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THE SITUATION ROOM

Republicans Prepare for Presidential Debate

Aired September 12, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


STEVEN GREENBERG, SIENA RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Even among Jewish voters, who make up about a third of the electorate of likely voters in the Ninth Congressional District tomorrow, only 16 percent of Jewish voters said the candidate's position on Israel was an important issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, these special elections usually have low turnout. Democrats could have the advantage here since they have a stronger get-out-the-vote operation. They're depending on union support -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Mary, we will watch it together with you tomorrow. Thank you.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: two major new endorsements only hours ahead of tonight's CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate here in Tampa, Florida, details of who is backing whom.

Plus, what's at stake for the candidates as they face off tonight? Democrats will also be watching tonight's debate very closely. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Party chairwoman, she is here. She will join us this hour with her take on the GOP contest and a lot more.

Plus, the looming battle over President Obama's jobs plan. Are Republicans willing to compromise? What impact will massive new job cuts have?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we want to welcome our viewers around the world to this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live in Tampa, Florida, where in just under two hours, I will be moderating the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate.

We will be covering all the issues important to voters, including one that especially resonates here in Florida with its large and very influential senior population. We're talking about Social Security, a subject of controversy, especially after some controversial remarks by the Republican front-runner, the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

CNN's Jim Acosta is here in Tampa. He's watching all this unfold. Social Security, it will be a key issue tonight. But it is a key issue in Florida specifically.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the Social Security Administration says, Wolf, that the program is solvent for the next 25 years. But this issue more than any other will have the Republicans wrestling each other tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): If Rick Perry's rival have their way in the CNN/Tea Party debate, the Texas governor will be saddled with the issue that was once called the third rail in politics, Social Security.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's going to be there.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The governor says, look, states ought to be able to opt out of Social Security. Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security.

ACOSTA: Romney was referring to Perry's book in which the Texas governor argues Social Security should have been set up to allow workers to make their own choice about whether to participate. "As we know from experience, individuals would have done better on their own."

The problem for Romney, he has got his own book in which he compares the program to a criminal operation, saying, "The American people have been effectively defrauded out of their Social Security."

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Using language like that scares voters.

ACOSTA: Jon Huntsman wants a showdown with Perry and Romney on the issue at the debate.

(on camera): Will you go into this debate and challenge the governor and say, wait a minute, you're calling for a dramatically different kind of Social Security program?

HUNTSMAN: We will challenge the governor. We will challenge Governor Romney, who basically called Social Security a fraud. So here you have got the two front-runners, so-called, who basically are using language that I don't think settles well with a whole lot of Americans.

ACOSTA: And it is a touchy subject for Michele Bachmann, who has also raised doubts about the program.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a tremendous fraud. No company could get away with this. They would be thrown in jail.

NARRATOR: Now they're coming to Florida, where million of seniors rely on Social Security and Medicare to survive.

ACOSTA: Florida Democrats have put out their own Web video, labeling Perry and Romney a gamble for the state's huge bloc of voting seniors.

Former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee worries it is a risky bet.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: When you have to branch out and get to those younger voters and general election voters, I'm not sure how it's going to play out.

ACOSTA: But in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood, older Republican neighbors aren't feeling any social insecurity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he just said it the wrong way. You know, he said they're not putting enough money, taking more out. And that's what he was insinuating, which is probably right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: This morning, Rick Perry took out an op-ed in "USA Today" softening some of his rhetoric on Social Security, but it may not be that big of a deal to older Republican voters.

The latest CNN/ORC poll finds that 46 percent of Republican voters 65 years and older back Perry. It is one of his best demographics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting. Stand by, Jim.

John King is here, the host of "JOHN KING, USA" that runs, airs right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

John, you moderated the last -- our CNN debate in June back in New Hampshire. What specifically do these candidates need to do tonight to differentiate themselves from each other?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": There's a fascinating dynamic unfolding.

Number one, you mentioned the June debate. Michele Bachmann was the surprise of that debate. She got some great momentum. She was raising some money. She went way up in the polls. She's lost everything she gained in the polls and she is back down now in single digits. She needs to prove tonight she belongs still in the first tier, to be considered a first tier candidate. The entrance of Perry has hurt her dramatically.

