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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama's Celebrity Support; Romney Event Fizzle?; Religion May Snag Rising GOP Star; 90 New Deaths Reported In Syrian Slaughter; Wounded Reporters Plead For Help; Santorum And Romney Battle For Michigan; Jeb Bush Cautions GOP Field; Slashing Taxes And Government Spending; Life After A D.C. Sex Scandal

Aired February 24, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


GLORIA BORGER, CNN HOST: And happening now: Mitt Romney promises what he calls the biggest change to U.S. government in modern history. It was billed as a major campaign event, but it didn't quite work out that way.

Also, new revelations about multiple religious affiliations. They could complicate vice presidential prospects for Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

And the story of a Republican who left the Senate under the cloud of a sex scandal. Nevada's John Ensign has a whole new career.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Gloria Borger. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They may not be everything, but appearances count a lot on the campaign trail. And for Mitt Romney, they counted against him today out in Michigan. Between protests, the bad venue and a lackluster speech, the bang promised by his campaign was more of a fizzle and one that he can't afford right now.

He's still trailing Rick Santorum in the latest Gallup daily tracking poll, although the gap is down from 10 points on Tuesday to six points today.

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns has more on Romney's event today.

So, Joe, what exactly happened?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gloria, Mitt Romney is still struggling to get his momentum back and today's speech was supposed to be a step in the right direction, but for a bunch of reasons, you just would not call this Mitt Romney's perfect day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The fault lines couldn't have been clearer at what was supposed to be the major moment so far of Mitt Romney's campaign to win the state where he grew up.

In the morning, the autoworkers union held a noisy protest against Romney's opposition to the auto industry bailout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's total blasphemy.

JOHNS: And then in the afternoon:

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I want to thank the folks at the Ford Field for making this space available for us.

JOHNS: It was not the venue the Romney campaign would have preferred, inside the 65,000-seat Ford Field Stadium, where the Detroit Lions play ball. The speech had been planned for a much smaller place, but the event sold out, had to be moved.

The sponsors, not the campaign, chose a place that swallowed up the crowd. So this buttoned-down meeting of the Detroit Economic Club, about 1,200 people, listened to Romney lay out his comeback plans for the country on the turf at the 30-yard line.

ROMNEY: And taken together, the plan I'm proposing represents the biggest fundamental change to the federal government in modern history.

JOHNS: Though, frankly, it was a little anticlimactic because he said almost all of this before, restating some popular, though not earth-shattering ideas like abolishing death taxes and the Alternative Minimum Tax.

ROMNEY: First, I'm going to make an across-the-board 20 percent reduction in marginal individual income tax rates.

JOHNS: Promising to change entitlements.

ROMNEY: When it comes to Social Security, what I will do is slowly raise the retirement wage and we're also going to slow the benefits for Higher-income future retirees.

JOHNS: On politics, it was a little awkward at times, not much substantive about helping the auto industry, which always perks people's ears in Motor City, but he did mention the cars he and his wife drive, all American-made, which is supposed to be music here.

ROMNEY: I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually.

JOHNS: And then perhaps the most awkward example of all, his answer when asked if he had the best chance to beat President Obama.

ROMNEY: I not only think I have the best chance. I think I have the only chance. Maybe I'm overstating it a bit.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: That's my family leading the applause out here.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: But in the cavernous stadium, if anyone was clapping, you couldn't hear it in the back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Romney is expected to spend the weekend here, realizing how important it is for him to be able to say that people in the state where he grew up thought enough of him to give him the win -- Gloria.

BORGER: The's right, Joe, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan as far as Mitt Romney's concerned. Thank you so much.

Romney and his fellow Republican hopefuls are all hitting President Obama on gas prices. The president is now saying there's no magic wand to get them down and that the GOP is playing politics. Surprise.

But listen to what the president said when he was running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Since the gas lines of the '70s, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence, but nothing has changed, except now Exxon is making $40 billion a year and we're paying $3.50 for gas.

I'm Barack Obama. I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists and I won't let them block change anymore. They will pay a penalty on windfall profits. We will invest in alternative energy, create jobs and free ourselves from foreign oil. I approve this message because it's time Washington worked for you, not them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And let's bring in CNN chief political correspondent and host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley.

