Return to Transcripts main page


CIA's Al Qaeda Assassination Program Ended; Afghanistan Holds Elections Amidst Violence; Massachusetts a Model for National Health Care?; North Korea May Be Open to Talks; "Forbes" Ranks World's Most Powerful Women; Edwards vs. Thompson - Debating Health Care Reform; Seattle Prepping for Earthquake

Aired August 20, 2009 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And once again we're coming up to the top of the hour. It's Thursday, August 20. Glad you're with us this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you, I'm John Roberts.

Here are the big stories we're following; we'll be breaking them down for you in the next 15 minutes.

Instead of Navy SEALs or the Army Special Ops Forces tracking down al Qaeda, did the CIA use contract killers? Brand new this morning, we have learned that in 2004, the job of killing terrorists was outsourced. The price tag said to be in the millions. The plan, apparently, a total bust. We're live at the Pentagon just ahead.

CHETRY: And right now, the people of Afghanistan are picking their new president. The polls close in about a half an hour. And it looks like Taliban threats in some cases kept people away from the polls. So what does that mean for the election there? And also what does Afghanistan's election mean for America's mission in that war torn nation? The full global resources of CNN are on the ground tracking every side of the story.

ROBERTS: Halfway through a two-day summit with North Korean diplomats, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson joins us live. Find out why Pyongyang says they're owed a seat at the table with the Obama administration.

CHETRY: And also ranking the most influential women in the world. One European leaders tops the list for the fourth year in a row and it isn't Oprah -- actually, she isn't in the top 40. Our Christine Romans will tell us who made the list and who didn't.

ROBERTS: We begin, though, with new evidence that the CIA used contract killers to try to take out terrorists. In 2004, when American forces were fully engaged in Iraq, contractors from Blackwater, USA, now known as XE Services, were hired to hunt down and assassinate top Al Qaeda operatives.

The program reportedly costs millions of dollars but was cancelled before any terrorists were killed. Our Barbara Starr is tracking the story from the Pentagon this morning. And Barbara, this is, to say the least, quite a surprise.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is, John. It sounds like something out of the Hollywood movie when you think about it. This story first appeared in "The New York Times" earlier today. It's getting a lot of attention.

And we have now spoken with a source directly familiar with the program who confirms to CNN that, yes, indeed, at one point, the CIA had hired Blackwater to undertake this program. As we are understanding it, Blackwater is no longer involved. This was back in 2004.

It was a program the CIA started that involved training, surveillance, and, indeed, with the aim of targeted killing of top Al Qaeda officials. Now Blackwater's involvement ended a couple of years ago, we are told. But other contractors, other entities were involved.

Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, cancelled the program, actually, earlier this year once he learned about it and learned that Congress had never been notified about the full scope of the program. He cut it all out.

It was moving into what we are told is a more operational phase at that time. And it was then that Director Panetta felt Congress had to be notified about what was going on.

Very controversial -- Blackwater, obviously, a very well known security firm, not just for its work in Iraq and Afghanistan, but well known inside the intelligence community. They have hired top intelligence officials in the past to work for them. They have a very tight relationship with the CIA -- John?

ROBERTS: Something that many people might not understand. If the CIA gets into the business of targeting and killing terrorists, basically, assassinations, why not just have the military do it? Why an outside contractor?

STARR: Exactly. Certainly the military has quite a sufficient capability to target and kill anybody in the terrorist world that it deems that it should.

Why? Why go outside to conduct this type of business? Well, the issue is plausible deniability, we are told, to put some distance between the official government entities such as the Pentagon or the CIA contract it out.

If those people were to get in to trouble in one of those countries, it becomes much easier simply to walk away from it all. You don't have the tag of official U.S. government involvement. Very sensitive work, something they didn't want a U.S. government to face --- John?

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, thanks so much. CHETRY: Well, today's elections in Afghanistan are a crucial test of the country's stability and also an early test of President Obama's war strategy in general.

The Taliban has promised to violently derail the process there. Many people are going to the polls rising above the attacks, and they're risking their lives. But we're also hearing that turnout has been low. Atia Abawi is live on the phone in Kabul with more on what's going on in Afghanistan today -- Atia?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Kiran. Yes, the turnout in the capital of Kabul has been low, particularly at the polling station that we are at. We have seen officials coming in, we have ANA members of the Afghan National Army.

But the most part, the fear has set in the Afghan people, particularly in the capital. The capital usually considered one of the safest parts in Afghanistan and it's been a very bloody week, the Taliban making good on their threat and very much scaring Afghans throughout Afghanistan.

But we have heard that there has been a bit of a turnout in the northern and western parts of the country. Those are areas considered safer. Those are areas considered not controlled by the Taliban.

