passive training role, sitting on the sidelines of the battle. On June 30th, the U.S. military completed the withdrawal of its combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns. This combat battalion is now classified as a "super advisory unit."

Setting aside the logistics of trying to implement a vague agreement, it's also been a significant change in mindset for the Americans. And the Iraqis don't have to take the Americans' advice.

LT. COL. FLINT PATTERSON, U.S. ARMY: That's right. And that's part of the difficult part of this, because we'd like to think I always have the right answer, and sometimes I do, but here's the difference in terms of the change in mindset. At the end of the day, if they're happy with it and their systems are in place and sustainable, that's what's important and I consider a homerun.

DAMON: American forces still maintain the full right to protect themselves. This is a perimeter patrol they can execute on their own, but they notify the Iraqis ahead of time.

(on camera): What we've always been hearing from these American soldiers is that this has been a massive leap of faith because it's not just about transitioning security responsibilities. They've also had to place a significant amount of trust in the Iraqis' capabilities.

(voice-over): And both sides say tough as it is, it had to happen sometime.


DAMON: At least with it happening now, the Americans are still around and able to assess where the Iraqi weaknesses are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Good report. Thank you.

So, what's happening in Washington right now directly affects you. We're breaking down the health care divide, the big sticking points, and whether any breakthrough among Democrats and Republicans is really possible. We're asking the number two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, and the number two House Republican, Eric Cantor. They're both standing by live.

And Sarah Palin fires some parting shots. Will her final words now affect her political future?


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

Happening now, two days, two countries. Washington hosts a high- level huddle between top U.S. and Chinese movers and shakers. Can the two superpowers strike a balance?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates touches down in Israel, where patience with nuclear diplomacy with Iran is wearing thin. Gates' mission, to assure Israel that the U.S. has its limits, as well.

And Sarah Palin taking goes out swinging, taking swipes at the news media and Hollywood in her final speech as the governor of Alaska. We'll ask the comedian and talk show host Bill Maher if they're deserved.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Depending on whom you believe, Democratic plans for health care reform could come between you and your doctor, as some Republicans claim, or Republican inaction could cause future health costs to simply spiral out of control, as so many Democrats say.

We're trying to get to the bottom of all of this. Here to discuss what's going on, two leaders in the United States House of Representatives, the number two leaders in both, for that matter.

Joining us now is the majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and the minority whip, Eric cantor.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: You're welcome. Good to be with you, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go through some of the major points of contention, see if we can find any common ground between the two of you.

On the issue of a public option, as it's called, Congressman Hoyer, a government health insurance company, if you will, that would compete with private health insurance companies, is that a done deal as far as the Democrats are concerned, or are you willing to back away from it?

HOYER: I think there's still discussion about that, but I think there's going to be a public option in the House bill. And I hope there is. And I think there will be.

We think there needs to be an alternative for individuals. And, of course, the Republicans, when they passed prescription drug, also had an alternative. It was triggered, but there was the possibility of a public option in their own bill. So, we think it will be in there. We think it's important to be in there to keep the insurance companies honest, if you will.

BLITZER: If there's a public option, a government health insurance company, Congressman Cantor, is that acceptable, in some forms, to Republicans? CANTOR: Wolf, the thing is, I -- I don't think anybody believes that you can have the government compete with the private sector. It -- there just can't be an even playing field.

And I think this is where the divide begins. And I would rather look to see where we can work together, because there are a lot of points that we agree on. I know Steny agrees with me the status quo is unacceptable.

You know, we have got to institute some insurance reform. We have got to make it so that health insurance costs are brought down. And we can work together and do that, without having to expand government's role in the decision-making as far as families...


CANTOR: ... and -- and health care is concerned.

BLITZER: ... Congressman Hoyer, so, in order to attract Republicans, maybe even some conservative or moderate Democrats, are you willing to abandon that public option?

HOYER: Well, I -- no, we're not willing to abandon the public option.

There are a number of different facets that it could take, but we're not willing to abandon it at this point in time. We believe it will be in the House bill.

But let me say, there is agreement. As Eric just said, the current system is not sustainable. The current system does not include all Americans. And the current system is too expensive, and it's not sustainable over the long term.

