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THE SITUATION ROOM

Government Shutdown?; Can Gadhafi Be Persuaded to Leave Libya?

Aired April 7, 2011 - 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: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, we're following two major stories.

Just 30 hours from now, the U.S. government will grind to a halt unless Congress comes up with a compromise to keep the money flowing. One hour from now, the House and Senate leaders will be back at the White House to try to break the deadlock with President Obama. As the clock ticks, the anger though is growing across the country.

And with Libya's rebels on the run, losing ground to the regime's forces, can Moammar Gadhafi still be persuaded to leave? I will ask former U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon. He is in Libya right now hoping to do just that.

Breaking news and political headlines all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

When the clock strikes midnight Friday, the federal government will shut down. Some 800,000 workers will be sent home. Many government services will simply stop, not just in the nation's capital, but across the country. In far-off war zones, troops who are fighting for the country may stop getting paychecks. Members of Congress, though, will continue to get their paychecks. With lawmakers unable to reach agreement on a budget for the rest of this fiscal year, President Obama has called the leaders back to the White House for another urgent huddle.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.

But let's go to Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us with more.

It is not just the money any longer, is it, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it is a whole host of issues, Wolf.

And watching the way that leaders in both parties have telegraphed what's going on here, you could get whiplash today. On the one hand, they came out to the White House microphones right after a meeting this afternoon and said that they are making progress.

But then all day today, they were launching rhetorical grenades at one another -- and I'm not kidding -- talking about the differences they have over what their differences are in these private negotiations on the spending bill.

But let me break down for you what some of the key sticking points are. First is about money, how much to cut. But I have got to tell you, talking to sources in both parties, there seems to be a gap at most of about a few billion dollars, which in the big scheme of things is not that much.

But another very important issue is what to cut, differences over what programs and agencies to slash. And this really does fall along philosophical lines. Republicans say they want -- quote, unquote -- "real spending cuts." Democrats say what they are talking about when they say that are cuts that really cut too deep for people who need it the most. And they say they are trying to avoid that.

Another very important issue, really probably one of the biggest issues now does not have to do with the money in particular, this is what you were alluding to, Wolf, but about policy issues. About 40 or 50 so-called policy riders were on the House Republican bill. Let me just point out a couple of specifics that are maybe the biggest flash points.

One is EPA regulating greenhouse gases. Republicans say they don't want the EPA to do that. But maybe the biggest of all of these is abortion funding, and specifically the fact that House Republicans banned, fully banned federal funding for Planned Parenthood, of course the organization that deals with women's health, but also allows for elective abortions.

Listen to some of the debate that went on about that issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a budget. This is to keep our country running. This is not a woman's health bill.

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: I certainly don't think that taxpayers should subsidize abortions. If a woman chooses to have an abortion, it is legal to do that in this country, but I don't think taxpayers should be put in a position to have to pay for those abortions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, it is important top point out, though, Wolf, that while the policy issues, abortion in particular, they are big sticking points. They are part of the big differences that they are talking about. I'm told it was a big issue at the White House meeting earlier today. It also is in the Democrats' interest to make that point very clear politically, because they can say, as they have been, that Republicans are holding up this spending bill not about money, not about cuts, but about a policy issue that really divides the country.

Republican sources say, look, there's no question that is an issue, but they also say that spending cuts is still a big problem, and, of course, that for them is an issue that their rank-and-file conservatives are pressing them very hard to stand their ground on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As a longtime watcher of Washington politics, Dana, I'm struck by some of the body language. In a negotiation like this where it is really tense, you don't always see the Republican speaker and the Democratic majority leader come to the microphone together throughout this negotiating process.

How tense is it up there on Capitol Hill?

BASH: It is pretty tense. And that's what I meant about this sort of whiplash, because you are right. I noticed when -- the fist time they did that was last night, which was pretty stunning, that they came out together and they did it again today.

But then they come back here and they hit each other for really important differences that they say that they still have. But I have got to tell you, in talking to some of the lead sources who are dealing with these negotiations, they are worried. They are worried that they can't get this done, that they -- they are working very hard, they're working around the clock. But they are not sure whether or not they can actually find a deal by midnight tomorrow night.

