Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump: I'm Not Running for President; Trump-Free Race for the White House; International Finance Chief Charged with Sexual Assault; Hitting The Reset Button; More Floodgates May Open; Deadly Clashes At Israeli Border
Aired May 16, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, the Republican presidential race without Donald Trump. Just hours ago, the celebrity mogul revealed he won't run for the White House. We're taking a closer look at his decision and whether his flirtation with politics created enthusiasm or was simply just a distraction.
Plus, an influential player in the global economy now is an inmate and charged with attempted rape and sexual assault. This hour, the shocking case against the head of the International Monetary Fund and why he was denied bail.
And President Obama makes some high school students cry. This hour, the inspiring, against the odds story, that brought the commander-in- chief to their school.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour, the shrinking Republican presidential field. We've seen some prominent contenders opt out of the 2012 race in recent weeks, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee just this weekend.
But today, say so long to the prospect with the biggest name, the deepest pockets and, some would argue, the most outrageous remarks. That would be none other than Donald Trump.
He announced his decision in a statement and at an event to promote the renewal of his reality TV series, "Celebrity Apprentice".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL/REALITY TV STAR: And after getting so many called from Bob and from Steve and everybody, I've decided that we are going to continue onward with "Celebrity Apprentice".
We're going to continue making lots and lots of money for charity. I will not be running for president, as much as I'd like to. And I want to thank everybody very much.
Thank you very much.
I'm going to see you for a great season.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our Joe Johns.
He's here with more on Donald Trump's decision and what led up to it.
The only thing I was surprised at, Joe, was at the way he announced it. I thought we were going to get it at the end of the month, after the last episode. But he didn't waste any time. He -- he did it today.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure. And some are saying it was about the ratings. I mean, political analysts and others are saying, in hindsight, it's just not that surprising that Trump dropped out, though he did show some temporary promise, if you will, in the polls.
If he had actually gotten into the race, some in the party were concerned that he'd make Republicans look extreme, especially considering how he handled the so-called birther issue.
JOHNS (voice-over): Donald Trump, back in February, speaking to a major gathering of conservatives.
TRUMP: While I am not, at this time, a candidate for the presidency, I will decide by June whether or not I will become one. And I will tell you, the reason that I'm thinking about it is that the United States has become a whipping post for the rest of the world.
JOHNS: His last minute appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off his latest flirtation with running for the White House. A few weeks later, this...
TRUMP: I want him to show his birth certificate. There is something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like.
JOHNS: The billionaire businessman, real estate mogul and reality TV star makes headlines by questioning whether President Obama was born in the U.S., reigniting a birther controversy that had been simmering since Mr. Obama first ran for the White House four years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "STATE OF THE UNION," APRIL 8)
TRUMP: I'd just say very simply, why doesn't he show his birth certificate?
Why has he spent over $2 million in legal fees to keep this quiet and to keep this silent?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Just a few weeks later, the president asked the state of Hawaii to release his long form birth certificate. Whether or not pressure from Trump was behind Mr. Obama's decision, he took credit.
TRUMP: I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.
JOHNS: The next day, speaking to a Republican women's group in Las Vegas, Trump uses profanities to make his point.
TRUMP: We can't get a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) school built in Brooklyn. Listen, you (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE), we're going to tax you 25 percent.
JOHNS: And two nights later, the president makes fun of Trump during a humorous sketch at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM APRIL 30)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than "the Donald." And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing?
OBAMA: What really happened in Roswell?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
JOHNS: Since then, we've seen Trump's support drop and his negatives rise in national polling.
Wolf, one more thing. Trump does go out with bravado, saying in a statement today, he is convinced that if he ran, he would have won the Republican nomination and the general election.
BLITZER: Lots of bravado in that statement.
All right, thanks very much, Joe Johns.
Let's dig deeper now.