We saw in last week's debate Perry, Romney, Social Security the main flash point. It won't be the only flash point. Governor Romney today in South Carolina raised the issue of a controversial decision Governor Perry made to force teenage girl to get a vaccine, cervical cancer. He called it a mandate. The word mandate will come up quite a bit tonight.

Look for Governor Romney to be more aggressive against Governor Perry. Also, forget the name for a minute. This is a Tea Party- sponsored debate tonight. The Tea Party is the new force in the Republican coalition. The party is known as an establishment party. Governor Romney thought he would be the establishment candidate. There is a bit of sort of the new grassroots Tea Party struggle, tug- of-war with the establishment over who will win the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Which brand of candidate will lead the party against President Obama?

BLITZER: You spent a lot of time, Jim, looking at Governor Perry and his style, his background. How forceful does he need to be tonight now that he is the leader, if you will, the leader of this pack?

ACOSTA: Well, the question going into the last debate last week in California was, can Rick Perry debate? And I think he answered that question yes. The question tonight for Rick Perry, can he take punch? Because what we learned from Jon Huntsman today and listening to Mitt Romney earlier today, talking about Rick Perry and talking about the Social Security issue, they're going to be going after him tonight. He is the front-runner at this point.

The question for Rick Perry at this point is, can he survive an all-out attack on him from all of these different candidates? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because at least until now, Mitt Romney has tied to be above the fray, if you will, sort of presidential. He can't afford that anymore.

KING: He cannot. This race -- in the view of many Republican strategists, this race is taking shape, it's starting to gel earlier than normal.

When I asked Michele Bachmann the other night about this, she brought up two names, you will laugh, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. She said look back at the last campaign. Both of them came in late. They were well ahead of the pack and then they disappeared. That was her way of saying in her view, Rick Perry may be a flash in the pan.

But he has money. He has a national organization. I think the stakes -- we can say it is only September. But heading into a phase where Iowa, New Hampshire are not that far away, especially if you're not Perry and you're not Romney and you want to keep raising money, keep signing up some of the activists who are left on the sidelines, and that number is dwindling, you need to prove -- if you look at our latest poll, Governor Perry on top, why?

Not just because conservatives think he shares their values. Because they think he is the best candidate to beat President Obama. If he can keep proving that he is feisty in the debates, that he is a strong debater, it will be interesting to see when he has to talk more about national security policy and the like. Governors are always tested on that. But Republican voters, normally, we think primary is about ideology. In the end, we will see some ideological detours. But they're so hungry and they believe now -- and all the economic data supports it -- that President Obama is vulnerable. They want a winner. That's why these debates matter. They're not just looking to see who wins tonight. They're thinking can that guy or that woman go up against President Obama one year from now?

BLITZER: And if you're some of these other candidates, not only Michele Bachmann, but Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul, you really have to do something tonight to try to distinguish yourself too because that clock is ticking.

ACOSTA: That's right. Some of these candidates have the money to keep going. Jon Huntsman can tap into his personal family fortune if he wants to, to keep going in this campaign.

But the latest CNN/ORC poll finds he is at 2 percent. I think the most stunning development in that poll that came out today is Michele Bachmann. She won the Iowa straw poll a month ago. She is at 4 percent in this latest poll. How did that happen?

A lot of people say she's been too standoffish. She's been in her bus more than she's been out with the people. Does she change anything stylistically moving forward or is this one of those make-or- break moments for Michele Bachmann tonight? Does she have to break out of this debate and raise her voice and get into this discussion or is it basically over?

It is probably way too early to say that about Michele Bachmann but certainly she has to be feeling the pressure with those kinds of numbers, Wolf.

BLITZER: You will be sticking around, Jim Acosta. John King is going to be getting ready for "JOHN KING, USA" at the top of the hour. I'm getting ready for the debate.

There is other news, though, that we're watching right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including President Obama's $447 billion jobs bill. There's little doubt the Obama administration will have to battle for it with House Republicans. But it is still not clear where exactly the battle lines will be.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is joining us now from Capitol Hill with the latest.

Kate, where is the bill now? And what is going on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know there were a lot of questions about that over the past couple days, I will tell you, Wolf.

The bill is -- the president's jobs bill is here on Capitol Hill. And Republicans continue to say that they're ready and willing to work together to cooperate to get something done quickly. But I will tell you, there are signs of trouble ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): President Obama insisted Congress get to work right away on his jobs bill flanked by the construction workers, teachers and veterans he promises it will help.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's pass this bill and put them in the classroom, where they belong.

