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THE SITUATION ROOM

Afghanistan to Hold Runoff in Disputed Presidential Election; President Obama Visits Counterterrorism Headquarters

Aired October 20, 2009 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama welcomes a small but important victory in Afghanistan. It took a lot of behind- the-scenes arm-twisting to make it happen. This hour, we expect to hear live from the president. Stand by.

Plus, Republican apologies after a senator's allies use a Jewish stereotype to praise him. I will ask the party chairman, Michael Steele, about this new embarrassment. We will also talk about a lot more.

And the diagnosis that flipped out the drummer for the rock group KISS. Now he wants men to know this: You can get breast cancer, too.

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

When President Obama finally got the call, there may have been a sigh of relief in the Oval Office. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, letting the world know today that he's agreed to take part in a runoff election on November 7.

Allegations of widespread fraud have been hanging over the disputed vote and weighing on Mr. Obama's decision about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Let's get the latest from our senior White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's working the story.

Dan, what is the latest?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the very latest is that the White House, the administration really, had been concerned about the impact of an unresolved election. So, that's why aides say they are very pleased, not only because of what this means for the U.S. strategy planning, but also what it means for the Afghan people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama used an Oval Office meeting with Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki to applaud a small but critical victory in Afghanistan.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): So, I call upon our nation to change this into an opportunity. LOTHIAN: President Hamid Karzai bowing to pressure, accepting a runoff vote.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a reflection of a commitment to rule of law and an insistence that the Afghan people's will should be done. And, so, I express the American people's appreciation for this step.

LOTHIAN: Getting President Karzai on board required behind-the-scenes arm-twisting and public pressure, leading the way, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, along with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who spent several days in Afghanistan pushing for a resolution.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's our privilege to be able to embrace a moment of promise.

LOTHIAN: Mr. Obama called his effort -- quote -- "extraordinarily constructive."

The disputed elections has created a problem for the U.S.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If you want a legitimate government, you can't get that out of a fraudulent election. So, you've got to have some resolution to this process that's seen as abiding by the law.

LOTHIAN: White House officials acknowledge that a legitimate, credible government is necessary for any new strategy in Afghanistan to be successful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: As the administration debates what that strategy will be, not far under the surface is the failure of Vietnam.

During a Rose Garden ceremony today honoring the service of military members, President Obama talked about lessons learned from -- quote -- "that day in the jungle." Those lessons? Send troops into harm's way only when necessary and back them up with right strategy, resources and support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You -- you mentioned the role that Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, played. When he went over there, did he or the White House expect he would play this very significant role?

LOTHIAN: I don't think so, Wolf.

In fact, he went over there. It was an independent trip. But once he got on the ground, then the White House, this administration really used him. In fact, Secretary of State Clinton even reached out to Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to ask him if Senator Kerry could spend more time on the ground to continue his negotiations there. And she even spent a lot of time putting in about a half-a-dozen or so phone calls to Senator Kerry as he was doing the work there on the ground. So, no one really expected that it would turn into this. But once he got there on the ground, they really used him.

BLITZER: And we're going to go on the ground in Kabul later this hour. Our Chris Lawrence is on the scene. We will check in with him.

Remember, this hour, the president will be speaking at the Joint Terrorism Task Force headquarters in New York City. We are going to go there live once he starts speaking on terrorism. Stand by for that.

Now to the unfolding case against a former government scientist arrested on spy charges. Stewart Nozette is credited with helping discover water on the moon. Now he's accused of passing secretes to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli official.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working the story for us.

Nozette made his first court appearance today, Jeanne. How did that go?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he did appear in court. He appeared very disheveled in an untucked blue button-down shirt and jeans.

He did not enter a plea on the charges of attempted espionage against him, charges which led to a search of his Chevy Chase, Maryland, home last evening. The government alleges that Nozette gave an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli classified information about satellites, early-warning systems, communications intelligence, and major elements of defense strategy.

But it doesn't give specifics. But throughout his career, Nozette appears to have had access to prized secrets. According to former colleagues, Nozette worked on Star Wars, the Reagan-era plan to use spaced-based weapons to shoot down missiles.

From 1989 to 2006, he had security clearances as high as top-secret. Court documents say he even had a so-called Q clearance from the Department of Energy, which gave him access to information related to nuclear-related materials.

