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Texas Governor Teases on 2012; Obama's Quick Trip to Puerto Rico; House Dems to Weiner: 'We Should Send Strong Message to '; Battle Over New Boeing Plant; 'Strategy Session'; Man-Made Earthquakes Rattling Arkansas?
Aired June 14, 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: Thanks very much, Brooke.
Happening now, a seventh Republican officially joined the race for president during last night's CNN debate. Another will join in next week, that makes eight. Do we hear nine? We're going to tell you whose dropping fresh hints today about his intentions.
Also, big business helped put Barack Obama in the White House back in 2008, but could a bureaucratic fight over a new non-union jetliner plant give the president's corporate backers some second thoughts?
And Syria's regime has kept reporters out during its violent crackdown on unrest. Now CNN's courageous Arwa Damon has managed to get into Syria and will give us a firsthand look at the troubles there.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Seven Republicans candidates are back on the campaign trial today after introducing themselves to a national audience on CNN in last night's first major presidential debate. The candidates didn't really lay a glove on one another, lashing out instead at President Obama.
Today the campaigns are claiming victory or they're patting themselves on the back, but another challenger is about to step up. CNN has learned that Jon Huntsman will formally announce his candidacy next week.
The former Utah governor became President Obama's ambassador to China. That fact along with his departure from GOP orthodoxy on some issues may set him apart from the field, but is he different enough from the frontrunner, another ex-governor and fellow Mormon?
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you bring to the table that Mitt Romney doesn't bring to the table?
JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: First, you have to look at our records as governors. Every governor governs a little differently, they all have different track records. Some speak to economic success, some speak to education or health care success. We all try to do what's best for our state. All you have to do is compare and contrast.
Second, I think the citizens in this country are going to be very interested in a president who understands the world for what it is. It's complex, it's confusing, it is uncertain, and it's not going to get any better in the years to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota officially joined the race during last night's debate and turned in a solid performance, but there may be room for yet another conservative in the race.
We're talking about the Texas governor, Rick Perry. He's now dropping fresh hints today that he might enter the race. He told "The Texas Tribune," and I'm quoting now, "People would like to have some other options." And then Perry added that while there may be a drop- dead time by which a candidate must declare, that time has not arrived yet. Perry is, by the way, in New York for a major speech.
That's also where we find our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
Jessica, how close is he to formally announcing that he's a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's having a lot of fun teasing the press and political watchers with that news, that deadline. He told one of the producers, when asked if he was going to run, he said I might go running in Central Park.
When he was just on FOX News a short time ago, he said he doesn't even think he has to decide within the month. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How did it go?
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: You can see it tonight. It was awesome.
QUESTION: Are you going to run?
PERRY: I might run in Central Park.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS)
PERRY: I'm not sure that you have to make a decision in a month.
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You could push it to when? PERRY: It's a pretty fast world out there that we live in there today. So, again, we're giving it the appropriate thought process and I would hate to be pointing to a time specific, even if we decide to get in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: So reading the tea leaves, Wolf, he is New York City, he is speaking tonight to the New York County Republicans at their Lincoln Day Dinner. This is an event originally Donald Trump was going to speak at, that means it's a room of some pretty big heavy hitters, major donors, the kinds of people you might ask to write a very fat check if you were going to run for president. So it certainly couldn't hurt to butter these folks up if you're planning a run, Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of major Republican leaders out there think he will. One of them told me the other day that he thought that there was a 95 percent chance that he will run.
But if he does run, who will you be appealing to in this already very crowded field?
YELLIN: You know, it's interesting. On first blush, you might think he would appeal strictly to the Michele Bachmann sort of Rick Santorum social conservative voters because he has a strong record on opposing abortion rights, opposing gay rights, those sorts of issues. But the truth is, because of that track record, he can focus instead, a lot of Republicans operatives think, on the economic message.
And the bottom line is, Texas has had such a success story in recent years outperforming the nation on all the major economic indicators. They've had less unemployment than the nation at large. They' done better in housing and better in economic growth.
So one could argue he would have a strong case to make against, say, President Obama, if he were to get the nomination, selling an economic message and assume that he could already get the social conservative vote because of his history there.
