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President Obama Pushes Health Care Reform; Michael Vick Signs With NFL Team

Aired August 14, 2009 - 18:00   ET



It wasn't necessarily testy, but President Obama did get a little bit more pushback than he usually gets at these health care town hall meetings.

And it gave us a rare opportunity to talk to the Montana man who asked one of the most pointed questions. Stand by to hear what he thinks of the president now.

But, first, listen to what Randy Rathie asked Mr. Obama. By the way, Mr. Rathie proudly identifies himself as a member of the National Rifle Association.


RANDY RATHIE, QUESTIONED PRESIDENT OBAMA AT MONTANA TOWN HALL MEETING: Max You can't tell us how you're going to pay for this. You're saving here. You're saving over there. You're going to take a little money here. You're going to take a little money there. But you have no money. The only way you're going to get that money is to raise our taxes. You said you wouldn't. Max Baucus says he doesn't want to put a bill out that -- that will, but that's the only way you can do that.


BLITZER: OK, now, listen to some of the president's answer to that question and watch carefully at the reaction from another man in the audience.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I was campaigning, I made a promise that I would not raise your taxes if you made $250,000 a year or less. That's what I said. But I said that for people like myself who make more than that, there's nothing wrong with me paying a little bit more in order to help people who've got a little bit less. That was my commitment.


BLITZER: Obviously, that one guy in the audience was not satisfied. And just a short while ago, I spoke with Randy Rathie, the man who asked the original question. And I asked him about his exchange with the president.


BLITZER: I want to get Randy Rathie reaction.

The president, Randy, says he promises he's going to live by his commitment made during the campaign, that he won't raise taxes for anyone making under $250,000 a year, would raise taxes for those making more. Did his answer to you today satisfy you?

RATHIE: Somewhat.

We're going to find out about the president, because he's made some promises. And now he has given me his word personally that he's not going to raise my tax. And I'm a big man on living up to your word, so I'm going to take him for that.

BLITZER: You have -- you have any...


BLITZER: You have any doubt that he might back away from that commitment?

RATHIE: I don't think he has any choice. If he's going to put health care in, either he's going to leave it unfunded, or I don't know what he's going to do, but they don't have any money.

BLITZER: What do you think in general of the way the president handled himself in Montana?

RATHIE: Oh, I was well-impressed.

I came here for that reason, to, you know, have a little discourse. I was very fortunate to get asked. And the president handled himself very well and he tried, to the best of his ability, to answer my question.


BLITZER: Rathie also tells me he drove several hundred miles to see the president. He slept on the sidewalk to get in line for a ticket and he waited once again today to get in the door. He was happy he did so.

President Obama may be convinced we will see health care reform passed this year, but one of the more influential lawmakers in Congress says, maybe not. Think again. We are talking about Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He tells a radio station in that state he believes health care legislation will not necessarily happen this year.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, the speaker would like to see this happen. The speaker is very enthusiastic about something happening. But she said we were going to have it before we left and we said, no, no, we want some time to think about this.

So, we're taking some time to make sure it's done right. I don't know that we will get something done before January. And even then we may not get it done. We're going to do it right when it's finally done.


BLITZER: Let's move on to something we haven't really seen a whole lot in these health care meetings, a member of Congress getting cheers.

We're talking about conservative Democrat Mike Ross. He proved today he knows how to play to an audience in Arkansas.

Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us now from Arkansas with more.

Are you in Arkadelphia, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. And it is not that the issue of health care, Wolf, doesn't get the 700 or so Arkansans hot under the collar. It does. It's just that they really didn't take it out on their congressman.


KEILAR: Congressman Mike Ross' town hall meeting got off to a loud start, but it wasn't a protest. It was a standing ovation. Many of Ross' constituents are pleased that he and other fiscally conservative Democrats forced Democratic leaders to pare down their proposal's price tag and delay a full House vote on health care reform until September. Ross scored points by distancing himself from leaders in Washington.

REP. MIKE ROSS (D), ARKANSAS: I led an effort and stood up to President Obama and to Speaker Pelosi, and we won, delaying any floor vote on health care reform to September at the earliest.


KEILAR: Like their congressman, these Arkansans are concerned about the cost of reform.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This bill is going to raise the deficit $65 billion.

ROSS: If health care reform adds a time to the national debt, I'm voting no.

