Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
President Changes Jobs Speech Date to Accommodate Republican Debate; Some Small Businesses Ruined in Wake of Hurricane Irene; Major Wildfires Raging Across Texas; Unemployment Claims Fall; Gadhafi's Message to Libya
Aired September 1, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thanks very much, Brooke. Happening now, a date with division. This hour new details on the exchange between the president and the House speaker over Mr. Obama's big jobs speech. It's a new damper on hopes for bipartisanship.
Also, a nuclear power plant reveals more fallout from the earthquake here on the East Coast. It's a probably that's never been caused by a quake in this country at least until now.
And 10 years after 9/11 some first responders at ground zero may finally be getting answers about how and why they got cancer. Stand by for Dr. Sanjay Gupta and details of a new medical study.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now a lot of American are asking themselves this question -- how can our political leaders do big things like reduce the debt or fix the economy if they butt heads over a scheduling speech? We're learning more about the dust-up over the president's make-or-break jobs speech next week, and how the date one week from today was finally set.
CNN's Athena Jones is covering the story for us. She's joining us live from the White House. Athena.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House said the decision to have the president lay out his jobs plan in this particular venue, a joint session of Congress, was made this week. Now, actually scheduling that speech has turned out to be the hard part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the American people expect the president to do, what they expect their senators and Congressmen and women to do is listen to them and take action. They do not give a lick about what day next week the president speaks before Congress.
JONES: The great date debate came to the first public view through a tweet. At around noon on Wednesday White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer the told hi twitter followers President Obama asked to address a joint session of Congress the following Wednesday, September 7, to lay out his jobs plan.
In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, the president cited the nation's unprecedented economic challenges as he called on Washington to put politics aside and start making decisions based on what is best for our country.
But in Washington, politics are everywhere. A presidential address next Wednesday night, the House's first day back in session, would have conflicted with the Republican presidential debate, something spokesman Jay Carney called a coincidence during Wednesdays' briefing.
CARNEY: There are factors that go into scheduling a speech before Congress, a joint session speech. And again, you can't -- you can never find a perfect time.
JONES: By 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, "Politico" and NBC News announced the debate would not be postponed. Just after 4:00 p.m., Speaker Boehner responded to the White House's request with one of his own, asking that the president's speech be pushed to Thursday the 8th, to ensure there would be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that may detract from the address.
JONES: Let's bring it up to speed, Wolf. A little after 9:00 p.m. last night the press secretary here at the White House put out a statement saying the president had agreed to speak on Thursday. Now, that just happens to be the same day as the NFL season opener. It's the Saints versus the Packers. One thing that Jay Carney told us in today's briefing, the president's speech will be completed before kickoff.
Last thing I asked Jay Carney, what was the president's reaction to all of this discussion about the speech timing? He said he spent a lot of time this morning with the president, and the subject never came up. Wolf?
BLITZER: Athena, thanks very much. Let's dig deeper with our Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. She's the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." I guess the bottom-line question is did the White House deliberately want to poke their fingers in the eyes of the Republicans who for months had that debate scheduled over at the Reagan library.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is hard to believe that not a soul in that White House who knew that the president, for who a month said he was going to have a jobs speech, so they had a month to look at the days and say where -- it's just hard to believe that not a single person in that White House knew there was going to be a Republican debate that night.
BLITZER: Isn't that why there's staff members on the White House team and in the House and Senate, so they work this kind of stuff out? Behind the scenes before letters are exchanged?
CROWLEY: Yes, exactly. But having said that, listening to Jay Carney, I totally agree, I don't think anybody out there cares what night the president talks, that the issues override this, although I love they now say don't worry, we'll be done before the football game.
Setting that aside, the fact is the net result of this is to have everyone outside this beltway rolling their eyes, thinking, are you kidding me? These people can't agree. Let's forget who did what to whom and who was trying to outflank the other one politically, this -- nobody comes out a winner on this stupid thing.
BLITZER: Because it seems to be the burden is on the White House to get it right, as opposed to Congress. Congress an equal branch, a legislative branch of government, an executive branch of government, they're inviting the president to come up to Capitol Hill. Shouldn't the White House defer to Congress and Congress says no, and the Republicans the majority in the House. Did Boehner do anything wrong in this particular case?
