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THE SITUATION ROOM

Romney Tours Battleground States; President Obama Focuses on World Peace; Obama Campaign Slams Romney; Romney's Tax Plan Promise; Obama and Romney Debate Showdown; Chick-Fil-A Gay Marriage Controversy Deepens; Ouch! ATM Fees Hitting Record High; Stunning Waterspout on Lake Michigan; New Details of Brazen Attack; Guitar Smashing Meltdown

Aired September 24, 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: Mitt Romney launches a new tour of battleground states, attacking President Obama for calling the latest setbacks in the Middle East bumps in the road.

The president is focusing in on world peace as he prepares to address the United Nations. He's also making time to woo women voters.

And a TV first -- U.S. Marines are giving new details about one of the costliest attacks on U.S. airpower in decades.

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

With only 43 days to go until the presidential election, Mitt Romney is starting to zero in on a handful of battleground states that will decide this election. One of those states is Colorado, where Romney just wrapped up a rally at the Pueblo Airport.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by live.

Jim, what happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the calendar shrinking and the debates fast approaching, Mitt Romney is starting to barnstorm through some crucial swing states like this one here in Colorado. He knows he has some serious ground to make up. Today, he tried to do just that on the subject of foreign policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's not debate time yet, but Mitt Romney was looking for one on foreign policy in front of a crowd in Colorado. That's where the GOP contender laid into President Obama for describing the recent unrest in the Middle East as bumps in the road on "60 Minutes."

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says the developments in the Middle East are bumps in the road. (LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Yes, that was my reaction. Bumps in the road? We had an ambassador assassinated. These are not bumps in the road. These are human lives.

ACOSTA: Romney has some catching up to do in campaign battlegrounds across the country. CNN's latest poll of polls shows the president with an edge in three critical states, in Colorado by three, in Ohio by five, and in Florida by four.

ROMNEY: Let's find at least one person who voted for Barack Obama last time.

ACOSTA: As he's done repeatedly at recent events, Romney urged his supporters in Colorado to go to work and phone a friend.

ROMNEY: I want you to find them and talk to them and ask them whether they can't vote in favor of someone who will bring real change and strengthen America again.

ACOSTA: Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, hope to close the gap in Ohio next with a bus tour across the state. Trying to explain why he's trailing, Romney complained on his campaign plane the president is not fighting fair.

ROMNEY: He's trying to fool people into thinking that I think things I don't.

ACOSTA: His campaign is also seizing on President Obama's admission to "60 Minutes" that some of his ads have failed with fact-checkers.

OBAMA: Do we see sometimes us going overboard in our campaign? Are there mistakes that are made? Are there areas where there's no doubt that somebody could dispute how we are presenting things? That happens in politics.

ACOSTA: But those same fact-checkers have been just as critical of Romney's ads, like this one accusing the president of gutting the work requirement in welfare.

NARRATOR: They just send you your welfare check, and welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare.

ROMNEY: My job is not to worry about those people.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign's latest ad uses Romney's own words from that hidden camera video showing the GOP nominee going off on voters who don't pay federal income taxes.

NARRATOR: Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone?

ACOSTA: After days of second-guessing from conservative critics, Romney took responsibility for the remarks.

ROMNEY: That's not the campaign. That was me, right? That's not a campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign released a statement accusing Romney of using the Libya incident to launch political attacks, saying it's beneath someone who is seeking to be commander in chief.

But it's also the latest example of both sides in this race trying to turn winning the news cycle into winning this election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any hint yet we're getting what Romney will talk about tomorrow when he goes to New York and addresses the Clinton -- the Bill Clinton Global Initiative? The president will be there as well.

ACOSTA: Wolf, we don't know at this point.

Actually, that is one item that they are keeping very close to the vest and they have been doing that for several days now. On a conference call this morning, the Romney campaign senior adviser, Ed Gillespie, suggested that Romney might be laying out new specifics this week, suggesting that this might be sort of a reboot to the campaign.

But as we have seen over the last several weeks, there's been sort of reboot after reboot after reboot, so it will be very interesting to see what Mitt Romney says to the Clinton Global Initiative tomorrow because obviously this is not exactly friendly territory for Mitt Romney.

