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THE SITUATION ROOM

Inside The Inferno; Another Day Of Brutal Heat & No Power; Many Residents Frustrated With Power Companies; JetBlue Pilot Found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity; Multiple Great White Shark Sightings on Both Coasts; Corporate Giants Use Twitter to Criticize; Interview with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus; Violence Continues in Syria; Pets May Increase Suicides

Aired July 3, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, inside the inferno, winds whipping the flames at 65 miles an hour. Sparks raining down around them. You're going to see the extraordinary images that made firefighters shed tears as they dug in against the destruction.

Also, he called dozens of Democratic colleagues members of the communist party. Now, Republican congressman Allen West, says President Obama wants Americans to be his slaves. I'll ask the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, about that and a whole lot more.

And great white sharks are sighted off the coast of Cape Cod. A warning to swimmers on the eve of the biggest beach holiday.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like Armageddon. It was the most horrible thing we've ever seen in our lives. Each lot has an individual pile of coal filled with nothing but ash and debris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This is where returning residents found 346 homes destroyed in a Colorado Springs subdivision. It's also the same place where desperate firefighters held the line, saved many more homes, and stopped the inferno from spreading. You're about to see what they saw as the flames roared around them. Here's CNN's Jim Spellman in Colorado Springs.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting our first up-close look at what firefighters were dealing with when this blaze tore through a Colorado Springs neighborhood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPELLMAN (voice-over): This is the scene in the devastated mountain shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs now, but this is what it looked like last week as high winds drove the fire down from the hills. Behind the camera, Colorado Springs fire department videographer, Steve Schopper.

STEVE SCHOPPER, COLORADO SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT: You're stunned to smell the smoke, and your heads on the swivel because you're going, OK, we got weather conditions that are really squirrely. We had 65- mile-an-hour winds. I've got sparks raining down all over me.

SPELLMAN: Firefighters converged on the scene. They had to quickly determine which homes to defend and which ones were beyond saving while stopping the fire from advancing.

SCHOPPER: They made that line in the sand, and they said, this fire does not get past us. And that's what they did. They held the line. And they didn't let it get past them.

SPELLMAN: They doused vulnerable homes with water even as properties right next door are engulfed in flames. The camera captures sparks as they jumped from one home to the roof of another setting off a new fire. Schopper and his driver, a rookie firefighter, spring into action.

SCHOPPER: We found a hose, garden hose. We're trying to put this roof fire out.

SPELLMAN: It works. The fire is extinguished. 346 homes were lost. Hundreds more saved by the firefighters.

SCHOPPER: Those who lost their homes, they're going to rebuild. This town will rally around them. They'll be OK, you know? Sorry. You know, you can't help but be affected by it. It's hard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPELLMAN (on-camera): Since that night, firefighters haven't lost another home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Spellman, thank you. Joining me now is the man who captured those dramatic images, Steve Schopper of the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Steve, first of all, thanks so much for what you've been doing. Thanks very much for joining us right now. What was going through your mind as you were taking these pictures and dealing with what you saw?

SCHOPPER: Well, Wolf, I knew this was a fire of historic proportions. And as I started taking this footage, I knew that there was a lot of destruction going on.

But when I saw our firefighters make their first stand and I realized that they had just saved 175 homes by making their first stand on one single family structure, I knew I had to keep documenting this and telling everyone that the firefighters from all over the country that were here helping us were making their stands, and they were taking up their positions, and they were doing what they were trained to do. And that command was structure protection. And that's what they did.

BLITZER: But when you saw these homes, some of them so lovely, I'd say most of them completely lovely homes knowing that families, their whole lives were inside, you must have been so upset. Give us a little flavor of that.

SCHOPPER: Well, when I first took my footage, I think the first place that I came around a road called Courtney Lane. There were about 15 houses that were already on fire. And I think, even in the video, I said, I am so sorry for your loss. I was actually talking to those people who were losing their homes even though I was taping this for our department.

You couldn't help but be affected by it. I knew that people's livelihoods were going up in flames, literally. And, the only thing I could think of is our department. All the rest of the departments are here have got to stop this fire. And we've got to keep it from spreading. And if I can document that, then I've done my job. And hopefully, that's what happened, and it did.

BLITZER: Did you try to comfort these families? The husbands, the wives, the grandparents, the children, did you actually speak to many of them?

SCHOPPER: I have not had an opportunity to speak to any of the families at all, Wolf. And I would love to speak to them, because, you know, the entire city of Colorado Springs, our firefighters, I mean, we feel their pain. Any time we see a structure that's on fire, for a firefighter, that's like putting a wooden stake in our heart.

