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THE SITUATION ROOM

Unemployment Numbers Unchanged; Interview With Tammy Duckworth; Great White Sharks Spotted Off Cape Cod; Country's Nastiest Congressional Race; Duckworth Responds To Opponent's Attacks; "I Support Him 1,000 Percent"; "He's Suddenly Reversed Himself"; Libya's First Election Since 1964; Pakistan: 20 Killed By U.S. Drone Strike; Huntsman To Skip GOP Convention; Inside Apparent Courtroom Suicide

Aired July 6, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama's bus tour hits a major speed bump. Ahead, we're breaking down a jobs report that's disappointing overall and even more troubling for African-Americans.

Plus, a U.S. veteran who lost both legs in Iraq now embroiled in a rather nasty House race against an incumbent who at first suggested she's not a true war hero. Tammy Duckworth is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to respond.

Also, a millionaire's apparent suicide just seconds after he's convicted of arson. What may have caused this shocking end to a life seemingly spinning out of control?

And great white shark spottings heightened fears along the Cape Cod area. Our own Brian Todd is on a boat with experts trying to track them down.

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

On the campaign trail right now, a disappointing jobs report kicks off day two of President Obama's bus tour into overdrive and arms his opponent, Mitt Romney, with new political ammunition to use against him. Look at this. Unemployment is stuck at 8.2 percent and only 80,000 jobs added in June. The numbers are even worse when you look at minorities.

We're covering all sides of this dramatic political story.

Our own Dan Lothian and Dana Bash, they are both standing by live.

But, first, CNN's Poppy Harlow breaks down the numbers.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

I think the headline for this jobs report is disappointing, only 80,000 jobs created in the month of June. Unemployment stays at 8.2 percent. We need to be creating somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 jobs a month pretty consistently to bring that rate down. Issues here, 12.7 million Americans still unemployed in this country, 5.4 million of them have been out of work for six months or longer. The longer you're out of work, the longer it takes you to find a job. That is a problem.

Also very key here, 2.5 million people are not counted in this unemployment rate at all. They can work, but they have stopped looking for work. So they're not counted in the unemployment rate. So it's actually higher than 8.2 percent. Also very key here is minorities. We have to look at what has happened to African- Americans.

Their unemployment rate has gone up from the month of May. It's now nearly 14.5 percent. It is pretty much double unemployment for whites, Hispanics 11 percent unemployment. That's problematic. And this is all very political.

Looking at the big picture here, we were bleeding jobs at the end of the Bush administration and at the beginning of the Obama administration. This is where you will hear the president talk about jobs recovery. But the issue here is the last three months, April, May and June. We have seen just anemic jobs growth.

This jobs report is very key because we only have four more jobs reports before the election. So you're going to hear back and forth from both the Obama administration and the Romney camp about which policies are going to get us back on track because we need to be creating many more jobs than we are right now to get this unemployment rate down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Poppy. Thanks very much.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been following Mitt Romney this week.

He may be on vacation in New Hampshire, but he didn't miss the chance to pounce. He spoke out reacting to these latest jobs numbers even before the president, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

He sure did. He has been in New Hampshire all week long. He's been jet skiing and boating and getting ice cream with his kids and grandkids. But, meanwhile, his campaign headquarters here in Boston, they have been waiting for today, the first Friday of the month, to try to refocus the narrative for Mitt Romney on what they want to talk about, which is joblessness on President Obama's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Ninety minutes after news broke of disappointing jobs numbers, a vacationing Mitt Romney appeared before cameras.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's another kick in the gut to middle-class families. BASH: Responding fast to America's slow economic recovery is a way for team Romney to begin its own political recovery after a rough holiday week.

An aide veering off GOP message about whether the health insurance mandate is a tax, which the candidate himself cleaned up on July 4.

ROMNEY: The Supreme Court is the final word, right? Isn't that the highest court in the land? And they said it was a tax, didn't they? So it's a tax, of course, if that's what they say it is.

BASH: And there was an unusual amount of friendly-fire, a pair of corporate heavyweights calling Romney's advisers amateur and harsh editorials in the influential conservative "The Wall Street Journal" and "Weekly Standard," which slammed the GOP candidate for focusing too much on what the president hasn't done, and not enough on what Romney would do.

Editor William Kristol writing: "Adopting a prevent defense when it's only the second quarter and you're not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy."

A day later, this got special emphasis.