Bill Clinton went after Mitt Romney at the Democratic Convention just a few weeks ago. So it will be all eyes on Mitt Romney, not only on what he says, but his posture as well.

BLITZER: Yes, how the interrelationship there is with the former president as well, given that campaign -- that speech he delivered at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: President Obama is already in New York City where he hosts a reception for heads of state tonight, addresses the United Nations tomorrow.

But he's also made some time in his very busy schedule to tape an appearance on "The View." And not necessarily everyone is all that happy about that.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, give us a little background here.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Not everyone is happy because he's not taking any sit-down meetings with other heads of state, including with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two leaders aren't even in New York City at the same time. The president is making this one a very quick trip before he hits the campaign trail again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Heading into a big week, President Obama was asked if he's under pressure from Israel's prime minister to step up his efforts against Iran. He told CBS:

OBAMA: I am going to block out any noise that's out there.

YELLIN: The Romney campaign pounced, accusing the president of a chronic disregard for the security of Israel.

And he's taking heat for this, too. The president arrived in New York a day ahead of his big speech to the United Nations. And he sat down for a one-on-one with the ladies of "The View," but not with foreign heads of state.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": He has time for Whoopi Goldberg, but he doesn't have time for world leaders?

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Chris, they have telephones in the White House. Last week, he talked to the president of Egypt. He talked to the leader in Libya.

YELLIN: Yes, it's foreign policy, election season edition.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Unfortunately, in American election cycles, foreign policy becomes not so much an issue of demonstrating wisdom as it is an issue for demonstrating toughness. So I think you will see a lot of that from the president in his speech.

YELLIN: The president speaks to the U.N. generally assembly Tuesday morning. Administration officials say he will address the issue at the heart of the tension with Israel's prime minister, Iran's nuclear program.

HILL: I don't think you will see any daylight in the U.S./Israel alliance. But I think the president needs to show that he is not dawdling on the question of Iran, he's got a robust diplomacy in mind, he's got a sanctions program, and, as he's said many times, he's left everything on the table.

YELLIN: He will also address the violence in the Middle East that claimed the lives of four Americans. The secretary of state offered a preview.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Extremists around the world are working hard to drive us apart. All of us need to stand together to resist these forces and to support Democratic transitions under way in North Africa and the Middle East.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, at the end of those comments, the secretary of state went on to say the president will have further comments about the Arab world and those circumstances.

Now, the president is -- one of the reasons the president is not sitting down with world leaders, on doubt, Wolf, is because, if he does that, then he avoids creating any inadvertent newsmaking moments. If he were to take a meeting with one ally, that would also open up the door to other requests and questions from many others.

So, no meetings means he insults everybody and nobody. But compare this to 2004. In his own reelection bid, former President George Bush met with nearly half a dozen world leaders when he came to the U.N. back then. So, different media environment, different time.

BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much for that. Appreciate it, Jessica.

Let's dig a little bit deeper into some of these sensitive political questions with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

His speech tomorrow before the United Nations General Assembly, he will be addressing the whole world. But it's in the context of a political campaign back at home.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

It's a perfect platform for him, Wolf, first of all, commander in chief before the U.N. Gives him an opportunity as the former ambassador Chris Hill said to be tough. But this is a president who clearly doesn't want to rock the boat right now when it comes to foreign policy.

There are a lot of troubles out there, particularly, as you know, in the Middle East given what happened in Libya and given what's happening with protests throughout the Middle East. It's an opportunity for Mitt Romney to take on this president on foreign policy.

President Obama still does better than Mitt Romney when it comes to foreign policy. But if Romney can lower the altitude of the president's polls somewhat, that can only help him.

So I think what you see from both Jim Acosta and Jessica is that these are candidates now, the president on the one hand, don't rock the boat, and Mitt Romney trying to shake it up a little bit, particularly in terms of the president's ratings as commander in chief.

BLITZER: Do you think they're having any second thoughts about his decision to go ahead and appear with the ladies on "The View," Barbara Walters and the others, while he's avoiding meetings with world leaders at the United Nations?