We don't like to see that. And we want to do everything that we can to prevent it. And that's what we tried to do. And I wanted to share with those families. And I think that's probably one of the other motivating forces that led me to put this video together was to say to Colorado Springs, we tried our best.

BLITZER: You're speaking to a lot of them probably right now. People have gone through this hell. And it has been a hell for so many of these folks in Colorado. Have you ever seen in all your years doing this, have you ever seen anything quite this bad?

SCHOPPER: No, Wolf. I've been 36 years in the fire service and I've never seen anything like this in my entire life. And I've talked to lots of other firefighters and even federal firefighters who do this for a living. And they said the behavior here was extraordinary. It was one of those things that it almost looked like a Hollywood movie.

But once you started feeling the heat, smelling the smoke, seeing the ashes and soot and everything drop around you, you knew this wasn't a movie. You knew this was real. And people had to act. And, you know, that's what firefighters are trained to do. You know, when people are having the worst day of their life, that's when we get called. And hopefully, we can make it better. And I hope we did. BLITZER: Was there ever a moment where you were worried about your own safety?

SCHOPPER: I was concerned and I had a heightened sense of awareness about where this fire was and how things were going. I was in contact constantly with our fire department operations center and also with several other engine companies. I knew that if we got in trouble, we could always get to an engine company and find refuge there because they had the hoses with them. And all we had was video cameras.

BLITZER: Was there anything that could have been done that should have been done with hindsight, obviously, that might have prevented this disaster from escalating the way it did?

SCHOPPER: You know, that's a tough question to answer. And I'm not sure. From my perspective from what I saw, I thought they had good containment lines built. The storm that blew in on us totally caught everybody off guard with the winds that it produced.

And once it got into Queens Canyon, everybody, I think all the firefighters knew, if it got into Queens Canyon, it was going to rip over there, and it was going to be bad. And once that plume started crashing down upon us and that wind started whipping around, there was nothing we could have done. We could have sent up a thousand slurry bombers, and it wouldn't have had any effect.

This was a force of nature that you're not going to control it. You have to react to it. You have to save what you can save. But those things that were going to go up in flames and smoke, the fire was going to do that. The wind was going to do that, and it was going to fan. And even the wild land, firefighters said, this basically became a wild land fire fight that just jumped instead of from tree to tree, from home to home.

BLITZER: If some of those people who lost their homes, lost everything are watching right now, is there anything, as a professional firefighter, you want to say to them right now?

SCHOPPER: I would say for those of you that lost your home and lost loved ones in this fire, hang in there. The city has wrapped its loving arms around you. Its firefighters will always be here to protect you. And we're going to keep doing that until the day we die.

BLITZER: Well-said, indeed. I know this is an emotional moment, Steve. And, all of our viewers are grateful to you and all of your colleagues for doing what you're doing. I'll just ask you one final question before I let you go. Is it over with? Is it still continuing? How many more days is this going to be a serious issue?

SCHOPPER: I've been told that they're going to try and get 100 percent containment on this. So, hopefully, by the 11th of July. That was the last information I heard. The crews that are out there right now are working so darn hard, and they're building containment lines. There's a lots of little islands of fuel that are still going to burn. But I think the worst is over. And, I think with weather conditions, I'm looking over at the mountain right now and hoping that that's rain and a nice gentle falling rain, not a deluge of rain, because we'll end up with flash floods if it becomes a deluge. But, right now, it looks like the worst is over. And I'm hoping that we'll get back to some type of normal life here in Colorado Springs and the whole pike's peak region.

BLITZER: Knowing the people of Colorado, knowing you, knowing all the firefighters, I'm sure that will happen. It won't be easy, as you know, Steve. It's going to be very, very difficult for so many folks in the Colorado Springs area, elsewhere in Colorado. But with good individuals like you helping out, we will get over this. They will get over it. And the folks will return to some semblance of normality.

Appreciate it once again, Steve Schopper with the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Please thank all your colleagues for everyone in Colorado and all over the nation who are watching. The people all over the world have been moved by what they heard and saw today. Thanks very much for joining us.

SCHOPPER: You're quite welcome, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Almost four full days without power in the middle of a brutal heat wave. We're going to take you to a town where people are trapped by fallen trees forced to boil drinking water.

And Mitt Romney likes to tout his business background, but now, a pair of legendary business heavyweights are slamming his campaign operation as, quote, "an amateur operation."

Plus, could Kitty Litter, yes, Kitty Litter increase the risk of attempted suicide? There's new research that cat owners need to know about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been almost four days and almost 1.5 million people across 11 states still, still have no power. Add in the brutal heat wave and you've got a huge, huge mess. Our Brian Todd is in one town where some people are trapped in their homes by downed trees. Others are having to drink boiled water, and the garbage is piling up.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this state was completely devastated by the storm and the aftermath. A 330 plus customers are still without power. That is about a third of the state of West Virginia, still without power nearly four days after the storm hit. And a huge problem, downed trees hitting houses and power lines. This is emblematic of it. We're at this house on Jefferson Street in Lewisburg.

