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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Holds Press Conference; Republican Congressman Under Fire Over Rape Comments; GOP Reps Reprimanded for Late-Night Dip; "Legitimate Rape" Comments Spark Outrage; Obama: Being President Is A "Privilege"; Skinny Dipping At Israeli Holy Site; Crane Collapses In Toronto; Apple: Most Valuable Public Company In History; Bus Crashes Into House, Nine Injured

Aired August 20, 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, an embarrassing double blow for the GOP: the party forced to do major damage control after a key Senate candidate's stunning comments about so-called -- quote -- "legitimate rape"; also, shocking revelations that a Republican congressman had to be reprimanded during a trip to Israel for taking a late-night dip in one of the holiest bodies of waters in the world.

Plus, President Obama seizes his chance to pounce all of it, making a surprise appearance in the White House Briefing Room.

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

Up first, a major campaign flood which could have serious ripple effects for Republicans, not only in their battle for Congress, but also the White House. It's all because of shocking comments made by a key GOP Senate candidate, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. In an interview, Akin used the term -- quote -- "legitimate rape" and said it rarely results in pregnancy.

He's now apologizing for the remarks, but the damage may already be done.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's joining us from Manchester right now.

The damage is very, very real. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in two separate interviews this afternoon, embattled Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said emphatically he is not getting out of this race for the U.S. Senate in Missouri despite the fact that the man who is at the top of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, has done everything today but say he should drop out of the race.

For now, this is a major distraction for the Republican ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: Well, you know, people always want to try and make that as one of those things.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In an interview with a Saint Louis TV station, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, the GOP's candidate in a hotly contested Senate race, made an explosive claim when asked whether abortion should be outlawed for rape victims.

AKIN: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

ACOSTA: Not only did his Democratic opponent pounce.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: This is not somebody we want speaking for us and our values on the floor of the United States Senate.

ACOSTA: So did Republicans. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown said Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign his nomination.

Mitt Romney took time out from campaigning in New Hampshire to denounce Akin's comments as well, saying they were insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong. But a Romney adviser says the GOP contender is not calling on Akin to drop out.

Democrats are now using the controversy to put Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, on the defensive. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted that Ryan once supported a bill in Congress that said taxpayer funds should only go to abortions for cases of incest, the life of the mother, and victims of "forcible rape."

After a public outcry, the word forcible was later dropped. But listen to how Akin explained his comments on Mike Huckabee's radio show when he vowed to stay in the race.

AKIN: Yes, I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word. Yes. And the good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter. And my belief is we're going to take this thing forward. And, by the grace of God, we're going to -- to win the race.

ACOSTA: In its first reaction to Akin's remarks, the Romney campaign stressed the GOP contender would allow for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and the mother's life, drawing a distinction from Ryan's personal views. He would only support an exception when a mother's life is on the line. Advisers say it's the Romney position that counts.

The abortion issue flared up just as the GOP campaign was touting Ann Romney as the upcoming Republican Convention's first speaker. Over the weekend, the campaign allowed a reporter to observe the couple at a Mormon service in New Hampshire. And with Ryan joining Romney on the trail, this was supposed to be a week to go on offense.

QUESTION: So, what are you going to do to combat the lies the leftists are telling about you? ROMNEY: Yes, thank you. It seems the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, in an interview this afternoon with our affiliate WMUR here in Manchester, Mitt Romney called on Akin to do what he described as best for the country. But Akin, as you have heard in these interviews this afternoon, is saying he's not dropping out of the race. He has until tomorrow to voluntarily get his name off the ballot in Missouri.

But if he misses that deadline, he will need a court order to do it before late September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The pressure is really mounting. It looks like the top leadership, without directly saying he must resign, the Republican top leadership in the Senate, including Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, they're all but throwing Akin under the bus.

But what you're saying is the same thing basically coming from the Romney/Ryan campaign, even if they're not explicitly saying he should drop out.

ACOSTA: That's right. I talked to a top Romney adviser earlier today. He said the decision is up to Todd Akin. It's not going to be something that comes from the Romney campaign.

But they are doing everything, they nudging, they're cajoling, they are urging behind the scenes for Todd Akin to get out of the race. They're just not doing it publicly and part of the reason why is that he can just simply refuse to do so, which obviously would not look good for Republican leaders like Mitt Romney. Really the ball is in Todd Akin's court at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, they're really pressuring him to see the handwriting on the wall and leave the contest, although he insists he's just begun to fight. We will see who wins this one.