With Trump out of the running and 2012 getting closer, look for the GOP presidential race to get more serious.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- Gloria, why do you decide -- why did he decide not to run?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one of the reasons is because he actually wasn't going to win the presidency nor was he going to win the Republican nomination. I mean I talked to people who saw his internal polling. And his internal polling really started going south, Wolf, after this whole birther issue, when the president came out, showed his birth certificate. And it seems to me, the more people saw of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, they -- the less they decided they wanted him to be president. In our recent poll, 6 -- he had a 64 percent unfavorable rating. That's pretty hard if you actually are going to win a nomination for the presidency, much less the presidency.
And I spoke with one Republican today who said, let's just chalk this up as one of the more bizarre vignettes in American political history. I think we can say it is.
BLITZER: He did get some traction, though, in those polls when he asked likely Republican voters...
BORGER: Well, he did....
BLITZER: -- who they liked for the nomination.
BORGER: Right. And -- and that really tells you what kind of a vacuum there is in the -- in the Republican field. He appealed immediately to a constituency in the Republican Party that does not like Barack Obama. With the birther issue, he had that ready made constituency. And -- but Republicans started to get worried, Wolf, that the more traction he got, the more he was hijacking the conversation. And it made the Republican Party seem like it was very much out of the mainstream.
And so there were lots of sighs of relief, actually, when he announced that he wasn't going to run. And, by the way, most Republicans I spoke with always assumed this was about ratings, this was about money, this wasn't about the coming presidential election...
BLITZER: Because he made noises...
BLITZER: -- earlier -- in earlier years, about running and then he decided not to run, either.
BLITZER: So what will be the imp[act of Trump's decision not to run on the GOP field?
BORGER: Well, what's interesting to me, Wolf, is that there's less of an impact in Trump's not running than there is in Mike Huckabee's not running. When Mike Huckabee announced Saturday night that he wasn't going to run, you heard from Republican candidates praising him, because he actually has a constituency that they want to grab, particularly in Iowa, which has a lot of Evangelical Christians.
But take a look at this poll. We asked Republicans what their choice for the nominee is, with Trump and Huckabee gone, and you'll see, Mitt Romney is now at top. Palin second with 17 percent. Newt Gingrich third with 13 percent. We don't know what Sarah Palin is going to do.
BLITZER: Well, I... BORGER: I wager she's not going to run...
BLITZER: I don't think she's going to run...
BLITZER: -- because she's a big TV star. Trump is a TV star. Huckabee is a TV star. And you've got that money, that income coming in, they like it. Thanks no doubt about that.
BORGER: Well, and one would argue, Trump is making more money as a result of this.
BLITZER: Oh, Trump is making a ton of money on this.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
Now, a sensational sexual assault case made even more sensational because of the defendant. He's the head of the International Monetary Fund. And he's one of the most important players in the world of international finance.
Right now, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is behind bars in New York, charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid.
CNN's Richard Roth is in New York.
He has more on the arraignment and the bail that was denied -- Richard, what's the latest?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is headed to Riker's Island Prison, where he'll be kept in an isolation cell. If he leaves the cell, he'll be accompanied by prison officers. He'll have no contact with other inmates.
It's an astonishing turn of events for this financial bigwig, that the leader of the International Monetary Fund is now going to be spending his days behind bars at ornery and onerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, (INAUDIBLE).
ROTH (voice-over): Instead of a glittery financial conference in Europe, Dominique Strauss-Kahn entered an old New York City criminal courtroom facing sexual assault charges, looking haggard after more than a day in police custody. One of the world's most powerful titans had spent the night in a prison cell after authorities did a forensic examination of him, looking for scratch marks and physical evidence following a hotel maid's shocking allegations.
In addition, the International Monetary Fund leader underwent a humiliating so-called "perp walk," publicly handcuffed. At his arraignment, he was charged with several counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape and sexual abuse. The alleged attack was on a 32-year-old black woman, reportedly an African immigrant in a luxury hotel suite. The prosecution said he shut the door and prevented the victim from leaving, grabbed her chest without consent, attempted to remove her panty hose and forcibly grabbed her between the legs.
Prosecutors argue that bail should not be granted for the wealthy Frenchman because he could leave the country and never return.
JOHN MCCONNELL, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The defendant has additional motivation to flee. We also know that the defendant has the personal, political and financial resources to, in fact, flee.