He was, as you mentioned, chief scientist on the Clementine mission, which led to the discovery of ice on the moon. And, according to the NASA Web site, he also was principal investigator on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which right now is orbiting and photographing the moon. But we don't know exactly what he passed on to that FBI agent.

BLITZER: Do we know why he came under the attention of the FBI, why they were so interested in him?

MESERVE: Well, it's interesting. Court records show that Nozette had come under investigation in 2006 for allegedly fraudulently billing NASA for salary and benefits. And although the documents say -- affirm he founded -- provided technical data to an aerospace company wholly owned by the Israeli government, it's unclear what led investigators to set up the spy sting against him.

Prosecutors do want Nozette to remain in custody. They made a note of a conversation he had with a colleague last January in which he allegedly said that, if the U.S. tried put him in jail, he would move to Israel or another unnamed foreign country and tell them everything he knows.

His next court appearance, Wolf, is going to be on October 29.

BLITZER: U.S. authorities are stopping -- they are not saying the Israeli government or agents of the Israeli government were aware of this?

MESERVE: In fact, they are categorically saying that the Israeli government did nothing wrong here.

BLITZER: OK. Jeanne, thanks very much for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A majority of Americans supports two of the more controversial parts of health care reform: the public option and requiring everyone to buy insurance. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News Poll shows independents and seniors, both critical voting blocs, have warmed up to the idea of a public insurance option.

Fifty-seven percent favor the public option. Fifty-six percent support making it mandatory for all Americans to buy health insurance, either through their employers, on their own, or through Medicare or Medicaid.

Here's the catch: There's even broader opposition to how to pay for all of this. Sixty-one percent are opposed to the proposed tax on so- called Cadillac insurance plans.

And nearly 70 percent say they think any health care bill will increase the federal deficit, although almost half of those people say it would be worth it to grow the deficit in order to achieve true health care reform.

Now, if you're having trouble sleeping tonight, the Senate Finance Committee has posted its health care bill online -- 1,500 pages of it. This Senate plan does not include a public option. But, in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will continue to fight hard to include the public option.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats are opposed, saying it will drive private insurers from the market and lead to an eventual government takeover of health care.

Here's the question: Should health care reform contain both a public option and be mandatory for all Americans?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, Jack, that the House version was a little bit more than 1,000 pages with the public option; the Senate version is 1,500 pages without the public option?

CAFFERTY: What if they did away with the antitrust exemption for the insurance companies and simply expanded Medicare and Medicaid to rest of the population that it doesn't currently cover?

BLITZER: That's a...

CAFFERTY: What else do they have to do?

BLITZER: That's a -- that's a threat that the health insurance companies don't even want to hear you talk like that, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You could -- you could write that on one page.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes.

Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Thank you.

They're three of the most famous women in American politics right now. In our "Strategy Session": What do Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have in common? Stand by.

And President Obama's popularity isn't all it seems to be. More Americans are finding room to disagree with the commander in chief. And his Nobel Peace Prize -- guess what -- isn't helping.

And we're learning about a new closed-door agreement on health care reform. Democrats are making promises to Medicare doctors and getting something in return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States getting ready to speak to an important group in New York City. There, you see the live shot coming in from the joint terrorism -- counterterrorism task force in New York City. Once the president starts speaking, we will go there live, hear what he has to say. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Democrats are going to new lengths today to appeal to a powerful group they desperately want to sign on to health care reform. And that would be the American doctors. The plan would fix a Medicare problem costing physicians a lot of income, but critics insist it's all just one fat gimmick.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now. She has more on what is going on. Explain what is going on, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf.

For years, doctors have fought to reduce or actually do away with a complicated formula that annually threatens to take away Medicare payments that doctors get. Now the White House and Senate Democratic leaders are looking for an endorsement on health care reform, and they're suddenly willing to help them, and that includes swimming in a sea of red ink.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. STEVEN ZIMMET, INTERNIST: Can you say ah?

BASH (voice-over): Barbara Fusco (ph) is one of dozens of Medicare patients Dr. Steve Zimmet and his partners will see today.

ZIMMET: Medicare accounts for 48 percent of our practice revenue on an annual basis.

BASH (on camera): So, that's half of your practice.

ZIMMET: That is half of my practice. And it's -- it's huge.

BASH (voice-over): That why he says a looming 21 percent cut in government payments doctors get for Medicare recipients would hurt his practice and his patients.

ZIMMET: And that's just really unsustainable in today's universe.