This tree, look at that. Look at the force of the storm completely snapped this tree almost in half, came down on the house. You see the remnants of the tree there. A tree company just this afternoon, Tuesday afternoon, got done taking this tree off of this house. And our photo journalist, John Bena (ph) and I are going to show you -- there you go.

You see the gaping hole at the top of this house. This is an old family house. We're going to talk to the homeowner right now. This house is more than 100 years old. And the homeowner, Jeanne Campbell, is here. Jeanne, you don't have power, right? You got it back for a short period then you lost it. So, what are you going through right now?

JEANNE CAMPBELL, LEWISBURG, W. VA, RESIDENT WITHOUT POWER: Well, we cleaned out the refrigerators and restocked them. And now, we may lose the second batch of food. And you just have to live with no water. It's an inconvenience, but we're making it, you know? I'm not worried.

TODD: Does it make it even tougher? Obviously, you have some broken bones in your legs, and this isn't making things easier.

CAMPBELL: I can't move around as much as most people do. So, I'm kind of confined to just one place, like I'm out here on the porch, but I have to be in a wheelchair. So, somebody has to be with me to get me around. So, I can't it makes it more difficult. And I was in the room when the tree fell, but I got out in a hurry. Amazing what you can do when you have to.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Tell us what that was like.

CAMPBELL: I just heard the thump on the house and saw the bricks flying, and I was afraid it was going to come on down through the ceiling.

TODD: This is the room where Jeanne was when the storm hit. This is just below the room where the hole is. That room was an unfinished attic. She says that the tree hit with such force that it came through that. And look at the crack that made in the ceiling up here. In the areas of the town where the water is not out, the water pressure is very low.

So, residents here being advised to boil water for drinking. Jeannie says that she's filled up these jugs. She might have enough for now in these jugs and pitchers, but she's starting to run low. These pots were filled a short time ago, but they've run out. So, the water situation here is pretty bad as well.

So, a lot of people in this town having a hard time still a few days after the storm. We're going to talk to the mayor of Lewisburg, John Manchester. Mr. Mayor, right now, what do you think your biggest crisis is? You still have a lot of people without power.

MAYOR JOHN MANCHESTER, LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA: Yes. Power is one, water is the other. We're gearing up for a big tournament in the area. And we have --

TODD: Golf tournament, right? MANCHESTER: Golf tournament. A lot of people coming in, fourth of July normal stuff. And we lost power for two days to our water plant. We're running down our reserves, almost emptied the tank.

TODD: And so, if that runs out, what happens?

MANCHESTER: Well, right now, we're on emergency generators. We just switched back to the grid. We've got power to it. So, we're slowly refilling our tanks, but it takes a while to do that.

TODD: So, when some of the most mountainous terrain in the entire country, it seems like this all over the place, complicating the efforts by power crews to get people back online, snapped trees, downed trees all over the place. So, it's a tough slog for the power crews and for the people they're serving.

The power companies tell us that they lost three transmission towers, those big towers in rural areas that you see carrying power lines long distances. They lost three of those. They came down some 90 lines from those towers came down with them. They're going to assemble temporary towers as of today. But that's complicating efforts, too.

The power companies tell us that they hope to get power back to as many people as they can, obviously, in the next day or two. But maybe, some people in this state may not get it until the weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in West Virginia for us. Good luck to all the folks there. No matter what disaster zone they live in, people have one huge question. And they're getting angrier every time they ask it. Why is it taking so long to hook up the electricity?

CNN regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary, is here in the SITUATION ROOM. You've been looking for some answers. A lot of frustration out there, Lizzie.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: A lot of frustration. You heard Brian say it. Power companies say, look, we're doing the best we can. They also say this wasn't like a hurricane. This was something they couldn't prepare for. That answer is proving unsatisfying to customers and to regulators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'LEARY (voice-over): When patience runs thin, talk turns to punishment and prevention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has happened repeatedly. We've had power outage after power outage in the District of Columbia, and frankly, the people are just fed of it.

O'LEARY: But people and politicians have limited power over power companies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mother Nature isn't something I can control. We can't control the storm, can't control the damage that takes place to our system

O'LEARY: Utilities are regulated by a hodgepodge of agencies, most at the state level. Lately, some regulators are trying to get a little money back from companies. In Maryland, regulators fined the company Pepco $1 million for bad maintenance last year. In Connecticut, the attorney general is fighting the power company that left thousands in the dark after last year's nor'easter saying they can't charge more because they had a bad storm plan.