Candy, gas prices are always a political issue. And you hear the president now saying there's no magic wand, but, of course, when he was running for president, it's a little bit of a different story, right?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

But, listen, the truth is that nobody can do anything about these prices right now. And the president said that and the Republicans would agree to that at least privately. Here is what is going on, though. This is another one of those win-win situations, because the president can say -- because we know what will happen.

Gas prices go up. So do oil profits. So the president's -- perfect time for the president to say, hey, we really ought to get those exemptions, tax exemptions, get rid of them because look how much money they are making. You heard on Capitol Hill, listen, this is unscrupulous investors and the Republicans are just protecting Wall Street.

BORGER: So the Democrats are against the oil companies, trying to portray the Republicans as for the big, bad oil companies?

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

It fits into the major themes of both sides. And what the Republicans are doing is saying, well, the president didn't approve the Keystone pipeline, which could have brought us more oil and lots of jobs. And he's just a slave to the radical environmentalists.

They have sort of got their side of this. So it will play out for a little while. I don't think it will be definitive in November, unless those gas prices are sky-high.

BORGER: As you alluded to earlier, this could really be out of everyone's hands because it's a global issue. We don't know what's going to occur in the Middle East, with Iran, for example.

CROWLEY: That's what everybody says. Today, I spoke to a bunch of people and they said it's the instability in the Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz, it's the instability with Iran and it's sort of threatening for war, and it's the growth in China and the growth in India.

Energy consumption for them is just skyrocketing. So there's sort of less on the world market.

BORGER: But when you're running for president, you never want people to hear you say, you know what, I have no control...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Right. When you're president, though, it helps because that sort of deflects what is going on.

But you know and I know that presidents profit from things maybe they had nothing to do with and they also get the blame for things they can't control.

BORGER: OK.

CNN's chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, who is on the show on Sunday?

CROWLEY: Robert Gibbs, adviser to the president's reelection campaign, Lindsey Graham and John McCain to talk to us about what is going on in 2012 and a look at Arizona and Michigan.

BORGER: And I'm sure Syria as well.

CROWLEY: Yes. They just -- they are both back from a trip.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

Thank you so much, Candy Crowley.

And CNN's Erin Burnett is crunching the numbers of Romney's economic plan, which we spoke about a few minutes ago. I will talk to her in a few more minutes about what it all means for you. And, then, in our next hour, Romney's rival, Senator Rick Santorum, joins me to talk about Romney's latest attacks on him. You don't want to miss Rick Santorum because he is firing back today.

And star power and Hollywood cash have started flowing to President Obama's reelection effort with a headline-grabbing donation from comedian Bill Maher.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is looking into the president's celebrity support.

Lisa, celebrities supporting the president, shocking, right?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shocking, indeed, Gloria.

Well, right now, Gloria as you well know, Republicans they are in a horse race raising and spending campaign cash. And the president doesn't have a primary challenger but Democrats still have a build to war chest for Mr. Obama's reelection and now they are turning to Hollywood for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): With comedian Bill Maher, it's sometimes hard to tell where comedy stops and politics begin, even when he's making a big pledge to President Obama's super PAC.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": I would like to give that PAC $1 million.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SYLVESTER: The president's super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has been lagging in its fund-raising operations, raising a mere $59,000 in January.

The Supreme Court decision Citizens United opened the door to super PACs receiving big money. But the Obama camp is philosophically opposed to the court's decision and was reluctant to have big donors writing checks for its own super PAC. But to stay in the game, the Obama campaign did a turnaround this month, giving the green light.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: Now that the campaign has given its blessing to those donors to contribute so that they can fight fire with fire, they had said that they were at a big disadvantage without it, I think that you're going to see a lot of money pouring in.

SYLVESTER: Democrats are turning to Hollywood for star power and cash.

"Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria and Kal Penn, a former star on the drama "House," have been named by the Obama campaign as two of 36 special co-chairs. And actress Kerry Washington has also been tapped for a key role. KERRY WASHINGTON, ACTRESS: I'm Obama's President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities. I'm working hard within the White House and also on the campaign as an official surrogate again this year fund raising.