BASH: Doctors have fought annual Medicare cuts for years. But, suddenly, Senate Democratic leaders are pushing a $250 billion permanent fix.

(on camera): It's a surprise move announced after a closed-door meeting right here in the Senate. CNN is told by two sources in the room that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told doctors' groups he would try to stop Medicare cuts, but made clear that, in return, he expected them to support Democrats' health care overhaul.

(voice-over): Several sources tell CNN there was no explicit deal. But the head of the powerful American Medical Association on Capitol Hill lobbying senators carefully puts it this way.

DR. J. JAMES ROHACK, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: This is very important. If people are serious about health system reform, we have got to get this bill passed -- passed.

BASH: To get that bill passed, Democrats are engaging in what some call budget trickery. They are separating the enormous $250 billion doctor fix from the larger health care overhaul.

And here's why. If the Senate health care proposal costs roughly $900 billion, add $250 billion, and the price tag would exceed $1 trillion, above what the president wants. Not just that. The $250 billion cost is not paid for and adds to the deficit, which conservative Democrats call a nonstarter.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: We should pay for it. We should not just tack it on to the debt.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And because of what you heard there, concern from conservative Democrats about adding $250 billion to the already sky-high deficit, Wolf, Democratic leadership sources tell us that, right now, they do not have the vote to pass this. And they are now relying on that powerful medical association lobby to help them. They have a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign. And they hope that that will change some of these votes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The doctors, the nurses, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, everybody has a huge lobby here in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And they are all working to get their own goals in place.

Dana, thanks very much for that.

Let's stay on Capitol Hill now. He's the chairman of the House committee whose work affects every American when it comes to taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits. But the powerful Congressman Charlie Rangel is fighting scandalous claims. And that has a prime political opponent circling the waters.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us from New York with more.

What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with the House Ethics probe hanging over New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, a one- time aide now says he plans to challenge Rangel in next year's Democratic primary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VINCE MORGAN (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm proud of you. Congratulations.

Good to see you. Thank you.

SNOW (voice-over): It's here in Harlem where 40-year-old Vince Morgan was introduced to politics working for Congressman Charles Rangel, serving as his campaign director in 2002. Now, with an ethics investigation of Rangel expanding, this bank executive wants to return to politics by unseating his former boss.

(on camera): Do you feel uneasy in any way about running against someone you once worked for?

MORGAN: No, because the time is right to do it. And I am the type of person who is going to be respectful of, you know, the person that I hope to succeed.

SNOW: And when Morgan took us to his makeshift campaign office...

(on camera): I can't help but notice the picture right over here on this bookcase.

MORGAN: Oh, yes. That's a -- just a great picture of him. And that's really sort of what I think of him. He's a -- he's a good guy.

SNOW (voice-over): The praise comes amid intensified scrutiny of Rangel, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

The House Ethics Committee is now looking into Rangel's alleged failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets. He's admitted to failing to pay taxes on $75,000 in income from a rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic. Rangel has said he's the victim of a smear campaign by some in the media.

It could seem an opening for Morgan, but he sees the race being shaped differently.

MORGAN: It will be a -- a transition that won't be based on negativity. It will really be a transition based on something positive about bringing people together.

SNOW (on camera): But how could it be not -- how could it not be a transition based on negativity?

MORGAN: Well, because I think that the time is just of the essence where, if I was Mr. Rangel, I would be probably thinking about, you know, my future after politics.

SNOW: That's not the way Congressman Rangel sees it. His office said he was unavailable for an interview, but sent a statement about his district, saying: "I have never taken for granted the trust they put in me to represent them, so I plan to campaign vigorously, as I have for every election. I will continue to do all that I can to create jobs, provide access to affordable health care and improve education, because I know my constituents are counting on me."

Rangel first won election in 1970 defeating Adam Clayton Powell Jr, whose name is still remembered in Harlem. Powell lost after 26 years in Congress after his own series of ethics investigations. Any comparisons?

MORGAN: I mean, obviously, there's an easy sort of comparison to make between the two. I think the biggest comparison to make is, they were both legends. And no one is ever going to take that from away from -- from either man.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Now, since Rangel has taken office in 1971, he's been so popular in his district, he's only faced a handful of primary challengers, the last one coming in 2004 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I guess a lot will depend on what this Ethics Committee decides to do. But a lot of folks in New York, I take it, Mary, are saying, don't bet against Charlie Rangel. Is that what you are hearing?

