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Presidential Candidates Prepare to Debate; Interview With Robert Gibbs; Romney Camp Seizes on Biden Remark; Airline Investigating Loose Seats

Aired October 2, 2012 - 18:00   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: countdown to debate night. Two big players in the battle for the White House join us live, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney adviser Kevin Madden.

Candid interviews with the candidates' wives. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney talk to CNN.

Plus, a potentially dangerous mystery involving seats on American Airlines planes.

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

We're counting down to debate night in America, the first face- to-face contest between President Obama and the man who would like to replace him in the Oval Office, Governor Mitt Romney. Both campaigns have a tremendous amount riding on the outcome of tomorrow night's showdown in Denver.

Let's go straight to Denver and our national chief national correspondent, John King.

John, we're only a little bit more than 24 hours away from this first presidential debate. What's happening right now?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the main event is tomorrow night.

That's when the American people get to hear directly from President Obama and from Governor Romney in a debate that will be largely focused on the economy and domestic issues. But now, today, today is more what you have of the preparations and the ritual day. We can't show you a live picture inside the debate hall right now, because both of the candidates' senior staff are going through and they're checking out every last detail. Do we like where the podiums are? Do we like the lighting? Is there anything in the hall we want to relay to our candidate or maybe complain to the organizers?

That's a part of the ritual, it happens in every debate. The most interesting part is it is a reminder we have never seen Governor Romney one-on-one in a presidential debate and it's been four years since President Obama had that experience against Senator John McCain.

So as you watch the staffs go through today, they're just checking their boxes and making sure everybody will be comfortable in the hall. The candidates do their own walk-throughs tomorrow to get comfortable with that stage after the Secret Service sweeps. But they're doing their final debate preps and the campaign staffs are conducting their pre-debate ritual, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as they go through this, they actually do, you know, actual 90-minute or so Q&A sessions, real debates. They got people pretending to be others, but they actually work through what's going on.

KING: They do.

And both of the candidates have said that they're being grilled pretty hard in these debate sessions. Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, he's standing in for Governor Romney. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio who's done this for years on the Republican side, he's standing in for President Obama.

And both Governor Romney and President Obama say they're getting roughed up, that they're being forced to study here. Governor Romney took a break with Senator Portman. He went to Chipotle here in the Denver area to get a little lunch. The president also took a break. He had a campaign event out in Nevada and after that he stopped by to witness the Hoover Dam.

They're taking a break from these preparations. But when you talk to the staffs, they say both Senator Kerry and Senator Portman are being pretty tough, because the main point tomorrow is make your policy proposals. For Governor Romney, he has to say the president has failed. What would he do differently in the economy?

For the president, to defend the economic record and the other proposals of the last four years. But the tell, the substance is most of the debate, but you don't want to make a mistake. You don't want to look at your watch, you don't want to sigh, you don't want to do something that could offend people out there.

So we're told all of these sessions, or not all of them, but most of these sessions are recorded so the staff can go back and look at them and if necessary, show the candidate and say maybe politely, sir, maybe you don't want to do that on national television in such a high- stakes debate.

BLITZER: Good advice from these coaches who are watching what is going on. Thanks very much. John's in Denver for us.

Mitt Romney is talking about the debates and the expectations surrounding tomorrow night's contest.

Kate Bolduan is here. She's watching this part of the story as well.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course.

As John King just noted, he's in full debate prep mode today. But listen to what Romney said last night at a rally in Denver.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of interest surrounding the debate. And people want to know, who's going to win. Who's going to score the punches and who's going to make the biggest difference and the arguments it makes and there's going to be all the scoring of winning and losing. And, you know, in my view, it's not so much winning and losing or even the people themselves, the president and myself.

It's about something bigger than that. These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we would choose. And the American people are going to have to make their choice as to what kind of America they want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So how does he plan to lay out that choice for Americans tomorrow night?

Let's talk about that and more with Romney senior campaign adviser Kevin Madden.

