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GOP Call to Arms; Interview With Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

Aired September 23, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But Democrats, even some conservatives, already writing it off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's the same policies that got us into this financial crisis. The document was written by somebody with a -- written by a lobbyist and rolled out at a small business -- even as Republicans went back to Capitol Hill to vote against tax cuts for small business.

So, I think it was just another -- it seems like just another day, could have been any of the days of Republican ideas for the last 10 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This hour, we go inside of the Republicans' Pledge to America with two rising congressional stars.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are now less than six weeks before the midterm election and voter frustration clearly palpable with the weak U.S. economy, the surging deficit, and the Democratically-controlled Congress many people are blaming for both. Now Republicans are hoping to tap into that anger with an updated version of their hugely successful 1994 Contract With America.

The new so-called Pledge to America contains more than 20 promises, including a freeze on most domestic spending, repealing health care reform, canceling unspent stimulus funding, permanently extending the Bush tax cuts, and requiring proof that new bills are authorized under the U.S. Constitution.

But what is just as notable is what is not mentioned. There is no plan for controlling the cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which dwarf other government spending. And there's also no mention of lawmakers' spending on pet projects known as earmarks, a pet peeve of so many voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us, two members of Congress, Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Thanks very much, to both of you, for coming in.

Let me start with you, Congressman Ryan.

This Pledge to America, you were obviously deeply involved in putting it all together, but look at the very sharp negative reaction from a prominent conservative, Erick Erickson. He is a CNN contributor from RedState.com.

He says this: "It is a series of compromises and Milquetoast rhetorical flourishes in search of unanimity among House Republicans, because the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama."

Go ahead and respond to Erick Erickson, who says these are just words, but you don't deliver substance.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: OK. So, I guess I will put him down as a critic.

BLITZER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: So, first of all, Wolf, we think it is important that we don't make promises we know we cannot keep in the next session.

If we have the privilege of serving in the majority, we are going to have divided government. So we don't want to go out there and promise REP. pie-in-the-sky things that we know won't be signed into law, because Barack Obama is going to be the president.

What we want to do is declare what our principles are, more importantly, say that we're not going to be like the Republicans that got kicked out four years ago, big-spending, earmarks, all of those things, and that these are the things we could do right now to get this country right on the right track, cut spending, create jobs, clean up the way Congress works.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive redo of the party platform or a complete, comprehensive agenda. This is meant to be a current governing agenda to fix the problems that are right in front of us, knowing that, if we do get the privilege of the majority, we will be in a divided-government situation.

BLITZER: Well, what is wrong with any of that, Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Well, what is wrong with it is that they have made a pledge today to the special interests, rather than to America.

And what is particularly galling, Wolf, is that on September 23, the day that the patient's bill of rights reforms actually go into effect -- and as a breast cancer survivor, I can tell you that that is particularly disturbing to me, that -- for example, someone like me is one job loss away from being dropped or denied coverage because of my preexisting condition.

Yet the Republicans would repeal health care reform, make sure that insurance companies would be back in the driver's seat. That is part of their Pledge to America. Their Pledge to America also includes repealing Wall Street reform, putting Wall Street back in the driver's seat, instead of focusing on balancing our policy between consumer protection and making sure that business can thrive.

They also want to pledge to America that we hold middle-class tax breaks hostage so we can give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires that add $700 billion to the deficit.

BLITZER: All right. Well, you went through three points. Let's go through those three points.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's talk about -- this is six months right now, Congressman Ryan. Health care reform has been enacted.

A lot of folks are happy that their college-age family members, they're going to be able to stay, their kids, on the family plan until age 26. You want to repeal that. Why?

RYAN: The chief actuary of this administration has already told us that this bill is not meeting what they have already said it would do, bigger deficits, higher health care costs. The CBO is already telling us this thing is a massive deficit.