That is on this issue of the government shutdown, but it is also personal for a lot of people up here, because I have been talking to staffers all day who have said that either they got notices that they would be furloughed, that they had to -- if they are a senior member of a staff, that they had to send notices out to some of their staff members saying that they would not be able to come to work. So it is very personal as well. So bottom line is that the mood here is pretty grim and very, very tense.

BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens. Don't go too far away.

The House speaker, John Boehner, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, will soon be huddling once again with President Obama. In fact, less than an hour from now, they will be over at the White House.

Let's go the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is over there working this story for us.

The Republicans say, you know what, they are ready to pass another weeklong extension, keep the talks going. That's a lot better than forcing 800,000 people off their jobs, losing their paychecks right now, the president saying, not necessarily.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

The Republicans do -- are pushing through this bill. It would be the third short-term effort to keep the federal government running, this one for a week. And, of course, Republicans saying that this would ensure that the troops overseas would continue to get their paychecks.

But the White House says that this bill really takes the focus away from the real problem at hand. And that's negotiating a long- term deal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): For President Obama, two times was enough. Another short-term funding extension, he said, was unacceptable.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are now at the point where there's no excuse to extend this further.

LOTHIAN: But that line in stand has consequences. Republicans have offered a one-week deal. The president promises to veto it. And now he's being accused of choosing a shutdown over a short-term solution.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Why, Mr. President, are you issuing a veto threat? And to put it in a larger context, you want to say, Senator Reid, Mr. President, what part of broke don't you understand?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I did express to the president my disappointment that he suggested he would veto that bill.

LOTHIAN: The office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed alarm at a White House statement that referred to the stopgap bill as a -- quote -- "distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise."

But White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the defendant's posture, saying the American people expect all sides to get the deal done.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We do not need another short-term measure with $12 billion of additional spending cuts separate from these negotiations, because we are now at a point where we can get the deal done.

LOTHIAN: And some argue the bill that would only fund the government until April 15 doesn't guarantee a final and necessary compromise.

SALLY KATZEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY BUDGET DIRECTOR: Then you are back where you are a week from now. I mean, we had a two-week extension. Then we had a three-week extension. Now we will have a one-week extension, and we will be having this conversation again next Friday. Does that really help anything, when there needs to be a will to solve the overall problems?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, that meeting at the White House this afternoon lasted for an hour and 20 minutes, all sides saying that it was productive.

But I will tell you, here at the White House, there is disappointment that they have not been able to take this deal across the finish line, and so that's why the president has called everyone back to the White House tonight at 7:00, hoping that a deal can be hammered out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Obviously we will have extensive coverage throughout these remaining 30 hours or so. Dan, thank you.

Lots of bad blood in this budget right now. It is probably safe to say the battle is not just about the budget itself, about the money.

Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, is here.

It is not just the numbers. As Dana was saying, there's substantive disagreements between the Republicans and the Democrats.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

You know, Wolf, we forget sometimes when we talk about all the money, that budgets are political documents. When presidents submit budgets, when Republicans submit budgets, it is about how they view the country, what their priorities are for the future. So it is not just how much money you spend, but it is about how you spend all of that money, which is why we end up talking about issues like abortion and we end up talking about issues like the environment, because Republicans don't want to spend money on Planned Parenthood.

When you and I covered that budget shutdown back in 1995, it was the same issue. Only, last time, in 1995, it was about Medicare. But it was also about the environment and it was about spending on education. So these things are to be expected.

The larger question is whether you should legislate social policy on this kind of a measure. And the Democrats say, absolutely not. The Republicans say, what's wrong with that?

BLITZER: You hear Harry Reid, a lot of the other Democrats accusing the Tea Party supporters of pushing this social agenda in this budget fight. Is that true?

BORGER: Well, it is interesting because when we were first introduced to the Tea Party, before the midterm election, I think the assumption was that the rallying point was only about fiscal conservatism.