SNOW: Absolutely.

And even, you know, Vince Morgan, when we spoke to him, he realizes that he has a stiff challenge in taking on this race, because a number of Democrats will say that he still is very popular here.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

She may have lost the White House, but is Hillary Clinton getting the last laugh? We're seeing the secretary of state is enjoying something not even the president and the first lady can brag about.

And some are comparing it to the TV show "Punk'd." An elaborate hoax fools some reporters, until one man foils the perpetrator of the prank. Wait until you see this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have got some live pictures of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City, the president of the United States getting ready to speak there. Once he comes to that microphone -- you're looking at those live pictures -- we will carry it live. We will hear what the president has to say about the state of terrorism in New York and around the world right now.

In the meantime, let's check in with Betty Nguyen. She is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what is going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.

Well, Pope Benedict is making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism. He's allowing Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while keeping many of their own traditions, including having married priests. The church is trying to reach out to Anglicans upset by the ordination of women and gay bishops.

Well, the cost of a college tuition, it is on the rise. New figures by a nonprofit group show average tuition at public colleges rose 6.5 percent this fall to slightly more than $7,000. At private colleges, prices rose 4.4 percent, to more than $26,000. However, the average bill after financial aid was under $12,000 at private colleges and about $1,600 at public schools. Both figures are higher than last year, but still lower than five year ago.

Listen to this, though, Wolf. Moscow's mayor is calling war on wintry weather. Yes, good luck with that. Already famous, though, for seeding clouds to prevent rain during parades, the mayor is now going even further, with plans to cut snowfall in the Russian capital. Yes, he plans to keep it from snowing heavily in Moscow by having the Air Force actually intercept storm fronts and blast them with chemicals.

He says this extreme measure could save Moscow millions of dollars in snow-clearing costs. That's quite an endeavor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you see the snow in Boston over the weekend...

NGUYEN: Oh, my, yes.

BLITZER: ... at the New England Patriots game?

(LAUGHTER)

NGUYEN: Crazy.

BLITZER: Lovely -- lovely picture, indeed.

NGUYEN: Indeed.

BLITZER: Snow in Moscow looks beautiful as well.

All right, Betty, thanks very much.

NGUYEN: Sure.

BLITZER: There's a growing gap between President Obama and the American public. Stand by for our brand-new poll numbers on the president's policies and his Nobel Peace Prize.

Plus, the new Democratic Senator Al Franken, he fought Republicans in hopes of helping victims of sexual assault. Was the Obama Pentagon also, though, working against him? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, the president of the United States has just started speaking at the Joint Terrorism Task Force headquarters in New York. He's trying the FBI director, Bob Mueller, right now.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we are grateful to him.

I also want to commend Police Commissioner Kelly, Assistant Director in Charge Joe Demarest and the leaders who've helped to put together a team that is more integrated, more collaborative and more effective than ever before.

You know, here at the Joint Terrorism Task Force we have folks from the FBI working side by side with some of New York's finest, as well as countless federal, state and local partners. I was taking a look at the list, and it looks like 45, 46 different agencies represented here.

And together your success in thwarting terrorist attacks, the strong intelligence you've gathered, and the hard-nosed investigations you've pursued has proved to be a model for law enforcement officials across the country. And for that, you should all be extremely proud.

No one knows better than you how important this work is, because you've always been on the front lines in fighting extremism. Last month, we marked the eighth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, and on that terrible day when terrorists brought so much death and destruction on our shores and so many lives were lost, many of you were the first on the scenes, saving lives, working tirelessly to bring those responsible to justice, and guarding against future attacks in subsequent weeks and months and years.

That effort continues to this day, quietly, doggedly, courageously. Most New Yorkers, much less most Americans probably don't know this office is here and they don't know what you do. Obviously, you're not doing it for the glamour or the glory or the pay.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You do it to serve and protect your country. And because of the effort and sacrifices that you're making on a daily basis, we are making real progress on our core missions of disrupting and dismantling and ultimately defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

I said this when I had a chance to speak to some of the NYPD leadership team last month over the phone, but I particularly want to express my appreciation and admiration for your terrific work, especially in the recent weeks.

Working together, you've saved countless lives. And your collaboration earned the respect and gratitude not just of New Yorkers but Americans everywhere.

