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THE SITUATION ROOM
Weakened Dam Forces Evacuations; Did Paul Ryan Play Loose With The Facts?; Interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan; Mitt Romney's Religion
Aired August 30, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, I'm here at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. It's the most crucial moment of Mitt Romney's political career so far. The stage has been set. Now, he must convince Americans that he is the person they should put in the White House. I'll talk this hour with his running mate, Paul Ryan. He'll join me live here in Tampa.
And Isaac grinds his way inland even as it keeps drenching the Gulf Coast. The biggest problem now, flooding. Authorities race to keep a dam from failing as thousands are ordered to evacuate.
While some are still being rescued from rising waters, we're going to show you the story of a man who struggled to get back to a flooded home to rescue his animals.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: We're here at the Republican National Convention in Tampa where tonight it's all about Mitt Romney. The convention has been energized by Republican stars like the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie and Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. Ryan will join me live this hour here in the SITUATION ROOM.
We'll hear more from some of the other stars tonight, including the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, the former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Plus, the wraps have been taken off a mystery guest as they're calling him, Hollywood star, Clint Eastwood. He'll be here, but it's Mitt Romney who will still have to shine brightest on this night.
It's the biggest speech of his life. He'll need to show millions of voters around the United States just who he is and why he should be the one to lead the United States over the next four years. Certainly will be an exciting, historic night here in Tampa. So, we're watching all of that. I'm getting ready for my interview this hour with Paul Ryan as well. Another important story, though, we're following and I want to update you on what's going on along much of the Gulf Coast. It just keeps raining and raining and raining. Isaac finally losing some steam. It's now a tropical depression as it moves inland, but it's leaving behind very dangerous flooding with thousands forced to leave their homes. Close to a million people along the gulf coast are now without power. Authorities are also working urgently to relief pressure on a weakened dam. Listen to the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: There are concerns Percy Quinn (ph) about a dam over in Mississippi that if this dam were to break, it would take about 90 minutes for that water to get to Kentwood. We've been in contact with our Mississippi counterparts, including the Department of Transportation over there.
They're planning a planned breach dam to avoid to prevent the dam from breaking. This morning, they were concerned that breaking was imminent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Bobby Jindal speaking a little while ago. Let's go to our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, who's been working very, very hard for all of us. What's the latest on that dam, first of all, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the water is still right up to the top of the dam, and it's been going all over all day. I've seen a couple of pictures from the army corps that they've taken. In fact, some of the outside of the dam, the dry side of the dam is so wet from all of the rain it's beginning to slide away.
So, the plan is to take part of this dam, cut a piece of the dam away, and allow the water to spill over, kind of like make a low water spill. Let's get right to it. Here's New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Now, we have to fly you on up into Mississippi, because in fact, this is in Louisiana. This is Mississippi dam.
The Quinn lake right here, there's the dam itself right through here, normally just a normal waterfall, just kind of a tranquil all the way down to Tangipahoa River. Not tranquil when you put down about ten inches of rain to the north of that lake. And now, all of that water has to go somewhere. It eventually gets into the Gulf of Mexico but has to go through all of these towns first.
Here's Kentwood. Most of Kentwood being evacuated right now even though the water is being let out slowly, there's a lot of water in the system already. It's already flooding here. You put more water in it because of the dam, and it's going to go up. All of Kentwood being evacuated mandatorily right now.
Back down here, this is where it's eventually going to go through, Robert. People here mandatory evacuations around Robert as well, and eventually, it snakes its way all the way in here finally into Lake Pontchartrain. That is going to take some time.
It takes 90 minutes to go from the lake to Kentwood, but at least a couple of three hours, maybe more than that to get all the way down into Lake Pontchartrain. Now, when it gets to Pontchartrain, Lake Tangipahoa is nothing compared to Pontchartrain. So, Pontchartrain is not going to go up at all because of this.
You won't even recognize that that water is in there, but the people along that river are in some danger right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: And in terms of inland, how far is it going? What's the latest as far as the forecast is concerned?
MYERS: This thing is still going to go all of the way up into Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. It's raining now into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, even into Georgia. But now, the rain is spreading out. So, I know there's still going to be a lot of flooding because there's so much water on the ground, saltwater and fresh water.