Jim Acosta on the road in New Hampshire with Romney and Ryan on this day. Much more on that part of the story later.

Meanwhile, President Obama isn't missing his chance to pounce, using a surprise appearance in the White House Briefing Room not only to slam Congressman Akin's comments, but also to launch a fresh round of attacks against his archrival right now and we're talking about Mitt Romney.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She has the very latest -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

President Obama is trying to make this abortion debate relevant to his battle to remain president. No doubt he's targeting the female vote. He's doing much better with women than Mitt Romney is. But he has lost some ground with them, especially in some key states. And this is an issue that could help him shore up the female vote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me.

KEILAR (voice-over): And with that, President Obama effectively elevated the comments of a little known Missouri congressman Todd Akin and used it to cast the Republican Party as trying to butt into women's personal health decisions.

OBAMA: Although these particular comments have Governor Romney and other Republicans them to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions or qualifying forcible rape vs. non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.

KEILAR: The president was also asked about the tone of the election, specifically commenting on an inaccurate ad made by the main super PAC backing him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A short time after that, my wife became ill.

KEILAR: An ad that links Mitt Romney to the death of a steelworker's wife.

OBAMA: I don't think Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad.

KEILAR: The ad was made by the super PAC run by two former White House aides, a group President Obama personally endorsed to raise money for his reelection. But the president said he did not approve the ad and slammed the Romney campaign for another spot that has also been judged false by fact-checkers.

OBAMA: Now, in contrast, you have got Governor Romney creating as a centerpiece of his campaign this notion that we're taking the work requirement out of welfare, which every single person here who has looked at says is patently false.

KEILAR: As the Obama campaign continues to call on Romney to release more tax returns, the president said the criticism is fair game.

OBAMA: That's a precedent that was set decades ago, including by Governor Romney's father. That is what the American people would rightly expect, is a sense that particularly when we're going to be having a huge debate about how we reform our tax code and how we pay for the government that we need, I think people want to know that, you know, everybody has been playing by the same rules, including people who are seeking the highest office in the land.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: And, Wolf, President Obama said it's important that voters know everybody is playing by the same rules because of the looming tax reform debate that's ahead.

BLITZER: I know he was under a lot of pressure, growing pressure especially from journalists out there, Brianna, to finally answer reporters' questions in the White House or elsewhere, White House correspondents.

It had been a few months. But they picked a pretty good day for the president going out, with the Republicans seemingly in such trouble over this Missouri congressman's words.

KEILAR: They did. He really capitalized on it.

There had been pressure for, I would say, several days if not more so. The last time we heard from President Obama was at the G20 in Mexico in June. A lot of the questions had to do with foreign policy, not many about the economy. And certainly we haven't been able to ask him a lot of questions about the economy since some of those poorer jobs numbers have been coming in, but a pretty good day if you're looking at it for President Obama to come out.

BLITZER: Always good to see about 20 minutes of Q&A.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: We want more, though.

BLITZER: With the president. Yes, obviously, we always want more.

Thanks very, Brianna, much for that.

Let's talk about all of this with our CNN political director, Mark Preston. He's already in Tampa near the site of the Republican National Convention, which kicks off one week from today.

You're in close touch, Mark, with Republican sources, high-level sources in Tampa and elsewhere. What are you hearing about the whole Akin uproar?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, they're extremely frustrated and extremely angry.

We're a week out before Republicans will come here to Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney as their nominee and as their candidate. They feel like this is such bad timing for them. I spoke to one Republican National Committee member from a swing state who was just beside himself that this has occurred.

He said what this has done is created a situation now where the national conversation is turning back to this faux Republican war on women, which is something that Republicans don't want to deal with. It also comes at a time when the Romney campaign feels like they have turned the corner a little bit on the issue of Medicare and Paul Ryan has done a good job of beating it back.

So Mr. Akin's comments today are nothing but a distraction certainly for the Romney campaign and for taking back the Senate right now. I can tell you Senate Republicans, as Dana Bash has been reporting all day, are just besides themselves.

BLITZER: It looks like he's under enormous pressure to see the handwriting on the wall and drop out of this, although in two separate radio interviews today he says he's fighting and fighting and fighting.

What do you sense? Is he going to drop out before 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, which is the deadline before any penalties are imposed on the GOP in Missouri?

