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THE SITUATION ROOM

NASA Shuttles Finding New Homes; Bill Clinton Making Case for President Obama; Recovering from a Monster Storm; Obama, Romney Campaigns Battle over Foreign Policy; Senator Chuck Grassley is Interviewed

Aired April 27, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is the latest plank in the so-called war on women, entirely created, entirely created by my colleagues across the aisle for political gain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A heated political battle gets even hotter as the White House issues a veto threat.

Also, Bill Clinton making the case for President Obama by invoking the ghost of Osama bin Laden.

Plus, space shuttle Enterprise arrives with a bang in its new hometown, New York City.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A sharp battle is unfolding here in Washington over a bill to extend lower interest rates on student loans. Millions of students are involved in this. It's a bipartisan goal, but there's partisan bickering over how to pay for it. And now the White House is upping the ante with a veto threat.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is watching all of this unfold.

What are you seeing up on Capitol Hill, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems this fight over student loans is about much more than just student loans but it's still drawn very familiar battle lines, House Republicans vs. President Obama and congressional Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Defying a veto threat from President Obama, House Republicans pushed ahead Friday to pass a bill extending lower interest rates for federally funded college loans, but it wasn't without a healthy dose of political theater. BOEHNER: And to pick this big political fight where there is no fight is just silly. Give me a break.

BOLDUAN: House Republicans accusing President Obama and congressional Democrats of manufacturing a fight.

BOEHNER: People want to politicize this because it's an election year, but, my God, do we have to fight about everything?

BOLDUAN: Democrats are accusing Republicans of turning a non- controversial education measure into a war on women.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What we're saying here today is stop your assault on women.

BOLDUAN: And President Obama hammering Republicans all week while speaking to college students in election-year battleground states.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have got one member of Congress who compared the student loans -- I'm not kidding here -- to a stage three cancer of socialism.

(BOOING)

OBAMA: Stage three cancer. I don't know where to start.

BOLDUAN: The thing is both sides insist they support insuring the student loan rates don't spike, but once again, how to pay for it is at the center of the dispute. The Republican measure covers the $6 billion price tag by cutting funding from part of the president's health care law focused on preventative care.

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT: We would prevent screenings for breast and cervical cancer. That would be the action that they would undertake if this fund is eliminated.

BOLDUAN: But Republicans call that outrage hypocritical since Democrats voted for similar cuts to the program earlier this year.

BOEHNER: You may have already forgotten that several months ago you all voted to cut four billion dollars out of the slush fund while they passed the payroll tax credit bill. So to accuse us of wanting to gut women's health is absolutely not true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Democrats, though, Wolf, throw it right back at Republicans because the House Republican budget for next year already calls for the student loan rate to jump.

Now, important to note that this is not likely to go anywhere in the Democratic controlled Senate. Senate Democrats have their own version of the bill that would be paid for by eliminating a corporate tax break. And at the heart of all this is an important thing, Wolf, a perfect opportunity for both sides to draw distinctions where they see political advantage, Republicans attacking the president's health care law, Democrats trying to appeal to women voters.

BLITZER: Yes. They will extend the low interest rates for student loans at some point, but they will both try to score some political points in the process.

Kate, thanks very, very much.

Next week marks one year since U.S. forces killed the world's most wanted terrorist and now the ghost Osama bin Laden is looming over the race for the White House as the Obama and Romney campaigns battle over foreign policy.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now.

Jessica, tell our viewers what this is all about.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is about playing up the president's perceived strength as the general election kicks off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): If you need proof the general election campaign has begun.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He took the harder and the more honorable path.

YELLIN: Here you go.

CLINTON: The president is the decider in chief.

YELLIN: The Obama campaign is out with this video as we approach the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.

CLINTON: Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn't been bin Laden? Suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him.

YELLIN: It comes the same day the president and first lady visited troops at Fort Stewart.

OBAMA: I made your generation a promise. I said that when your tour comes to an end, you will be coming home to an America that will forever fight for you, just as you fought for us.

