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THE SITUATION ROOM

Politics of a Presidential Vacation; Fires Rage in Colorado

Aired July 3, 2012 - 18:00   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: Hillary Clinton's controversial apology to Pakistan.

The nation's most elite firefighters risking their lives in Colorado.

And it's much more than a family holiday -- the politics of a presidential vacation.

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

But we begin tonight with some irksome news. U.S. taxpayers are still shelling out more than $1 billion a year in economic and military aid to Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq is a very rich country right now.

According to "The Washington Post"'s Walter Pincus, Iraq has an enormous budget surplus, more than $50 billion because of oil exports, and it's one of the biggest oil export countries in the world, sold the United States alone $17 billion worth of oil last year.

The Iraqis don't need American taxpayer money any longer. They don't know how to spend what they already have. Shouldn't they be investing their money in infrastructure to rebuild their own country, instead of having American taxpayers continue to pay for a lot of that?

And why do we still need 16,000 people working at the huge billion-dollar U.S. Embassy compound in the Green Zone in Baghdad? It's the largest embassy in the world by far. In comparison, by the way, here's a very modest Iraqi Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, home to maybe a couple dozen Iraqi diplomats.

Beyond that, I have heard from people returning from Iraq the government in Baghdad has become increasingly nasty to U.S. diplomats, private government contractors and U.S. military personnel, the few hundred that remain there. I have heard so many stories indeed that if you're an American, it's very unpleasant right now to serve in Baghdad.

But guess who the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki' Shiite government is actually warming up to right now? Their Shiite neighbor, Iran. I think it's fair to say the big regional winner in the removal of Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime has been Iran. Now some U.S. lawmakers are saying it's time to completely shut down the U.S. aid program to Iraq. Among them, the Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz from Utah, the chairman of the key House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee. Here's what Chaffetz told me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: What are we really getting out of this? Why is the government itself treating us so poorly when we're doing nothing but helping at this point?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Other critics by the way go even further and they say it's time for the Iraqis to actually start repaying America for the more than $1 trillion U.S. taxpayers shelled out to liberate their country.

That's what stood out to me today.

Want to thank Walter Pincus of "The Washington Post" for bringing that thought to me as I got up this morning.

Let's get to the top stories of the day right now.

Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's working that.

I'm a little fired up about this story, as you can tell.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I like you fired up. I think our viewers do, too.

But another thing to get fired up about, folks are still dealing with the aftermath of the storm we saw this weekend. It has been four days and almost a million-and-a-half people across 11 states still have no power. Let's check the situation in West Virginia, and some people there are stuck in their homes surrounded by downed trees.

Some have to boil water before they drink it, if they're even lucky to enough have running water at all. One woman said her power was restored for a little while, flash of hope, but it then flicked off again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE CAMPBELL, WEST VIRGINIA: We cleaned out the refrigerators and restocked them and now we may lose the second batch of food. You just have to live with no water. It's an inconvenience. But we're making it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Some good news, though. The mayor of Lewisburg, that's the town we're talking about here in West Virginia, says the town's water reserve tanks are slowly refilling tonight.

Strong words today from the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. She says the world wants to know how U.S. lawmakers plan on avoiding tax hikes and painful spending cuts. She says if Washington can't work it out fast, the impact could be global.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND: The threat, only the threat of a delay in raising the debt ceiling and of the fiscal cliff could weaken growth already this year and should they materialize because no agreement can be reached, the domestic effects would be severe with negative spillovers to the rest of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But it goes both ways. The IMF also warned Europe's debt crisis could slow U.S. growth.

The chief executive of one of the world's largest banks has quit over a scandal involving interest rate fixing. Barclays CEO Bob Diamond resigned suddenly today less than a week after his bank shelled out $450 million to settle the accusations. He's not the only executive to step down ether and it seems this is far from over.

Here's our own Richard Quest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, when Bob Diamond resigned and the chief operating officer also went, Barclays lost three of its top executives and still the scandal shows no sign of going away.

Diamond is going to give etched and answer questions from members of Parliament at the House of Commons on Wednesday. The core question will be what did you know and when did you know it? Also, they will be asking about the Bank of England's role in all this, did they give a nod and a wink suggesting that Barclays' actions were OK?

