Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama: Recession May Be Behind Us; Breakdown of Unemployment Numbers; Health Care Industry Steps up Lobbying
Aired August 7, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the hemorrhaging finally slows. New job loss numbers catching everyone by surprise. Is it the beginning of the end of the worst recession in generations? What President Obama is saying about it right now.
Also, the debate over health care reform turns into town hall free-for-alls, screaming and chaos. But behind it all are there really any solutions?
Plus, a top Taliban leader believed killed by a missile from an American drone, why his death could make a tremendous difference in the fight against militants, including al Qaeda.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The number is out, and on the surface it's grim. Two hundred and forty-seven thousand Americans lost their jobs in July, but experts were bracing for much worse, and that's the smallest number of job losses this country has seen in a year. In fact, unemployment actually ticked down a 10th of a percent last month to 9.4 percent.
It's a heartening piece of news for a White House increasingly feeling the heat of the ongoing recession. President Obama says the worst of it may -- repeat, may -- be behind us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a steep mountain to climb, and we started in a very deep valley. But I have faith in the American people, in their capacity for hard work and innovation, and their commitment to one another, and their courage to face adversity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to go inside the new unemployment numbers with CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, and find out who's faring best, who's faring worst.
But first, our let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
Ed, what else is the president saying about these new numbers? ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president was certainly not popping any champagne corks in the Rose Garden today, but he was toasting his own administration's achievements, even though there are a lot of people still not celebrating.
HENRY (voice-over): The upbeat jobs report is little comfort to Greg Thompson, who just feels fortunate the unemployment benefits he collects at the one-stop career center in Washington, D.C., were recently extended.
GREG THOMPSON, UNEMPLOYED: For me, I'm just glad they did, but there's no jobs. I mean, you can't -- I go out every week and I get the same stories.
HENRY: But a couple of miles away at the White House, the president had a much rosier view of the impact of his stimulus plan.
OBAMA: This morning, we received additional signs that the worst may be behind us.
HENRY: While 247,000 more people lost jobs in July, the president noted that's far better than what he inherited.
OBAMA: We're losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office. We've pulled the financial system back from the brink. While we've rescued our economy from catastrophe, we've also begun to build a new foundation for growth.
HENRY: Republicans insist the stimulus may be working on the margins but has not provided the jolt the president originally promised.
DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, FMR. MCCAIN ECONOMIC ADVISER: You have to define "working." I mean, they've set the bar that says, you know, we're going to have the second Great Depression. And we didn't, so it has to be working.
HENRY: While the president acknowledged there's a long way to, go he struck a very optimistic tone.
OBAMA: I'm convinced that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but now we're going to have to move forward with confidence and conviction to reach the promise of a new day.
HENRY: But Greg Thompson, a heavy machine operator, suggests while some jobs may be coming back, wages are plummeting.
THOMPSON: I get some people who say, "Well, look, I'll pay you so much." And I say, "Well, that's half what I've been getting." And they say, "Well, if you don't want it, you know, we'll get somebody else to do it."
(END VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: Now, the vice president's top economic adviser, Jared Bernstein, was a bit less optimistic than the president when he did an interview with me this morning on CNN Radio. He says the White House is not confident that the unemployment rate is going to continue to drop. He said it could go up next month and could even reach 10 percent. So, the White House is trying to sort of, on one hand, be somewhat optimistic, but on the other hand, keep this under check and try to measure and keep expectations down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I understand, Ed, he's going to take his effort to win over the country on the road once again next week.
HENRY: That's right. He's going to be starting out in Montana, he's going to go through some national parks, Yellow Stone, go through Wyoming. Then on to Colorado and Arizona, where he'll also go through the Grand Canyon with his family.
He's going to be doing some town hall meetings along the way. So, this is a chance again for the president to talk about the economy, but also continue that push on health care reform, which he considers a pivotal part of rebuilding the economy. It's obviously sort of make-or-break month here in August -- Wolf
BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much, Ed.
Let's break down the new unemployment numbers with our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.
Ali, who's faring best and who's faring worst?
ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very different. And we've got a 9.4 percent national unemployment rate, but let's look at how it breaks down.