So let's pass this bill and put the men and women who served this nation back to work.

BOLDUAN: Republicans continue to strike a very different tone from the debt ceiling battle, now emphasizing they're ready to work together. House Speaker John Boehner in a statement Monday saying -- quote -- "It is my hope that we will be able to work together to put in place the best ideas of both parties and help put Americans back to work," with rank and file members falling closely in step.

REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: They're looking to Washington, D.C., to say, look, we want to you guys to act like grown adults and work together and realize that the right and the left are not going to get everything they want, but we have got to compromise and get something done for the country.

BOLDUAN: Area of possible agreement, tax breaks for small businesses, three pending trade deals, and reforming aid for the unemployed.

But Republicans are starting to make clear they're only willing to go so far. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has all but ruled out the president's request for more federal spending on projects like renovating schools and road construction, telling reporters, "Anything that is akin to the stimulus bill, I think, is not going to be acceptable to the American people." He goes on to say, "The fact is, we don't have the money and we have got to prioritize, and right now it is about getting people back to work."

SCHOCK: We're not just willing to wave a right flag and say whatever you want for the sake of bipartisanship. At the end of the day, we have to be able to go home and explain to our constituents that this is good policy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And what may be even bigger problem is how the president wants to pay for this plan. The White House is looking for the nearly $450 billion plan to be paid for in large part through tax increases. And it is probably no surprise how Republicans are reacting to that, already coming out pretty quickly against it for many people.

Republicans saying that this effectively is a tax increase on the very people that they are looking and need to actually create jobs in the end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan up on the Hill for us. Going to be a busy time for you, Kate. Thank you.

While the president is struggling to grow jobs, one major U.S. employer announces a massive new cut. And Bank of America isn't the only one shedding jobs, lots of them.

Also, special pressure on Michele Bachmann at tonight's CNN/Tea Party debate. She's on Jack Cafferty's mind, "The Cafferty File" coming up next.

Plus, the head of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she is in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. We will talk about the GOP debate, the president's jobs bill and more.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Herman Cain, the Republican -- oh, I think we just got some pictures coming in. There's Michele Bachmann. She has now just arrived. She is arriving right now at this Republican presidential debate, the CNN/Tea Party debate. Michele Bachmann has just arrived here. We're about an hour and 43 minutes away from the start of the debate. Herman Cain arrived just a few moments ago as well, another Republican presidential candidate. They're all showing up a little bit earlier. They want to get familiar with the podium, with the stage, with everything else.

They will get some makeup. There it is inside. I will be moderating this debate. It is coming up in a little while. You will see it live here on CNN and CNN International, eight Republican candidates. They all want to be the next president of the United States. We will question them on what's going on.

Jack Cafferty in the meantime is waiting for that together with all of us. He is joining us live with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They want to get their makeup done, get their hair fixed. They have to be pretty at 8:00 when the nation is tuning in to look at them.

Of all the Republican candidates in tonight's Tea Party debate, the so-called Tea Party queen, Michele Bachmann, probably has the most at stake.

It wasn't long ago that Bachmann was a GOP favorite. She started raising Republican eyebrows after that strong debate performance this summer and then a victory in the Iowa straw poll a few weeks back.

But all that was before Rick Perry got in the game. And since Perry, another conservative Tea Party favorite, has joined the race and grabbed the spotlight, the question now on a lot of people's lips these days is, Michele who?

A lot of people thought Bachmann was too restrained during last week's debate, which was mostly a back and forth between Perry and Mitt Romney, partially a fault of the people moderating the thing. And she hasn't been able to capitalize on winning the Iowa straw poll either.

In CNN's latest poll, Bachmann receives a measly 4 percent, way behind Rick Perry, who gets 30 percent, but also behind others who poll in double digits, people like Romney, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin, who's not even a candidate -- yet.

So look for tonight to be a "do or die" moment for the Minnesota congresswoman. Either she finds her footing again and the campaign picks up some speed or it could all be over before it really gets started.

My guess is one very interested viewer of tonight's debate might be Sarah Palin. If Bachmann doesn't do well -- well, who knows.

Here's the question: How can Michele Bachmann reestablish herself as a serious contender for the nomination at tonight's debate?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

It's interesting how fast she faded after she won the Iowa straw poll.