Fiscal conservatism galvanized the Tea Party. But in all the polls I look at about who are Tea Partiers, who belongs to the Tea Party, they are social conservatives as well. So, John Boehner has 87 new Republicans in the House. Many of them consider themselves products of the Tea Party. So, it shouldn't come as any surprise to us that they are social conservatives.

But, again, back in '95, it was the same social conservative issues that got stuck again.

BLITZER: I think that if they don't reach a deal, and if the government shuts down, the president will lose, the speaker will lose, the Senate majority leader will lose. All of them will lose.

BORGER: I think they will.

BLITZER: Certainly the American public will lose. It will be a disgrace that they can't reach an agreement when they are apparently this close.

BORGER: Well, they are all positioning now, Wolf, aren't they, to see who is going to get the blame, because right now President Obama has a lot at stake here, as you point out. He has got to prove that he can lead.

And John Boehner has to prove that he can lead his caucus, or is he going to be led by his caucus? He may decide that he wants to shut the government down because he doesn't want to have a bigger fight on the debt ceiling, and he can say to his caucus, OK, I gave it to you on the last one, but I'm not going to give it to you on the next one.

We will see.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

We will have much more on this story coming up.

Military families, by the way, they are fearing a government shutdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEELLYN MENDEZ TOVAR, SON DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN: He has four children that he's supporting. And if this government shuts this down, and he doesn't get paid, I don't know what's going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Soldiers at war going unpaid. Some families fear they just won't make it.

Also, significant changes on Libya's war front., with the rebels now in full-scale retreat from yet another city.

And a former U.S. lawmaker who is in Libya right now trying to meet with Moammar Gadhafi, what exactly is his mission? Who is he representing? More of my interview with a former Republican congressman, Curt Weldon. He is in Tripoli.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is thinking about the possible government shutdown. He is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I don't guess this is breaking news, but our government is broken.

The Democratic Congress, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, chose not to bother passing a budget last September, when it was due. That's part of their job. And now, because of disagreement over a few billion in spending cuts, when we're running annual trillion-dollar-plus deficits, the federal government is set to shut down tomorrow night.

And we go around the world telling other countries how they ought to conduct their affairs. A new Gallup poll says nearly 60 percent of Americans want lawmakers to vote for a compromise on this budget stuff and avoid a government shutdown, rather than continuing to hold out until they get what they want.

Not surprisingly, if you break it down by party, more Republican voters than Democratic voters want their party leaders to stick to their guns and not give in -- 51 percent of Republican voters say their leaders should hold out for the budget plan they want, even if it means shutting down the government. And 44 percent say they should agree to a compromise.

When it comes to the Democrats, though, only 27 percent of them say their leaders should hold out for the plan they want, even if it means a shutdown -- 68 percent of Democratic lawmakers say that the congresspeople -- or voters, rather, say that the lawmakers ought to compromise on this, even if it means passing a budget they don't agree with.

The Gallup poll also found that Americans overall think that President Obama and the Democrats are doing a better job on the budget than the Republicans are, the margin on that, 41 percent to 34 percent, with 20 percent of those polled having no opinion.

We are looking for your opinion. Here is the question. How much do you care if there is a government shutdown?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

In addition to all the pain this is going to cause here, we ought to be the laughingstock of the entire planet. This is a joke to any other country. They do a better job in Libya than this. I mean, this is nonsense.

BLITZER: I will be shocked if there is a government shutdown, but that's just me. I would be very surprised.

CAFFERTY: Look at the time and the energy and the effort that's being spent on this thing, when -- when the rules are there is supposed to have been a budget in place October the 1st of last year.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I mean, there is just no excuse for this kind of stuff.

BLITZER: Yes, there's no excuse. They have got to just do it. It will be too painful for the American public. And you are absolutely right. Let's hope they -- they have got a few hours left. I think they can still do it. I'm hopeful they will.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: If there is, though, a government shutdown, the paychecks may stop coming for U.S. troops, many of whom are risking their lives right now for our country.

Back home, military families worry that they won't be able to make ends meet.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

This is a really shocking part of the story. The troops aren't going to get paid, but members of Congress will continue to get their paychecks.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because Congress and the president are funded through an entirely different stream of money, Wolf.