But you have to weigh that against the fact, Wolf, that there are many in his state who don't like him that much. He rates below 50 percent approval in his own state. So, down sides and upsides to a Rick Perry candidacy.
BLITZER: If he does run, he's going to have to do a little better job of explaining of what he meant not that long ago when he suggested that Texas could secede from the union. We'll press him on that.
YELLIN: Now he wants to run it, maybe.
BLITZER: Yes, all right, we'll see what happens, Jessica.
Thanks very much. It's been half a century since a sitting U.S. president got up and traveled to Puerto Rico. Hard to believe. President Obama broke that streak today. The president didn't stay very long, only a few hours, but our White House correspondent Dan Lothian has stayed in Puerto Rico a bit longer to tell us what's going on. Let's go to Dan right now, he's joining us live.
How did it go in Puerto Rico today, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a strong visit for the president, Wolf. You know, back in 2008 when he was here, then Candidate Obama, he said that when he won, he would return. So today he was delivering on that promise.
But it also gave the chance -- the president a chance to talk about the economy, about the status of Puerto Rico and to reach out to a group of people who can play an important role in his re-election bid.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The place many consider a vacation paradise rolled out the red carpet for President Obama. Large banners dangled off buildings and bridges on the road into old San Juan, and construction workers stopped hammering to capture the moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated text): He passed boom, boom, boom, fast.
LOTHIAN: President Obama's visit was almost as fast as that speeding motorcade, just about four hours. Before visiting the historic governor's mansion and eating lunch at a local deli, Mr. Obama talked about Puerto Rico's economic challenges with its unemployment rate of more than 16 percent, and the issue of whether the island should remain a territory or become a state.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.
LOTHIAN: With 4.6 million Puerto Ricans on the mainland who can vote in a presidential election, more than the population on the island itself, many say this visit is also about politics, wooing an important voting bloc in key battleground states like Florida. That's how a local political science professor Jose Pacheco sees it.
JOSE PACHECO, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: They are looking for both of the Puerto Rican community. We have a big community in New York and other parts of the different states.
LOTHIAN: We heard the same thing around the cart of street vendor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be, maybe. Maybe he want the Puerto Rican vote for him. LOTHIAN: The island's governor, Luis Fortuno, who gave the president a tour of his mansion, said the visit offered a chance to remind Washington of what they need and what they have to offer.
GOV. LUIS FORTUNO (R), PUERTO RICO: We want to be a part of the solutions that are being discussed in Washington.
LOTHIAN: As for politics --
(on camera): How much do you think the president's visit here is part of his overall strategy to make sure that he can win over the hearts and minds of the people of Puerto Rico who live in the United States?
FORTUNO: Well, of course, anything that happens anywhere, not just in Puerto Rico, nowadays will have an effect, a political effect.
LOTHIAN: Now Hispanics in 2008 turned out in strong numbers for President Obama, but since then, many have been unhappy because they don't think that he has been aggressively going after some of their issues like immigration reform, so they'll have to do some convincing.
And I'm told by one campaign official that already in places like Florida they've set up phone banks, they're also training bilingual volunteers in order to present the president's goals, tailor made for the Hispanic community.
Now back here in Puerto Rico, while the people here cannot vote in a general election, what they can do is contribute cash. And so President Obama attended a fundraiser before flying back to Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Seems to be doing that on every stop -- in Miami, in Puerto Rico. Almost every place he's going nowadays, and you cover him, Dan, he seems to be doing a fundraiser as well. It's part of the effort to get to that $1 billion figure, is that right?
LOTHIAN: That's right. And you know, that's a number that the campaign and the administration pretty much stays away from, but it's widely expected that, in fact, the Obama campaign will raise a billion dollars between now and election day.
And the reason for all that money is because they see this as a very competitive race, and they'll need a lot of that money in order to launch a very aggressive campaign on the airwaves and to reach out to all of those communities, such as some of those things that I've talked about already underway in Florida.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian on the scene for us in San Juan, a beautiful city. We love Puerto Rico. Dan, thanks very much.
LOTHIAN: Yes, we do.
BLITZER: A bitter political fight brewing over the fate of a multi-million dollar Boeing plant that's in danger of damaging some big business support for President Obama's re-election. We'll explain what's going on.