PRESTON: Well, Wolf, that is a critical time. Todd Akin would have to leave the race by 5:00 for it to be a clean break for the Republican Party.

If he doesn't, then in order for him to get off the ballot after that date, it would have to go to court. And I would tell you Republicans here in Tampa are telling me they are concerned that if that were the case, that Democrats would then challenge his removal from the ballot and that of course would put that race in jeopardy.

In addition to this right now as we sit in Tampa and they're looking ahead I can tell you the Romney campaign all day has been in contact with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Wolf, they have been trying to coordinate the message about how to ease Todd Akin out of the race without going public.

We saw some very strong words of course from Governor Romney today. But he didn't go as far as to ask him to get out. But we have heard that from some key Republicans in the party, Scott Brown being one, Ron Johnson being the other. We expect to hear more and more as the hours go on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sort of reminds me. Different circumstances. A year or so ago when then Republican Congressman Chris Lee of western New York, he sent out a picture of himself shirtless on Craigslist to some woman.

I know for a fact the speaker of the House, John Boehner, called him in and said, you're out. It's over for you, Chris Lee. And within a few hours, Chris Lee had decided he was no longer a U.S. congressman. It sounds to me like the pressure is similar as far as Akin is concerned this time.

PRESTON: It is.

It really comes down to this and it comes to numbers and simple arithmetic. If you look at Missouri right now and you talk to Republican strategists who are charting this face, they feel like they need to win Missouri if Republicans are to take back the Senate. They need to beat Claire McCaskill in that state. They thought they had that in Todd Akin. They thought they had that in any Republican if they were just able to coast into November. Claire McCaskill was down in the polls. However, now, what I'm being told by these same strategists is if Todd Akin decides to stay in the race, which he appears to be doing so right now, they think the race could be lost and it could cause Republicans to not have the ability to take back control of the Senate.

BLITZER: I'm sure Claire McCaskill, the senator, the incumbent, is hoping he stays in the race. That's now going to be a very competitive race in fact if he does. Thanks very much for that, Mark Preston, already in Tampa. We will be heading to Tampa over the weekend ourselves.

Meanwhile, skinny dipping in the Holy Sea of Galilee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no question there was a sense of lightheartedness and there were those who were drinking alcohol.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're not making this up, shocking revelations about what happened when 30 Republican lawmakers went on an important fact-finding trip to Israel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to some shocking revelations that are surfacing about a number of Republican lawmakers whose fact-finding mission turned into a public reprimand after a late night dip in one of the holiest bodies of water in the world.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has got the latest details. And this is a story when I first heard this story, I said to myself, you can't make this stuff up.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You just can't make it up. And not only that, the House Republican leadership, they have been sitting on this embarrassing story, Wolf, for more than a year. The FBI investigated to see if any congressman broke a law. But it fuels the frustration with Congress and has made a nightmare day for Republicans even worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It was the end of a hot August day last year in Israel and a long dinner with plenty of alcohol when some 20 GOP congressmen and a few aides jumped into the sea of Galilee.

Congressman David Schweikert was there for dinner, but not the swim.

REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT (R), ARIZONA: There's no question there was a sense of light-heartedness, and there were those who were drinking alcohol.

BASH: Multiple GOP sources tell CNN the episode, first reported by "Politico", turned from slightly weird to completely inappropriate when freshman GOP Congressman Kevin Yoder decided to take his clothes off and swim naked.

In a statement, Congressman Yoder tried to explain his skinny dipping escapade.

"A year ago, my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. After dinner I followed some members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit. It was my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and for any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize."

The morning after, House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the Israel but absent from the late-night swim held an emergency meeting with the 30-something lawmakers on the visit and scolded them.

SCHWEIKERT: I remember a high level of annoyance from some of the leadership.

BASH: The trip, organized and paid for by an arm of American- Israel lobbying group AIPAC had turned into a potential public relations disaster. According to multiple GOP sources, House Republican leaders were bracing for it to go public and debating damage control. Not only because of the perception of debauchery in the Holy Land but because of the timing. It was soon after a disastrous debt ceiling debate. And the same day the Dow plunged 500 points.

The fact that it came out a year later may lessen the political damage for Yoder, the skinner dipper, but maybe not for Congressman Ben Quayle. He was a swimmer and now in a GOP faceoff later this month with Congressman Schweikert, who is trying to capitalize.