SYLVESTER: Hollywood heavyweights are also now working as fund- raising bundlers, including DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ari Emanuel, a super agent in Hollywood and brother to Rahm Emanuel.

But not everyone in the entertainment industry is sweet on President Obama. Singer Kelly Clarkson tweeted her love for Ron Paul. Former "Superman" star Dean Cain admits to CNN he is no fan of Obama's, but isn't sold on the four GOP candidates either. Still, he has a prediction.

DEAN CAIN, ACTOR: I threw my hat in the ring early with Governor Rick Perry, and that didn't turn out so well as far as a presidential run. Obviously, he's out of the race. That leaves the remaining four candidates. I think Mitt Romney is the strongest of the remaining four candidates. And I think he will win the Republican nomination.

SYLVESTER: Democrats were slow out of the gate, but they hope to raise $100 million between now and Election Day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And Hollywood definitely skews Democratic. I know, no surprise there. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 70 percent of presidential campaign donations from movie, TV, and the music industries go to Democrats, 30 percent to Republican candidates -- Gloria.

BORGER: Right. Now that super PAC door is wide open for Hollywood, Lisa. Thanks a lot.

And it's a story you first saw in THE SITUATION ROOM. Florida Senator and Republican vice presidential hopeful Marco Rubio reveals his time in the Mormon Church -- now new details about yet another religion in his past.

Plus, Jeb Bush raising concerns about the state of the Republican presidential race. We will show you exactly what he said.

And arming the Syrian opposition, how realistic is it? I'm talking with our national security analyst Fran Townsend right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: And when it comes to buzz about a Republican vice presidential nominee, no one is generating more than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. But now, things are getting complicated with new revelations about his faith -- actually, his faiths. That's plural.

CNN's Brian Todd is investigating.

Brian, yesterday we learned that Rubio was once a Mormon. But now, there seems to be some of the story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Surprises never cease.

There is more, Gloria. You know, Marco Rubio has often spoken on this so-called faith journey. It's a journey where he's made a few stops, and we've learned he's still moving between religions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Religious freedoms still exist.

TODD (voice-over): And he's walked that walk. Senator Marco Rubio on many short list for the Republican vice presidential nomination, a high wanted star among the emerging, mostly Catholic Hispanic voting bloc appears to be affiliated with at least three religions.

A Rubio aide tells CNN he spent part of his childhood as a Mormon, getting baptized in that church when he was 8. That's when his family moved near Mormon relatives in Las Vegas in the late '70s. They aide says Rubio and his family left the Mormon church when he was 11 and returned to Catholicism.

MICHAEL PUTNEY, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, WPLG: He's an intellectually curious guy, not that when he's 8 years old, he was that curious. I don't think. I think this is something that his parents asked him to do. And as an 8-year-old, he simply did it.

TODD: Michael Putney of CNN Miami affiliate WPLG has covered Florida politics and Rubio's career extensively. The story first appeared in the "Miami Herald" and the Web site BuzzFeed.com. Rubio's cousins, Nevada State Senator Mo Denis and his sister Michelle spoke to the Web site. Michelle quoted on Rubio's enthusiasm for Mormonism, "He was totally into it."

Rubio's aide says he never formally requested to have his name removed from Mormon records. So, he may still technically be a church member.

We asked if Senator Rubio could go on camera with us. His aide said he was out of town and wanted to speak about this until his fourth coming book is released. But found more about what Marco Rubio calls his fate journey.

(on camera): Senator Rubio regularly attends mass at this Catholic church right next to his Senate offices. He goes to a Catholic church in the Miami area. But he also often goes to a very large Baptist church in Florida. The lead pastor here did not want to go on camera with us. He says he doesn't know Senator Rubio very well. But he says as far as he's concerned, it's fine for a member of his congregation to attend services of other faiths.

(voice-over): Putney says he doesn't think Rubio's attendance at the Baptist church is politically motivated. But if Mitt Romney, a Mormon leader, is the GOP nominee, could Rubio's past affiliation with that church take him out of the veep stakes.

PUTNEY: I mean, look, you've got a guy who is 40 years old, handsome, very smart, a compelling personal history and eloquent speaker in English and Spanish. If I were running the Romney campaign, I would think that all of those things are more important than he had briefly been a Mormon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Putney said some evangelical voters might be unsettled with all of this, but he doesn't see much fallout beyond that. A Rubio aide told me politics never had anything to do with any of his religious practices. And the aide would not comment on any of speculation on Rubio joining the GOP presidential ticket, Gloria.

