Return to Transcripts main page


Pittsburgh's Renaissance; President Obama Tackles Nukes; Senator Kennedy's Successor; Ahmadinejad's Speech to U.N.; Views on Gadhafi Speech

Aired September 24, 2009 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, September 24. And here are the top stories for you in the CNN NEWSROOM.

First, for U.S. President Barack Obama chairs a U.N. Security Council meeting. How to keep the nuclear genie bottled up. Onto Pittsburgh. Protestors will greet President Obama and other leaders. The G-20 looking to rewrite global financial rules.

Boy, a new ad turning heads for sure. Certainly within the Twitter generation paying attention to a leading cause of death in young women, breast cancer.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

So, let's quickly get you caught up on the day's hot headlines then take the time to break down the big issues to find out why they really matter. And leading the way this hour, President Obama makes history again, but this time becoming the first U.S. president to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

You're looking here at live pictures of the summit. We'll have them in a moment. The president rallying world leaders to support nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I called for this one so that we may address the highest level, the fundamental threat to the security of all peoples and all nations. The spread and use of nuclear weapons.


HARRIS: In Denver an indictment announced a short time ago against terror suspect Najibullah Zazi. It charges him with conspiracy to detonate bombs. Najibullah and two other Afghan men are in court today for detention hearings. At issue, the initial charge against the three lying to the FBI.

Agents are intensely searching for perhaps a dozen other alleged al Qaeda operatives they say are involved in the plot.

Germany may be in al Qaeda's target sights. The terrorist group is threatening attacks if Sunday's national elections don't go the way it wants. Americans there being urged to keep below profile. Al Qaeda is critical of Chancellor Angela Merkel's support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Happening right now a briefing at the White House on the H1N1 flu virus and vaccine.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is there and we will get the latest from her this hour. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta had the flu while on assignment in Afghanistan. Anderson Cooper asked Sanjay how he handled it.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I had to protect my temperature. You know, you're in the desert. It's hot outside. Hadn't really thought about it. I went there and my temperature was around 102 degrees, so, you know, pretty high for -- certainly for me, you know, 98 being normal. 98.6. So that was the first sign.

And then, you know, I had that same cough that you did. Light headedness. And I was freezing cold. I don't know if you had that as well.


GUPTA: But that was really the most memorable part of it. I was freezing cold despite being in the desert.


HARRIS: A temporary senator unveiled this hour. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is putting Paul Kirk Jr. in the seat held by Ted Kennedy. Kirk worked for Kennedy in the 1970s then led the Democratic National Committee in the 1980s. He's said to know Kennedy's staff and priorities well enough for a seamless transition.

A live picture now of where this announcement will actually take place. Kirk will serve until a special election in January. He gives the Democrats a critical 60th vote as the health care debate moves forward.

Eighteen hundred firefighters northwest of Los Angeles battling a wildfire and the weather about 1,000 homes are threatened but no evacuations so far. The forecast today hot and dry. The fire has burned more than 16,000 acres so far.

That's our look at the day's big stories. Now let's go in depth right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. And first up, the G-20 summit. Leaders from the globe's biggest economic engines gather in Pittsburgh today. They meet a year after a financial collapse shoved the world near the brink of a second Great Depression.

The leaders' main goal over the next two days are framework for global financial regulatory reform. They do it by restricting executive salaries at big banks, not necessarily a cap, rather a mechanism that unlinks bonuses from risky deals. The second require banks to build a bigger capital cushion.

The main questions here, how much and how to do it.

And finally, balanced growth across the G-20 specifically the United States wants China to spend more and export less. Other nations want the U.S. to quit living on debt.

And just how do you prevent another near meltdown of the global financial system? Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, testified before the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. Here's what she says needs to be done.


SHEILA BAIR, FDIC CHAIR: There's much to be done if we are to prevent another financial crisis but at a minimum we need to scrap the "Too Big to Fail" doctrine, set up a strong oversight council to prevent systemic risk, and create a strong consumer watchdog that offers real protection from abusive financial products and services.


HARRIS: All right. And live to Pittsburgh now and one of our players from CNN Money team, Christine Romans is there.

And Christine is asked -- answering a question that's going to ask often around this G-20 Summit. Why Pittsburgh?