ROTH: The defense said Strauss-Kahn called the hotel asking that his cell phone be delivered to the airport -- proof he wasn't fleeing. Strauss-Kahn's attorney said he has a daughter in New York, that Strauss-Kahn could stay with her and offered to post a million dollars in bail.
BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, KAHN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The defendant is a well- known, well-respected international person. He is also probably the most easily identified individual in the world today as a result of the publicity that has been generated during the past 72 hours.
ROTH: Judge Melissa Jackson said the law applies to Strauss-Kahn as it does with any other defendant. She denied bail, saying that he was about to board a flight, which raises some concerns.
BRAFMAN: We are disappointed, but this case has just begun. He is still presumed innocent. And I would ask all of you...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't hear anything.
BRAFMAN: And I would ask all of you to please allow him the presumption of innocence so we can, hopefully, still get a fair trial when that happens.
ROTH: Prosecutors said they believe Strauss-Kahn engaged in similar acts previously and could become like film director Roman Polanski, if set free.
Strauss-Kahn will reappear in court on May 20th, while the case goes to a grand jury.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ROTH: So among the six counts against him filed by the New York prosecutors, the top one could be a term up to 25 years in jail.
And, Wolf, quite an irony. The man who provided desperate financial bailouts for many countries could not himself get bailed out of the New York criminal justice system today here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know that forensic examination of him, did they find scrat -- scratch marks or any evidence of a fight, along those lines?
ROTH: No evidence, no indication given yet to the media by authorities. That's probably part of the work still to go on. And he's due to be probably appearing before a grand jury before his Friday court appearance back here again.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Richard Roth reporting for us
Before he was arrested, many people thought Dominique Strauss-Kahn had a huge political future in his homeland of France.
And joining us now from Paris, our correspondent, Jim Bittermann -- Jim, how is this playing in France right now?
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think people are stupefied. It really is just an amazing turn of events.
The pictures this morning of that perp walk that came out in the -- on the French television this morning, of Dominique Strauss-Kahn being walked with two policemen in and out of the courthouse is just amazing, because just 72 hours ago, this man, most people in his country expected this man to be the next president of France. And here he is in handcuffs and going to and from a jail cell. It really was just an amazing sight.
And over the Socialist Party headquarters today, there were even some tears, as people were trying to figure out how to react to this. Basically, it's taken away their leading candidate, the man they thought and hoped would unseat Nicholas Sarkozy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How serious are these conspiracy theories that are out there?
Are folks in France taking him seriously, that he was set up, supposedly, by Sarkozy or some political enemy?
BITTERMANN: Well, you know, the funny thing is, Wolf, Dominique Strauss-Kahn had himself actually started the conspiracy theories about two weeks ago when he talked to the editorial board of "Liberacion," the newspaper, the socialist newspaper here. And he told them, he said, you know, people are going to go after me because of my various relationships with women and they'll probably try to get some kind of woman to -- to hang out in a parking lot and say that I had sexual relations with her or something like that. And he even suggested that kind of thing could happen.
And so I think there are -- there's a willingness here to believe that it's impossible that this man could have been guilty of the kinds of things that he's accused of.
On the other hand, when we heard the court presentation today, it was pretty dramatic. And I think people's minds may be changing there.
I don't think there's a lot of real serious conspiracy theory, a lot of addicts (ph) out there that are paying attention to conspiracy theories. I think it's starting to fade now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So -- so does this -- can we assume that Sarkozy now has a much easier path toward getting himself reelected?
BITTERMANN: He -- he has a little easier path, but not a completely easy path. He can still -- and as close to the public opinion polls, Strauss-Kahn was number one. But right behind him was a man named Francois Hollande, who's now coming to the fore. He's a socialist, as well.
Sarkozy, in the same public opinion polls, was back in fourth place. So he's still got an uphill battle. And it -- it may help him somewhat, but not a whole lot. Most of the voters that would have voted for Strauss-Kahn will now certainly go to Hollande, with maybe some going to the center and possibly a few to the right.
But Sarkozy is not likely to be helped a whole lot by this.