First of all, men are getting it harder than women are, largely because men occupy the types of jobs that we've been losing over the last several years. In fact, construction and manufacturing. So, you can see, adult men have an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, which is higher than the national average, although it's down by .2 of a percentage point. Adult women have a much lower unemployment rate than the national average, 7.5 percent, compared to men at 9.8 percent.
Now, let me show you about the job losses that we've seen over the last -- since the beginning of the recession. The recession began in December of 2007. Job losses -- and these are all job losses -- started in January of 2008.
They were pretty stable for first six months of 2008, and then this recession deepened substantially, until we get down to January of '09, when we lost 741,000 jobs in one month. Now, since January, we've seen an improvement.
In June, you can see it was a little bit worse than May was, but now we're back up to having only lost only 247,000 jobs. Boy, 247,000 jobs. What an environment we're in, Wolf, when we can be thankful that we only lost 247,000 jobs in one month. But it's better than it was last month.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, of course.
What sectors, Ali, are losing the most jobs?
VELSHI: Well, no surprises there. We continue to see the heaviest losses in construction and manufacturing.
What is interesting is, actually, we've seen more losses in construction than manufacturing. Manufacturing has been the leader in job losses for months and months on end.
Retail also lost. And that, of course, makes sense. Americans are not spending again. So, we're seeing losses in that area.
The gains are only coming in a few areas. In fact, the only substantial gain was in health care, where we saw 20,000 jobs added. This continues to be the most reliable area because, despite the recession, we have an aging population, health care needs are still there.
Education also tends to be a growing area, and government employment. But that's really it. There's a lot more on the downside than the upside.
But when we start to see a recovery, Wolf, start to look for it in health care and education. Those are the areas that are going to start to pop first -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thanks very much.
The Dow certainly did like the numbers. The Dow going up today 113 points.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: These town hall meetings getting down right rowdy. The protests at these meetings on health care reform around the country continue to get louder and they're becoming more violent in some cases.
One event in Tampa, Florida, got particularly ugly. Hecklers, people shoving and pushing. As a Democratic congresswoman tried to address the crowd, people were chanting, "Read the bill!" and "Tyranny!"
Hundreds of people couldn't even get into this meeting. Demonstrators on both sides of the debate spent their time shouting at one another. In St. Louis, Missouri, six people reportedly arrested after health care protests broke out on what was supposed to be a forum on aging held by a Democratic congressman. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was at the center of another protest about 200 strong in Denver. She was visiting a homeless clinic. The crowd was loud but orderly, about half supporting health care reform and half opposed to it. Pelosi and other Democrats insist that these protests at these meetings will not derail health care reform once Congress gets back to work next month.
Democrats have been accusing Republicans and special interest groups of orchestrating a lot of these demonstrations. Some liberal groups have begun sending their own supporters detailed instructions on how to counter what they call organized disruptions. Republicans insist all of this opposition is legitimate, just grassroots democracy, and coming from people who are concerned about the issue. Conservative groups are telling their supporters where to find these upcoming town hall meetings, and they're sending them confrontational questions to ask members of Congress and chants and slogans to use once they get there.
The question then becomes: Will increasingly loud and violent town hall protests succeed in eventually killing health care reform?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.
Feelings running very strong on this one.
BLITZER: Going to be a hot August...
CAFFERTY: Yes, it will.
BLITZER: ... for these lawmakers.
CAFFERTY: Yes, really. And wait until they get back. What are they going to do when they get back to Capitol Hill?
BLITZER: Maybe order a few new jet planes.
CAFFERTY: Just more airplanes. That's right.
BLITZER: Yes. That's what they could use.
All right, Jack. Thanks very much.
Lost in the debate over health care reform, fraud that's costing all of us billions of dollars a year. How bad the problem really is.
Also, lobbying to influence the shape of health care reform, why it's about to kick up to a whole new level.
Plus, Cash for Clunkers. Will the government keep the wildly popular program going? Anyone thinking about buying a new car needs to hear the latest.