CROWLEY: Listen, I don't think we're a matter of right or wrong. He said --
BLITZER: Did he snub the president?
CROWLEY: Listen, if you are a Republican at this point, you think the president deliberately tried to override and make himself look presidential on a night when he knew Republicans would probably be firing at one another.
BLITZER: But in the end he sort of looks weak.
CROWLEY: Because he had to cave. This is a fight the White House did not need to have.
BLITZER: That's why the people who worked for the president in this particular case seem to have failed him.
CROWLEY: Or they meant to do it. Either some bad advice, or they actually meant to do it. My guess is it really did somehow get overlooked, although that's hard to believe, because this debate has been scheduled for so long.
But in the end, if you're a Republican, you think the president you know is wrong, if you're a Democrat, you think the Republicans are wrong, except for James Carville. He was saying, you know, this is bad of them to try to do this on the night of the Republican debate. But having said that, I do think Washington itself, as we see those numbers go lower and lower and lower, loses on all of this.
BLITZER: One of the reasons why. Candy, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Folly is an understatement. Heading into an election year, President Obama has some issues, and they start very close to home. Top black leaders are criticizing the president, saying he hasn't focused enough on the problems that are devastating the African-American community, things like poverty, civil rights, and jobs. The unemployment rate among blacks almost 16 percent, for young African-Americans, almost 40 percent. Nationally unemployment is holding a shade over 9 percent.
The Congressional Black Caucus recently challenged President Obama in a series of town halls. Leaders say they don't know what his jobs plan is for the black community. Here's the bottom line -- if President Obama wants a second term, he must get blacks to come out in record numbers like they did in 2008, especially in states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia.
African-Americans are going to vote for President Obama overwhelmingly, but the question will be how high will the turnout be? And that's critical.
And it's not just blacks. The president is losing support among another key Democratic voting bloc, women. A new Gallup poll shows his approval rating among women has dropped to just 41 percent, a 30- point decline from the 71 percent that it stood at when he first took office.
Overall a recent CNN poll shows one in four Democrats think the party ought to nominate somebody else other than President Obama in 2012. Two thirds of all Americans give him a thumbs-down on the economy. That's the nation's top issue. Like I said, saying the president has some issues is a big understatement.
Here's the question. How much trouble is the President Obama in, do you think? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the Facebook page.
The only good news is the Republicans look like they've been auditioning candidates at Ringling Brothers. So unless they find somebody other than that collections of souls that they have parading around there so far, with the exception of maybe of Ron Paul, who I think doesn't get elected again, maybe the best friend Obama has is the Republicans.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File." Thank you.
Misery on different ends of the country, fire in the west, flooding in the east. Stand by, we're having live reports from both disaster zones.
And a new message apparently from Moammar Gadhafi telling his supporters not to be cowards. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Rescue crews have reached the last of the flooded small towns in Vermont. Still a far cry, though, from business as usual. Let's go to the Amber Lyon once against joining us from Wilmington in Vermont. What is the latest? What's going on? AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, out here today, we saw inspection crews going around inspection the flood-damaged buildings to see if they need to be condemned or if the business owners can start to rebuild. We're seeing more and more just belongings turned into junk after the floodwaters caked everything. Even the trash cans have become trash.
I'm going to throw on the mask. The air is a little dangerous to breathe. This line up here, that's how high the wall of water came. In eight hours the river rose, the water swept through this town, then it went back down, but definitely leaving a lot of destruction.
Look at this. This used to be a clothing and jewelry shop. I spoke with the owner. She was very upset. She thought she had flood insurance, then realized only the building was covered and none of her clothing and jewelry was covered. She said she faced about $200,000 in losses.
We're headed now into Bean Heads. This is the popular coffee shop. People used to sit here, drink coffee, read the papers. This is owned by a local couple who actually met in this coffee shop, and then ended up getting married. I'm joined by them right now. This is Laura and Kevin Downey. And you guys have just been through an emotional me the past couple days dealing with this. How are you handling it, standing here and seeing your business just destroyed like this?