BORGER: But the story of his parents' exile status --

TODD: That's right.

BORGER: -- that still really hurt him politically.

TODD: That could hurt him. You know, remember that report that he had embellished when he said his parents fled the Castro regime --

BORGER: Right.

TODD: -- when in fact they've actually gotten out of there before Castro came to power. Putney says in Florida, that's going to hurt him politically more than anything about religion, especially, you know, if he gets the V.P. nod. They need Florida. That could hurt him there.

BORGER: Yes, that would be one of the reasons to pick him --

TODD: Sure.

BORGER: -- if he could deliver the state of Florida.

TODD: That's right. But that's still stinging a little bit politically.

BORGER: Right. Thanks so much, Brian.

TODD: Sure.

BORGER: And surprising new information about big name Republican. Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is back in the news. E-mails from her days as Alaska governor reveal a lot about her marriage. That's in our next hour.

Also ahead, half a billion dollars in sunken treasurer found in Florida and now in crates. Where they're headed, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: The latest effort to free an American jailed in Cuba.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right.

So, Lisa, what do you have?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Gloria.

Well, two U.S. senators met with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana, but failed to convince him to release jailed American contractor Alan Gross. Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Richard Shelby told Castro that Gross is not a spy. He is serving 15 years in prison for smuggling illegal communications equipment into Cuba. The senators also talk to Castro about improving Cuba and U.S. relations.

An emotional farewell for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas. Chavez is headed to Cuba for more cancer surgery. He says he may also need some additional surgery after the operation. Chavez is optimistic about quickly conquering the cancer. But there is still speculation about who might replace him.

And the feds may join the Penn State trial sex abuse investigation. The university says it has received a subpoena from a U.S. attorney for information about Jerry Sandusky and his charity. The former football coach is under investigation by Pennsylvania's attorney general. Sandusky faces more than 50 counts of child sex abuse. He has pleaded not guilty.

Half a billion dollars in sunken treasurer is now headed back to Spain. A federal judge has ordered a deep sea salvage company to turn over the 6,000 coins to the Spanish government. The Spanish ship was sunk during an 1804 battle. An Odyssey Marina Exploration recovered the treasure in 2007 and the coins have been held at an undisclosed location in Florida for five years.

That is an amazing haul there -- a billion dollars in sunken treasure.

BORGER: It sure is. And an undisclosed location. It's amazing they keep it a secret, huh?

SYLVESTER: That's a good point, Laura.

BORGER: Thanks, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: And to foreign policy now. The crisis in Syria is getting worse by the hour. Now, the United States and several other countries are weighing options to arm the opposition. Could that really happen?

Plus, he quit his senate seat in shame. And now a former Republican senator opens up about life after a sex scandal. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: I'm Gloria Borger, in for Wolf Blitzer.

Here's the story we're working on for the next hour:

President Obama apologizes for U.S. troops burning Korans in Afghanistan. But we'll show you why some say that's just not enough.

Plus, my one-on-one with Rick Santorum. Mitt Romney keeps calling him a Washington insider. Can he refute that after serving 16 years in Congress?

And a wild scene at a shopping mall. Riot police had to be called out. You won't believe what the fuss is all about.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And just in to THE SITUATION ROOM, moments ago, President Obama commented about the crisis in Syria, during a meeting in the Oval Office with the Danish prime minister. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a chance to talk about a wide range of international issues, including the situation in Syria. And I have to say that all of us who have been seen the terrible pictures coming out of Syria and Homs recently recognize it is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition, it is for that regime to move on, and it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government.

And I'm encouraged by the international unity that we are developing. The meeting that took place in Tunisia that Secretary Clinton had attended.

And we are going to continue to keep the pressure up and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocence in Syria. And this is an area where I think the prime minister and I deeply agree.

It's important that we not be bystanders during these extraordinary events. At the same time, there are other threats in the region including the situation in Iran and I thanked the prime minister and the Danish government for their leadership role in applying the toughest sanctions we've ever seen coming out of the E.U.