And in Massachusetts, a new law says utilities that are fined for storm response plans have to give that money back to customers. One way to prevent so much damage? Moving lines underground.

NANCY DRAGANI, DIR. OHIO EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We had a significant power outage caused by Ice in 2004. We had another power outage caused by hurricane Ike in 2008. And a lot of the utilities have, in fact, as a result of that, buried their lines. So, this probably could have been much worse.

O'LEARY (on-camera): But moving these lines underground is expensive. Anaheim, California, is doing it as a cost of about $3.2 million per mile of cable. It would cost about the same to do it in Washington, D.C., costing the whole system $5.8 billion, and that could raise everyone's rates

DAVID LINDSEY, ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE: The dollars go very high very quickly. We get into billions of dollars and that cost ultimately gets passed along to the rate payer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'LEARY: European cities have many more underground lines than American cities largely because they have denser populations. They were built that way. One thing you are starting to see, though, is more aggressive regulators. Maryland's top power regulator told me that's because they have much more severe weather.

They've seen that over the past couple years as a result of climate change. And now, they're saying, all right, well, if you can prepare for a storm, there's no reason not to. And we'll fine you if you don't do a good job. And this isn't lost on companies. They know this. They are trying to get ahead of this, as well.

BLITZER: I know they're trying the best they can, but there's still a lot of frustration out there.

O'LEARY: Yes.

BLITZER: Understandably so. Lizzie, thanks very much.

A popular east coast beach puts a ban on swimming after multiple great white sharks are spotted just offshore. We're going to tell you where this is going on.

And her Olympic career started in Los Angeles in 1984. Now, 28 years later, the legendary American swimmer, Dara Torres, makes one last attempt at Olympic glory.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just coming in to the SITUATION ROOM, a ruling in the case against that JetBlue pilot who had a mid-flight meltdown. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, a court in Texas has found former JetBlue pilot, Clayton Osbon (ph), not guilty by reason of insanity. Now, if you recall, Osbon was the pilot who had to be locked out of the cockpit after his scary in-flight rants in March. He yell things like, quote, "I'm going to show you Iraq and Iran right now and there's a bomb onboard."

He was ruled competent to stand trial a few weeks ago. But again, he's now been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

And one of the most incredible Olympic careers of all-time is coming to an end. A 45-year-old Dara Torres says, quote, "this is it" after failing to qualify in the 50-meter freestyle trials. She lost to three women who are almost 20 years her junior.

Torres is a 12-time medalist who started her career back at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. In 2008, she became the oldest American swimmer to win an Olympic medal.

And people on both U.S. coasts are on high alert right now after multiple great white shark sightings. One was seen 50 feet from a beach near San Diego. And there have been several sightings off Cape Cod, Massachusetts where, Rhondella Richardson (ph) of our affiliate, WCBB, filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDELLA RICHARDSON (ph), WCBB REPORTER (voice-over): It's a perennial story in Chatham. Beautiful sand and surf and sharks.

JOHN RENDON, CHATHAM DEPUTY: The two confirmed sightings that we've had were off north beach inlet and one down off of (INAUDIBLE).

RICHARDSON: A shark sighting over the weekend and coincidentally the same time last summer prompted the repeat posting of this notice of a swimming ban within 300 feet of seals on the eastern facing beaches.

RENDON: Three hundred feet essentially length of a football field.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Sharks eat seals so.

RENDON: We advise people if they see seals, that they stay clear of them. Get out of the water.

RICHARDSON: The swimming ban does not affect Chatham's popular public beaches with lifeguards. It's also OK to swim here at lighthouse beach. So, the ban doesn't affect most family vacations. Yet, it has all beach goers aware of the threat and on the look out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't go more than six feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband was going to rent a surfboard, but I kind of put the nix on that one.

RICHARDSON: The swimming ban applies to the rural north beach and south beach which are mostly accessible by boat and in closest proximity to a large seal population.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just don't know. It's the last thing I'd like to come in contact with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's scary to know that there is the great white shark out here.

RICHARDSON: Shark sightings are now as expected as more beach weather.

In Chatham, Rhondella Richardson, news center 5.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Yes. And of course, we've got the holiday tomorrow, Wolf. So, a lot of people keeping an eye on that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Happy Fourth of July to everyone out there, indeed. We'll have much more on that tomorrow, obviously. Lisa, thank you.

A republican congressman says President Obama wants you to, quote, "be his slave." Slave. I'll ask the party chairman if enough is enough if he's ready to denounce that kind of comment. Standby. Reince Priebus is my guest.

And a new study raises a strange but frightening question. Could your pet increase the chance you will commit suicide?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney is certainly used to being blasted by Democrats. But now some legendary corporate heavyweights are taking to Twitter -- to Twitter -- to level some blistering criticisms. CNN's Dana Bash is watching this all of this unfold.