But, again, the Afghanistan people falling for the Taliban intimidation, at the same time realizing it's not worth their life to go out and vote for a government they don't believe in -- Kiran?

CHETRY: And to the American audience watching this morning, explain what's at stake here for us?

ABAWI: The truth is that we can't give up on Afghanistan at the moment. This is a country that we did pretty much leave after the Soviets withdrew. We did not pay much attention to it -- the world didn't pay attention to it. And then we saw the rise of the Taliban, we saw the rise of Al Qaeda and then eventually we saw September 11th.

And we have been here for eight years now. And it's -- it's been a while. And the Afghan people -- they're not happy. There was a time when it was ignored. It was a forgotten war.

But right now, the Afghan people do need help. They realize right now they don't know who to turn to, some of them turning to the Taliban for protection from the government, some of them turning to the government for protection from the coalition forces. But in the end, they don't know who to trust.

What they do ask for from coalition countries from the USA, is to stay here not necessarily by force but in the way of building infrastructure, building jobs, because when you talk to the average Afghan, they say their number one concern is not necessarily their security as it is their poverty -- Kiran?

CHETRY: All right, Atia Abawi for us there in Afghanistan this morning. And we were just looking moments ago at the live pictures from a polling station there in Kabul today.

Also new this morning -- with the administration committed to shutting down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, they reportedly made a deal to keep many prisoners off of American soil.

"The Washington Post" is reporting that nearly a dozen countries are willing to take the detainees from Gitmo, and that includes six European Union nations, Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

The report also says that the White House is increasingly confident that it can transfer most of the detainees cleared for release and that five other European nations are also considering taking some detainees.

ROBERTS: Seven minutes after the hour.

Also new this morning, two men are under arrest over the biggest gem heist in British history. It happened two weeks ago in broad daylight, and it was all caught on tape. The two armed suspects got away with $65 million in jewelry from the Graf store in Central London.

The police will not say whether the two people that you see in -- well, that you don't see -- no, not going to see it -- are the two people who are in custody.

CHETRY: All right. Be sure and double check your credit card bill this month. There are new rules. They're going into effect today. and they're designed to prevent you from paying higher fees without warning or if you miss a payment or go over your credit limit.

But reports also say that banks have jacked up the rates and the fees and even closed some accounts ahead of these rule changes. So, again, if you get something in the mail from your credit card company, make sure you read the fine print.

ROBERTS: The cash for clunkers program is going to run out of gas. The Obama administration says it will wind down the popular car- buying incentives, perhaps as early as next month.

Many dealerships say they had trouble getting reimbursements from the federal government, and they're worried that the $3 billion from the program will run out before they see a dime.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood assured dealers that, yes, they will get paid.

CHETRY: Still ahead, you know a lot of people are saying health care reform, show us where universal health care has worked. And many people point to Massachusetts and say that, you know, then Governor Romney has near universal health care and was successful at doing it without getting the government involved in an insurance program.

So, is Romney-care coming? Our Jim Acosta takes a look.


CHETRY: Welcome back. It's 11 minutes after the hour right now.

A look at Boston, Massachusetts this morning where it's cloudy, mostly, 72 degrees a little bit later. Clouds clearing, 84 degrees.

ROBERTS: To the make or break push on health care reform now. And while Democrats talk about a go it alone approach, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he'd still prefers a bipartisan deal, but added, "Patience is not unlimited."

And there's still the hanging question -- is the White House willing to pass reform without a public option? And what would that look like?

AMERICAN MORNING's Jim Acosta is in Boston this morning where people may already know the answer to that question. And they're imminently familiar...


ROBERTS: ... with universal health care. Morning, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's correct, John. You're right.

And earlier this week, as you know, the White House took a lot of heat from Democrats when it seemed to back away from a public option in its plans for health care reform.

So what does reform look like without a public option? According to health care experts, it looks a lot like Romney-care.


ACOSTA: If Washington wants to reform health care with bipartisan support, consider what former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did as governor in Democratic Massachusetts.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: You don't have to have a public option. You don't have to have government get in the insurance business to make it work.

ACOSTA: Three years after enacting its own version of reform, Massachusetts has near universal coverage. Taxpayer watchdogs say it's affordable.

MICHAEL WIDMER, MASSACHUSETTS TAXPAYERS FOUNDATION: And there is this wide spread assumption that is now treated as fact that it's breaking the bank in Massachusetts.

ACOSTA (on camera): And is it?

WIDMER: It's not breaking the bank at all. It's not costing much at all relative to what we were spending four years ago.

ACOSTA: And health care experts say it's popular. PROF. ROBERT BLENDON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: And seven in ten people in the state support the program. And no more than one in 10 would repeal it.

ACOSTA: Unlike Democratic proposals that would give Americans the choice of a government-run health care plan, Massachusetts has no public option. Instead, people in the state are mandated to buy private insurance. The poor get subsidies.