KEILAR: While Ross' constituents asked pointed questions, they reserved most of their rancor for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family has lived here...



KEILAR: As supporters of the Democrats' health care reform push squared off against opponents, Ross played referee more than once.

ROSS: You all leave him alone. If he wants to yell and jump up and down, let him. This is America.


KEILAR: Now, a lot of people here today were happy with what they heard from Congressman Ross.

But there were a couple people who said, while they were glad he delayed a vote on the health care reform bill, what they really would like him to do or to have done was to kill the proposal. And Ross stood his ground on that, Wolf. He said, it is not his intention to kill health care reform. He said, he wants to do it. He just wants to do it in a commonsense way.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

Brianna is in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

By the way, to keep track of all these town halls and the health care debate, and to learn what reform efforts might mean for, go to our brand-new health care in America Web site. You can check facts and stats, read blogs, see videos. It's all at

Now to some stunning pictures and a dramatic rescue you will see only here on CNN. This is what it was like after a powerful typhoon hit. Officials in Taiwan fear the death toll could climb above 500. Some people still are trapped almost a week after a disaster.

CNN's John Vause strapped in for a harrowing trip with rescuers. Here is his exclusive report.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High in the mountains, the village of Shing Ki left isolated after a major bridge was brought down. The river below is still swollen and rapid. A few who tried to cross there were swept away, plucked to safety by rescue crews. So, the only way in and out is by this harness.

(on camera): This is how they're getting villagers out of Shing Ki, so far more than 100 people. So, they say it is pretty safe.

(voice-over): But it is still a long way down.

(on camera): Probably about a 200-foot drop straight down onto the rocks down there. This water is moving pretty quickly. All that is really holding me right now is this one hook there which is connected to these three cleats. OK. OK. OK.

(voice-over): The sign reads, SOS, 32 people died here. And a local official coming out of Shing Ki says bodies have been left rotting today. Walking into the village, the roads has collapsed in places. Power lines are down. There has been no electricity or running water for a week. But there is mud, lots of it. Just getting across is not easy.

(on camera): It really is just like walking through quicksand.

(voice-over): This village has been all but abandoned, except for one family refusing to leave. Everyone else, almost 300 people, have made that perilous journey to safety.

"I'm not sure I will go back," says this young man. "We will wait until the roads are clear and try and clean up." But, by day's end, getting out was not so easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, basically, they said that the...


VAUSE: So, the safest way they said was across the river, the same river where others had earlier been swept away.

And this is now life here for so many, villages and houses cut off by mudslides and debris. It will be a long time before people of Shing Ki will be ever able to go home again.

John Vause, CNN, Shing Ki, Taiwan.


BLITZER: Wow. John Vause, excellent report.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."

You saw what he was doing there. He was a pretty courageous guy there.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It was. And it makes you not want to complain too much about the commute home in rush hour in New York City, as aggravating as it can be.


CAFFERTY: Wolf, the town of Elgin, Illinois, offering its citizens money if they will lose weight. But they can't find any takers. After a statewide survey named Elgin the fattest city in Illinois, city officials decided to try too do something about it.

The local YMCA is offering $40,000 in grants to promote healthy living. They asked schools, businesses, churches, community groups to submit ideas and plans. And the winners would get $1,000 each. The hope was that residents would come up with solutions, like buying gym equipment, starting healthy cooking classes, creating a walking club, et cetera. Nobody has signed up for this any of this money yet.

Elgin's mayor says the lack of interest in the program shows the city has got a long way to go. He suggests people come up with nontraditional exercise programs, an alternative to team sports, like a program to get kids to ride bikes and skateboards.

Officials hope some of this grant money can also help pay to teach parents about healthy eating for themselves and their kids. Almost half of the kids in Elgin's school district are obese or at risk for being obese.

Deadline for the program, September the 1st. So, if you are listening in Elgin, you have got a couple of weeks to get up off the coach and sign up and do something.

Here is the question. If offering money to help fat people lose weight doesn't work, what will? Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Got to lose some weight, all of us do, Jack. It is very important.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: Thank you.


BLITZER: If it happened to her, if could happen to you. A mother driving with her children stopped by a police officer and then stunned by a Taser gun. Did she even pose a threat?

And U.S. Marines are trying to break the backs of some determined militant fighters. We have just received some brand-new video of a fierce fight under way right now in Afghanistan.