BLITZER: Yes. We will see what she does tonight. She will have to come out. And I think she will have to be a lot more aggressive than she was in some of those earlier debates. But we will see. We will see what her strategy is. Jack, thank you.

Even as President Obama's jobs bill was delivered to Congress today, we learned about massive new job cuts. In fact, in recent weeks, some high-profile U.S. companies have announced they will be shedding thousands, even tens of thousands of jobs.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is working this part of the story for us.

Lisa, what's going on here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

There are a number of companies out there that are sitting on a lot of cash. But they're uncertain about the direction of the economy. So they're not hiring. And in fact, some are going the opposite direction, streamlining operations, letting go of workers and that is the case with Bank of America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Bank of America announced it is cleaning house, slashing 30,000 positions to save $5 billion. The company says a majority of the job cuts will come from attrition and eliminating vacant positions.

Bank of America is not the only one cutting its head count. Cisco announced last month it is cutting 6,500 jobs. Goldman Sachs reducing its work force by 1,000. Gannett announced in the summer 700 layoffs and Lockheed Martin is offering 6,500 employees a voluntary buyout.

JOHN CHALLENGER, CEO, CHALLENGER GRAY & CHRISTMAS INC.: There is real concern that this economy just does not have enough oomph from the private sector, in terms of business spending, from consumers, who just are not confident in spending to keep thing rolling.

SYLVESTER: Not good news for the White House that is struggling to bring down unemployment that appears stuck above 9 percent. There are renewed fears the United States may be heading into a second recession.

(on camera): The problem is many of the things traditionally done to kick-start the economy have already been done. We had a $790 billion stimulus program. The Federal Reserve has spent $2 trillion buying bonds to lower the cost of borrowing. We had a payroll tax cut. The Federal Reserve has also kept interest rates near record lows, near zero percent.

We saw the extension of the Bush tax cuts and even programs like cash for clunkers to help the auto industry. And when it is all said and done, this is where we are, August 2011, zero jobs created.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The president doesn't have any arrows left in his quiver. He has tried everything. Nothing has worked. And I think both the American public and certainly the Republicans in Congress figure, we have seen that before. Been there, done that. We're not going to try that again.

SYLVESTER: Rothenberg says when it come to the economy, voters look to the guy at the top, President Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And eight in 10 Americans are feeling like we are already in a recession, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. And that's a strong message to the president's team that they have to figure out a way to turn economy around if they want a second term.

But the reality is that we are already in election season, Wolf, as you well know and they are running out of time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Lisa, thanks very much.

By the way, Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, one of the Republican presidential candidates, he is arriving right now here in Tampa for this CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate. We have got some video. I think we will get some video of him arriving. We don't have any video, but he has just arrived. The other candidates are arriving. Some of them already are here. We're, what, about a little more than an hour-and-a-half away from the start of this Republican debate. I will be moderating it here. You will see it on CNN. Meanwhile, are Republican leaders really sincere when they say they will consider the president's jobs plan? I will put that question to the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She is standing by live to join me right here in Tampa, where in a little bit more than an hour- and-a-half, CNN will have its first ever Tea Party presidential debate.

And who does Debbie Wasserman Schultz think will come out ahead in tonight's debate? She will weigh in on that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here in Tampa.

Ron Paul, by the way, the Republican presidential candidate, the congressman from Texas, he has just arrived here in Tampa for this Republican presidential debate that CNN is co-sponsoring with the Tea Party Express. There he is, Ron Paul. He will be one of those eight Republicans on the stage when I moderate this debate about an hour- and-a-half or so from now.

These candidates will have jobs as a key issue on their minds tonight. The candidates no doubt will be asked to address how they will create jobs if elected president. Congress certainly beginning right now to at least consider President Obama's new jobs proposal. He submitted the legislation formally to Congress today.

House Republican leader Eric Cantor says the GOP will oppose the requests for new federal spending for infrastructure projects.

But let's talk a little bit about the battle that is upcoming.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is joining us. She's also the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Thanks, Wolf. Welcome to Florida.

BLITZER: You're here with a lot of Republicans here. You're a Democrat. We will talk politics in a moment.

But do you think the Republican leadership in the House, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, they're serious when they say they're willing to compromise, willing to work with the president on this jobs bill? They hate some of it, but they're willing to accept some other parts?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I'm concerned that they're only willing to take up and consider the parts that are part of their record of supporting allowing the fox to guard the henhouse, focusing only on deregulation of business and not making sure that we can balance the investment, as well as the tax breaks, like the payroll tax.