What's going on here, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, it's as sure as death and taxes, presidential campaigns in both parties always suffer from a version of this. People on the outside take potshots at the people on the inside.

But this one-two punch from corporate giants was not only harsh, to some sources I talked to today, it was perplexing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney's main argument to voters is that he's a businessman who knows how to run things.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to have a president who understands the economy, who knows how to lead because he's actually led before.

BASH (voice-over): So a pair of zingers from two major figures in business dissing Romney's campaign team had to sting, first from the head of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch.

"Met Romney last week. Tough O" -- meaning Obama -- "Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful."

Then former General Electric CEO Jack Welch chimed in, tweeting this to his nearly 1.4 million followers.

"Hope Mitt Romney is listening to Murdoch advice on campaign staff. Playing in league with Chicago pols no room for amateurs."

Romney responded with a one-word sentence via a member of his campaign staff being insulted. "Governor Romney respects Rupert Murdoch and also respects his team and has confidence in them."

So who is this Romney team business heavyweights worry can't compete with Obama's campaign? Here's a look at Romney's inner circle.

Most of them are loyalists with him for a long time. Senior advisors Beth Myers and Eric Fehrnstrom led Romney's Massachusetts governor's office. Some, like Spencer Zwick, go back further to Romney's time heading the Olympics.

Campaign manager Matt Rhoades and strategist Stuart Stevens and Russ Schrieffer have all worked for presidential campaigns for more than a decade, including George W. Bush's victories.

In conversations with multiple top Republicans who ran presidential campaigns, the impression of Team Romney was mixed. They do not have the well-oiled machine reputation of the Bush organization.

They also don't have the dysfunction of John McCain's campaign.

Democrat Paul Begala, a member of Bill Clinton's inner circle in 1992, says CEOs like Murdoch and Welch have impressive managerial experience, but a political campaign is quite different.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In politics, it's almost always the organ grinder, not the monkey. It's almost always the candidate, not the staff. I was a staff guy; I was a monkey. And if you have the right candidate, you're going to win. If you have the wrong candidate, you're going to lose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now Begala also pointed out that many of Romney's gaffes, like I bet you $10,000 -- remember that remark? And building an elevator for his cars in San Diego were his making, not his staff's. And strategists on both sides I talked to note that, given the beating that Romney took in the primaries, he's doing pretty well against the vaunted Chicago Obama machine right now.

And Wolf, Romney's source I talked to made the point that other low-key CEOs of big companies like Staples and Home Depot, they're on board with Romney. And in the case of Murdoch, the two have only met a few times.

One last note: one of these sources I talked to noted that Murdoch has this huge media empire, yet he decided to diss Romney via Twitter.

BLITZER: A lot of people are doing that nowadays on Twitter, dissing their own news organizations. They're just tweeting away. Dana, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper on what Dana just reported, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, RNC: Pleasure to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do I have to call you Chairman or can I call you Reince?

PRIEBUS: Just call me Reince.

BLITZER: I'll call you Reince.

PRIEBUS: If you can get Reince right --

BLITZER: You call me Wolf and I'll call you Reince.

PRIEBUS: All right.

BLITZER: And we'll be -- we'll be off to the races.

What do you make of this Rupert Murdoch, Jack Welch saying he's got to get some solid pros (ph) in there or otherwise he's not going to be able to compete with the Chicago pols, if you will?

PRIEBUS: Yes, you know, they have their opinion. And that's fine. I mean, they're respected people. They've built big businesses and empires.

But, you know, if you would have said a year and a half ago that we'd had an RNC that has more cash in the bank than the DNC --

BLITZER: That's nice for you.

PRIEBUS: -- and we'd have a candidate, but when we'd have a candidate that's in the margin or doing slightly better than Barack Obama, I think a lot of people would say hallelujah. That's number one.

Number two, I think that after eight years, when people talk about political pros like James Carville and Carl Rove, a guy like Matt Rhodes is going to be in that category. So it's easy to say who's the next Carl Rove.

BLITZER: But he's the future David Axelrod or David Plouffe or one of those guys.

PRIEBUS: All right. But, I mean, look at these guys. I mean, in Chicago. I mean, these supposed pros. I mean, they've got a candidate that has no campaign message. And his campaign is basically, look, things could stink a lot worse, I guess, if I wasn't the president.

BLITZER: Not exactly. That's not exactly his message.

PRIEBUS: But what are they proud of? I mean, what are they talking about? Are they talking about ObamaCare? No. Are they talking about the stimulus? No. Are they talking about jobs? No. All they're talking about is things could have been worse. Well, that's a pretty lousy campaign.