LAURA DOWNEY, OWNER, BEAN HEAD: You have to think back to the same table where the same guys sit every morning and, you know, it's just --
KEVIN DOWNEY, OWNER, BEAN HEAD: Our regulars would come in every day. There was a table right there where a bunch of the guys would sit down. We would shoot the bull about politics or sports. And now we can't do it. You're standing -- right behind you there was a four- inch pile of mud right there. All our tables are gone down. We took them out, but it was a mishmash. It looked like pickup sticks in here.
LAURA DOWNEY: Our livelihood is just gone. It just disappeared in hours. And how do you build up from that?
KEVIN DOWNEY: It's going to be very hard. We've got to find out for sure. Our insurance company, they told us we have the insurance that we needed to have, but they never told us we should have flood insurance. I assumed that our flood insurance, because we're only 10 feet above the river right behind the building, that we'd have flood insurance.
LYON: But you didn't have flood insurance.
KEVIN DOWNEY: We didn't.
LYON: And if I can point out, Tom, if I can have you shine a light back there, you see this area where it's all destroyed. The refrigeration equipment was in there. And you, Kevin, were telling me, what's that, $50,000 to $70,000 worth of damage, you think?
KEVIN DOWNEY: We had over a dozen pieces of refrigeration. We have thousands of dollars worth of Ravens Brew Coffee out of Alaska. That was our prime -- everybody came in for a great coffee.
LYON: And I've been trying to get Kevin to put a mask on, but he says he is too upset to even thought to care about the air in here. You've been cleaning in this air. You can feel it in your lungs when you breath in. Are you worried about his health?
LAURA DOWNEY: He's stubborn.
LYON: He's stubborn. I see.
KEVIN DOWNEY: I'm a stubborn Irishman. And I just -- I'm a union construction guy, going back, I'm retired now. But I know the hazards. I just -- I'm shocked and I'm just doing things my way right now. And I'm about up to here with the insurance companies and all the -- we've had a lot of help from the community. And I know that the state is trying.
LYON: Yes, we've seen volunteers out there. You know, just see volunteers going up and down the streets, people that don't even know them and other business owners helping clean up. And Wolf, that's what you've noticed. You'll really feel a sense of community out here, and you just see people helping one another in a surprisingly positive attitude out on the streets. Wolf?
BLITZER: Amber, ask the Downeys if they've checked into any federal or FEMA aid programs that might be of assistance to them.
BLITZER: Or maybe state assistance programs, because often in other disasters, either the state or the federal government comes to those who don't necessarily have the appropriate insurance.
LYON: So, Wolf, wants to know if you've got -- have checked into any federal or state disaster assistance since you're not covered by insurance?
KEVIN DOWNEY: I called FEMA yesterday. As soon as I gave them 05363, our zip code here, I was told that until -- we're not on the disaster area list yet. It's expected, but we can't do anything with FEMA. I calmed VEMA, which is Vermont Emergency Management, and because -- apparently because they're -- their offices are up in, out in Burlington, one of the all lying town. They're in the flood plain so they are in the same situation.
LYON: So did anyone say they could help you, or give you some type of hope for the future?
KEVIN DOWNEY: Not directly, but I know they're trying. I mean, I talked to Sanders, Leahy, and Welch's offices, three federal guys, and they are the ones that steered me to VEMA. They didn't -- they are unaware that VEMA is underwater yet, but I trust that there are doing the best they can do. I'm just -- I'm scared that the best they can do is not close to enough. Not close. We're scared.
LAURA DOWNEY: Yes. The whole town.
LYON: The whole town. You feel like that this is the sense around the town.
LAURA DOWNEY: The whole town is just gone.
KEVIN DOWNEY: The vibrant little town of Wilmington is dead right now. There's no businesses downtown. And just a few short days ago, it was bustling. This dining room would have been full, and nothing.
LYON: Thank you, guys, very much. Best of luck. I know Kevin happens to be a huge Yankees fan, Wolf. I don't know if you're happy about that or not.
KEVIN DOWNEY: Nats, I hear, Wolf. I hear you like The Nats.
LYON: The what?