Kevin, thanks very much for coming in. We're a little over 24 hours away from the first debate. How is Governor Romney preparing for this right now?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, a lot of what John said earlier is true.

The fact that President Obama, he's actually the only person on stage who has actually been in these general election, nationally televised, one-on-one debates. So a lot of what we have been trying to do in our preparation is just get used to this sort of game day conditions that come with these, practicing at a podium, parrying back and forth.

Senator Portman is working as his debate practice partner. He has been very good about making the case and parrying back and forth with Governor Romney. So a lot of that preparation, a lot of our effort has gone into that type of preparation, but also then offering -- the governor is actually really focused on crystallizing the choice for a lot of voters.

You played that clip earlier from the event last night. And I think that's really important to him. He really wants those voters out there who haven't made up their mind to really see the important contrast on the big issues between the two candidates on stage tomorrow night.

BOLDUAN: Now, Kevin, you talked about crystallizing the choices. One of the topics that's sure to come up is health care in tomorrow's debate. I want to remind you and remind our viewers, of course, of something that Senator Rick Santorum said during a primary debate that Wolf actually moderated back in January. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: You just said that top- down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now, Governor Romney, though, recently, Kevin, had said even to NBC News, I think it was even just last week, that it was a sign of empathy and that it showed how much he cared that he had made sure that everybody in his state was insured.

So which is it going to be tomorrow night? Is he going to fully embrace the health care that he put in place, the health care reform he put in place in Massachusetts?

MADDEN: Well, look, there are very big differences in how Governor Romney and President Obama approach the issue of health care.

The first thing you have to remember, which I think is really one of the most important things on health care, which is that Governor Romney didn't apply a one size fits all federal standard that's spent $1.7 trillion at a time where the American people felt like we didn't have it, while also raiding Medicare of $716 billion to pay for that.

Governor Romney's was a plan that was applied to one state. It was applied to a unique health care population in that state, which was about seven million people, not like what we have seen with President Obama, where he essentially took one-sixth of the American economy, reorganized it, applied that federal standard, and said, let's see if this works.

I think the American people have judged that plan very harshly, because it wasn't bipartisan, it hasn't brought down costs. It hasn't been something that's helped a lot of health care consumers. It's putting government between many patients and their doctors, so there are very big differences there.

I think tomorrow night, the choice on how we go forward with health care, what we do to really do to bring down those costs, help have a more patient-centrist system, I think that's going to be discussed and we look forward to that debate. I know Governor Romney does.

BLITZER: On the issue of illegal immigration, Kevin, the governor says he won't try to change what the president did by executive order recently, allow children of illegal immigrants who were brought here to this country or raised in this country to be deported. They can get a special two-year visa. He's going to let them stay.

Why did it take him so long to articulate this position?

MADDEN: Well, look, we have had a debate on immigration throughout this campaign. And I expect we're going to have one going forward. I think of the important points that Governor Romney is going to make is that President Obama has failed on the issue of immigration reform. He promised to offer more comprehensive, wholesale change on immigration reform. It was going to be his first bill, and he hasn't done that.

And I think as a result, many Americans are not happy with the lack of progress on that issue. And on the particular issue of those waivers, Governor Romney has said that those that have acquired the waivers, that he would allow those waivers to stand. But what he would do, which would be much more important, I think to solving the overall problem is modernize our immigration system so we can allow immigration, so that many of the people here they can see ways where they can move on a path towards citizenship and it can help grow our economy and help secure our border.

Again, those are going to be very big differences. I think many people are rightly upset that President Obama has failed on this issue and I think he even said it was one of his greatest failures. I think I would disagree with that because there have been so many economic failures, the failure to create jobs, the failure to bring down the deficit.

But he has himself even said that it hasn't been an issue that he has made any progress on.

BOLDUAN: Kevin, I want to get to some polls we have on Latino likely voters, but I want to quickly want to ask you, why did Governor Romney wait to this point to bring this position forward on illegal -- on the immigration policy?

MADDEN: Well, Kate, we have had a lot of discussions on that issue. I think this was an opportunity where a question was asked, specifically on that question, and the governor answered it.