Analysts say Romney-care is basically Obama-care minus the public option.

ACOSTA (on camera): If the president drops the public option, ill you come out and support him?

ROMNEY: It depends on what's in the rest of the bill.

ACOSTA: Romney says Democrats only have themselves to blame for the rowdy town hall meetings.

ROMNEY: I think any time you're dealing with people's health care and their ability to choose their doctor, their ability to decide what kind of health care plan they want, you're going to find people are going to respond very emotionally.

ACOSTA: As for that other former governor's now debunked claim it would lead to death panels.

ACOSTA (on camera): What did you think when you heard Governor Palin talk about death panels.

ROMNEY: I hadn't read that to the bill.

ACOSTA: You think it's OK for the governor of Alaska to be talking about death panels and pulling the plug on grandma?

ROMNEY: I'm not going to tell other people what they can and cannot talk about.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But Romney does warn that bipartisanship is the only road to health care reform.

ROMNEY: I think the right process for the president to pursue on health care on an issue that is so emotional and so important to all Americans is to go through the lengthy process of working on a bipartisan basis. He promised that.


ACOSTA: Now, the Massachusetts model does have its problems. Experts say it does not control rising health care costs, something Romney says has to be tackled on a national level.

But, John, when you look at the numbers, it is quite striking. Some 440,000 people who did not have health care insurance before this program was enacted now have that insurance at a cost of some $88 million a year. That's million dollars out of a budget that's around $30 billion according to a taxpayer watchdog. That's a drop in the bucket.

ROBERTS: Anything that begins with an "M" as opposed to a "B or "T" is probably pretty good news.


ACOSTA: Exactly, yes. That's a big change of pace.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta this morning.

ACOSTA: You bet.

ROBERTS: Although you can't argue that a million dollars a whole heck of a lot of money.

We know that a lot of you have questions about health care reform, so we're giving you real answers without the spin. Separate fact from fiction. Just log on to care.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we're going to be joined by Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. He had a chance to sit down for high profile talks with a North Korean delegation.

Is there a thawing in our relations? Are we going to see changes in diplomacy? And could we make headway when it comes to the north's nuclear ambitions? We're going to talk to him about all of that coming up next.

It's 15 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

Could a nuclear thaw begin in the high desert? Well, New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson is in the middle of two days of talks with North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe.

The meeting comes two weeks after former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to bring home two American journalists held there.

Governor Richardson served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Clinton administration and he has also visited North Korea several times.

Governor Richardson joins us now live this morning from Santa Fe. Thanks for being with us. Hopefully we'll get your audio up in a few seconds. But the North Koreans called for this meeting. Why do they want to talk now, and what do they want to talk about?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: They have come to Santa Fe to see me three times in the last few years. I think they wanted to basically send a message that they're ready to engage in a dialogue with the United States.

Now, there's still differences, whether we do it bilaterally or the six-party talks. But I really sense a lessening of tensions because of the Clinton visit, the release of the two Americans, the release of the South Korean that the North Koreans just did, the visit of the North Korean delegation to South Korea to honor the former South Korean president who passed away.

I think there is a little bit of a thaw. And this trip too to send a public message in the United States, I believe, also is part of an effort, perhaps by Kim Jong-il to look at his legacy. You know, they've been the last eight months very negative, very hostile, underground missile tests, all kinds of rhetoric against the United States.

Maybe the -- it's reached a point where they feel this is the time to engage again. And they're -- their manner was very positive. They were not negative as they have been in my conversations with Minister Kim, who was here who I've been talking to for quite some time on the journalists.

And, so, I feel it's a good -- it's a good situation right now that we should take advantage of.

CHETRY: When you say, "Take advantage of it." For right now, the White House has said that nothing has changed when it comes to six-party talks versus bilateral negotiations. They still want involvement in the six party talks.

So is there room to negotiate if the White House says it's not changing that stipulation right now when it comes to any negotiations with North Korea?

RICHARDSON: Well, Secretary Clinton, I believe, has handled this very well. She separated the humanitarian issue from the nuclear talks, and we got the two journalists back.

I think the way to handle this is perhaps a compromise a within the six-party talks, within working groups of the six-party talks. Have some bilateral discussions with the North Koreans. Call it all an adjunct of the six-party talks.

But this is diplomacy. This is engagement. So I think both sides need to come together on some formulation. And I think the atmosphere is a lot better to do that.

CHETRY: And the other question is, though, they felt they were owed a gesture, right? That the release of Lisa -- Laura Lee and Euna Lee and the fact that we were able to come to some diplomatic agreement on that situation, they felt that they were owed a gesture.

What do you think the next step is from the administration?