The investigation is now really focused on how wide and how far this era of irresponsibility went, which banks were involved and who knew what. If anything is clear tonight, it seems that there are many more banks that still have to come clean -- Kate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Richard Quest, thank you so much.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he says he regrets shooting down a Turkish jet last month, but he told a Turkish newspaper that his troops thought the plane belonged to Israel and that's why they fired. The June 22 incident ratcheted up tensions there. Turkey built up its forces along the Syrian border and said it's ready to act against hostile action. Turkey was once close with Assad but it's been very critical of Syria's brutal crackdown.

Wolf, I always feel like it's important to remind our viewers hundreds and hundred of people have died in just the last couple days, 16 months nearly this has been going on.

BLITZER: Maybe 14,000 or 15,000 have died in this uprising brutally by the Syrian dictatorship over there, and thousands more have fled, tens of thousands have fled to Turkey, Jordan, elsewhere in the region. It's an awful, awful...

BOLDUAN: Those numbers are astounding.

BLITZER: ... situation. Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says sorry and that one word alone is all it took to end a standoff between Pakistan and the United States, a standoff that has already cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and caused very serious complications for American troops in Afghanistan.

CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is joining us now and she has some details.

Jill, we spoke about this last night here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It looked like they were getting close to a deal and now they have a deal.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they did.

It hinged on that one word, sorry. In a way, if you look at it, the apology wasn't really such a big deal, but the administration made it a big deal, made it matter of principle and the Pakistanis did, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): For seven months trucks carrying critical supplies for NATO troops from Pakistan to Afghanistan have stood idle covered with tarps gathering dust.

Using our routes cost U.S. taxpayers $100 million more a month. All that largely because the U.S. refused to say one simple word, sorry. Regrets, condolences, but not sorry for a U.S. Air strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Tuesday in a written statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally apologized. Foreign minister and I acknowledge the mistakes that resulted in the lost of Pakistani military lives, she said.

We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

The statement was diplomatically sensitive. Clinton's press secretary stuck closely to the script. VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I think the intent here is that we are both sorry for the losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists.

DOUGHERTY: The apology opens up ground supply lines into Afghanistan with Pakistan agreeing not to raise fees of $250 per truck. At one point, Pakistan demanded $5,000 for each vehicle.

It also may help mend relations between the two countries ripped apart by anger over the U.S. use of drones and the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan's ambassador said she was glad the breakthrough was not part of any transaction. That she appreciates Secretary Clinton's statement and hopes that the bilateral ties can move to a better place from here.

The U.S. says one expert hurt itself by making the apology a big deal, but this may help put relations back on track.

VALI NASR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN: We made a mountain out of a mole hill and the damage to our own interests in Afghanistan and across the region is far higher by this relationship failing and by actually acknowledging that mistakes were made.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: So, this is good news both for the United States and Pakistan because the U.S., after all, gets those shipments, the convoys rolling back into Afghanistan, and Pakistan could end up with about $1.1 billion from the United States for the counterterrorism efforts by its military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill, thanks for that report. Appreciate it.

Coming up, he's a potential Romney vice presidential running mate who just called a reporter an idiot. Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ready to be vice president of the United States? That's coming up at 37 past the hour.

But, up next:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you talk to people you know who are not necessarily close family, and you tell them what you do, what do they say to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They think I should get my head examined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They're elite firefighters who jump out of planes right into the middle of the flames. We will meet the smoke jumpers at 13 past the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Major progress in the battle against devastating Colorado wildfires. Officials say they expect to have it more than 70 percent contained by the end of the day; 30,000 people who had to evacuate have now returned home; 2,000 are still being held back. But about half of them have no home to return to.

It's the most destructive fire in state history, with two people killed, 346 homes destroyed.

Firefighting is dangerous work all around. But one crew faces special risks. They literally, literally jump into the flames.

Here's CNN's national correspondent, Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the entire USA, there are only 430 of them. They are among the firefighting elite. They are the "Smoke Jumpers."

And many of them are in Colorado right now marching onto aircraft, which is their transportation to the action. Their job? To fly into the fires just as new ones are starting up and stop them from getting bigger.

This is video the smoke jumpers just brought back. It's hard to spot the flames from up here 1,500 feet, but the smoke jumpers are trained to see them and it's all very clear when they're on the ground.