This level of cooperation and integration is going to be critical in defeating the type of determined and resourceful, and oftentimes in the shadows, opponents that you're up against every day.

Nerve centers like this one help you share intelligence, answer questions, and give support instantly. And because each organization is on its own, this task force has shown how much stronger all of you can be when you're actually working together.

You're setting the standard for everybody else, as I said, and you're showing what focused and integrated counterterrorism work really looks like.

And the record of your service is written in the attacks that never occurred because you thwarted them and because of the countless Americans who are alive today as a consequence of that work. And so America's in your debt for that. Of course, we all know that we're facing a determined adversary. They are resourceful. They are resilient. They are still plotting, as we have become all too aware. No one can ever promise that there won't be another attack on America's soil.

But I can promise you this: I pledge to do everything in my power as president of the United States to keep the American people safe. And that means I pledge to give all of you the tools and the support that you need to get the job done, both here at home and around the world. And I pledge that I will stay as focused on this mission as you are.

So, we all have to redouble our efforts in the face of threats that persist. We're going to have to draw strength from the values that we hold dear. We're going to have to keep our eye fixed on the world we seek to build, one that not only defeats our adversaries, but that also promotes dignity and opportunity and justice for all who stand with us.

To do that, I'm going to need all of you to continue the extraordinary work you do and the collaborations you do. That's how we're going to prevail in this fight. That's how we're going to protect this country that we love.

So, I know that all of you are extraordinarily business. And I do not want to draw you away from the work that you do. I just want to let you know that we appreciate it. We acknowledge it. We thank you for it. And I'm going to continue to be standing behind you each and every step of the way.

So, thank you very much, everybody.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: The president thanking members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City. This is a joint collaboration, New York City law enforcement and federal law enforcement. You heard the president thank the FBI director, Robert Mueller, who's there, the New York City police chief, Ray Kelly.

This is the task force that's charged with trying to prevent another 9/11 happening in New York. And by all accounts, they are doing an outstanding job. The president making this stop over at the headquarters to thank the men and women who work there personally.

Right now, though, you are handing President Obama yet another first. But this is a milestone the president is not necessarily celebrating. It comes from our fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. And we're seeing a few other startling items the White House may not necessarily like. Indeed, they may have to start worrying about.

Let's bring in our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. She's going through all the numbers.

And some pretty stark numbers there. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting is, after nine months of the Obama administration, the president's poll numbers are beginning to show some wear and tear. For the president, today's poll really is a mixed bag.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: What did I say during the campaign? I said change is hard and big change is harder.

CROWLEY (voice-over): And he's got the polls to prove it. As the president navigates his way through a series of issues as controversial as they are vital, he's getting a yellow flag from the American people.

New polling finds for the first time fewer than half of Americans agree with the president on issues important to them. A majority, 51 percent, disagree. That's a 10-point jump since April.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love you.

OBAMA: It's all -- I love you back.

CROWLEY: Despite the majority disagreement on issues, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll also found the president's approval rating remains in the healthy mid-50s. And two-thirds of Americans say he has the personal qualities a president should have.

A popular president who is less popular on the issues. There's a way to work this.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: They still like the messenger. That's important for Obama because he'll be able to look presidential, and Americans may respond to that as he's trying to make a pitch for his health care plan, financial reform, whatever he decides to do in Afghanistan and Iran.

CROWLEY: And about the Nobel Prize, even the president seems stunned he got it.

OBAMA: To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize.

CROWLEY: Americans agree. Only about a third believe the president deserved the prize. Fifty-six percent say they disapprove of the decision by the Nobel Prize Committee to give it to him. Still, there's a hometown hero effect here, with almost 70 percent of people saying they are proud an American won it.

And then further proof of that old adage that Americans like their politicians most when they are not running for anything, the most popular person in the Obama administration is not the still-popular president.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning. SCHULTZ: It's his secretary of state. You remember her, once seen as a sharply divisive politician, the "also ran" of the 2008 primary season. Hillary Clinton is now viewed favorably by 65 percent of Americans, outshining even Michelle Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And for the president there is a lesson in that. These poll numbers, Wolf, as you know, have a way of changing. Nothing like, say, a health care reform bill that works, that might bring more people on board as to agreeing with his policies.

BLITZER: Any explanation why Hillary Clinton is all of a sudden so popular?

CROWLEY: Listen, I think it is true. I think we have seen this over time with a lot of politicians, that once they are not running, people like them. So, "I like that person."