KEVIN DOWNEY: The Nationals. I thought I've seen him hype The Nationals on TV.
BLITZER: Yes, he's right. I love the Washington Nationals.
All right, guys, thanks very much.
Good luck to the Downeys, and good luck to all of the folks in Vermont, New Jersey, all the states, Connecticut, that have been really seriously affected, including my home state of New York.
Much more on the story, coming up.
Meanwhile, the newest hurricane looming up in the Atlantic has just weakened to a tropical storm with 70-mile-an-hour winds, yet it's expected to strengthen as it moves west. And it could become a major hurricane this weekend.
Right now it's far from land, and people -- but the extended forecast shows the storm passing north of Puerto Rico on Monday. We're watching this storm very, very closely -- Katia.
A much different concern in Texas. Firefighters are battling several major wildfires. The largest is west of Dallas. It's burned dozens of homes, but firefighters may finally be gaining an upper hand.
CNN's Jim Spellman is joining us now from the frontlines.
Jim, what are you seeing?
JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. I want to show you a couple of things here. They have this fire about 50 percent contain, but we're still seeing thick smoke coming from various areas. They've been trying to knock this down all day with helicopter drops of water. They have four air tankers on the way now to try to finally get a full, complete handle on this.
But over here to the left, you can see, yesterday, we watched the fire come down this hill and just devastate this portion of forest right here along the Possum Kingdom Lake here. It was devastating. They're still been trying to knock this down all day, too. It finally had made some progress, but right now it's the most dangerous part of the day for fire fighting. The wind has picked up here, but they felt they can make it to the next few hours. They'll gain even more progress over the night. Try to get these people back into their homes, and tourists back here to this resort area before Labour Day weekend. Wolf?
BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. All right, Jim, thank you.
Katia isn't the only storm forecasters are keeping a close watch on. Yet another storm in the Gulf of Mexico could flood parts, get this, of New Orleans. We're going to find out just how dangerous it could be. That's coming up.
And something happened in Iraq last month that's never happened before. We're going to tell you what it is. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: New unemployment claims numbers are out right now.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that with some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf.
The Labour Department says first-time unemployment claims fell to 409,000 last week. That's 12,000 fewer claims than the week before. The reason? Striking Verizon workers who filed for unemployment returned to work. Strikers are not eligible for benefits in most states, but some applied anyway, pushing jobless numbers up for two straight weeks.
The Federal Reserve is sanctioning Goldman Sachs for questionable lending and foreclosure practices in its former mortgage unit. The Fed says the bank has to investigate a pattern of negligence and misconduct, including robo-signing.
That's when lone servicers would rubber stamp foreclosure documents without even looking at them. Goldman will face monetary penalties and have to compensate homeowners harmed by the misconduct.
In a bizarre mystery in Canada. For the 11th time, in the past four years, a severed foot in a tennis shoe has turned up in the waters of British Columbia. DNA test are being conducted to determine the identity of the remained. Authorities, though, they don't suspect foul play, because there were no signs of trauma. So what's behind these gruesome discoveries? Well, some are speculating that they are actually drowning victims whose feet get pulled to the surface from the buoyancy of the tennis shoes.
And good news out of Iraq. No American troops died there during the entire month of August. That is the first month without a U.S. military death since the United States invaded the country in 2003. The U.S. pulled combat troops out of the Iraq last year, but about 50,000 U.S. troops remain there to provide support and training. Wolf?
BLITZER: More than 4,000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since that war started, 4500 or so, something like that.
SILVESTER: Yes, but a good month for August. No deaths in Iraq, and they're calling that a victory.
BLITZER: Let's hope that stays until all those troops are supposed to be out by the end of this year, although the Obama administration and Iraqi government are negotiating to keep some of those troops there. And that's a controversial issue in and of itself. Thanks very much.