The rain is slowing down now a little bit, and so, the rain that spreads out may actually be a little bit of drought relief for some people as long as it doesn't sit there. Finally, this storm is moving north at about 12 miles per hour for many hours the past couple of nights. That movement was like two or three miles per hour. Twelve 12 is a good number.
BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Chad, thanks very much. Certainly those who make their living on the water were the first to get hit by Isaac, and now, there are new developments unfolding as well. I want to go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's watching all of this for us. Ed is on Grand Isle in Louisiana. What are you seeing where you are?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, almost 36 hours, about 36 hours of being trapped here and surrounded by floodwaters in this home here in Grand Isle. We were finally able to venture out and get our first sights around this island.
It held up rather well considering that the eye of the storm came through here, and for some people riding out this storm here on this island was kind of like riding a roller coaster, a wild roller coaster without the harness.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Dean Blanchard lived through Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav inside his immovable home in Grand Isle, Louisiana. He didn't think hurricane Isaac could compare. He was wrong.
All, but some 30 of Grand Isle's residents evacuated the island, but perhaps, no one experienced this storm quite like this group. Shrimpers who tied their boats down, the Blanchard docks and held on tight for almost 40 hours. One of those shrimpers was Nai Pham (ph).
What was it like? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it like? I don't know. That experience, I guess, I would never do this again.
LAVANDERA: Why did you do it, in the first place?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had no choice. I was stuck here.
LAVANDERA: Pham lives in Texas. She says she couldn't get her boat out of the storm in time and didn't want to leave the 100-foot ship behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believed in TV when they told you 80- mile-an-hour winds?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't believe that.
LAVANDERA: Grand Isle took about five feet of storm surge in many spots. Most of the houses on the island came out of the storm mostly unscathed, but Blanchard's shrimp docks took a beating.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was all wood. This was all wood. You can walk all over, all that over there and on the other side, by the blue boat and all of that.
LAVANDERA: All of this where the water is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LAVANDERA: The huge deck?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LAVANDERA: All of that's gone. Holy --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, this is -- there's nothing you can do to stop that.
LAVANDERA (on-camera): This is the main highway that brings you into Grand Isle. The storm surge through here was so powerful that in a few places it caused the roadways to buckle and wash away, and because of this, officials say that residents won't be allowed back for several more days.
(voice-over) Giant mounds of marsh grass also cover long stretches of the main highway onto the island. For the few who made it through hurricane Isaac, they won't forget the storm and Nai Pham (ph) says she'll never do it again, but you'll be shocked to hear this part.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were able to watch TV and saw everything. But it was -- I guess it's not.
LAVANDERA (on-camera): You were able to watch TV from in there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, the whole time.
LAVANDERA: Wolf, I was simply just shocked that the whole time she was in there. We could see those folks from where we're standing right over here. We could see the lights on their shrimp boats.
We're extremely worried for them throughout most of this storm, especially Tuesday night into Wednesday morning when the storm was at its downright brutal worst and happy to see that they made it through safely -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Happy to see, indeed. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.
Here in Tampa, the stage is now set for Mitt Romney, the vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, he certainly did his job last night. He's winning praise for a well-delivered affection and convention speech especially praise coming from so many Republicans, but Ryan is also coming in for some criticism at the same time.
He fired up the crowd, but did he play loose with some of the facts? CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into that for us. Tom, what are you seeing?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know the Democrats were absolutely laying out there for Paul Ryan waiting to hear anything he said. Many Republicans believe President Obama's priorities in terms of the economy are just all wrong. That he's always looking for government solutions first instead of encouraging private sector initiatives.
And Paul Ryan rolled out a perfect little story along those lines about a GM plant in his hometown that Barack Obama visited when he was a candidate and the recession was roaring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right there at that plant, Candidate Obama said I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years. That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.
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FOREMAN: So, let's break this down. Did candidate Obama really say that? Yes, he did and more. He said he knew General Motors and the folks at that plant were in a financial squeeze. Listen.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I also know how much progress you've made, how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you're churning out and I believe that if our government is there to support you and give you the assistance you need to retool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: So, there you go. That was February 2008. You could argue that such statements were laying the groundwork for the big auto bailouts that were to come, bailouts that many Republicans still think were a mistake but were also credited with saving many thousands of jobs. But now, let's look at the timeline of the plant in Ryan's hometown.