BLITZER: It's a time honored American tradition, the town hall meeting. But when it comes to health care reform right now, some gatherings are turning into free-for-alls as noisy protesters try to hijack the debate. Still, intelligent and passionate discussion managed to rise above the fray.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: I'm going to be respectful of you. I'm going to be respectful of you whether you agree or disagree with me. And I'm going to ask you to do the same with me and the same with each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one question. You're talking about saving. I assume since you read this monstrosity, then you know that there is not one word in there that says anything about tort reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KATHY CASTOR (D), FLORIDA: Thank you all very much for joining us tonight. We are making...
CASTOR: ... on an issue that has eluded us. It's fundamental to our families, to our seniors, to the well being of our community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the people in Congress and the Senate, are they going to be willing to be on the same plan they're asking us to be on?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. VIC SNYDER (D), ARKANSAS: Bot nobody's talking about setting up -- putting 47 million people in a public plan. We don't know if that's going to be part of the bill. What we are talking about -- what we are talking about is giving people who don't have health insurance options.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a direct assault on our personal liberties, our personal freedom, our personal privacy. You need to open it up to the free markets. You need to get the government the hell out of our way. (APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Meanwhile, the health care industry is spending tens of billions of dollars to influence the reform debate, and the battle is about to get even more fierce.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has that part of the story.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Here are some staggering numbers -- $39 million. That's the amount of money the insurance industry has spent on lobbying since March, $133 million, the amount spent by the rest of the health sector, all during the fight for health care reform.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, EXEC. DIR., CTR. FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: The phonetic nature of this is unusual by the standards of the last decade. I don't think we've seen anything like this for quite sometime.
YELLIN: This month expect the money to flow even faster as the insurance industry combats new attacks by Democrats and their allies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do the health insurance companies and Republicans want to kill President Obama's health insurance reform?
YELLIN: Democrats have decided to tag the insurance industry as the enemy of health care reform.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: You will be hearing a great deal from our members about the health insurance industry and what it has done to the health of our country.
YELLIN: The industry's response -- they say they want reform, just done their way. And they will be making that point on the airwaves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're America's health insurance companies supporting bipartisan reforms...
YELLIN: And on conference calls with reporters.
KAREN IGNAGNI, PRES., AMERICA'S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: The same old Washington politics of find an enemy and go to war is a major step back.
YELLIN: And they will be arguing their case at town hall meetings across the country.
IGNAGNI: We're moving to making sure that the American people in August know outside the beltway that we are for reform and what those reforms are. YELLIN (on camera): The insurance industry has said they will support new rules making it impossible to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition or to base pricing on a person's gender. But what they don't support is a government-run insurance option. They say that would be devastating to their business.
Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: There's one aspect of the health care industry that's virtually lost in the debate, and ignoring it could tack on billions and billions of dollars to health care costs.
Our Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff is here with more on this part of the story.
Allan, explain to our viewers what we're talking about.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about fraud, Wolf. Billions and billions of dollars lost every single year because of health care fraud. It is a major reason that our health insurance premiums rise every year, Medicare and Medicaid are draining the Treasury. Yet, for all the talk in Washington of controlling health care costs, the issue of fraud is getting little attention.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Theresa Langlois knew her podiatrist was cheating Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan when she read her insurance statement. Dr. Jeffrey Cook had billed thousands of dollars to surgically remove dozens of warts when Theresa only had a discolored toenail.
THERESA LANGLOIS, FRAUD VICTIM: It was like robbery. I mean, they were overcharging for a procedure that wasn't done.
CHERNOFF: Theresa called Blue Cross, which investigated, ultimately leading to the arrest and imprisonment of podiatrist Jeffrey Cook.
Health care fraud perpetrated by doctors, pharmacists, even organized crime gangs is rampant. A Senate investigation found Medicaid in recent years paid nearly half a million claims to people posing as doctors who were dead. Such fraud costs every American. It drives up prices for medical insurance, treatment and drugs.
DOUGLAS FALDUTO, HORIZON BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD: I think it's just a domino effect that ends up with the consumer. Somebody has got to be reimbursed for it. Somebody's got to fund that. And ultimately it gets passed down.
CHERNOFF: That's why major health insurance companies have special investigations units to weed out fraudulent claims. FALDUTO: We want to get that money back.