YELLIN: And the same week Vice President Biden summed up the president's accomplishments.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

YELLIN: The campaign is playing up one of the president's strengths. Polling shows he beat Mitt Romney by 16 points when asked who can better handle the job of commander in chief? Now the campaign is taking it a step further, asking whether Romney would have gone in for the kill and pointing to this quote from 2007.

BLITZER: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." He was referring to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

What did he mean by that?

YELLIN: At the time Romney clarified it this way.

QUESTION: Do we move heaven and earth to do it?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will move everything to get him, but I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden, because after we get him, there is going to be another and another.

YELLIN: But with voters so focused on the sputtering economy, will anyone remember Osama bin Laden's death on Election Day?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: The Romney campaign calls the Obama campaign's video a sad and divisive political move designed to try and distract voters from the economy.

Wolf, a top Republican pollster actually tells me that the killing of Osama bin Laden is one of the few areas that independent voters do see as a positive for the president. And, of course, independents are must-win voters this election, but still even for this group, the killing of Osama bin Laden does not trump their concerns about the economy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they planning special events next week in coordination with the first anniversary of the killing of bin Laden over at the White House?

YELLIN: I think that we're going to see the president acknowledge this more, but I wouldn't expect -- I actually don't know whether we will see a special ceremony acknowledging the killing of Osama bin Laden, Wolf.

I will let you know if we do.

BLITZER: I suspect they will do some special things around it. It's the first anniversary and obviously smart politics at this point as well.

All right, thanks very much for that.

The celebrity president. Details of a new GOP effort to oust President Obama using an old strategy.

Also, a daring escape by a human rights activist in China, how a blind man got away from police.

Plus, all eyes in the sky in New York City as the space shuttle Enterprise makes a dramatic entrance to its new hometown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Obama and Romney campaigns may be fighting over national security, foreign policy and whether or not the president of the United States is a celebrity, whether he is cool, but all of that is just a subtext.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's working this part of the story.

It's clearly not going to be the major issue, any of this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. In fact, most of it is going to be a sideshow. I think it's obviously all about the economy.

The polls show while more Americans believe the economy is starting to stabilize, they are still desperately worried about their future. And today we got some economic growth numbers that were less than the economists predicted, 2.2 percent growth. That's not exactly robust.

BLITZER: That's for the first quarter.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right. It's not what the Obama administration wanted.

And, you know, a lot of people are comparing President Obama's reelection to another reelection in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was running and he had a high unemployment rate as well. So we went back and looked at those numbers. If you go back to March of '84, you see unemployment 7.8 and the unemployment in this country right now is 8.2, but look at the difference in those growth numbers, 8.5 percent.

So the economy was growing at such a fast pace during the Reagan years that it inspired an awful lot of optimism that the recovery would continue and would be robust. And that's one of the reasons Ronald Reagan won reelection.

BLITZER: Yes, economic growth was exploding at that time.

BORGER: And we don't have that now.

BLITZER: Certainly not. It was 3 percent of last quarter of last year, 2.2 percent the first quarter of this year. That's what economists say anemic. It's certainly not enough to create a whole lot of jobs.

BORGER: And people expected 2.5 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: For the Romney campaign, they think they have a winning issue here. BORGER: They do, and it's the issue they're going to continue to hammer home.

We heard them take on the issue frontally this week over and over again. They even took the president on the fairness issue, but there are two themes, Wolf, that we're hearing a lot of with some key words. The one word we're hearing is diversion, that this is a president they say who is more about image than he is about substance.

And the second thing is they're asking, where's the president's full explanation for why he deserves reelection? I want to read you something that came in a campaign memo from Matt Rhoades, who is the Romney campaign manager.

He said -- quote -- "It's been a remarkably flailing campaign," referring to the Obama campaign, "with no discernible rationale for candidacy. We now know that only one campaign is going to run on President Obama's record of the past three-and-a-half years in office, and it's not the Obama campaign."

They're saying, if he won't run on it, we will. We're going to continue to remind you about it. And that appeals to swing voters. Swing voters very worried about the economy, and they're very skeptical about the recovery.