Did it close? Yes. In fact, the biggest part of the operation there shut down costing the area about 2,000 jobs by December of 2008 even before Mr. Obama took office. So to somehow suggest he could have or should have stopped it is absurd. He certainly didn't have the power at that point.
Now, one part of the plant was still operating when President Obama took office in January 2009, but it only had a few dozen jobs there and it, too, was closed by April. If you listen, he was talking about government help for retraining, retooling, developing new technologies. Things that really take a pretty good bit of time couldn't have happened in just a few months.
All of this is complicated further by the fact that Congressman Ryan made a similar, stronger statement just a couple of weeks ago in which he suggested that Candidate Obama promised he would keep the plant open. That was absolutely false.
Since then, Ryan has slightly tweaked his wording so that if you consider only specifically what he said last night, that statement was true, but it gets a great, big, capital "I" for incomplete, because Wolf, it leaves out some critical, critical details that tell an awful lot more of the story.
BLITZER: Excellent fact check for us. We're getting a ton, ton of reaction on that specific GM plant, and you did a good job explaining it to our viewers. Appreciate it very much, Tom Foreman.
The nominee's crucial moment. That's coming up. Running mate, Paul Ryan certainly did set the stage with a powerful speech last night, but can Mitt Romney deliver a winning speech of his own? Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, he's going to join me live shortly right here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about that and a whole lot more.
And is President Obama planning a major strategy change? I'll ask "Time" magazine White House correspondent, Michael Scherer. He spent some time, he interviewed President Obama. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Just a reminder, my interview with the Republican vice presidential nominee here in Tampa, Paul Ryan, coming up later this hour. I'll speak with him live. He's coming over here to see us here in the SITUATION ROOM. While Republicans seize their moment, President Obama is out of the spotlight at least today, but we are hearing from him anyway in the latest issue of "Time" magazine, our sister publication. Joining us now is Michael Scherer, the White House correspondent for "Time." Excellent interview with the president of United States.
Michael, I'll read a line, because he sort of jumped out and (INAUDIBLE) to explain. This is from the cover story. "There will be some popping of the blister after this election," the president says, "because it will have been such a stark choice where Republicans refuse to cooperate on things that I know are good for the American people. I will continue to look for ways to do it administratively and work around Congress."
Popping the blister, working around Congress, what did he mean by all of that?
MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He says often now, we need to break the fever in Washington. That's how he means pop the blister. He's basically saying that this election is a continuation of the deadlock we had in August of 2011 with the debt ceiling compromise breakdown.
He's basically trying to take that breakdown and the ability of Washington to get things done to the people, and he's hoping that the message coming out for Republicans will be they have to back down. And in practice what that's going to mean is he wants to create a division within the Republican Party to peel off the moderates from what we tend to refer to as the Tea Party, conservative base.
So, there are a group of people who do come to the table, who do talk revenues, who do engage with him on immigration reform, which is something he definitely wants to do in 2013. And so, to get that done, he has to elevate these issues and this election. So, he comes out of it with a mandate.
BLITZER: You say revenue, tax increase, let's get more revenue into the IRS and for the federal government.
I read the transcript of the interview. You actually sat next to him and you could hear him and you could get the voice and all of that. I just read the transcript, but from what I could tell, he sounded pretty frustrated. Did he?
SCHERER: Yes, there were times -- I mean, I really focused in the interview on the frustrations he's had over the last few years and the inability to do the things he said he wanted to in 2008. He's been very successful with policy but with dealing with Washington, with interacting with Republicans and start building the bridges between red and blue, he hasn't been very successful.
And there is a lot of frustration there, and it came out not just in his body language, but at some points in the interview, he said this isn't just a popularity contest or a choice about who's nicer and who's not. It's really about where the facts are, and the facts are on my side and the question in this election, I'm paraphrasing him here, is whether the facts will sort of win the day at a time when the country continues to be very upset about the state of the economy.
And he really sees it that way, that his efforts have been blocked in some way by the passions and the furies that have been drummed up by Republicans over the last three years.
BLITZER: Here's another line that jumped out from your interview with the president. One impediment he said is -- to that is what we've seen in this campaign with money and politics and Citizens United.