CHERNOFF: Falduto and other investigators estimate fraud accounts for a minimum of three percent of all health care spending, $72 billion a year. Other experts say the figure is more than three times that, topping $200 billion.
OBAMA: If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out- of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket.
CHERNOFF: President Obama warns health care reform is needed to get medical costs under control. But one of the biggest culprits, fraud, gets little mention in the congressional reform effort.
PROFESSOR MALCOLM SPARROW, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: They are certainly aware of this problem. They don't seem to know the magnitude or the seriousness. They don't seem to be acting with the kind of urgency that I would like.
CHERNOFF: The health reform bill approved in the House, 1,018 pages long, devotes only 40 pages to the issue of fraud. Even bills in the Senate would add $100 million a year to combat fraud, waste and abuse. That's the amount of health care fraud occurring in this country every 12 hours using the most conservative estimates.
CHERNOFF: That level of corruption is one of the big reasons our medical bills rise steadily every year. The big push in Washington has been to provide health care coverage for more Americans, but experts warn if fraud isn't addressed more aggressively, American taxpayers will be paying billions more than needed to provide health insurance for those who don't have it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It comes out of all our pockets when all is said and done.
CHERNOFF: Absolutely. They want to turn on the faucet for health care spending, but there's a big drain at the bottom of that sink, and that is fraud. It is sucking away billions.
BLITZER: They've got to fix that. Thanks very much, Allan, for that.
A Republican senator calling it quits. Florida's Mel Martinez is resigning before his term is up. What it means for the Senate and the man eyeing his seat.
Plus, take a look at who's tweeting now -- the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams. We're going to show you what's going on.
(NEWSBREAK) BLITZER: More fallout from that extramarital affair of the South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford. It looks like he'll soon be living alone in the governor's mansion.
Also, President Obama applauding falling unemployment numbers, saying he can see light at the end of the tunnel on the economy. But will it also mean a turnaround in his poll numbers? We'll talk about that in our "Strategy Session."
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new guidelines to protect the nation's school system from swine flu. Will more schools be shutting down? We'll have the latest.
A missile strike targeting a top Taliban leader in Pakistan. We'll give you the latest on whether he's alive or dead and tell you why the U.S. had a $5 million bounty on his head.
And another huge bounty, this one on a legendary Mexican drug lord. Michael Ware has an in-depth report on who he is and where he's hiding.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The debate is raging across the country, but what exactly is President Obama looking for in health care reform?
I spoke about that with the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we want most of all is for somebody that's looking for health insurance in a private market to have choice and competition. That drives down the health insurance cost that they and their family have to pay to be covered with health insurance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now to talk about that and a lot more, Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah.
Senator Bennett, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R), UTAH: Happy to do it.
BLITZER: The number's obviously not great, but certainly 247,000 jobs lost is a lot better than 600,000 jobs lost a month, or even 700,000 jobs lost a month. Unemployment went from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent. Here's the question: Does President Obama's economic stimulus package deserve some credit?
BENNETT: Frankly, I don't think so, because a very, very large percentage of it simply hasn't been spent yet. I think it's something like six percent of the total amount has been put out, and you don't get that kind of a bang out of this.
Now, I don't think it's hurt, so I won't say that that's the situation, but what happened last September when the economy dropped off the cliff, everything stopped. OK. That meant that people were buying things that were in the inventory pipeline. That pipeline is now empty and you have to go back to work to start to produce things that people need to buy.
So, you've got a natural recovery going on in the economy at the same time the stimulus money has started to flow. But the flow of the stimulus money has been so slight I don't think you can say that that's the reason we're seeing what we're seeing.
BLITZER: They say they've got about $100 billion of that nearly $800 billion out there already that's starting to work and starting to have an effect, some of it already spent, some of it about to be spent. But a lot more is in the pipeline is going to be spent let's say over the next six months or the next year, which leads me to ask you this question -- is there light at the end of the tunnel as far as the recession is concerned?