Nowhere near any roads and sometimes quite a distance from any civilization. If they don't get to the blaze quickly, the flames will often spread rapidly. Smoke jumpers court disaster every day they're on the job.

(on camera): When you talk to people you know that aren't close family, you tell them what you do, what do they say to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They think I should have my head examined.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Part of the reason for that is because of how they get to the fires.

(on camera): Firefighting is not an occupation for the timid particularly in this specialty. Take a look, these guys just don't fight fires, they sky dive into potentially deadly combustible wilderness.

(voice-over): We were invited to watch the smoke jumpers train in this canyon near Grand Junction, Colorado. After the smoke jumpers land, their equipment is attached to its own parachute.

STEVE STROUD, SMOKE JUMPER: Inside the cargo you find our hand tools for fighting the fires. TUCHMAN: The smoke jumpers who all work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Interior also have MREs, water and sleeping bags in their cargo boxes.

Because they may be in the wilderness for up to 48 hours while hauling gear on their backs.

PHILIP LIND, SMOKE JUMPER: It usually weighs between 120 to 140 pounds and will hike out of that situation.

TUCHMAN: The fires in Colorado have been unpredictable and relentless, but there are so many other ways to get hurt including lightning and bad parachute landings.

Philip Lind who's once seriously hurt when he missed the target.

LIND: I had a branch of a tree puncture me and come through this pelvis and eviscerate me and fortunately, the personnel I was with was a trained paramedic.

TUCHMAN: The smoke jumpers put out the fires by clearing fuels with their equipment and digging fire lines. Also building backfires to stop the wildfires in their tracks.

They have to get along with each other because their lives depend relying each other.

(on camera): Are there times when you're fearful?

LIND: Most certainly. I think all firefighters have moment when they're fearful. We like to say courage is not the absence of fear, but making of action in spite of it.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And there has been no shortage of action this fire season.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Grand Junction, Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We got our first up-close look at what Colorado firefighters faced when a blaze tore through one neighborhood last week.

Steve Schopper of the Colorado Springs Fire Department joined me here in THE SITUATION ROOM today to describe what he saw and recorded with his video camera. He also had a very personal and very emotional message for the people who lost their homes. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SCHOPPER, COLORADO SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT: 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 have done my job. And hopefully, that's what happened, and it did.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A courageous firefighter indeed.

Steve Schopper says he believes the worst is in fact over in Colorado Springs. He hopes everyone can get back to their normal lives soon. I hope so as well. What painful story.

BOLDUAN: What a painful, what an emotional situation. But what hard work he is doing. So glad you were able to get him on today. That was great.

All right, coming up here, I want to give you a look what is trending in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We have got our list. At number four, the feds arrest an online poker executive in connection with a $430 million Ponzi scheme that his site called Full Tilt Poker is accused of running last year.

And at number three, Tom Cruise turns 50 today and why do we care? Well, it's because his split with Katie Holmes is stealing some of that birthday spotlight. And number two and number one top trending stories, they're going to coming up next in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's what's making news on CNN right now.

Iran is flexing military muscle with three days of war games called Great Prophet 7. Missile launches are part of the exercise, including a missile dubbed the radar buster. It's all happening near the Strait of Hormuz seen from space in this NASA photo.

It's also where the U.S. is building up its military presence amid deep concern Iran might try to close the vital trade route, as well as the ongoing dispute over its nuclear program. The Pentagon has quietly deployed more ships to the strait, some carrying jets that could reach deep inside Iran. I talked about this with Vali Nasr. He's the dean of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington, a former adviser to late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke. I asked him how bad the situation is right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALI NASR, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't think it's as bad as it sounds. I think both sides are following the same strategy, which is to use pressure to get leverage at the talks. We threaten military action in order to get the Iranians' attention.

The Iranians are threatening closure of the Straits of Hormuz and military exercises in order to get our attention. So what we're seeing is what we usually see in diplomacy. When diplomacy begins to slow down, both sides begin to flex muscles just to alert the other side to what the consequences will be.

BLITZER: You think these painful sanctions posed on Iran by the international community now in the end will stop them from going forward with a nuclear weapons program?

NASR: No. I think the sanctions will bring them to the table. They're not going to settle unilaterally. We have to have something to put on the table in order to engage them in a deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Iran's war games started yesterday. They're scheduled to continue through tomorrow.