BLITZER: So how does the Obama campaign fight back?

BORGER: Well, you know, they're saying every chance they get that they have created four million new jobs.

And what they're trying to say is that Mitt Romney would take you back to the Bush years without mentioning George W. Bush's name. Take a listen to what the vice president said in New Hampshire recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Governor Romney has his way, we'll have the Romney rule, and I mean it sincerely. I'm not saying it's a cute little deal. There's a Romney rule. The Romney rule says let's double down on the tax cuts for the wealthy.

Look, folks, this is not about -- this is not about class warfare. This is about math. This is about math and people's lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And they're also starting to portray Mitt Romney as an extremist. At one point they were talking about how he was a flip- flopper. Now, I think they've decided that it's much more a lucrative to talk about Mitt Romney as somebody who became extreme during the primaries, because that's another way to remain those independent voters, you know what? You didn't like him so much in the primaries. Mitt Romney's poll numbers went down about between points with independent voters during all of those presidential debates among Republicans.

BLITZER: It was a tough primary and the Democrats now including the Obama campaign they'll keep hitting Mitt Romney in his own words as a severe conservative.

BORGER: As he said.

BLITZER: They're not going let him go to the center.

BORGER: Whatever that means. Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

BORGER: New lines of attack in the race for the White House. We'll talk more about this and more on the strategy session. Hilary Rosen and Mary Matalin, they're both standing by live.

And the bizarre standoff that closed shops and subway stations in London. What happened? We'll tell you.

And the twist that may mean lower gas prices for all of us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, a calculated attack today in eastern Ukraine coming just ahead of a major sporting event. What happened?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, authorities say explosions southeast of Kiev were the work of terrorists. Twenty-seven people were wound, including nine children, when the success blast went off in a movie theater. Ukraine's president vowed to punish those responsible. The country is set to co-host the European Soccer Championships in June.

A dozen people were injured today near San Antonio in a chain reaction crash that included an 18-wheeler and a school bus. The bus which carried middle and high school students flipped over. All four vehicles in the crash caught fire. Four students were hospitalized. The driver of the big rig is critically injured.

Negotiators convince a man to give himself up for London police, that after a standoff closed down a huge shopping district and two subway stations in the city. The man claimed to have explosives when he began throwing things into the street from an upper window. Authorities feared the man also had hostages, but apparently he did not.

And a sign that the price of gas may -- listen to this closely -- drop in the next few weeks. Analysts say the type of crude that gasoline is made from costs less now than tensions over Iran's nuclear program are relaxing and the economy worldwide slows down. If supplies hold firm and that's a big if, experts prediction that Americans have already seen summer's peak prices.

That would certainly be welcome news to a lot of consumers.

BLITZER: Certainly would be. Those prices have been going up and up and up if they start going down a little bit, that would be good. Thanks, Mary, very much.

We see how much devastation tornadoes cause when they touchdown, they level homes, they wreck neighborhoods. What comes afterward?

CNN's George Howell went back to the scene of a monstrous storm to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been one year since this EF-4 monster left its mark on Tuscaloosa, a year since we last spoke to the owner of this Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

(on camera): Is all of this a total loss?

EVAN SMITH, OWNER KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS: A total loss.

HOWELL (voice-over): Today, Evan Smith is still working to rebuild.

(on camera): We're talking a year after this tornado came through here and we're still waiting for the concrete to be poured.

SMITH: That's amazing. You know, in one stance, you want to be upset and say how can it take 12 months? But went on on those 12 months.

HOWELL (voice-over): First came massive effort to remove debris according to city officials, 1.5 million cubic yards of it county- wide. Overall, 12.6 percent of the city was destroyed.

SMITH: Most tornadoes hit a house, skip a house, hit a house. This was taking everything out half a mile or a mile wide.

GARY LIMMROTH, TORNADO VICTIM: There were trees through her.

HOWELL: Gary Limmroth survived by taking shelter in his basement. His home had to be demolished. So, now he's starting over.