DENNY PIRRING, PITTSBURGH CAB DRIVER: This is it. This is our ground zero. This is original steel mill.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Denny Pirring knows and loves Pittsburgh. 26 years behind the wheel of his taxi, he's watched his hometown fall and rebound. And now his city will host 20 presidents and prime ministers.

PIRRING: All these leaders of the world are coming here to my city. You know, it makes you feel -- it makes me feel strong. It makes me feel like we did something right.

ROMANS: When Pirring was younger, this would have seemed an unlikely chapter in the Pittsburgh story. Driving these streets, he recalls hard times in his steel town, working for $20 a day in warehouses in the then desolate strip district.

PIRRING: Out of that $20, I might have kept about $2 out of that. Had to give the rest to my family. You see the stores now. I mean, back in the day, there was nothing here. You drive down here, there was nobody even down here. I mean it was deserted. It's amazing. But, yes, the whole city gives me goose bumps.

ROMANS: Steel left in the '70s and '80s and unemployment hit 18.5 percent. People left town. The city was written off as dead. To survive, Pittsburgh had to act boldly.

DENNIS YABLOWSKI, ALLEGHENY CONFERENCE ON COMMUNITY: We had no choice. I mean we had to do something. We created whole new industries that didn't exist 30 years ago.

ROMANS: By investing in education, health care, technology, and financial services.

YABLOWSKI: There's now 1,500 technology companies in the region, there's 400, 500 biotech companies and over a couple of hundred research centers here.

ROMANS: It's why President Obama chose the reborn steel city to host the world.

MAYOR LUKE RAVENSAHL (D), PITTSBURGH: The president himself continuing to talk positively about Pittsburgh speaks volumes, I think, to our turnaround.

ROMANS: A model for new jobs and the environment. This was once a sooty, grimy, polluted town.

ANDY MASICH, HEINZ HISTORY CENTER: Anywhere you go in the country, people still think of that Pittsburgh as that hell with the lid off kind of industrial town. But we know today, it's one of the greenest cities in America.

ROMANS: Ranked the 10th greenest in the world, in fact. Street by street, Denny Pirring has watched the renaissance.

PIRRING: I pick up people every day, and they say to me, you know, where's the pollution? Where's the dirt? That's why, you know, having this summit here, it's going to show the world what we are. I mean, it's going to show the people what Pittsburgh's really about.


HARRIS: That's CNN's Christine Romans. We will talk to Christine a little later in this hour.

Before President Obama heads to Pittsburgh, he is focusing on nukes. The president chairing a landmark summit level meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Live now to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux in New York. And Suzanne, again, this president taking another slice of another page of history here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I guess the question really is how significant is this agreement that you have signed here, these world leaders.

And one of the things that this does is that it's very important. It mirrors President Obama's own vision and commitment to creating a world without nuclear weapons. Now this was a goal that he laid out in Prague back in April. And President Obama essentially calling for a deeper cutting of U.S. and Russia's arsenals, adopting a treaty that's banning all nuclear tests, and tracking down loose nukes.

And this agreement shows that in this one area, these world leaders stand with President Obama. It is the one concrete thing that he can walk away with from the two days in New York and it's also important because it puts more pressure on Iran to give up its own nuclear ambitions by having these other countries lead by example.

And I want to take a listen to how he put it.


OBAMA: This very institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age in part because man's capacity to kill had to be contained. And although we averted a nuclear nightmare during the Cold War, we now face proliferation of a scope and complexity that demands new strategies and new approaches.

Just nuclear weapon exploded in a city, be in New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris, could kill hundreds of thousands of people and would badly destabilize our security, our economies and our very way of life.


MALVEAUX: And this agreement also reaffirms -- basically reaffirms previous sanctions on Iran and North Korea for their nuclear activities. But what would have been better for President Obama is if the group went even further, called for additional sanctions on Iran if it didn't comply.

But I talked with one White House aide this morning who said, essentially, that that is going to be handled later when U.S. and a small group of representatives, they sit down in October for direct talks with Iran to see where they are in all of this.

HARRIS: I see. And Suzanne, very quickly here, how significant is it that the president is actually chairing this U.N. Security Council session?

MALVEAUX: You know, it's historic in a sense.


MALVEAUX: It's the first time for a U.S. president. But it's really just the luck of the draw. The rotation.