So, we have got to bring the cost curve down. We're in a lot of discussion about that. We have got to make sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health care. We have got to make sure that preexisting conditions don't preclude people from getting insurance that they need. And we have got to make sure that small business can afford...

BLITZER: All right.

HOYER: ... insurance.


HOYER: So, those are the objectives we're trying to get to.

BLITZER: Congressman Cantor, are you willing to accept a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans to help pay for health insurance for those who are uninsured right now?

CANTOR: See, Wolf, right now, we have got a situation, one of the worst economic times in our generation. And, so, when you're starting to talk about taxing individuals that are successful, the problem is, a disproportionate share of that group, almost 50 percent, derive at least 26 percent of their income from small-business sources.

So, what you're really saying by saying that you're going to go after those people who are wealthy or successful, you will tax them, but you also tax the job creators. And I think, if you asked the American people right now where they want Congress to focus, it is trying to get this economy back on track and trying to get people in this country back to work.

HOYER: There's no doubt about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you disagree -- you disagree with him on that, don't you?

HOYER: Well, there's no doubt about that. We want to concentrate on that.

We passed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to do exactly that. We gave 95 percent of Americans a tax cut in that bill.

But we also under...

BLITZER: But you want a tax increase on the richest Americans?

HOYER: Well, that's $350,000 and above. That's the upper 1 percent of the taxpayers in America that we're asking to make a contribution on that.

That's one option, Wolf, of funding sources. What we have pledged is, we're going to pay for the reforms that we adopt, and not make the deficit worse. So, the answer to that question is, there are going to be a number of different proposals. That's one of them. We think it's a credible proposal that the Ways and Means Committee has made.

BLITZER: What about the option of taxing employer benefits, Congressman Cantor? Are you open to that; in other words, it would be part of your taxable income, the health insurance benefits that your employer gives you?

CANTOR: No, we shouldn't be doing that right now, again, think about where we are. When you have got almost 10 percent of the families -- or the work force out of a job right now in this country.

We ought not be thinking about new ways to tax them. What we ought to be doing is saying, hey, let's put more control in the hands of the families right now. And, so, we ought not be taxing health care benefits. Instead, what we ought to do is to provide incentives for people who find themselves in the individual market, those people who are out there without a job and without protection and health care.

We ought to first see how we can put some flexibility in the law to make sure that they don't lose their insurance coverage when they lose their job. And, frankly, we should put some more incentives in the tax code to allow individuals to make their own choices, not an insurance company, not the government.

BLITZER: All right, there's -- there's a lot of...

HOYER: Wolf, the proposal, of course, you...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

HOYER: ... you referred to Senator McCain's proposal, which Eric is not for.

But he wants to put control in the hands of families. We want to do the same thing. Right now, unfortunately, as is so clear to the American public, control is in hands of the insurance companies. That's what we need to change.



CANTOR: And -- and, Wolf, if I could say something right now, we don't want to put the hands -- put control in the hands of some bureaucrats here in Washington.

That's why, when you start to ask about a government plan, there is such resistance, not only on the part of the Republicans here in Congress, but across the country. Everyone knows that a government bureaucrat is not going to be able to keep down costs and keep up the kind of quality of care that most Americans are used to.

BLITZER: Congressman Hoyer, you're the -- the -- the majority leader, the number-two Democrat in the House. Right now, there are 256 Democrats in the House. There's 178 Republicans. There's one seat that's vacant right now. You have an overwhelming majority.

But, if you take those 52 moderate or conservative Democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, and they vote with the Republicans because they dislike, some of them, what you're having, they're going to win, and you're going to lose. You have to get those -- those moderate and conservative Democrats on board.

HOYER: Wolf, I agree with your math, but that's not going to happen.

The fact is that every Democrat that I have spoken to, from conservative to progressive and everybody in between, says they want to vote for a health care reform bill that gives access to affordable, quality health care to every American.

So, we have a consensus in our party. Now we're talking about the ways and means to get there in the most effective way possible, the most cost-effective way possible, the -- the way that's most sustainable over the long term, but that gives access to all Americans at a cost this country and they can afford.