RICHARDSON: Well, the next step is, again, diplomacy, is for our diplomats, our negotiators, perhaps Ambassador Bosworth, who's a special envoy, and for the administration internally to decide how they engage next.

I think the best step is within the six-party talks, propose some kind of bilateral discussions. North Korea and the United States, step aside and try to at least restart talks. That's step number one.

The good news also is, for instance, the North Koreans here in Santa Fe are going to meet today with some renewable energy, solar energy entrepreneurs, which is to signal even though there are sanctions and they can't do that now, they do want to engage with the United States in some way.

So possibly this is the time to move forward.

And do they indicate whether or not they got direct talks with the United States they'd be willing to move somewhere or come to some agreement on their nuclear ambitions?

RICHARDSON: Well, they basically said everything was on the table. The issue of security, normalization, you know, the previous agreements they had. Although, they feel that those previous agreements from the six-party talks are scrapped.

But it's just a start. The reality is that for the last several months, we haven't been talking at all. We've just been shooting barbs, and North Koreans have taken some very negative steps on the nuclear front.

So I think the first step is to simply sit across the table and agree on an agenda that eventually -- obviously what we want them to do is terminate the nuclear weapons, to reduce their exported nuclear materials. It's in our interests. It's in North Korea's interests. But the atmosphere has improved. So let's take advantage of it.

CHETRY: Hopefully that will be the first step then. Governor Bill Richardson, always great to talk to you. Thanks.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thank you.

ROBERTS: So who are the world's most influential women when it comes to business?

CHETRY: Christine Romans has the list. Who's on it may surprise you. And who's not on the list may surprise you just as much.

ROBERTS: A lot of candidates out there. No question about it.

CHETRY: It's 24 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: We have some interesting rankings to tell you about. Christine Romans is mending you business this morning. You have the coveted list of the most powerful women in the world.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The most powerful women in the world. "Forbes" puts this out. And topping that list for the fourth year in a row, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, the fourth largest economy.

She is basically the most powerful elected woman running a western country, a country -- a company -- a country that just pulled itself out of a recession by the way.

Now, this is where it starts to get interesting. When you go further down the list -- Marina Berlusconi is number 33 of this list. She is the daughter of Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, and she controls his media empire.

And look at that. She is considered by this list more powerful around the world than Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state of the United States, who is number 36.

Michelle Obama, the first lady, she has the ear of the most powerful man, the man who runs the -- the leader of the free world, really. Michelle Obama, number 40.

Oprah Winfrey comes in at 41, and she tops Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of England, who came in at number 42.

Now, the second most powerful woman in the world, according to "Forbes," is Sheila Bair, number two. A banking regulator in the United States is the second most powerful woman in the world -- why? She's front and center handling the financial crisis that dogged the world for the past year and a half. She's been coolheaded and calm, and she's taken over 70 banks for the United States just this year.

CHETRY: And what's the criteria. How do they determine what makes you powerful?

ROMANS: The criteria is you have to run something big and important. You have to have either an empire, a media empire, or a political following, or -- it's power and influence, basically. And they have kind of a lot of different factors to go in there, but this is power and influence.

And I think when you have a banking regulator number two on the list, you know what kind of a time we've had over the last couple of years.

But it's interesting -- there will be a lot of fodder for discussion about some of the rankings. But Marina Berlusconi tops Hillary Clinton. That one surprised me.

CHETRY: Very interesting, all right. Thanks Christina.

It's 28 minutes past the hour. A look at the top stories for the next hour.

Scottish authorities are expected to announce they're releasing the man who bombed Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. The bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland killed 270 people. The man convicted of planting the bomb on the flight is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and could be sent home to Libya to die. U.S. officials have argued against his release. ROBERTS: The polls are about to close in Afghanistan. Taliban threats against Afghan citizens have reportedly kept turnout low in the capital of Kabul and southern parts of the country. Some experts say that that could affect the vote.

There have been scattered rocket attacks and bombings. In one province, election organizers tell us the attacks closed at least 11 polling sites.

CHETRY: And Hurricane Bill weakening slightly, still, though, a category three, still churning across the Atlantic.

But forecasters are warning it could regain category four strength sometime later today. That hurricane is expected to start pushing large swells towards Bermuda and parts of the southeastern U.S. coast by the weekend.

Rob Marciano is a segment say it did turn slightly northward, which is a good sign in terms of hitting the coast.

ROBERTS: It certainly is.

Every day this month, President Obama is working on the make-or- break health care push. The latest step, talking up reform to faith- based group and religious leaders. In the conference call with at least 140,000 people, the president called reform, quote, "A core ethical and moral obligation." And he asked those listening to help spread the word, if you will.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate. And there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness. I need to spread the facts and speak the truth.