LIMMROTH: It does take a while to figure out how do you want to build back and do you want to build back? A lot of people are trying to decide and some just can't take it. They couldn't be here in the constant reminder every day of seeing it.

HOWELL: You can see the difference best from satellite imagery. This was the corner of 15th and McFarland Boulevard before the tornado hit. Here's the photo after the storm came true. There was debris everywhere.

(on camera): This is what that same neighborhood looks like today. We're left here with an empty field where these homes once stood. The tornado was on the ground for less than six minutes and overall, 53 people were killed here in Tuscaloosa alone.

LIMMROTH: This is going to be the safe room. This was poured in place, concrete walls.

HOWELL (voice-over): Residents are rebuilding to be better prepared.

(on camera): Are you worried this can happen again?

LIMMROTH: Yes. I mean, I think it's obvious that the Tuscaloosa is on the path now.

HOWELL (voice-over): And though there are signs of progress.

SMITH: As far as me being in this business, I'm not better off until I get the doors open again.

HOWELL: George Howell, CNN, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Later tonight, there will be a remembrance ceremony at the University of Alabama for the people who died in Tuscaloosa one year ago today.

The new ad by the Obama campaign is focusing in on the killing of Osama bin Laden with former President Bill Clinton playing a starring role. While a Republican super PAC's new ad is slamming the president as a celebrity. We'll sort through the ad wars. That's coming up in our strategy session.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With an apparent lock now on the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney finds himself playing a whole new campaign ball game -- this time in the big leagues against the current champion team.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is following all of this for us.

What's going on with Mitt Romney?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, things have changed this week for Mitt Romney that's for sure, Wolf. For the first time in his bid for the White House, Romney is going up against an opponent who can do some real damage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Hours before Mitt Romney met with college students in Ohio for an event on financial aid --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As an English major, your options are you better go to graduate school, all right?

ACOSTA: Democrat operatives were e-mailing out to reporters this link to the Recovery.gov Web site, showing Romney's choice for a campus sitting, Otterbein University, had received $80,000 in stimulus money for, what else? Financial aid.

It was another reminder of the difficult task ahead for Romney and taking on an incumbent president with a whip smart political team. Though billed as official visit, Mr. Obama's campaign-style stops to hammer the Republicans on student loans earlier this week not only got the jump on Romney, but seemed to be getting under the skin of House Speaker John Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: People want to politicize it because it's an election year, but my God, do we have to fight about everything?

ACOSTA: Former White House adviser and CNN political contributor David Gergen says Romney is in for a whole new ball game.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, he's been playing with AAA league here against some of these opponents on the Republican side. Now, he's moved up to the Major Leagues because he's got to learn to hit in Major League pitching now. It's surprising how rapidly they come at him, they want to keep him on the defensive, and especially on the bin Laden stuff.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's one thing George Bush said that was right. The president is the decider in chief.

ACOSTA: Consider Bill Clinton's comments on the killing of Osama bin Laden, in the Obama re-election ad.

CLINTON: He took the harder and the more honorable path and the one that produced, in my opinion, the best result.

ACOSTA: It was a continuation of the carpet bombing from Vice President Joe Biden.

BIDEN: You can't say for certain what governor Romney would have done.

AD NARRATOR: Who do you want answering the phone?

ACOSTA: All of a sudden, it's as if Mr. Obama turning around Hillary Clinton's old 3:00 a.m. question and aiming it at Romney.

BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. He has more baggage than the airlines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Presumptive GOP nominee and his allies at the pro-Romney super PAC aren't dealing with baggage. As the new ad for Karl Rove's super PAC puts it, the Republican mission this election year is taking down a celebrity president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: There was a sense of frustration also in a memo released by Romney campaign manager Matt Rhodes, who compared the president's re-election team to a lawn sprinkler, spewing out attacks, quoting here, "in seemingly random directions, hoping to get somebody wet."