BLITZER: Are you willing to keep the House in session until you get legislation passed on the floor, Congressman Hoyer? HOYER: Well, if you're asking are we going to keep the House in session during the month of August, I doubt that that's going to be the case.

But we are certainly going to move forward on resolving the issues. This is a very serious, complex matter that deserves discussion and deserves to be gotten right.

BLITZER: Well...

HOYER: We're going to take the time to do that.

BLITZER: ... can I just press you on this? Are you willing to stay in session until the House passes health care reform in August?

HOYER: I'm willing to stay in session for as long as it takes, if I believe that staying in session is the key.

After all, once we pass the bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee, which I hope to -- to do this week, we will still have to reconcile three bills. There are still two bills in the Senate -- or one bill that's passed out of committee and one bill that hasn't. So, there's a lot of work to be done by staff and members, not necessarily on the floor of the House, but that has to be done before we get to a place where we will have final passage of the health care reform bill.

BLITZER: Well, I will give Congressman Cantor the last word.

It looks like that he's -- he's saying -- I'm just reading between the lines -- that they will get it through the committee, but not necessarily pass it on the floor, before the recess.

CANTOR: Well, I mean, listen, Wolf, first of all, you know, we have got to get it right, and that has to be the ultimate goal here. It is too big. It affects every American.

But the real problem is -- and the majority leader knows this -- there are 68 Democrats on -- who have expressed concern about this bill. And so, obviously, there is a bipartisan majority against the current health care bill in Congress.

And there's a reason for that. The American people are not behind it. So, I don't see why it is that, over the next three days, we have got to rush to see this thing come to the floor, when there are so many concerns being voiced by folks on both sides of the partisan aisle.

BLITZER: Already, guys, unfortunately, we have got to leave it there, but we will continue this conversation.

Appreciate both of you coming in.

HOYER: You bet, Wolf.

CANTOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Senators are feeling the pressure on health care as well from a new front, tweets. You're see how people opposed to the president's plan are trying to hijack a Twitter campaign.

Plus, Sarah Palin's parting shots: taking aim at the news media.

And a national disgrace? What's behind the decay of one of the nation's most visited parks?


BLITZER: It involves your health, but who should you believe? In new ad running on television, Democrats and their supporters are hoping to convince you about their ideas for health care reform. Take a look.


NARRATOR: While the president is trying to make health care affordable, the Republicans are doing nothing -- actually, worse than nothing. They're turning it into a political football. Health care costs are spiraling.

Tell Congress, this isn't a game.



NARRATOR: Now the Republicans say Congress should slow down? That's because, when something goes slow enough, it's easy to kill it dead in its tracks.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, isn't the fight, though, right now in the House on the Democratic side?


You know, there are those 52 moderate and conservative Democrats you were just talking about before, many of whom, ironically, were recruited to run for Congress by none other than the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, when he ran the Campaign Committee.

And now that they're there, they have got concerns about costs, about rural health care, all kinds of things. In the end, though, when you talk to folks at the White House, they say they believe they're going to get a majority of those people to support health care reform.

BLITZER: The president is certainly walking a fine line as he tries to get this -- this deal going.

BORGER: Well, he -- he really is, because, on the one hand, he has the liberals in the House and in the Senate who say, why are you paying so much attention to these conservative Democrats, as well to those moderate Republicans in the Senate? There are a few moderate Republicans in the Senate, they say, who could actually write this legislation.

Some say they did it on the stimulus package. They don't want that to happen again. So, the president at some point has to decide just which direction he's going to go, once all these committees report their bills.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's going to be a while.

BORGER: Yes, not soon enough as far as folks at the White House are concerned.

BLITZER: That's correct. All right. Thanks, Gloria.

They -- they have called their senators. They have e-mailed. And now Americans are tweeting for health care reform.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She is watching this story.

All right, Abbi, what's happening on Twitter right now?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a relatively new one, Twitter pressure on the Senate to try and get something done -- this from President Obama's supporters, a new site from Organizing For America that will let you put in your zip code right here.

And then it's going to write a tweet for your senator, the senator in your state, saying, please support meaning -- meaningful health insurance reform, or Americans need this happening right now. And the tweet, if your senator is an avid Twitterer -- and there are some out there -- that is going to appear in their feed and it's going to be pretty hard to miss.