He did talk in expansive terms about immigration, what he would do to modernize the immigration system, how it's an important part of our economy during his recent interview that he had with Univision. And I think it will continue to be a part of this debate.

BOLDUAN: Kevin, I want to show you, we put up on our screen for our viewers some new polling we have out today showing that President Obama really has an overwhelming lead among likely Latino voters, 70, to 26 for Governor Romney.

Are you now aggressively courting the Latino vote,? Are you expecting to get anywhere near or beyond what Senator McCain got back in 2008, which was 31 percent?

MADDEN: Well, Kate, thank you for the question.

We have been working very hard on courting Hispanic voters. It's been an important part of our outreach efforts. We're going to continue to do it as we go through this campaign. We have been working with a lot of great Republicans, Hispanic Republicans, that are really leaders in our party, folks like Marco Rubio, to do exactly that. So we're going to continue to try to work there.

We're going to try to look at all these demographics where we need to have improvements and continue to try and get every single voter, reach out to every single voter and talk to Governor Romney about exactly what he would do to set the country on a better course, and why he would be better for many of these voters than President Obama has been.

BLITZER: Yes. That 70 to 26 number is huge right now among likely Latino voters.

You're doing better in the national polls among likely voters right now, but in these states, Florida, for example, we did a poll of polls, 50/45, New Hampshire, 51/42 for Obama, Iowa, 50/44, Ohio, 51/44.

These are pretty worrisome numbers at this stage, aren't they, Kevin?

MADDEN: Look, I think the one thing you have to remember, Wolf, and I think even Democrats will say this, is public opinion is not an event, it's a process.

The polls are going to go up, the polls are going to go down. I think we're very -- I think this race is exactly where we all expected it to be, which is it's a very close race. I think a lot of our data and a lot of the research that we see has shown this to be a field goal race, both nationally and in many of these early -- many of these early -- I'm sorry, many of these battleground states.

So we're going to continue to work very hard. We have got 34- plus days to get our message out, make sure that our grassroots volunteers across all these states are getting out, voter-to-voter contact, telling their friends and neighbors that they need to come out and support Governor Romney.

And the poll that matters the most, I know it's a cliche, but the poll that matters to the most to us is the one that's on Election Day.

BLITZER: Kevin Madden, thanks very much. We will stay in touch with you, obviously, over these next five weeks.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: I'm sure. Absolutely. Great to be you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And in just a few minutes, we're going to hear from the Obama campaign senior adviser, Robert Gibbs. He's standing by to join us live as well. He's in Denver.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, they both -- both of them go one on one with CNN, the candidates' wives talking candidly, openly about the debates and a lot more. We will hear from each of them. That's coming up next. Also, loose seats found on more American Airlines planes. Dozens are now being inspected as this mystery grows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Their husbands will be in the spotlight tomorrow night, but first lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney will both play important roles at the first presidential debate. Both women spoke to CNN about it. We're going to hear from Ann Romney in just a moment.

But, first, here's CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, with details of her interview with the first lady.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when I sat down for my exclusive interview with Mrs. Obama, she was campaigning with her brother, Craig Robinson, and she told me how she will feel when she's in the audience for the big night watching the president debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I get so nervous at these debates. You know, I'm like one of those parents watching their kid on a balance beam. You're just standing there, just trying not to, you know, have any expression at all.

YELLIN: I have read that before a speech, you tell him, have fun, but a debate's a little bit different, because it's more of a competition, more like a game of one on one. What's your motivational advice to him before...

M. OBAMA: You know, he doesn't need much advice. He's been doing this for quite some time. So he knows the job.

He's been doing it for quite some time. He's a very good debater. So I do tell him to have fun and relax and just be himself, because the truth is, if he's the Barack Obama the country has come to know and trust, he's going to do a great job.

YELLIN: Now, some of his aides have said, one of his challenges is to keep the answers short. And I know that you have said that you critique his speeches afterwards.