BLITZER: Well, they're -- to be fair, they are pointing out that they inherited a disaster from the Bush administration. The country was on the verge of a great depression.

PRIEBUS: And Obama --

BLITZER: And it has come back dramatically over the past three -- not where they want it to be, not where you and I want it to be, but it's certainly a lot better now than it was in November 2008.

PRIEBUS: Well, that's not true, Wolf.

BLITZER: (Inaudible) jobs a month we were dropping at that time, 700,000, 800,000 jobs a month. And now they may only be creating 50,000 or 60,000 or 100,000 jobs a month now, but that's a lot better than losing 700,000 or 800,000 jobs a month.

PRIEBUS: According to Barack Obama and his team, if the trillion-dollar stimulus was passed, we would be at 5.4 percent unemployment. We are at 8.2 percent. We are 8.5 million jobs short of their promise. We have fewer people today employed than when Barack Obama took office.

The fact of the matter is, Barack Obama hasn't met the mission. He hasn't met the promises. And he hasn't met the standards that he himself laid out for the American people.

BLITZER: As far as big business is concerned, remember the Dow Jones, when he took office, it was way under 7,000. It's now approaching 13,000. Does he deserve any credit for business, big business making all this money in stocks?

PRIEBUS: I think that Barack Obama's made everything worse. And I think things could be a whole lot better --

BLITZER: The Dow Jones was a lot worse than it is now.

PRIEBUS: I think that -- the Dow Jones is one indicator. But I don't think that too many people out there --

BLITZER: A lot of people have 401(k)s. A lot of people have retirement plans that are in a lot better shape today than they were four years ago.

PRIEBUS: Well, the Dow Jones is one indicator. But I don't believe that most people, after looking at where we are today on the jobs, the debt, the deficit, housing, the promises that he made as far as health care is concerned, things aren't better today.

And category after category, Barack Obama hasn't met the promises that he laid out to the American people. And I think, that -- listen, all this stuff is interesting. But at the end of the day, what people are starving for in this country are people of their word to win elections and govern like they campaign. This president isn't real anymore.

BLITZER: There's --

PRIEBUS: He hasn't fulfilled --

BLITZER: There's our new CNN ORC poll that came out today. This was the question, who would better handle the economy? Romney 48 percent, Obama 47 percent. These are registered voters. So they're about equal as far as registered voters nationwide. Who is a better handler of the U.S. economy?

So I want to move onto some other issues.

PRIEBUS: OK. Go ahead.

BLITZER: But I think -- you make some -- obviously some good points. That's your job, to make those points. But my job obviously is to do some other stuff.

PRIEBUS: You got it, Wolf. No problem.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Allen West for a moment. This is the Congressman from South Florida, as you know. He is a Republican.

PRIEBUS: Yes, I know Allen.

BLITZER: He's a military veteran. You know him. I'm sure you like him, probably, right?

PRIEBUS: Sure.

He suggested a few months ago that there were all these Communist Party members in the Democratic Party -- I don't remember the exact number, 68 or 70 or close to 80 Communist Party members in the Democratic Party and Democratic representatives in the House. And now he says this -- he was at a town hall meeting. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLA.: He does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of American. He'd rather you be his slave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He'd rather you be his slave. He's referring to the President of the United States. He says that he doesn't like Americans having the title of American. He'd rather see you as a slave.

What is that? You know, you can't justify Allen West saying that, talking about slavery.

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, I'm not the police officer of the Republican Party. So Allen can have -- say what Allen wants to say. But I think what he's really trying to say is that if we become a dependent society, if everyone is reliant on the government -- I mean, listen, Barack Obama's the one that put out this life of Julia website.

I think we all know what that is. It's a life of a girl from preschool to, I think, death or near death, showing how every step of her life --

BLITZER: Is she a slave?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think she's dependent on government to the --

BLITZER: So she's a slave?

PRIEBUS: I -- you know what, listen, I mean, it's semantics. I'm not going to defend -- I don't know --

BLITZER: I know you're not going to -- I know you very well. I know you well.

PRIEBUS: Right.

BLITZER: You're not going to defend that kind of language. And I deplore that kind of language when a Democrat says it or a Republican says it.

PRIEBUS: But I say I --

BLITZER: He shouldn't be talking like this. It's bad enough, this -- the lack of civility in our politics.

PRIEBUS: Well, two things. One, Allen West is one of the most dynamic new Republican stars in our party. That's number one.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're not going to (inaudible) this?

PRIEBUS: He's got a bright future. But let me tell you, but I'm more embarrassed about is the president that is -- that can't keep a promise, that has an American economy that's in the ditch, that somehow is trying to perpetrate some myth to the American people that he's not to blame for --

BLITZER: I'm surprised --

PRIEBUS: -- or has no role --

BLITZER: Right.

