Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Defiant Republican Congressman Still in Senate Race; Interview With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus; Women Could Be Key to Race for White House; "A Bit Of An Overreaction"; Akin Defiant: I Can Win; Top General's Plane Damaged In Rocket Attack; Ecuador Slams Britain Over Embassy Threat; "Fifty Shades" Gives Boost To Barnes & Noble; Two Killed In Horrifying Train Derailment

Aired August 21, 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 HOST: Happening now: The clock ticks inside the GOP, as Republicans try to contain the surging political firestorm ignited by two words, "legitimate rape."

With a critical deadline only two hours away, can the party convince Todd Akin to drop out of a race they can't afford to lose?

Also, just days before the Republican Convention, Republicans approve a tough new platform against abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Will it cause even more turmoil for the party? I'll ask the Republican chairman, Reince Priebus. He will join us live this hour.

Team Romney plow full speed ahead, making every effort to rise above all the political noise. Paul Ryan is getting ready to speak live. We're going to bring you some of that once it happens.

And later, the vice president, Joe Biden, will be speaking live on the campaign trail as well. We will go there live as well. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The embattled Missouri Congressman Todd Akin defiant this hour, resisting deafening calls inside his party to drop out of a key Senate race in the wake of his explosive legitimate rape comments. Akin has since apologized for the remarks, even asking voters for forgiveness in a new ad. But it hasn't stopped the backlash. It's only intensifying.

And Republicans only have two hours left to change his mind. At that point getting out of the race becomes much more complicated.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got the very latest.

This is a fast-moving story, Dana. The clock is ticking.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The clock is ticking, but it's not pushing Todd Akin at all to step aside. He went on a friendly forum radio show today, to put it bluntly, Mike Huckabee's radio show, and he made clear despite this pressure he's not going anywhere. Listen. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: It does seem just misspoke one word and one sentence on one day. I hadn't done anything that was morally or ethically wrong, as sometimes people in politics do.

We do a lot of talking. And to get a word in the wrong place, you know, that's not a good thing to do or to hurt anybody that way. But it does seem like a little bit of an overreaction.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BASH: So he's calling this an overreaction. Republicans across the spectrum, leaders here in Washington, some real heavyweights in Missouri today, the current Republican senator from Missouri, four former Republican senators, they are really closing ranks even more than they did yesterday to say, get out.

He's impervious to it. And I just got an e-mail from somebody who was in touch with his campaign saying -- I asked whether or not in these two hours he will voluntarily back out. The answer was probably not, but we will see what the days ahead hold.

BLITZER: Our chief national correspondent John King is here as well. And there's other breaking news on this front within these final two hours just coming in.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As we came on the air, a statement from the Romney campaign.

He said: "As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the interest of our country." But he added this, and Dana just noted all the Missouri Republican heavyweights saying, Mr. Akin, get out of the race. Mitt Romney added "Today his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside. I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."

You have the nominee to be of the Republican Party, essentially the new leader of the Republican Party, Governor Mitt Romney, saying get out. Why? Because he thinks it hurts the party's chances for the Senate and guess what? He thinks it could hurt his chances as well.

BLITZER: That's a dramatic development. Dana, when you have Mitt Romney telling this Republican senatorial candidate in Missouri it's over, just do it, get out and you have got Tea Party leaders, you got conservatives, you got conservative radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and others saying it's over, why is he resisting all of that?

BASH: It's his way. This is somebody who the Republican Party didn't really want at all to be their nominee to run against Claire McCaskill in the first place.

They thought others would be better and more able to be victorious. So he is somebody who has long been sort of resistant to the establishment. But I think it is important to underscore that it isn't just now Mitt Romney's who's being even more blunt or Mitch McConnell, the guy how is now the minority leader, wants to be majority leader, also coming out today saying he believes sorry is not sufficient. This is just not enough. He's got to step aside.

It's Tea Party leaders. It's talk radio hosts. It is grassroots Republicans on a national level saying that they are trying to take the long view. And the long view is if he's in, they don't get the Senate seat, they don't get the majority probably in the Senate. And what are we going to talk about going into the convention?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: This is the last thing the Republicans want. It hurts their brand. And certainly only days before the convention it hurts the Romney ticket, if you will. You have been looking at this.

KING: Mitt Romney needs to talk about jobs, he needs to talk about the economy, he needs to talk about the size and scope of the federal government. He needs to say President Obama has had three- and-a-half years going on four years and he's failed.