Do we want a situation in which undisclosed donors writing $10 million checks have such disproportionate influence over the course of this country? And if not, what can we do to change it? He answered that question to you, didn't he?
SCHERER: Well, you know, I didn't even ask him about this. He brought it up. I asked him about bringing the grassroots momentum of 2008 to Washington, something he wasn't able to achieve. Whether he would try again, he said yes, and he point to that issue.
Yesterday, as you probably know, he did an internet interview, and he said he'd actually like to look at doing a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United decision. And really, I think he sees this issue as a way of galvanizing grassroots support and reclaiming that brand he had in 2007 and 2008 of being a government reformer.
The other subtext of this is the Democrats are really concerned going forward that if they don't have billionaires in their corner which they don't really have right now, that they're going to have a lot harder time. I mean, Obama is going to be fine.
He's an incumbent with huge base of support running for election, but in 2016, 2020, you're going to need, you know, very wealthy people if you're going to play in the system --
BLITZER: It's the cover story. The new issue of "Time" magazine, "What Obama Knows Now." And I recommend it highly to all of our viewers. Are you heading to charlotte?
SCHERER: Of course. I wouldn't miss it.
BLITZER: I'll be there as well. We leave here, head off to Charlotte.
After his big speech last night, Paul Ryan is gearing up to watch his running mate take the stage later tonight. But first, I'll have a live interview with the Republican vice presidential nominee. That's coming up in a few moments.
And a man desperate to rescue his animals in New Orleans. Braving alligator-infested floodwaters to try to reach them. We'll have his story and more. A lot more coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Hurricane Isaac certainly packed a wallop in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. With so many stranded by the deep flooding and anxiously awaiting rescue, neighbors are now going back in to try to help other friends and neighbors.
Reporter Paul Boyd of "Inside Edition" traveled with a man from Plaquemines and found his neighbor desperate for a boat to go back to his house and save his beloved animals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is close to my home which we're, you know, trying to get to.
PAUL BOYD, INSIDE EDITION REPORTER: This is the start of the community and you can see that -- I mean, it really is inundated with water, a lot of flooding going on. Take a look over here. You see one of the reasons why the power went down. So ,you know, it's a pretty rough situation out here.
We're going to keep going towards Dean's house. It looks like we're going to have to head into the floodwater to get there.
Take a look out the window on the side. What are you thinking, Dean, as you drive out to the water here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just pretty devastating.
BOYD: All right. This is Robert's house. This is where his animals are trapped. Where do you want to put the boat?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a side gate around the back door.
BOYD: What are you thinking as you pull up here to your house and see it under water like this.
ROBERT SANDERS, PLAQUEMINES PARISH RESIDENT: We'll have to start over again. That's how it happens. And you choose to live down here, you know, it's like gambling. You have to be prepared to lose.
BOYD: I'll give you an idea of how high the water came. This is the water line right here. All right. This is first thing in the morning, so it's come down pretty quickly here in the last couple of hours since the peak of the storm roared through last night. That's your water line. I mean, look around here. Absolutely devastating.
BLITZER: Well, the floodwaters were too much for the house. Robert Sanders and his friend were able to get the animals to higher ground.
All right. We're getting ready to interview the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. He's coming here. We're going to speak with him this hour, and maybe in the next block. We're waiting for him to walk over. My interview with Paul Ryan, that's coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we started designing the $100 laptop, we were just looking at how do you protect the keyboard and the screen? How do children sort of carry it around? We set aside between 10 and 30 percent of our work hours towards those kinds of projects. I can't tell you that that's just what made business sense every month, but I can tell you that it's made human sense every month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's getting ready for his big night tonight, the biggest of his political career so far. Last night his running mate Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, he stole the show with a very powerful speech and Paul Ryan is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Congratulations to you.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: How excited, how pumped are you about all of this?
BLITZER: Because it's been moving very quickly in your life.
RYAN: That's true, but I've been working on these issues for a long time.
BLITZER: The issues, but the fact that you're the vice presidential nominee. A few weeks ago you didn't think that was in the cards.
RYAN: Well when you submit yourself to vetting, which occurred a few months ago I always had the thought in the back of my mind and then it got real, so to speak. I'm excited because Mitt Romney is going to finish telling the story that we started telling last night. He's going to introduce himself to the American people so they get to know the kind of man and the leader that he is, that we know. He's going to offer his solutions to get people back to work.