BORGER: Well, I think ladies would be the key point there, Wolf, because, of course, women are so important to this president's reelection.

Take a look at these numbers. There's a new poll out today that Politico did of likely voters. Who are you going to vote for, for president? And you see that the president's up nine points with women. Mitt Romney is up six points with men.

So the president wants to increase his numbers with women just in case Mitt Romney starts doing a little bit better with men. So, it's kind of like a seesaw there. And I think the president's poll numbers, right after the convention, he was leading with women by double digits. He's still ahead, but it's declined to a certain degree.

So if you're running the president's reelection campaign, you cannot get enough women to vote for you. What Mitt Romney is looking for is those suburban married women. What the president is really looking for, is those single, more urban women and get them enthusiastic about coming out to vote.

BLITZER: A lot of women watch "The View," there's no doubt about that.

BORGER: They do.

BLITZER: And last week when he was on "Letterman," he's reaching out to a different audience as young, I assume younger audience, which is part of that base that he's courting.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Romney all along said this was going to be a referendum on the president, this election. But he sounded a little different note on "60 Minutes." I will play this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I think the president's right. I think this is a very clear choice for the American people as to what America's future will look like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that a nuance or is that a shift? What do you think?

BORGER: It's interesting to hear him talk about choice, right?

Because this was supposed to be a referendum. And I think what they have decided, from my conversations inside the Romney campaign, is that just saying that you're not President Obama isn't enough. So you have to talk about your vision for the future vs. the president's vision for the future. And that's what this reboot or third reboot is all about.

BLITZER: So, 3.0, is that what you're saying?

BORGER: Yes, maybe 4.0.

BLITZER: And 4.0. All right, Gloria, thanks.

Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos, they are both standing by live. We will continue this discussion with them.

Also, there's new trouble at one of Apple's parts suppliers. A brawl involving some 2,000 factory workers explodes into the street.

And look at this, the car in front of this tractor-trailer slammed on its brakes and the truck driver had nowhere else to go to avoid an accident.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A presidential comparison that may or may not work. Jack Cafferty has that in "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

2012 is not 1980 and Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan, at least that's the message coming from many Republicans about their party's presidential candidate, Romney. "Politico" reports that comparisons to the 1980 race when incumbent president Jimmy Carter lost to Reagan in a landslide just don't hold up. One Reagan biographer calls the comparison a stretch and says Romney needs to do a lot more at this point to win than Reagan did.

For starters, President Obama remains personally popular among Americans despite a grim economy. Obama's approval is right around 50 percent compared to just 37 percent for Jimmy Carter at this point in the 1980 campaign. Although Reagan trailed Carter in some of the polls, kind of like Romney, his unfavorable ratings were not increasing. Romney just isn't connecting with voters in the way that Reagan did.

Plus, Reagan was the overwhelming favorite of the Republican base. With Mitt Romney, a lot of conservatives have never managed to warm up to him that much.

Another big difference between 1980 and today is the electoral map. Ronald Reagan ultimately carried one in four Democrats in that election. Amazing. It's hard to imagine Romney ever pulling that off in today's highly polarized electorate.

And the economy today is not nearly as bad as it was 32 years ago when we had long gas lines, gas shortages, double-digit inflation and double-digit interest rates.

Nevertheless, one top Romney adviser says the 1980 race shows that there's no need to panic if Romney is down in the polls at this point, which he is in most of them. It's worth pointing out that it's not the first time that President Obama, a weakened liberal incumbent with a troubled economy and problems in the Middle East, has been compared to former President Jimmy Carter.

That's the question. How is Romney-Obama like Reagan-Carter? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you remember Americans were held hostage 444 days in Iran during that last year-plus of the Jimmy Carter administration which certainly didn't help him either.

CAFFERTY: No. And he had that failed rescue attempt where the marine choppers went in and tried to get the hostages out and they crashed and we lost some service people --

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: -- and the hostages were held even longer.

BLITZER: In contrast to President Obama. He had a successful rescue -- successful effort against bin laden that worked.