Plus, angry House Democrats meeting for the first time since Congressman Anthony Weiner's bombshell admission in an embarrassing sex scandal. What some are now hearing he's about to do next.
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, each of the Republican contenders in last night's CNN presidential debate tired to set him or herself apart from the other candidates, but their main message was about beating President Obama in 2012 rather than beating up on each other. With the president's approval ratings near all-time lows, our national debt at all-time high and climbing, and unemployment above 9 percent it would certainly seem at this point it's the Republican's race to lose.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, nearly three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independent voters say they want a real contender who can defeat President Obama in 2012, even, even if that nominee doesn't agree with them on every single issue. And more importantly, that number is up seven percentage points from January.
But for Republicans to keep conservatives happy, social issues -- abortion, gay marriage, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," -- they still manage to work their way into the conversation, and that could be a problem for Republicans once we get in the general election campaign.
For example, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said on Sunday's "Meet the Press" not only was he pro-life, even in cases of rape and incest, he thinks that doctors who perform abortions ought to face criminal charges. Santorum should save himself some time and money and go find something else to do besides running for president because it's not happening.
On the subject of gay marriage, all the candidates except Herman Cain and Ron Paul said last night they'd support a constitutional amendment outlawing it. Several of them also said if elected, they'd go back on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, about gay serving in the armed forces.
Note to the GOP: these are not the issues that Middle America is worried about. They would like to be able to find a job.
Here's a question: Will Republicans have to lighten up on the social issues in order to be successful in 2012?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.
The more things change, the more nothing changes. BLITZER: Yes. Republicans are pretty united on some of those social issues we heard last night -- clear difference with a president of the United States. It sets up a good debate in the coming year.
To Capitol Hill right now, where frustration is reaching a boiling point, the embattled New York Congressman Anthony Weiner so far refusing to heed deafening calls from colleagues to resign in a wake of an embarrassing sex scandal. House Democrats met today for the first time since his bombshell news conference.
Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has fresh details. She's joining us now live from Capitol Hill.
Dana, what is the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, actually, as I just got an e-mail, Wolf, from a Democratic source familiar from the meeting that just wrapped up with about 20 senior Democrats. And in that meeting, I'm told that the Democratic campaign -- congressional campaign chairman, Steve Israel, expressed real anger about the fact that Democrats are off message and that Anthony Weiner is hurting progressives' agenda on Medicare and Social Security.
This is just -- it gives you one sense of how much anger and how annoyed frankly Democrats are that Anthony Weiner may not be here, he may be in a treatment center. But the fact that he's still in Congress is hurting them.
BASH (voice-over): By calling on Anthony Weiner to resign, fed up House Democratic leaders were hoping to avoid week three of what they call a major political distraction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.
BASH: It didn't work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
REPORTER: Do you think Weiner should resign?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
BASH: Outside this first meeting of House Democrat since Weiner admitted to tweeting lewd photos of himself, frustration among colleagues was palpable.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: I mean, it's taken away from all the issues that we're fighting for. It's been, what, two weeks? It's been a very long two weeks.
BASH: Carolyn McCarthy, Weiner's New York Democratic colleague, said she's confident he'll make, quote, "the right decision." MCCARTHY: We're hearing that he might resign in a couple of days.
BASH: She did not elaborate.
Even the former chair of the House Ethics Committee said Weiner should go.
(on camera): Congresswoman, do you think that Congressman Weiner should resign? Or do you think --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do.
BASH (voice-over): Another veteran Democratic lawmaker says their goal is to keep the pressure on Weiner.
REP. SANDER LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I think we should send a strong message to him that he should resign.
LEVIN: I think the more of us who say it, the more telling it will be.
BASH: To be sure, some of Weiner's colleagues may be pushing him, but they're careful not to shove.
REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: If it were me, I would resign. But, you know, that's up to him and his constituents.
BASH: Democratic lawmakers insist inside their closed-door meeting, they spent 95 percent of their time on their agenda, only 5 percent on Weiner.
REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: We're having an extraordinarily important discussion. Something that's imperative is dealing with speculation in terms of energy prices.