BLITZER: Is he going to go through specifics like you did last night --
RYAN: Yes, he's -- he's going to go into his plan for a stronger middle class. He's going to go in more granular (ph) detail about these ideas to get people back to work. He's going to talk about how we need real leadership to make key decisions now before we have a debt crisis on our horizon, before we lose grip of the American idea and before we find ourselves in a situation like Europe is facing and he's going to introduce himself to the American people in a way so that they can get to know him like we do and I'm excited about seeing that.
BLITZER: Because the debt problem, the trillions and trillions of dollars didn't just start with the Obama administration --
RYAN: Absolutely not --
BLITZER: There's plenty of blame to go around --
RYAN: There's plenty of blame to go around, both parties own this --
BLITZER: During the Bush administration it doubled.
RYAN: Yes, so I've been saying that for years. All I would say is President Obama made it worse. The debt went up $5.5 trillion from the Obama years, and more to the point this crisis is coming closer. It's already hitting Europe and President Obama has had four budgets and four times he avoided tackling the problem. The Senate hasn't passed a budget for three years. That's the opposite of leadership and Mitt Romney is going to provide the kind of leadership we need to get this thing under control.
BLITZER: I know I have a limited amount of time. A couple of things from your speech last night, Erskine Bowles (ph), you know the Bowles-Simpson Commission, you were a member of that. You criticized the president for saying he rejected the recommendations and you rejected the recommendations as well.
RYAN: And in the next paragraph of my speech I said we offered alternatives. So if you don't like this idea then offer your own. That's what we did in the House and what I did was I took what we saw were the best ideas from Bowles-Simpson and added other ideas to it and passed it. President Obama did none of that. President Obama said I don't like this plan and offered nothing in return.
BLITZER: He did come up close with a deal with John Boehner. They were --
RYAN: That wasn't even close to actually fixing the problem. It was a small or medium-sized deal, and cutting a back room deal that gives you (INAUDIBLE) liability is not leadership. Offering a plan, submitting a budget to Congress that fixes a problem that's leadership and we haven't seen it for four years from President Obama.
BLITZER: Now the DM Plant (ph) in Jamesville (ph). You're getting some grief on that. Do you want to revise and amend what you --
RYAN: No, I don't want to revise --
BLITZER: -- what you said? Just to remind our viewers, you said that the president came there and he did come there --
RYAN: Yes. BLITZER: -- in February of 2008 and he said you know if the government takes action you guys will have a plan here for 100 years.
RYAN: That's right.
BLITZER: But they announced that plant was shutting down in June of 2008. That was during the Bush administration --
RYAN: Well it's still idle. The point is this is a story of the Obama economy, a man running for president in 2008 making all these grand promises and then none of them occurring. He got elected. He put his policies in place and the plant still shut down. My friends who I went to high school with --
BLITZER: But that was a decision General Motors made --
RYAN: -- are still not working (INAUDIBLE). I'm not saying it was his decision. I'm saying he came and made these promises, makes these commitments, sells people on the notion that he's going to do all these great achievements and then none of them occur. These are empty promises that become broken promises and that's the story of the Obama economy. He said he was going to cut the deficit in half in four years. We're nowhere close. He said unemployment, if he passed the stimulus, would never go above eight percent. It's been above eight percent ever since, so what we have here are a man who ran for president with grandiose plans and promises, great rhetoric, none of the results.
BLITZER: But you were with him when he saved the auto industry though. You supported that legislation.
RYAN: Yes, I voted for the bill in the House which would have prevented TARP from being used for auto. This is under the Bush administration.
RYAN: I didn't like the idea of TARP being used, so I voted for a bill which would have prevented TARP from being used, which is open ended. We're now 25 billion and counting and lost taxpayer dollars. I voted for a bill which would have far more minimized that, but President Obama and President Bush used TARP for it.
BLITZER: How are you preparing for your debate with Joe Biden?
RYAN: By preparing.
BLITZER: What are you doing?
RYAN: Well I'm studying. I'm reading Joe Biden speeches, reading -- watching Joe Biden tape and just studying on all the various issues.
BLITZER: He's pretty good.