It's not that we don't want to reform health care. Health care needed reforming. We don't want this bill that reform health care by having a government takeover of health care. What this bill will do is make health care less accessible, lower-quality, more expensive, and give us a massive deficit, when we have huge deficits.

Here's the problem, Wolf. The Democrats here, they did not even do a budget this year, for the first time since 1974. We have to get the spending under control. We got to create jobs. Raising taxes on successful small businesses is not going to create jobs. According to the CBO, it is going to cost us 1.2 million jobs. So, obviously we have a different opinion on these things, as you can see.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let's go through the tax cuts that the Bush administration implemented.

They are going to expire, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, at the end of this year, unless legislation is passed in both the House and the Senate. Looks like the Senate is punting until after the November 2 midterms. The House -- is there going to be a vote on this between now and November 2 in the House?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we are still talking about when that vote will take place.

But what we want to make sure -- and the clear contrast between Democrats and Republicans here is their pledge to special interests today came out with preserving tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals, for millionaires and billionaires, holding middle-class tax breaks hostage, and adding $700 billion to the deficit.

They talk out of both sides of their face. On the one hand, they talk about cutting spending, but they ignore and treat tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals, adding $700 billion to the deficit, like it's not spending. They are equivalent. They both add to the deficit.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me ask you Congressman Ryan to respond to that, because, if the wealthiest, those making more than $250,000 a year, get to keep the same tax rate as has been in business now since the Bush administration...

RYAN: Seven years.

BLITZER: ... yes, 35 percent, as opposed to going up to the Clinton administration's 39.6 percent, that will cost the American taxpayer $700 billion over the next 10 years.

You want to cut the debt, the national debt. There is $700 billion, Congressman Ryan, right there.

RYAN: Wolf, not only do I disagree with what Debbie just said -- 41 Democrats in her own caucus disagree with what Debbie said.

We have the votes to pass this if the speaker would let this come up. Now, you mentioned a good point. Shouldn't we just raise taxes on rich people? You know who pays these taxes? These tax rates hit 50 percent of all small business income, about 900,000 small businesses -- 70 percent of our jobs come from these small businesses.

The CBO just put out a report saying, if this happens, we could lose 1.2 million jobs. Here is the point. To get our fiscal situation under control, we need to do two things, grow the economy, create jobs, and cut spending.

Raising taxes defeats those purposes, those objectives. We don't want to slow down this economy. We want to cut spending.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, a lot of economists say they agree with Congressman Ryan, that, if you raise taxes on those $250,000 or more, at a delicate moment in the economy right now, that could perhaps even trigger a double-dip recession.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Wolf, the overwhelming majority of economists agree that the tax cuts that Mr. Ryan and his colleagues want to extend for the wealthiest Americans would do nothing to turn the economy around, that it is the middle-class tax breaks and for working families that we need to reenact, because most wealthy Americans don't use that windfall and put that money right back in the economy.

They sit on it. They sit on it and sit on their investments, and it does not help at all. All it would do is to add to the deficit. And I certainly agree and Democrats agree that we should be targeting our assistance when it comes to tax policy to small businesses, which is why the Republicans should have voted with us today on the small business lending and jobs bill.

But unfortunately they all voted against it. They have no interest in getting capital out into the hands of small business owners. They could have voted for that bill today and gotten that credit to be available. But instead, all they are focused on is victory, returning to the same tired old tax policy of the past.

And the American people are going to reject it on November 2.

BLITZER: Are you just the party, Congressman Ryan, the party of no, no to whatever the Democrats raise, even if these are issues, these are proposals that Republicans supported in the past?

RYAN: Look at the thing we just put out today.

These are a party of proactive ideas to get this country back on track, to replace government-run health care with patient-centered, consumer-directed health care, to get this debt and deficit under control, to create jobs in this country, to actually make members of Congress actually read the legislation they're voting on before they vote on it.

These are commonsense solutions that are anchored in our founding principles.