But Wolf, by the looks of it, the Obama campaign is nowhere near running out of water. They've got plenty in store for Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: This is only just beginning. By all indications, hundreds of millions of dollars are about to be spent over the next six months in these brutal negative attack ads by these two campaigns.

ACOSTA: That's right, and so far Mitt Romney has been lucky. He's been going up against Republican opponents, who have been good at self-inflicted wounds, whether it be Rick Perry with "Oops," or Newt Gingrich talking about the moon.

That has not happened with the Obama reelection campaign so far. There may be problems, there may be gaffes on the part of Mr. Obama and Vice President Biden, but they're not showing that at this point so it's a different level of ball game here for Mitt Romney at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, this is the major leagues. Those were preliminary games.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: All right --

ACOSTA: Pre-season's over.

BLITZER: It's going to be brutal. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's dig a little bit deeper in our strategy session right now. Joining us are CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen and the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.

Guys, thanks very much. Let me play a little clip, first of all, a little bit more about Obama for America ad, featuring the former president of the United States praising President Obama for going ahead a year ago and ordering the killing of bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: He had to decide and that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a pretty effective ad, Mary. As a professional, you've got to admit that's good.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's a good ad. The question is will it move voters? Is it effective in that way?

And for an ad to be effective in what is going to be a cacophonous season, as you rightly just point out, it has to leverage a preexisting impression that -- and make a plausible argument, this -- the express attack on Romney there is that he's indecisive or that he would not with actionable intelligence make the same decision to go get Osama bin Laden.

And I don't think voters would think that if any president, let alone one that they associate with a more hawkish party, furthermore, in all the polls, people say, when they do say they know something about Romney, what they say they like most about him is his ability to make decisions and solve problems. So it's just -- it's a good- looking ad. I just don't know if it's going to be effective with voters.

BLITZER: Well, it does show, Hilary -- and I'm sure you agree -- it does show the president had the guts to go ahead and give the green light to that Navy SEAL mission to go into Pakistan and kill bin Laden, because it was by no means going to be 100 percent certain.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, and I think actually the conversation about Mitt Romney in this ad is the least effective part of it. If, indeed, much of this campaign is going to be a referendum on the president, what you have in this ad is the most popular former president saying these are tough decisions.

I've seen this guy work. This is a president we can count on and he has done the right thing and a good job. Reinforcing that with that kind of a validator is really significant for President Obama, and I think that ultimately that's going to remind voters that we have felt secure over these last several years with President Obama.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

And, Mary, I'm sure you will agree, as well, that Bill Clinton is an excellent surrogate for the Obama-Biden campaign, especially in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and some of these battleground states.

MATALIN: No doubt about it, he's a very effective surrogate, but people aren't voting for Bill Clinton. They're not voting against George W. Bush, and we have found a little correlation between surrogate support and votes. That's just the truth of it.

Also, I think, there's a negative about this because people really liked Clinton, as Hilary just pointed out, they like Clinton and they like Mrs. Clinton and they think both of them were more effective and are more effective right now than this president. So it's a tricky surrogate.

ROSEN: Well, actually, President Obama is getting very high approval ratings on his foreign policy activities, and so I think that that validator is exactly the right thing and that's what people are expecting from this president.

BLITZER: Hilary, there's always a new Web ad that American Crossroads, this pro-Republican, pro-Romney, now, if you will, anti- Democratic super PAC is putting out and they're making fun of the president for being a, quote, "celebrity." Let me play a little clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The preezy of the united steezy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm so in love with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The ad winds up, Hilary, as I'm sure you've seen, with a very, very damning indictment of the president, saying students, young people in this country, because of the economy and the failure to improve it, create jobs, they are in deep trouble right now.

ROSEN: You know, I'm of two minds on this ad as a kind of a professional ad maker.

On the one hand, you really see a down-to-earth person who has engaged with real people; on the other hand, the false charges about where the president is, but I have a sense this ad might not be as effective as Karl Rove is hoping.

As a practical matter, President Obama has presided over 23 straight months of job creation. That is -- that is indisputable.