But you are right. People say, well, you know, one reduced check or maybe one missed check, how much could it really affect a family? But we have talked to so many husbands and wives. There are thousands of military families, young people who just don't make the money and haven't had the time to come up with any sort of savings, and, right now, they are living paycheck to paycheck.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Just the threat of government shutdown is putting this military family through hell.

AMY TERSIGNI, HUSBAND DEPLOYED IN IRAQ: And, yes, I'm scared. I don't know what's going to happen. And I don't know how I'm going to be able to provide for my kids. .

LAWRENCE: Amy Tersigni has a 2-year-old, a 3-month-old, and a husband in Iraq she hasn't seen since September.

TERSIGNI: It is hard enough having a relationship and dealing with everything of them being over there and not home, and telling your kids when they go to bed at night, sorry, daddy is still at work. But then the financial stress of not having a paycheck and not knowing when you are going to get it does not help.

LAWRENCE: And her husband, he is already concerned about protecting himself and his team in Iraq.

TERSIGNI: Having to worry about financial stress and the government shutdown absolutely will not help.

LAWRENCE: And Amy is not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wonder how much more our military families can take.

LAWRENCE: We found worried husbands, wives, even a mother whose son is fighting in Afghanistan. TOVAR: He has four children that he's supporting. And if this government shuts this down, and he doesn't get paid, I don't know what's going to happen.

LAWRENCE: Well, all troops will have to report for duty. None will get paid while the government is shut down. They will get it all in back pay, eventually. But depending how long this lasts, that could be May 1 or later.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first.

LAWRENCE: House Republicans have passed a short-term resolution that would fund the Defense Department through the end of the year. But the White House says that bill is just kicking the can down the road, without coming to terms with a real budget.

TERSIGNI: But until the -- they are the ones living paycheck to paycheck, missing a paycheck, not living with their family, they -- they don't totally get it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Now, the families aren't going to be entirely cut off from all of their, you know, normal support mechanisms. So, emergency dental, the inpatient, some outpatient facilities at military hospitals, all that is going to continue, Wolf. Day care, you know, some of the mess halls will still be open.

So, they won't be entirely cut off. But the idea of just even a reduced check is causing a lot of stress for a lot of families.

BLITZER: Yes. They have just got to figure out a way to keep the government open. This is too important for hundreds of thousands of people and the extended families, millions and millions of people. It's ridiculous, when you think about it.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

BLITZER: They have just got to make sure they work out a deal and do it right away.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much.

A check of the day's other top stories, that's coming up.

Then, rapidly changing developments on the ground in Libya, critical advances and retreats. We will get the latest from the battlegrounds.

Plus, my interview with the former congressman who is now in Tripoli. He is trying to persuade Moammar Gadhafi to leave -- part two of the interview coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: A former United States congressman on his own diplomatic mission right now in Tripoli, Libya, what's his motive? What's going on? Curt Weldon is going to speak to us -- part two of the interview coming up next in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And serious allegations, supposedly, on Donald Trump's investigation into President Obama's birthplace. Does he know what he is talking about? We are digging for answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Nic Robertson is in Tripoli. He's getting some new information on these journalists that have gone missing.

Nic, what are you learning about these foreign correspondents that were apparently picked up or taken by some of Gadhafi's supporters?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there has been a lot of concern here among journalists that (AUDIO GAP) smaller news organizations, some of them freelance.

And there is concern that they get missed somehow or perhaps not well-represented because they are from small organizations. I talked to a source here, a trusted source who has been accurate on many other things like this in the past. This source has told me that the four are in government hands, they are in government custody. They are now safe, according to this source.

They will be brought to Tripoli, we are being told, and they will be released. It is not clear when they will be released. And, certainly if you look at the experience of the four "New York Times" journalists who were picked up in the east, brought to Tripoli, it took several days before they could actually be handed over and repatriated outside of the country, but this now coming from a source who has been accurate on these issues in the past, that the four have been picked up by government forces. They are with government forces now.

They are safe, we are told. They have been transported back to the capital or will be transported back to the capital here, Tripoli. And we're being told as well that they ultimately will be released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good news for them.