SCHWEIKERT: In regards to someone like Ben Quayle and the history of bad decision-making. And let's face it, when you tie alcohol and some of the personal history there, you start to get squeamish of what may have happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: We just got a response from Congressman Quayle's campaign who said that at no time was he aware of or he witnessed misconduct. And he retired after he swam to his room. He also went after Congressman Schweikert in being opportunistic for promoting the story.

Now, I should also say, Wolf, that Congressman Quayle said he swam for spiritual reasons. I heard that from several other Republican sources. One held hands with his 21-year-old daughter and jumped in the water. Another did so with the wife because of the fact that this is where Christians believe Jesus walked on water. But, of course, because this has become a political problem, a spiritual experience has changed quite dramatically.

BLITZER: Now, a bunch of them jumped in with the underpants on, or whatever. But he was -- Yoder was the only one who went in totally naked, is that right?

BASH: That's my understanding talking to sources, including some who were there. Most of them were in the water when Congressman Yoder jumped in naked. According to one source, he -- somebody screamed, oh my gosh, he doesn't have his clothes on. The swimming quickly came to an end.

Now, you may wander what the fallout will be for Congressman Yoder.

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: Yes. Well, he's from the state of Kansas, which is a Republican state. He's past the point of a primary and he's running unopposed. So, at this point, there's not a lot of political pressure for him to step downside from the outside. We'll see if that comes from the inside --

BLITZER: It's amazing that they kept -- this was kept quiet for a whole year, a story like this.

BASH: It's unbelievable. And I can tell you, talking to a lot of Republican sources today, they were shocked themselves. There was so many people there. Not only these members of Congress, not only their aides, people around, people who are there with the group AIPAC. So they were definitely shocked.

BLITZER: I know Eric Cantor was shocked. I'm sure John Boehner, the speaker, was shocked as well. What a huge embarrassment. We'll see the fallout from this. I suspect there's going to be more.

Thanks very much, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: A check of the day's other top stories, that's coming up next.

Also, how far will the political firestorm from comments about rape and abortion from a Senate candidate extend? We're going to talk about that in today's tragedy session.

And President Obama explains why his campaign's focus on Mitt Romney's tax releases isn't, quote, "personal". You're going to hear what he had to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Augusta National Golf Club changing the controversial member policy. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on down there?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. Wolf, I know a lot of people cheering this decision. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a South Carolina businesswoman will become the first of two women to join the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club. The club is the site of the prestigious masters tournament and has been widely criticized for the all male membership policy.

Aerial spraying of insecticide is continuing in Dallas as a Texas judge has declared a state of emergency over an outbreak of West Nile virus. The disease has killed at least nine people in the area. Nationwide, at least 26 people have died after contracting the virus this year. And that is the largest spike since 2004.

And a 62-year-old woman is reportedly making good progress at her attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida. Diana Nyad has reportedly covered more than a third of the 103 mile total distance and has been in the water since Saturday afternoon. Overall, the trip is expected to take 60 hours and she's had to contend with everything from jelly fish stings and a lightning storm.

She tried this a couple of times, it was now. But for last year, hopefully, this year she'll reach her goal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Even if she doesn't, that is amazing when you think about it.

SYLVESTER: And 62 years old. I mean, that's something else. Just for her trying and attempting this, you know, hats off to her.

BLITZER: Inspiration to all of us.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks. We'll stay on top of this story as well. We hope she makes it.

Also, comments for a Republican senator candidate about rape and abortion sending ripples through the party and the presidential campaign. We're going to talk about the fallout, that's coming up in our strategy session. That's next.

And later, the comedian Rosie O'Donnell lucky to be alive after a major health scare. We're going to be joined by our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, we'll talk about it and what women can learn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's talk about what's going on, and there's a lot going on. Joining us now is the editor in chief of redstate.com and CNN contributor, Erick Erickson.

Erick, it's amazing what's going on. Let's talk about first of all about this Senate race in Missouri. Here's what the Congressman Akin originally said that got him into trouble. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something, you know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now today he was on the radio doing damage control and he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AKIN: I care deeply, you know, for the victims of people who have been raped. They're equally vulnerable. A rape is equally tragic. I made that statement in error. Let me be clear. Rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act committed by violent predators. I used the wrong words the wrong way. What I said was ill conceived and it was wrong and for that I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So that's an apology, is that enough to save him, you think or is he out?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he's probably out. If he's out by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow it becomes easy for the Republicans to replace him. After that, it becomes a legal challenge.