And there's outrage that a football team has picked up Michael Vick. Some people just aren't buying his apologies, like this one.


MICHAEL VICK, NFL PAYER: In the past, I made some mistakes. I have done some terrible things, made a horrible mistake. And now I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.



BLITZER: Michael Vick says he is getting more than a second chance at football. He says his new job with the Philadelphia Eagles will give him a chance to crusade for animal rights. Vick spoke out today about his return to the NFL and his conviction for running a dogfighting ring. The quarterback says his 18 months in prison changed him.


VICK: We all used the excuse it was part of our culture. And, you know, I don't think that's an excuse.

I was kind of abiding by that rule at the time. And as I grew older and as things started to transpire, and then, once I went to prison, I had plenty of time to think about what I did.

And I have seen people's reactions. And, you know, up until that point, I never really cared. I won't say I didn't care, but I never thought about it. Now I understand that people care about their animals. They care about the health, the welfare, the protection of animals.

And now I do. So, that's why I say, if I can help more than I hurt, then I'm contributing. I'm doing what I need to do.


BLITZER: The owner of the Philadelphia Eagles says he struggled with the decision to hire Vick. Jeffrey Lurie says he thinks dogfighting is despicable.


JEFFREY LURIE, OWNER, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: I don't have the words. In the past two years, I have had two dogs that passed away. I think about them every day. That's the nature of a human and a dog. And that's the way it should be.

This represented to me the polar opposite and the worst possible behavior of a human being or a group of human beings and dogs. My family has -- we now have two dogs, one of which we rescued from abuse.

So, when you are asked to approve something that you completely find despicable and anathema, it takes a lot of soul-searching.

The question became somewhat for me, could this man I don't know, Michael Vick, become an agent for change? So, I needed to really dissect remorse. I wanted to understand if he had enough self-hatred for me. I needed to see a lot of self-hatred in order to approve this.


BLITZER: Check out the front page of "The Philadelphia Daily News" with the picture of Michael Vick and the line "Hide Your Dogs."

Some animal rights activists say Vick is getting a second chance, but they say the dogs he abused did not get a second chance. New this hour, Mary Snow has been talking to people in Vick's new home base of Philadelphia.

That's where you are, Mary. What are they saying?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, wherever you go in Philadelphia, it seems this is topic number one. This news hit like a bombshell. And here, outside the Eagles headquarters, where Vick had his news conference earlier today, some people turned out to say they are disgusted.


SNOW (voice-over): Shame on Vick read one sign as animal rights protesters protested outside the Eagles headquarters. They were unmoved by Michael Vick's promises that his troubles are behind him and that he will help more dogs than he hurt.

Catherine Bordeaux confronted one man who came out to support Vick.

CATHERINE BORDEAUX, PROTESTER: This Eagles fan has turned anti- fan.

SNOW: She says she felt like she had to speak out on behalf of defenseless dogs.

BORDEAUX: They begin innocent. And to take that and mutilate it and twist it and pervert it into something that is a weapon and is a killer is despicable. Its the vilest thing I can imagine.

SNOW: But one pit bull owner turned out to make a different point.

CHRISTOPHER CABRERA, EAGLES FAN: And I understand why they are upset. Believe me, it was totally wrong. But you have got to move on.

SNOW: But try telling that to people who rescue fighting dogs every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of the dogs don't have ears.

SNOW: Clementine (ph) was rescued a few months ago from dogfighting and is now at a Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter. The group's president, Harrise Yaron, says SPCA rescues 40,000 animals a year in Philadelphia, 80 percent of them pit bulls. She says she's shocked and disappointed the Eagles signed Vick.

HARRISE YARON, PENNSYLVANIA SPCA: I know what type of people are involved in this heinous sport, so it would be nice to be seeing if anybody can be rehabilitated from that.

SNOW: But the Humane Society of the United States is embracing Vick sending him out as a foot soldier to try and stop dogfighting, saying tens of thousands of people are involved in it and Philadelphia is a big problem area.

JOHN GOODWIN, HUMANE SOCIETY: And if Michael Vick can help reach some of these young men and help get them off that cruel path and get them going down a more productive path in life, then that's a good thing that will save animals in the future.