M. OBAMA: Oh, no, I don't critique his speeches afterwards, actually. You know, I give him my positive reinforcement.

YELLIN: Only positive?

M. OBAMA: Generally, yes, because he's a great speaker. You know, I mean, he's good at this.

YELLIN: So do you think he has any challenges going in?

M. OBAMA: You know, I haven't really -- you know, I would have to think about that afterwards, but going into it, I think he's going to do his best. (END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: The first lady is definitely on message, and no surprise, she's one of the campaign's most popular speakers.

She's done 87 fund-raisers and 35 rallies in 10 different battleground states. I did try, but the first lady would not offer any critique of the president's debate style, no matter how constructive. And, Wolf, we will have more of my exclusive interview with the first lady tomorrow night before the big debate.

BLITZER: Thanks very, very much, Jessica Yellin. Good work.

BOLDUAN: Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who sat down with Ann Romney just recently to talk about the debates.

What did she have to say about the debate prep?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I went to Reno, Nevada, last week, where Ann Romney was campaigning. The first question I started with, we really wanted to talk about these debates and how her husband prepares and her role in this.

So I asked her whether she was going to be the Mitt stabilizer, which is what her kids call her most of the time. So take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I feel like that's my role for mitt, especially when he's going through such a difficult time. I'm there for him. We're there for each other emotionally all the time.

In the last 20 debates that we did in the primary, I felt that was my most important role.

BORGER: So how do you do that?

A. ROMNEY: You know, it's a cute thing that he does. Almost after every answer, he finds me in the audience. As soon as he gets on stage, the first thing he does is takes off his watch and puts it on the podium, but then he writes dad on the piece of paper.

And that's amazing, because he loves his dad, respects his dad, doesn't want to do anything that would not make his father proud. And just a reminder that, yes, I'm here, but, dad, I love and respect who you are, what you have taught me, what kind of a person you are, and I'm going to honor that.

And so I love the fact that Mitt does that. So he writes that and then he looks in the audience and finds me. He has to find where I am. He just -- he needs just that connection. And almost after every answer that he gives, he will find me in the audience to see, was that good? Was that OK?

BORGER: But what do you do? A. ROMNEY: Good, good.

BORGER: What if you don't like what he did?

A. ROMNEY: Ooh, ooh. No, I don't -- ooh. I don't do any of that.

BORGER: So even on stage...

A. ROMNEY: There's an emotional connection that's happening between the two of us during the debate itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Now, Mrs. Romney also told me that her husband has to make that same kind of emotional connection to the audience during the debate.

And, by the way, she also took the time to take on her husband's critics within the Republican Party. You know, they have been saying his campaign isn't being run the right way. And then she also talked about how hard and often frustrating it is to try and get a campaign message across right in the heat of the battle. So she was pretty candid during this interview.

BLITZER: Both of these women are really impressive. And the polls show, Gloria, you know this, that they are actually more likable than their respective husbands.

BORGER: There's a reason. They are more likable.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How do they translate that likability to help their husbands, especially on a debate night?

BORGER: Well, I think what you saw Ann Romney trying to do and what she's been trying to do throughout this campaign is really be her husband's chief character witness.

What she says is, look, if I love this man and I'm a likable, warm, human being, then you ought to consider him as somebody who is warm and likable, because his big problem right now is that he doesn't connect with people. By a three-to-one margin, people believe that President Obama understands their problems.

So her job on the campaign trail is to tell voters, you know what, my husband really does understand the struggles you're going through. And they didn't use her a lot during the primaries. I think they finally discovered, maybe late in the game, that she's actually a very good campaign surrogate for them, very, very strong.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Glad you went out to Reno, Nevada, to sit down with Ann Romney. Good work on Gloria's part and Jessica's part as well. By the way, to our viewers, you can see a lot more of both of these interviews with Michelle Obama and Ann Romney tomorrow night. It's all part of our special coverage of the first presidential debate. Our special coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern, debate night in America right here on CNN and CNN.com.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, the U.S. is eyeing potential targets in Libya, linked to the deadly attack on an American Consulate there. New details coming in from the Pentagon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: CNN has confirmed that the U.S. is preparing for a possible strike against targets in Libya linked to the consulate attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working this story for us.