Look, no one thinks that Congressman Akin supports rape. I think it was a dumb statement, poorly chosen words. There are a lot of pro-lifers who believe there shouldn't be a rape exception. He is one of them.

I understand it, though. I tend to disagree myself on that particular exception. But Missouri is so important to the Republicans. You have now the National Republicans Senatorial Committee saying they don't want to the fund the race.

You've got an outside group saying get out or we're not going to fund you. I don't know given what's on the line. He doesn't want to be the guy that they point to and say because of you we lost the Senate.

BLITZER: I mean, you know, when he says the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down. If a woman is raped, what is he talking about?

ERICKSON: I don't know. I really I don't know. I know that there are pro-lifers who is believe and some doctors who say a woman, when she's raped, her body responds differently than if it's willing conception.

That's over my head and out of my league. He shouldn't have gone there. I can't explain it for him and he certainly I don't think explained it very well.

BLITZER: I mean, I think everyone from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the statements that they've been releasing, the interviews that Mitt Romney gave today and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, who is in charge of the Senate committee to elect Republicans. It's clear to me they're throwing him under the bus.

ERICKSON: You know, Todd Akin may not realize what he's looking at as the undercarriage of a bus, but that's where he is right now.

BLITZER: I mean, it's clear to me now. You tweeted this last night. I put it up on the screen at ewerickson, your Twitter handle. Todd Akin said something dumb. Claire McCaskill voted for Obamacare.

I'll take a dumb statement over a destructive vote. Explain to viewers what you're thinking then because I suspect your views evolved since that tweet.

ERICKSON: No, my views haven't evolved. I think Todd Akin made a very dumb statement. Dumb statements are salvageable. But I don't think given the pile on by the Republican Party today that he can survive this because you have an entire party throwing him under the bus.

The ads that would have come out had the Republicans try to run around him, look, he said something done and he apologized so did Joe Biden are much different from say, Mitt Romney says no way, Ron Johnson says get out.

The NRC says we're not spending any money. I would prefer Todd Akin over Claire McCaskill, but I don't think after surviving 24 hours the way it is that the voters of Missouri would choose to pick him.

BLITZER: So basically what you're saying is what he did was dumb. But voting for Obama care like Claire McCaskill did would be even dumber, is that what you're saying?

ERICKSON: Yes, I absolutely think so. I would rather the guy who opposed Obamacare than someone who supported it and that would be that Akin, McCaskill risk. I don't think he can get through the noise now to be able to make that case.

BLITZER: I suspect you're probably right. But let's bring in Donna Brazile, our Democratic political strategist. What do you think, Donna, about all of this?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I found the congressman's statements reprehensible and repulsive. I think any woman, any man, any human being, decent human being would do the right thing and apologize.

I think it's up to the Republican Party of Missouri to force him to step aside or the congressman himself. But you know, I don't think it has anything to do with Claire McCaskill and the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Akin has been a long time, you know, person who was spoken out against abortion in cases of rape and incest. So this is about a policy that I think the majority of Americans and especially women find troubling.

So this is a policy decision that he has always advocated in terms of he wants to redefine forceful rape. And I think what's even more disturbing is that Representative Paul Ryan, the new Republican vice presidential nominee has also held such positions.

So this is a policy discussion that we're having now and whether or not his statements are out of the mainstream and if the Republicans force him to resign, so be it.

BLITZER: In the past, Paul Ryan as a congressman has exposed the rape exception to justify abortion rights for women. But now he makes it clear that Mitt Romney is the number one guy out there. Mitt Romney says there should be an exemption for rape and Paul Ryan goes along with Mitt Romney. Is that not good enough, Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, look, he's flip-flopping every day because Mitt Romney has flipped flop on the issues. You know, Mitt Romney took a position on the personhood amendment.

And so you have Republicans flip-flopping all day long. I don't think they should put one Republican under the bus when we'll see tomorrow when they come out with their platform. And Erick might know what the platform says, but they've had the most extreme positions on reproductive righs.

And women I think as well as men and independent voters are opposed to these extreme views and extreme positions.

BLITZER: I would be shocked, and Erick, you know more about this than I do, if the Republican Party platform -- on abortion -- didn't mirror precisely Mitt Romney's decision.