Difficult sanctions to apply, but we both agreed that we're making progress and they are working in sending a message to Iran that it needs to take a different path if it wants to rejoin the international community.

And that there's an expectation on the part of the world that they abide by their international obligations when it comes to the their nuclear program. So the final thing we talked about was the fact that we had two daughters that are roughly the same age as we traded notes.

The prime minister's daughters are slightly older that Malia and Sasha. She assures me that they continue to behave themselves well into their teenage years.

So I'm encouraged by that report and I thank you very much. I hope that you have a wonderful stay while you're here and we look forward to working with you again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And with that news from the president, let's go straight to CNN's Michael Holmes. He is monitoring the situation in Syria from his post in Beirut. Michael, what's the situation out of Homs right now?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big news today in the last few hours, anyway, Gloria has been the situation involving those wounded journalists, the western journalists in the battered neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Now after some delicate negotiations, the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent moved into that neighborhood on Friday. Their aim was to evacuate not just the wounded journalists, but in the words of a spokesman, all persons in need of help without exception.

Now, the ICRS say seven civilians were taken out first to a hospital in Homs, but away from the main fighting. Activists say that that was their one and only rescue mission so far. The journalists are still there inside Baba Amr.

Now, the ICRC said that it's -- it's getting to midnight here in the region and the ICRC says that it's going to be their only trip for the night. They hope to start up more trips tomorrow and bring out civilians.

Now the activists inside there say they want the civilians taken out first before the journalists and they are claiming that the journalists agree with that. There's no way to independently confirm that claim.

There are two badly injured journalists. There are two who are uninjured and of course, the bodies of the two who were killed all in that same shelling incident in Baba Amr on Wednesday -- Gloria.

BORGER: Have the aid groups been able to communicate directly with people there and with people that they would like to evacuate?

HOLMES: Well, interestingly, they have been able to communicate on the ground with the opposition forces inside Baba Amr, but just literally seconds ago, we got word that from an ICRC spokeswoman that they have not actually communicated directly with those journalists in there, the western journalists.

But they have been able to negotiate with the opposition and the Syrian forces to get that first lot of wounded civilians out, seven of them who were very badly wounded, apparently. So we're told too that there was no ceasefire while this went on.

They were shelling and gunfire in the general vicinity so obviously a very delicate situation. All of these coming on a situation when another 90 people died around Syria, 30 of them in the city of Homs. A very, very bad situation -- Gloria.

BORGER: And what will happen to the bodies of those murdered if they don't get them out soon including those journalists?

HOLMES: Yes, that's been the big issue. The two journalists -- the American journalists, Marie Colvin and the French photographer, Remi Ochlik, those bodies, these people died on Wednesday now and those bodies have been sitting there.

Activists we've spoken said if they don't get them out soon, they are going to have to bury them there in Baba Amr, which of course, the families would like the bodies back, their employers, everybody would like those bodies taken out. The activists are almost saying that it's becoming necessary to bury them. Everybody is hoping that they get them out in the hours ahead, hopefully by tomorrow morning -- Gloria.

BORGER: Hopefully. Thank you so much, Michael Holmes.

And we want to talk some more about the United States' options in Syria. Here me with is CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush.

I guess the question really for us going forward, you heard what the president said earlier. He said it's important that we not be bystanders, but what does he mean by that?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, he was the thanking the Danish prime minister for the imposition of sanctions. The president has taken a leading role in the imposition of sanctions, but I think what you're seeing, Gloria is -- sanctions aren't enough.

BORGER: Sure.

TOWNSEND: Words aren't enough. Meetings even "The Friends of Syria," it's not enough unless it produces action for the people of opposition on the ground in Syria. What does that mean? You need the Arab allies to help in terms of arming the opposition so that they can defend themselves.

You need diplomacy because, of course, you're going to need to get humanitarian aid in and the safe passage of humanitarian workers, NGOs and by the way, we need to be talking with the regional allies about women and children and Syrians who wish to get out of the country need safe passage.

You need all of those things, humanitarian aid right now and safe passage being chief among them and that's further complicated, Gloria, by the fact that we've seen a warning go out by the U.S. government about Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

This is a huge, huge concern because, of course, if they feel threatened, the Assad regime, what will they do?