But what makes it significant is really you see President Obama. He's the guy with the gavel. Control over the meeting. It's a very powerful visual for this young president. And it's his very first U.N. summit.

HARRIS: OK. Suzanne Malveaux following all of the important news from the United Nations for us. Let's send you back to Boston now and Governor Deval Patrick who in just a couple of moments is going to announce that Paul Kirk will take over the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Paul, as many of you know, is the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. He was a close and loyal adviser and confidant to Senator Kennedy from 1969 to 1977 formally, but ever since really. In addition he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1985 to 1989.

He is a distinguished lawyer, volunteer and citizen, and he shares the sense of service that so distinguished Senator Ted Kennedy.

Paul will not seek the open seat in the special election that's coming up in January but for the next few months he will carry on the work and the focus of Senator Kennedy. Mindful of his mission and his values and his love of Massachusetts.

I know I join so many other citizens in thanking Paul for his willingness to serve. And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's my great pleasure and honor to bring to the podium, the interim senator of Massachusetts, Paul Kirk.


PAUL KIRK, JR. (D), MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR-DESIGNATE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Governor Patrick, for your important words and your kind and generous comments about me.

This appointment is a profound honor and I accept it with sincerest humility. I want to express my thanks as well to the leadership and members of the (INAUDIBLE) who enables Senator Kennedy's last public wish to become a reality.

As the governor said and just so you hear it from me, consistent with Senator Kennedy's wishes and expectations of the governor and legislators, I shall not be a candidate in the special election for the United States Senate in December or January.

I want to say also a special thanks to Vicki and to Ted Jr., and to Cara and Patrick as well, and to thank particularly Vicki and Ted for making a special effort to be here on this occasion.

During our years together I was personally privileged to have had Senator Kennedy's friendship, his trust, and his confidence. He often said that representing the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possibly imagine. And it certainly is nothing I imagined but it will be my highest honor as well.

To also have the encouragement and support of his family that I be a voice and a voice and a vote for his causes and his constituents in the Senate that he loved is a blessing I can only repay by giving my very best efforts to be the best public servant I can be in the few months ahead. To attain that standard, I hope to retain the talented, hard working and most effective staff of Senator Kennedy's office. They deserve that reputation. They work harder than any staff I know of. We have some 800 open cases to be quickly pursued and enacted after I take the oath of office, which I expect will be tomorrow.

And so I hope that constituents who are waiting anxiously for responses will know that I and Senator Kennedy's excellent staff will be continuing to be there to serve them in a responsive way that that staff did under Senator Kennedy's auspices.

So as we move forward from here, I just want to express my thanks to all, to Governor Patrick, specifically, and we should let always continue to give thanks to Ted Kennedy and to pray for his peace.

And if I might be so presumptuous to ask for your prayers that we continue with strength to carry on behalf of the people of this great state.

Thank you very much.


HARRIS: And there you have it. Paul Kirk, Jr. is now the interim senator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Kirk worked for Senator Kennedy in the 1970s and led the Democratic National Committee in the late 1980s. Kirk will serve until a special election is held in January. He expects to take the oath of office tomorrow.

And probably of critical importance in the health care debate, he gives Democrats that critical 60th vote as the debate moves forward toward a vote on health care reform.

We'll be back in just a moment. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: All right. Let's get you caught up on our top stories now.

An indictment announced against terror suspect Najibullah Zazi. It charges him with conspiracy to detonate bombs. He is one of three Afghan nationals facing detention hearings today in New York and Denver. So far the other two have only been charged with lying to investigators.

Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in lockdown. A curfew put in place after five inmates awaiting execution broke out of prison along with 11 other prisoners. Checkpoints have been set throughout the city.

Not many nations were listening when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his address to the U.N. General Assembly. Some world leaders didn't bother to show up for yesterday's speech. Others walked out in the middle of it, true to form. The Iranian leader criticized U.S. and Israel. He also tried to defend his presidency.


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (Through Translator): Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully democratic election, opening a new chapter for our country in the march towards national progress and enhanced international interactions. They entrusted me once more with a large majority with this heavy responsibility.


HARRIS: CNN foreign affairs analysts looks at the big picture here. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, they discussed what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to accomplish.