The only Republican in the congressional black caucus threatens to leave the group. We're going to tell you why. Stick around.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Two defined new rants apparently from Libya's fugitive leader Moammar Gadhafi. Both audio messages were broadcast at a Syrian-based TV network today, exactly 42 years after Gadhafi's rise to power. Here's a clip from the latest message that aired just a little over an hour ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOAMMAR GADHAFI: Libya will never be suppressed, will never be occupied, and we will fight against you whatever you are. We will sacrifice our lives so that the sand of Libya will become, and the stars will become fire and fight against you. You will never have peace of mind inside our land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Two of Gadhafi's sons have given mixed message about whether the regime supporters should lay down their weapons. The anti-Gadhafi forces, they all say, they have extended their Saturday deadline for Gadhafi loyalists to surrender by a week.
Let's go to Libya right now to talk a little bit more about the hunt for Gadhafi, and life after the fall of his regime. CNN's Arwa Damon is standing by live in Libya.
Arwa, you just spoke with Gadhafi's foreign minister, who is now siding with the rebels. What did he tell you?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Abdel Atti al-Obeidi is now Gadhafi's former foreign minister after he handed himself to the rebels overnight, saying that he was worried about his own security, that he felt that by staying at home, perhaps some rebel units would be threatening with him.
And so he got in contact with the National Transitional Council and he is now in their custody. They say that they're eventually going to investigate and put him on trial, but here is what he had to say to us earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: Do you know where Colonel Gadhafi is right now?
ABDEL ATTI AL-OBEIDI, LIBYAN FMR. FOREIGN MINISTER: No.
DAMON: Do you have any idea where he would have gone?
AL-OBEIDI: He could be in Tripoli, anywhere and anyhow, or he could move to Sirte. But I don't know him, I haven't seen him since two months.
DAMON: You haven't seen him in two months?
AL-OBEIDI: No. Since two months I haven't seen him.
DAMON: But would he ever surrender? Would he ever give up?
AL-OBEIDI: I doubt. My view, that he surrender himself, that he be able to put down arms, or he will be killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: And al-Obeidi also said that he believed that Gadhafi was increasingly losing support, especially from senior regime members. In fact, earlier today, in an interview on Al Arabiya, Gadhafi's prime minister said that he was now siding with the rebels as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You've been in Tripoli now for a while, Arwa. What's it like in the capital of Libya? Is there still fighting? Do Gadhafi's forces control any parts of the capital? What's going on?
DAMON: Well, the street-to-street battles most certainly have subsided. However, there are instances where Gadhafi loyalists have been firing on various rebel checkpoints. This has led to the formation of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council that has 5,500 members.
They say that they are going to take on responsibility for security, for setting up checkpoints, protecting hospitals, other significant institutions. They are in fact asking that anyone who wants to carry a gun inside the capital and protect the capital register with them.
They're asking other fighting units to leave those that came from areas like Misrata and Zintan. So they're trying to establish some sort of control and structure.
When it comes to people's day-to-day lives, they're still suffering from a severe lack of water. There are water shipments coming in from the United Nations and other organizations.
Fuel, of course, still a problem, although the wait, we're being told, has gone from being days long to hours long. And then there is, again, the challenge of food commodities. That, too, in short supply.
But at the end of the day, people say they are, for the time being, able to cope. What they say is the big challenge, especially as the euphoria begins to subside, is going to be setting up institutions, institutions that have to be set up outside of the Gadhafi framework. And that is the framework that is a military and a police one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us.
Be careful over there, still, Arwa. Thank you.
New help for anti-Gadhafi forces. The British military delivered cash to the central bank of Libya in Benghazi last night, more than $225 million. It's some of the assets that were frozen at the start of the Libyan crisis and recently released by the United Nations.
Meantime in Paris, Libya's Transitional Council is being welcomed by global leaders, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's working this part of the story for us -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.
You know, the TNC, the anti-Gadhafi coalition, is winning the war, but can they win the peace? That is the big question, and there are really no guarantees. And the mood in Paris today was, time is of the essence.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton flew to Paris for what used to be called the Libya Contact Group, now dubbed "The Friends of New Libya." And that circle of friends is growing.