A lot of concern over there what's going on between Iran, the U.S. in the Strait of Hormuz.

BOLDUAN: Oh, absolutely Wolf, absolutely.

All right, I will go us back to our trending list because we need to get everybody up to date on that list. Number four, as we said before the break, online poker CEO is arrested in a multimillion- dollar Ponzi scene. Number three, Tom Cruise turns 50. Number 2, what is Xbox 8. Your guess is as good as mine. It could be the name of a new game console from Microsoft or it could be nothing at all. But the company snagged the domain name today and now rumors are simply flying about what that means.

Finally, number one, some sad news to tell you about. Actor Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86. Here's what he told our Larry King about his show's success.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY GRIFFITH, ACTOR: The basic theme of our show was love. All the characters loved each other and all the actors loved each other, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Griffith went on to win over a whole new audience in the '80s as Matlock, of course, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

BLITZER: As he should have been. He was great. I grew up watching Andy Griffith. They were fabulous...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Bring back the memories, yes?

BLITZER: A lot of memories. I'm not going to whistle, though.

BOLDUAN: Please don't. You do have a good whistle, though.

BLITZER: I love the theme song. I will do it during the commercial.

BOLDUAN: OK.

BLITZER: Thank you.

New CNN polls show some surprising numbers on the economy. What do they mean for the presidential race? We are going to debate that -- that is coming up.

And at 47 after the hour, the politics of presidential vacations, why appearances matter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Election Day is a little more than four months away. But if there was any doubt what issue number one is, let me quote our CNN political contributor James Carville. It's the economy, stupid. No doubt about that.

Kate, you have some surprising numbers in this brand-new CNN poll.

BOLDUAN: These were surprising, and I thought definitely worth talking more about, Wolf.

We all know that unemployment has been stuck at 8.2 percent for a few months, and that's 12.7 million Americans without work. But it turns out people are actually feeling optimistic. Check out this new CNN/ORC poll.

When we asked how people feel about the economy in the next 12 months, 60 percent said they feel good; 39 percent said poor. But the reason this is even more important, compare that to last October, the numbers have reversed. Back then, 60 percent said they had a gloomy economic outlook for the year ahead.

I found those numbers absolutely fascinating.

BLITZER: Yes. And we're going to discuss that. BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: We have got an excellent panel to discuss it with, and they're all sitting around this lovely "Round Table." Maybe it's a little more oval. Democratic strategist Kiki McLean, welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. Always good to have you here. Republican strategist Alice Stewart is here and "TIME" magazine's White House correspondent, Michael Scherer. Good to have all three of you.

I want to get your quick reaction. Allen West, the Republican congressman from south Florida, he says some outrageous things from time to time: 70 members of the Democratic Party in the House, they're card-carrying members of the Communist Party. Now, he said this about the president of the United States, Alice. Listen closely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, I was pretty outraged by that. He would rather have you, meaning Americans, be your slave. So I asked Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party -- he was in THE SITUATION ROOM in the last hour -- to react. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY: Allen West is one of the most dynamic new Republican stars in our party, that's No. 1. He has a bright -- a bright future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He went on and on. He's in an awkward position. But you're a good Republican. You react to that.

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, he probably could have found a better word for that. But the fact of the matter is, what we have with this administration, we have more people on Food Stamps than ever before. We have 23 million Americans out of work.

And what he did when he came into office, he promised to turn the economy around. he promised to put people back to work. He promised to instill confidence in this economy, and he hasn't. The middle- class people, those are tremendous promises.

BLITZER: But does it make those people on Food Stamps who are out of work slaves?

STEWART: No, it doesn't. But it does make them dependent on our government, and we can't have that. We need to instill confidence in our economy. We need to create an environment for job creators to create jobs and put people back to work. BLITZER: What do you think?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: This is pretty cut and dried. It's distasteful; it's dishonorable. And it should be completely put at a distance. I mean, I'm sitting next to a very smart woman who's got a terrific reputation. She's in an awkward position, because she's here to represent her own party, as was the chairman and so...

BLITZER: You've been in an awkward position when Democrats have said outrageous things about Republicans. I hate that just as much as when Republicans...

MCLEAN: Distasteful is distasteful and should be called for what it is, and that's...