COOPER: Why does Ahmadinejad come? I mean what is in it for him?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S GPS: It's very important for him to come particularly this year but in general it's important for him to come.

COOPER: And what? It legitimizes him?

ZAKARIA: Because it gives him legitimacy, it gives him a platform, it gives him a place where he can present himself as the president of Iran. Both to the world and internally. Remember, there is a power struggle going on in Iran. Always has been. In this case it's particularly acute.

But the big story here is that he is trying to distract attention from what is really the most important thing that's happened in Iran in 30 years which have been this extraordinary democracy movement. That's why...

COOPER: He called his election glorious today.

ZAKARIA: Of course. And you notice actually he hadn't spoken much about the holocaust. He hadn't brought up his, you know, bizarre, repugnant views about it. Now he's trotting them out again because every time he wants to change the subject, he's hoping that we'll get into another big debate about the holocaust, another big debate about whether or not his -- you know, his views on Israel are reprehensible or not.

And forget that the real story is that this guy is heading a regime that is deeply divided internally, has turned itself into a ruthless military dictatorship. That's the big story.


The speech yesterday from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had you talking, Facebooking -- I guess that's a verb now -- Twittering. Our Josh Levs has been following your reactions. Ninety -- what, 95 minutes in this program yesterday. Moammar Gadhafi.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there went the show yesterday, Tony.

HARRIS: Bye-bye.

LEVS: I -- hey, I was going to pop in with all this information from...

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

LEVS: Human rights report in Libya. And Mr. Gadhafi filibustered me.

HARRIS: He really did.

LEVS: Probably not the only reporter in America had that experience. So, you know, look, and I want everyone to know we've been reporting a lot -- on all these serious topics. He brought up a lot of serious topics and we have report on those. But the main thing we're hearing about from you is how incredibly long it went on. People not too happy about it.

Let's go straight to these posts that we're getting, Tony. I want you to see this.


LEVS: From Facebook, first of all. "Please stop him from talking. Is there not a time limit? He wore out a translator." That can't be...

HARRIS: Yes, he did.

LEVS: Yes, they had this translated. Let's go over to Kenneth now. "OMG. Is he still on?" A lot of you writing this. "I turned the TV off. Please let him back in his tent."

We've got another one here from Alessandro. "The phrase from a famous song, 'Lord, I was born a rambling man' comes to mind."

HARRIS: That's good. That's good.

LEVS: And Tony, this is not the only one that said this. From Liz, "Where's Kanye West when you need him?"


LEVS: So we're getting a lot of it. And you know what? If you're new to the speech, if you don't know everything that was said yesterday, take a look here at a clip from our Jeanne Moos. No one can tell it like she can.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the kind of peace Gadhafi offered in his speech was piece of his mind. Banging on the podium. Though some managed to snooze through the harangue.

In the hour and a half speech, the Libyan leader took four drinks of water, went through two different interpreters, and tugged at his robe countless times. At one point someone from his delegation passed up a note that people may have hoped said hurry up but which Gadhafi ignored.

He symbolically ripped a copy of the U.N. charter. Then dumped it. He seemed fond of tossing things around.


LEVS: You can see more at Dotcom. And before we go, Tony.


LEVS: I did go looking for someone who had something positive to say about it. So quickly let's get in back in here.


LEVS: We had tiny type from it's Dodie (ph) who says, "We need to be tolerant of leaders and nations that we may not like or trust. Here," Dodie says, "he's trying to explain his point of view. We've only seen our point of view. I find this quite interesting even though the interpreters may be having difficulty with the English language."

So in the big mix, it's kind of like needle in a haystack. I did find that positive thing.

Let's show the graphic where everyone can weigh in because I'll be back next hour. You go to, you get my Facebook and my Twitter, JoshLevsCNN. And Tony is on Twitter, too. So we're going to...

HARRIS: Well, here's -- hang on a second. I'm testing it.

LEVS: He's testing, sorry. He'll be on Twitter.

HARRIS: I'm testing it. And I'm making mistakes.


HARRIS: Josh, see you next hour.

LEVS: See you.

HARRIS: Somebody's in my ear. We got to go. We got -- hey, look we've got something special for you tomorrow. You know kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years since the oh-so-funny, sweater wearing Cliff Huxtable, his wife and five children became one of TV's favorites families.