Instead, what are we talking about? Why does this matter? Wolf, close presidential elections are won in the suburbs in America and there are a lot of suburban women who are pro-choice on abortion who probably agree with President Obama more than Mitt Romney on issues like same-sex marriage, but they are open to voting for less taxes and smaller government.

Let's look at some numbers. Our most recent poll shows a dead heat among suburban women, Obama 48, Romney 49. That's not good enough. Mitt Romney cannot win the presidency like that. Let's go back in time and I will show you why. In 2008 John McCain actually carried suburban women nationally by four points, 51 to 47.

And he lost in a blowout. Look what you had to do. George Bush carried them by 12 points nationally to win in 2004. Look at two very important states. Here's Colorado. John McCain wins suburban women by 11 points in 2008. Still loses the state.

Why? Look what George Bush did. He beat John Kerry by 16 points. Look at Ohio, where the president of the United States is today, perhaps the decisive state in this election, essentially a dead heat between Obama and McCain in the ultimate swing state about suburban women.

Look at Bush-Kerry. George W. Bush wins by five points, he wins the state, he wins the presidency. This is normally in a 50/50 race like 2004 was, a very competitive race, suburban women are the deciders. Mitt Romney has a problem.

BLITZER: If he stubbornly stays in this after 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, 5:00 p.m. Central, Dana, it becomes a lot more complex for the Republicans.

BASH: It does become more complex. But those polling numbers are a great illustration of why Republican sources I'm talking to say no matter what happens with this particular race, Republicans were so swift to distance themselves from what Akin said, wanted to make clear to suburban women and to other independent voters, people still on the fence that this guy is an outlier. He doesn't speak for the Republican Party, doesn't speak for Mitt Romney, he doesn't speak for Mitch McConnell and that they don't support the things he was saying about rape and so forth.

BLITZER: We have called him and we have invited him to join us in the next two hours. See if he makes a call. If he wants to join us, he's more than welcome. We will talk to him and get his last words before the 6:00 p.m. Eastern deadline.

Guys, thanks very, very much. We will stand by for breaking news if it happens on that front.

Meanwhile, abortion is now center stage in the battle for the White House only a week before the start -- less than a week I should say before the start of the Republican Convention. Republicans have just approved a tough new platform against the politically charged issue. And there are concerns there could be some fallout for Mitt Romney.

Let's get the latest. Our CNN political reporter, Peter Hamby, he first broke the story of the Republican abortion platform stance for CNN.

What is the very latest on this sensitive subject, Peter?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Wolf. The entire Republican universe is trying to run away from this issue, but it's the only story really coming out of Tampa today.

Basically what's happening just a few feet from me is the Republican platform committee is meeting. Those are the folks charged with drafting where the party stands on a lot of hot button issues and some more tame issues. But in a case of unfortunate timing for the Republican Party, it happened that today was the day they were going to talk about abortion and draft language for what the party stands for on abortion.

This is what they approved in a meeting just a little while ago here in Tampa. Among other things, they said -- quote -- "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."

That's basically approving constitutional ban on abortion. And what's key here, what's missing is any language about exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother. The Romney campaign has said if he becomes president, he would create an exception for abortion in cases of rape.

So it runs a little bit counter, Wolf, to what delegates here who represent the Republican base have drafted into the party platform here in Tampa, the same party that Romney is going to be the official head of when he assumes the nomination next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Mitt Romney's position is he does support exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Until recently, Paul Ryan, the vice presidential candidate, only accepted exceptions, exemptions for life of the mother. But now he's on board with what Romney is saying, obviously, as the vice presidential candidate.

This language, the final language that you just read, it's very similar if not identical to what was approved, what, four and eight years ago, is that right?

HAMBY: Yes. Exactly right.

This is not new. In 2008 the language was strikingly similar, 2004 and 2000. Basically going back to the '70s the Republican Party has called itself pro-life and enshrined that in the party platform. Again, what makes this different is it comes at the exact moment the Republican Party is grappling with the issue of abortion and doesn't want to be talking about this.

They want to be talking about education, welfare reform, jobs, like John King said, to appeal to those suburban swing female voters in places like Richmond and Denver and Cleveland and right here in Tampa, Wolf.

It's a case of unfortunate timing for them that this is staying in the headlines.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Now, you're there with a lot of Republicans already gathering in Tampa for the convention. What has been the fallout in terms of word of mouth from the whole Todd Akin legitimate rape story?