BASH: But the House Democratic leader did privately explain to colleagues why she called on Weiner to go.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I wanted to be sure that they knew why I came to the conclusion that with the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the need for help that Congressman Weiner should resign from the Congress.
BASH: Now, Democrats are in a bit of a holding pattern right now because Weiner has made clear that he's not going to make a decision on whether to resign until his wife gets back from traveling abroad with her boss Hillary Clinton. In fact, we are told by several lawmakers that possibility of punishment beyond just trying to get him to resign did not come up today because they're waiting.
But CNN is told, Wolf, that one lawmaker in this private meeting this morning with House Democrats did ask Nancy Pelosi about the possibility of stripping Weiner of his committee assignments. And in a sign of confidence, that he actually will go on his own, Wolf, I'm told, Pelosi said, quote, "He won't have any when he resigns" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much. I know you'll stay on top of this story for us.
Meanwhile, mounting concern in Congress over the U.S. role in Libya. Just ahead, my review with a ranking member of the Armed Senate Services Committee, John McCain. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What he's now hearing about dramatic new action the White House is about to take.
Plus, the U.S. Army now bidding farewell to the beret. We'll explain why.
BLITZER: That raging wildfire burning in Arizona now the largest in the state's history.
Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What do you have, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, the blaze has scorched about 733 square miles, surpassing the infamous rodeo fire of 2002. Officials say it's now about 18 percent contained, which is nearly double yesterday's figures. Calmer winds are said to be helping conditions, although a new fire is now burning in southern New Mexico.
A San Francisco federal judge has upheld a former colleague's decision declaring California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August that the state's Proposition 8 measure violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. Then in April, he revealed he was gay. Critics say he should have either disclosed that initially or refused himself from the case.
Horrifying images of a Goodyear blimp engulfed in flames plunging to the ground over the weekend in Germany. The three passengers aboard the blimp, all journalists, managed to jump to safety and were not injured. The pilot, however, was killed. The accident is under investigation.
And after a decade of controversy, the Army is bidding farewell to the black berets, the standard headgear for soldiers in combat uniform. The war beret is being replaced by the camouflage patrol cap, a welcome change for many who complained to hot, it takes two hands to put on and it's too hard to adjust. The Army says the move could save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Wolf, it seems like a small thing but a lot of debate over that. BLITZER: The black beret. What about the green beret? What's happening to the green beret?
SNOW: That stays for the Special Forces. But this was expanded for more members of the military and that prompted a lot of debate when it was initiated.
BLITZER: It certainly did.
All right. Mary, thanks very much.
A new Boeing airliner plant setting off a huge political fight involving the federal government, two states, big business, labor, and President Obama. We'll tell you what's going on.
And a crackdown on protesters, Syria's regime has managed to keep reporters out. But CNN's Arwa Damon has now managed to get in. She's going to give us a firsthand look. Standby.
BLITZER: Boeing has built a new assembly plant for its new 787 airliner in South Carolina. But the focus today is on a courtroom in Seattle, Washington. That's where the National Labor Relations Board will press its case that Boeing has expanded to mainly non-union South Carolina at the expense of union workers in Washington state. A huge political fight is already raging.
Our Lisa Sylvester gives us the background.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charming location, southern hospitality and an available work force, some of the reasons why North Charleston, South Carolina, was picked by Boeing in October 2009 as the location for its second assembly line for the new 787 Dreamliner plane.
MAYOR KEITH SUMMEY, NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: When there's a downturn in the economy, to get a plant like Boeing, it heightens the expectations of the people within the community.
SYLVESTER: The new Boeing facility is scheduled to be completed in July. It will employ 3,800 people.
But behind the happy headlines, a raging debate. South Carolina is a right-to-work state where employees cannot be forced to join a union.
JOHN MCDERMOTT, CHARLESTON POST AND COURIER: The people in South Carolina are used -- they traditionally are averse to unions. It's just -- it's a deep-seated cultural thing.
SYLVESTER: For decades, Boeing has built its planes at Everett, Washington, by union workers. The decision to build a second assembly line in South Carolina has the folks in Washington State up in arms. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers points to comments from Boeing's CEO and other officials that suggest a driving reason for opening up the South Carolina plant was because of strikes by Boeing workers and the possibility of future work stoppages.