Look, going back to this tax cut issue, even the president's advisers, Peter Orszag, Mark Zandi, are telling us, you shouldn't be raising taxes at this moment.

We put out a list of 314 economists yesterday saying, do not raise taxes at this precarious time in our economy. It is very left- of-center to be suggesting we should have these tax increases. Moderates, Democrats, and Republicans are saying we should not be raising these taxes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, stand by. Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty Pile" Then -- "Cafferty File," I should say.

Then lawmakers, these two lawmakers, they are fired up over Social Security. My interview with Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Paul Ryan will continue. It is about to get heated. Stand by for that.

And what the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said at the United Nations today that prompted the U.S. and several other Western delegations to walk out of the U.N.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is unlikely, Wolf, there were all that many champagne corks popping around the country when we learned this week that the recession officially ended more than a year ago.

Maybe that's because it doesn't feel like the recession has ended at all, not by a long shot.

A new Gallup Poll shows that 88 percent of those surveyed say that now is a bad time to find a quality job.

That number is as high as it was a year ago and higher than it was this time in 2008, when the recession was in full bloom. Only 55 percent felt this way in 2007, before the recession began.

The bottom line is, Americans are waiting for the jobs to come back. It could be a very long wait, and, in fact, a lot of the lost jobs will never come back.

The national unemployment rate, 9.6 percent. There are no signs it's going to improve significantly for a while, by quite a while. Since the recession began, more than seven million jobs have been lost, almost 2.5 million homes have been repossessed.

But the National Bureau of Economic Research says the recession, which began in December of 2007, ended in June of 2009, which makes the 18-month long recession the longest and deepest downturn since the Great Depression.

Add in weak economic data the last few months and concerns are growing about a possible double-dip recession.

According to CNNMoney.com, a group of top economists now says there's a 25 percent risk of a double-dip recession in the next year. And that's up from a 15 percent chance just six months ago.

So, here's the question: Do you feel like the recession is over?

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

One of the articles I was reading today, Wolf, suggested the country was probably in for a long period of stagnation, which, I don't know, it is kind of feeling a little stagnant out there.

BLITZER: Yes. It is what they call a jobless recovery.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I guess so.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I don't know. Can there be a jobless -- if it is a recovery, you would think there would be jobs. CAFFERTY: Isn't that an oxymoron, jobless recovery?

BLITZER: That is what I was going to say, but you said it better.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Well...

BLITZER: Good work, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the new Republican Pledge to America, as it is called, and a passionate debate between Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, there is anger, as you well know, in the country right now. It was demonstrated directly to the president the other day by a woman who was a supporter, and she made a dramatic appeal to the president.

In several of these recent polls, when you ask the American people, is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, the overwhelming majority say the country right now is moving in the wrong direction. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 33 percent thought the country is moving in the right direction -- 61 percent said it is on the wrong track.

Your party is in charge of the House and the Senate and the White House. You can feel that anger out there.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we can.

And we want to make sure that we continue to move the country in a new direction and focus on the change that people asked for when they elected President Obama.

The change that they don't want, and the type of policy they don't want, is Mr. Ryan's proposal to privatize Social Security and pull the rug out from under senior citizens, and get rid of the security that they have, or turn Medicare into a voucher program, which is also part of the book that he and Eric Cantor just put out that they are touring the country promoting right now.

And that -- those two items, because they are unpopular, weren't in the Pledge to America today, because that is not something that they think that they can get elected on. They're just going to try to sneak that in the backdoor if they somehow...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: She makes a fair point.

RYAN: May I respond to that?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Some of the recommendations you personally have made -- and you have a few supporters in the House of Representatives among the Republicans -- were not, were pointedly missing in this document, A Pledge to America. Why?

RYAN: Right.

Well, because I put out a budget plan to get a consensus of one person in Congress, me. I didn't put a budget plan to get a consensus of a majority of Congress.

But here's the point, what I was trying to get with this plan. I was trying to get this discussion about entitlement programs and our debt crisis at an adult level. Clearly, that is not happening.