BORGER: Well, and that's the whole question about arming the opposition. A, is there a way to arm the opposition indirectly? And, B, do we know that the people that we're arming are not bad guys also?

TOWNSEND: Right. This is not an easily answered question. I think that's why you've got to rely on your Arab allies. Allies in the region have very close historical relationships with Syria and the tribes.

Let's not forget that you have a Sunni-Shia issue going on there between the Shia and the Sunnis. The longer we wait the more likely you will see a more radicalized population who will long term resent the fact that America did stand on the sidelines and let the slaughter continue.

BORGER: So is there anything we can do right now? I mean, as the president says sanctions, we don't want to be bystanders. Assad must go.

TOWNSEND: You need absolutely food, medical supplies on the ground now. You need safe passage for Syrians who want to leave and you have to work with your Arab allies to arm the oppositions so they can defend themselves.

BORGER: And that would not be in public. Thank you very much, Fran Townsend.

TOWNSEND: Sure.

BORGER: And to change the subject, it's about what every driver is talking about here in this country. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Political leaders are trying to come up with solutions, but will they work? We'll have a reality check in the next hour.

And coming up next, the key issues that could decide Michigan for Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" is CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona and Republican consultant, Curt Anderson. He's a former adviser to Rick Perry's presidential campaign. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Let me start with you, Curt. You've done an awful lot of political work in the state of Michigan for Republicans. OK, who is going to win that primary? Not to put you on the spot.

CURT ANDERSON, FORME ADVISER TO THE RICK PERRY CAMPAIGN: Well, you've got a really fascinating thing here with two different extremes in the state.

You have on the one hand for Romney, the family name, the dad who is a former governorr being from there and former auto executive and the fact that he won the state last time. So this isn't one of those phony family connections. I mean, the Romney name actually does matter in Michigan. So you have that, but on the other side you have a primary electorate in Michigan that was conservative before conservative was cool.

Pat Robinson almost won in Michigan and then you had a situation where John Angler was governor, conservative governor for years, but every time he would tell the Republican primary voters vote for this guy in the primary, half the time they would say no.

And they are just a disobedient campaign for his slot. For instance, I was at the convention in 1988 when Angler told the voters, OK, you guys are going to support Scott Romney for attorney general and they said no, thanks and they picked the more conservative guy.

BORGER: So they don't --

ANDERSON: They are disobedient.

BORGER: Quickly, do they care about the bailout in the Republican primary?

ANDERSON: The bailout is not as big of a deal as everybody thinks. It's really a different race than that.

BORGER: Bailouts matter in general elections?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I agree with Curt that it's probably a wash because frankly both candidates, Santorum and Romney were against the bailout.

But I do think if Romney becomes the nominee, it hurts him more because he is from Michigan. And general election voters would think that he understands the importance of the auto industry.

Right now, Barack Obama's beating him by more than 20 points in the general election to your point, a very important state.

ANDERSON: Well, I'm fine with the Obama running on bailouts. I think that's good.

CARDONA: And by the way, in Michigan they call it the rescue for a reason.

BORGER: OK, so let's move from Michigan to our favorite story line, which is a contested convention. You worked for Rick Perry, no longer in the race. But you've --

ANDERSON: I've heard that.

BORGER: You did. But you've been involved and you're still involved in Republican politics. What's your feeling about that? Give us a reality check on the contested convention scenario.

ANDERSON: Well, it's a little bit like looking for Sasquatch. You know, or the Loch Ness monster area 51, I mean, everybody likes to talk about it and you can't find anybody alive that has seen one of these and so -- here's what I don't think can happen is that a new candidate will come up because people don't really think that through.

I mean, what that means is that the new candidate is going to be acceptable to a lot of people and you're going to have the conservatives particularly say, no, the new candidate, no, that's an establishment guy. We don't want him. So I'm cynical about it.

BORGER: Would that be good for you, a Democrat?

CARDONA: Well, I think the one thing we've learned not to do in this election is to try to predict what's going to happen. Conventional wisdom is completely out the window.

BORGER: Right.

CARDONA: And given that Romney really has not been able to seal the deal with all of these conservative voters, I think maybe not a huge possibility, but it's a probability. He's still that jagged little pill that is sitting there on the night table the conservatives are not wanting to take.