BLITZER: We have to do whatever we can to end that...

MCLEAN: That's right.

BLITZER: ... garbage talk. I mean, I've covered politics for a long time. And the atmosphere out there -- Michael, you know it -- is awful right now. But to hear politicians, it's pretty bad. What do you think?

MCLEAN: No more than usual.

BLITZER: It is pretty bad.

MICHAEL SCHERER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The irony is we're now talking about it. I mean, it works, in a way. Allen West...

BLITZER: Why does he do this?

MCLEAN: Because he gets on the news.

SCHERER: He gets on the news and fundraises off of this. I mean, we've had five or six years, three or four members of the House in both parties who specialize in saying outrageous insulting ridiculous things to get them on the news that they can put in fund- raising solicitations. And we're in a very angry country, and there's a portion of the electorate that respond to this.

BLITZER: And it wasn't supposed to be like this. The president came into office, and he promised he was going to try and do his best to change things. You can't blame him...

MCLEAN: No, no.

BLITZER: ... for what Allen West said, but the atmosphere out there is pretty brutal.

MCLEAN: I want to dispute something that Michael said. The atmosphere out there is bad. But most of America is not angry; most of America wants this to work. And your polls showed that, with 60 -- optimism is at the core of what America is about and the chance to get up tomorrow and do better.

There is a vocal minority on the extremes of both parties who are hindering progress. And when somebody like Barack Obama steps up and says, "Here's a plan. Here's what I think we ought to do with an American jobs act. Here's what I suggest. Here's where I'm going into negotiations with Republicans willing to do it," and the extremes from both sides try to put a stop to it. That's where the problem is.

BLITZER: They're more hopeful now than they were only a few months ago. Alice, in our new poll, we got the numbers. It's almost been a complete reversal: you think things are going to be better in October, only 39 percent thought they would be better. Now it's up to 60 percent.

STEWART: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the incumbent.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, look at that flip.

MCLEAN: Is that a concern for the incumbent?

STEWART: Well, it's not a concern. If you look at a lot of the national polls, we're seeing time and time again that more people trust Mitt Romney to turn it around and create jobs more than the president. We're seeing -- in your poll, we're seeing that...

BLITZER: Be precise. Among independents, you're right. In the independents, independent voters in our new poll, 51 percent think Romney is better to handle the economy than the president, 42 percent. But among all registered voters, it's virtually even.

STEWART: Right. But you and I both know this race will be decided among the independents, the people who are currently undecided who are going to be swayed between now and November, that they have the plan to create jobs and turn the economy around. Will we have as a president...

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: ... Democrats? I have to say when I look at some of the swing voter groups -- and let me disclose, I've done some work on the Walnut Mons (ph) Research Project and recently got to watch some focus groups about Walnut Mons (ph).

Two things that strike me and match up with where some of your research is, is that they look up and they said they didn't necessarily feel like things were great now. They felt like things were tougher than they've ever been.

But by the same token, when you ask them what is really dominant in their lives today, which showed that they were talking about things beyond the economy that showed they were feeling the lift there. The other thing was there was that there was -- there was some value in giving somebody time.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a break. But it's fair to say these new numbers, four months to go, this is incredibly tight. SCHERER: It's incredibly tight. And what matters more than the numbers is the change in the numbers, the direction the numbers are headed. And so right now, it looks good for the president. We're still four months away. Friday's job numbers could change everything again.

BLITZER: We'll talk about that. Stick around. The debate continues after the break.

Coming up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he'd listen -- he would listen if he got the vice-presidential call, but could words like this keep him out of the race? Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, on Monday are you going to be addressing the legislature?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic. On topic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're talking deep stakes. Next, among other things. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We're here again with Republican strategist Alice Stewart, Democratic strategist Kiki McLean again, as well as "TIME" magazine's White House correspondent, Michael Scherer. Welcome back.

OK. Let's talk about Governor Chris Christie. First, I want you to listen to something the New Jersey governor, as well as a Romney surrogate, that he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I love being governor of New Jersey. You can tell. I think every day the way I do my job that I love being governor. But the fact is, if Governor Romney picks up the phone and calls, then you have to answer the call and listen, at least.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So he says you have to at least listen. So veepstakes continue, of course, of course. However, this is something that's getting Wolf a tad bit fired up. This is what this potential vice- presidential candidate also said to a reporter this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, on Monday are you going to be addressing the legislature?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic. On topic. Next question.