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes. But this little thing in Benghazi doesn't reflect too well on him.

BLITZER: That did not work, obviously. All right. Thanks very much.

A brawl at a major supplier for Apple. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, a massive riot forced a Foxconn plant that makes parts for Apple and other manufacturers to shut down in central China. Some 2,000 workers were involved. Officials say at least 40 people had to be taken to the hospital and there were a number of arrests. Apple says it has sold more than 5 million of its iPhone 5 units since Friday's debut. That is a record. But it's still slightly disappointing to investors. They were hoping for 6 million in sales.

And check out these incredible pictures. That is a semi truck nearly falling off of a bridge in southern Brazil. Police say the driver lost control of the rig. He hung in his cab for about half an hour until he was lifted out by rescue crews with a rope. The accident happened Friday. But authorities are still trying to remove the trailer. They can't use a crane because they fear it's too heavy for the bridge.

And Germany is looking into whether it can prosecute a former Nazi camp guard who is now living here in the United States. Eighty-seven- year-old Johann Breyer has admitted that he was a guard at Auschwitz. More than 1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed at Auschwitz during World War II. Breyer insists he didn't personally persecute anyone, but just patrol the camp's perimeter.

And a North Carolina teenager says Shorty, the so-called hurricane Katrina dog, belongs to her and her family. But she says she is willing to return Shorty to his originally owners in Louisiana who had to give him up after Katrina since they lost everything. She wants to make sure they take good care of him.

Shorty was found wandering along a road two weeks ago. And it was a microchip on his body that helped identify his originally owners. He is a very cute little dog.

So, it looks like he's got two happy owners. But he's going back to the Louisiana family, original owners.

BLITZER: I'm sure the dog will be very happy with those owners. Thanks very much.

Mitt Romney says he won't raise taxes on middle class Americans. He's leaving out, though, some specifics on what he would do as far as future tax cuts are concerned. Paul Begala, Alex Castellanos are both standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new Obama campaign ad slamming Mitt Romney over those comments about 47 percent of the American electorate.

Joining us now to discuss what's going on, two CNN contributors. The Democratic strategist, Paul Begala. He's a senior strategist for the Democratic fund-raising group's Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action.

Also joining us, the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. He's the co-founder of Purple Strategies. That's a bipartisan communications work.

Gentlemen, as usual, thanks for coming in.

A new Obama campaign ad out today running in Ohio. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney attacked 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax, including veterans, elderly, the disabled.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My job is not to worry about those people.

NARRATOR: Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone? Mitt Romney paid just 14.1 percent in taxes last year. He keeps millions in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. He won't release his tax returns before 2010.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Alex, that's a pretty powerful ad in Ohio, don't you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Mitt Romney sounds like a bad man. Oooh!

BLITZER: That's a pretty --

CASTELLANOS: Scary stuff, must be Halloween.

BLITZER: But as far as a political campaign commercial, what would you give that?

CASTELLANOS: It's pretty straightforward, pretty tough. Punditry is tough. Mitt Romney was playing pundit in that room. He was talking about the election, 47 percent of the people. That's Obama's base, I'm going to concentrate on swing voters.

Candidates should be candidates and lead the country and not talk politics. But I think that kind of thing does hurt. The only thing that voters I think is worse for a candidate that when voters decide that they don't like you is when voters decide that you, the candidate, may not like them.

And they saw a teeny hint of that in that. That's so different than the Mitt Romney I know. Here's a guy who we all want to take care of our neighbors as ourselves. And so many politicians in Washington, they're happy to take care of people with other people's money.

Mitt Romney's done it with his own time, with his own effort, with his own heart. He's taken care of people with a lot of his money. He's such a different guy than we saw there.

BLITZER: He gives a huge percentage to charity.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He does, which is very admirable. But he does not pay his fair share of taxes, which is disgraceful. It's legal.

BLITZER: Totally legal.

BEGALA: This is I guess -- the governor now has released two years of tax returns. Count them, his father set the bar at 12 and said, beware of anyone who releases just one because they could pretty it up. That's the problem that Governor Romney has. Not only that he seemed to show contempt -- although I think he was saying I can't worry about getting their votes. Even I don't think he was saying, I don't care about their lives.