He has an economic record to run on, and I think that once those, you know, facts get repeated over and over again, you know, adding on the human side of him and comparing that to the alternative, I'm not sure they'll want to be attacking President Obama's humanness. That's not going to be a winning message for them.

BLITZER: And, Mary, the first part of the ad -- not the last part, but the first part of the ad presumably could even be effective for the president in energizing those young people there because it makes him sort of look cool.

MATALIN: You know, in a week where numbers just came out showing over 50 percent of college graduates not able to get a job or being underemployed, I think young people, as well as all people, would rather have a hot economy than a cool president. And he might have been a cool candidate, but he's been a lukewarm president.

He's been a very ineffective president on the economy. They don't feel those jobs. There are not jobs created sufficient to grow the economy, at 200,000 -- or under 200,000 jobs a month does not keep us at any kind of growth rate that this country needs to progress and to grow the economy. They just don't feel it. And young people don't feel it the most.

So I think the part that we didn't show about how bad the economy is and who is being most affected by it is not -- touches right to what people are saying in polls, particularly young people. They still like him, but they're not enthusiastic and they're not going turn out, so they say.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Hilary. There's no doubt that the enthusiasm level for young people this time around is lower than it was four years ago for the president.

ROSEN: There's no question, and we have seen that in every, you know, reelect for president going forward. We saw it with Bill Clinton, as well, in '96.

But what we do know and what young people have said, as all Americans have said, that this is a president who wakes up every day, fighting for them, thinking about them, understanding what they are going through. As he said the other day, he only paid off his student loans just a few years ago. This is a president that young people relate to and are going to continue to count on.

BLITZER: Hillary Rosen and Mary Matalin, guys, thanks as usual for coming in.

The White House and Congressional Republicans are bickering over the extension of those low-interest student loans, but for millions of college graduates, paying off those loans is increasingly difficult. We're taking a closer look at the numbers.

And later, the space shuttle Enterprise's final flight to its new home in New York City.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, the U.S. and Japan have come to a resolution that dramatically changes the situation for thousands of troops. Tell our viewers what happened.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some 9,000 Marines and their families are leaving Okinawa, ending years of strained relations and calls from the locals to cut the U.S. military presence there. Japan's foreign minister calls the agreement satisfactory. Most of the Marines will now be stationed in Guam as part of a larger military buildup in Asia.

A man trying to find out more about where he came from finds himself on a missing children's website. Steve Carter was adopted from an orphanage in Hawaii at only 4 years old. On a gut feeling, he checked missingkids.com. There in front of him was an age progression image of him. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux spoke to Carter today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Steve, what did you think when you first saw that photo and you recognized yourself?

STEVE CARTER, FORMER MISSING KID: I thought, minus the mullet, it was pretty much spot on on what I looked like.

MALVEAUX: How did you react to that?

CARTER: It was a bit shocking, I have to tell you, to see yourself and to realize that, you know what? People have been looking for you for that long. I was shell shocked. At the same time it was really the first time I'd ever seen a baby picture of myself, so to see that along with a picture of what Marcus Panama would look like at 28 was pretty amazing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Incredible story. Carter believes his mother kidnapped him and left him in the orphanage under a false name. He has since made contact with some of his long-lost relatives.

A man trying to escape Oklahoma police didn't get far before his pants exploded. Authorities say the man was hiding a portable meth lab in his jeans. It blew up, leaving meth trickling down his leg as he was being arrested. The trooper said something seemed fishy when he stopped an SUV for speeding and noticed a chemical smell coming from the passenger. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Mary.

Campaigning can certainly take a big toll on political spouses, especially if you're also battling an illness like multiple sclerosis.

Ann Romney spoke about that challenge in an interview with "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT" but she also spoke about the funnier side of her husband. She was asked about the portrayals of Mitt Romney on "Saturday Night Live."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: What are they talking about? They're not accurate, but they're funny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are they not accurate?

ROMNEY: He is not -- actually, Mitt is a very funny guy and he's not -- I mean, he doesn't comb his hair when we're not going places. It's, like, all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't have perfectly coifed hair when he wakes up in the morning?