What I'm proposing is, make sure that we don't cut benefits to people in and near retirement, 55 and above. They just took $522 billion out of the Medicare fund to spend it on another government program. They are the ones who raided Medicare.

What I'm saying is, let's get these programs solvent. If we don't fix this debt crisis and get ahead of it, Wolf, we will shred the social safety net that people have counted on. What I am trying to propose is something responsible, prevent cuts from hitting current seniors, people nearing retirement, and then reform these programs for those of us who are under 54, because we know they are going bankrupt, and put them on the path of solvency and sustainability.

That's the responsible thing to do. And I would like to get to an adult-level conversation, but, apparently, we're not having that these days.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: An adult-level conversation to invest Social Security in Wall Street. If that had happened in the last couple of years ago, Paul, you would have ended the protections that people have in their twilight of their life as we know it.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I want to give younger people the option of having the same retirement you and I have, Debbie, if they want it or not. That is not privatizing. That...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Then we need to reform Social Security, not yank the rug out from under them.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Investing in the stock market is a risky gamble. RYAN: If it is good for you and me and our families, why isn't it good for everything else in this country?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It's certainly not good for senior citizens or for the next generation...

RYAN: I am not proposing it for senior citizens.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... to preserve Social Security. That will end Social Security.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I'm actually saving Social Security, according...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, not if you look at the track record of Wall Street in the last few years.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think, if we campaigned together around the country together, people would be looking at our view much more....

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: In my bill, you wouldn't even be in the stock market when you're retiring.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Look, if it is good for us in Congress, why isn't it good enough for everybody else? Look, these are -- we should have honest debates about this thing.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Our Social Security is the same as everybody else's in the entire country, and you know it.

BLITZER: The debate on Social Security, I suspect, is only just beginning, the debate on a lot of these issues.

A good debate we had today, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Paul Ryan.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're monitoring other top stories as well, including a major government crackdown on patient access to the controversial diabetes drug Avandia.

Plus, do hidden airline fees make you mad? Then today could be your lucky day. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gets a diplomatic snub at the United Nations. You're going to hear what he said that prompted the U.S. and other Western delegations to walk out.

Plus, she confessed to hiring two men to kill her husband and stepson -- now this grandmother only a hours away from execution in Virginia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Anyone expecting controversy as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed the United Nations General Assembly today was certainly not disappointed.

Listen to what he said about the 9/11 terror attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime. The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That remark prompted the U.S. delegation to walk out on Ahmadinejad's speech, along with representatives from the U.K., Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Spain.

President Obama addressed the U.N. earlier in the day and devoted much of his speech to the new push for Middle East peace. He had this to say, though, about Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That overture was followed only a few hours later by Ahmadinejad suggesting the U.S. was involved in a conspiracy planning the 9/11 terror attacks. I spoke about the nuclear standoff with Iran with the British foreign secretary William Hague. He says this country is standing by the United States, standing united with the Obama administration in backing sanctions and urging negotiations. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: How much time do they have?

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, we don't know how long the timing of the nuclear program -- we didn't know and no one can know how far they are.

BLITZER: Are we talking months or years?

HAGUE: But no, this is something that needs to take place in the next few weeks and months. We hope within weeks.

BLITZER: What takes place?

HAGUE: To have meaningful discussions and negotiations about the Iranian nuclear program, but they have to be meaningful, and about the whole nuclear program and not about the side show. Not just an effort to divide the international community or to slow down the applications or sanctions, because we won't be fooled by that.

BLITZER: Some of these sanctions have been going on for years, right? The tough diplomacy and the serious sanctions that seem to be ratcheting up. But do you see any shift at all in the Iranian stance?

HAGUE: I think it is too early to say is the realistic answer. It is true we've had sanctions for a long time, but it's also true that those sanctions have taken a big step forward this year.