Nearly 70 countries have recognized the anti-Gadhafi force's political leadership, the National Transitional Council, as the country's interim legitimate leaders.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The international community will be watching and supporting Libya's leaders as they keep their commitments to conduct an inclusive transition, act under the rule of law, and protect vulnerable populations. DOUGHERTY: Even as Moammar Gadhafi remains in hiding, inciting his supporters to keep up the fight, the rebels now must quickly transition from a ragged band of fighters into a government capable of winning the peace, securing the country, restoring power and water, and ultimately holding election. Right now, the NTC needs money, an initial $7 billion, it says. It has that and more in frozen assets.
Secretary Clinton met with the NTC's leadership and said the U.S. and other nations are freeing up those funds as quickly as possible.
CLINTON: I'm pleased to announce that by the end of today, the United States expects to have delivered $700 million to help the TNC pay for fuel and civilian operating costs and salaries, with another $800 million on the way.
DOUGHERTY: The U.S. and its allies want NATO's military operation to continue as long as civilians remain under threat of attack. And Clinton said Libya's new leadership should assume the country's seat at the United Nations.
The U.N., diplomats say, will play a major coordinating role in post-Gadhafi Libya, lifting its economic sanctions on the country and authorizing a U.N. mission to Libya. But Clinton was candid.
CLINTON: They still have a huge hill to climb here. They don't yet have their whole country secure.
DOUGHERTY: And Clinton was asked about the Lockerbie bomber, al- Megrahi, and whether the U.S. is pushing the NTC to give him up. Clinton said she believes that he should still be behind bars, but she says the U.S. has raised the issue with the NTC. They have their hands full right now, she added, but they promised to give it full consideration as soon as they can -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They already sound, Jill, like diplomats. Full consideration -- can't they just give a yes or no? What's the problem?
DOUGHERTY: You know, Wolf, actually, I talked with one of the NTC's leaders. And what they are saying is they are a transitional government, they are not the final government, which will be elected. So they are pushing it off to the government that will be elected. It will be their decision.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, at the State Department for us.
The only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus may be leaving the group. You're going to find out why Congressman Allen West of Florida is so upset and what he wants the caucus to do to keep him as a member.
And Michele Bachmann compares herself to two legendary leaders. We're going to tell you who they are and why some are questioning her comparison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- ushered in a period of peace and prosperity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin, and CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
I want to follow up -- and I'll start with you, Donna -- on Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. Some very, very controversial, explosive words he said the other day. Listen to this and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Some of them in Congress, in this Tea Party movement right now, would love to see you and me -- I'm sorry Chairman -- hanging on a tree.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. In case our viewers didn't hear that properly, "Some of them in Congress, in this Tea Party movement right now, would love to see you and me -- I'm sorry, Chairman -- hanging on a tree."
Donna, did he go way too far?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: His remarks tell us what's wrong with our political discourse today. There's no question, Wolf, that for African-Americans who understand this history, especially the history of lynching, to use such language is something that inflames and not informs people.
So, yes, I clearly would not have advised him to say that about the Tea Party or any other Party or caucus. But it tells us a lot about the level of incivility, the level of extreme language that's being used, and it's not just being used in the context of the Tea Party. It's being used in the context of talking about the president, it's being used in talking about other members of Congress.
So, I would advise him not to use that language.
BLITZER: And Congressman Allen West, Mary, the Republican conservative from Florida, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he responded this way. I'll read to you what he said in a letter to the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"As chairman of the CBS, I believe it is incumbent upon you to both condemn these types of hateful comments and to disassociate the Congressional Black Caucus from these types of remarks. Otherwise, I will have to seriously reconsider my membership within the organization."
Should he stay in that organization, you think, Mary, Allen West?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not representative of great American black leaders. You know, Glenn Beck did an astounding, remarkable series on the civil rights struggle in this country, including black founding fathers, and that congressman and Maxine Waters have said all the Tea Party can go straight to hell, they are not in that great tradition, and they could better condemned.
And a huge attraction, a significant attraction -- and this is quantified in the polls -- to Barack Obama among white people was his promise to be post-racial. This is retro-racial. And not only should the CBC condemn it, the president should condemn it.
BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely not.
MATALIN: This is a moment for him to step up and say enough is enough.
BLITZER: Donna, I want you to respond, but also respond to the suggestion that Mary made of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who said these guys could, in her words, "go to hell." Did she go too far as well?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I want to step back. And I think everyone should step back and breathe a little deeper, because some of the comments made by Tea Party members towards the president, towards other Americans, it's been downright hostile. Again, it's inflammatory.