Good. Thank you. Thank you -- thank you all very much, and I'm sorry for the idiot over there. Take care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow.

BOLDUAN: Is he -- is he ready for prime time?

BLITZER: He makes you crazy; he makes you crazy. Let me tell you why.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: This is really -- I mean, I like Chris Christie. I think he's a smart guy. He's a powerful governor. But he does not understand what the American press is all about. He has a photo opportunity. His job is to say whatever he wants. It's our job as journalists to ask questions.

He can come back, Alice, and say, "You know what? I'm not answering your question. I don't want to answer." But then to call him an idiot and stupid, that is ridiculous. That is obscene and probably, he should apologize. I don't know if he has. He should call up that reporter: "I appreciate the First Amendment. I know you're doing your job. You're asking a serious question about the economy. I apologize to you or for, on worldwide television, calling you an idiot and stupid." Should he do it?

STEWART: I -- I feel like there should be mutual respect between journalists and politicians. The first half of my career I was a journalist. And when a news conference is called on topic, then you try to respect that. And he had the right to say what he said in public, but never call someone stupid. Show respect.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: This is what people love about Chris Christie.

BLITZER: No, it's not.

MCLEAN: Let me tell you, as somebody who has traveled...

BLITZER: There's other things we love about Chris Christie.

MCLEAN: As somebody who's traveled as a spokesperson on three vice-presidential nominees planes, I got to be the press patrol. I got to show up at Joe Lieberman's door with the big bouquet of flowers and say, "Let's get on the plane." OK?

But the reason you pick them is, as much as you dream as a press secretary of the day you get to say that, if you're especially tired and irritated, you can't say it. And here's why: it's not just about the relationship with the three of you. I have two 7 year-olds in the green room watching TV right now. I don't want my children believing it's OK for a grownup to stand up and call people stupid and an idiot. And lose their temper and lose control. I want leadership that's in control.

And if I'm on a VP vetting team, I just looked up and saw a guy who thought, you know, showing his testosterone was more important than showing leadership. I don't want him.

BLITZER: But you're a White House correspondent. Mike, also what irritates me, by the way, is when the president of the United States goes into the briefing room, the press briefing room at the White House, and makes a statement and refuses to answer reporters' questions. Let him go to the East Room. Let him go into the Rose Garden. Let him go to the South Lawn of the White House. He can make a statement. He can go in the Oval Office, read a statement if he wants.

But if he's going to meet the press, he's got to answer reporters' questions. That irritates me, as disrespectful to the news media.

SCHERER: But it's -- I mean, it's also an issue when he comes to the briefing room, and we wait for him to call on us. It's our briefing room. We should be demanding questions and not just letting the White House choose the order.

I think this is an example of why Chris Christie -- not that we needed a lot more -- is unlikely to be picked as the next vice president.

But I actually disagree with you. I don't think -- Mitt Romney doesn't want his vice president to be the story. And Chris Christie is a guy who loves being the story. And maybe it's not using insult language, but this sort of tough-talking Chris Christie is all over YouTube. It's published on YouTube by his campaign. And he's defined himself as a national character, as the guy who goes to these town- home meetings and someone asks him a question, and he just pushes it back as this tough guy. And people do love that.

And actually, I agree with you on the merits here, but beating up on the press is not a really bad...

KING: I understand. I still think he should apologize.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: Be a grownup.

BLITZER: I've gone to a lot of photo ops. They don't want to ask questions. What's with Tony Blair, and the people went crazy in London when I dared ask a question: "There will be no questions."

And I said, "What is this, Russia? What is this, the Soviet Union? This is America. If a reporter wants to ask a question, you don't have to answer it, but you don't have to call me an idiot or stupid." Just makes me crazy.

BOLDUAN: Really?

BLITZER: Thank you.

Kate also has a check on what's going on at the White House and beyond. What is going on?

BOLDUAN: There's a lot -- there's a lot going on. There is.