BORGER: Why don't they just embrace Mitt Romney at a certain point and say, OK?

ANDERSON: There's a big strain in the Republican Party that you saw in 2010 where there's a sense that they are not going to take orders from Washington. We're not going to do what we're told. A lot of it is that. Romney may well be the nominee. The actual question is, they don't want to be told what to do.

BORGER: We just pre-taped an interview with Rick Santorum, which you're going to hear later, which was pretty fiery. These guys, you saw our debate the other night, they are going at each other.

I want to play for you something that Jeb Bush, he who would not run, said last night in Dallas about this negative campaign that is going on and then I'll have Maria talk about it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I think, though, it's important for the candidates to recognize, though, that they have to appeal to primary voters and not turn off independent voters that will be part of a winning coalition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: So what do you think about that?

CARDONA: They absolutely should listen to Jeb Bush because he's absolutely right. Right now, what Republicans think that they can do is talk to each other and think that independent voters, Latinos and women are not listening. The Arizona debate really underscored how offensive the languages that they used for Latino voters. And Republicans will love to say, immigration is not the number one issue for Latino voters and though it's a filter issue. They don't like what you're saying on immigration. They are not going to listen to you on anything else.

And right now, the Republicans need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to get to the White House. They are nowhere near even 25 percent.

ANDERSON: Well, two things. One is, it's nice for Governor Bush to provide that information to the candidates. But the other thing that I would provide to the candidates is if you don't win the primary, you won't get a chance to alienate people in general election.

That's number one. And then the second thing is, you haven't seen negative yet. I mean, negative is going to be when one of these guys wins and they go up against Obama. Because the Obama administration has got record that says they're going to have to defeat the opponent.

BORGER: We haven't seen negative yet, you have Ron Paul calling Rick Santorum a fake --

ANDERSON: When we stand here in September, that's going to be negative because Obama can't run on his record. He's going to have to run to beat one of these guys and that's what they're going to do.

CARDONA: If it gets nasty, it's because of the millions of dollars the that Republican "Super PACs" are going to --

BORGER: OK, we can all agree that it's going to get nasty. Thanks to both of you.

And have you heard about this? Hundreds of people rush into a shopping mall and riot police are called out and it's happening across the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: And Mitt Romney's out with his economic plan today as president he would slash taxes and the size of government. No surprises there.

CNN's Erin Burnett, host of Erin Burnett's "OUTFRONT," has been crunching the numbers for us. So Erin, how will Romney pay for his plan?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT'S OUTFRONT": Well, that is the big question. You know, as you imagined, we were hoping that we would get more detail from Mitt Romney today about his tax plan, but this is pretty much in line with what we heard a couple of days ago which is, in addition to extending the Bush tax cuts, he wants to accelerate an additional 20 percent cut in rates for all income brackets.

So if you're on the top bracket, you go from 35 to 28. In the middle bracket, 20 to 25 and at the lower bracket, from 10 to 8 percent. How much would it cost? That's the big question. Martin Sullivan, an economist, a tax analyst, ran these numbers for us, Gloria and everyone sort of running around trying to get them.

He said just over 10 years, just to extend the Bush tax cuts, cost about $4.4 trillion. If you have the Romney tax cut plan, it would be about $8.2 trillion. So you're talking about a lot of money.

Now Mitt Romney is going to say that he would make up for that with economic growth and that, of course, some people would say would require a lot of luck. At least economists we've spoken to. Take this, Gloria, this is amazing.

The Congressional Budget Office says that between the years 2014 and 2017, they're already assuming the U.S. economy will grow at 4.1 percent a year. That is really, really incredible growth.

For example, last year, we grew at 1.7 percent. The tax analyst that we spoke to is saying that Mitt Romney will have to have economic growth in those years of 5.4 percent in order to make up for all the revenue loss from his tax cuts.

Even back in the mid-1990s, when we had the internet boom, we did not see growth rates like that on an annual basis. So there are some real question marks out there.

BORGER: You know, but on the spending side, he and other Republicans are talking about, albeit with baby steps, touching those so-called automatic spending programs like Medicare, Social Security, raising the retirement age. I mean, do you think that in a general election campaign that's going to really become a hot issue?