I don't support this level of incivility right now among our elected officials. And I think Congressman West, who's also made some inflammatory comments regarding Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I don't want to get back and forth, back and forth.
I think it's important that Congressman West, he is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. They represent millions of American citizens, black, white and others.
They have every right to challenge the Tea Party, to challenge Republicans, and to challenge the president when they feel that their constituents are not being served. So I take personal, and as well as professional, distance from these comments, because they're not the comments I would make, nor in the history of this country.
And let me just say this about Glenn Beck. For Glenn Beck to somehow or another tell people of color or any Americans about racism, about blackness, about our founding fathers, I'm sorry, walk a day, walk a mile, but don't tell me anything when Glenn Beck also insulted the president.
MATALIN: You know what, Donna?
BRAZILE: He insulted the president of the United States.
MATALIN: Donna, Glenn Beck is not telling you or anyone anything other than the history.
BRAZILE: He does not know my history, nor does he know the history -- he can read it, Mary. I know my history.
But for Glenn Beck to lecture any person of color about history, when he made the uncivil comments about President Obama, I am so sorry, Mary, I draw the line there. Look, my history is an American story. Your history is an American story. But what Glenn Beck has tried to do, and this level of civility, it's not added to it, he's subtracted from it. So, I'm sorry, on Glenn Beck can we draw the line?
You've been more civil than Glenn Beck.
MATALIN: Well, you can draw the line -- I'm not talking -- I don't even know what you're talking about, Donna, but I'm going to ask you this -- did you see any of his programs, did you watch any of his remarkable documentaries on the founding and the black founding fathers, and the scholars that he had on, and the scholarship that he did, and the accolades that he received from the black community?
You're making your point that you were disregarding earlier, which is we're just judging people and saying things about people without even know who they are or what they have said. This is not a show about Glenn Beck, but he's the furthest thing from a racist. And I think why we have to have this conversation is because what's happened with Democrats and liberals, if you oppose their policies, then they brand you a racist.
BLITZER: Hold on, Donna. Donna, hold on.
BLITZER: Donna, hold on one second.
BRAZILE: I disagree. We should have this conversation again, but I profoundly disagree.
BLITZER: Wait a second, Mary. You remember when Glenn Beck said that President Obama has a deep-seated hatred of white people? You remember when he said that?
MATALIN: Yes, I do remember that.
BLITZER: So what does that have to do with -- MATALIN: And he was working off a --
BLITZER: Is that a factual statement?
MATALIN: Glenn Beck was -- put that in the context of a number of things that were in Barack Obama's background which hadn't been condemned, that Barack Obama didn't condemn. I'm not condoning that remark.
BLITZER: Well, no. Forget about condoning. Mary, are you condemning that remark?
MATALIN: I do not think that Barack Obama has any deep-seated hatred for anybody.
BLITZER: So you condemn Glenn Beck for saying that? Is that right?
MATALIN: No, I do not condemn him for saying that, because he said it in the context of things that -- of remarks just like this, that this president, who promised us to be post-racial -- that's what he ran on. That's how he --
BRAZILE: No, he did not.
MATALIN: -- has not lived up to that promise.
BLITZER: Let me press Donna.
Donna, are you condemning Andre Carson, the congressman, for saying that Republican members of the Tea Party in the House of Representatives want to see him hanging on a tree?
BRAZILE: First of all, as I said, Wolf, I don't believe his language informed anybody about --
BLITZER: But it's a simple question. Are you condemning him for that?
BRAZILE: As I said, I disagree with the language he used.
BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand, guys. Why can't either one of you condemn outrageous statements?
BRAZILE: Because we'll be doing this every day and not talking about any issue of substance.
BLITZER: But in an era after Gabrielle Giffords was attacked the way she was, shouldn't we condemn members of Congress and others who go out and make these outrageous statements?