ERICKSON: I think it probably will. I think it will mirror Ronald Reagan's. It's been the party platform since 1980. It's one thing to say the Republicans have an extreme position. But you know, the majority of Americans are pro-life.

Frankly, the Republican position hasn't changed since 1980. You know, my wife is to this the right of me on abortion. It's not a male, female issue. I'm very pro life. My wife is even more pro life than me.

BRAZILE: It's about reproductive health services and making sure women have the full range of all reproductive health services. In the case of rape and incest, of course, abortion is also part of the reproductive services that women sometimes choose if that might be the case, and in the case of their own health care needs. BLITZER: All right, the only exemption that Mitt Romney supports as far as abortion rights for women are concerned is the life of the mother. We're going to have more on this, standby, everyone standby.

President Obama is holding Mitt Romney's feet to the fire when it comes to releasing more of his tax returns as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And this is not an entitlement, being president of the United States. This is a privilege. I mean, we have to put ourselves before the American people to make our case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More with Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson coming up. But first, President Obama didn't hold back in the White House briefing room today, holding Mitt Romney's feet to the fire on a number of key issues, including his taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: When it comes to releasing taxes, that's a precedent that was set decades ago including by Governor Romney's father. And for us to say that it makes sense to release your tax returns, as I did, as John McCain did, as Bill Clinton did, as the two President Bushs did, I don't think is out of bounds.

I think that is what the American people would rightly expect is a sense that particularly when we're going to be having a huge debate about how we reform our tax code and how we pay for the government that we need.

People want to know that everybody has been playing by the same rules including people who are seeking the highest office in the land. This is not an entitlement of being president of the United States, this is a privilege and we got to put ourselves before the American people to make our case.

There is a difference being claim by the same sets of rules and doing something illegal. In no way have we suggested the latter. But the first disclosure, the one year tax returns indicate they disclosed indicated that he used Swiss bank accounts, for example.

Well, it may be perfectly legal, but I suspect if you ask the average American do you have one, and is that how you manage your tax obligations? They would say no. They would find that relevant information.

Particularly going into a time when we know we have to make tough choices both about spending and about taxes so I think the idea that this is somehow acceptable.

That there should be a rational or justification for doing more than the bare minimum has it back words. The assumption should be you do what previous presidential candidates did dating back for decades.

And Governor Romney's own dad says, well, the reason I put out 10 or 12 years is because any single year might not tell you the whole story. And everybody has followed the custom ever since.

The American people assume that in you want to be the president of the United States, that your life is an open book, when it comes to things like your finances.

I'm not asking to disclose every detail of his medical records, although, we normally do that as well. You know. I mean, this is sort not overly personal.

This is pretty standard stuff. I don't think we are being mean by asking you to do what every other presidential candidate has done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So the president is there repeating his stance on Mitt Romney's tax returns, but will this issue go away? We're going to talk about that.

We'll get reaction to the president's comments and more, part two of our "Strategy Session" with Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson that's coming up next.

Later, we're learning that the comedian Rosie O'Donnell is lucky to be alive after a heart attack.

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BLITZER: Let's get to part two of our "Strategy Session." Once again, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile is here, and the editor in chief of redstate.com, and also a CNN contributor, Erick Erickson is here.

Donna, first to you, the president once again saying to Mitt Romney release your tax returns. I suspect that's not going to happen. But the president sees this obviously as a good source of pressure, if you will, on the GOP.

BRAZILE: Why not, Wolf? Like he said, like the president said earlier today, most presidential candidates do this. They don't question the American people.

I agree with the president's campaign manager, Jim Messina. Five years, five years should be enough. Mitt Romney has been running for president for five years. He should release five years and earn the trust of the American people.

BLITZER: As you know, Erick, no shortage of Republicans who want Romney to release more of those tax returns as well. But, you know, he's made it clear he's not doing more than two years. ERICKSON: Yes, that actually surprises me, but this is what he wants to do. One of the reasons he doesn't want to do it is because whatever is in there, no matter how legitimately the tax code is applied to, no matter how much he's paid in taxes.

They'll find something to attack him and try to distract from the economy, distract from the Medicare issues, distract him from the issues the Democrats don't want to talk about.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Sea of Galilee. A congressional delegation a year ago is in Israel. A few of the members, they go into the Sea of Galilee. One Republican member from Kansas actually goes in naked to the Sea of Galilee.