SNOW: And Wolf, the Humane Society says that Vick has made two appearances so far, one in Chicago, one in Atlanta, to talk to kids about dogfighting. No word on when he will make a similar appearance here in Philadelphia. The only appearance we know about so far, Vick is scheduled to be here tomorrow for his first training as a Philadelphia Eagle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow is in Philadelphia.

Abbi Tatton is taking a closer look at how all this is affecting ticket sales for the Philadelphia Eagles.

What are you finding out, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, in some cases, there are season ticket holders who are disgruntled, want to off-load their season tickets.

Take a look at this posting from craigslist from earlier on today. It's now gone. "The last thing my son and I want to see is Michael Vick in an Eagles jersey. We have made up our mind to sell the tickets -- $3,000 cash gets the tickets."

But that's not the whole story. Ever since that appeared on craigslist, you have seen many more posts that look more like this one. "Yes, Vick an Eagle. Eagles tickets wanted. Vick haters look no further. I want your Eagles seasons." And I could go on.

There are people reacting to this news that the tickets are being off-loaded and going right here, because they want to snap them up. They are using the word Michael Vick to try and sell the Eagles tickets that they have. And it's the same thing going on, on eBay. These one promises see Vick's return. These two tickets are available for the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Eagles in December. As you can imagine, multiple bids on that one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of controversy. All right, thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

New pictures coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now from the battlefield in Afghanistan just days before critical elections there. Are Taliban fighters getting the upper hand?

And a ship that vanished is found, but the mystery isn't solved.


BLITZER: There's a new development coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now involving the gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps and that car accident in Baltimore. Don Lemon is working the story for us.

Don, what is going on?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are some new developments here, Wolf.

And as you said, just in to CNN, Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps is facing charges stemming from a car accident that he was involved in, in Baltimore today. When police arrived, Phelps presented an invalid Michigan driver's license. That's one charge.

The other charge is failing to establish Michigan residency. Now, the accident wasn't Phelps' fault. The other driver was cited for running a red light. And no one was seriously hurt. We will continue to update you on that story.


BLITZER: A mom who was driving with her kids in the car is stopped by police and Tasered in front of the children. Was she a threat? We're taking a closer look at the video from the police car camera. And CNN's own Rick Sanchez has experienced the pain of a Taser firsthand. He's going to share his reporting and his thoughts on this shocking story.





BLITZER: Imagine you are driving with the kids in the car. You get pulled over for a routine traffic stop and you wind up getting Tasered by police. It happened to a mom in New York State. She's claiming police brutality. We can now take a closer look at the video from the police car camera to try to piece together exactly what happened.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You have studied the video and you have spoken to a lot of folks.


And we are told by a civil court official in Onondaga County, New York, that the woman involved in this incident, Audra Harmon, filed a lawsuit this week against the county sheriff's office.

The incident happened on January 31 of this year outside Syracuse, New York. Ms. Harmon was pulled over. She claims the officer, Deputy Sean Andrews, said she was speeding and using her cell phone, which she denies. The video we are about to show you from the dash camera of Andrews' cruiser was posted on the Web site of the newspaper "The Syracuse Post-Standard."

Now, picking it up in sequence, taking it from the tape here, Harmon says she was asked by Andrews to give him her license and registration. She says, as he is headed back to his car, she gets out of her car, under the impression, she says, that he is going to show her the dash-cam tape.

She says, Andrews asked her to get back in her car. She then asked again for her to show him the dash camera tape. She says, he asks her again to get back in her car and then pulls out his Taser. You can see him pulling out something there and says she is under arrest.

She says, she asked him not to do this in front of her kids who are in the car. She then gets back into her car. You see it there. She says, at that point, he wants her back out. She told him, she was not speeding or using the cell phone. Then, she says, Andrews yanks her out of the car. You are going to see it coming up here in just a moment. There he goes. He yanks her out.

Now, at that point, she says -- he is going to yank her out. Now, at this point, she says, he Tasers her. She is trying to get back in her car. And he Tasers her right there. She says, that's the first time he Tasers her. And she says it doesn't penetrate the skin. It just kind of bounces off the jacket.

Then she tries to get back in her car. At that point, he pulls her out, Tasers her a second time, she says, and this time she goes to the ground. Wolf, there you see him pulling her down, essentially, putting her near the center line of the highway there. And then she crawls back. You know, the sequence is fairly clear on what -- what appears to be happening here.