BLITZER: Just a little inside politics, French-style, for us.
Jim Bittermann, thanks very much.
BITTERMANN: Yes, you bet.
BLITZER: A new olive branch from Pakistan to the United States. Actually, it's the tail of the chopper the U.S. Navy SEALs left behind during a raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
Will it help repair relations between the two countries?
And why some critics are accusing Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich of playing racial politics against President Obama.
BLITZER: Washington's troubled finances are on Jack Cafferty's mind. Jack's here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The United States government officially hit its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling today. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as so informed the Congress comes as no surprise. Geithner pointed to this date months ago, and we're here. And lawmakers don't appear to be any closer to any kind of agreement on raising the limit further. The U.S. government relies on the debt ceiling to tell it how much money it can borrow.
We spend an average of $118 billion a month more than we take in. Geithner says he can keep things going until early August, but after that, he says all bets are off. Congress has to agree on raising the debt ceiling by then or we're in big trouble. The United States could default on its debt obligations, and that, in turn, could have devastating effects on our still shaky economy and could absolutely royal markets around the world.
A lot of Republicans and some Democrats are refusing to vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling without a promise to make meaningful spending cuts. While critics have warned against tying those two issues together, lawmakers are more concerned about how all of this talk about debt ceilings and deficit reduction is likely to play out with the voters. Some Republicans think if they vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling further, that voters, especially those and the highly vocal, newly powerful and very conservative tea party will see the vote as fiscally irresponsible.
A new Gallup Poll shows 47 percent of Americans are opposed to raising the debt ceiling. Only 19 percent are in favor of it, but significantly, more than a third say they don't know enough about the topic to say one way or the other, and that's a big part of the problem.
Here's the question then, should the Congress vote to increase the nation's debt ceiling? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Very good question, Jack. Thank you.
Senator John Kerry says there's no need for the United States to apologize to Pakistan for a successful raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, but meeting with Pakistani leaders at Islamabad today, Kerry said it is critical to mend strained ties. So, can Washington hit the reset button with Pakistan? Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is working the story for us. She's joining us live -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. You know, here's the message from Sen. John Kerry to the Pakistanis that he met with. "Now that the world's most famous or infamous terrorist has been found in your country, it can't be business as usual." And the Pakistanis are angry they consider that raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound as a violation of their sovereignties. So, what is plan B for this relationship?
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A first step in the U.S. and Pakistan trying to clear up their relationship. Pakistan agrees to give back Tuesday the tail of the top secret U.S. military helicopter damaged in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden. That news from Sen. John Kerry in Islamabad for what U.S. government sources tell CNN were tough conversations with senior Pakistani officials.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: My goal has been to talk with the leaders here about how to manage this critical relationship more effectively, about how to open up the opportunities to put this relationship back on track.
DOUGHERTY: Sources familiar with Kerry's discussion say he told the Pakistanis that U.S. aid $1.5 billion a year for five years, aid that he co-sponsored, is on the line, unless Islamabad comes clean on who knew what and when about how Bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan. Kerry says Pakistan's government is committed to more cooperation on joint anti-terror operations and intelligence sharing. But, a senior Pakistani official says his government is asking 350 out of 400 U.S. military trainers in Pakistan to leave the country. And, U.S. doubts about Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism fester.
GEN. JAMES JONES, FORMER NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: Pakistan has become a selective safe haven for terrorists and terrorists leaders.
DOUGHERTY: But what can that president do to really pull this back and mover it forward because you can't go backwards?
SHUJA NAWAZ, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: There's no silver bullet.
DOUGHERTY: Pakistan expert, Shuja Nawas says the relationship can be saved, but the administration should focus more on helping Pakistan civilians and their weak government rather than beefing up the military.
NAWAZ: Education, health, power, infrastructure so that they can have electricity, water. These are the things that people want and that they complain about and that the government has failed to provide them in Pakistan.