Barbara, what new are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, let's explain to everybody what we're talking about here, when we say that in fact the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military is in the very preliminary stages of assembling target lists, possible militant personnel to go after inside Libya responsible for that attack.

It is what they do. The CIA, the military commando units, they gathering intelligence. We know they have been doing that since the attack. They put it together, with all the information they have, satellite imagery, communication intercepts, what they know about a militant organization, some of these groups in eastern Libya and they develop a potential target list.

This is very preliminary work, we are told, assembling that list so they will be ready if President Obama were to ask for it. There's no decision to do it. It's not even ready, really. It's not fully cooked. Still gathering intelligence, we are told, but this is another stage in all of this, gathering the information, putting it together, figuring out how much they really have, and whether they have the targets they can go after.

What an official tells us is names are being teed up, in his words -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Something we will continue to watch very closely. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this evening, thanks so much, Barbara.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, indeed.

The Romney campaign is seizing on a remark today by Vice President Joe Biden. We have details of what he said, how the Obama campaign is reacting. The senior adviser, Robert Gibbs, is standing by to join us live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The vice president, Joe Biden, is giving the Romney campaign a fresh target, only 24 hours before the first presidential debate.

BOLDUAN: Republicans are seizing on what Biden said about -- about America's middle class at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years. How in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The Romney campaign jumped all over that, first from the candidate's Twitter account, saying this, quote, "Romney agrees with Joe Biden. The middle class has been buried the last four years, which is why we need a change in November." And out on the campaign trail, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan hammered it home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, "buried." We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney, the next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some reaction right now from the Obama campaign. The senior adviser, Robert Gibbs, is joining us live from Denver, the site of the debate tomorrow night.

So, was the vice president right, Robert? Has the middle class been buried, in his words, over the last four years?

ROBERT GIBBS, SENIOR ADVISOR, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Wolf, they've been buried by a series of bad economic decisions that led to an economic catastrophe that happened four years ago.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama have been talking about this for four years, and quite frankly, the last two years on the campaign trail, we've been digging out from all these bad decisions.

And look, they're relevant today, because what Mitt Romney wants to do is take all those bad decisions -- huge tax cuts for the wealthy instead of the middle class, letting Wall Street write its own rules -- he wants to go back to all of that. Because for some reason, he remembers those as good economic times. But the middle class doesn't remember those as good economic times. We have dug out, we've added jobs for the past 30 minutes in the private sector. And I think that's what's important, and that's what this choice will be about.

BLITZER: But I assume you agree that, if you had your way, a do- over, he could have phrased it a little bit better than the way he did. I understand what you're saying, and I certainly appreciate what he -- what he probably wanted to say, but the way it came out was not necessarily politically smart.

GIBBS: Well, look, Wolf, I'm -- I think the debate tomorrow is going to be the choice that Joe Biden exactly set up today.

He was talking about the fact that Mitt Romney's got a $5 trillion tax plan for the wealthy. When Paul Ryan was asked to explain the math on this, he said he didn't have time. The problem isn't the lack of time to explain the $5 trillion plan; it's the math that's involved in it. And we've seen study after study, economically, that in order to pay for a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, he increases taxes on the middle class.

That's not a way to build the economy. It's a way to build the economy if you're Mitt Romney...

BLITZER: All right.

GIBBS: ... and you want to do it from the top down, but not from the middle out. And that's what this debate will be about tomorrow.

BLITZER: I want to move on. Kate's got a question. But quickly, how would you have phrased that one line? What would have been a better way to say it?

GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to parse the words of the vice president. I thought it was very clear. I don't think anybody misunderstood what he was talking about.

Look, the Romney campaign is at a point where they true to seize on one syllable or one inflection point to try to make things into this gaffe or that gaffe. I'm happy to have this debate.