The Web site was launched last night from Organizing For America. This is a branch of the Democratic National Committee that is used to house President Obama's online supporters. But, because it's free for anyone to use, you can bet that some of his opponents on it as well, writing their own messages, editing, and -- and sending these messages to senators: Vote no on government-controlled health care. Others one you will see saying: Read the bill. I did.

We spoke to the new media director at Organizing For America, who said that it's great to have a healthy debate online, and she points out that the majority of people using the site sending the tweets are in their camp really pressuring for health insurance reform.

BLITZER: One version of that bill is 1,000 pages, not that easy to read.

All right, Abbi, thank you.

She's no longer the governor of Alaska, but, before stepping down, Sarah Palin took some jabs at the news media and at Hollywood.



SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: By the way, Hollywood needs to know, we eat; therefore, we hunt.



BLITZER: Was Sarah Palin's confrontational send-off a smart strategy? We're going to consider the potential fallout.

And, later, Palin, health care, the arrest of Professor Gates -- all fodder for the comedian Bill Maher. He will be here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Sarah Palin, now the former governor of Alaska. What's going on? Is her latest move smart? Is it the beginning of a new strategy aimed at huge national political office?

Let's talk about it in our "Strategy Session" with Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist Terry Holt.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

I will play a little clip of what she said yesterday, her final address as governor of Alaska.


PALIN: Democracy depends on you. And that is why -- that's why our troops are willing to die for you.

So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?


PALIN: Don't underestimate the wisdom of the people.

And one other thing for the media: Our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: If she wants national office, is that a smart strategy for her?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I would counsel her to engage the media, and -- and maybe on some very substantial issues. Her -- her -- her first act was impressive. I think everybody was electrified by her fresh appearance.

BLITZER: Once John McCain named her to be the running mate, yes.

HOLT: Last summer.

It's been rocky since. And I think that it's probably not productive to attack the media, especially in a sort of gratuitous way. I think, if you're going to go after the media, talk about substance, take on the basic assumptions of their coverage, but not in these kind of parting-shot ways.

To me, it seemed a little gratuitous -- gratuitous...


BLITZER: It will help her -- I don't know if she needs much help -- with that real core Republican base, but, if she's looking to expand it, it's probably not going to necessarily help her.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we know from polls over the last week that she is extremely popular among the Republican base, something like 75 percent approval ratings among the Republican base.

But the -- the problem is, if she's going to be credible on the campaign trail -- because the media is going end to up being, you know, the -- the ones that will hold her accountable on -- if she begins to run for office -- when -- when she gets paid $100,000 a speech, she better have a little more substance in those speeches...


ROSEN: ... than -- than the sort of flying-around, sort of gratuitous attacks all the time.

There -- there's just got to be some strategy associated with the things that come out of her mouth.

HOLT: I agree.


HOLT: And I think it -- it really isn't about the great big speeches now. It's about the building blocks. How does she build a national reputation -- or, rather, rebuild it -- and how does she put the program in place that allows her to -- to build an organization that will support her and that will -- that will raise her up, now that she doesn't have that natural -- that natural podium of the governorship of Alaska? BLITZER: She -- she says she's going to be working for Republicans to try to get them elected. She's going out, we're told, in the next couple weeks, to the Ronald Reagan Library to deliver a speech. Maybe she will show up in Iowa.

She's going to start this process.


BLITZER: If you were -- and you're not, obviously -- going to give her some advice, though, let's say you -- you know, she was -- was looking ahead to 2012 -- what's the most important thing she should do?

ROSEN: Well, we know she's going to be able to make money. She's got a book coming out.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with that.

ROSEN: She's going to do paid speeches. Nothing wrong with that. So, that's not the stuff you highlight right away.

What I would suggest she do is focus on some of the charity appearances. She will be -- and it makes the boys mad in the Republican Party -- she will be the top draw, I predict, at any Republican Party event...

HOLT: It doesn't make me mad at all.


ROSEN: ... for the next year.

BLITZER: It might make some other governors, Republican governors...

ROSEN: She will be the top -- she will be the top draw. She ought to take advantage of that. She ought to -- she ought to work hard, local Republican parties across the country, and charities.

She has the potential to draw...