HAMBY: It's a lot of face-palming here in Tampa, Wolf.

Every time you talk to a Republican official or Republican delegate here, it's just a lot of grimacing and head-shaking. What you have been hearing out of officials in Washington, it's basically pretty similar, that they think if Todd Akin stays in the Senate race in Missouri, they will lose that race and by extension probably lose a chance to take over the Senate next year.

I was just walking out here and went down an escalator, passed one Republican delegate here who looked at me and said what's the headline? And I told them Todd Akin. It's all anybody here can talk about. But the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, who you will talk to a bit later, has warned Todd Akin that he should stay far, far away from Tampa. This is not what they want to be talking about next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: And very quickly, what about the other big issues that have been discussed as far as the platform committee is concerned? These are sensitive subjects as well.

HAMBY: They are.

What's interesting, Wolf, is the RNC, the Republican National Committee is sort of running this process. But the Romney campaign and top advisers from the Romney campaign are in the room kind of massaging some of these more sensitive topics through.

Most things have sailed through without much debate. For instance, the abortion platform was only talked about for two minutes at most. However, one thing that jumped out at me was the debate over same-sex marriage.

One younger delegate, she said she was 31 years old, wanted to insert language that the Republican Party would endorse same-sex civil unions. That sort of drew some groans from people in the audience and it was rejected soundly by a voice vote after Jim Bopp, a Romney adviser, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, some leading social conservatives, spoke out against anything even close to same-sex civil union.

So it appears the Republican Party won't go there and probably won't for a while, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Peter Hamby on the scene for us in Tampa. We will be heading down over the weekend, the full team. Thank you.

The Republicans are in full damage control right now. Just ahead, I will ask the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, about the latest efforts to get Todd Akin out of that Missouri race.

Also, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, expected to take the stage at a rally just a little bit -- a little while from now. When it happens, we will go there live.

And a horrific train derailment not far from Washington, D.C. -- we're getting new information about what happened and the two women who died.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The furor over Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments about rape and abortion this week certainly has been spilling over to the presidential campaign. Both candidates are sensitive to how the issue may impact women voters, a group that some strategists believe may determine who wins the White House in November.

Our Lisa Sylvester has been digging into the story for us.

Lisa , what do you find out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, in every presidential race, there's a key demographic. And we have seen the year of the soccer women, the NASCAR dad. And this year really seems that it is a year of the women -- both candidates vying to win over female voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): President Obama courting women for their vote in Colorado.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century.

SYLVESTER: In New York, addressing thousands of women bloggers.

OBAMA: You women should have control over the decisions that affect your health, your lives, your careers.

SYLVESTER: And in campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Mitt Romney's really out of touch with the average woman's health issues.

SYLVESTER: Democrats are tapping out a consistent drum beat that Republicans are a bad choice for women. Three words heard repeatedly, the so-called "war on women". Democrats point to Rush Limbaugh and comments he made about women's activist Sandra Fluke over the access to contraception.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK HOST: It makes her a slut, right?

SYLVESTER: They highlight proposed GOP funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and a call for a constitutional ban on abortion.

And the outrageous statements of Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin plays right into it.

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You already have a lot of women voters outraged at what the candidate's comments were. You already have a lot of Democrats basically saying they're not going to let voters forget about these comments.

SYLVESTER: The women's vote matters. President Obama is leading 53 percent to Romney's 44 percent among registered female voters. According to exit polls, Mr. Obama had 56 percent of the women's vote in 2008.

The Romney campaign is firing back bringing out its strongest weapon in the fight for women's votes, portraying the candidate as a loving, devoted family man.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I will say that for me it's so comforting to know that mitt is always by my side and always sticks with me in the hardest times.

SYLVESTER: Republicans dismiss the talk of a war on women as pure campaign rhetoric. They say when voters go to the polls what they really care about, those pocketbook issues.

Hadley Heath (ph) is with the Independent Women's Forum, a Republican political advocacy group.

UNIDENTIFIED FEFMALE: They're concerned they don't have a lot of opportunities to be promoted or find other job opportunities. So, Jobs, jobs, jobs. I can't say it enough. Women are just as concerned as men about the direction of the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: So going forward, we can expect a couple story lines, Ann Romney to continue to play a much more visible role on the campaign trail and expect Democrats especially after the Akin controversy to keep trying to win over women particularly focusing on those moderate, those in the middle and those independent women, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.