But the passing of Security Council resolution 1929 in June was a very important moment with the support of China and Russia. And then, in the European Union, the 27 nations of the European Union have joined the United States this summer in imposing considerable additional sanctions. Very serious additional sanctions. So this is the first time, I think, that Iran will have really felt the pressure from those sanctions.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that the Israelis might not be as patient as you?

HAGUE: Yes. And I think part of the argument for sanctions, part of the argument I put to other countries in the world, why we must have sanctions is that that is legitimate peaceful pressure on Iran that make conflict less likely and can also slow down the Iranian nuclear program and at least buy time for us to try to resolve this issue.

So, it's an important choice facing Iran now. Are they going to take up the serious offer of meaningful negotiations, or are they going to say to the rest of us, "Well, you carry on with the sanctions, because we certainly will."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's get to more now with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She hosts "STATE OF THE UNION" every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. How much political pressure, Candy, is the president under right now to do something about Iran?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he still has some time. I think we just heard that in your interview. And the problem is, you know, what he needs to do and what he has done is try to work through the U.N. The U.S. obviously has some other unilateral sanctions, but at some point, there's going to be a sort of put up or shut up time for Iran.

The president as you remember said, you know, you talk about the stick and the carrot, when he was in the campaign and he said we need to reach out. Well, we're in the reaching out phase. And at some point, it has to get tougher. And the question is, you just heard it, what is tougher? More of the same? I mean, that's the real key question moving forward.

BLITZER: He has enormous domestic issues he's got to deal with, the economy and jobs. And these issues are very, very important, these national security related issues, but some would say they're a distraction right now to what he needs to do to try to get the economy back on track.

CROWLEY: This is a man who campaigned saying that a president needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and the Middle East has been there whether it is Iran or the conflict with the Palestinians and the Israelis. He's got, as you know, a huge team out there, you know, trying to negotiate, certainly, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And is it a distraction? I think in so far as it sort of takes up the headlines, it is, but so far it really has been the economy that continues to dominate both his conversation and the headlines.

BLITZER: If you read that long Pledge to America that the Republicans released today and I read the whole thing. There wasn't a whole lot on national security, but there was some warnings that they will be as tough on Iran as anyone.

CROWLEY: Yes. And that's -- you know, that's always been the what is the next step? I mean, everyone, it was implied here when you talk about, well, what happens if they continue to build this? Well, what does happen? All you hear is, well, Israel will take care of it. You know, maybe somehow Israel will go over there and bomb.

Well, I think what the president has been doing and what Republicans are pushing him on is he needs to have some credibility when he goes back to the world and says, we have to do something tougher that he can say, "Look, I spent two years reaching out to them, and nothing happened." So that's what he's building that up now.

BLITZER: CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday. Thank you, Candy.

In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly President Obama urged more help for Pakistan as it struggles to recover from the worst floods to hit the country in decades. I got an update on the crisis and the Pakistani security situation from the country's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: How bad is the situation right now?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: Very serious, very critical. When our country, one fifth, is under water, when 20 million people are affected, when 12 million people are displaced -- it is serious.

BLITZER: Is it getting worse or is it getting better?

QURESHI: Well, I can't say it is getting better, because the challenge is still there: the challenge of the recovery; the challenge of taking people back to their homes; the challenge of restoring livelihoods is there.

So, yes, we've overcome the first hurdle, which is rescue and relief. Nobody is starving. Thank God. There isn't an epidemic, thank God, but the challenges are there.

BLITZER: How long lit will take realistically for the people of Pakistan to bounce back?

QURESHI: Well, the people are resilient. They will fight back. They already have started doing that, but for the economy to stabilize and get back to where it was, it will take at least five years.

BLITZER: Five years.

QURESHI: Five years.

BLITZER: The world is always concerned about the stability of Pakistan, especially because it has a nuclear arsenal. How worried should we be?

QURESHI: Not worried.

BLITZER: The democracy, in other words, how strong is it? How fragile is it?