She is in a non-political position. She is a policy wonk. She is shining in a place that she really likes working. And people see that and they like her, as long as she's not running.

BLITZER: As long as she's not in politics, it helps her politics.

CROWLEY: That's right. Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

Candy Crowley.

The commander-in-chief working the phones, as we've reported. President Obama had an Oval Office phone conversation with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan today. The president applauds President Karzai for agreeing to a runoff election amid complaints of voting fraud in Afghanistan's recent presidential election.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, how does this election that's going to come up November 7th, the runoff election, affect what the president of the United States now has to decide on, namely whether to accept the recommendation and send another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, first of all, Wolf, they are really happy about this election. They have been pushing for it.

Senator John Kerry was there at their behest, pushing Hamid Karzai to have it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the phone. Because they believe that if they are going to send more troops into Afghanistan, as the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said this weekend, you have to be dealing with what he called a credible partner over there.

I think the big question right now, Wolf, is whether this election on November 7 is going to affect the timetable for the president's decision. You had the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, this morning coming out and saying that whatever emerges in that election is going to be what he called an evolutionary process. So, he seemed to be pushing for the president to make a decision, regardless of the election on November 7th. There are some in the White House who are saying, you know, you might as well wait to see if it happens.

BLITZER: If the U.S. does go ahead, if President Obama authorizes sending thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, and there's a new election, Karzai is elected, he did get more votes, presumably, than Abdullah Abdullah, his main opponent, how does the U.S. balance the legitimacy of the new government, assuming it emerges in Afghanistan, with all these additional troops and a lot of money going there? Because there's potential for a lot of fraud and abuse.

BORGER: Sure. And you're right, Wolf.

The betting is that it is going to be Karzai who is elected, but I think the key word here is "accountability." You cannot just throw more troops into Afghanistan. You cannot just throw more money into Afghanistan, really, without setting up very tight criteria, very tight benchmarks that the government is going to have to adhere to. Because as you point out, this is a government that has been known in the past for its corruption.

Something else in talking to experts, I think you are going to have to come up and hear from this White House, I believe, a clear plan for what happens after we send these troops. And that is what we call in Washington an exit strategy. People are going to want to know, if you are sending more people in, Wolf, when and how are they going to come out?

BLITZER: Easy to ask that question. Not that easy to get an answer to it.

All right. Thanks, Gloria. We'll be back.

Members, at least some members of the news media, were fooled big- time. We are learning about a hoax by environmental activists. Should their claims though have raised a red flag earlier?

And how Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin are busting some myths about women in politics. Leslie Sanchez, she has a brand new book out on the subject. She and Paul Begala are standing by live for our "Strategy Session."

And the diagnosis that rocked his world. The drummer for the group KISS talks about breast cancer and reminds men, they're at risk as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Betty Nguyen. There's a story just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM involving the former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik.

Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We are learning, Wolf, that a judge has revoked his bail, so he is in jail at this hour.

Now, he was out on a $500,000 bond after a judge found him in contempt of court for leaking information to bloggers, information about his case. The judge felt that that information could influence jurors.

Now let's get back to that case in question here.

It happened in 2007, a federal jury. And he has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, corruption and tax evasion. And this stems from an accusation that he received some $255,000 in money for renovations to his apartment there in New York, money that they're saying came from a company seeking to do business with the city of New York.

But this latest bit in this is the fact that he is in jail at this hour because a judge has revoked his bail. And that bail was essentially on $500,000 in bond because he was said to have leaked information about that case in 2007.

So, it's a tangled web. But at this hour, the former police commissioner of New York City is in jail.

BLITZER: Yes, it doesn't happen every day, a police commissioner in jail.

All right. We'll stay on top of this story, Betty. Thank you.

The message from Democrats and Republicans to the nation's Latinos: We want you. Both parties know that in close races, Latino votes can seal elections, which is why they're being courted, especially in places where Latino populations are growing, like, Virginia, for example.

Our National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin is here with more on what's going on.

Virginia, New Jersey, big-time races coming up in a couple weeks.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Big-time races just around the corner in these two states.

First, in New Jersey, where candidates are pouring time and money into wooing Latino voters, a growing bloc there. And then in Virginia, where we visited the candidates as they are ramping up their outreach to this crucial Latino voting bloc.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Here in Virginia, one community is getting noticed.

BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And thank you so much for having me. YELLIN: That's Republican candidate for governor Bob McDonnell.

And here's current governor Tim Kaine introducing the Democrat.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Let me present (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) in Virginia, my friend, Creigh Deeds.

(APPLAUSE)

YELLIN: There are ads...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

YELLIN: ... and promises.

MCDONNELL: I have made the heart and soul of this campaign something that I think is very important to so many in the Latino community. And that's jobs and opportunity.

YELLIN: Because this voting bloc is a growing force in Virginia and nationally.

The Latino population in Virginia has tripled since 1990. Last year, five percent of the state's voters were Latino, while nationally, it was nine percent. And overwhelmingly, Latinos voted for President Obama. The Republican Party says it is working to gain ground in the community.

GAIL GITCHO, RNC SPOKESWOMAN: The Hispanic community is an incredibly important voting bloc for Republicans. So, what we're doing is reaching out at the grassroots level, talking to the Hispanic community about the Republican Party, being a party of openness.

YELLIN: But Democrats are also trying hard to build on their gains in last year's election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Support around Democrats have actually consolidated since then. And I think that's for a number of different reasons. One is because we are speaking to issues that is matter to Hispanic families, whether it's education, health care, jobs.

YELLIN: Latino activists say they like the attention, but the community has a challenge of its own -- voter turnout.

This waitress at Democrat Creigh Deed's event isn't sure if she'll vote.

ASHLEY TORRES, WAITRESS: I just haven't really had the chance to look over the two governors' information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no question that Latinos need to understand and come out to vote more than we do.

LILLIAN GONZALEZ, HISPANIC ACTIVIST: We have the numbers now that, if all the Latinos come and vote, we can decide an election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, the most recent figures show that Democrats have a decided advantage over Latino voters. Only 19 percent identity as Republican; 61 percent identify as Democrats. The rest, Wolf, are either Independent or undecided. And they are a really, truly growing voting bloc.

BLITZER: And if they really come out and vote in proportionate numbers, they will be an increasingly more powerful bloc.

YELLIN: That's right. They can decide elections.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

Jessica, thanks very much.

CNN's newest groundbreaking documentary, "Latino in America." starts tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It also will be simulcast in Spanish on CNN en Espanol. Two nights, tomorrow and Thursday.

Reporters thought they were at a news conference announcing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce new support of climate change legislation. They were actually victims of a hoax by environmental activists.

(NEWSBREAK

BLITZER: Could Sarah Palin be President Palin? Could Hillary Clinton be the ex-secretary of state? Could Michelle Obama still be first lady? What's going on?

In our "Strategy Session," we're going to have a special look at women in politics and where these three women might be in five years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Leslie Sanchez. There she is. Leslie Sanchez right there. And Paul Begala, our Democratic and Republican strategists.

Leslie has a new book entitled, "You've Come a Long Way, Maybe" -- and look who's on the cover, Michelle and Hillary -- and "The Shaping of the New American Woman," by Leslie Sanchez.

Congratulations, Leslie, on the new book.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the myths that you debunk about these three women in the book. Give us one.

SANCHEZ: Overall, well, they were labeled in the media as "the ditz," "the witch" and "the media darling." And I think "the ditz," with respect to Sarah Palin, looked...

BLITZER: Ditz? SANCHEZ: Ditz. You know, there were so many people who underestimated her intensity, but also her prowess, her political ability to navigate what she was able to do in her state as a leader. And I think people are going to continue to debate Sarah Palin.

But what was misunderstood about her was how much she connected with a certain core of the Republican base -- evangelical, conservative, a lot of suburban women who felt she was a refreshing voice in the party. And if you even take that even further, look at the race in Texas, for example. You have Kay Bailey Hutchison against Rick Perry.

That's turned into a bit of a gender battle as well, I'm hearing today. A lot of conservative men, small business owners supported Perry. But women want a fresh face and something new.

BLITZER: You see these three women on the cover of this new book, Paul. And in their own right, they have huge followings, each of them in their own way. And I suspect once Sarah Palin's book comes out next month, and she goes on the "Oprah" show to launch it, that following could...

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it probably will grow, I certainly hope for Mrs. Palin's sake. I do wonder though, Leslie -- first off, congratulations on the book. I should hold it up, too.

I'm impressed. It looks like a terrific book. And I know it will be.

SANCHEZ: And you're on the back cover.