You will stay in touch with us on that. Thank you, Nic. Thanks very much for that information.

Former Congressman Curt Weldon is also in Tripoli right now. He is hoping -- hoping -- to get a meeting with the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. Hasn't happened yet. Weldon, who first went to Libya with a congressional delegation back in 2004, says he will tell Gadhafi if in fact, he gets that meeting, that Gadhafi needs to step down.

Weldon says Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, could play a role, though, in bringing about a new government in Libya.

Last hour, part one of our interview. Right now, let's go to part two of the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When was the last time you spoke with someone from the Obama administration about your mission?

CURT WELDON, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, I don't want to get into the details of what I did before I came. But needless to say, as you've seen acknowledged in the press, I did reach out in an ongoing way with friends who have ties to both the State Department and the White House, and I did interact with friends in the Congress from both parties. I did not seek any endorsement for this trip.

In fact the first letter I received to invite me here was from the deputy foreign minister, and I said, "No, I'm not going to accept that." I said, "If I get a letter inviting me as a private citizen, by someone like Bashar Salad (ph), then I would consider coming."

I received that letter in both English and Arabic. In fact, I made it available to your network, and that's why I'm here. I plan to provide information when I get back, as they deem appropriate. If they don't want my information, fine.

I'm not here to make policy. I'm not here to deviate from the president's agenda. I support President Obama in this effort. I support Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. I think they are taking the right course. Hillary's statements yesterday about what needs to be done here by the -- by Colonel Gadhafi I support 100 percent.

BLITZER: I just want to clarify your specific role, because some questions have come up about if you're involved in any business deals, have been involved in business deals with Libya over the years. You say you've had no financial relationship with Libya in any of your capacity since leaving the Congress. Is that right?

WELDON: Absolutely. I have not made one dime, or I should say one dinar, from Libya, anyone in this country, and that is in case -- that is, in fact, today coming over here. No one is paying me. I'm doing this because, as I did for 20 years as the vice chairman of the armed services committee.

BLITZER: "Wired" magazine is -- has reported that your company, Defense Solutions, a company you worked for, did at one point propose selling arms to Libya under Gadhafi. Is that right?

WELDON: No. That's -- first of all, I have no ties to Defense Solutions. I did some consulting work with that company, as did General Barry McCaffrey and a couple of retired investors. That company has not been existence for -- "Wired" magazine ought to be -- come up to date, because it's been basically nonexistent for, I think, three or four years.

I did some brief consulting for them. Never did I ever offer to sell any weapons to Libya, because as you know, our State Department requirements have never allowed arms to be sold in this country. Unlike the Brits and perhaps some of the other European countries, we have a mandate that that's not been permitted.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, you never encouraged, you never worked to lift that embargo on selling arms to Libya?

WELDON: No. No. I -- I worked to try to normalize relations. I put together a comprehensive series of initiatives that could bring our people together in health care and education, in housing and environment and energy. I put together ideas to create a relationship between the Jamahiriya and the Congress, as I've done in nine other countries.

So you know, I'm proud of what I've done, and I'm sad that our efforts haven't paid off, and now we're in the midst of another war that's cost the American taxpayers almost a billion dollars, money we don't have.

BLITZER: And who's paying for your current trip, together with your delegation to Libya now?

WELDON: The delegation is three people I brought over: an attorney friend of mine from Houston, because there are some things they're working on I will not discuss tonight but will tomorrow. You can talk to your -- your own people about that. Your station -- your network has been on the lead in that.

The only thing that was covered was my airfare over here, and that's it. I'm not asking for any money. That's not why I'm here.

BLITZER: Who paid for the airfare?

WELDON: The airfare was paid for by the team of Steve Payne and Brian Enzer (ph) of Houston.

BLITZER: So it's not been -- nothing to do with the government of Libya? Are they -- are they lobbyists or do they have business dealings with Libya?

WELDON: No. No. I don't know. I don't believe they do. But you can talk -- I know one of them has had friendships, I believe, Steve, with -- with one of the sons. But as far as I know, no business dealings. I specifically said I would not go to Libya with any money tied into the Gadhafi family.