Vice President Joe Biden -- speaking of vice presidents -- he is going after Mitt Romney, this time telling teachers to beware of the Republican candidate. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys, educators, teachers, you're under full-blown assault. Governor Romney and his allies in the Congress, their plan for public education in America is to let the states use Title I dollars to boost enrollment in private schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Biden was speaking to a crowd of more than 15,000 people at the National Education Association's convention here in Washington. A spokesperson for Romney at the Romney campaign released a statement saying the vice president is doubling down on failing policies and that Romney will put students first.

Turning to national security, graduate students at the University of Texas hijacked a civilian drone. But don't worry. The school says it was actually part of a challenge issued by none other than the Department of Homeland Security.

How did -- how did the researchers do it? A technique called spoofing that involves taking over the aircraft's GPS. Way above my pay grade to know exactly how it happens.

And thanks to changing times at the Pentagon, Cicely Verstein has a chance to make history. This is great. The 21-year-old could have joined the Army before now, but by waiting, she became the first woman to enlist in one of six new combat support jobs that opened up to women just this past May. Leverstein [SIC] will -- Verstein will help maintain heavy-duty tanks, once of course, she gets through basic training.

I love the opportunity to say, "You go, girl."

BLITZER: I love that, too. Good luck to her, all the women out there. Appreciate it.

It's a major, major decision that could have huge political repercussions. Most of us can go anywhere we want on vacation. But not the president of the United States; not someone who wants to be the president of the United States. All that and more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Planning a vacation can certainly be difficult. And when you're the president of the United States -- or want to be the president of the United States -- well, where you spend the summer can certainly be difficult politically speaking.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, joining us now on the politics of a presidential vacation. Dan, what's the risk?

DAN LOTHIAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's those images, the visuals. Voters out there who are concerned about the economy might question the president's vacation plans.

Now, the White House isn't saying that that's driving their decision, but this summer, Martha's Vineyard is out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Call it the politics of perception. Presidential vacations are always scrutinized. But throw in an election year, and where they go or what they do can overshadow the message at a critical time.

RICHARD BENEDETTO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "USA TODAY": Politically, they can be double-edged swords.

LOTHIAN: Richard Benedetto covered the White House for "USA Today" from presidents Reagan to George W. Bush.

BENEDETTO: If you're vacationing at times when times are not good, it doesn't look so good to the public and you have to be very careful what kind of an image you do project.

LOTHIAN: Martha's Vineyard was the Obamas' summer White House for the past three years. They rented a pricey secluded farm and occasionally took unannounced trips into town for lunch or a good book.

But vacationing on what is partly a playground for the rich and famous while painting your opponent as an out-of-touch elitist may not play well with voters.

Former president Bill Clinton and his advisers were keenly aware of the images and planned accordingly. This is the summer of '93, a yacht ride in New England with the Kennedys. But in re-election mode, the Clintons traded Martha's Vineyard for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1996.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wonderful.

LOTHIAN: It's not just the incumbent who has to be careful about vacation plans. In 2004, presidential hopeful senator John Kerry went wind surfing off Nantucket and ran into a wave of Republican criticism. These images were used by the Bush campaign to reinforce the narrative that Kerry's positions changed with the wind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again.

LOTHIAN: Republican hopeful Mitt Romney isn't making any changes to his vacation tradition, unwinding at his expensive lakeside compound in New Hampshire, where cameras caught Romney and his wife splashing around on a wave runner. The large family also engages in competitive, Olympic-style games.

BENEDETTO: Everybody knows he's wealthy. Everybody knows he's not like everybody else in terms of his background. And he wants to play up, I think, the family image.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, a senior administration official told me that, instead of having a big vacation, the first family will take several smaller trips, but it's unclear when those trips will take place or where they will go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people think, me included, he might want to go to some of those battleground states, maybe Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, some nice vacation places around there, right?

LOTHIAN: That's right. We've even heard Virginia or North Carolina. But at this point, no indication yet from the White House where they will be traveling this summer for their shorter vacation.

BLITZER: My feeling is let them go on vacation enjoy it as a family. If they like Martha's Vineyard, let them go to Martha's Vineyard. What's so bad about that?

BOLDUAN: I've never had a problem -- I've never had a problem with the vacations, as long as I get one, as well.

BLITZER: Yes, you will.

BOLDUAN: OK. All right.

Here's one of the stories just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM that we want to bring to you.