BEGALA: And I did. I endorsed it and Newt Gingrich did. So, you can tell...

BLITZER: Full disclosure.

BEGALA: ... it's got balance from both sides.

But I wonder if Governor Palin really ever wants to run for office again. She clearly wants to have a national voice. She's got a platform. I think you're right, she has a base.

But leaving that job in Alaska, she said she didn't like the media, she didn't like the investigations and the criticism. Well, that's all that running for president is.

SANCHEZ: Absolutely.

BEGALA: And a string of those things. So do you think she will run again?

SANCHEZ: You know, you never know with these politicians. I think that she probably thinks she can be a very strong, viable candidate.

I think there's a lot of people in the Republican Party that think she is. The question is, will she do the work? Don't discount the fact she took a $7 million to $10 million advance for this book sale.

BEGALA: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And so did you. You're right in that $7 million to $10 million.

SANCHEZ: Right. Exactly. And I didn't go on "Oprah." I'm here on THE SITUATION ROOM, Wolf.

BEGALA: And you actually wrote this yourself, by the way.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I did.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Look at these poll numbers, because Hillary Clinton...

BEGALA: My gal. My hero.

BLITZER: ... right now, in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, she's at 65 percent favorable. Michelle Obama, 64 percent. Bill Clinton, 64 percent. Barack Obama, 60. Joe Biden, 45.

Hillary, atop the list. How do you explain that?

BEGALA: You know, where's my heart?

I think that hard work, confidence, talent and toughness, that all wins out over time. Earlier in this broadcast I think Candy Crowley made a very good point. We tend to like our politicians better when they are not running, and she's not now.

But the fact that she was willing to go and serve, first off, you've got to give the president enormous credit to pick his most bitter rival from the primaries and make her secretary of state. But you've got to give Hillary a lot of credit.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you believe Michelle Obama, after life as a first lady, will follow in Hillary Clinton's footsteps and go into politics?

SANCHEZ: I don't think it's been part of the fabric of what she's done in her career. I think she's a been a tremendously successful and powerful and influential professional businesswoman. She's set some examples for what the first lady could be in the future. I think she's stretching those boundaries.

And she's somebody I think we have to watch. I wouldn't put her in the mold of anybody else. I think she's defining her own.

One thing I will say about Hillary Clinton is, look at the fact she's no longer a lightning rod. She's very pro-America. She's a bit of a hawk.

BLITZER: In the book... BEGALA: Michelle Obama does have remarkable star quality, which Sarah Palin has and Hillary has, but she is a really charismatic person in person.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They all have star quality. And you know what? Leslie Sanchez, star quality.

BEGALA: Big time.

So here's the book. Even a Democrat can...

BLITZER: "You've Come a Long Way. Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman."

Congratulations, Leslie, for writing the book.

SANCHEZ: Thank you. Thank you both.

BLITZER: Senator Al Franken's fight to help victims of sexual assault. Did the Obama Defense Department stand in his way? Stand by for that.

And new setbacks for the president's attempt to engage Iran, including a heap of doubt right here at home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Should health care reform contain a public option and be mandatory for all Americans?

Ken in Delaware says, "A public option will make no difference as long as we have the same Congress we have now. They have taken care of Wall Street, the banks, the insurance industry and the defense industry. My health care premiums are going up 20 percent per year, and they'll continue to go up 20 percent per year."

Greed has infected every aspect of our society and it can't be stopped anymore. The Democrats have the presidency, the House and the Senate, but nothing has changed."

Scott writes, "Give us the public option and make it mandatory. I'd rather pay reasonable taxes to be able to see a doctor than to never be able to afford insurance and live the rest of my life in fear."

Ron says, "I could live with the public option, but nothing should be mandatory for all Americans when it comes to health issues. Many people are happy with what they have, and I believe the mandatory issue stems for the absolute hate Congress has for the insurance companies. The government can't even run an official post office. How are they going to run our health care?"

Elaine writes, "If it's mandatory, it better be affordable. And to be affordable, there must be a public option."

Bill says, "No. The clear experience with mandatory insurance is that some people will just not sign up -- not at any price or any penalty. And nobody's going to deny them free services when they need them."

P.J. writes, "Yes, Jack, any national health care reform must include a public option and it should also be mandatory to have health insurance. Recently diagnosed with cancer and subsequently terminated from my job, I have lost the Cadillac health insurance I had and now can't get anyone to insure me."