Let's go to Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate right now. He's speaking live at a campaign stop in Westchester, Pennsylvania.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Next time you hear about President Obama, tell him to keep his hands off of Medicare.

Next time you look at your paycheck, take a look at your payroll taxes. It's a helicopter museum. We're going to have helicopters flying around.

Take a look at your payroll taxes. Those are supposed to go to two programs, Social Security and Medicare. And now because of the president they're being siphoned off to partially pay for Obamacare too. And we're going to stop that from happening.

(APPLAUSE)

We're not just going to talk about how the other guys have failed. We're not just going to talk about the miserable record of failed leadership by President Obama. We're going to offer you solutions. We're going to come together with ideas that get this economy growing and get us back on track.

(APPLAUSE)

Let me give you five right now. Of all places, Pennsylvania, Marcellus shale. We have energy in this country -- let's use the energy in this country.

(CHEERS & APPLAUSE)

All of it -- coal, shale, oil, gas, nuclear, renewable, all of the above, that creates jobs. That's one idea that gets people off the unemployment line and into good paying jobs like working on the Keystone Pipeline.

(CHEERS & APPLAUSE)

And we've seen how people are hurting. We have seen how big manufacturers have left our towns. That's the experience in my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. So when people have this happened to them, we need to have a system -- good educational skills, job training benefits to help them get the skills they need to get back on their feet and back into a career in the 21st century. That's incredibly crucial to getting people back to work and back on their feet so they can realize their vision of the American Dream.

(APPLAUSE)

We also need to make more things in America. We need to grow more things in America. And that means we need to have trade that works for America so that we hold those countries that are not playing fairly with us to account, China comes to mind.

But let's make sure that we get agreements that work for us so we can make more things and sell them overseas and create good jobs here.

(APPLAUSE)

Another area that is putting a huge drag on our economy, something I spent a lot of my time working on. And it's a really simple proposal. We got to stop spending money we just don't have.

(CHEERS & APPLAUSE)

We have to cut spending. We've got to get this budget deficit under control, this debt under control.

Not only is this debt crisis looming on our horizon, not only is our future on the current path one just like Europe is happening. It affects our jobs today, but it gives our children without a shadow of a doubt a diminished future. It lowers standard of living.

You know, my dad used to always tell me, in this country, every generation, every generation fixes its problems so that its kids are better off. We -- it's our duty to save the American dream for our children and their children.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, you take a look at some of the things the president's been saying over the years and occasionally he drops his guard. He sort of lowers the veil and we sort of see what's going on in his mind. We see the philosophy of government that he has.

You remember Joe the plumber? So this is about four years ago he said we needed to spread the wealth around. It's this belief that the economy is a fixed pie. That there's just only so much money and that it's the government's job to redistribute the slices as the government sees fit.

That's not how the free economy works. That's not free enterprise. Our job is to grow the pie so everybody can get a bigger slice of the pie. That's what growth and opportunity and upward mobility are all about.

BLITZER: The Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on the stump as you see him right there in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania clearly an important battleground state.

By the way, in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern Hour, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, he'll be in a rally in Minnesota. We're also going to go there live once he starts speaking. Standby for that as well.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, he's already in Tampa getting ready for the big Republican convention that opens up on Monday. We'll speak with Reince Priebus right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Todd Akin is not only resisting calls to get out of a major Senate race after his controversial comments about so-called legitimate rape. He's going one step further, suggesting the backlash may be going overboard. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

AKIN: It does seem just -- misspoke one word in one sentence on one day. I hadn't done anything that was morally or ethically wrong as sometimes people in politics do. We do a lot of talking and to get a word in the wrong place, you know, that's not a good thing to do or to hurt anybody that way. But it does seem like a little bit of an overreaction.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. He's joining us now live from Tampa.

Reince, thanks very much for coming in.

Are you overreacting? Because you want him to go away.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I think he should step aside. I mean, here's the deal -- the unique situation here though is not just somebody who said somebody that's biologically stupid, but it's somebody who said something at a time when we can actually replace him on the ticket in a real legal way that is going to be a stronger candidate than what Todd Akin is going to be.

I mean, he's got no one to blame but himself. He's put himself in a weaker position. And we have a legal avenue now that we can put someone in his place that's going to be stronger. I mean, that's what we're talking about.

What he said is ridiculous and bizarre, but we have a chance to not continue down this pathway of having this major distraction in that Senate seat.