So I would like to take them at their word.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: From the White House perspective, it is not a take-it- or-leave-it $447 billion package. They're willing to negotiate, to compromise from the White House. Is that right?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, sure. From day one, President Obama has been willing to negotiate. We really haven't had willing partners on the other side.

I'm certainly hopeful that the Republican leadership is willing to negotiate. But so far, they seem to only indicate that they will take up whatever it is they support and toss it back...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you shouldn't be overly surprised. They never want to increase taxes. And the president's plan is based in part at least on increasing taxes on wealthier Americans.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, you're right. The Republicans continue to refuse to ask for anything from the wealthiest and most fortunate Americans, to pay their fair share. They continue to want to pile all the pain on the backs of people who can least afford it, on the middle class, on small business owners, even though the overwhelming of American people want there to be revenue and want there to be a balance between spending cuts and revenue.

BLITZER: All right, we don't have to debate the whole issue of taxes and wealthy and all of that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The wealthiest Americans, they pay the most in taxes already -- 50 percent of Americans don't even pay any federal income tax, because...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, that's actually not true, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fifty percent, you don't...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We're at the low -- in terms of the wealthiest Americans, we're at the lowest tax rate since the 1950s.

BLITZER: I know, but they pay a huge chunk of the federal income tax, the wealthiest Americans. The top 2 percent or 3 percent pay whatever that number is, 30 or 40 percent.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But they're still at the lowest tax rate since the 1950s.

BLITZER: Yes, 35 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And there have been significant tax breaks from President Obama.

BLITZER: All right. We're not going to get into all of that.

Let's talk a little bit about this "New York Times" article that ran over the weekend. It sort of jumped out. I'm sure you saw it, that Democrats now openly getting concerned about President Obama's reelection prospects and what that could mean for the party.

And you're the chair of the party. I will read a line or two from it: "Elected officials and party leaders at all levels said their worries have intensified as the economy has displayed new signs of weakness. They said the likelihood of a highly competitive 2012 race is increasing as the Republican field, once dismissed by many Democrats as too inexperienced and conservative to pose a serious threat, has started narrowing to two leading candidates: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who have executive experience and messages built around job creation."

Do you agree with "The New York Times" analysis there that there is increasing alarm among leading Democrats that the president is in trouble?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, if the race is narrowing to those two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who -- who support ending Medicare as we know it and privatizing Social Security, then in Florida they're going to be getting some significant push back and won't be embraced by seniors here in our state, which represents 50 percent of the electorate.

When it comes to a lack of enthusiasm, we just got done with the fall meeting of the DNC. We had more than 400 activists -- Democratic Party members who were openly enthusiastically embracing President Obama's candidacy are fired up and ready to go. Very excited.

And I have traveled the country. I've experienced that same thing.

BLITZER: If unemployment is still at 9 percent in November of 2012, how much trouble will the president be in?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, there's a dramatic contrast that the voters are going to have to choose from leading up to November. The direction that President Obama has taken us, which has begun to turn the economy around, and the extreme right-wing tilt that any of the Republicans would take us, they would end Social Security. They would end Medicare as we know it. They only want to focus on helping the wealthiest and most fortunate Americans and not trying to do something to help the middle class and small businesses. That's a dramatic contrast that I think voters will reject.

BLITZER: Just to be fair, the Republicans say they want to reform Social Security and save Social Security in light of long-term financial problems.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: By privatizing it and allowing people continue to investigate it in the stock market. And where would we have been if that was allowed over the last few years? The American people have wholesale rejected that. We've seen that movie. That's not the direction Americans want to go.

BLITZER: Take a look at this live picture from Capitol Hill right now. A bunch of your colleagues. They're there right now. They're singing "God Bless America" to remember 9/11. Let's listen in.

Unfortunately, we don't have any audio. But Debbie Wasserman Schultz, you recognize members...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

BLITZER: ... of the House and Senate. They've gotten together. We remember ten years ago, we saw that, as well. A sign of solidarity we don't often see in this highly-charged political environment in Washington. That sign of solidarity. But it's a nice gesture on this day after the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

When you see that, what goes through your mind? Can these Democrats and Republicans and independents ever work together to help the American people?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm certainly hopeful. And I hope that -- that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are propelled by this moment of unity to reach across the aisle and really work together to continue -- continue to pick up the pace of the recovery, to come together, which is what Americans want us to do. The polarization has to end. Vice President [SIC] Obama said last week. Time to stop the circus, pass (ph) the American jobs back and get people back to work.