BLITZER: And one final question before I let you go. I know you've got to run. But when you met with the prime minister of Libya, what was his major point to you? What did he tell you?

WELDON: Well, he went through a litany of typical things that you've heard throughout all of the public relations efforts of Libya about how this is an anomaly and how that we've seen without Libya, unlike any other nation around the world. And we've been oppressive, and this is unfair. They had no advanced warning.

And I did not get into that, because I'm not here to do that. I said, "Look, you are where you are. And all I want to do is see you have an opportunity to interact directly with an envoy from our secretary of state, and that's not going to happen unless you do certain things. And these are some ideas. These were not given to me by our government, but these are some ideas of what I think you should be doing." And basically, those ideas are what have been talked about in the open press.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. I'd love to continue this conversation after your meeting with Moammar Gadhafi, assuming it takes place. But good luck over there. Be careful.

WELDON: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Former Congressman Weldon. He's in Tripoli.

A government shutdown now less than a day and a half away. If lawmakers don't reach a deal, Americans from coast to coast will start feeling it very quickly.

And Donald Trump says he's now investigating whether President Obama was actually born in Hawaii. Trump has his doubts. We have the facts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The U.S. is bracing for a government shutdown set to begin at midnight tomorrow. And we're looking at the impact from coast to coast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kate Bolduan at the Air and Space Museum here in Washington. This is the Smithsonian's busiest museum. This museum welcomes some eight million visitors per year, and right now, we are entering the peak of tourist season, the worst time to be talking about the potential of a federal government shutdown. And this will be one of the first examples of what this shutdown will look like. Come Saturday, the very busy day for this museum, it may not be able to open its doors.

The Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums and the National Zoo. Two-thirds of their employees are federal employees. They get 70 percent of their funding from the federal government.

Their concerns are pretty obvious: having to tell employees that they have to stay home, having to turn away tourists, and that means tourism dollars.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm David Mattingly at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park and all national parks across the country, if there is a government shutdown, will immediately close. They'll lock their gates. They'll lock their doors. And 800,000 visitors a day will have to find somewhere else to go for their spring vacation.

When they go, they're going to be taking their money with them. We're talking about $32 million that they spend at communities outside the parks. So that money will be missed, as well.

There's an impact, a human impact, inside the park, as well. Seventeen thousand park employees will be immediately furloughed; 22,000 concession workers who also work in these parks will be furloughed and not getting paychecks.

So at this point this place is supposed to be where you come to get away from it all. Now a great deal of anxiety as people are wondering what will happen next.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Casey Wian in Long Beach, California, where I'm at a job fair, where about 500 people are expected to bring their resumes and their smiling faces to about 15 employers who are in the process of hiring.

We spoke with some of these folks about the prospect that the federal government may temporarily furlough up to 800,000 people if it shuts down Friday night. And the folks here are expressing a mixture of anger and frustration. We spoke with one gentleman who has spent the last three years as a federal worker working as an I.T. manager for the U.S. Census Department. He's looking for another federal job. Obviously, the prospects of that are not good if there's a government shutdown.

Another jobs seeker told us that he thinks the federal government should just stop paying all of these people in Congress who have allowed this situation to get to the brink of a government shutdown. He says they stopped paying the congressmen, then he believes a solution would come very quickly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's Casey Wian.

For many people, by the way, the real rub, as Casey just said, in all of this is that members of Congress charged with reaching a deal will still get their paychecks if there is a shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of government employees won't. Military personnel won't, even those deployed in war zones. But lawmakers here in Washington, D.C., will continue to collect their $174,000 annual salary.

For a comprehensive list of what will be open, what will be closed if there is a government shutdown, go to CNNPolitics.com. Useful information there.

A potential presidential candidate is digging into President Obama's birthplace. We're fact checking Donald Trump's controversial investigation. That's next, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Despite hard evidence to the contrary, there's still people who question whether President Obama was born in the United States. They've been dubbed birthers, and now their doubts are being stoked by the possible Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. We asked CNN's Brian Todd to do a fact check for us.