ROBERTS: For more, let's bring in Reverend Jim Wallis. He is a member of the president's advisory council on faith-based partnerships, and Tony Perkins, who is the president of the Family Research Council.

And Tony, let's start with you. The president, you heard him there, accused some people of bearing false witness on health care reform, talk of the so-called death panels, this idea, too, that illegal immigrants will be given health care under the new plans.

No question there is a lot of disinformation out there in addition to misinformation. What do you make of the president's appeal for people to tell the truth about what's going on with health care?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I do think the truth needs to be told. And I think in this discussion that we're having nationally, everyone is entitled to their opinion on whether or not the government should take over health care.

But what we're not entitled to is their own set of facts. And we have to realize that it's not the president's promises that will become law, but, rather, it's the bill itself. And if we want to have a discussion that that needs to be focused on the bill and what's contained in the bill. And there are some serious concerns over where this bill would lead us. And there's clear indications that it would lead us to an expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion in this country, that it does not protect, as it currently stands, the conscious rights of health care workers. And there is concern over the end of life counseling in the bill especially in states like Oregon and Washington state where physician-assisted suicide is present.

ROBERTS: OK. Let's take on a couple of these issues. Jim Wallis, maybe you can give us your reading of the facts in the bill. This idea, as Tony said, would be an expansion of taxpayer funded abortion. Is that anywhere in the bill?

REV. JIM WALLIS, ADVISORY COUNCIL ON FAITH-BASED PARTNERSHIPS: Well, we just heard one of those falsehoods, I'm afraid. Look, in the shouting, in the misinformation, in the fear out there, we're losing the moral core of this debate, which is - a lot of people are hurting in this broken health care system. 47 million people are not being covered. And many more can't get what they need and can't afford to have good health.

ROBERTS: Jim, I think...


ROBERTS: I think - I'm sorry, OK. Go ahead on the abortion question.

WALLIS: On the abortion question, there's a broad consensus in the faith community that health care reform should not change. Federal rules about abortion. Federal funding of abortion should not happen in health care. In fact, abortion should not side track the health care debate. The health care reform that we need. So, we agree on that. And I'll be working hard to make sure two things are here - one, is that all of god's children get covered by health care reform.

And, two, that abortion rules, federal funding abortion doesn't change in health care. I agree to that. So let's have a broad-based conversation to fix a broken system and while we respect conscience at the same time. Conscience rules are important. No federal funding of abortion is important. I agree with that. But let's focus on the real issue. A lot of people are hurting in this broken system.


WALLIS: We have to fix the broken system.

ROBERTS: There's no question a lot of people are hurting here. But, Jim, I asked you specifically, is there any provision for federal funding of abortion in any of these health care plans? And you didn't quite get to the core of that question. So let me ask...

WALLIS: Let me say, again. Last night, President Obama agreed with our conviction that the rules shouldn't change.

ROBERTS: OK, so you said the rules shouldn't change. But, Tony, do you read anything in any of these bills that says, yes, federal funds either will be or could be used to fund abortion?

PERKINS: Look, John, in the bill, if you do a word search of the 1,000-page bill on tonsillectomy, you won't find that. Hysterectomy, you won't find that, if not the word abortion. Jim says the rules prohibiting federal funding of abortion. Let me talk about that. That's the Hyde Amendment which is an annual appropriations rider. And it's only on one appropriations bill. The government has several appropriations bills which would not cover this present health care bill.

So, first off, the Hyde Amendment is an annual measure that wouldn't apply to this. And secondly, it only requires a simple majority vote to re-enact every year. This is clear - it's not the president's promises, it's what's in this bill. There's no question that this would lead - whether you call it taxpayer-funded abortion or citizens paying government premiums to a government system, it's going to expand abortion. This can be solved very easy in 12 amendments.

ROBERTS: And Jim - if I can just point out too there's one point of concern here when it comes to abortion. And Jim, perhaps you can address this. And that is that the bills - one of the bills calls for there to be in these so-called exchanges, one private plan that does provide abortion services.

Now, supposedly, there were protections that federal funds will not be used to fund those premiums, but how can you be guaranteed that somebody who is low income won't receive a government subsidy that they can use to buy that plan? I think that's an argument that some people are making here.

WALLIS: Well, first of all, we've got a long way to go here. There's a House bill - we have a long way to go here in the process. So, what we have to do is clearly outline our principles. And the principles last night on this call with 140,000 people, our principles were that we need accessible, affordable, secure health care for all of god's children.


WALLIS: We also said that we don't want the abortion rules to change. So we'll be looking, John, at all those questions, working hard to make sure that our principles are intact, that our conscience is intact.

PERKINS: Jim, we can take that - we can take that off the table right now. A dozen amendments were offered in both the House and the Senate to make it very clear that taxpayer-funded abortion would be prohibited. And we wouldn't have that discussion. Then we can focus on what I do agree with you on and that is every American should have access to affordable health care. But we disagree on the method. But we could have that discussion if we take away the contentious issues off the table.