BLITZER: What specifically are you referring to when you say it was biologically ridiculous or stupid? What part of his comment is ridiculous?

PRIEBUS: Well, you know what I meant. Everything, I mean, come on. I mean, the idea that legitimate and rape could be together in the same sentence is a problem. And so there's no part of it that makes any sense.

It doesn't fly with us in the Republican Party. It doesn't fly with me. And I've taken it even a step further, Wolf, and I've suggested that he ought to stay away from the national convention as well.

BLITZER: Because the part that was ridiculous and stupid more even than no exceptions for rape and incest, there are a lot of people who want to support -- who oppose abortion rights in any circumstance with the exception of life of the mother, for example.

But the part that he suggested that the woman somehow has some sort of biological clock inside that if she is raped, she could control whether or not she becomes pregnant.

That was so stupid as far as every doctor I've discussed this over the past 24 hours with. That was ridiculous. To me that was even, you know, more ridiculous than the other part of a legitimate rape, if you will.

PRIEBUS: Well, both of it is crazy talk. But, I mean the fact of the matter is, you know, these types of things are beyond just mistakes.

And I think we've been very clear as a party that if you're that off base, not just off message -- being off message is one thing. Being completely, you know, in another world is another thing. And I just don't understand it.

I'm not going to try to figure it out anymore. The fact of the matter is we've got about an hour and a half to convince him that he ought to step aside and really put your country first and give someone an opportunity in this race that's going to have a better chance of winning.

I think we can all agree that we can do that. We were fortunate in this particular Senate race to have a lot of good candidates. I'm not saying that's the pool you'd have to choose from.

But obviously Steelman and Bruiner, you know, they were good candidates as well. We can win this seat and Mr. Akin can make it a lot easier for us and I think better for this country and the causes that we believe in if he would step aside and let someone else fill that hole. BLITZER: He may be watching you right now. Walk us through what may happen in the next less than 90 minutes or so until that 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Central, deadline occurs.

Mitt Romney has now directly said he should step aside, Mitch McConnell, conservative radio talk show host including Rush Limbaugh, everyone seems to be on board including the Tea Party Express, what else can you do between now and 6:00 p.m. Eastern?

PRIEBUS: Well, actually Mitt Romney did say just recently within the last hour that I will tell you that Mr. Akin ought to listen to the advice that we're giving him. The nominee of our party is being very clear.

I will tell you, Wolf, that Mitt Romney led the charge. I mean, when Mitt Romney came out very strongly yesterday, we followed suit. And so I think he showed a lot of leadership in doing this.

Well, what's happening now is I'm assuming many people are talking to him. And, you know, it is ultimately up to him. However, I hope that he understands and puts a few things together in his head.

That if we don't get this thing straight in the next hour and a half, he puts our party in a worse situation there in Missouri and we want to win that seat. And you know, his comments are just over the top and something that we're not going to stand around and just blow off.

BLITZER: So if he stubbornly says, you know what, the Republican primary, they elected me. I'm going to listen to the people of Missouri and he stays in this race, can he win? Can he beat Claire McCaskill?

PRIEBUS: That will be pretty tough to do without any money.

BLITZER: Will the RNC suspend any campaign fundraising for him?

PRIEBUS: Yes. I mean, we're not going to send any money toward that race or spend money on the ground in that particular race. We're obviously going to work very hard for a nominee in Missouri up and down the ticket, congressional seats.

But I've already called off the phone banks and all of the volunteers for Congressman Akin's race there. So it's up to him. He's got an hour and a half and it's up to him. I think he ought to do the right thing for this country and get out of the race.

But we'll see what happens. But otherwise, no, we're not going to spend money in his race in Missouri.

BLITZER: And basically walk away from that race. Well, what do you think? Give me your ballpark guess right now. Have you directly spoken to him? Have you called him? Do you plan on doing it in the next less than 90 minutes?

PRIEBUS: Well, yes. I mean, I've left a message for him. I haven't talked to him, Wolf. I'll tell you that, but I know a lot of people have. And he's been watching what's going on. Some of his inner circles are talking to him.

We just got to hope that he does the right thing and he understands what's at stake and how his comments have affected this race. And really what's better for this country.

And, you know, I heard the clips that he was -- these are comments that in multiple cases in that same phrase and sentence that he used that just don't make a whole lot of sense and really don't square with either the party.