RYAN: He's good, but I've been in Congress 14 years and this is what we do, especially in the House. The Senate, they don't debate as often and as frequently. That's all we do in the House, is we debate. I love debating. That's one of the things I like about this job.
RYAN: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: We'll spend some time together.
RYAN: All right.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
RYAN: Sounds good.
BLITZER: Good luck.
RYAN: Yes, see you around, see you on the trail.
BLITZER: We definitely will.
RYAN: All right.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And Mitt Romney only hours away from the biggest speech of his political life. That's coming up here in Tampa. Up next, we'll get some unsolicited advice on this, the final night of the Republican Convention. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Several prominent members of Mitt Romney's Mormon Church will help introduce him to the convention later tonight and there were some key references to religion in last night's speeches. Let's listen to this snapshot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This issue of, you know, being a Mormon has been an issue that's been out there for a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we're expecting that Governor Romney will touch on this topic tonight. His aides say this is not a faith speech, but certainly this is an important part of his life. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go down to CNN contributor, the Sirius XM radio host, Pete Dominick. He's here at the CNN Grill (ph) right here in Tampa. He's getting some unsolicited advice from our panel. Pete, take it away.
PETE DOMINICK, SIRIUS XM TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you, Wolf Blitzer. Here with our brilliant panel to talk about how important religion, specifically the "M" word, the Mormon religion is and also actor Tim Daly is joining us. Tim thanks for joining us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for having me here.
DOMINICK: Let's start with you, man. How important do you think Mitt Romney's religion is to voters and how important is it to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well I think that religion is important to voters that it seems like voters want their presidential candidates to have some sort of faith, but it's not like it's an episode of "Big Love" I mean you know he only has one wife and I don't think that it really bothers anyone. You know it doesn't seem to be that much of an issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is if you dig into polls, though. I mean there are obviously reasons that Romney hasn't talked that much about his faith to date in the campaign. If you look at polls where people say, you know, would you vote for this person for president, that person for president there's always been a slightly higher level of people saying they wouldn't vote for a Mormon for president. This dates back decades and it holds true not only for evangelical voters and conservative voters, but also among independents and liberals as well. But I think for Romney, I think this is ultimately a smart move because I think he's been a little bit hamstrung in selling himself by not talking about his faith. It's sort of the side of his life that complicates the image of him as a heartless, soulless businessman, right, and so having shut it away he sort of closed himself off to what would otherwise be a very natural part of his campaign narrative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when has religion ever been a playbook for a president in the past? Can we look at a past president where this has really mattered. I just think Governor Romney in Massachusetts, he did a lot of things that were certainly not in line with the Mormon Church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't get it. I mean I think -- I have not heard a single person I know in my life say anything about him being a Mormon. There are so many other things that people are concerned about and the last thing I've heard is the religious stuff, but I can tell you as a person of faith because he says that he's going to get 12 million jobs in the next four years. That's a miracle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In other words, George Bush got four million in eight years. He's got to do George Bush's record every year for (INAUDIBLE), he is definitely a person of faith. He believes in miracles --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So then you're saying if we come back here four years from now and there have been 12 million jobs you're converting to Mormonism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will become a Mormon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the way, the last time faith was an issue in a presidential election was obviously John Kennedy where people truly were concerned that perhaps the president would be dialing up the Pope for advice. Obviously, that was put to rest and I don't think that's people's concern. Personally, I care that someone is a person of faith. I don't care what faith it is. If you're a Muslim, if you're a Jew, if you're or a Mormon, if you're (INAUDIBLE), but I do care that you're a person of faith?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Why --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hurts (ph) me because I'm not a person of faith so that offends me. What does that make me? Am I not a good guy? What does that do to me?
CARLY FIORINA, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER: All I would tell you is I think people of faith who have a deep and abiding belief in God, whatever they think of that God, are -- recognize humility, recognize compassion, recognize that humans are imperfect and recognize that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me put it another way --
FIORINA: -- we need --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit me. Hit me --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys know me --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think voters who are worried about one way to think about it is this, the president of the United States, the most powerful office in the country probably the most powerful office in the world and I think it probably makes voters feel a little more comfortable with the idea that the person in that office thinks there's somebody in the universe more powerful than him. (CROSSTALK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why does being a member of a major religion an arbiter of that?