BLITZER: And she -- she's -- on the dash cam tape that the newspaper put out, she sort of narrates what she says was going on.

TODD: That's right. And we're going to play a clip from that narration. This is after she goes down to the ground, her describing how it felt at that point.


AUDRA HARMON: It felt like it was an -- just it was an electrical shock going through you. And I had no control over anything. And he's still trying to get me down to the ground, but I was still being electrified.


TODD: Now, we contacted the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office. Neither they nor Deputy Andrews would comment on this case because of the pending lawsuit. Deputy Andrews has been taken off road patrol and placed on administrative duties.

In a statement, the Sheriff's Office said: "An internal investigation of the incident involving Deputy Andrews is and has been under review. The driver, Miss. Harman, was never charged. Our efforts to reach miss Harman and her attorney were not successful" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dramatic stuff.

TODD: It certainly was.

BLITZER: Indeed.

Brian Todd, thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: So what's it really like to have so much electricity running through your body?

And joining us now, our colleague and friend, Rick Sanchez, the CNN anchor -- Rick, unlike the rest of us, you've actually been tasered. You're a lot more courageous than I am in going through this.

I'm going to show our viewers the video. A lot of them have seen it over the past few years. But I want to remind them what you went through.

Watch this.



Ow, it hurts.


BLITZER: Oh my god, I'm sure it does.

Tell us what it was like.

SANCHEZ: Fifty thousand volts of electricity. Let me tell you something, this was very, very painful. But the findings of that report are really, really important and I stand behind the findings, which essentially say -- I think most people remember, us here in Atlanta, we remember when Brian Nichols decided he was going to break out of a jail, go out and go on a killing spree.

And I asked myself that day, Wolf, why in the world would guards be walking around jails with guns on open holsters?

That just doesn't seem right. That seems silly.

So I went down to the training academy where they train guards in South Florida and I asked the supervisors, isn't there a better way of doing this?

And they said, yes, there are several better ways, including the fact that people in prisons and in jails shouldn't have guns.

Why have something that can kill people?

Use tasers instead. If a prisoner takes your taser, he's not going to kill anybody. He might do some damage, but he's not going to kill anybody.

And that's the reason we did that story and that's the reason I let myself be tasered, because no one who graduates from that academy graduates without being tasered. So they know what it feels like and what it does before they use it on another human being.

BLITZER: And you think back on the actual feelings that you had when you were tasered, just tell us briefly what it was like.

SANCHEZ: It's completely consuming to the point where there is absolutely nothing left in your body. Once the 50,000 volts of electricity shoots through your body, you literally become jelly. You're numb. Your legs don't work. Here, watch it again and watch what happens to my legs. You'll see that they buckle. If those two guys -- those two strong cops right there with the big muscles, as they say, aren't holding me up, I'm falling straight to the ground, just like we saw the woman in the report that you just showed. The reason police officers use tasers is to get something called compliance.


SANCHEZ: By the way, ya, ya, ya is Spanish for stop, stop, stop. It's funny how you revert back to your original language, doesn't it?


BLITZER: Well, you know what, as long as there were no lasting side effects or anything, you know, you went through a good experiment right there.

SANCHEZ: Well, it's important, because, you know what?

Tasers probably are the way of the future. And I don't think any police officer would tell you that tasers should completely -- that we should completely eliminate guns. There still is a palace for those. But tasers have proven so far to be a very effective tool in law enforcement, especially when it comes to getting compliance.

Specifically how they're used, I think police departments have a long way to go to determine exactly what's the rule, when do you use it?

The basic understanding, as I see it, I have read and my brother, who's a police officer, and everyone else I know who I talk to says you go to someone, you want them to do something. You're looking for compliance. You threaten that you're going to tase them. If they don't comply and you feel threatened, then you use it.

Now, you know, there's a lot of gray area between all the things that I just uttered. But eventually, Wolf, I think it will be the kind of tool that's going to make law enforcement a lot better and probably make a lot of people a lot safer, as well...

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right.

SANCHEZ: opposed to using guns.

BLITZER: I think you're right, Rick.

All right, thanks very much.


He tried for health care reform and failed. Now, he has some advice.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want us to be mindful that sometimes we may have to take less than a full loaf.


BLITZER: But who should concede and what should be given up?

We're taking a closer look in our political Time Out.

Plus, a young journalist -- look at this -- turns the tables on me.