CASTELLANOS: I think that's right.

BEGALA: So, in that sense, probably wasn't the fairest clip to take out of that.

But this question of releasing his tax returns will dog him until the election, maybe until the next election he runs in. People want to know. You have this vast fortune. You're only paying 14 percent. By the way, we could have paid less because of the loopholes he uses but he won't tell us which loophole he'll close.

I bet you, I don't have $10,000, I bet you six-pack of beer, he would save the loopholes that have saved him so many millions of dollars and other multi-millionaires and hammered the middle class. That I think the problem he's got.

CASTELLANOS: But, you know, tax law says this is what he has to pay. He paid what he has to pay.

BLITZER: Capital gains is 15 percent. Salaried income is 35 percent. So he was paying the 15 percent, which he doesn't get a salary. He makes his money through investments.

BEGALA: Right. But unlike the billionaire investor Warren Buffett who pays no more than the government requires, he thinks we need a fairer tax system that rewards a different class --

BLITZER: That's a different question, because you have capital gains, you have investments. You pay 15 percent on that but you also get a salary. You pay 35 percent on that assuming you make more than $150,000 a year.

CASTELLANOS: And like Warren Buffett, Mitt Romney gives a tremendous percentage of what he makes to help other people. Not other people's money.

BLITZER: And Warren Buffett is charitable, too.

CASTELLANOS: And the law is very clear. The law says that if I walk by a bank, I can't rob that bank. But the law doesn't require to go into the bank like give them more of my money.

BEGALA: Yes, the problem is, when working poor people, who pay no federal income tax, poor people, working poor, a lot of them pay 15 percent of their income in tax through the payroll tax, that's higher than Romney pays.

There is something wrong with rewarding wealth and punishing work. Democrats and the president said, let's cut tax for the middle class --

BLITZER: Here's another clip from the "60 Minutes" Romney interview last night. Then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I can tell them specifically what my policy looks like. I will not raise taxes on middle income folks. I will not lower the share of taxes paid by high income individuals. And I will make sure we that we bring down rates, we limit deductions and exemptions so we keep the progressivity in the code and we encourage growth in jobs.

If you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles in your policy, you work together with them. But you don't hand them a complete document and say, here, take this or leave it. Look, leadership is not a take it or leave it thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The question is, should he lay out specifically what exemptions and deductions he wants to eliminate as a part of this tax plan because people say he's got to be more specific than just saying the highest income brackets go down from 35 percent to 28 percent or whatever. CASTELLANOS: Well, he's not being any more specific than President Obama is on reducing entitlements and what he'd cut. Because why? Both of these men, if they're elected president again, want to go to Congress and they don't want to have already pre-negotiated or given away their positions. So, that's understandable.

But Romney does make a good point. That is right now the tax code incentivizes people who have a lot of economic success to make money how? By taking advantage of loopholes, not by incentivizing people to grow the economy and create more jobs and wealth. Well, he wants to change that. So, you don't raise taxes but you incentivize people to grow America -

BLITZER: But the president has to associate with Republicans on a lot of these -- he says the same thing, I'm not going to start negotiating before an election. I'll get into the room. We'll negotiate these issues later, which is what Romney says.

BEGALA: But he has produced budgets. He is the president of the United States and he's had to produce a real budget. This is the advantage a challenger has. He can be vague.

But now the new message from the Romney people is, we're going to be specific. That's great. I think people want specifics. I think it's important. You cannot get away with saying, I'm going to cut taxes, $5 trillion over 10 years, mostly for higher income Americans.

But I won't tell you who's going to pay for it because the Tax Policy Center, a bunch of nonpartisan nerds look at this and said, if you make $3 million a year, it's $250,000 tax cut. But if you're middle class, it's going to be a $2,000 tax hike. That's Romney's problem.

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a second. We're going to continue this conversation because there's a lot more to talk about. Hold your thought for a moment.