BOLDUAN: Well, Robert, we will move on, but you know that both sides play at that game, picking at every word and every syllable to pick up a gaffe and put a press release out about it.

GIBBS: With the Romney campaign, it's been a gold-medal-winning Olympic sport.

BOLDUAN: You were waiting for that one. Very good, credit from that one.

All right, so let's talk about the economy. Mitt Romney, he may have given us a little preview of what he might be saying in the debate tomorrow. Take a listen to what he had to say at a rally on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This economy is not in recovery. We're not seeing a real recovery. The president's policies have not worked. He doesn't get that. He doesn't understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So he -- Mitt Romney's probably referring to a few things there. No. 1, that the president made that comment in the past that the private sector is doing fine. He's probably also referring to the fact that the GDP was 1.3 percent in the second -- in the second quarter.

What is President Obama's message against this tomorrow? The economy is not working in his favor when you list out those facts, going into this debate.

GIBBS: Well, Kate, what I think you'll see the president do tomorrow is talk about where we've come. You mentioned 1.3 percent GDP growth, which everyone wants to be stronger, but we're reminded that the quarter before Barack Obama became president, it was negative 9 percent. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We're not nearly where we want to be, but we're on a path moving forward, and we're moving in a positive direction.

I think you'll see the president tomorrow night have -- try to have a discussion directly with the American people about where we've been, but most importantly, where we need to keep going to continue strengthening this economy.

Whether it's doubling our exports, whether it's bringing back manufacturing jobs into this country, whether it's improving our educational system with new math and science teachers. A whole host of things that we can continue to do to strengthen our economy, put the middle class back to work, and give them a real sense of security.

BLITZER: The Pew Research Center came out with a poll. They asked the question, "Who will do a better job in Wednesday's debate?" This is registered voters. Look at this, Robert: 51 percent thought the president would do a better job; Romney, 29 percent. I assume this puts a lot of pressure on the president. He's really got to deliver, doesn't he?

GIBBS: Well, look, you know, I think that the president certainly has come onto the scene, and you heard him give big speeches, but this is a very different format. You know, the president hasn't done this in four years.

But, look, and I think the president looks at this not as a boxing match, or as you've heard the Romney campaign talk about they're practicing zingers and, you know, sharp lines. I think what the president, again, wants to, like I said, is have a direct conversation with the American people. Talk to them about where we are and where we need to go. And I think if he does that, we'll do -- we'll do just fine. BOLDUAN: And real quick, Robert, let me ask you -- let me put it to you this way. What do we think is the president's -- because we know you're very complimentary of him and, of course, support him. What do you think the president's biggest liability is going into the debate?

GIBBS: Well, Kate, you're trying to get me in trouble on national TV.

BOLDUAN: Never.

GIBBS: But look, I think, you know, you've seen articles about this, and others have talked about it. You know, you get a very short window of time to give an answer. And, you know, sometimes the president has brevity problems. So I'm sure they've done some work on that in the past few days.

He hasn't gotten as much practice because of events around the world, as he might like, but again, I think he looks at this as a real opportunity to talk directly to the American people.

BLITZER: We're looking forward to him, we're looking forward to Romney. It will be a strong debate. Robert, thanks very much for coming in.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Robert.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CNN, by the way, has now confirmed that even more planes have been impacted by those airline seats aboard American Airlines, those 757s, tumbling over in flight. So what's causing it? We have new details of a potentially dangerous mystery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, imagine this: sitting in an airplane seat during takeoff, and it tumbles over backwards.

BOLDUAN: I know. That's what happened to some passengers on an American Airlines flight, whose seats were loose, and it's not an isolated incident. That's what's so interesting about this. CNN's Brian Todd has been working this story for us.

Brian, what are you finding out now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Wolf, we've learned that a total of six aircraft in the American Airlines fleet have each been discovered to have had a row of seats that was not properly secured. The airline is now inspecting a total of 47 planes. This comes after two flights had to divert because seats came loose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Twice within 48 hours, whole rows of seats on American Airlines 757s become dislodged. First on Saturday, an American flight from Boston to Miami has to divert to New York's JFK Airport. A passenger who doesn't want to be identified, describes what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The seats flipped backwards. It was actually a complete nightmare. And so people were essentially on the laps of the passengers behind them.