DOUGHERTY (on-camera): So, experts, what they are really saying is that helping Pakistan's civilian government would give it more clout, and it would also help the Pakistanis to put more pressure on their own military to fight terrorism without obsessing about that perceived threat from India, and then finally, Wolf, the state department is confirming that Secretary Clinton is going to be going to Pakistan and her mission is to have in depth talks about the future of the relationship with the United States.
BLITZER: She's not going to go at the end of this month, though, as originally, tentatively planned. She's going to delay that trip for the time being and send a deputy, if you will.
DOUGHERTY: Right. We don't know exactly when it will be, and you are right that they put it off. Obviously, you know, when you bring in the secretary of state, you want to make sure you have everything ready, and it's still a very tenuous situation and that's why these officials are going to pave the way.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Jill Dougherty is over at the White House for us today. Thank you.
Tensions mounting along Israel's border. Weekend protest turned deadly. Now, both the U.S. and the Israelis are both pointing the finger at the Middle East leader. Stand by.
And we know some big names who won't be running for the Republican presidential election, like Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. So, who stands to gain with them out?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: You can strike two big names off the list of Republican presidential candidates. Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee both now saying they won't run. So, what does this mean for their GOP rivals eyeing the White House? Let's dig deeper with our CNN political contributor, the democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and our CNN political contributor, the republican strategist Mary Matalin.
Among the field out there, Mary, who wins among the Republicans by these two guys' decision to stay in television and not run for the White House?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that whole field wins with Trump's departure because he was sucking the oxygen out of the air and saying a lot of things that the rest of the field objected, too. But the whole field loses a little bit with the absence of Huckabee. He is infectiously accessible, likeable. He had a great capacity for articulating complex ideas and a folks he way, and made everybody play up.
So we'll -- sorry, Donald, you're fired, and we're happy about that, but we're going to miss Huckabee. What it means strategically, you could argue at round (ph) and the social conservatives could slip which should be good for Mitt. He can run up the middle, particularly in Iowa, or they could go less around Santorum or Pawlenty. So, it's too early to tell what the consequences of Huckabee's departure. Let's see where is his support and his money and his infrastructure goes.
BLITZER: Donna, who do you think wins among the Republicans and who loses?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, right now, none of the above is still the most exciting of all of the Republicans because they only look good in comparison to each other. But I think in the interim, you'll see some pressure put on Sarah Palin to, perhaps, toss our hat in the ring at some point. Michele Bachmann, clearly, is a doll in a tea party, social conservatives.
But I agree with Mary. Mitt Romney may be able to play bull's eyes against the middle and use this as an opportunity to really grab a hold of the fewer many moderates and the Republican Party, but the feel field is wide open, and there's a lot of void out there.
BLITZER: With Sarah Palin, Mary, I've always suspected, and correct me if I'm wrong, she loves the money she's making right now. She loves doing television and giving speeches, her books and all of that stuff. You don't think she's going to run. She's going to stay on the outside just like Huckabee and Trump, right?
MATALIN: Well, I have and continue to take Sarah Palin at her word, which was, is, she wants to make an impact. It's irrefutable that she's making an impact through her various media ventures, and if she can continue to do that, then she's checked her own box. I don't know that she's motivated by money or fame that never seemed to have motivated her before. I think she's in a situation where the consequences to her family would be so great that if she weren't to get in, that would probably be the reason why.
BLITZER: What do you think? Do you think she's going to run down, Donna?
BRAZILE: Well, I hope she runs, Wolf, because, I think that Sarah Palin, out of all the remaining candidates that are considering, she, at least, has the name I.D. She can raise the money. She will excite the conservative base, and she will be plus positive for Democrats who have to go out there and to capture independence as well as moderates. So, I hope she runs. It will give us a lot to talk about, and of course, you and I will be just tweeting away about it.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, you know, I suspect she won't run, but that's just me. Let's talk a little about Newt Gingrich, Mary. He's causing some waves as he always does, and I've covered him for 20 years or so. He said this to the speech in Georgia on Friday. I'm going to play the clip and then I'm going to play the explanation he gave he to charges of racial bias, if you will, towards the president. The answer he gave in part on "Meet the Press" yesterday. Listen to these two clips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history.