President Obama and Governor Romney will go head to head in a debate just over a week from now. The Obama campaign is trying to lower expectations. Romney has a more complicated problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we're back with Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos. Our "Strategy Session" continues. The debate, the first presidential debate, October 3rd, a little bit more than a week from now in Denver.

And both sides are sort of playing with the expectations game. First listen to Mitt Romney talk about the debate and Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, now an Obama campaign adviser. Listen to these two clips.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He's trying to fool people into thinking that I think things I don't. And that ends, I think, at the debates. I can't tell you winning and losing -- he's president of the United States. He's a very effective speaker. I hope I'll be able to describe my positions in a way that is accurate and the people will make a choice as to which path they want to choose.

ROBERT GIBBS, SENIOR ADVISER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Mitt Romney, I think, has an advantage because he's been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year. He even bragged that he was declared the winner in 16 of those debates. So I think in that sense, having been through this much more recently than President Obama, I think he starts with an advantage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Alex, do you agree with Robert Gibbs?

CASTELLANOS: I think both camps are right and they both start with an advantage. That's what they'd like you to believe. And, of course, Romney has been tested in the arena recently. But when you're the president of the United States, you go into any battle as the heavyweight as the incumbent, as a heavyweight champ. That's what Obama is.

BLITZER: Seriously, Paul --

CASTELLANOS: You can take on world leaders. You can take on Mitt Romney.

BEGALA: Watch tomorrow he's going to stand at a podium that Mitt Romney will, I hope never, but nobody, but the president can stand on as an American, right. That's at the U.N. General Assembly. When he stands on that podium as president and Mitt Romney stands next to him, that elevates the challenger.

We've seen that every time. It is true and I think that's a good point. But the president could be a little rusty. This is one criticism I have of his communications shop. Sorry to do it on TV.

But when is the last time he was in "THE SITUATION ROOM"? I understand he can't set up debates. He's the president, OK, but I do wish he had been sparring a little bit more.

You know, journalists like you, let Alex interview him. Toughen him up a little bit. Put him in tough interview situations. I thought he was great on "60 Minutes" yesterday. That was a very good, hard, solid, factual, issue-based interview.

I would have them do more of them to prepare for the debates. Not just to do mock debates with Senator Kerry.

BLITZER: The whole notion of the presidential debates going back to 1960 with Nixon/Kennedy debates, usually, correct me if I'm wrong, only if somebody makes a really major blunder does that wind up having an impact. If they're both just adequate, it's not really going to change a lot of votes.

CASTELLANOS: That's the history of debates. Very few candidates win them. A lot of candidates have lost them. The moment that reveals weakness, voters look at you and go, that's not the guy I want.

I was in Richmond, Virginia, when George Bush, president number 41, looked at his watch, we were filming it and we had an audience full of people who were watching this.

And the minute he looked at his watch, the temperature in that room just went to the floor and collapsed. Everybody says, well, he's done the best that he can. He did a nice job.

BLITZER: And you remember when Al Gore was walking around in that debate in 2000.

BEGALA: He was and we all covered whether he sighed too much. Sometimes it gets into criticism, which I don't like. Sometimes they make factual errors. President Ford said the polls were not dominated by the Soviet Union and he was the president.

He's got a big thing wrong, but you know what? He almost tied Jimmy Carter anyway. He came back after that. Ronald Reagan had one of the worst debate performances ever.

People don't remember because he was such a genius communicator, but in the first debate against Walter Mondale, his mind drifted on him and he carried 49 states.

So I do think actually that even a gaffe, not everybody is a good --

BLITZER: I don't know how they're preparing, but we're going to continue talking about this in the days to come. I'm hoping, I assume they're doing a 90-minute dress rehearsal, not just doing ten minutes here, 10 minutes there because these guys -- it's like a football game. You have to practice, practice, and practice.

BEGALA: I played Bush for Gore in 2000 in those debate preps. We did some that were just segments. You had to hone in on your position. But the 90-minute ones, when it's a full rehearsal, it wears you out physically.

CASTELLANOS: But there's a reticence on the candidates' parts to do that because they don't want to leave it on the practice field. They want to do it little bit by little bit and then maybe before the big game --

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you.