PRIEBUS: -- in where we are --

BLITZER: You called him a dynamic star.

PRIEBUS: -- in the American economy.

BLITZER: A guy who says 70 members of the Democratic Congress are Communist card-carrying members. And now he says the president would rather see us as slaves.

PRIEBUS: Allen West is an important member of Congress from South Florida. I'm not going to throw Allen West in a ditch. I don't -- that's the first I've heard the comment here, Wolf, I mean, on your show.

The fact of the matter is I think what's most important in this debate is where we are as a country, whether the very idea of America is going to continue and what Barack Obama's done about it. That's what's on the ballot.

BLITZER: One final subject I want to talk -- do you agree with Mitt Romney that the Obama health care -- that the penalty that is imposed on those who can afford to buy health insurance but don't buy it, is not necessarily a tax, it's just -- are you with Romney?

PRIEBUS: This is not --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Are you with John Roberts on this?

PRIEBUS: (Inaudible).

BLITZER: Who are you with?

PRIEBUS: First of all, I don't know if I have enough time. But I'll tell you right now, what -- I'm on the same page with the Romney campaign.

BLITZER: On this issue of whether it's --

PRIEBUS: The Supreme Court has spoken and they have said that it's a tax. That's different than whether or not I agree with the dissent or whether I agree with John Roberts. I happen to agree with the dissent. I happen to agree that it's unconstitutional. However, that doesn't matter.

What matters is the Supreme Court has spoken. They've said that it's a tax. And ultimately, Wolf, what really matters is that less than a third of the American people, in poll after poll, don't support ObamaCare. And if Barack Obama's so confident about this, then let's put ObamaCare on the ballot and let's make this election a referendum on ObamaCare.

BLITZER: I'll tell you why it really does matter though, whether it's a tax or penalty. You know why? Because if they want to repeal it -- and you want to repeal ObamaCare, is that correct?

PRIEBUS: Of course.

BLITZER: If it's a tax, you can repeal it with a simple majority of 51. It's called reconciliation.

PRIEBUS: And I --

BLITZER: If it's not a tax, you need 60 to break a filibuster. And you know the Democrats are going to be able to --

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEBUS: (Inaudible) straight. I didn't say it didn't matter. What I said was the Supreme Court has spoken and they've said that it's a tax. We want to repeal the ObamaCare tax. We want to save middle class families from European health care. And that's what we're going to do as a party and that's what Mitt Romney will do on day one.

BLITZER: I was giving Debbie Wasserman Schultz some grief on this yesterday.

PRIEBUS: I know you were.

BLITZER: She was sitting --

PRIEBUS: It's equal (inaudible), I get it.

BLITZER: (Inaudible) THE SITUATION ROOM. That's my job. You're doing your job. Reince, thanks for coming in.

PRIEBUS: You bet.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

PRIEBUS: Happy Fourth.

BLITZER: Thank you. Happy Fourth to you as well -- and everyone in Wisconsin, a state that you love very much.

PRIEBUS: Of course. BLITZER: Up next, we're going to take you to both sides of the front line in Syria. And he's charged with killing Afghan civilians. Now his wife is speaking out. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An extraordinary spike in the carnage in Syria. Government troops stepped up their assault on rebels, including a relentless pounding of civilian neighborhoods. Opposition activists say hundreds have died in three days alone. But the rebels are also taking a bloody toll. ITN's Bill Neely takes us to both sides of the front line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL NEELY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The face of revolution in the heart of the capital. These are Syria's rebels, and they're getting closer to President Assad. It's not that they've reached Damascus. They live here and they patrol openly, driving us for hours to the very front line of the war against their own regime.

NEELY: These men of the Free Syrian Army they say control this area and that regular Syrian troops have no power here. There's certainly no sign of them here. This is one of several suburbs in Damascus where President Assad clearly has lost control.

NEELY (voice-over): An air force drone is buzzing, watching overhead. Rebels are often hit from the air, rockets, artillery, killed by their own former comrades.

He was in the army and now he has left. They have few weapons. They're young, but this, they say, is a war they will win.

But these are their victims in a conflict that has just had its bloodiest week. Syrian soldiers are now being buried by the dozen. These men died in Douma, on the edge of Damascus, 42 of them in a day and a half of fighting. The survivors console each other, but these men have reason to worry. The army death toll is now in the thousands.

The pity of war is shared by both sides, but this army is accused of a pitiless bombardment of civilian areas in a war they, too, say they will win.

NEELY: You are sure you will win this war?

"Yes," he says. "We're ready to die, but they will."