BLITZER: Go ahead and interview me.




BLITZER: Former President Bill Clinton's advice on health reform -- compromise.

Joining us now to talk about that and more, Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson; David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; and Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune".

First, though, let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, for some background on the former president.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if anybody knows the kind of pressure President Obama is under right now, it's this man -- Bill Clinton. When he set out to reform health care, critics also accused him of planning a government takeover of the system.

Well, last night, Clinton was speaking to some of President Obama's liberal base and he had some advice -- compromise.


CLINTON: I want us to be mindful that sometimes we may have to take less than a full loaf. We can't be in the peanut gallery, we have to be actors. We can't ask the president to do it alone. We can't ask the Congress to do it alone.


YELLIN: Now, our own Paul Begala argued the same thing in an op- ed recently. And let's pause to notice the lovely picture of Paul. I'm sure he'll really appreciate that.

Paul said that: "Democrats should focus on passing reform and be flexible about the specifics."

But there's a fine line between compromising and caving. Yesterday, Senator Grassley said the Senate will drop a provision that would allow for end of life counseling. And that's because critics like Sarah Palin made some pretty outrageous claims that that's a back door to death panels.

So we're asking this -- what should Democrats be prepared to compromise?

Is it good politics or bad policy if they bend to pressure by the protestors -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jessica, let's discuss that excellent question.

Clarence, what do you think?

Should he cave or should he compromise on some of these popular items with the liberal base of the Democratic Party, but not necessarily all that popular with others?

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Let's face reality, they're going to compromise sooner or later. That's part of the process. And you also don't want to compromise too much too soon.

Now, that's why it's disappointing to a lot of people that Grassley was so quick to want to toss that -- but it was not a death position -- an end of life provision overboard because, you know, that's been part of -- of federal law, either for hospitals or for Medicare, since the early '90s.

But there is a -- a tendency here to want to focus too much on these side controversies. And Grassley wants to just kind of move that out of the way.

But I think what -- what. You're going to see is the one thing that they cannot compromise on is a public option of some sort... BLITZER: Well, on that, I think there's a lot of disagreement.


BLITZER: There's a lot of folks saying that's precisely, David, the issue they have to compromise on, give -- give up on the so-called public option, the public -- the government run-insurance companies to compete with the private insurance companies and go for something let's say, like cooperatives -- something less than that.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, the public option is so menacing because Republicans and conservatives see it as the nose of the camel putting its -- inserting itself into the tent, preparing for the total crowding out of private insurers.

You notice the Obama people have began to talk not about health reform but about health insurance reform.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

FRUM: That means they have eight principles that they have laid out, that they want to see changes in the way health insurance companies are regulated to make it harder, for example, for them to drop coverage of people after they're sick.

Now, you read some of these principles and you think, well, why didn't we do this stuff in the Bush administration?

These seem very reasonable, things that -- and if you were to focus on those things, the reform of the existing system of insurance, that is something you'd get really 70-30 support for in the Senate.

But the public option kills it, not just because of the option, but because of what conservative thinks it's a warning of.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your sources at the White House?

Are they ready, when the dust settles, the final piece of legislation goes forward, to kill the public option?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, I mean I think you can all -- you can already hear them moving in that direction. I mean the president is more talking about these health care cooperatives, which would be -- they'd have a mix of the private and basically a cooperative where people would pay in to get this insurance.

And one of the kind of mottoes of the Obama campaign, other than hope and change, was don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And that's how we see him kind of dialing down, first on the deadline and then, of course, on this public option. I think, you know, they're prepared to go forward without this.

BLITZER: And that was the message that former President Clinton and Paul Begala both gave the White House in the past couple of days. Guys, stand by.

We have much more to talk about, including Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich -- what's bringing these strange political bedfellows together right now?

And a young journalist making the rounds here in Washington, first interviewing President Obama, then me.


WEAVER: Do you like working for CNN?

BLITZER: I love working for CNN.

WEAVER: Will you give me an internship?



BLITZER: Let's go back to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, there's some strange political bedfellows out there.

YELLIN: Yes, Wolf. It sounds like a setup for a comedy sketch.

What do Al Sharpton, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich have in common?

Well, they're hitting the road together to promote education reform. It does seem like a real bipartisan alliance that could be promising. But we've seen this before, haven't we -- sworn political opponents teaming up on a major issue only to see the pact fall apart over policy details. Kind of like health care reform.