BURNETT: It's going to be a tough issue because obviously that's where he wants to get a lot of his spending cuts. But when you look at his details today and I put that in quote, he said, look, entitlement reform, broad brush of that obviously is exactly what you're talking about.

Further increases in the age and cuts in benefits, changing the indexing of those benefits. But he doesn't want to go out politically with too much details on that because it would alienate some voters.

But there's no question that entitlement changes is where he plans to get quite a bit of his costs because there's other tax breaks in his plan as well. He was going to get rid of the estate tax and other things like that. All of those come with a price tag.

BORGER: To be decided during a presidential election.

BURNETT: That's right.

BORGER: Thanks so much, Erin.

And this senator quit his seat in shame. Now a former Republican opens up about life after a sex scandal.

And in our next hour, Rick Santorum tells me about his theory that Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are somehow in cahoots.

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BORGER: And here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Morocco, army veterans and their families try to enter the royal palace to demand a pension increase.

In Romania, participants in a local feast wear elaborate costumes to celebrate what is locally considered the first day of spring.

In Senegal, people wait outside the grand mosque, one of the largest in Africa.

And in France, rams wait to be judged at an agricultural fair. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

And from senator to veterinarian, how a disgraced politician found a new life after scandal. CNN's Dana Bash has the exclusive report from Las Vegas -- Dana?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One minute, he's examining a cat. The next, he's bandaging up a dog. If this hardworking veterinarian looks familiar, he should.

DR. JOHN ENSIGN, VETERINARIAN: I'm Dr. Ensign.

BASH: Dr. Ensign is former Nevada senator, John Ensign, who abruptly resigned 10 months ago amid a high profile sex scandal.

ENSIGN: This has been really, really good, first of all to come back into a profession where you're humbled. You know, I used to own this practice now I'm working for somebody. That sometimes a very healthy thing to have had happened in life.

BASH: Now instead of being hounded by reporters like, yours truly --

(on camera): Are you considering resigning.

BASH (voice-over): He's caring for hounds of all kinds.

ENSIGN: That has to hurt Dexter.

BASH: Ensign was the only veterinarian in Congress.

ENSIGN: You can tell he had a crushed pelvis.

BASH: Until his resignation, he hadn't practiced for more than a decade.

ENSIGN: Literally, I'm studying until 10:00, 11:00 every night and just trying to make that I get back up to a very high level in veterinary medicine. BASH: Taking us on an exclusive tour of this animal hospital to see his life after politics. Ensign says he now realizes this is where his heart is.

ENSIGN: I love being in the Senate. That was a wonderful experience, but it's -- I'm putting as much passion into this as I did that and so I'm really enjoying it. The other nice thing is being home every night seeing my wife and kids every day.

BASH: Ensign is still with his wife and says they are still doing great, healing after an affair led to his political downfall. Last spring, the Senate Ethics Committee accused him of violating the law by trying to help his mistress' husband find lobbying jobs. Ensign resigned three weeks before the report came out.

(on camera): Did you leave in order to avoid testifying before the committee?

ENSIGN: My family had been through enough. I don't want to put them through more.

BASH (voice-over): He's introspective, warning those still in politics not to let power get the best of them, like it did him.

ENSIGN: Do everything that you possibly can to keep yourself grounded and a big part of that is, keep people surrounded -- keep people around you who will slap you upside the head and tell you when you're doing wrong.

BASH (on camera): Did you not have that?

ENSIGN: I thought I did, but after a while you develop invisible barriers to where they are actually intimidated to do that even though I would say it all the time.

BASH (voice-over): Ensign's political star was once so bright. This former member of the Republican leadership in the Senate had pondered a presidential run.

(on camera): Now watching the presidential race, do you have any pangs saying, I could have been there? I could have in the race with Governor Romney and --

ENSIGN: The chances for me would have been so slim anyway. But you can't go back. You can't look back. I'm looking forward to veterinarian medicine. I'm having a ball.

BASH (voice-over): Dana Bash, CNN, Las Vegas, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: What an interesting look after someone has lost power.

And Dean Haler, a former congressman is now Nevada's junior senator. He's serving out the rest of Ensign's term, which ends this year and plans to run for the Senate on his own.