GINGRICH: More people are on food stamps today than at any point in American history, and he's proud of it. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.
This kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States. The president has to be held accountable. He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit. I follow the model that Rick Perry and others who used to create more jobs in Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The charge that there's a racial overtone here, Mary, go ahead.
MATALIN: You know, sometimes, Newt does invite controversy. In this case, this is absurd. Logic. Let's talk about logic. There are more exponentially white people who are recipients of food stamps. So, if Newt is a racist, he's an anti-white racist. It's just absurd. What maybe liberals equate food stamps in blacks, conservatives equate food stamps in the kind of government programs when they get so unwieldy (ph) as they are that are producing record numbers of recipients.
We consider that programs that create dependency and reduce job creation. We just have a different language, I guess, but that there's racism attached to food stamps is some code that is shared by some people in the country that certainly not the way Newt was coming at it. I know that for a fact.
BRAZILE: Well, let me agree with Mary. When it comes to the number of people on welfare and the number of people on food stamps, the majority of the people are white. But let me also take another tact. And that is when we have an economic downturn like we had back in 2007 where eight million people lost their jobs. Twenty-three percent of those people who lost their jobs needed food stamps. They needed help.
It wasn't about conservatism or liberalism or whatever. It was about needing help. They couldn't make ends meet. So, the reason why we've seen an increase in the number of Americans who need these programs, whether it's food stamps or, by the way, it's no longer called food stamps. It's called the Supplemental Nutrition Program that enables people to get the kind of help that they need so that they can feed themselves and their families.
Three-fourths of the people on food stamps are people with children and one-third are elderly. So, this has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with the economic downturn that impacted the entire country. And whether conservatives have a solution to job creation, then bring it on, because I think, right now, we need an American solution to create new jobs and economic growth because the president said it best in Memphis, our kids are no longer competing against each other, Atlanta versus Detroit.
It's America versus China, versus India and versus Brazil, you know? So, that's what we need to focus on.
BLITZER: Good point. Donna, Mary, guys, thanks very much.
President Obama moved some high school seniors to tears today, Donna. We're just referring to -- you're going to find out how they moved him to become a speaker at their graduation ceremony.
And half an entire town now burned to the ground. Stand by.
BLITZER: Low lying part of Louisiana could face even more floodwaters from the raging Mississippi River. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, says the U.S. army corps of engineers may open more floodgates at the Morganza Spillway to try to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Nine flood gates are now opened for the first time in 40 years, but that's sending a wall of water toward homes and low lying areas enforcing the people there, 4,000 of them, to try to get out of the way.
Deafening explosions have been pounding parts of Tripoli. A Libyan government official tells CNN the air strikes targeted one of Moammar Gadhafi's compound in the Libyan capital. The Libyan leader's whereabouts remain unknown, but he is facing arrest on charges of crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son, Saif al-Islam, and Gadhafi's brother-in-law.
It was a historic liftoff for "Endeavour" today. The space shuttle blasted of for the International Space Station. This is its last ever mission. Watching the spectacular launch? Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She is the wife of "Endeavour" commander, Mark Kelly, and she is recovering from being shot in the head four months ago. Today's liftoff was delayed two weeks because of a heater problem which is now fixed.
And half of an entire town is a smoking charred ruin. Take a look at these images of the Canadian town of Slave Lake. An out of control wildfire has burned hundreds of buildings there including the town hall and police station that burned down to the ground. Several of the town's residents have now fled. Many escaping with just a few belongings, and hundreds of firefighters are now on the way to help battle those planks (ph) -- Wolf.
BLITZER: My heart goes out for those folks in that Canadian town. I hope for the best. Lisa, thank you.
Thousands of Palestinians rally to (INAUDIBLE), the anniversary of Israel's birth. The rally disintegrated into violent clashes with Israeli soldiers. So, why does the Israeli government and the U.S government, for that matter, suspect Syria started it as a diversion?
And the head of the International Monetary Fund says he's innocent of shocking sexual charges. Now, prosecutors are saying this isn't the first time.