And I think the American people at all. So, I mean, it's jut -- it's too off base, Wolf, to sit around and allow this stuff to go on.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people, I think everybody in your party agrees with you on this. Claire McCaskill on the other hand, she would like him to stay in this race. But let's see what happens by 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Reince, if you can stay with us, I want to continue this conversation. Prod it a little bit into the presidential race. I want to take a quick break. Standby for a moment. You're in Tampa.

I know the clouds are getting a little ominous out there. But if you have a few minutes, I want to continue this conversation. Is that all right with you?

PRIEBUS: I don't know if I've got time for that, Wolf. We're just stacked up and we came on late because you put on the great Ryan comments who we love. I think it kind of backed us up. So, I'd be happy to come on another day, but I'm not sure we can just keep ongoing here.

BLITZER: All right, well, that's fair enough. All right, so we'll do it tomorrow or Thursday or Friday. We'll have you back. You're in Tampa, right?

PRIEBUS: It's fun. I can be on your show for 10 days here, Wolf. We're OK.

BLITZER: I'll be down there as of Saturday myself. All right, maybe we'll continue this conversation tomorrow. Get inside. I know it's going to rain over there. You got a lot of other stuff going on. Thanks very much.

PRIEBUS: All right, thank you, wolf. There you go. There's the thunder.

BLITZER: Yes, I can hear it. Todd Akin, by the way, is vowing to stay in this race for the Senate. Can he still win? Will he drag down the whole Republican Party? We'll discuss those questions. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Hilary Rosen and the Republican strategist, also a CNN contributor, Alex Castellanos. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Reince Priebus, did you see how tough he was on Todd Akin? Saying he's got what now about 80 minutes before he should drop out of the Senate race. He was very blunt saying if he stays in, no money is going to his campaign.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What a great chairman Reince Priebus has turned out to be. What people hate about politics is all the milly mouth stuff. He just calls them like he sees them.

I think the message was very clear. The only thing worse for the Republican Party than Akin staying in this race is Akin staying in and winning because he'd be a ball and chain around this Republican Party, the Republican brand.

He'd limit the number of people we'd attract to the party. It's not who we are. If he cares at all about the causes he's fought for over the years turning this economy around, he would step down.

BLITZER: This morning he released an ad he says he's going to put up on television in Missouri. Let me play a little clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. The fact is rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what do you think? Is that going to sway voters in Missouri? Is that going to convince anyone that what he said was basically just a mistake, an honest mistake?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Here's what I think, I think all of this republican bashing of Congressman Akin when he holds exactly the same policy view, not what he said about that stupid thing about rape, but he holds the same policy view.

He's against abortion in the case of rape, in the case of incest, even in the case when the mother's life is threatened as every Republican on the platform committee just voted for yesterday.

And Mitt Romney is going to the nominating convention to support. So the idea that all of these people are saying that's not us, that we're different, we don't believe any of that, over 200 members of the House believe exactly the same thing he believes.

BLITZER: But if he would have just said that, Alex, if he would have just said what Hilary just said, that would have been one thing. But then he goes onto say that there's a biological evidence that if a woman is raped, she can't get pregnant. And he used the phrase legitimate rape. That's obviously ridiculous.

CASTELLANOS: Wolf, that's where I disagree with Hilary. You know, people for religious reasons may think it's a human life. If it's a human life, OK, you don't make -- you make the rapist pay.

I would understand that. I would disagree with it, but I would understand that. That's not what he said. What Akin said was that somehow, you know, only women who welcome rape, the -- she really wants it crowd.

They can't get pregnant. That's just a view that no one holds. I mean, he must have never been to biology class. That is what I think disqualifies him from this.

ROSEN: But yesterday, Mitt Romney all of a sudden said, well, Ryan and I are now going to be for abortion in the case of rape. Of course, when he was running in the primary he said something different.

Paul Ryan has always said something different. The Republican platform says something different. The Republicans will say anything they can to try and get away from this conversation --

CASTELLANOS: Come on. On occasion even --

ROSEN: -- about the impact on women's lives and how women voters are going to reject men making these decisions whether they're ill- spoken or stupidly spoken or smartly spoken and simply clear but discriminatory.

CASTELLANOS: The next few days we're going to see how the Republican Party and the ticket handle this. If they handle it with strength, if Mitt Romney continues to say what he said, which is this is unacceptable --

ROSEN: Which time?