Some United States Marines are now speaking out about a Taliban attack that not only claimed two U.S. lives. It also destroyed more aircraft, fighter aircraft, than any single attack since the Vietnam War. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is Chick-Fil-A really changing its stance when it comes to gay marriage? Its president suggests it's not. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's the latest on this one? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, a Chicago alderman, he wants clarification from Chick-Fil-A. He says the company's president, Dan Cathy, is publicly denying that Chick-Fil-A has stopped donating to anti-gay marriage groups.

Last week, an alderman, Joe Marino, said the fastfood restaurant chain halted donations following months of investigations. But on Friday, Cathy said that was incorrect.

Marino calls Cathy's latest comments disturbing and contradictory and he says it has, quote, "muddied the progress that was made."

If you feel like your bank fees just keep going up, well, you are right. The financial research firm bankrate.com says banks are hiking ATM fees to record levels.

At the same time, banks also are cutting back on free checking accounts in response to increased regulations restricting debit card fees and overdraft fees.

Take a look at this. It is a waterspout in Lake Michigan. Stunning images. You got take a look at these. In case you were wondering, a waterspout is a tornado over water.

It occurs most frequently in Michigan during the late summer and early fall months when the Great Lakes are at their warmest. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Last week, we saw that fire spot in Australia. Now we see this waterspout, pretty amazing video.

BLITZER: Imagine if you're in a boat and you see something like that. You can get pretty nervous.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I would not want to see that thing coming my way. I can tell you that much.

BLITZER: Mother nature at work. Thank you. Thanks very much.

U.S. Marines, they are speaking out now about that Taliban attack that claimed U.S. lives and destroyed U.S. aircraft. Stand by. We have a firsthand account.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning firsthand details about how U.S. Marines fought off an attack that damaged or destroyed more aircraft than any single incident in decades. And it happened this month at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJOR GREER C. CHAMBLESS, MARINEE AVIATION MAINTENANCE OFFICER: We see flaming aircrafts. We see the enemy shooting at us. We're seeking cover. We're hearing small arms fire, AK-47s, and at some point soon thereafter see another RPG shot towards us and towards our building.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time on television, U.S. Marines tell CNN just how bad it got on the night of September 14th here at Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan when the Taliban got inside the base.

Major Greer Chambless and Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Rabel raced to the scene as the first rounds hit.

CHAMBLESS: He performed heroically that night. He came out of the door, he saw the enemy, engaged the enemy.

STARR: These Taliban videos, which NATO believes show the insurgents getting ready weeks before the attack may be a clue to how 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters dressed in U.S.-style military uniforms infiltrated through the fence on the eastern edge of the airfield.

When it all happened, the Taliban broke into three groups. One group headed right for the fight line. Six jets were destroyed, more than $200 million in damage. Some Marines say it is the largest loss of aircraft since the Vietnam War.

CHAMBLESS: We're hearing ammunition began to cook off as well as their rounds that they're firing at us. We're hearing the sounds of fire as the gas is released from the aircraft. So it was a surreal scene to behold.

STARR: Staff Sergeant Gustavo Delgado led another team into the firefight.

STAFF SGT. GUSTAVO DELGADO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Well, it's definitely like the movies. You know, how you see -- I mean, the fire was huge. So you can feel the heat hitting your face. You can smell it. You can hear all the snapping and cracking and all around the walls, all around you.

STARR: For Sergeant Bradley Atwell and Christopher Rabel, it would be their final mission. Both men died after their wounds. Lieutenant Colonel Rabel remembered by his Marines.

CHAMBLESS: He took decisive action. He led his Marines and led them from the front.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Lieutenant Colonel Rabel went up against the Taliban, Wolf, with the only weapon he had that night, his 9-millimeter pistol at his side. A full investigation remains ongoing as to how the Taliban got inside Camp Bastion in the first place.

BLITZER: They have to figure that out. Barbara, good report. Thanks very, very much, very disturbing information.