You tweeted this, Erick and you're pretty outspoken on this. Were these Democrats, we would be out to get them. We should not surrender our intellectual honesty just because they are Republicans. So what do you want to happen?

ERICKSON: You know, I think at least they need to go away for a while. Put the head under a paper bag if not, just leave. Look, if they were Democrats, you would have every Republican in Washington calling for their heads.

I'm not willing to sacrifice intellectual honesty and say this isn't a story. These are American legislators, going to Israel, getting into the Sea of Galilee, drinking, partying, whatever.

It's an embarrassing. It's not embarrassing as a Republican. It's embarrassing as an American that these guys were ill behaved. You know, hats off to the House Republicans.

You have 30 guys that can keep a secret for a year, which is better than the national security agencies have been doing lately.

BLITZER: Because Eric Cantor who is in charge of that delegation to Israel, he reprimanded them the next morning.

ERICKSON: And they should have been. And they should have come clean then that this happened instead of waiting for the media to leak it out a year. It's embarrassing behavior. I'm not willing to give my party a pass on it.

BLITZER: What about you, Donna? Because if these were all Republicans who were behaving inappropriately at the Sea of Galilee in Israel.

But you all know there are Democrats who behave inappropriately from time to time including some former members of Congress like Anthony Weiner.

BRAZILE: Look, there's a reason why the Congress approval rating is as low as it is right now. But the truth of the matter, Wolf, I've been to Israel on numerous occasions sponsored by the same organization that sponsored those members of Congress, the Education Foundation for APEC. In fact, I'm going to do an APEC event here tonight in Atlanta. I think it's a very spiritual site, a very holy site. The fact that they were out there drinking and partying and skinny dipping or whatever you want to call it, it's just embarrassing.

Erick is right. It's embarrassing, but it's outrageous as well.

BLITZER: And you believe if these had been Democratic lawmakers, Donna, they would still be in Congress? What would have happened?

BRAZILE: Well, I'm sure Miss Pelosi and Mr. Hardy would have rebuked them as well like Mr. Cantor and Mr. McCarthy did. But seriously, I mean, I really do think that members of Congress need to take a chill pill and take a look at their approval ratings and really start representing the American people better especially when they travel overseas.

BLITZER: This is why so many people in the United States where the last CNN poll only 10 percent have a favorable image of Congress right now. I keep asking myself, who are the 10 percent?

ERICKSON: Look, and Donna is right. The Democrats would have done what the Republicans have done. And the sad fact is that both parties will rally around their side and keep them in Congress, but you know, we could use a little more maturity with $16 trillion in national debt.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly can. All right, guys, Erick, Donna, guys, thanks very, very much.

A train collapse in Toronto leaves the electrical wires draped across a bus, passengers stranded inside. We'll let you know what's going on.

And in Maryland, a bus careens out of control and crashes into a house. We'll update you on that story as well.

And we'll also tell you some very sad news coming out of Los Angeles, where a legend of comedy has died.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A construction crane collapses to a busy Toronto street. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, in Toronto, the collapse of a mobile construction crane knocked down utility poles and briefly stranded more than 20 passengers on a nearby bus, draped with electrical wires.

Police say the passengers have now all exited the bus safely. The crane operator was also trapped in his cabin for a short while. And according to local news reports, he's now been taken now to a nearby hospital.

And another financial record for Apple, the tech giant has now become the most valuable publicly owned company in history, as the company's stock hit new highs in Wall Street trading today.

The overall capitalization of Apple reached $623 billion, and that eclipse the previous record set by Microsoft back in 1999 at the height of the dot-com bubble.

And take a look at these pictures from Silver Spring, Maryland. According to local news reports, as many as nine people were injured when a public bus went out of control in a neighborhood, veering across two separate lawns before crashing into a house. Fortunately, none of the injuries are life threatening. Police are now investigating what caused this crash.

We're sad to report comedian, Phyllis Diller, died this morning at her home in Los Angeles. Diller was a staple of nightclubs and televisions in the 1950s and 60s often appearing beside Bob Hope on TV specials.

She was known for her sharp tongue, her self-deprecating humor and trademark cackling laugh. Her long time manager said she died peacefully in her sleep.

The cause of death was not released. Phyllis Diller was 95 years old. And I've been reading reports, Wolf, that they say that her son, Perry, found her this morning and she had a smile on her face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our deepest condolences.