Mary? BRAZILE: I think any language that does not contribute to civic dialogue and a conversation and a discussion without people saying that as a liberal, as a Democrat, as a Republican as a conservative -- that level of incivility, Wolf, is why we're sitting here today talking about, should we condemn what this member of Congress said, when every week, a member of Congress will say something stupid.
BLITZER: Well, it's not just stupid.
BRAZILE: It is stupid. It is stupid.
BLITZER: But it's beyond stupid, Mary.
BRAZILE: And it's insulting, Wolf.
BLITZER: When Glenn Beck says the president of the United States has a deep-seated hatred for white people -- and his mother, as you know -- she's passed away -- was white. His grandparent who raised him was white. That is an outrageous statement. I don't understand why you can't condemn that.
MATALIN: I condemn it in a vacuum like that, but in the context of the church that he attended and did not disavow for 20 years, until he was running for president, which roundly, weakly, in the in the most vicious and racist language condemned whites, that's the context that Mr. Beck was speaking about. But Mr. Beck, by the way, is not a sitting member of Congress.
I'm going to agree with Donna, my dear friend, that somebody is going to say something stupid every week. But when you disagree with a policy, that is no grounds to call the policymaker a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist, or any ad hominem, disgusting, despicable attack like that.
And not only did this president run as post-racial, he ran as post-partisan. So I do think this is an opportunity for him to step in.
BRAZILE: He did not run -- I just want to clarify the record. We believed that in electing our first African-American president, biracial, we would enter a president of post-racial. We did not enter that period.
We are still at the mountaintop moment where we can't even have a conversation about what constitutes racism or racists, because we cannot -- we don't have the language, Mary, and we don't have the relationships and the partnerships and the people who can actually got us into that moment. And the president of the United States can't be the only person who will lead us in that era.
BLITZER: All right.
Mary Matalin, Donna Brazile, a good, important discussion. My position, basically, is a very simple one. If you're a member of Congress, a member of the media, a member of anybody else, and you say something that is clearly outrageous, good folks have a responsibility to stand up and condemn it for what it is, an outrageous and potentially dangerous statement given the atmosphere that is going on right now. But that's just me.
Guys, thanks very much.
All right. We're just getting word on when the president of the United States will deliver his address on jobs before a joint session of the United States Congress -- 7:00 p.m. Eastern, a week from today -- 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That gives everyone plenty of time to watch the opening night of NFL Football at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
The president will address a joint session of Congress, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, next Thursday night. We'll have live coverage of course right here on CNN.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: All right, Wolf.
The question this hour is: How much trouble is President Obama in?
Lou writes, "Independents like me decide elections. I voted for Obama because I believed it when he campaigned on getting us universal health care and getting us out of the wars we're in. He failed on both big issues."
"Still, there are no Republican candidates running that I trust to be in charge of my country. So I guess I will be voting for a do- nothing president over a do all the wrong things replacement. If the Republicans have someone even halfway decent, I think they will win by a landslide."
Paul in Ontario writes, "When you consider the Republicans will probably nominate someone with the brains of a chipmunk and the ethics of a wolverine, I don't think President Obama is in much trouble at all."
I've got to have the best job on TV.
Dave writes from Florida, "He said, 'I would rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.' For my money, he would be neither, but I expect the latter."
Smith in New Mexico writes, "In more trouble than anyone can imagine. His problem is all of those so-called highly-educated university advisers who are totally clueless. They're the ones who have gotten him into trouble." James in Denver writes, "There was a great joy within me when Obama was elected president. It was a sign the nation -- we were truly moving toward the ability to not judge a person by the color of his skin. What happens, however, when we judge him on the content of his presidency, with the economy as the primary issue, he is in trouble. He was promoted to ship captain on the Titanic right after we hit the hit the iceberg."
Michael on Facebook writes, "Less and Less with every word from Governor Perry's mouth. Obama benefited mightily from voters who thought Sarah Palin was an idiot in 2008. Perry fits that bill nicely in 2012."
And M.K. writes, "How many different ways can you spell 'toast?'"
If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.
This is a good gig I've got here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very good. You're a good man, too, Jack, to boot. Thanks very much.
CAFFERTY: You're an attractive man yourself.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Quake damage at a nuclear plant in Virginia the public knew nothing about until now.