CASTELLANOS: -- you're interrupting. It's an old joke, Wolf. If he handles it in strength, it could actually help him. Because what he'll do is he'll push off extreme in the party and push himself toward the middle. If he displays weakness, it could hurt especially with women voters.

BLITZER: What do you think between now and 6:00 p.m. Eastern? Is he in or out?

CASTELLANOS: It looks like he's in, Wolf. His campaign managers, his sons, his wife, he's not getting good advice.

ROSEN: Every Republican who would replace him would vote the exact same way he would.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens, guys. We're counting down to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Appreciate it very much. A deadly train derailment. What we're now learning about what happened and the two women who were killed.

Also, President Obama mocks Mitt Romney when it comes to education. Standby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's quickly check some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

The plane that carried Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey to Afghanistan for an unannounced visit was hit by shrapnel from rocket fire today while on the ground at the Bagram Air field outside Kabul.

A spokesman says Dempsey was in his room at the time of the incident and quote, "not in any danger." He says two maintenance personnel were slightly wounded.

Ecuador's president is lashing out at British authorities over suggestions they may enter the Ecuadoran embassy in London to arrest Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

The Ecuador leader says that would be in his words suicidal. The comments come after a letter from the British Foreign Office cited a little known law that could suspend the embassy's diplomatic protection. Assange is taking refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex crime allegations.

Sales of the racy "50 Shades of Grey" trilogy helped the country's largest bookstore chain boost its bottom line and beat Wall Street expectations in the second quarter. Sales at Barnes & Noble stores climb 2 percent to $1.1 billion. The company CEO says "50 Shades" books clearly had the biggest impact on the numbers.

Some of the top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, another story we're following, a deadly train derailment. What we're now learning about what happened and the two young women who were killed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our horrific train derailment not far from Washington, D.C. Our own Brian Todd is getting some dramatic new information about the two young women who died.

Brian is joining us now live. What's going on over there? What happened, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the scene of the derailment. They just turned this car not right side up, but removed it from the track. It's upside down. They're in the process of turning some of these cars right side up.

Total of 20 cars derailed from an 80-some-car train. Over here, you can see of the cars, they are still on their sides over there, all of them or most of those were carrying coal.

We do have new information about this derailment and the two young ladies who died. They're identified both as 19 years old from Ellicott City. One of them, Elizabeth Nass and the other, Rose Mayer, both attended college, going into their junior years of college we're told.

According to Howard County Police, the information we're getting here is that both of them were sitting on a ledge on a bridge on a Tressel Bridge just over there over my left shoulder facing that direction, facing away from the tracks.

Just after midnight the train apparently crossed just behind -- a few feet behind them with their backs to the train. This is according to the Howard County Police. At that point, and police say this is an unknown reason, the train derailed and several just huge volume of coal dumped from the train.

And that's how these young ladies were killed. They were hit with coal that dumped from the train. Now, what is not clear at this point is whether the presence of the two young women on the ledge on that bridge right by that track just a few feet away from it whether the presence of the two young women actually caused the derailment.

The NTSB investigator on the scene, Jim Southworth, could not answer that question a few minutes ago. Here's what he did have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SOUTHWORTH, NTSB INVESTIGATOR: We're looking into the maintenance of the tracks, the maintenance of the equipment, the maintenance of the locomotives, everything you can think of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, a couple of clues that we may be getting as far as timelines and other things, there were tweets that we strongly believe these young ladies sent out right before the accident. One of them just had the word levitating by a picture of two pairs of feet dangling over a bridge.

You can see a road underneath the two pairs of feet dangling. That is from the young lady who we believe is Rose Mayer. That's a tweet we believe is from her. Another tweet around the same time, looking down on old E.C., that stands for Ellicott City.

We believe that is a tweet again from Rose Mayer and another tweet we believe from Rose Mayor, this is just text, drinking on top of Ellicott City sign, not clear exactly where that sign is.

I've been asking people here on the scene if that sign is on the other side of that bridge facing Ellicott City that way, maybe where the young ladies were sitting. Not clear from investigators on the scene.

And we are now not allowed to get anywhere near that sign. The scene of the investigation, Wolf, just over my left shoulder here just beyond these overturned cars.

BLITZER: I know you're on the scene and you'll be joining us again in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour with more information, Brian. Thanks very much.

Other news we're following including a tropical depression that's moving across the Atlantic right now. It could pose a threat to the west coast of Florida next week. Does the Republican National Committee have contingency plans for the Tampa convention?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)