Bill Cosby's sitcom wife, Felicia Rashad, and TV son, Malcolm Jamal Warner, will join us live in the CNN NEWSROOM. That's tomorrow as part of our "Essence: What Matters" series. They will share some of their favorite moments with us from the program.

And we want to hear from you as well. Send us your favorite Claire and Theo moments from the show to And we will share some of them on the air.


HARRIS: Plans for a consumer financial protection agency that could regulate the safety of mortgages and other consumer products are on the front burner again in Washington D.C.

Our Gerri Willis here with details. And Gerri, look, this has been quite the contentious debate.


You know, Tony, we've been following the calls for this agency for some time. They would ensure safety of consumer financial products, and as you probably remember, it was Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the...

HARRIS: Oh, yes.

WILLIS: ... congressional oversight panel -- I know you know her -- who first proposed this. She called for an agency that could give the same scrutiny to financial products that the federal government gives to toasters and baby strollers. In other words, a really strong regulator.

But this idea met strong resistance from the industry. And now, the original idea is being scaled back. That according to a draft of the legislation we obtained -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, that -- but that always happens. So, what is this regulator shaping up to look like, Gerri?

WILLIS: Well, according to a draft presented to the House Financial Services Committee members, it would first of all be run by an independent agency chief advised by an oversight panel. And that would be made up of heads of federal banking agencies, plus the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Trade Commission, others.

In short, critics say many of the same folks who were charged with making sure there was an even playing field before the mortgage meltdown will once again be charged with keeping consumers safe. They have questions about that.

There's also no plain vanilla option. Originally, it was thought that the consumers should have a cheaper plain-vanilla option offered to them when they're looking at consumer products. Say you're buying a mortgage. You would be offered a 30-year fixed rate mortgage along with the special stuff that's more expensive with more gizmos, but that's now off the table.

They're also not required that disclosures be reasonable. The industry said that's too vague, too hard to enforce. So, retrenching here a little bit, pulling back a little bit. I think, you know, some of the critics out there now are starting to say, wow, have we taken the teeth, the fangs out of this agency?

HARRIS: Yes. So, what do you think? How much help will this agency, if it's even created, be of help to consumers?

WILLIS: Well, Tony, we're going to have to wait and see. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told the panel yesterday that reform is absolutely essential. We can't almost go into another Great Depression and not make changes. Some critics are saying that to have a real impact for consumers, the agency will need more teeth.

And I want to tell you about what's coming up this weekend while I'm here...

HARRIS: Oh, I need to hear that.

WILLIS: ... on "YOUR BOTTOM LINE," 9:30 a.m. right here on CNN. We'll be talking about the state of your job. With so few openings, we'll tell you how to make sure that you get your foot in the door if you're looking for a job right now. Plus, we're actually going to start talking about holiday shopping.

Can you believe it?


WILLIS: In September? We'll show you how to cut back now so that you can actually afford the gift-giving you want to do for family and friends.

HARRIS: Oh, that's a good approach to it. All right, Gerri, appreciate it. Thank you, lady.

WILLIS: My pleasure. Thank you.

HARRIS: Let's see. Do we have live pictures at Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Committee at work on the markup? Do we have that? A lot of talk and little to agree on so far. And it's all about your health care.


SEN. JOHN KYL (R), ARIZONA: The chairman is correct about one thing. He has not seen a, quote, "massive GOP alternative." And there's one main reason for that. We don't believe in a massive government takeover. That's the fundamental difference between what the mark does and what Republicans are for. (END VIDEO CLIP)


HARRIS: The G-20 summit that begins today is the third since the global financial crisis shocked the system a year ago. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is in Pittsburgh, Steel City, along with the president.

And Ed, you know what? I've got to tell you, I got a couple things I want to take up with you. First of all, it seems -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- that the air of urgency, emergency is gone.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly you're right. I mean, I remember being in London back at the beginning of April with President Obama, really his first major moment on the international stage. And there was very much a crisis mentality, not just from the U.S. but around the world.

The global recession was really roaring at that point. And I remember very well people at that point in early April still talking about the possibility of a global depression instead of just a recession. So, you're right.

The fire has essentially been put out. As I've been talking to experts on the eve of the summit, they're saying there's still some embers out there. You've got to make sure that they don't come -- the flames don't come back, essentially.