BENNETT: Much too early to make that decision, because, as I say, you can make the case that the stabilization we've seen is all as a result of the handing of the inventory and the beginning to rebuild a little bit of inventory. The question is, are people going to start spending at the level that they did? Because if they don't, yes, we will be manufacturing to meet consumption demands but if consumption is say 60 percent of the economy rather than the 70 percent that it was before the recession, you're not going to see the kind of employment figures that you want. It's still much too early to start celebrating.
BLITZER: All right. Here is a question on the health care legislation that's out there. You're trying to work with Democratic Senator Ron Widen of Oregon and others to forge a bipartisan piece of legislation. Are you open at all, Senator Bennett, to legislation that would include, as the president wants, some form of a government option, a government health insurance group that would compete with the private health insurance companies?
BENNETT: Absolutely not.
BLITZER: Under no circumstances.
BENNETT: Under no circumstances.
BLITZER: So, do you have any reason to believe the president will back away from that? BENNETT: Yes. I think the president would sign a bill without a public option. I think behind the scenes we've already started to get those signals out of the administration. I won't pin anybody down or name any names. But the reason that I and I think every Republican and, as some Democrats have said, not a few Democrats will say no to a public option is that it is not competition. I heard the press secretary talk about, well, we're not in competition. When you're competing with the government, you're not competing and the statement, well, we need a government-run plan in order to keep the insurance companies honest, come on. The government owns General Motors. Do we want the government making decisions in General Motors to keep Ford honest or to keep Toyota honest? It's just ridiculous to say that the government should be in this business.
BLITZER: This concept that you're coming together with Ron Widen and some other Democrats and Republicans, how much will that cost American taxpayers if it were implemented?
BENNETT: I was interested again in the press secretary's comment about costs and we've got to get costs down. If you take the CBO score of their plan, it would cost an additional $1.7 trillion. If you take the Lewin Group score of our plan, it would save $1.3 trillion. We could turn the cost curve down while they're talking about turning it up, $1.3 saving versus $1.7 spending, that's a $3 trillion swing, Wolf. Even in Washington, $3 trillion is a lot of money.
BLITZER: You know there are some who raise questions about the Lewin Group because it's owned by a major health insurance company and as a result its numbers may not necessarily be all that objective.
BENNETT: No, I reject that categorically. You look at the work they do, you look at how careful they are, and they are as good as they come. Now, CBO, they've scored the Widen Bennett bill as revenue neutral with an undetermined amount of savings in the out year. So, CBO -- and this was a Democratic CBO -- is pretty much in the same ballpark.
BLITZER: Senator Robert Bennett of Utah speaking with me. Meanwhile, a senator catches every one off guard announces he's resigning before his term is up. Republican Mel Martinez is calling it quits. We'll tell you why.
Also, tweets from beyond the grave. The very late President John Quincy Adams on Twitter.
Plus, new developments in the cyber attack that shut down Twitter. We now know who's behind it.
BLITZER: Just a short time ago, Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez announced he's resigning from the United States Senate. Here is his explanation. Here's how he explained his decision. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MEL MARTINEZ, (R) FLORIDA: My priorities have always been my faith, my family, and my country, and at this stage of my life and after nearly 12 years of public service in Florida and in Washington, it is time to return to Florida and my family. So, today I'm announcing my decision to step down from public office effective upon a successor taking office to fill out the remainder of my term.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Martinez had already said he would not run for re- election in 2010. It now falls on the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, to appoint a replacement. Let's get some more on this unfolding story. I'm joined by our political editor Mark Preston. Mark, does his announcement today surprise you?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, it certainly shocked Capitol Hill. I don't think anyone thought it was going to happen, Wolf. However, we shouldn't be surprised. Mel Martinez never really seemed to embrace Washington and he has a history of doing such things. He was the general chairman of the Republican National Committee and he bowed out in the heat of the 2007 primary for the Republican presidential nomination, so we shouldn't be too surprised.
BLITZER: What does it mean for the popular Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist?
PRESTON: Well Wolf, you and I have spoken to him many, many times and of course he is running for Mel Martinez's seat. He just said in the last hour that he will not appoint himself to the seat. He'll wait the next couple of weeks to try to figure out who would e a really good place holder to fill that seat. So, a couple of names have popped up including former Congressman Clay Shaw, Christ's former deputy attorney general and his former chief of staff George Lemieux and Jim Smith, the former attorney general, they are some names right now being discussed for the seat.