They've come to the funerals directly from the battlefield. Behind them, 16 empty coffins. Ahead of them, the battle for Damascus that, in the suburbs, has raged for days. Countless civilians, soldiers and rebels, victims of its deadlock -- Bill Neely, ITV News, Douma.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What a story.

Sergeant Robert Bales, the U.S. Soldier charged with killing Afghan civilians in March, 17 of them, his wife is now speaking out to CNN's Erin Burnett. Erin is joining us now.

Erin, what is she saying?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, you know, it was a very interesting conversation and very heartfelt, Wolf, talking about her children. They're going to be -- they're age 5 and 2. And they're going have this week their second visit with their father since he's returned. They obviously have no understanding at all of the charges that have been leveled against him.

So that was very heart-wrenching. He obviously has been accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a rampage. And I asked his wife whether they'd ever talked about it. You know, she talked to him two days before this happened, Wolf. Have they ever talked about -- has he shared any information? And she said no. And here's why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARI BALES, WIFE OF SGT. ROBERT BALES: I feel bad that I didn't maybe question more. You know, I think about it that way. But he did want to protect us, protect me and protect the kids, because he faced it. He didn't want us to have to face it.

BURNETT: So how often have you spoken to him since?

BALES: We actually get to talk once or twice or three times a week. He's -- it's very open for him, so...

BURNETT: And have you talked about the night, what happened that night?

BALES: Not at all. Not at all. We're always monitored. So I'm not going to ask him the question, knowing that we're being recorded. And we've talked about -- I've talked about it with his lawyers, which -- who I can talk about and he's talked about it with the lawyers, which are the important people to talk about it with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Wolf, an interesting conversation. She talked about what love is and how she feels that for her husband, no matter what happens. So that conversation is coming up tonight.

BLITZER: We'll be watching 7:00 pm Eastern. Thanks so much for that, Erin.

And coming up in our next hour for our North American viewers, it's no surprise that former presidents make a lot of money. But the amount of money that former president Bill Clinton is making is staggering, even some pro athletes might be jealous. Stand by for the numbers. And what if your pet could contribute to the chance you might attempt suicide. The shocking new scientific study that is out. We'll have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a story that certainly has received a lot of buzz today. Is it possible -- possible -- that a parasite commonly found in kitty litter -- kitty litter boxes, to be precise, could cause someone to attempt suicide? Lisa Sylvester is following the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a story that's gone viral on the Internet. Is there a connection between cat litter and attempted suicides? A University of Maryland study looked at a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, and found that infected women had a 11/2 times greater risk of attempting suicide than women who were infection-free.

Toxoplasma gondii is found in the intestines of cats and ends up in the litter box. It's why pregnant women are advised to steer clear of cat boxes. Dr. Teodor Postolache was the senior author of that study that looked at 45,000 Danish women. But he cautions his research is a starting point. There are many other factors, he says, at play, including a person's genes and social and economic conditions.

DR. TEODOR POSTOLACHE, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, PSYCHIATRY ASSOCIATES: There are in the world approximately 30 percent of individuals who are -- who have the chronic form of infection of Toxoplasma gondii. And it's only a minority of those who would attempt suicide.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Most of the focus online has been on cats and most cats likely carry the parasite without symptoms. But, in fact, cats are not the most common way people become infected. Most people are exposed from eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables or drinking contaminated water.

The Maryland advocacy group, Alley Cat Allies, say their feline friends are getting a bad rap here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the most important thing that cat owners should take away from the study is that they should continue to use the precautions that they want to in their life, but really that they understand that there's no reason, there's no panic, that the cause of toxoplasmosis in people really comes from undercooked food.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): About a third of all people actually have a latent form of the parasite without showing any signs or symptoms. For healthy people, the parasite usually poses no problem. But Dr. Angela Marshall says it's a good reminder for expectant mothers and those with weak immune systems. DR. ANGELA MARSHALL, DIRECTOR, COMPREHENSIVE WOMEN'S HEALTH: I think individuals should definitely not get rid of the family cat, based on this study. I think it's a good time to think about things, like the importance of good hygiene in handling pets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Now this study does raise some interesting questions on whether infections and parasites can alter the brain and lead to mental illness. Now keep in mind a third of the population has the Toxoplasma infection and doesn't know it, although it can, Wolf, be detected through a blood test.

BLITZER: You have a cat?

SYLVESTER: I do not have a cat. But I know that are a lot of cat lovers out there that were very sensitive. They started seeing these headlines and they were very concerned. So we hope that we addressed some of those issues --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: (Inaudible) report. Thank you very much, Lisa.

To our international viewers, more news is coming up next.

For our viewers in North America, Hillary Clinton says, sorry, and that breaks a deadlock between the United States and Pakistan that has caused major problems for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And during a vacation at his compound in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney takes a spin on a jet ski. Anything wrong with that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)