TODD: And here's the pilot, radioing in to air traffic control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During climb-out, rows -- passenger seats row 12 D, E, and F came loose out of the floor. Passengers are unable to sit in that seat. The seat is loose. We don't want that thing flying around and hurting the passengers behind them -- behind them.

TODD: Then on Monday, a flight from JFK to Miami has to return to New York. Same problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our seats 14 A, B, and C, I think are totally disconnected.

TODD: American Airlines now says a total of six aircraft in its fleet each had a row of seats that was not properly secured. The airline says it is investigating, inspecting 47 of its planes. No one was injured in these incidents, but Kevin Hyatt of the Flight Safety Foundation says it's obviously dangerous.

KEVIN HYATT, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: Your risk is much higher of injuring your passenger if you get into some type of a turbulent flight situation. So this is definitely something not to be taken lightly.

TODD: Hyatt says American is in the process of refurbishing the cabins of its planes. The FAA says there are indications that seats on both planes had recently been removed, undergone maintenance, and been reinstalled. American says the seats came loose because clamps on the legs were not properly installed.

(on camera) This is just the latest in a series of setbacks for American Airlines, which is now in bankruptcy. It's been battling recently with its major unions over contract terms. And over the past month, about 12,000 American flights have been delayed, more than 1,000 canceled.

(voice-over) American has blamed the slowdown on what it claims are frivolous maintenance complaints by the pilots. The pilots' union denies that. I asked Hyatt a question relating to American's overall labor strike.

(on camera) Could these incidents mean there could be some sabotage?

HYATT: Unlikely not. I would say no sabotage. The mechanics, the pilots, everybody that works around the aircraft has a basic responsibility. And when it comes to the safety of flight, they're not going to compromise that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Hyatt also says when an airline goes into bankruptcy, as American is now, the FAA puts an extra amount of oversight onto that carrier in order to make sure that no corners are being cut.

American Airlines says it would never compromise the safety and reliability of its fleet -- Wolf, Kate.

BLITZER: I understand there's also an issue involving outsourcing that's going on with American Airlines, as well.

TODD: It is. The union representing American's mechanics and other maintenance workers says that the problems with the seats are not related to their labor issues, but rather related to the fact that American outsources work to third-party facilities. That union pointed the finger pretty much squarely at a company called TIMCO, which does a lot of the seat installation here.

We reached out to TIMCO, and they wouldn't comment on this. But Kevin Hyatt, the safety expert, says, as long as the airline is overseeing the work, it shouldn't make a difference if they outsource that work.

BLITZER: I suspect you're going to be on this story a little bit longer.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people interested in this.

BLITZER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: You're in row 12 or 14, and all of a sudden you're in row 15.

BOLDUAN: It's not funny. I'm not laughing.

BLITZER: All right. So that's what we're watching.

BOLDUAN: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Wolf's moderated many debates with both -- both candidates. His take, coming up next. Don't want to miss that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: A lot of people have been giving their forecasts about the first presidential debate tomorrow night. So we decided, who better to hear from than the man who's moderated debates with both Mitt Romney and President Obama, our own Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for having me here to discuss this.

BOLDUAN: Well... BLITZER: Thank you. I've moderated, by the way, four debates involving then-Senator Obama. That was four years ago. Four debates with Mitt Romney, three of them just in this cycle. I can tell you, their styles are different.

BOLDUAN: Their styles are different. We have a couple of clips to kind of illustrate this, and I want to work through this, so please humor me.

BLITZER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: First, let's hear from Mitt Romney. This was in January of this year at the CNN Republican debate in Jacksonville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to try again?

ROMNEY: Wouldn't it be nice if -- if people didn't make accusations somewhere else if they weren't willing to defend here?

GINGRICH: All right. OK.