ROMNEY: I have a plan. My plan calls for action that will get America working again and create good jobs both near-term and long- term. It includes finally taking advantage of our energy resources, building the Keystone pipeline, making sure we create energy jobs and we convince manufacturers that energy will be available and low-cost in America.

BASH: Despite trying to quiet criticism by reiterating his economic plan, Romney advisers believe this election will be a special twist on Ronald Reagan's famous question.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

BASH: Romney aides argue with President Obama, it's not so much a question of, are you better off? It's did he meet those high expectations he set four years ago for a different America with soaring rhetoric like this?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody has a chance to succeed, from the CEO to the secretary, from the factory owner to the men and women on the factory floor.

BASH: It was no accident that Romney used an emotional term, kick in the gut, not once, but twice.

ROMNEY: America can do better. And this kick in the gut has got to end.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now, Mitt Romney still has work to do to reassure those conservatives, especially those like on the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal" who say that he's "squandering" an historic opportunity to win the White House.

Wolf, let me give you a statistic to show you why conservatives are so worried and frankly frustrated. And that is since Franklin Roosevelt 70 years ago, no president has won reelection with the unemployment rate where it is right now.

BLITZER: Yes. I think Ronald Reagan did it. It was, what, 7.2 percent, 7.3 percent, something like that.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Yes, not as high as now, exactly.

BLITZER: Right. The president obviously has a lot of work over these next four months.

I did notice though -- and I'm sure you did as well, Dana -- that Romney on this day he not only blasted the president, but he also went out and specifically noted what he would do differently.

BASH: That's exactly right.

As I noted in the piece, that did not seem to be an accident at all. He went out and he really trashed the president, but he was very specific and very clear. He said the word plan two or three times. I have a plan. And then he went onto list the plan.

Now, as you know, Wolf, part of the problem that conservatives have and their concern isn't just that he's not talking about his plan, is that it is 59 points, which is a lot to talk about, that they want him to narrow the focus, much like the former Senator from New Hampshire John Sununu said to you yesterday.

BLITZER: Yes. He said simple declarative sentences would be useful for the Republican presidential candidate to use and his staff.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Dana.

President Obama did his best to put a relatively positive spin on the jobs numbers out on the campaign trail in Ohio.

Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama's battleground bus tour drove over a big speed bump when disappointing job numbers overshadowed his campaign message.

OBAMA: It's still tough out there. LOTHIAN: At a rally in Poland, Ohio, the president didn't dwell on negative news, instead played up private sector gains.

OBAMA: Business has created 84,000 new jobs last month. And that overall means that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That's a step in the right direction.

LOTHIAN: But unemployment remains at 8.2 percent. And voters are divided over who best can handle the economy. A recent CNN/ORC poll shows 48 percent of registered voters think Mitt Romney, 47 percent President Obama.

Looking to keep a tight grip on the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania that voted for him in 2008, the president pushed his message of manufacturing gains, especially in the auto industry, to working-class voters. He began the final day of his Betting on America bus tour with breakfast in Akron, Ohio, where the president was joined by three union workers from a nearby Goodyear tire plant.

OBAMA: You have been there 20 years. You still there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

LOTHIAN: Then he toured this Summer Garden Food manufacturing plant near Youngstown, a business the campaign said was expanding and creating jobs.

At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, his biggest event of the tour, there was one final appeal for a second term.

OBAMA: And if you still believe in me like I believe in you, I hope you will stand with me in 2012.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, Wolf, a sad note.

The owner of Ann's Place -- that's that restaurant where the president stopped in Akron, Ohio, to eat breakfast -- passed away shortly after meeting the president. Her name is 70-year-old Josephine Ann Harris. No official cause of death, but the news we get is that she had a number of medical problems.

And she was feeling a little tingly, was rushed to the hospital, also suffering from fatigue and passed away a short time afterward. You're taking a look at some pictures there of the president at that restaurant this morning. Again, 70-year-old Josephine Ann Harris, who met the president, died a short time later.

BLITZER: That's a sad story. That's a very, very sad story. Our condolences to her family.

Dan Lothian out with the president in Ohio, thanks, Dan, very much.

Wall Street feeling the ripple effects of today's bad jobs number. The Dow ended down 124 points. The Nasdaq and S&P also posted losses.

By the way, we're expecting to see President Obama in a few minutes from now. He's about to sign a major bipartisan piece of legislation. When it happens, we are going to bring it to you live. You're looking at live pictures from the East Room of the White House.

Plus, a war veteran's heroism is questioned by her opponent in a rather nasty congressional race. Ahead, Tammy Duckworth joins us live to respond.