BLITZER: In terms of the balance of power, assuming he's going to name a Republican, and he is a Republican who will name a Republican, it's not going to have any dramatic change in the Senate, will it?
PRESTON: No, it won't have any dramatic change because we already knew that Mel Martinez was going to leave at the end of 2010, and of course as I said, the governor himself was going to run for that seat. Right now, he is the front-runner for that seat. Charlie Crist has had great fund-raising success early on. So, right now the numbers won't change, but you will hear this cry from Democrats nationally now. They're going to say that the likes of Mel Martinez, Sarah Palin, and others are leaving their jobs early. So, expect to hear that in the next few days.
BLITZER: Why wouldn't Charlie Crist name himself and run for the seat that's going to be open in 2010 next year as the incumbent? PRESTON: You know, there's really no reason for him to do so, Wolf. He is the front runner right now if you were to talk to political analysts, he's raised a considerable some of money and the fact is there would be considerable backlash against Charlie Crist if he decided to say, look, I'm going to leave Florida right now, especially a state that is crippled right now by the housing problem and foreclosures and what have you, I'm going to leave and I'm going to try to run for the Senate. It would look too opportunistic.
BLITZER: All right, Mark Preston, thanks very much.
John Quincy Adams has more than 9,000 followers on Twitter. Yes, you heard it right. The Massachusetts historians are re-creating his short daily diary updates as tweets 200 years later after realizing the nation's sixth president was ahead of his time. Let's go to Abbi Tatton. Abbi, why is this on Twitter?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, just look at one of these daily diary entries from John Quincy Adams. They're short and sweet. Here's one of them. "Up great part of the night, wife and child sick, saw nothing, calm day, read Mrs. Grant's letters." At 111 characters, it's fairly mundane. Does it remind you of anything? Well, researchers at the Massachusetts Historical Society recently went through all of these diary updates and they realized it looks like John Quincy Adams was Twittering, so they're now re-creating these once a day, blasting them out on Twitter 200 years later -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Is that the correct verb, twittering? I thought it was tweeting.
TATTON: Tweeting, twittering, tweeting, yes that would be correct. Look, I just got corrected by Wolf Blitzer on Twitter.
BLITZER: Make sure that we don't get any angry tweets as a result of that. What was he up to 200 years ago?
TATTON: Well, this was before he was president, it was 1809 and he was traveling to Russia to be the first U.S. ambassador. So, these tweets are re-creating the journey he was taking starting August 5th, set sail from Charlestown, then he had more than 50 days at sea with his wife, and so the tweets are coming in from that journey. He saw a whale at one point. A little bit later it seems that everyone got seasick. You see frequent updates like Mrs. Adams ill all day. And then finally in October they reached Petersburg, but it seems without their baggage. Our baggage still has not come from Goldstat he tweeted at that point, if that's what he was doing at that point. Some things never change. Now, this has got a huge amount of buzz online even though it is fairly geeky it now has a big following. John Quincy Adams, it has a big following on Twitter, which is something Wolf, I though I'd never say.
BLITZER: Yes, interesting. Great. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
All right. We're getting a story that's just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go back to Don for some details. What are we learning Don?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning some very interesting information about Billy Mays, the pitch man, his death. This is according to the Associated Press, Wolf, and it's just coming in. We're being told from the Associated Press that the autopsy for TV pitchman Billy Mays finds that he had cocaine in his system that contributed to his sudden death. Again, I'm just getting the wires here, Wolf. They say the 50-year-old bearded TV personality died of a heart attack in his sleep. His wife found him unresponsive on June 28th in their condo. But again, according to the Associated Press, they're saying that an autopsy report says cocaine contributed to the death of TV pitchman Billy Mays. As soon as I get more information on that, if we get more results from that autopsy, Wolf, we'll bring it to you right here.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Don, for that.