The JetBlue pilot whose on-board anger forced an emergency landing has been found not guilty by reason of insanity. Clayton Osbon was facing charges of interfering with a flight crew. He's now undergoing another mental evaluation.

Also, no charges for former commerce secretary John Bryson. The Los Angeles district attorney's office says there is insufficient evidence to prosecute him for back-to-back car crashes last month. His office blamed them on a seizure. Blood tests for alcohol came back negative. Bryson resigned June 21.

And 2011 was Bill Clinton's most lucrative year ever on the speech circuit. The former president made $15.4 million for 40 -- 54 speeches, a very busy man. That brings his total speaking fees to $89 million in the 11 years since he left office. Clinton is under strict disclosure requirements, because his wife is, of course, secretary of state.

BLITZER: A lot of speaking and a lot of money.

BOLDUAN: That's a lot of speaking and a lot of money.

BLITZER: Believes in the First Amendment, except no free speech.

BOLDUAN: What?

BLITZER: Paid for the speeches. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Don't spring jokes on me. You know I'm slow.

BLITZER: A customer on a rampage trashes a mobile phone store. It's the latest video to go viral out there on the Internet. CNN's Jeanne Moos is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: A highway buckles in the heat, sending an SUV flying. Our "Video of the Day," coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: So Wolf, I want to first say this is not a stunt, but it's pretty amazing what you're about to see. I don't know if you've seen it yet. I want to show you the "Video of the Day."

An SUV hits a patch of buckled highway and goes flying. Did you just see that? This happened in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, where it's been so hot, part of the highway actually warped.

The people inside the SUV, thankfully, were not seriously injured. That's why we can bring it to you as our "Video of the Day."

That's amazing stuff. It was a bit of a surprise.

BLITZER: They were not hurt?

BOLDUAN: Thankfully.

BLITZER: Good work.

You've heard of a bull in a china shop. But that's nothing compared to one angry customer inside a mobile phone store. CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How badly did this guy want his money back? Badly enough to tear everything he could off the walls of this T-Mobile store in Manchester, England.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

MOOS: Badly enough to attack the store with not one, but two fire extinguishers. Badly enough to do all of this with people watching through the windows.

(CHEERING)

MOOS: His name is Jason Codner, but on the Facebook fan page admirers made, he's just called angry T-Mobile guy. Everyone's favorite vigilante.

When police finally arrived and arrested him for criminal damage, his look said no need to get rough. After they put on the cuffs, he was nodding and smiling pleasantly...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get out of the way!

MOOS: ... as police broke up the crowd his amazing rampage had attracted. And he's still attracting online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all I can do is cheer him on. Yes!

MOOS: Considering how much we all love our phones, there sure is a lot of pent-up anger at phone companies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't feel sorry for T-Mobile. Them jokers, they ripping somebody off.

MOOS: But for every "I feel your pain, man," someone else posted, "This behavior is inexcusable."

T-Mobile says, "The customer wanted a refund, a refund that we were not able to give, as it was clearly outside of the stated terms and conditions."

But some of the angry guy's fans said they sometimes felt like doing what he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what is that going to prove? Nothing. I would just feel better!

MOOS: One clever YouTuber played the angry guy video backwards and titled it, "Happy man attempts to repair damaged mobile phone shop."

This tantrum now joins other memorable rampages. For instance, the Russian doctor who rammed his car into showroom vehicle after vehicle after he got fed up with waiting for his car to be fixed.

And the woman who stiff-armed bottles at a liquor store after she says the clerk used the phrase "you people," while refusing to let her use the rest room.

(on camera) In this case, the "t" in T-Mobile stood for trashed.

(voice-over) And their slogan, "Life's for sharing," this cell phone video is sure getting shared, along with comments, like, "Can you hear me now?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't recommend it, but what that guy did -- kudos to him, man!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You don't mess around...

BOLDUAN: Jason, the T-Mobile guy.

BLITZER: Wow.

BOLDUAN: I mean, I've been mad about a cell phone bill before, but...

BLITZER: You don't do that. You don't go up and down.

BOLDUAN: I always wonder, did this happen before YouTube? Did people do this before...

BLITZER: It happened, I'm sure, but now we see it.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my goodness.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much.

That's it for us. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Remember, the conversation continues. You can follow me on Twitter, @WolfBlitzer. Follow Kate, as well, @KateBolduan.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.