And Brian Todd is in Massachusetts -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, cue the ominous "Jaws" music. One of the most legendary apex predators of the sea is back in these waters. We're going to show you the pictures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Heightening fears all along Cape Cod this hour, after some recent great white sharks spottings.

Brian Todd is there on the scene for us. He had a chance to go out on a boat with some experts trying to find them.

Brian, what did you see?

TODD: Well, Wolf, we got a very good firsthand look at some of the natural wildlife here. It's just incredible to look at.

Take a look at this beach behind me. Our photojournalist, Walter Imparato, is going to zoom in and show you some of this. This is just a gorgeous beach. It's one of the most popular, best-known spots on the East Coast in the summertime. But you'll notice there's no one in the water. And that's for good reason.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Gorgeous weather. And it's the height of summer. But they're only going in waist deep. It's not because the water's cold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up watching "Jaws" back in the '70s, and vivid memories. I don't want to relive that.

TODD: This is what they're worried about on Cape Cod.

Not far from where "Jaws" was filmed, great white sharks are back, each measuring at least 14 feet. Authorities have identified 20 of these predators right off the cape over the past three years and believe there are many more lurking.

GREG SKOMAL, MASS. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES: Tuesday, our most recent sightings by one of our spotter pilots, two white sharks.

TODD: A group called Cape Cod Shark Hunters works with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to track, photograph and tag the great whites.

We're out off the cape looking for the sharks with John Chisholm of the Marine Fisheries Division. We spot abundant marine life here including hump back whales.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

TODD: It looks like a harpoon, but it's a listening station. These buoys carry acoustic receivers that track the migration and behavior of great whites that have been tagged. What's drawing them here?

JOHN CHISHOLM, MASS. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES: We know they're here looking for seals. That's why we placed these in strategic locations where we know they're hunting seals, where we have documented seal predations.

TODD: The population of gray and harbor seals on Cape Cod have made a huge comeback in recent years. Every expert we speak to points to that as the magnet for great whites.

(on camera): Here's a pod of seals. This is an area where they've tagged a lot of sharks. We're told that the sharks are very stealthy. They lurk on the bottom, come up and grab the seals even this close to shore.

Scenes like this make people wonder just how close the sharks could be. This dead seal washed up on shore, and expert says things to look for in a seal that's been attacked, teeth marks and possible tearing that you could be seeing right here.

(voice-over): An expert later looks at our video and says this is very likely a shark attack victim. The sharks aren't scaring folks off. They're actually a top attraction this summer and even good for business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some quality great white shark t-shirts being sold. It's awesome.

SKOMAL: I think folks in general love to see sharks. They love the idea of sharks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, one marine biologist points out there hasn't been a shark attack on a human in these waters since about 1936. But with the seals making such a comeback and with the seals' proximity to the swimmers, authorities here are getting increasingly concerned, Wolf.

BLITZER: How close to the shoreline have these sharks that were spotted -- how close have they been?

TODD: Well, one expert who was tagging and tracking these said one shark was spotted about 100 yards from shore. But another one said that there was one spotted about 30 feet from the shoreline. So these sharks aren't too shy but coming very close to these beaches.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the beach there. Thanks very much.

Brian is going to have a lot more coming up in our brand new 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour later today. We'll head back to this story.

Meanwhile, a U.S. war veteran who lost both her legs in combat in Iraq now is a candidate for Congress. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM today to answer her opponent's charge -- at least the charge he made earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM that she's talking only about her military service and not the issues.

And later, we have the incredible story of a man who literally climbed Mt. Everest to get publicity for his secret scam, and then died in a courtroom probably by his own hand once he was caught.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Finally, relief is on the way for the record-breaking heat wave in the eastern part of the United States. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do we have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, first, we have to get through Saturday. That's when temperatures will be 10 to 20 degrees above normal in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Washington, D.C. broke a record today with its ninth straight day over 95 degrees.

But a cold front begins moving through the Northeast late Saturday. And by early next week, temperatures in the east will be back to normal. Very good news we were hoping to hear.

And doctors around the world are trying to solve a new and deadly medical mystery, an unknown disease that targets children. They come down with a high fever then brain swelling and lung failure. So far the mystery illness is only showing up in Cambodia. A doctor there says of the 64 cases he knows of, only two children survived. Doctors throughout Southeast Asia are being alerted.