But I think what this summit is going to be all about and what President Obama hopes to accomplish here is to try to come up with some framework, now that things have calmed down a little bit, to come up with some reforms, especially in terms of regulations, to try and make sure and prevent another crisis like that from happening -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, that's my -- sort of my follow. I mean, look, the finance ministers of these countries have met, and they've met, and they've met. Tim Geithner met with these finance ministers recently. So, they're talking, talking, talking about this.

So, what really is likely to be accomplished here, Ed?

HENRY: That's the key question. You used the key words: meeting, meeting, meeting...


HENRY: ... talk, talk, talk. These summits often become more talk than action. And I think that is going to be the challenge not only for the president, but for these 20 leaders, to come together and actually put some teeth behind regulations, for example.

Now, they can't sort of set new rules of the road for all of their individual countries. That's one of the challenges at these summits. You can put anything on a piece of paper, but then individual countries have to go back and actually pass the legislation in their individual legislative bodies.

And for example, President Obama's hand is not too strong right now in terms of telling other leaders what they should be doing on regulatory reform in terms of financial issues, when the U.S. Congress hasn't really moved forward at all. They've obviously been consumed by health care and other issues, but they haven't really made a lot of progress on coming up with new rules of the road for Wall Street. So, that's a challenge for this president.

The second big thing to watch is that President Obama wants to have all of these 20 leaders sign a pledge that they're going to try to rebalance the economy. He's concerned that in China they've got a much higher savings rate than we do in the United States, that the Chinese are selling their products all around the world. Not enough U.S. products being bought in China. He wants to rebalance that.

But it's going to be hard to get the Chinese to sign on, for example, when in recent weeks, the president slapped a tariff on Chinese tires that were coming into U.S. markets. That really angered the Chinese. So, it's going to be interesting to see how he gets past that hurdle -- Tony.

HARRIS: Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry in Pittsburgh ahead of the president's arrival there this afternoon.

Ed, great to see you. Thank you.

The road map to health reform going in all kinds of directions this morning. Senators on the Finance Committee are going over hundreds of amendments to the chairman's health reform bill.

CNN congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill. And Brianna, walk us through this. Can we expect anything out of today's meetings?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They may actually be touching upon that very controversial topic of the public option, Tony, which as you know is not in this plan that the Senate Finance Committee is proposing. So, we may get to that. But so far, they've gotten through, by my last count, about 18 amendments.

And tensions, Tony, are just palpable. These people on this committee have been stuck in this room together for the last two days. Now it's day three. Really starting in the 9:00 a.m. hour and not finishing up until 11:00 p.m. at night. Grueling hours, and it's really starting to take its toll.

Let me just set the stage for a moment that we saw earlier. There was a lot of discussion about Medicare Advantage. This is basically on the chopping block for $113 billion over ten years being pared down by this Democratic plan, by Senator Baucus's plan. Republicans say that will hurt seniors. Democrats say that it will not.

And so, there got to be this little back and forth between Senator Baucus, the chairman of this committee, and Senator Jon Kyl, the number two Republican in the Senate. Baucus saying, you know, Republicans, you aren't offering a comprehensive -- your own comprehensive plan for health care reform, so, basically accused them of voting for the status quo on this. And Senator Kyl really took offense at that, saying, no, we don't have an overarching plan because we're not planning a takeover, a government takeover of health care reform.

Just take a little listen to what ensued.


KYL: Mr. Chairman, let me just complete my thought here.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: In about one minute you'll complete your thought.

OK. We've got to...

KYL: I'll complete my thought and then make another point.

BAUCUS: You're delaying, Senator, and we just have to move on.

KYL: Mr. Chairman, I am not delaying. I'm making an extremely important point.

BAUCUS: It's a very, very important point, but you're also delaying. So, let's -- other senators have amendments they wish to offer.


BAUCUS: Go ahead. Complete your thought. Then I'm going to have to recognize the other senator in deference to courtesy -- be courteous of other senators who also wish to speak.

BAUCUS: Mr. Chairman, it's courteous if you don't interrupt somebody right in the middle of a sentence of an important point they're trying to make.


KEILAR: So, certainly, Tony, as you can see, some squabbling going on there. Right after that, that man there, Senator Kent Conrad, said, you know, it's time to take a deep breath. We need a moment here because obviously the squabbling going on.