BLITZER: Anthony Wiener, congressional seat, the election is tomorrow. It's been almost a century Democrats have controlled that seat in Queens, in Brooklyn. How worried are you that Republicans are going to win tomorrow?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we've got a really strong, aggressive GOTV operation. We're going to turn the vote out, and -- and we'll see what happens. But special elections are always tricky. It depends on the turnout and who shows up to vote. So we're -- we think we've got a really good, effective GOTV operation, and we'll see.

BLITZER: We'll see tomorrow. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. You've got a lot going on.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. BLITZER: A furnace explodes at a French nuclear site. We're going to tell you if officials are worried right now about a radiation leak.

Plus, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is talking about Social Security again. This time, though, he's not name calling. He's got some new rhetoric. We'll explain what's going on.

And remember, Happy Feet? That lost penguin that turned up on a New Zealand beach thousands of mile from home? Well, scientists tracking his whereabouts have some sad news. We'll hear what's going on after the break.

Also, there's Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania. He's arriving here in Tampa for the CNN Tea Party debate. The Republican candidates, or almost all of them, are ready. They're getting ready to begin. About a little less than an hour and a half from now. I'll be moderating that debate here tonight in Tampa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning new details about the massive security effort that was tied to yesterday's tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack. A federal law enforcement official tells CNN the FBI interviewed more than 300 people as it chased down leads on possible terror threats.

But the source says all of those people were cleared. There's no evidence al Qaeda operatives entered the United States to attempt an attack. We're staying on top of this story for you.

Meanwhile, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, French officials are trying to calm folks down over there after a radioactive oven exploded today. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That is right, Wolf. You know, one person is dead and four others injured at the Marcoule nuclear site in southern France. The energy company EDF is adamant that no radiation leaked and that the furnace was used to melt low- level radioactive waste. France relies on nuclear power for about 80 percent of its electricity.

A military spokesman says all 77 NATO troops wound in Saturday's attack on a coalition base are Americans, and none of the injuries is life-threatening. At least two Afghan civilians were killed. The top coalition commander in Afghanistan says the attack is an example of what the Taliban can't do. General John Allen says insurgents have been isolated and are forced to go for this kind of high-profile attack.

Could glowing green cats -- yes, glowing green cats -- eventually shed light on the AIDS virus in humans? Scientists at the Mayo Clinic created genetically-modified kittens by inserting a gene into a domestic cat's eggs. The technology will help them study and possibly develop new treatments for feline immunodeficiency virus, a close relative to HIV, which causes AIDS.

And Spongebob Squarepants may prevent preschoolers from soaking up important information. A new study showed the fast-paced Nickelodeon cartoon made it harder for a group of 4-year-olds to pay attention and think compared to those who watched a slower-paced cartoon or others who made art. Skeptics say the research only looked at 60 kids over the course of nine minutes.

I know a lot of parents are going to be talking about that one, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly will, Lisa, thank you.

Rick Perry softening his tone on Social Security. You're going to hear what the Republican presidential front-runner now says about the program.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here in Tampa, getting ready for the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. There's Rick Perry. He's just arriving, the governor of Texas. He will be participating in the debate. One of eight candidates. Here's some arrival of his -- some video, live video coming in right now.

Dana Loesch is joining us right now. There's some pictures of him arriving.

This is a critically important night for the Texas governor. He's the front-runner right now. But he's got a lot to prove tonight as well, doesn't he, Dana?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. He has to really bring his "A" game tonight. He has to be a lot more aggressive than he was in the last one. He has to be better with his defensive answers. He's good on offense but his answer, for instance, on the Gardasil, the mandatory Gardasil program that he had in Texas, it was a bad answer last debate.

So he's going to, especially if he wants to reach out to grassroots voters, he has to get a little bit better on that answer and explain -- draw a big enough contrast between his Perry care and Romney care.

BLITZER: You're a founder of the Tea Party movement in St. Louis where you live.

LOESCH: Yes.