QURESHI: I would say the positive sign is that there is a consensus in the country that democracy is the only way forward. Right. Now, that's a very healthy consensus.

Previously whenever there were interventions, you know, many politicos, you know, tried to sort of nudge the military in. Now, everybody is saying, listen, this is the constitution. You have a constitutional role to play. Continue to do that, but governance will remain the ambit of the elected representatives.

BLITZER: So the nuclear arsenal of your country is secure?

QURESHI: Yes.

BLITZER: And you have no concerns it will be...? QURESHI: None whatsoever.

BLITZER: That is, as far as you're concerned, a nonissue right now?

QURESHI: Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're counting down the minutes before a controversial execution in the state of Virginia. She's a woman with a low I.Q. Pled guilty to killing her husband and stepson. Will there be a last- minute reprieve? Stand by.

And you know him as one of the stars of the TV series "The Office," but he's also a humanitarian, and he's helping pay tribute to CNN Heroes. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just over two hours the state of Virginia is scheduled to execute a woman for the first time in almost 100 years, but the case of this 41-year-old grandmother is especially controversial, given her extremely low I.Q. and the fact that she herself didn't kill anyone.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us.

Brian, set the scene for us. What's happening right now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Teresa Lewis has met with her immediate family today. We're told they have left the premises. She has met with her spiritual adviser. She may yet meet with her attorney one more time tonight. Her appeals, though, have all been exhausted. And in just a couple of hours, one of the most controversial executions in U.S. history should proceed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: She's a 41-year-old grandmother who sings gospel hymns in prison.

TERESA LEWIS, ON DEATH ROW (singing): I need a miracle.

TODD: And she's now in the center of America's national debate over the death penalty. In a phone interview with CNN just days before her scheduled execution, Teresa Lewis spoke of her remorse.

LEWIS (via phone): I am so sorry from deep in my heart. If I could take it back, I would in a minute.

TODD: She's talking about the 2002 murders of her husband, Julian, and stepson, C.J. Lewis. Teresa Lewis pleaded guilty in their killings. She's only the 12th woman to be put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. 34 years ago. Virginia, with the second busiest death chamber in the country, hasn't executed a woman in nearly a century. That's according to the Death Penalty Information Center. I spoke with its executive director, Richard Dieter, who opposes this execution.

(on camera) Is there a societal stigma to executing women these days?

RICHARD DIETER, DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER: Well, what happens with any execution is, if you get to know the personality, the identity, the background of the person, it's much harder to execute that person. And I think when a woman comes up for execution, there's a curiosity, and so people start to learn about her family, her background, her mental abilities.

TODD (voice-over): Teresa Lewis's mental capabilities are at the heart of this controversial case. Her attorney says he's produced new evidence showing Lewis's I.Q. is just above the level of retardation. And...

JAMES ROCAP, TERESA LEWIS'S ATTORNEY: She was suffering from dependent personality disorder, which makes her very vulnerable to being led by other people.

TODD: Jim Rocap says Lewis was manipulated by co-conspirator Matthew Shallenberger to take part in the crime, which was a plot to get insurance money. Lewis didn't pull the trigger. Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller did, and they got life sentences.

Prosecutors say Lewis is not close to retardation. And as for dependent personality disorder, the victim's daughter says this.

KATHY CLIFTON, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: I knew Teresa before this happened. I knew the type of person she was. She wouldn't let herself be manipulated if she didn't want to be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Virginia Governor Bob McDonald sided with that argument. He also said he has reviewed medical and psychological records and found no compelling reason to set aside her sentence. The Supreme Court has also denied her pleas for clemency, so in just a couple of hours, at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, Teresa Lewis should die by lethal injection, Wolf.

BLITZER: How will that lethal injection specifically work?

TODD: We got some detail from a prison official here a short time ago. He said that essentially the warden will come in and ask the director of the execution if there's any reason the execution should not proceed, the director will call the state capital.