BLITZER: Another source of violent and tension in the Middle East today as President Obama prepares to talk about his policy in the region later this week. The White House is accusing Syria stoking deadly clashes along Israel's borders to distract from its crack on an anti-government protest. Israeli forces opened fire on a large group of Palestinians trying to cross the border security fence yesterday. CNNs Kevin Flower has more now on how the event turned violent.
KEVIN FLOWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is supposed to be a peaceful rally by Palestinians marking the Nakba. Hundreds gathered to march on an Israeli checkpoint that separates the west bank from Jerusalem to commemorate the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes 63 years ago. The violence began before any of the marchers made it to the checkpoint.
Hundreds of young Palestinians let loose a deluge of rocks on Israeli's security forces, while heavily armed Israeli military units responded with volley after volley of tear gas shells and rubber bullets. FLOWER (on-camera): So, scenes like this are playing out not only in the west bank but in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and along the Syrian- Israeli border as thousands of Palestinians come out to mark Nakba Day.
FLOWER (voice-over): Most worrisome to the Israeli government were the scene to long its northern borders. In Lebanon, thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese march along the fence that separates the two countries. And in Syria, thousands more gathered on the border with the Israeli controlled Golan Heights. Israeli military said scores of the demonstrators tried to infiltrate Israeli territory and that soldiers opened fire to turn them back.
Both Israel and the White House accuse Syria of stoking tensions to distract from repressive tactics at home, and the Israeli prime minister said the demonstrations clearly illustrated that Palestinians were not willing to accept a Jewish state.
Half of the Palestinian government, he told the (INAUDIBLE), is made up of those who declare daily that they want to destroy the state of Israel and they are not a partner for peace. Still, many Palestinians are hopeful that increased pressure in the form of mass protest will bear fruit as it has in other Arab capitals.
FADI QURAN, PALESTINIAN YOUTH ACTIVIST: We're going to follow the same methods to achieve our goal and to achieve our right of return so that we can, again, pursue opportunity with equality, with justice, and be free.
FLOWER: Until then, Palestinians are planning more protests against Israeli policies, and both sides are expecting more violence.
Kevin Flower, CNN, at the Columbia checkpoint.
BLITZER: The deadly clashes along Israel's border and the broader unrest in the region were very high on the agenda during talks today between the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the king of Jordan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: We're here in Washington to not only talk about our bilateral relations and challenges that we face in the Middle East, but also, this Arab strength that is a challenge for all of us to hope to get it right, and the role of the United States is going to be crucial how the Middle East moves in the proper direction but also our discussions with the U.N. (ph) and with the president looking at ways of bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table, because of all that's going on in the Middle East, the core issue of the Middle East is still that of the Palestinian-Israeli Arabs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama meets with King Abdullah tomorrow, and he meets with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, later in the week here in Washington.
Midas touch. The U.S. says hundreds of billions of dollars in gold. Some say we should sell it all. You're going to find out why.
And race to the top. You're going to find out which school beat out all the rest for a graduation visit from President Obama.
BLITZER: President Obama met today with the victims of the flooding in Tennessee telling them that Americans are grateful for their resilience. He also got a firsthand look at the damage caused when the Mississippi River crested to a near historic level in Memphis. Flooding along the Mississippi has left a path of devastation across parts of the Midwest and south that's expected to cost billions and billions of dollar.
The president had a more upbeat visit on his schedule in Memphis today, as well. He spoke at a high school that won a White House competition, and he was essentially the prize. Lisa Sylvester is here with more on this story. This is a positive story -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: It is. And you know, President Obama has repeatedly talked about the need to prepare U.S. students to compete globally. Well, that's what the race to the top competition is all about. It highlights schools that have improved dramatically, and the winning school in Memphis got a visit from the president who delivered the commencement address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got a surprise. I got a surprise.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): It was a surprise one-on-one with the president, seniors at Booker T. Washington cheering, some overcome with emotion. The school beat out the rest of the nation winning the president's race to the top competition.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You inspire me. That's why I'm here. I could not be prouder of what you do.
SYLVESTER: And what a turnaround it has been.