Now, the president has taken a lot of heat for failing to get to his ideal of a post-partisan Washington, which he talked a lot about during the campaign. Maybe he thinks education reform will be different. In fact, he just told a wonder kid 11-year-old student reporter that he's coming up with some creative solutions to the troubles with our schools.


OBAMA: There are certain programs, like drop out prevention programs, for example, that local school districts might not be able to afford, but maybe we can make sure that the federal government is giving help to those local districts so that they can improve their educational system.


YELLIN: Well, it all sounds good. But so far, the president has not been able to get Republicans to sing "Kumbaya" with him on his major priorities. So here's the question -- can President Obama achieve that bipartisan dream on education reform -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question.

David Frum, can he?

FRUM: There's a lot -- actually, education reform is an area that is ripe because what you discover is it's an area where the most conservative part of the Republican Party tends to agree with the most liberal part of the Democratic Party, and that is on vouchers and charter schools.

Where you run into trouble is not between the ends of the spectrum but in the middle, where a lot of homeowners see quality schools available only to residents of a certain locality as a guarantee of property values. And that's the real conflict.

BLITZER: Is this alliance -- this three way alliance -- Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich, Arne Duncan, the Education secretary -- is that for real?

HENDERSON: Well, it's -- I mean it's for real. I mean they think that these -- you know, Newt Gingrich, on the one hand, and Al Sharpton, you know, obviously, represent dif -- different constituencies. And so they think if they go out, you know, on this -- I think it's a four city tour that begins in September -- they can really kind of obviously get some -- get some attention to the issue of education reform.

One of the things that I mean I think is interesting in -- in keeping with what David said, President Obama actually has a lot in common with President Bush on some of the things that he's pushing for. So there is that commonality.

But not only that, he has $100 billion from the stimulus plan to push for a lot of the things that he wants...


HENDERSON: be happening.

BLITZER: Why can Newt Gingrich be saying such nice things about Arnie Duncan right now, praising him on education and the three of these guys going out together on this road trip, but...


BLITZER: ...but there doesn't seem to be such harmony on health care reform?

PAGE: Arnie Duncan is a pragmatist and has a national reputation for it. He -- he was the superintendent of Chicago's schools, which is not for the squeamish, by the way, Wolf, and for about eight years, very successfully -- remarkably successful and because he borrowed ideas from the right and the left. One element we haven't mentioned is teachers' unions. And that's one area that -- that, in fact, gets in the way of vouchers, when it comes to that middle group you were talking about, David, because there's both that and teacher accountability.

These issues, Duncan has been able to work well in bringing the different parties together. Newt and Al Sharpton agree on a lot of that. And this is an important month, Wolf, because right before -- a month before September, that's where you want to get parents and kids interested in going back to school so you can raise that rate of -- of low income kids who show up on that first day.

BLITZER: Should the teachers' unions have heartburn seeing these threesome going out there together?

FRUM: I -- I don't think the teachers' unions get heartbroken. I think they mostly feel very smug and very powerful.


FRUM: And it's going to take, I think, a much bigger and more determined and more -- less time bound alliance to be able to bring any discipline to those unions.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

What are you working on -- Lou.


Tonight, we will have complete coverage of President Obama's new offensive trying still to sell his health care agenda. Opposition to his plan continues to mount. His approval ratings continue to decline.

President Obama today blamed television news organizations for inflaming the controversy over his health care proposals. And one of the president's strongest critics in the Democratic Party, Congressman Mike Ross -- today he -- well, he explained to his constituents why he disagreed with the president.

Three top political analysts will be here to tell us whether the president has lost this battle to put through a health care initiative.

And chaos in California -- from fires to prison riots to a wild animal invasion -- did we mention California's massive budget problems?

We'll have a special report.

All of that, all the day's news and much more, straight ahead here on CNN at the top of the hour.

Please join us -- Wolf, back to up.

BLITZER: See you then, Lou.

Thank you.

Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, if offering money to help fat people lose weight doesn't work, what will?

They have $48,000 in grants available to organizations in Elgin, Illinois, where the population, for the most part, is overweight and nobody wants the money.