FIORINA: All I said was --
FIORINA: All I said was --
TIM DALY, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: -- believes in God doesn't have the stamp of a religion on their --
VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: Rush Limbaugh is a person of faith. I don't think he thinks anybody is more powerful than him and I don't think he's a compassionate person, but --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that point --
FIORINA: That's an easy caricature --
JONES: But to your point, I think that the -- right now religion has become a sort of stand-in for values for -- for having some sense that you are not the smartest person in the world and that you're -- that there's a standard beyond yourself and to that extent I think it is important.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But let's talk about -- let's not -- you know the elephant in the room is the Church of Latter Day -- Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mormonism. This isn't as every other presidential candidate has been, Buddhist, of course --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christian, I mean this is Mormonism and there's a lot of mystery and question and you know people don't understand. Is that different, though?
ROSS DOUTHAT, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: It is different in the sense. I mean Mormonism is this interesting mix because on the one hand it's the most American religion there is, right, founded right here in the United States. The American continent --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which makes it very strange --
DOUTHAT: But it makes it very strange --
DOUTHAT: No and that's precisely why it's strange --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DOUTHAT: People, you know the idea that Jesus of Nazareth will return --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is a Yankees fan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a strange idea, but I think there's also a sense of the Mormon Church as a little more secretive, maybe, than the sort of -- the norm. You can't enter the major Mormon temples and so on. I just think that their sort of -- that perception goes a long way towards explaining it's not sort of specific. It's just a general unease.
FIORINA: One of the ways to dismiss that mystery, which I think people are starting to do and which Romney will do himself tonight is to talk as a human being. I can remember when I started as a secretary in a small nine-person firm, every single one of the people in that firm was a Mormon. I didn't know anything about Mormonism other than a few strange things I've heard. But what I found out was that each and every one of those businessmen was a person of fine character, a great family man and more importantly than that, two of those men said to me we think you can do more than be a secretary. Why don't you learn something about business? They changed my life for the better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. If we're talking anecdotes every single Mormon I've met is the friendliest person in the world --
FIORINA: That's the point --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and very warm.
FIORINA: That's the point.
DOMINICK: But is Mitt Romney very warm? Can he be what we are anecdotally saying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is why --
DOUTHAT: If he can be it's probably in talking about his faith, I mean you know but that remains to be seen.
JONES: (INAUDIBLE) to me you know we're in the situation now where you have the president of the United States who is allegedly a Muslim and so we're obsessed with his faith --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama --
JONES: Yes, but half of the Republicans say that he's a Muslim.
FIORINA: That's not true.
JONES: (INAUDIBLE) we'll Google it --
DOMINICK: We'll Google that. We'll look at how many Republicans think the president is a Muslim. Everybody has to look that up and let's see if we respect the fact checkers because there's been a lot of fact checkers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fair enough.
DOMINICK: But right now we've got to throw it back to Wolf Blitzer. Thank you guys very much, great conversation. Tim, thanks for joining us.
DALY: Thanks for having me.
DOMINICK: Back to Wolf Blitzer right now.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much. Small business owners here in Tampa thought they hit the jackpot when the Republican Convention came to town, but some of them are getting a lot less than they actually bargained for. That's coming up in our next hour and we're counting down to Mitt Romney's big night with only five hours to go. More unsolicited advice, that's coming up from our panel as well.
DOMINICK: Back here at the CNN Grill in Tampa at the Republican National Convention. Now it's my favorite part of our conversation is unsolicited advice. Nobody asked us, but we all get to pick a target. Go ahead Van Jones.
JONES: Well my target is no surprise (INAUDIBLE) Paul Ryan himself.
DOMINICK: Paul Ryan.
JONES: Here is my advice. Don't give speeches where as soon as you're done, lying Ryan becomes a Twitter storm. Don't -- he -- listen I'm serious. This guy had the potential to be one of the most important leaders in the country. I disagree with him on everything, but his integrity has to be there. If you going to get up and give a speech and you can do what you can do as a communicator, don't lie. Just keep it honest, you're going to be great. Once he gets tagged as somebody reporters cannot trust, he is done. Don't let lying Ryan become your brand.
DOMINICK: Always know what rhymes with your last name.