BLITZER: You do a radio show know. You're a CNN contributor, obviously. Talk a little bit about the Tea Party and Rick Perry. Is there a gut instinct in favor of him or not so much? LOESCH: From what I hear, and yes, I don't speak for the movement, but I hear from a lot of them.

BLITZER: You're a lot closer to them than I am.

LOESCH: Right. From what I hear, I don't think anyone is just -- is sold just yet on Rick Perry. And granted, you know, there are people in the movement that like Ron Paul. There are people in the movement that like Perry. There are people that like Bachmann. I mean, every single candidate...

BLITZER: You don't have a lot of Tea Party support for Mitt Romney?

LOESCH: You pretty much don't hear any support for Mitt Romney. Yes, well, and that's...

Blitzer: Why is that? What did he do? Just the health care, the mandates in Massachusetts as governor?

LOESCH: Well, it's not just that. I mean, when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he increased -- our president likes to talk about investments when he speaks of taxes. Mitt Romney talks about fees when he talks about taxes.

BLITZER: Take a look. This is a live picture of Mitt Romney arriving right now. You see he's -- he's here. And I think that's Tim Pawlenty.

LOESCH: Yes.

BLITZER: The former governor of Minnesota who endorsed him today. Bobby Jindal , the governor of Louisiana, endorsed Rick Perry. So he got a lot of endorsements; the surrogates coming out. But there's Rick Perry. Go ahead. You were making a point about Mitt Romney has got a problem with the Tea Party.

LOESCH: When he -- yes, when he -- well, when he was governor, he increased spending. He also increased taxes or fees. And then plus, of course, the Romney care. Any business that had 11 or more employees, if they didn't go with the mandate, they had to pay a $300 per employee fine. Now, that's -- I mean, that's not good for business.

So I don't know how he can reconcile his -- his platform of being good for business and then what did he in Massachusetts. It just doesn't jive. And I'm all for repentance. People realizing their errors. But at the same time, he needs to do a better job of explaining that. And that's why there's this disconnect.

BLITZER: Did you hear -- did you hear James Carville earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM? LOESCH: yes.

BLITZER: He thinks Sarah Palin still might decide to run for the Republican presidential nomination. You're plugged in. What do you think?

LOESCH: Anything is possible. I hear from various sources that, oh, she's totally getting in. No, she's not getting in at all. I think that -- well, it remains to be seen. She said she was going to have an announcement by the end of September so we still have a little ways to go, and I guess we'll see then.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much for coming in.

LOESCH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You're going to be here for that, watching this, as well, together with all of us. We'll continue this conversation.

If you have ground turkey in your refrigerator, there's a recall you need to know about. We have details just coming in. Stand by.

And scientists tracking a lost penguin's swim back to Antarctica. They have reason to be concerned. We're going to tell you why. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, he has now arrived here in Tampa for the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. It begins just over -- a little bit over an hour from now. So the candidates, you've been seeing them arriving. I'm getting ready. I'll be moderating that debate tonight. You will see it live here on CNN, 8 p.m. Eastern, a little more than one hour from now. There's Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, another recall that could give a major meat processor some serious troubles. What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Yes. A lot of folks interested in this, Wolf. Another recall of ground turkey at the same plant, and again because of salmonella. Cargill voluntarily recalling 185,000 pounds of meat after 36 million pounds were flagged last month. The company says, so far, no one has become sick from the meat.

Scientists say there's less ice covering the North Pole than they've seen in nearly 40 years of observation. Researchers attribute the Arctic's historically low level to man-made global warming. In 2009, scientists began to suggest that in the warmer months, the Arctic will be mostly ice-free in ten years, and in 20, the ice would be gone.

And there are a lot of sad faces over the well-being of the penguin Happy Feet. Scientists fear the bird's satellite transmitter has either come off or perhaps something much worse has happened. They haven't received a signal since Friday.

Happy Feet washed up on a New Zealand beach earlier this year, but was with released after he had two months of R&R at a local zoo. A lot of folks are very worried that Happy Feet might have met a predator of some sort, but we are certainly hoping for the best for Happy Feet. A lot of people have been tracking this on the Internet, Wolf, and everybody wants Happy Feet to be out there and well.

BLITZER: Good luck to Happy Feet. We hope only for the best.

Lisa, thanks very much.

Let's get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly, I second that emotion.

The question: "How can Michele Bachmann reestablish herself as a serious contender at tonight's debate?"