He said this is not a government takeover. This plan before the Senate Finance Committee does not have that government-run insurance option But as I mentioned, Tony, that could come up. There are some Democrats on this committee who would like to see it in there, and today, we may finally see some of those proposals to add it.

HARRIS: And Brianna, I've got to tell you, well, we've had a conversation about this. I watched a lot of this markup last night, about two and a half hours of it. And Senator Kyl is...

KEILAR: My apologies.


HARRIS: ... is particularly sensitive to this point of whether Republicans are essentially voting for status quo. He is particularly sensitive. So, I'm not surprised to see that blowup again today.

There -- but the other point here to be made is, there is a lot of interrupting going on in this markup. Back and forth all over the place. So, this is not a genteel process that is playing out from where you are right now. Just wanted to make those two points. Did you want to add something?

KEILAR: Well, it's a fine line that not just Senator Kyl is walking but the Republicans are walking. Because on one hand, if they are opposing what Democrats are proposing here, Tony, Democrats will accuse them of not trying to make their own changes, and then they get cast as the party of no.

And this is something we've seen over in the House as well. They're saying, no, we do have proposals. We do have proposals. We also disagree with what you -- how you want to change this. Fundamental difference.

HARRIS: Good stuff.

Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill for us. Brianna, Thank you.

In the next hour, we are going to dig deeper into this important matter with two finance panel members -- how about this? -- Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Come on. That's good. That's live, 12:30 Eastern.


HARRIS: Let's get you caught up on our top stories now. A tense political standoff in Honduras. Pressure mounting against the de facto government. Clashes broke out after ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to the Honduran capital Monday. Since then, he's been stuck in the Brazilian Embassy, which finally had its power turned back on.

Four police officers shot and wounded early this morning when a drug raid erupted into a wild gun battle. It happened in Lakewood, New Jersey. One of the officers is in critical condition. A suspect also critically wounded.

On a much lighter note, in this particular school here, pigs rule! A whole family of pigs has decided to hang out in this North Carolina elementary schoolyard.



YVONNE LEE, SECOND-GRADE TEACHER: The principal has called the sheriff's department. They've come out and taken a look and went out in the woods and investigated.

GIL WAGI, JOGGER: Right now with the so-called swine flu and pigs at school, sorry, but it is kind of funny.


HARRIS: All right. And the pigs, pretty wily. Every time someone gets near them, they run for the woods. Did you see that shot? Time to get those piggies to market.

Could there be another good sign for the economy? Susan Lisovicz is tracking existing home sales. We're back in a moment.


HARRIS: For four straight months -- yes, four -- home sales have gone up, but a report released this morning shows the road to recovery can be bumpy.

Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details and a look at what this means for the housing market. Good morning, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony. A setback indeed. Existing home sales fell 2.7 percent in August compared to a 7 percent jump in July. August sales fell in every region.

The National Association of Realtors says there's a big backlog contributing to longer closing periods. Whatever the case, we saw a lot of first-time homebuyers, because of that tax credit we talk about all the time, that should change in the months ahead, because that tax credit is set to expire.

Stocks turned lower after a higher open. The Dow right now and the Nasdaq each down at least half a percent -- Tony.

HARRIS: And between the tax credit expiring -- I still think there's a chance it could be extended -- and the high number of foreclosures, could the housing market actually, Susan, take another turn for the worse?

LISOVICZ: Well, there's a lot of hope that that tax credit will be extended, Tony.


LISOVICZ: But in the meantime, there is every expectations that there would be millions of new foreclosures. And let's face it, there is already a glut of homes for sale, nearly 4 million right now. The market will be affected by that, of course.

But remember, the Federal Reserve said yesterday it's extending its mortgage purchase program until March. What that means, quite simply, is that mortgage rates will stay low. It will encourage folks to get out there and buy, Tony. Back to you. HARRIS: OK, Susan, see you next hour. Thank you.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

HARRIS: And here's what we're working on for the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM. A potential breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. Researchers are touting what they call encouraging results from trials of a vaccine for HIV.

Also, the alleged extortion plot against actor John Travolta. His emotional testimony at the trial of two people accused of trying to exploit his son's tragic death to the tune of $25 million, ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.