WALLIS: Let's agree right here on CNN this morning. Tony, I will support your effort to make sure that abortion is taken off the table in this debate. I'm for that. I'll work hard for that. Let's work together on that. And then you support our moral principle that all Americans should be covered by health care, secure, affordable, accessible health care.

Let's work together and make sure both of those things, in fact, are a part of comprehensive health care reform. Because the system is broken and we have to fix it. And don't let abortion derail that effort, please.

PERKINS: Well, ask the president then to take it off of the table and accept these amendments and then we can have a discussion on how we fix health care in this country. And I'll be glad to work with you on that. Because we agree. We need to fix health care in this country.

ROBERTS: All right.

WALLIS: Let's work together.

ROBERTS: Perhaps we have in this short amount of time brought the two sides a little closer together than they were. Gentlemen, we look forward to you two having a conversation about all of this. Reverend Jim Wallis, Tony Perkins, it's good to have you on this morning. Thanks so much.

PERKINS: Thanks, John.

WALLIS: Thank you.

CHETRY: All right. We talk about Bill being a category three hurricane now. But it's still churning in the Atlantic, and it could pick up strength. Rob Marciano is tracking all of the extreme weather for us. It's 37 minutes past the hour.



ROBERTS: Top videos right now on - Britney Spears bikini top 10. The top singer was on "The Late Show with David Letterman" counting down the top 10 ways that America would be different if she were president. Number one, Spears said, finally, the media would pay some attention to me. Uh-huh.

Next, check out this eight-year-old daredevil. The high-flying British boy is thought now to be the world's youngest airborne wing walker. Why would you ever put your child on the wing of a biplane?

CHETRY: Yes. Not a great idea. ROBERTS: Parenting skills - and you saw it on AMERICAN MORNING. The Internet sensation, you've been squirrel'd. First hitting a tourist photo in Canada. This squirrel is popping up in all kinds of photos online.

CHETRY: You know, I mean, the original thing was the couple taking a picture of themselves and the squirrel did pop up. Do we have ours?

ROBERTS: We're going to see the squirrels...

CHETRY: Popped up in the auto picture. So cute. So now everyone's taking it to the next level.

ROBERTS: Yes. I heard the couple talking about it. They said maybe the squirrel heard the camera beeping and thought it was going to be a source of food. Inquisitively went up and looked at the camera.

CHETRY: There he is. That's not the actual picture. Oh, here's ours.

ROBERTS: This is Phil's squirrel.

CHETRY: Don't ask.

Rob Marciano is not tracking Phil or a squirrel. He's tracking Bill for us this morning. No danger of a squirrel popping in to that huge thing - although now it's a category 3. But could get stronger.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It could get stronger. And still a category 3 is a major storm and it will threaten the east coast and certainly Canada as we go through time. A couple of days to point out over the last couple of hours. Winds now at 125. That is still a very strong category three. You noticed a slight deterioration of the eye itself.

But it's going over a favorable environment where it probably will strength. But the key that we're really worried about is the track. And here is the forecast model, the handful of that you get between the Carolinas and Bermuda. And then make that sharp right hand turn. How much of a right hand turn? That's still open for discussion. Here is the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

It does bring it to a cat four and then a cat three as it bypasses the cape. The cape is still in that cone of uncertainty. And of all things, their technical discussion actually says, well, you know, the forecast - it may get a little closer to Nantucket than we actually are indicating on that graphic. Anyway, take that as it is.

Severe weather across parts of the midsection of the country. I want to show you some of this video that came in yesterday. This was a tornado that went through parts of Minnesota and it did some damage, actually destroyed about 40 homes there. So we're going to see the potential for this kind of action again today. There were 18 reports of tornadoes yesterday. And today across the Ohio River Valley, I think, is the area that we'll see probably some rough weather. That's the latest from here, guys. Toss it back up to you.

CHETRY: All right. Rob, thanks so much.

Well, here's what's coming up on the "AM Rundown" in the next 15 minutes. At 7:43, quake zone, why a city we don't normally associate with earthquakes could actually get hit with a big one. Then at 7:50, we're "Paging Dr. Gupta." Sanjay is going to be cutting through the noise and answering some questions about health care that you guys have asked him.

Also at 8:00, we have breaking news, and new information from the Pentagon about secret contract killers targeting Al Qaeda. Why the CIA chose to try to try to outsource something so risky. It's 42 minutes past the hour.



CHETRY: Beautiful shot of Seattle this morning. Early, early morning there. This courtesy of KOMO, a shot of the Space Needle. It's clear, 65. A little later it will be sunny and 78 degrees in Seattle.