FIORINA: My advice to our good friend Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (ph) of L.A. who recently said that the GOP's outreach to minorities was insincere and you can't just throw a brown face or two up on the screen. Mayor, I would suggest that you listen to Mayor Mia Love (ph) that you listen to Governor Susana Martinez (ph) that you listen to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Republican Party has become both more diverse and more conservative. It is a party that represents small business owners and everyday people, and may I say, I think the Democratic Party is looking like the protector of special interests and big bloated government bureaucracies so take a look at what the Republican Party actually represents and maybe provide some ideas of your own.
DOMINICK: My advice, not that anybody asked, is for the media and politicians who win when they divide us. I've had an amazing experience this week. I've never really liked Rick Santorum or anything that he said, but just two days ago I sat next to Karen Santorum who couldn't have been more of a lovely woman, got to meet Rick later. The idea that the media gets to separate us to get bigger ratings, that politicians separate us to win elections. We have such common humanity in this country and in this world. Republicans work hard. Democrats work hard. Liberals are addicts. Conservatives are addicts. Everybody here -- everybody can love their family. It doesn't matter what your political background. This is the way that they divide us is wrestling. It's like wrestling versus MMA (ph). MMA (ph) is real and so are we.
DOUTHAT: Well I was going to say -- I was going to say that my advice is for all my dear liberal friends in the media, but after Van's advice, I can just say my advice is for Van Jones. Stop pretending that this Republican presidential campaign is sitting on some enormous throne of lies that throws every previous presidential campaign into the shade. Stop taking normal political exaggerations and things like the Jamesville (ph) debate that Wolf was talking about before that aren't really exaggerations at all and blowing them into some sort of mountain of mendacity. The way you -- I know I am not going to convince you that Ryan isn't a liar, but maybe I can convince you that this isn't productive for the liberal cause. If you want to have these arguments, argue about the auto bailout. Don't argue about the details of what date the plant in Jamesville (ph) shut down and how much the economic impact was of the Obama presidency.
DOMINICK: Tim Daly.
DALY: My advice is to the American people, both Republicans and Democrats and that is that you should get over this label of a politician being elite. You should demand that your politicians are elite just the way you demand that your NFL players are elite. Can you imagine seeing going to a game and seeing a bunch of paunchy (ph) guys like limp around on the field or the non-elite Olympics or your doctor. Look I don't want an elite doctor to do my heart surgery. I just want a guy I can have a beer with, so get over it, America, demand that your politicians are the smartest, brightest, most well- prepared and educated people in the room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somewhere Mitt Romney is watching and applauding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a great point. I mean I want -- you know who I want to be really elite, my pilot, yes, the guy flying the plane, but what's wrong with having elite politicians --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not me, I want --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- elite leaders.
DALY: Every time I get on a plane somebody says are you going to fly the plane because of this TV show I did --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DALY: I think I should try. I want (INAUDIBLE) been in the Air Force for 20 years. I'll do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're an actor. Shouldn't our politicians be elite? Do we all agree on that?
FIORINA: I think they should be excellent, excellent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, so it's a difference of semantics --
FIORINA: But I agree. I agree.
DOMINICK: All right, well we've got one more minute. So Van, do you want to respond? I like this.
JONES: Sure. Well first of all I think this question of personal integrity is a big deal. I think -- reason people like Obama is because they feel that he is a good guy, a family guy. Ryan has all of those characteristics --
FIORINA: Are you actually suggesting that Obama hasn't stretched the truth a few times? Please --
JONES: No, no, no (INAUDIBLE).
JONES: Ryan is brand new. People are trying to figure this guy out. I just don't think he needs to just push it. If he would just put it right down the middle, I'd be terrified of the guy. Right now he makes it easy for me to go after him. I think he should stop doing it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got one more. You got time?
DOMINICK: Quickly. Quick. DALY: OK. DNC, RNC, cancel the thing. It is a big TV show. Spend the money --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no --
DOMINICK: All right. Thanks, guys. Thank you very much -- back to you, Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: All right, Pete, thanks very much.
We now know some of what Mitt Romney is going to say tonight. We just received some excerpts. Right at the top of the hour we'll share them with you. Stand by for that. And it is not her convention, but Debbie Wassermann Schultz is certainly making her presence known here in Tampa, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, she is here. She will weigh in on what she's seeing -- that and a lot more coming up.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Romney ran for governor he promised the --
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