ROMNEY: No, he really doesn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you ever do it? Would you make an appearance on "SNL"? ROMNEY: (Inaudible). I'm not funny. That would never even cross my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really?

ROMNEY: That would -- that's the first time. And yes, of course, that would be a great thrill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The presumptive GOP nominee has said in the past that he is open potentially to appearing on "SNL." We'll see.

The White House and Congressional Republicans are bickering over the extension of low-interest student loans, but for millions of college graduates paying of those loans is increasingly difficult. We're looking at the numbers.

And an amazing sight over the skies over New York City, the arrival of the space shuttle Enterprise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A deadline has come and gone. A top senator on the Judiciary Committee has written a letter to the White House asking for answers on any potential White House involvement in Colombia in that Secret Service prostitution scandal.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee is joining us on the phone from Iowa right now.

Senator, you wrote this letter asking for answers. I take it you've received no reply from the White House, is that right?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: No reply and we followed it with a couple of e-mails and phone calls today and still don't have an answer, and it took them just two days to come to the conclusion that there were no problems with the Colombia situation in the White House, like there was in the Secret Service.

And I would think that if it only took two days to do the investigation on their part and come to the conclusion there were no problem, they ought to be able to answer my letter in a matter of seven days, but we do not have an answer.

BLITZER: The White House, earlier in the week after you wrote that letter asking questions, they said that their counsel's office at the White House had done a review and found nothing to substantiate suggestions that White House officials, either from the communications office, from the advance team office or anything along those lines, played any role whatsoever in this Secret Service prostitution scandal. Do you have any hard evidence that they did?

GRASSLEY: No, but what I -- the reason I made my inquiry is because there's such a close working relationship between the Secret Service, the Defense Department with those people in the White House communication office and then with the advance team, it was just natural.

And also we had several phone calls from people in previous years that had been in those arrangements, they didn't make any accusations, but they said, legitimately, you ought to look for, see if there was any connection.

And I don't -- I hope there isn't, but I think we -- if the White House is accurate in saying what they did, they ought to make their information public.

But more importantly, I had in mind that the inspector general ought to be looking into it so that we get an independent decision that there wasn't anything wrong.

BLITZER: Because earlier in the week after the White House received your letter with all these questions, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary said -- and I'll quote him -- he said, "There's been rumors published on the Internet by people with no editors and no conscience, but there is no, there is no specific allegation of any kind of misconduct here, and only out of due diligence have we conducted this review."

Are you suggesting that you're not satisfied with the White House legal counsel office review when they say that there's no evidence that anyone from the White House was involved?

GRASSLEY: I think I have a right to see that information if they want to share that with us and maybe that's the end of it, but they aren't sharing anything, and you just kind of wonder why they haven't answered our letter, and you kind of wonder what they have to worry about, you know?

They can surely answer your letter and transparency is something that this president says he stands for.

BLITZER: Well, I'm sure at some point they will answer your letter. They may not give you the information you're looking for, but I'm sure they will answer your letter at some point, Senator. Would you stay in close touch with us and let us know if you hear from them?

GRASSLEY: Yes, I will, and I'll inform my staff to do the same thing so they can get back to your staff as well.

BLITZER: Senator Chuck Grassley is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I appreciate you joining us from Iowa. Appreciate it very much.

GRASSLEY: Thank you very much. You bet.

BLITZER: The House of Representatives today shrugged off a White House veto threat and voted to extend the low interest rates on federal student loans. The GOP measure would subsidize student loans by taking money away from health care funds that benefit women.

While that political battle plays out, the red ink is rising, threatening to drown a generation of graduates. Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett. She's been crunching the numbers for us on student loan debt and these numbers are huge, Erin. Share a little bit with us.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: They are huge. When you look at the situation for the average college graduate, Wolf, you're looking at $25,250, that's what the average student who graduated college in 2010, that's the debt load they graduated with. And that can affect your earnings, your ability to get married, buy a home, start a family. It's a real noose around the neck of our entire society.