In our "Strategy Session," President Obama said the economy is on its way back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Today we were pointed in the right direction. We're losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office. We pulled the financial system back from the brink.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But is he taking credit too soon? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
Plus, death by a drone. The Taliban may have lost its leader in Pakistan. What would this mean for the war in Afghanistan? CNN's Chris Lawrence he will report.
BLITZER: President Obama says that today's new jobs numbers show there is, quoting now, "Light at the end of the tunnel on the economy." But will an economic turnaround mean a turnaround in his poll numbers as well? Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist former communications director for the DNC, Karen Finney and Republican strategist, chairman of GOPAC Frank Donatelli. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Is his plan working, Frank?
FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, listen, we all hope that the economy is turning around, Wolf, and it's gratifying that the number is -- the unemployment number is slightly lower this month. I do say, though, that the biggest problem still is job creation. And as long as the president continues to pursue a policy of higher taxes and higher employer mandates on potential -- on the private sector, I think job creation is going to lag.
BLITZER: It's way too early to declare mission accomplished, Karen, isn't it? KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I mean, look, I think the president and the administration across the board has really been trying to strike that balance between, you know, being sort of cautiously optimistic and stressing that if we are nearing -- you know, we are in the beginning potentially of the end, we are nowhere near the end, but then also recognizing, you know, we can have these discussions about, you know, sort of various economic indicators, but until people, you know, in their daily lives when you're talking about places like Columbus, Ohio, or Greensboro, North Carolina, until people there really feel it, it's not time to pop the champagne open.
BLITZER: But everyone seems to agree, Frank, and let me get your thoughts, it was only a few months ago that the economy seemed to be at the abyss, potentially as grave as the depression of the 1930s. But all of that talk has now gone away.
DONATELLI: Well, and that's a good thing. I mean, some people were talking about that. That's true. I guess the question I would ask is what specifically has the administration done policy wise to have seen that happen? I would argue that the economy just as a natural strength and its rebounding. But when you talk about canceling the Bush tax cuts, when you talk about higher fees and taxes for energy and health care legislation, that's not a good policy to be pursued.
BLITZER: Go ahead and respond.
FINNEY: Obviously, you know I'm going to disagree with that, Wolf. I mean, look, the recovery package did a lot to start to put money back into the economy. A lot of companies, frankly, who started to move forward with some of their plans, knowing that moneys would be coming in more towards the fourth quarter. The administration -- we had the housing crisis we had to deal with, the banking crisis, we're talking about regulatory reform, and frankly I think the president was right to take an approach that also looks at health care as part of the economic problem that we're facing. Part of what we're talking about here in reforms would not just help the uninsured, not just lower costs for the rest of us but also think about small businesses, which is really where 80 percent of job growth comes from.
BLITZER: Karen, I want to read to you what Peggy Noonan, the Republican, the former White House speech writer for Ronald Reagan writes in today's "Wall Street Journal." She says that, "Democrats are looking desperate, specifically the White House. They ought to think about backing off. The president should call in his troops and his Congress and announce a rethinking. There are too many different bills, they're all a thousand pages long, no one has time to read them, no one knows what's going to be in the final one. The public is agitated, the nation's in crisis." Is she right?
FINNEY: Of course not. You know it's interesting, when I first started to read that story, I thought she was actually talking about the Republicans because the GOP made it clear months ago that their strategy was going to be, in the words of Mr. Demint, to try to create a waterloo and try to create a distraction, rather than be constructive and come to the table with ideas. I think we're seeing that bear itself out at these town hall meetings, and let's be clear, these town halls, these groups that are being disruptive are funded by right-wing groups and funded by insurance companies. So it's pretty clear what the strategy is.
DONATELLI: The president was hired to fix the economy, Wolf. He thought not to turn our country into France. The president's program is clear now. A huge expansion of the private sector, the public sector, a huge expansion of taxes, strong labor unions and high unemployment. I think Americans are rightly rebelling against that. And when you want to talk about private interests funding various campaigns, it's the drug companies that are funding the president's campaign in favor of health care reform.
BLITZER: We're not going to get into that right now. Karen, hold your thought because we have to leave it there, we're out of time. We will have you both back. Thank you.
A first lady moves out on her cheating husband. There are new developments in the very public marital drama of the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.