The union calls this blatant retaliation and says that's against the law.
(on camera): Why do you consider this to be retaliation?
CHRISTOPHER CORSON, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS: Work stoppages are considered an activity protected by law. Engaging in collective bargaining negotiations is considered an activity protected by law. And taking work away from employees because they've engaged in those rights, that's illegal retaliation.
SYLVESTER: The National Labor Relations Board acting general counsel appointed by President Obama agreed with the union, issuing a complaint and ordering the South Carolina plant not be used to build the 787 planes.
We asked Boeing for an interview but they declined. But in a response to the NLRB complaint, Boeing's chief counsel said, "No work, none at all, was removed or transferred from Puget South. The second line for the 787 is a new final assembly line."
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm outraged at it.
SYLVESTER: Republican Senator Jim DeMint represents South Carolina. He says the NLRB ruling infringes on the rights of an American company to decide where it can and cannot locate.
DEMINT: What it's going to do is hurt all American workers. It will hurt our economy by encouraging companies to locate in other countries where they don't have to deal with the government that is so oppressive.
SYLVESTER: The South Carolina plant is now in limbo, still scheduled to open in a matter of weeks with the issue unresolved.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
DEMINT: Wolf, thanks for having me, and thanks for bringing this issue to the attention of the public.
BLITZER: I know a lot of interest in South Carolina, but indeed, there's a lot of interest nationally, because the stakes really are very, very significant. Let me read to you a statement that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers put out on this case. "This is a very simple case," the statement says. "It is undisputed that Boeing workers in the state of Washington engaged in negotiations and other collective activity that the law protects. Boeing announced in the press that it was moving a substantial part of their assembly work on the company's new 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina because of that activity. That constituted illegal retaliation, and that is what the NLRB complaint charged."
Do you want to go and respond to these union workers? Because they're arguing that Boeing is violating the law, and you support the law.
DEMINT: I sure do. The National Labor Relations board was formed to protect the rights of workers, both union and non-union. Unfortunately, in this case, they're not considering the non-union workers in South Carolina.
No worker has been harmed in Washington. They've added 2,000 jobs. What happened before the move was, Boeing was looking at a number of locations for a second line for this Dreamliner. They discussed the cost of doing business in Washington, and part of that were the costs of strikes.
It was not in retaliation. They had every right to move anywhere in the world, and they picked South Carolina.
The fact that the National Labor Relations Board has joined with the machinist union in this is just absurd in a time when we're trying to create jobs in America. So we've expanded the pie, more people are working. And unfortunately, this administration, through their surrogates at the National Labor Relations Board, are going after one of America's finest companies.
BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment, but let me read to you from "The New York Times" today. Steven Greenhouse writing this: "Many legal specialists say the NLRB and the machinist union have a good chance of winning before the administrative law judge in Seattle, and in the next stage of the legal process, an appeal to the Democrat- dominated five-seat labor board in the District of Columbia."
So assuming they win these challenges, the union, and Boeing loses, what do you do then? What's going to happen to this plant in Charleston, South Carolina, and all those workers and all the money that Boeing invested?
DEMINT: Well, Boeing is going to open up. And to their credit, they're going to fight this thing.
They're going to make some planes in Washington, as well as in South Carolina. And they fully expect to lose the first process, the first appeals, because as you said, it does go to a board that's been stocked with union boss rather than objective people.
They do ultimately expect to win this case after spending millions of dollars over several years. I don't think the board expects to win, but what they do hope this will do is intimidate any company in this country that is now currently in a forced union state to keep them from expanding into a right to work state.
So the stakes here are large. There are 22 states right now that protect workers' rights to either join a union or not join them, and I think that's where the economic activity is expanding, that's where the population is growing. So the unions are going to have to go to the government to protect them because the people in the business is going to move away from these states where they have to deal with this kind of action.
BLITZER: The White House says it's staying out of this, that the NLRB is independent and they have no role in determining what the NLRB is doing. You suggested that the NLRB is really a proxy for the White House. But go ahead and tell me why you don't believe the White House.