And Sunday's Wimbledon Finals will be one for the history books and the record books. On the strength of today's semifinal win, Roger Federer will be playing in his record eighth final going for a record- tying seventh men singles championship. And he will face Andy Murray, the first British man to make the Wimbledon finals since 1938. A lot of folks are going to be watching that matchup -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Including me. What about you?

SYLVESTER: I will. I will. I'll probably watch a little bit. I don't know the whole thing, but a little bit.

BLITZER: I'll watch it. Thanks. Thanks, Lisa.

A candidate in one of the nastiest congressional races in the country is about to join us here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" live. I'll ask Tammy Duckworth about her war record, her opponent's accusations she's avoiding the issues and suggesting she's not a, quote, "true hero."

And we'll also take you live to President Obama's upcoming signing ceremony for a bill that will affect highway projects across the country and keep student loan rates low.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of this year's most-watched and nastiest congressional races in Illinois, where a Tea Party Republican incumbent faces a Democrat who's a veteran of the war in Iraq. I'll speak with Tammy Duckworth in just a moment.

But let's bring in CNN's congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan.

You got some background on what's going on because it's pretty nasty and ugly out there.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot going on here to tell our viewers. Joe Walsh and Tammy Duckworth, they are fighting for a seat representing the northwest suburbs of Chicago. This was created, this district, as part of redistricting efforts that are really taking place nationwide.

But what's making headlines in this race is the name-calling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Here's the town hall video that created an uproar around Republican Congressman Joe Walsh.

REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: That's what's so noble about our heroes.

BOLDUAN: Walsh, a Tea Party conservative, has earned a reputation for controversy during his two years in office suggesting over the weekend his Democratic challenger talks too much about her military service.

WALSH: Now, I'm running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it's the last thing in the world they talk about.

BOLDUAN: The woman Walsh is attacking, Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost both legs in a 2004 helicopter accident while serving in Iraq. Walsh has clarified several times he does think Duckworth is a hero.

WALSH: I've said that thousands of times. I've called Tammy Duckworth a hero hundreds of times.

BOLDUAN: But clearly, he's not apologizing. Here's more with CNN's Ashleigh Banfield.

WALSH: She was on TV a month and a half ago. She was asked a question about gay marriage. Do you know what she talked about? Her time at Walter Reed.

Look, I'll say it again -- I have respect for her and her service. My thoughts and prayers go out to her like they do every wounded warrior. But that doesn't demand our vote.

Ashleigh, if that's what it took to be -- to get your vote, John McCain, another hero, would be our president.

BOLDUAN: Duckworth has been more than happy to fight back.

LT. COL. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS CONG. CANDIDATE: He's just trying to shift the focus away from the fact that he's done nothing in his two years in Congress other than be an extremist loud mouth for the Tea Party.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Joe Walsh is having, I think, a bit of trouble trying to figure out how to run against a war hero. Even though he's the incumbent in the House, he has a new district. He hasn't run for some of this territory before. And I think he is just trying to figure out how to use the experience he has as a way to matchup against the record that Tammy Duckworth has.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And right now, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report calls this the surest Democratic pickup for House races across the country.

So, Duckworth is expected to win this one, Wolf. And, you know, you and I interviewed Joe Walsh this week and he made clear and emphasized that he does think Duckworth is a hero but continues to criticize her, saying that she focuses too much on her military service, not enough on the issues that he thinks voters care about.

BLITZER: And he also says he's not taking back whatever he had earlier said.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very, very much.

Let's bring in Tammy Duckworth right now.

I spoke with Joe Walsh together with Kate earlier in the week. Tammy is here right now.

What do you say to his specific charge that the only thing you really want to talk about, Tammy, is your military service? You don't want to talk about the specific economics, social issues that are important to constituents out there?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I actually talk about the issues a majority of the time. And, in fact, Mr. Walsh is trying to distract the voters away from last week when he voted against the highway bill that you're about to discuss today, as a matter of fact, Wolf. He was the only member of the entire Illinois bipartisan delegation to vote against a bill that would fix the roads and bring much needed jobs into the district.

He also is voted against the student loans. He wanted student loan rates to double. He has no plans for what to do to cut the budget other than to do it on the backs of seniors.

He voted three times to end Medicare and Social Security as we know it. So he's trying to actually shift the focus away from his irresponsible actions as a congressman by attacking military service. That's irresponsible in his words.

BLITZER: I don't know if he's attacking military service, but he's clearly attacking you. What's the biggest difference in your opinion, constituents out there in Illinois should know about when it comes to economic policy, economic issue between you and Walsh?