BLITZER: What advice do you give her?

ROSEN: ... a lot of money and -- and support for charities.

HOLT: I think -- I think that's generally good advice. I think that it is about building the grassroots support that you need to have a chance in 2012. And it's really about making those connections down here in the lower 48.

You know, she's been almost in charge of -- of a whole other country that far away. She gets down here, gets engaged with local and state and national party officials that don't know her well. She's got to do all that work. And it really begins with a very basic strategic plan of being engaged. BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. We will -- I'm sure we will be seeing and hearing a lot from Sarah Palin over the next weeks and months.

In the thick of the Iraq war -- and even now -- IEDs have equaled daily danger. Now they're wreaking the same dread in Afghanistan. We are going to be exploring the deadly weapon's resurgence there.

And always outspoken, often surprising, he his opinions on everything from Sarah Palin to health care reform. I will go one-on- one with the comedian Bill Maher. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring some other important incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Alina, what is going on?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, good to see you.

We're getting word here at CNN that the Senate Armed Services will take up the military's don't ask, don't tell policies on gays this coming fall. Now, a committee spokeswoman says, hearings are planned, but that there's no specific legislation being considered.

Don't ask, don't tell, of course, put in place during the Clinton administration, it ended the requirement that military personnel declare their sexual orientations, but still prevents openly gay troops from serving.

And we're also learning more about the pilots of that Colgan Air flight that crashed into a home near the Buffalo Airport back in February, killing 50 people. In a just-released cockpit recording, the co-pilot says she felt sick and would have liked to have skipped the flight. She also complains about treatment by Colgan Air, which operated the flight for Continental, and how she earned just $16,000 a year -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Alina, thanks very much.

On our "Political Ticker": Two more Republican senators say they will vote no on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation. A committee vote is set for tomorrow. And Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa say it comes down the personal biases and whether Sotomayor can set them aside. She will be confirmed, though, by the full committee tomorrow.

Republican Senator Jim Bunning says he will not seek reelection for another term in the year 2010. That would be next year. The former professional baseball pitcher issued a statement just a short time ago. In it, Bunning said he's been unable to raise enough money to run an effective campaign.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, has Sarah Palin, who quit in the middle of her first term as governor of Alaska and was whining about her treatment in the news media yesterday, has she been treated unfairly by the press?

Mack in Michigan: It's not the media's fault that Sarah Palin's family resembles a cast of characters from some nonsensical sitcom about life in a trailer park. It's also not the media's fault that she will respond to the simplest of questions with a rambling, incoherent, confusing bunch of incomplete thoughts and sentences that make absolutely no sense. It was her choice to step into the media spotlight, and the media has every right to do its job."

Cameron writes: "I think she has been treated unfairly in respect to the fact that she worked her way up from simple beginnings to become governor of Alaska. No one has given her credit for her hard work and perseverance to achieve her success."

Eric writes: "Palin is not being unfairly treated by the media. She likes to complain because she gets airtime every time she moans about the supposed bad treatment. It's clear to me her value orientation is that of a good Republican, but her intellect and knowledge base are not up to the task. The media is more than aware of this, and reflects it in its coverage."

Janet writes: "Yes, she's been made fun of and her kids have been maligned, which should never have happened. She can fight for herself, but they can't, and they shouldn't have to."

Robin writes: "The press held up a mirror to Ms. Palin, and she didn't like what she saw, reflections of a self-absorbed, attention- seeking ninny who is ignorant to six decimal places."

Reuben writes: "The news media reports exactly what she says and does. The reason she comes out looking like a cartoon character and a weirdo is because the news media reports exactly what she says and does. Sarah is a dingbat, and gets away with being a goofball because she's hot-looking."

And Chuck writes, "Jack, being the fair, measured, and objective journalist you are, why don't you answer that question?

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at, and look for yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A concerned neighbor's phone call, it led to the arrest of an African-American scholar in his own home, touching off a national controversy. You're going to hear the 911 tape.

He's pulling no punches, from Sarah Palin, to President Obama, to health care reform. The comedian and HBO host Bill Maher, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour to tell us what is on his mind.

And members of Congress are passing out money to their favorite parks, but why are they keeping Washington's National Mall in such an appalling condition?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.