DEMINT: Well, the acting general counsel here at the board has not been confirmed by the Senate. The White House has stocked this board. And ironically, his chief of staff, Obama's chief of staff, was on the Boeing board when this decision was made.
So, if they broke the law, he should take a leave of absence at least. But there is so much duplicity here, the president should speak out and make his position clear.
This is hurting job growth in America. It's not just about South Carolina or Boeing. It is encouraging any company that wants to expand to do it outside of this country so they don't have to deal with this type of frivolous lawsuit.
BLITZER: You're talking about Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff. Before joining the White House, he was on the Boeing board.
So what are you saying? Flesh that out, because maybe I missed something. What are you saying about Bill Daley's role in all of this as a member of the Boeing board and now as the White House chief of staff?
DEMINT: Well, if the president or this administration or board thinks that the Boeing board violated the law by locating to South Carolina, then Obama's chief of staff violated the law. They can't have it both ways here, Wolf.
And I think that this whole decision is so absurd. The president could get this board to back off, or at least expedite the process so that Boeing doesn't have to spend millions of dollars that it could use to create more jobs in this country.
This is the kind of thing we see from the administration in a lot of areas. They talk about jobs, but everything they're doing is making the job situation worse.
BLITZER: One final question, Senator, on a totally unrelated matter before I let you go. The last time we spoke, you told me you're not running for the Republican presidential nomination. I just want to make sure. This is a free country, you can always change your mind.
Is that still your position?
DEMINT: That's still my position. I have no plans to run for the presidency.
BLITZER: Do you support any of these seven candidates who debated last night?
DEMINT: I'm going to watch them for a while. I'm going to see what they do on this debt ceiling increase, if they support a balanced budget amendment to stop all this crazy spending. I think by the fall we'll know which one has the courage to be president.
BLITZER: You leaning towards one candidate?
DEMINT: No, I'm leaning towards them all. I think any of these Republicans would do better than what we've got right now.
BLITZER: Senator DeMint, thanks very much for coming in.
DEMINT: Thank you. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And you can read my thoughts on what's going on, on our new SITUATION ROOM blog, CNN.com/situationroom. I report there on what's going on in South Carolina with Boeing. Also, why some major big business donors for the president are disillusioned right now. Some of them are accusing the president of being anti-business because of what's going on with Boeing, South Carolina, and Washington State.
CNN.com/situationroom if you want to read our daily blog.
So how many troops will be coming home from Afghanistan? The last mission of the U.S. commander there advising the president of the United States on the start of a withdrawal.
Plus, seven candidates took part in last night's GOP debate. How many more will join the crowded fields? Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin, they are both standing by.
BLITZER: Just want to clarify something we reported earlier. President Obama's visit to Puerto Rico today is actually the first visit by a sitting president in about 30 years, the first official visit, they say. But President Ford and President Johnson also visited briefly the island while they were in office, sitting presidents. Just a clarification here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us, our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.
Guys, thanks very much. I assume both of you were watching the CNN Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire last night. Seven candidates up on the stage. I'm going to go through each one.
And give me a quick thought, Mary, starting with you, on how they did, how they didn't do, what was your impression was, quick, on each one.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator?
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Solid, stayed in his lane, wants to be the last guy standing in the anti-Romney category. Didn't get out of that lane.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Preachy, solid, conservative, but I don't believe he has a constituency yet.
BLITZER: Michele Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota?
MATALIN: Beauty and brains. Universally acclaimed by both sides to exceed expectations. A lot of this is expectations, and she beat them, and starting out with that sound bite, "I'm in," was brilliant.
BRAZILE: She was poised and relaxed, and she used her opportunity very well.
BLITZER: Our good friend Ed Rollins seems to be having an impact. He's the campaign chairman for her campaign.
BRAZILE: This way she knew exactly where the camera was.
BLITZER: She knew what to do.
MATALIN: And he must be impressing her good looks, right?
BRAZILE: Oh my God.
BLITZER: She looked great. There's no doubt about that. We'll see how this unfolds.
All right. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker, who's got a lot of problems right now?
MATALIN: Mature, serious, I know how to govern, don't write me off. Message delivered.
BRAZILE: Stiff board, but he seems to have overcome what happened last week with his staff leaving him.