Once they get the word that there's no reason that the execution should not proceed, then the warden will essentially give the go ahead. They will inject three chemicals into Teresa Lewis. The first one is designed to put her to sleep. The second one is designed to freeze the diaphragm in the lung so that she stops breathing. The third one, potassium chloride, is designed to stop her heart beat. And that's when they'll come and make the announcement.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us in Virginia. Thanks, Brian, very much.

He's the star of the hit TV comedy show "The Office," but in real life, actor Rainn Wilson is doing some very serious work, including helping us select the next CNN Hero of the Year. He's standing by live in Hollywood to talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a daunting task, choosing just ten people from the 10,000 nominated to be CNN's Hero of the Year, but a panel of blue- ribbon judges has done exactly that, and starting today, you can vote, too, at CNNheroes.com.

The actor Rainn Wilson, of the very popular show "The Office," is one of the judges. He's joining us now live from Los Angeles.

How did you do this, Rainn? It's not that easy, because all of these folks are pretty good.

RAINN WILSON, ACTOR: Yes, well, you know, I flew out and visited all 10,000 of them. And, no, I'm joking with you, Wolf.

By the way, Wolf, I love you. And if you were here right now, I would so give you a hug.

BLITZER: All right.

WILSON: But I want to say, I love CNN Heroes. I mean, what you guys do is just phenomenal, and it touches my heart every year I watch the show, in all honesty. And you know, I've got to break down a whole bunch of these and my wife and I sat and watched them on DVD and read about all these people, and we just kind of went with our guts on who really was the biggest hero.

BLITZER: Well, walk through the experience for us. You know, how you felt looking at the details, because these are amazing individuals.

WILSON: It's impossible to do. I mean, all of the people that we looked at had such incredible stories. They're just -- just devoting their lives to helping other people.

And it's so singular to see people that -- these are the people that we all should aspire to be. Like, they see something wrong about -- around them. They don't complain about it; they get up, and they take action.

You know, in the Bible it says faith without works is dead. And these people are just committing to their work. And the work of, you know, making the earth a better place. But narrowing it down, it was almost impossible. I just went with whoever had the best haircut. BLITZER: Well, you've got nice hair, yourself. So you can speak with some authority. Is that right?

WILSON: Thank you, yes. Yes, Wolf. Thank you for noticing.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your colleagues. Did you get -- were you involved in actual discussions with them, or was this all done sort of remote? The other members of the blue-ribbon panel?

WILSON: This -- first of all, I just want to say thank you. It's the first time I've ever been called blue ribbon in any way, shape or form. I've never been on a blue-ribbon panel. I don't even know what that means. Do I get an actual blue ribbon?

BLITZER: You get a -- you get a...

WILSON: Will you guys send me a blue ribbon, please?

BLITZER: We'll send you one. We'll send you one.

WILSON: I didn't get one. I didn't even get a CNN hat. I didn't get an Anderson Cooper T-shirt. I got nothing.

BLITZER: What about a Wolf Blitzer book mark?

WILSON: Dude, anything. I would take a hair from your beard, and I would treasure that. I would keep it in a locket around my neck. I swear to God.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to "The Office," the new season. It's just starting, right? How great of a show is that?

WILSON: It's -- you tell me. You said you liked it. You like it?

BLITZER: Of course. Everybody loves it. I tweeted today "The Office"...

WILSON: I'm so lucky to be -- yes, it's a little like THE SITUATION ROOM. Scranton's own version.

I'm so lucky to be a part of such a great show. It's the best ensemble comedy on TV. And I love everyone up there on the screen -- I can see them all right now -- like a family. And tonight's the -- tonight's the big night, 9 p.m. on NBC.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

WILSON: Hopefully you'll watch.

BLITZER: And there they are, the CNN Heroes, blue-ribbon panel. Wow. You're a member of that panel, Rainn. Thanks very much.