Don writes, "It would help if she took off the fake smile, stopped the rhetoric, and answered questions honestly. When she doesn't have an answer or a plan, she avoids the question with her 'Obama is a one term president' hollering."

Frances writes, "She can't. Perry has out-Tea-Partied her. It's hard to do, but he did it."

Larry in Denver says, "It's too late. Unless, of course, Rick Perry collapses from a bout of Social Security Ponzi, Mitt Romney becomes the poster child for Obama care, and there are no other new challengers. One and done. You slip, you fall, you can't get up. See ya, Michele."

G. writes, "Not to sound mean, but Bachmann loses her credibility almost every time she opens her mouth."

Kim on Facebook writes, "She's done. Republicans are now infatuated with pretty Ricky."

Dave in Arizona says, "She can't because she never was. You can't run around making ignorant, moronic statements and expect people to take you seriously."

Ken in Atlantic City, New Jersey: "She can't reestablish herself. The media have already decided to call her a psycho or put her in a side show. She's a federal tax lawyer, a businesswoman, and a congresswoman, but that doesn't seem to be good enough."

Richard in Washington state writes, "Michele Bachmann, like Sarah Palin, at best can only succeed as a vice presidential running mate in a beauty contest where substance has no real importance."

And Ann in Charleston, South Carolina, says, "Why do we want Michele Bachmann to be a serious contender?"

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. I'll be watching tonight, Wolf. Hold their feet to the fire.

BLITZER: I'll try my best, Jack. Thanks very much.

The vice president, Joe Biden, reacts to Rick Perry's controversial comments on Social Security. He speaks exclusively with our own John king. That's coming up on "JOHN KING USA" for our North American viewers at the top of the hour.

Plus, coming up next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN's Jeanne Moos, she tells us about an angry longshoreman who didn't hold back when he saw a TV crew he didn't like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey! Hey! Get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) camera out of here! That's none of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: News crews are often used to getting slammed, to getting yelled at, but something extraordinary happened here in this case. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's a little knock-knock story you might not want the kids to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) camera out of here. That's none of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) business, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED)! Unless you want trespassing, get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here, now.

MOOS: If he swears like a longshoreman, that's because he is one. He belongs to a longshoremen's union local in Washington state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's none of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) business, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED)! Unless you want trespassing, get out of here.

MOOS: He threatened the camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unless you want your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) camera broke, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just wanted to hear your...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said good-bye.

MOOS: He threatened the glasses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, you dumb (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? You like your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) glasses? Don't (EXPLETIVE DELETED) threaten me, you son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't say a word, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of this parking lot right now.

MOOS (on camera): Now he may seem touchy -- very touchy -- but the union is in the midst of a bitter fight with management.

(voice-over) It involves jobs at the EGT grain terminal. The other day, police say 500 union protesters broke windows, pushed a security vehicle in a ditch, cut brake lines to boxcars, and dumped grain.

The union says what it calls a scab worker drove into union pickets blocking the terminal entrance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!

Hey! (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you!

MOOS: So tensions are high. The perfect height for dropping F- bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't (EXPLETIVE DELETED) with me, partner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not on the PR staff, are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't (EXPLETIVE DELETED) worry about who I'm with.

MOOS: Later, somebody who actually is on the union's PR staff told CNN the longshoreman lost his cool when he saw media shooting on private property. "He felt his union and American jobs are under attack, and he lost his temper."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll (EXPLETIVE DELETED) coldcock him in a heartbeat. Get out of here, now!

MOOS (on camera): Hey, this guy makes even Serena Williams look like a Zen master.

(voice-over) After a run-in with the chair umpire at the U.S. Open...

SERENA WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: You're totally out of control. You're a hater. And you're just unattractive inside.

MOOS: ... Serena was fined 2,000 bucks for verbal abuse. But there's no fine for verbally abusing the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we get your name, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sucker. That's my name, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sucker. MOOS: When we called the union...

(on camera) Hi, there. I'm trying to reach Mr. F-you-bleep- sucker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Yes, he's not available.

MOOS: Monogram your towels fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my name: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sucker.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thanks very much.

This important note: I'll be back in one hour. I'll be moderating the first ever CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate, coming up 8 p.m. Eastern for our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is coming up next. For all our viewers here in North America, "JOHN KING USA" is coming up right at the top of the hour.

John, set the stage. We've got a big debate in one hour.