Brian, what did you learn?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Donald Trump is not only questioning the president's stated birth place; he says he's investigating it. We'll look at some of Trump's key claims as he ratchets up his public challenges of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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TODD (voice-over): He may soon announce that he'll take on President Obama in 2012, and to gear up, Donald Trump's slamming the president's leadership on the economy and on Libya. But Trump has recently spent almost as much time talking about the president's birth, as he did on "The Today Show."

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/REALITY SHOW HOST: Three weeks ago when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. And now I really have a much bigger doubt.

TODD: CNN and other news outlets have investigated and so far found no evidence that the president was not born in the U.S. But Trump says he sent a team of investigators to Hawaii to check on the president's past. And he says they can't believe what they're finding.

We called Trump's office to find out who the investigators are and what they found. They had no comment on that. In a CNN phone interview, Trump laid out some of his key intentions.

TRUMP (via phone): There's no birth certificate. There's only a certificate of live birth, which is a totally different thing.

TODD (on camera): We checked on that distinction. The Obama team and the state of Hawaii have released a certification of live birth, saying the president was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu. This is not the original birth certificate. But we're told by state officials that in Hawaii and some other states, they don't release the original birth certificates when they're requested later on. They release documents like this one.

The director of Hawaii's Department of Health says she has personally viewed the president's original vital records and verified that he was born in Hawaii.

Donald Trump also says there's no signature on this document. Well, the group FactCheck.org, which viewed the original document. took a picture of the back of it, and you'll see here that there is a signature, but the signature is on a stamp. We're told most of these records are like this.

(voice-over) Trump says certificates of live birth like those issued by the president have other credibility problems.

TRUMP: You can't even get a driver's license with a certificate of live birth.

TODD (on camera): We've checked on a couple of state regulations on that, and we have excerpts from the Web sites here. In the president's adopted home state of Illinois, it says to get a driver's license, birth certificates must be original or certified by a board of health or bureau of vital statistics.

In Georgia, it says to get a license, you need an original U.S. birth certificate or a certified copy of one.

Also we checked with the state of Hawaii. And officials there have told us that a certification of live birth is accepted to get a driver's license or to even buy land.

(voice-over) Donald Trump makes one claim about President Obama's step-grandmother.

TRUMP: His grandmother in Kenya said that he was born in Kenya. Now, he could have been born -- and she said it very strongly, that he was born in Kenya. She was there when he was born.

TODD: But the interview in which the grandmother said that was done by a man characterized as a street preacher through a translator. And there appeared to be confusion over her answer. The translator then came back several times and said Sarah Obama was saying that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

In one new poll from NBC and "The Wall Street Journal," Trump is now in second place among Republican presidential prospects. Are voters responding to Trump's focus on the birther issue?

STU ROTHENBERG, "ROLL CALL": I think his strength in the polls is the function of the fact that there were a lot of people out there who hate politicians and are looking for somebody who's a straight shooter and tough and in-your-face, but that's now. They're not really picking a president of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Stu Rothenberg says Trump could risk his credibility with other voters, including establishment Republicans, if he becomes too closely associated with this birther crowd, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's amazing to me how many people, though, believe, you know, what Donald Trump is suggesting, despite all of the evidence, including the newspapers, the two -- Honolulu newspapers that contemporaneously, within a matter of days, got the announcements from the hospital, published the birth of Barack Hussein Obama II in these two Honolulu newspapers. But yet, a significant number of Americans believe he wasn't born in the United States. TODD: Trump's got his own questions about those birth announcements and whether the grandparents might have planted it.

BLITZER: Hospitals did that, notified the newspapers who was born. They do it within a few days.

TODD: Right. That's true. Trump, he's questioning whether they got that information accurately, too. There's all sorts of questions about the announcements, too.

On the numbers you're right. One in four Americans in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, one in four, believe he was either definitely or probably born outside the United States. Now, there's a partisan divide here: many more Republicans than Democrats who believe that. But the numbers, as you say, are significant. One in four people at least have their doubts about this. Donald Trump clearly -- you know, I would say clearly is playing into those numbers, Wolf.