ROBERTS: Well, we hate to wake Seattle up with bad news. But it turns out that the city could get hit with a big one, an earthquake.

CHETRY: Yes, that's right. A lot of people associate, of course, California with the big quakes. But it turns out that Washington state and Seattle is also in earthquake country.

CNN's Dan Simon takes a look.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John and Kiran. Well, when people think of Seattle, they probably think of the Space Needle and those dreary days. Certainly not earthquakes. Well, that could be changing.

(voice-over): At Seattle's famous Pike's Place fish market, workers approach earthquakes the same way as their job - with humor.

CHRIS BELL, SEATTLE RESIDENT: I guess we're due for it. I mean, myself living downtown. I'm in a high-rise. If it goes, at least, I'm going to go quick.

SIMON: But tremors in Seattle are no joke. In 2001, the city got hit by a 6.8 magnitude quake. Significant. But scientists at the University of Washington fear the next one will be worse.

PROF. JOHN VIDALE, SEISMOLOGIST: We know it's just a matter of time. The question really is how much will the city shake when it comes. SIMON: Professor John Vidale is the state's seismologist. He says research over the last few years shows that earthquake fault zones in the Pacific northwest may lie closer to the city than previously thought.

VIDALE: The new evidence suggests that the edge of the breakage closest to us is now halfway in from the coastline instead of near the coastline.

SIMON (on camera): Closer to Seattle.

VIDALE: Closer to Seattle.

SIMON (voice-over): What that means is the quake impact would be felt much more. How much? Researchers say it could produce a magnitude of 9.0 or greater. That's equal to the 2004 quake off the coast of Indonesia, which spawned the killer tsunami. Scientists say that does not mean a 9.0 would necessarily cause wide spread devastation here, but vital structures, including some traffic arteries, would likely collapse. People would most certainly die.

(on camera): Right above me is the Alaskan Way Via duct. It carries more than 100,000 cars a day. One expert told us he would be more surprised if it stayed up following a big earthquake than if it came down.

(voice-over): The 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area destroyed a similarly designed via duct. 42 people died. And county officials say at least 200,000 homes across Seattle and its suburbs are considered vulnerable.

Some have heeded the warning. Peter Lynch is having his two- story house retrofitted to withstand the powerful shake.

PETER LYNCH, HOMEOWNER: I would much rather be prepared than wait for the big one to come and have to pick up the pieces.

SIMON: But many don't have or aren't willing to shell out the $5,000 to have the work done.

(on camera): Residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles already live in constant fear that the big one could strike at any time. Now it seems you can add another city to the list. John and Kiran, back to you.


ROBERTS: Dan Simon for us this morning. By the way, if Seattle got hit with an earthquake that powerful, it would be the first one in the U.S. in decades. Here's more for you in an "A.M. Extra." The biggest earthquake the U.S. has ever seen is a 9.2. That was in Alaska back in 1964. After that one, the next biggest one was more than 300 years ago, a 9.0 that stretched across three different states.

Other than those two, the U.S. has never had a quake as big as the one that they're predicting for Seattle. The third biggest quake was an 8.7 and that also was in Alaska in 1965. By the way, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that Dan talked about that caused so much damaged in San Francisco was way behind in magnitude. That one was a 7.1.

CHETRY: Well, we're trying to answer fact from fiction, answer questions about health care, and we've had many that you sent to Sanjay. Well, Dr. Gupta is going to be joining us in a few minutes to answer those health care questions. It's 47 minutes past the hour.



CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Fifty minutes past the hour right now. If you're feeling a little confused about what's true and what's not about health care reform, we have some help for you.

ROBERTS: We do, yes. We're using all of the resources of CNN to cut through the politics and the spin, the mis- and disinformation and tell you what's really going on. Here's a question from our "A.M. Fix" viewer hot line.


CALLER: This is Anna from Illinois, and I was wondering with the new health care reform if doctors will be able to opt out of taking these patients that have this insurance run by the government because reimbursement rates may be too low for them and how that's going to affect the patients with less physicians to choose from?


ROBERTS: All right. There's the question. For some answers now, we're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta. So you heard it, doc, will physicians be able to opt out of a public option for health insurance if one passes? What's the answer?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anna's brought up two points. And the short answer is yes. Let me explain this. First of all, the first issue is, are there enough primary care doctors to be able to take care of all of the new patients that might be insured now? So you may have millions of new patients, but not enough doctors.

We did a little bit of homework and found we're about 16,000 primary care doctors short. Right now as things stand in the United States, again add millions of new patients, you might be even more doctors short.

The second part of Anna's question, I think is also an important one. So you got your insurance now, and you've been uninsured, you got your insurance. You go to your doctor, and your doctor says I don't accept this type of insurance, whether it's the public option or whether it's some thing else. That is a possibility. A real possibility, there's doctors out there who don't accept Medicare and Medicaid, for example. So it's possible doctors wouldn't accept for example a public option if there were one.