DUCKWORTH: That I actually have a plan for what we're going to do. I talk in my jobs plan about the need to bring in infrastructure development. We need to look at some serious cuts in the budget and everything should be on the table including defense spending.

I think we also need to take a look at rewarding employers and small businesses that keep jobs here. Let's have tax cuts for those who hire people who have been unemployed for more than six months.

Let's have tax credits for businesses that keep jobs in the district. I have many, many items in my proposal. Go to my web page. You'll see a majority of my discussions is about jobs.

It's about the economy. It's about the need to access a good health care for all Americans and it's also about education. Making sure our kids can afford to go to college.

BLITZER: He repeatedly says John McCain a war hero to be sure. He never really spoke that much about his own personal experiences as a POW in Vietnam for example. But that's all he says you talk about, your war experiences. Do you want to respond to what Walsh is saying?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think that Mr. Walsh is being very irresponsible in his words. At a time when we have so many veterans coming home, I hope that the veterans of this generation talk about their war experiences more than the veterans of the Vietnam generation like Senator McCain.

You know, they were criticized back then. Our war heroes coming home today should talk about their service. They need to talk about the leadership skills they learned in the military that will make them better employees.

They need to talk about the fact they were able to accomplish really tough missions under really extreme conditions. And that will make them, again, better employees and better leaders in the civilian world.

We also need to make sure that our veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress talk about their war time experiences and reach out for help. And also those veterans who become homeless need to talk about the fact that they are homeless.

It's very irresponsible for Mr. Walsh as a sitting congressman to try to muzzle war veterans and keep them from talking about their service by trying to insinuate that you're not a hero if you talk about your service.

When in fact our veterans should be talking about their service, it will help us better understand why they make better employees to find those jobs.

It will also help us address issues of post-traumatic stress, increasing veteran suicide, the need for access to health care for veterans and also the need to end homelessness among veterans.

BLITZER: Do you have a problem that he never served in the military?

DUCKWORTH: None whatsoever. I think there are many, many ways to serve this nation. I think that people who volunteer on their kids PTA are serving. I think people like my mom, who volunteers at a soup kitchen, is serving this nation.

The key is for us to all do a part to make this nation great. What we need now are people in Washington just as we have here at home who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Mr. Walsh is an example of what is wrong with Washington. He's been there for two years. And all he does is use belligerent words and actions and he doesn't want to compromise or work with anyone.

Instead he disagrees and argues with anyone who disagrees with him and doesn't see things his way. That's simply not acceptable in a sitting congressman.

BLITZER: I agree that the differences on substantive policy issues are what the two of you should be debating about. He's used some nasty words. But you've also suggested among other things that Walsh is an extremist loud mouth for the Tea Party.

Back in April, you said there's not a crack pot Tea Party idea that he hasn't embraced. Is that appropriate to use that kind of language against the sitting United States congressman?

DUCKWORTH: I think it's appropriate against a gentleman who says that he wants to be the poster child for the Tea Party. He actually gave that quote to "Time" magazine.

He's told the people in the district you're not going to get squat from me, his words. And that he is going to Washington to shout from the mountain tops and he's not going to compromise.

He's not going to work with anyone. He is there it to be a poster child for the Tea Party. Well, if he's proud of that, then he needs to embrace that because the people in the district are sick and tired of what's going on in Washington.

They want folks who are going to sit down, roll up their sleeves and get to work. I'm willing to work with anyone who loves this country as much as I do willing to work to get the country moving again.

That's why in Illinois we have everyone in the Illinois delegation agreeing to vote in support of the transportation bill. Something desperately need especially in my district where we have O'Hare Airport as part of our district.

Yet Mr. Walsh was the only one to vote against that much-needed bill and the jobs that would come with it.

BLITZER: Do you have a problem -- he says that you send -- you and your campaign I assume he means, someone to videotape all of his speaking engagements to watch him wherever he goes. Is that an issue as far as you're concerned?

DUCKWORTH: No. Since he sends someone to tape all of my speaking engagements as well so I think it's a standard campaign policy. I think that you should be proud of what you say in public.

And if Mr. Walsh has a problem with that, then he shouldn't say these things that really are not in keeping with the values of people of the district.

BLITZER: If he's watching right now, is there anything you want to say to him directly?

DUCKWORTH: You know, I think that he needs to explain to the people of the eighth congressional district why he was the only person to vote against a highway bill and why he wanted student loan rates to double when our students need help to get to college.