Angel writes: "Have you ever tried to get a heroin addict to stop by giving him money? Food is an addiction to the overweight and it's terribly insidious because you must be exposed to your addiction every day in order to live. I've been through every weight loss system imaginable, overseen by doctors and therapists. Sometimes I've lost a little, but the weight comes back and it brings friends. It's a kind of hell you can't understand unless you've lived there."

Jim in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas: "Jack, as a 65-year-old marathoner with a spinal injury, I can tell you it's difficult not to sit down and pick up a fork. Tell these people in Elgin it's possible to keep a 34-inch waist by putting said fork down and getting off one's buttocks. Running mountains is difficult, but it works. We don't expect everyone to do what we do. But walking is pretty easy, especially away from the refrigerator."

Derek writes: "And we wonder why health care is so expensive?"

J.D. in North Carolina: "Instead of Cash for Clunkers, we're offering Checks for the Chubby. In Eastern North Carolina, a lot of people don't have access to a lot of fresh food unless they grow it themselves. If you want to make people skinny and fit, bring back decent jobs to rural areas so people can afford to buy fruits and vegetables."

Arlene in Illinois: "Jack, I live right down the road from Elgin, Illinois. I can't for the life of me figure this thing out. But I'm willing to talk it over with you over a burger, fries and a big drink the next time you're in town."

And A. writes: "Three words -- bacon flavored vegetables."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

I'll look for you manana, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

Have a great, great weekend.

First, he interviewed the president of the United States, then he sat down with me.


BLITZER: Why do they call you Dynamite D?

WEAVER: Because I'm a dynamite. I just explode.


BLITZER: Eleven-year-old Damon Weaver -- we asked each other some tough questions. Stand by. You're going to want to see this.

Plus, in Russia, the prime minister and the president -- played badminton. Just one of our Hot Shots.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots.

In Montana, a man posted some signs opposing single payer health care upon President Obama's arrival.

In Afghanistan, a girl reads up on the presidential election, only a week away.

In Pakistan, the navy marches for Pakistan's Independence Day.

And in Russia, the prime minister and the president play badminton.

Hot Shots -- pictures often worth a thousand words.

A sixth grader from Florida was scooped -- has scooped veteran journalists by getting an interview with President Obama. After that, 11-year-old Damon Weaver sat down and asked me some tough questions.


WEAVER: Why do they call you Wolf?

BLITZER: That's my name. That's my real name. I didn't make it up.

WEAVER: Is that because you have a lot of hair on your face?

BLITZER: No, but that's -- maybe that's a good example. But that's not why they -- they call me Wolf. But that's a good question. I get asked that question a lot. But that is my real name. I didn't make it up.

Go ahead, ask me another question.

WEAVER: And how did you get your name, then? BLITZER: It was my grandfather's name on my mother's side. His name was Wolf. I was named after him.

WEAVER: Do you like working for CNN?

BLITZER: I love working for CNN.

WEAVER: Will you give me an internship?

BLITZER: I will, when you finish your sophomore year in college, you work really hard, you'll come and you'll be an intern here at CNN.

WEAVER: Why is your last name Blitzer?

BLITZER: That's my last name, Blitzer. That was, you know, my dad's name, Blitzer. So we didn't make that name up, either. That's my real name.

WEAVER: You must be playing with a linebacker.

BLITZER: You know, it's funny you say that, because when I was in high school, I did play linebacker. But that was before they had the blitzing linebackers. But I was one of the original blitzers. But I -- I did play linebacker. But that's very good.

Now, they call you Dynamite D, don't they?

Why do they call you Dynamite D?

WEAVER: Because I'm a dynamite. I just explode.

BLITZER: Explode.

In what sport?

WEAVER: Football.

BLITZER: Football.

What position?

WEAVER: Tight end and defensive end.

BLITZER: Wow! That's pretty good. Dynamite D. We're going to call you Dynamite D.

Damon, you go back to sixth grade, do a lot of your homework, practice being a journalist, maybe you'll be a journalist. Maybe you'll be an astronaut. Maybe you'll be a doctor. The whole world is out there for you.

Thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

WEAVER: You're welcome.

BLITZER: It was cool in THE SITUATION ROOM, right? Not as cool as the White House, though.


BLITZER: The White House is cooler?

OK. You're a good man. Thank you.

WEAVER: You're welcome.


BLITZER: A sweet guy, a nice guy.

Tune in tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll speak with the cousin of Emmett Till. He was with him in the days before he died.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.