You know, John and Kiran, we went to the White House reform bill. You know, we've read and we tried to pour over and tried to find out if they addressed Anna's concern. They did to some extent to trying to figure out how to get more primary care doctors into the mix. They say that they want increased incentives for primary care doctors, increased reimbursements was mentioned in the reform bill, although, how much was not.

Also the speed of reimbursement, a lot of times there are going to be a long waiting period between the time the physicians submits the bill and they get reimbursed and they also want to change the incentives so they may invest more in wellness and prevention, which would be beneficial to primary care doctors. But how that all plays out, Anna, is a still a little bit unclear.

CHETRY: And also, you know, we're seeing a decline among students who choose primary care in medical school. It's very interesting to say they're going to be facing a major doctor shortage because nearly three-fourths of people leaving medical school are going into a specialty, not into primary care. So what can we do to reverse that trend?

GUPTA: You're absolutely right, Kiran. I mean, if you look across the board, you get about 26,000 medical students graduating, going into medicine every year. Only about 6,500 are going into primary care. The number should be reversed. A lot more going into primary care, and fewer into specialties. These are what the numbers are right now. Really, it's two issues. I think one is pay, and one is paperwork.

Pay, you know, primary care doctors as things stand now don't get reimbursed as well as specialists. So they're trying to pay off medical school loans, trying to make ends meet. It can be tough sometimes. And the second part of that, you have thousands of patients in your office as a primary care doctor, seeing patients in the office and the clinic every day. Each patient generates lots of paperwork.

So as we've been going around the country talking to these primary care doctors and they are just inundated with lots of paperwork. What we're hearing about those issues specifically as there might be some loan forgiveness programs coming out of the reform bill, and also we hear about health information technology, being able to address some of these paperwork concerns would be a focus of that I.T. bill.

CHETRY: All right. Good stuff, Sanjay. Answering questions and as always, you can e-mail Sanjay at if you have health care questions. Good to see you. Thanks.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Doc.

Well, the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing of that PanAm flight maybe about to walk out of jail. And the question everybody is asking is should he? We'll find out, coming up next. It's 54 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Our Larry King was in the middle of a hot debate over the president's health care plan.

CHETRY: Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, as well as Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Service Secretary during President Bush's first term, sat down to debate it with Larry. Here are some of the highlights.


ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every single day and they lose it because it's too expensive. So unless we create a provider that's going to have cost accessible health insurance, which is apparently not going to be possible with these private insurers, it's not possible today. right now they have the most motivation of all time to make certain those people are not losing their coverage.

And yet they will not provide - they will not provide a cost efficient program. And we can't do it. I think it sounds like a great idea. Let's do a tax rebate, a refundable tax credit to people so they can get health insurance. Are we really going to give families $18,000 a year to pay for their health insurance next year?


EDWARDS: Of course, we have to, that's what the average cost of insurance. Next year.

THOMPSON: You put up private insurance out on a competitive basis, it'd be down around $4,000 or $5,000, refundable tax credit will cover that, you'll be able to solve a lot of the problems, you get a lot of the uninsured. The problem is that...

EDWARDS: That's not just realistic, Tommy.

THOMPSON: It is, Elizabeth. It's very realistic.


THOMPSON: Like we did on part D, we put drugs out for competitive bids and they've stabilized the drug prices. You put out the bids for all of the uninsured in every state and have the states hold and allow insurance companies to come in and bid on that, you will drive down the cost, put a refundable credit in for those individuals under 124 percent of poverty, and we can cover everybody in America. And that's what you want, that's what I want. And we'll do it without the government running the health insurance. EDWARDS: When the Republicans were in charge of doing something about health care, what they did was just what you said, prescription - the prescription drug benefit for seniors, and what they decided was that the federal government could not negotiate the lowest possible price. We've protected - we protected the companies to the disadvantage of the American consumers. Again, we're seeing the Republicans protecting the companies, the insurance companies, to the disadvantage of the American consumer.

THOMPSON: Republicans want to protect health care in America, Democrats want to destroy it. If you want to call radical rhetoric...

EDWARDS: Of course, we do not.

THOMPSON: Well, Elizabeth. Then let's fix the system. Let's not destroy it.


ROBERTS: Larry also asked Edwards about her own health. You remember, she has stage four breast cancer. Edwards says she's in pretty good health and still out here fighting.

CHETRY: Also coming up in about 10 minutes, we're going to be speaking about health care. We're going to talk about the economics behind it. As you've heard in that debate, how do you pay for it? Paul Keckley will be joining us to talk more about one of the critical issues for reform - keeping health care costs under control.