And workers in the district need jobs to get to work on fixing our roads and our commuters and businesses need to make sure the roads and rails and bridges in our district are fixed. Why is he the only one to vote against all of those bills desperately needed and supported in the district?

BLITZER: Are you willing, Tammy, to come on our show and debate him directly?

DUCKWORTH: I've already debated him once. We had the first debate in the nation. I've agreed to I think three or four more debates. If yours is one we agree to then I would be happy to.

BLITZER: So there will be some more debates before Election Day?

DUCKWORTH: Yes. We already agreed to several more and we're working through the issues. And we actually had the very first debate in the congressional race in the general election back in May. So we've been seen together in a lot of places.

BLITZER: We would love to invite you and Mr. Walsh to come on and do a good serious substantive debate, no name-calling, no nasty words on either sides. Just the substantive important issues I think that our viewers would be very happy to see that.

DUCKWORTH: I think that would be great too, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you so much, Tammy Duckworth, joining us from Chicago.

A quick reminder, Kate joins me every weeknight in our new 6:00 p.m. Eastern Hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us. We got some brand new stuff coming up later today, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll also have much more on this nasty race in our "Strategy Session." But up next, why conservative writer and CNN contributor Erick Erickson says he supports Congressman Joe Walsh and I'm quoting him now, 1,000 percent.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some reaction to what we just heard from Tammy Duckworth in our "Strategy Session." Joining us now two CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson. He is the editor-in-chief of redstate.com.

I got to say, Erick, you caused a huge stir out there in blogospear, if you will, when you wrote this on redstate.com. You wrote, when Congressman Walsh pointed out Duckworth's service in the military about the extent of her public campaign platform, the left went into overdrive.

The Duckworth campaign and outside left wing groups are attacking him as insensitive, hostile to veterans, et cetera. All he did is tell it like it is. That's what is so refreshing about Joe Walsh. You said you support him, what, 1,000 percent. You know, you're getting hammered for all that.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let's make it a billion. Yes, the left is hammering me for that. They hammered Joe Walsh for saying things -- Republicans hammered Joe Walsh as well for saying it like he calls it like he sees it.

The interesting thing here, Wolf, is that Joe Walsh probably isn't going to win. The district was completely redrawn, it's heavily Democrat. He's given the best fight he can. He's being very aggressive.

But I actually standby what Joe Walsh said and I think Tammy Duckworth made his point. When she's in the public and she's talking to the public, in the district and out of the district, she spends a lot of her time talking about her military service, God bless her, but she doesn't spend a lot of time talking about the issues.

She talks about Joe Walsh being wrong on the issues. You can go to her web site as she said to you to get where she stands on the issues, but she doesn't actually say that on the campaign trail. And that's what Joe Walsh was saying.

BLITZER: She did say he was the only member of the Illinois delegation that didn't vote in favor of the transportation --

ERICKSON: God bless him for it.

BLITZER: That the president about to sign that includes a lot of money for transportation initiatives in Illinois including --

ERICKSON: And lot of fraud and abuse.

BLITZER: Keeping a lot of student loans down at 3.4 percent instead of going up to 6.8 percent.

ERICKSON: Wolf, that's exactly what's wrong. This is a transportation bill and suddenly we're dealing with student loans in a transportation bill? I mean, Congress has become a joke. Joe Walsh at least he's been willing to laugh at Congress.

BLITZER: All right, Donna, what do you say?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I believe Tammy Duckworth is a hero. She served our country for over 20 years and she's still serving our country as a reservist. She has every right to talk about her military service. We're proud of her.

And I believe the people of the eighth congressional district of Illinois will not only support Tammy Duckworth in winning that election, but they believe that Tammy Duckworth is talking about the issues that impact the people of the eighth district.

She's talking about jobs and the economy. Preserving the middle class, making sure that the jobs there in Illinois especially those jobs closest to home, the jobs at O'Hare Airport and other facilities, those jobs are protected and preserved.

So I think this is going to be a very important race for people to watch. And we have a great deal of confidence that Tammy Duckworth will be the next congresswoman from the eighth district in Illinois.

BLITZER: The way that district has been redrawn it looks like she almost certainly will be the new congresswoman from that district. But we'll see what happens four months from now.

Let's talk a little bit about the president. And let me bring you back in, Erick. He's getting a bit more feisty out there on the campaign trail going after Mitt Romney.

Watch this little excerpt from the interview he did with a local station out in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The fact that a whole bunch of Republicans in Washington suddenly said this is a tax, for six years he said it wasn't and now he's suddenly reversed himself.