WILSON: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Next time you'll come here to THE SITUATION ROOM, and you'll be right inside. I appreciate it very much.

WILSON: Love it.

BLITZER: Rainn Wilson of "The Office."

WILSON: OK.

BLITZER: And you can be a part of this -- this CNN Heroes situation. You can go to CNNHeroes.com, where you can see the top ten heroes' stories. You can cast your vote for Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced Thanksgiving night in an all-star tribute. Last year almost 3 million votes were cast. Don't miss your chance to weigh in this year. Go to CNNHeroes.com and cast your vote.

Do you feel like the recession is over? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Then a music video goes to the dogs and goes viral. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Question is: Do you feel like the recession's over?

Stan in Arizona writes: "The recession will deepen before it recovers. My gut tells me we're in for another ten years of recovery. People from all walks of life losing their homes, can't find work and are selling everything they can. I live in a well-to-do part of Phoenix. People daily are making pet care decisions based on finances rather than medicine. I'm a veterinarian."

Don in Nevada writes: "It's not over, but you're also asking the wrong question. For some it will never be over. Because we're witnessing a great divide right now. The middle class is getting wiped out."

Virginia in California: "Recession's over? Where? We're at 12 percent unemployment here. I've been out of work for a little over two years. Where can I move to? Never mind, I can't afford to move."

Linda: "Yes, it is. Last year was very bad, but this year our business is operating at the same level that we peaked at in 2008. I was able to hire back the people we had to let go back then."

Chris writes: "No, it's not over. Unemployment is still through the roof. I just learned today my health insurance premiums go up $100 a month next year. So not only are there no good jobs; I just took a pay cut. Country is in terrible financial shape, and we elect a president who spends money like Paris Hilton."

David in Omaha writes: "I feel like the recession is over because it is. The economy ceased receding a year ago. Now we have to change some things so it will start growing again. President Obama is taking too much flak for this issue unfairly. He did indeed stop the recession. Give Obama some credit for pulling off a tough feat."

And B. writes: "How can you feel if the recession is over? It's a defined term. You're asking whether or not I feel like one plus one is two. Maybe I feel like it's three today. A better question would be, since the recession ended, how are you feeling about your financial situation?"

Fair enough. You want to read more, find it on my blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very much.

They are shelter dogs in a most unusual forum. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who cares about "sit" and "stay" when you're a dog that gets to play in a music video? The band is OK Go. And they go to the dogs in one continuous take, using a dozen mostly shelter dogs in their video called "White Knuckle."

Oh, sure, there were plenty of mistakes. It took 124 takes, though they wound up using take 72. The band says the dozen dogs loved it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could see, like, "Yes I've done my job" and, they were like, it was so, so fun.

MOOS: OK Go is known for its complex one-continuous take videos like the one featuring a Rube Goldberg-like contraption big enough to fill an entire warehouse.

But that was engineering; this required training. Each dog had its own trainer giving it cues.

(on camera) We were wondering, what had the dogs so focused looking like they were at the U.S. Open? The answer? Tennis ball with cheese on it.

(voice-over) Right away the brown dog on your right...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my dog, Bunny.

MOOS: The doggy choreography featured everything from leaps to shelves.

Note the band member feeding Riot the dog a treat. A couple of dogs walked the planks. How did Tin-Tin the Chihuahua and the rest of the gang react to OK Go's music?

TIM NORDWIND, OK GO BAND MEMBER: Basically dancing to a click.

It's like a metronome but with the vocals over it so we knew where we were in the song. MOOS: It took six weeks, spread over a year, to train the dogs, train the people, and get one continuous great take.

Did we mention Ranger the goat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't potty train a goat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you don't potty train a goat.

MOOS: The video ends with a pyramid that the band calls a dog- amid. That was the hardest part, the dogs getting commands to go up and down in unison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was pure luck that he was barking to the beat.

MESERVE: But the band leader's favorite part is called popcorn, featuring Spike ,the latest canine pop star.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.