BLITZER: I've interviewed Donald Trump on many occasions, a very intelligent guy.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: He's got a good record. But, you know, he's flip- flopping on a lot of these issues lately. When I've interviewed him over the years, he used to be pro-abortion rights for women. Now he's anti-abortion rights. He used to be for gay rights, gay marriage. Now he's against gay -- gay marriage. On this whole birther issue, I don't understand why he's decided to make this a big issue. But, look, he's cast doubt. Among Tea Party activists, he's now at the top...

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: ... as far as Republican presidential candidates is concerned. And certainly, he's second in these other polls, right after Mitt Romney tied with Mike Huckabee. So we'll see what he does.

TODD: He calls himself a Tea Partier.

BLITZER: These are a lot more questions. I know you're going to continue to pursue this story for us. We'll continue our conversations with Donald Trump as well.

A check of the day's top stories coming up next. And Tea Party Congressional Caucus founder Michele Bachmann, she's on "JOHN KING USA" right at the top of the hour. Does she want a budget compromise? Stand by.

And how much do you care if there is a government shutdown. Jack Cafferty, he's standing by with your e-mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We just learned that President Obama's meeting with the speaker and the Senate majority leader has been delayed one hour. Instead of meeting at the top of the hour, 7 p.m. Eastern, they'll be meeting over at the White House at 8 p.m. Eastern. The issue, of course, trying to avert a government shutdown.

Meanwhile, in California, a surprise "not guilty" plea. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf.

Well, Philip Garrido, the man accused of holding Jaycee Dugard captive for 18 years, was expected to accept a plea bargain, but attorneys say that deal was canceled. He faces 18 counts, including rape and kidnapping.

Another powerful earthquake rocked Japan, rattling nerves and prompting a tsunami warning and evacuation of that crippled nuclear power plant, but there was little damage, and the deadly wave never materialized. Japanese officials say the quake measured 7.4. U.S. experts are putting it at 7.1.

And Sarah Palin's unfavorable ratings is at a new high. NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll says 53 percent of those asked have a negative or very negative view of the former Republican vice- presidential candidate, and only 25 percent give her high marks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

A little clarification right now. Republicans want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood, they say, provides abortions, which it does, of course, though abortions are not paid for by federal funds, haven't been paid by federal funds for decades.

The federal government does currently reimburse women who go to Planned Parenthood for other health issues, including pregnancy testing, HIV testing, and breast exams. A clarification.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next. Then, Republican Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, she'll be a guest on "JOHN KING USA" right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "How much do you care if there is a government shutdown?"

Kevin in Annapolis, Maryland: "A lot. This game playing is already costing us money, and now if it all boils down to a bunch of ideological riders that couldn't be accomplished in a straight up or down vote, I'm even more incensed. Focus on the task at hand." John in Lima, Ohio: "Well, since many of the things the federal government does could be better handled by the states, I prefer much of the federal government to be shut down permanently, and if while shut down, they're not spending our money, even better. If the Republicans cave on this, I will be ticked."

E.J. writes, "Why is it that politicians can get away with murder in the United States? Look at what's happening in the Middle East to rulers who just take and take and take? Maybe the people in the U.S. ought to get the guts that people in the Middle East have and take back their own country."

Ben in Massachusetts: "Here we have this presidential commission that lays out the financial crisis and the strategy to solve it. The president, both parties in the House and Senate say what a good job the commission has done, and then they commence to squabble over billions when the problem involves trillions. They ought to act in the spirit of that commission instead of revealing themselves as modern-day Neros. It is just so embarrassing."

Jimmy in North Carolina says, "No problem as long as President Obama can still get a golf cart."

Donald in New Mexico: "Whenever the government shuts down, all of Congress should be fired and new people elected. If they all left, it would take at least a nanosecond for a new Congress to be bought and put in place."

And Craig in Scottsdale, Arizona: "I, for one, am thrilled. As one of the dwindling numbers of Americans that actually pays federal income tax, it gives me great joy that the bloated bureaucracy is shutting down. It's the same feeling I get when I hear when my air conditioning unit shut off."

If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog -- Wolf: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.