Other disturbing information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, the U.S. consulate that was attacked in Benghazi, Libya, has a waiver for less security than required. What happened? We'll let you know when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The band "Green Day" says lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong is seeking treatment for substance abuse. The announcement comes after Armstrong's on-stage meltdown that ended with him smashing a guitar.

Let's bring in our entertainment correspondent, Nischelle Turner, to explain what happened. So what happened, Nischelle?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was pretty dramatic, like you said. By dramatic, I'm talking about that on-stage meltdown for "Green Day's" singer.

He lost it during at a performance at the "I Heart Radio Music Festival" when his band was giving what he thought was an early wrap signal. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG, GREEN DAY SINGER: You have to be -- joking. This has to be a -- joke. I have one minute left. Now I've got nothing left. Let me show you what one -- minute means. One minute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: As you can hear, the crowd actually loved this. I'm not sure they really knew what was going on here. But at the same time, so did the official Twitter account from the concert, which tweeted, the band, quote, "ends their set in a monumental way."

But with "Green Day" now announcing on its web site that Armstrong is getting treatment for substance abuse, doesn't seem like it's something to get so excited about now. At least one report says that "Green Day's" set was delayed by Usher's performance which ran over.

But "Green Day" is officially apologizing for what happened, Wolf, saying, quote, "We would like everyone to know that our set was not cut short by clear channel and to apologize to those we offended at the I-Heart Radio Festival in Las Vegas."

So they are saying it wasn't anything about anyone running over and we apologize for all of that that happened.

BLITZER: They have a new album coming out. So what does it mean for the band going forward? What's the word on the street?

TURNER: Well, there's still the same plan, the plan for the new album, which is called "Uno." They're still on track. It's going to release tomorrow. Also the band still apparently has the same plans to release two more albums between now and January.

What had been canceled though are some upcoming promotional appearances. They are supposed to kick off a tour in late November. But right now, they probably don't know themselves how that's going to be impacted.

As for their fans, probably won't have a lot of impact there because they're a punk band. As long as he can get treatment and come back to the stage, it probably won't have much of an impact on the fans.

One last thing though, Billie Joe Armstrong is still going to be appearing on NBC's "The Voice" in some upcoming episodes. He was tapped as a celebrity mentor on the show. He already taped those episodes over the summer. That's going on as planned, too.

BLITZER: Nischelle, thanks very, very much for that.

Let's go to Jack, he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You don't expect that they might have planned for all this publicity one day before the new album comes out, do you, Wolf?

BLITZER: You never know.

CAFFERTY: Well, one never knows. The question this hour, how is Romney-Obama like Reagan-Carter in 1980?

Lou says, "Not anything at all. Romney is no Reagan, whether you agreed with Reagan or not when he took a stand, he stuck to it. Romney has been all over the place on every issue. People compare Obama to Carter because they say he is weak on foreign policy. But those comparisons don't hold water. How can you compare a rescue mission that failed to a secret hit mission that succeeded?"

Patrick writes, "The parallels between this election and 1980 are uncanny. We have a bad economy with high unemployment just like 1980. Our respect around the world has diminished greatly in particular in the Middle East.

We have a president who preaches the redistribution of wealth. Former President Carter agreed with that same type of system. Romney, like Reagan, is preaching more self-reliance and less dependence on government."

Grant writes, "This election is nothing like Reagan-Carter. During that election, we had the problems of the Arab oil embargo and also the Iran hostage crisis. Reagan was well-liked. Nobody likes Romney, not even his Republican backers. Reagan had finesse and showmanship. Romney does not."

George in Pennsylvania, "There's no similarity whatsoever. Romney- Obama is like paying big money for a Broadway show and then finding out that the understudies are going to perform instead."

Bennie in Connecticut, "Carter and Obama are so similar, Jack. We have a miserable depression, a totally failed foreign policy, a lack of leadership and a failed presidency of someone so incompetent you can't believe he ever got elected in the first place. Romney will be the Reagan of 2012 and win in spite of all the phony polls put out by the corrupt media."

And Dan writes, "It's not. Comparing Mitt Romney to President Reagan is like comparing junior samples of Hee Haw to Stephen Hawkings."

If you want to read more on this high brow issue, you go to the blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.