So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics? Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He went onto say that Rush Limbaugh is pressuring him and he capitulated with two days. What do you make of that?

ERICKSON: You know, I wish Mitt Romney would listen to people like Rush Limbaugh. He didn't in the primary. He's not going to start now, but I wish he would.

You know, Mr. President, the reason we're calling it a tax is because five members of the United States Supreme Court including the two people you put on the court said it was a tax.

Therefore we're respecting the court and saying it's a tax even though none of us really think it's constitutional and even though we think John Roberts got it wrong.

He wanted to rewrite the statute. He wanted to call it a tax and by the way, the Obama team argued in court that it was a tax.

BLITZER: The solicitor general as you know, Donna, Donald Verrilli did say in response to questions from the Chief Justice John Roberts that it was a tax. That it would be administered by the IRS, it would have to be paid for by April 15th. So he's got a point there.

BRAZILE: Wolf, you know, we've been trying to figure out if Mitt Romney will get back on his own talking point so that we can somehow or another clarify the statements that he's made over the years about whether or not it's a tax or penalty.

Here's what I want to say to Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney, you did a good job in Massachusetts in signing this bill into law that made sure the uninsured was covered, making sure those who wanted to be free riders had to pay their own way, which meant a penalty or tax, use your own semantics.

Now we have an Affordable Care Act that will ensure no one with pre-existing conditions will be kicked of their insurance. We should celebrate that and leave the politics to Erick and I to another date.

BLITZER: We're out of time unfortunately, but I want to promote Donna's column that she just wrote on cnn.com on Mitt Romney. If you got a chance, go to cnn.com. Check out Donna Brazile, she's writing, not only talking for CNN.

ERICKSON: It's a good column.

BRAZILE: Thank you, Erick. Have a good weekend.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much.

We have a story you've got to see. Authorities say a man once successful, once wealthy, secretly became a scam artist. They also suspect he committed suicide in a courtroom rather than go to jail.

Also coming up, one-time Republican candidate for president makes a big decision about his party's upcoming convention in Tampa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tomorrow brings another milestone in the so-called "Arab Spring." Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. That's right. Libya's holding its first election in nearly a half century. People will elect a national assembly that will appoint a transitional government and draft a new constitution.

Democracy seems to be quite popular in Libya. Some 3,500 candidates from 300 political parties are running for those 200 seats.

And Pakistan says a U.S. drone killed 20 people today on its side of the border with Afghanistan. This is the second drone strike this month. And the first since Pakistan reopened its border crossings to supply trucks heading into Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, 18 Pakistanis are dead after their vehicles were fired on by unknown assailants. They were on their way to Iran and the attack happened near the border.

Former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman decided to skip this summer's Republican convention. The former Utah governor says he won't attend anymore conventions until Republicans focus on what he calls a bigger, bolder, more confident future based on problem solving, inclusiveness and a willingness to address what he calls the trust deficit. So Huntsman crossed his name off. He will not be there, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, well, we've invited him. I think he's going to be coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk to him about that and a bunch of other issues as well. Thank you.

Hundreds of thousands still without power suffering yet another day of triple-digit record heat and relief could still be days away.

Plus, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets tough on Syria. Just ahead, who she says may soon pay a price for the bloodshed.

And what may have caused a bizarre apparent suicide right in the middle of a courtroom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Pakistan, men protesting incoming NATO supplies. In Tokyo, activists use signs and a peace flag opposing the prime minister's decision to restart nuclear reactors in the area.

In Germany, a motorcycle rider rounds a turn while training for the grand prix. And in Singapore, a British designer strolls through her exhibit at a garden festival. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Shocking moments inside a courtroom when the defendant, a millionaire just found guilty of burning down his own home, appears to swallow something and later dies.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has a closer look at a life seemingly spiralling out of control and what may have ultimately led to this rather bizarre end.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These were the final minutes of Michael Marin's story and life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do find the defendant, Michael James Marin, guilty of arson of an occupied structure.

LAVANDERA: How he got here is a tragic and bizarre tale, but before we tell the story, remember this moment. After being found guilty of arson and now facing up to 21 years in prison, Marin covers his face and appears to swallow something. We'll come back to this scene.

Michael Marin graduated from Yale law school, had a lucrative career working around the world for Wall Street investment banks, making several million dollars. He collected Picasso artwork, drove a Rolls Royce and flew his own plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was an engaging character.