BLITZER: He seems to be still making it clear he's not thrilled with the Paul Ryan Medicare reform package. He makes the point, and he said it last night, if you can't explain it to the American public, why even raise it?
MATALIN: He ought to quit saying that. BLITZER: Yes.
BRAZILE: Well, I also thought that he survived last night, and that was the key thing for Newt Gingrich.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney, who is, by all accounts, the front-runner right now?
MATALIN: Earned it. Earned it. He was the default front-runner prior to last night. Earned it and was consistent.
BRAZILE: He was polite, respectful to his opponent, but I don't think he should start measuring the drapes just yet.
BLITZER: Not yet?
BRAZILE: Not yet.
BLITZER: But he looked sort of presidential, right?
BRAZILE: Well, come on. It's not hard to look presidential being Mitt Romney. But I don't know if he is presidential.
BLITZER: Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas? The third time he's running.
MATALIN: Constitutional heartthrob. Stayed on it for we who want to hear how the Constitution works and why it should.
BRAZILE: Principled, consistent, but I don't believe he'll win the nomination.
BLITZER: He's a very nice man. He's a gentleman. I saw him at the hotel in Manchester this morning with his wife before he left.
Tim Pawlenty, the former two-term governor of Minnesota?
MATALIN: Flummoxing, universal flummoxed about you shoot the king, you kill the king. That seeming (ph) retreat after starting off is still -- that's not writing him off. He's solid, he's still the leader of the not Romney people. But that was confusing.
BRAZILE: I think he has an incredible story, a personal story. A union member, et cetera, but he came across pathetic, weak, Romney number two. He wasn't willing to take on Romney, and that's important for Mr. Pawlenty.
BLITZER: A lot of my followers on Twitter were saying maybe he's now thinking of running as Romney's running mate as a vice presidential --
BRAZILE: Number two.
BLITZER: Number two, and maybe that's why he was nice to Romney after giving him a slap on Sunday.
MATALIN: He's solid. He's serious.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, the radio talk show host.
MATALIN: He's one of my favorites, but doing this is harder than making pizzas. It's a real skill set and you have to be consistent. He was off his game.
BRAZILE: Very pious, didn't take advantage of a broader audience. Came across as a fringe candidate.
BLITZER: Jon Huntsman announces next week. He'll be number eight.
And then Rick Perry. Do you think Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is in or out?
MATALIN: If he gets in, he has a great record. He's making jobs where they're losing -- being lost everywhere else. And he's got that cute factor, he's got that alpha male thing. That will shoot him up fast.
BLITZER: Another Republican governor from Texas. What do you think?
BRAZILE: I don't know. I don't think the country is ready for another candidate from Texas. But that said, come on in. The water is still warm. Get on in the race. Missed an opportunity last night to, of course, be interviewed by John King.
BLITZER: Sarah Palin?
MATALIN: I don't see her getting in, but we've been talking about Sarah Palin forever. We'll never know until she does it.
BLITZER: We'll know at some point. She'll either jump in or she'll continue to be a Fox News contributor.
BRAZILE: I think Palin will run. Remember, she can run an unconventional campaign until she has to file papers. I still believe Palin will jump into this contest.
BLITZER: We'll see. That could be exciting. We'll all watch.
Guys, thanks very much.
BRAZILE: Are you hosting the next debate?
BLITZER: Yes. That will be in September.
BRAZILE: Amen. I'll stick around.
BLITZER: Do you know where it's going to be?
BRAZILE: Let me guess. Iowa?
BLITZER: Tampa, Florida.
BRAZILE: Oh, I'm coming with you then.
BLITZER: All right. Good.
BLITZER: We'll all be in Tampa in September, our next CNN Republican debate.
BRAZILE: I'm coming.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.
So how many U.S. troops should President Obama bring home from Afghanistan? The top U.S. general behind the mission, he's here in Washington and he has some advice.
And President Obama facing mounting criticism for not getting the OK from Congress before bombing Libya. Was it a mistake? The ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has some dramatic new information to share with all of us.
BLITZER: The state of Arkansas is getting rattled with hundreds of recent earthquakes. Now some are suggesting they could be man- made.
Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems odd to see this in a Greenbrier Arkansas elementary school. It's not a tornado drill, but an earthquake drill
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep your head covered and hold on tight.
LAVANDERA: Since last September, nearly 1,200 small earthquakes have sent daily jolts through a rural area north of Little Rock. The shaking, caught on surveillance tape, so you will have to excuse folks around here for feeling a little edgy
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the earthquakes continue to get stronger and stronger and stronger, it's going to be people's homes ruined and possibly people's lives.
LAVANDERA (on camera): So where are we going here, Scott?
SCOTT AUSBROOKS, ARKANSAS GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: We are going right out there to that seismic station. LAVANDERA (voice-over): State geologist Scott Ausbrooks says natural gas injection wells could be the culprit. The wells shoot waste water from natural gas drilling wells deep into the earth. And since there are fault lines that run through the area, the pressurized injections could be disturbing already unstable ground. Small earthquakes have always been common here, but not this many.
AUSBROOKS: These wells went on line, then the earthquakes definitely went up in number and size of earthquakes.
LAVANDERA (on camera): I get the sense that you think this is much more than just a coincidence though.
AUSBROOKS: If there is not some sort of causal relationship, it will be an extraordinary coincidence.
LAVANDERA: Geologists say this time lapse map that I'm about to show you is the most compelling evidence of a connection between the injection wells and the earthquakes. Each of these red circle that you see here represents an injection well, and this is the fault line that runs through the area.
Now we're going to get the time lapse moving, and watch each of these dots that starts popping up. They represent an earthquake that has been recorded in the last year. Now watch how this entire cluster is located between the injection wells
(voice-over): The natural gas companies deny the injection wells are causing more earthquakes. One company says there is a rush to find a villain.
The companies say the quakes occur naturally in an area with a long history of seismic activity. In March, a moratorium was put in place on a 576-square-mile area, and geologists say the number of quakes is already slowing down. But state oil and gas regulators say they don't see a clear link yet.
SHANE KHOURY, ARKANSAS OIL & GAS COMMISSION: The better question is whether they are being induced or enhanced in any way by the injection operations in one or both of these two wells.
LAVANDERA: The strongest earthquake so far registered a 4.7, the strongest in 35 years. The fear is they will keep getting stronger and rattle more than just people's nerves.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Greenbrier, Arkansas.
BLITZER: A CNN reporter manages to get into war-torn Syria after months of being denied access. Just ahead, the devastation she witnessed firsthand.
And members of Congress preparing to get new details from the White House on the U.S. role in Libya. My interview with Senator John McCain, that's coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Will the Republicans have to lighten up on the social issues in order to be successful in 2012?
Brian in California writes, "Absolutely. These are fringe issues where the majority of the country simply does not agree with the far right. Perhaps more importantly, the voters in this election, regardless of where they stand in the political spectrum, expect the candidates to focus on the economy and the deficit. Anything else the candidates focus on is a waste of their time and a waste of potential votes."
Dennis in Florida writes, "Even though the economy is horrible, the Republicans will have to soften the ultra-conservative stances. Similarly, the Democrats will need a middle-of-the-road strategy as well. The average person doesn't want the extreme right or left positions jammed down our throats."
C. writes, "The moderates like Romney will pretend to be staunchly pro-life, Pawlenty will say what a glowing President Palin would make, all until after the nomination. Then they will revert to their true centrist views if they want to win."
Richard in San Diego writes, "How often can you say smaller government, lower taxes, no regulations? Last night's debate -- and I use the word 'debate' lightly -- showed that if they don't discuss social issues, they have nothing to say. No ideas to improve things except trying what has already failed. I don't know about anybody else, but if you have two roads, and one is a dead end, I don't drive down the dead end one twice."
Jim in Oklahoma, "They definitely should, but I don't think they will. It will cost them the votes of the 30-something voters like my adult children, and I believe ultimately it will also cost them the election. I'm a conservative Republican, totally frustrated that Republican candidates don't understand it's the economy."
And Bob writes, "They will not succeed. They cannot get away from cultural wars. They can't run away from Private Ryan. With candidates like Romney the Mormon, Huntsman the Mormon, T-Paw flip- flop, Newt the philanderer, and the rest of them, they are going nowhere."
If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.