This extension of the Stafford loans, which is what you're referring to, that passed the House today, only about 0.0016 percent, 0.0016 percent of the federal budget, that's what this would cost to extend it for a year, $6 billion. So it's not a lot of money. It's evidence of the political dysfunction in Washington that they can't get it passed.

But, Wolf, you know what, when you take a step back, low interest rates -- this was supposed to be a temporary program, these low rates, and they were supposed to pop back, just like if you got an adjustable rate mortgage on your home. Similar to housing, incredibly low, rock- bottom interest rates ended up causing, well, the price of tuition to rise. There's been a lot of studies on that.

And tonight we'll focus in on a long-term solution and extending this year in and year out, that is not going solve it. We need a longer-term solution to deal with getting better education and not having tuition surge in this country.

BLITZER: You can also think of it this way, Erin, three weeks -- three weeks maintaining 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at $2 billion a week, that's $6 billion right there.

$100 billion a year, think of that money being spent in Afghanistan, rather for student loans or reducing the debt here in the United States. I know we'll be watching at 7:00 pm Eastern later tonight, $2 billion a week the U.S. is spending, keeping troops in Afghanistan for at least another two and a half years.

Parts of New York City came to a standstill today as residents stopped to look at a very rare sight. We'll show you what happened right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The spectacular sight in the sky over New York City, the space shuttle Enterprise. Look at this, flying piggyback on a 747, arriving at its new hometown. CNN's Jason Carroll shows us what's going on. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the space shuttle Enterprise has finally parked itself here at JFK Airport. It has been a day of anticipation and excitement for New Yorkers as a piece of space history has finally made its way to its new home.

An historic landing as the shuttle Enterprise approached JFK Airport riding past a crowd of cheering admirers, including one of Enterprise's first pilots, Major General Joe Engle. Tell us what it's like being up there and flying an aircraft like a space shuttle.

MAJ. GENERAL JOE ENGLE, FORMER ENTERPRISE PILOT: It's a wonderful feeling. It's a very gratifying feeling for someone who has devoted their career to test flying like myself and all of the other astronauts have done.

CARROLL: The Enterprise began its final voyage at Dulles Airport, where it took off this morning. It did a much-anticipated flyover of New York City, passing monuments like the Statue of Liberty, and its soon-to-be permanent home, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River, iReporters tracking its progress along the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so cool.

CARROLL: Out on Long Island, the shuttle stopped traffic as onlookers took shots as it passed overhead. It was a rare sight for New Yorkers to see the spacecraft, piggybacking onboard a retrofitted 747. New York beat out more than two dozen other cities bidding to host the Enterprise.

SUSAN MAARENOFF-ZAUSNER, INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM: Clearly, we all wanted it so badly and there were certain parameters, and New York has just a fabulous population. We are so excited that we'll be able to take care of it and perpetuate its honor and its history.

CARROLL: Originally, the Enterprise wasn't the Enterprise at all. It was supposed to be named the shuttle Constitution. A writing campaign by Star Trek fans got the name changed to the fictitious starship. So no surprise, the first officer from the other Enterprise was one of hundreds who showed up today to mark the occasion.

LEONARD NIMOY, ACTOR: It feels like a reunion. The first time I saw this ship was in September 1976, when it was rolled out at Farmdale. The hangar doors opened and out came the Enterprise, which was named after our starship Enterprise on "Star Trek."

CARROLL: It was a bittersweet moment in that after three decades, the shuttle program is no more. Nimoy and others here hope the promise of space travel now lives on in a new generation, maybe even in one of these second graders from Haas (ph) Elementary in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was really cool because I've never seen a shuttle ever land in my life.

CARROLL: The Enterprise is scheduled to be here until June 6th. That's when it will be loaded onto a barge, then, it will sail up the Hudson River to its permanent home onboard the intrepid. Once there, it should be open to the public, we're told, wolf, some time around July 19th.

Organizers hope while here in New York City, the "Enterprise" will live long and prosper -- Wolf.