LAVANDERA: Paul Rubin profiled Michael Marin back in 2008 for the "Phoenix New Times" newspaper, spent hours talking to the eccentric millionaire.

PAUL RUBIN, JOURNALIST: He's the smartest guy in the room. He's the -- he's the smoothest talker in the room. He gets all the girls. He's -- you know, he's that guy and he just ran into the brick wall that happens to these characters eventually.

LAVANDERA: The brick wall was this 10,000 square foot home in the Biltmore estates, an exclusive Phoenix, Arizona, enclave. Marin bought the house in 2008 when the real estate market was collapsing.

It came with an interest-only mortgage payment of $17,250 a month. But Michael Marin had long left Wall Street and had not worked in several years.

(on camera): And he was quickly running out of money. That's when prosecutors say he concocted a scheme to raffle off the house and in the process make a million dollars for himself.

(voice-over): The raffle was an oddly creative way to unload the Biltmore house. Raffle tickets would sell for $25. The proceeds would benefit the Child Crisis Center.

To generate publicity for the raffle, investigators say Marin scaled Mt. Everest, doing interviews from the mountain with a local television station. It all played into the Marin mystique.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've done our final altitude climb up to 25,000 feet.

LAVANDERA: But Joe Epps says it was all a sinister ploy. Epps is the forensic accountant that unravelled Marin's personal finances for prosecutors.

JOE EPSS, FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT: What happened was he paid $2,550,000 for the house and set up with a couple of friends of his a bogus second mortgage designed to increase the value of the house by $950,000 for a second mortgage that really didn't exist.

LAVANDERA (on camera): You think this raffle was just a scam to make $1 million basically?

EPPS: Yes. And at the same time be able to look like a very generous person who didn't make anything of it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In April 2009, the Arizona attorney general ruled the raffle was illegal. The plan fizzled. At this point, Marin was six months away from having to make a balloon payment of roughly $2 million to lenders or risk a major jump in his monthly interest payments. Marin's financial world was collapsing around him.

RUBIN: I don't think that he really thought this thing through, he and his pals. And it ended up where he had to do something that was pretty wacky, which was burn down his house.

LAVANDERA: In the early morning hours of July 5th, 2009, fire engulfed Marin's Biltmore home. He called for help from his upstairs bedroom.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My house is on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you going to be able to get out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got one of those ladders.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: You have a ladder where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather work on that than talk to you, so let me get the hell out of here.

LAVANDERA: Marin emerged from the burning home wearing scuba gear that just happened to be ready to go in his bedroom. Jeff Peabody is the Phoenix Fire Department investigator who handled Marin's case.

JEFF PEABODY, PHOENIX FIRE DEPARTMENT INVESTIGATOR: Every fireman is going to say you're not going to believe this guy. He came off of a ladder out of his master bedroom wearing a scuba tank, a mask and a snorkel. Yes, you're right, I find that odd.

LAVANDERA: Marin even relived the escape from his hospital bed.

MICHAEL MARIN: I realize that I actually had some air left in that tank and that's what enabled me to get back to the window and deploy that ladder. If I hadn't had those two things, we wouldn't be talking.

LAVANDERA: Peabody says he found four spots in the house where fires were intentionally set and a long line of phone books that was supposed to help the fire spread, which brings us back to that Phoenix courtroom.

A jury convicted Marin of arson. He's facing between seven and 21 years in prison. After he appears to swallow something after the verdict is read, notice as he reaches down and appears to get something from his bag.

He then wipes his face, swallows something and appears to swallow again. About eight minutes later, Marin starts convulsing and collapses.

Even though it's not been officially determined what killed Michael Marin, it's believed he swallowed some type of poison. Marin's attorney says the convicted arsonist showed no signs of preparing to commit suicide.

ANDREW CLEMENCY, MICHAEL MARIN'S ATTORNEY: It was a gigantic shock. I think it's fair to say that we certainly had no inkling this was going to happen. I'm not aware that anybody did.

LAVANDERA: Ironically, it's Jeff Peabody, the fire investigator who built the arson case against Michael Marin, who tries to help him. But Peabody says there was no way to save him and that his final moments played out in a dramatic fashion, just as Michael Marin had lived his life.

PEABODY: If he's going to do something then this would be the time that he would do it. It's sort of like escaping from his house in scuba gear. This was going to be his closure.

LAVANDERA (on camera): A grand finale?

PEABODY: A grand finale exit, yes.

LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Officials in Phoenix say it will take about a month to get the toxicology and autopsy reports back. We won't know for sure until then what it was he swallowed.