Plus, the apparent death of a top Taliban commander, how important is it? I'll speak with the former head of the U.S. military central command. My interview with General Anthony Zinning(ph), that's coming up.
BLITZER: In news from our political ticker, the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's wife says she's moving out of the governor's mansion. According to a statement released today, she and the couple's four boys will move back to their home near Charleston for the upcoming school year. A statement from the governor says, the move is being taken in the interest of the boys and the couple's, quote, "process of reconciliation." In June, Sanford admitted to carrying on a long-running affair with a woman from Argentina.
The son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul says he wants to follow in his father's footsteps. Graham Paul says he'll compete for the Kentucky Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Jim Bunning. He's expected to vie for the Republican nomination. Like his father, Paul is seen as a strict constitutionalist. Appearing on CNN's "American Morning" he said he's particularly concerned about the nation's debt.
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz is shooting down rumors he wants to run for Congress. Republicans said Holtz was considering challenging a Democratic freshman from central Florida where Holtz has a home. But Holtz tells CNN affiliate WNDU that he wants to focus on his job as an ESPN analyst and doesn't want to run for Congress.
Another challenge is over before it even begins. New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney says she will not take on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the state's Democratic primary. Gillibrand was appointed by the New York Governor David Paterson to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton when she became the secretary of state.
Remember, for the latest political news anytime, you can always check out cnnpolitics.com.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: Question this hour: Wolf, is whether or not these increasingly loud and violent town hall protests will succeed eventually in killing health care reform.
Steve writes from Tampa, Florida: "The protesters at the town hall meeting last night here were only there to be disrupted. They wouldn't even stay silent long enough to allow Congresswoman Kathy Castor the courtesy to speak. Democracy is about listening to both sides of an issue and forming your own opinion. I'm a conservative, this was embarrassing."
Curly in Wisconsin says: "I don't condone loud and violent protests when the elected officials don't listen to the voices of the people, they sometimes have to get their attention. Washington's establishment does not listen to the voice of the people in this country for many years. And they're getting tired of not being heard."
Donnie in Canada says: "All these protests just show how much Americans don't understand health care. In Canada, we have a great system. Yes, sometimes we have to wait but not for emergencies. I had a broken leg and two cancer surgeries that would have cost me over $50,000 and I never paid a cent. My taxes stayed the same, too under the public system. Time to grow up, America."
Corey writes: "Jack I think the reason for these protests as childish as they may be, is because President Obama's not doing a good job of explaining this plan. He continues to say it's different, but he doesn't say how. People need answers."
Mary Ann writes: "No, it will not! Compare health care reform to the civil rights legislation in the 1960's. Any comprehensive change comes with growing pains, and that's what we're seeing today."
And Frank in Philadelphia says: "I don't think it will stop health care reform; it may have the opposite affect. The protestors put nothing on the table, they sound like a bunch of screeching idiots. Stopping the debate will not solve the problem."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there. Mr. Blitzer?
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, students are heading back to school and government disease fighters want to head off major problems with the swine flu.
The U.S. has a bounty on the head of a fugitive drug lord but he's still in business and business is booming. One of the world's most wanted men also on the list of one of the worlds wealthiest.
And starting over. Their old jobs are gone forever. How laid- off autoworkers are trying to build new lives. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They think they got him. U.S. officials are increasingly confident that a top Taliban chief was killed by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan. His terror rap sheet is a long one and the death of Baitullah Mesud would have a significant impact for Pakistan and for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Our pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been looking into all of this. He's got some more. Chris, what's the latest?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for folks at home who have never heard of this name or wonder why it matters, U.S. officials say although Mesud was the head of the Taliban in Pakistan, he had a huge influence in coordinating attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): A bomb ripped apart the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, assassinated on the street. In some attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan. A U.S. counterterrorism official blames Baitullah Mesud for all of it. Quote, "There is no doubt he has American blood on his hands."
GIBBS: This is an individual whose title as a murderous thug was well deserved.
LAWRENCE: In March, the U.S. put a $5 million bounty on his head. A senior defense official says Mesud was watched long enough to develop a pattern of his activities.