In just four years, the school's graduation rate has jumped from 55 percent to 82 percent in a community with a zip code that is the poorest in Memphis and where the median income is less than $11,000. Christopher Dean is a graduating senior who plans on studying psychology at the University of Memphis.
CHRISTOPHER DEAN, GRADUATING SENIOR, BOOKER T. WASHINGTON H.S.: They always encourage me and tell me that there's no reason why I should believe and listen to the statistics.
ALICIA KINER, PRINCIPAL, BOOKER T. WASHINGTON H.S.: There are some very obvious by-products that we have to deal with every day. You can't teach a hungry child. You have to feed them first before they can learn anything.
SYLVESTER: We spoke to principal, Alicia Kiner, who says you have to know your kids, know where they come from, and catch things early if they start going astray. That means (ph) dividing of the class by gender in the 9th grade for the core subjects.
KINER: There are sine obvious distractions, you know, that you avoid when you do that. But there's some real research out there that shows you that girls and boys learn differently.
SYLVESTER: And all that hard work paid off on this day, graduation day. Christopher Dean is now side by side with the president who gave the commencement address.
OBAMA: The success can happen here at Booker T. Washington. It can happen anywhere in Memphis.
OBAMA: And if it can happen in Memphis, it can happen anywhere in Tennessee. And if it can happen anywhere in Tennessee, it can happen all across America.
SYLVESTER (on-camera): And the school now offers AP classes, and some of the kids recently participated in a robotics competition. Five years ago, only a handful of students who left Booker T. Washington continued their education, now, the principal says, more than two- thirds will go to college. And Wolf, you know, the student that we profiled, Christopher Dean, he got to spend a good part of the day with the president. He also introduced the president for the graduation speech and had a little fun with the president. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: Under nervous circumstances, the person who introduces the keynote speaker usually has to give vital statistics about the speaker that no one knows, like, where he works.
DEAN: Everyone knows that. Or to whom he's married to. Everyone knows the beautiful First Lady Michelle Obama. Or when the speaker was born.
DEAN: That was a joke.
(LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: The president clearly was tickled there. And you could tell he had this great camaraderie with the kids. Fantastic kids and congratulations to them.
BLITZER: It's a real uplifting story, Booker T. Washington High School, good work. Thanks very much for profiling that.
A real life sex scandal for a global financial tighten. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is behind bars right now. So, what happens next for him? You're going to find out. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour, should Congress vote to raise the debt ceiling? Today's the day we hit it. $14.3 trillion worth.
Kevin in Maryland says, "Of course. To do, otherwise, would be to tell our creditors the U.S. will not honor its debts. The whole kabuki theater that's currently going on in Congress is ridiculous. The Democrats have said they'll raise it because they know we have to. The Republicans have admitted that they recognize that we have to, and they will. In the meantime, Congress acts in a manner that's not at all reassuring to the markets and, in fact, threatens to destabilize them."
Charlie in Mississippi writes, "No. Welfare-warfare state needs are infinite. Alas, revenues are not."
Lori in Pennsylvania, "I have a huge problem with Congress voting to raise the debt ceiling when they can't get government spending under control. If the debt ceiling is raised, government will take it as a license to keep spending in a reckless manner. It's got to stop. And that's what they should be voting on."
Liza writes, "I honestly don't know the answer to this. We're damned if we do, damned if we don't. Set that aside, it's time for big oil and corporations to start paying some taxes. We can't continue the same pattern of printing money and sticking it to the middle class."
Mark in Oklahoma, "No. Bring our troops home. Stop wasting trillions trying to run other countries. That's what we should do."
Christian writes, "Jack, Congress should be definitely raising the debt ceiling. If they fail to do so, the U.S. will sink deeper into our current recession. I know spending is high. I'm a Democrat, but we really don't need to default. It's ignorant."
Ron writes, "In the short term, it seems obvious that they have to. However, I'd like to see a tie to legislation that makes real, absolute, positive steps towards cutting spending. Both things must happen. So, why not do them altogether?" And Ed in Maryland says, "If I could loan myself money indefinitely by raising my imaginary ceiling, I'd do it."
If you want to read more on this, go to blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.