ROMNEY: Speaker, you've indicated that somehow I don't earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn't inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America. I'm proud of being successful. I'm proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I'm not going to run from that.

I'm proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent. So, look, let's put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money. And let's get Republicans to say, you know what? What you've accomplished in your life shouldn't be seen as detriment. It should be seen as an asset to help America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of people remember that debate moment. I mean, Romney really went after Newt Gingrich there. What does that tell you? What did that tell you, and what does that say about today?

BLITZER: I think that was the moment that he basically put Newt Gingrich away, especially in Florida, which was the key battleground state at that time for the Republican nomination.

You know, when I confronted Newt Gingrich with that question, and I challenged him to answer it, he was looking at Romney, looking at Santorum: maybe these guys can help me. We don't to have to get into this. But Romney really pounced. It showed me that this Republican now-presidential nominee, he's tough, he's feisty, he's smart, he can respond.

And if he does to the president what he did to Newt Gingrich, this is going to be a tough debate for the president to handle. He's got those skills.

BOLDUAN: I think that's an excellent point. OK. So let's move on to the president himself. His advisers keep saying that he can tend to come across as being kind of professorial. Watch this. This is from January of 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In an interview with CNN this week, you said this. You said, quote, "I stood up for a humane and intelligent immigration policy in a way that, frankly, none of my other opponents did." What did you mean by that?

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what I meant was that when this issue came up, not driver's license, but comprehensive immigration reform generally, I worked with Ted Kennedy, I worked with Dick Durbin, I worked with John McCain, although he may not admit it now, to move this issue forward, aggressively.

And it's a hard political issue. Let's be honest. This is not an issue that polls well. But I think it is the right thing to do. Immigration...

BLITZER: Senator Clinton's policy was not, in your words, humane?

OBAMA: That is -- what I said was that we have to stand up for these issues when it's tough. And that's what I've done.

BLITZER: Was she lacking on that front?

OBAMA: Wolf, you keep on trying to...

BLITZER: I'm just trying to figure out what you mean.

OBAMA: The -- there are those who were opposed to this issue, and there have been those who have flipped on the issue and have run away from the issue. This wasn't directed particularly at Senator Clinton. But the fact of the matter is, I have stood up consistently on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: When you see that back and forth, I mean, you really try to get him to answer that real -- that question there. Do you think he missed an opportunity?

BLITZER: Well, he could have hit Hillary -- that was the last debate...

BOLDUAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... that was at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Only the two of them were left standing at that point among all the Democratic hopefuls.

And he really had an opening there to go after her on that issue, whether there was a humane policy, but he backed off. He didn't close the argument, if you will, unlike what we just saw.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney closed it against Newt Gingrich. He held back. I think it's part of that professorial style. If he holds back tomorrow night as he did there against Hillary Clinton, he could have problems in these debates.

BOLDUAN: So you've seen these two men in action, and up close, as you've moderated these debates. So what do you think as we head into tomorrow?

BLITZER: I think it's going to be a strong debate. I think they're both extremely smart. They both have got a lot of experience. The president has been doing this now for four years.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BLITZER: He's the commander in chief. You have to be totally respectful to the president of the United States. But I think it's going to be lively. I think it's going to be tough, and neither one of them is going to hold back. I suspect.

BOLDUAN: I think you're right.

BLITZER: We're going to have some strong debating out there.

BOLDUAN: Right. Well, there you have it, straight from the man who's done this more than most. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, you don't want to miss the video we have for you next. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was the ride of a lifetime for one dog. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the story of a poodle with oodles of luck. Look where she ended up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was kind of wedged in there with the license plate and the license plate cover. MOOS: The dog ran into the road in Contin (ph), Massachusetts. The driver says he braked but didn't see the poodle mix and thought he missed her so kept going. Drove for 11 miles to East Providence, Rhode Island. At a stoplight, another motorist alerted him to the dog in his grill. Animal control supervisor William Muggle (ph) got her out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was holding onto the front of the bumper, holding on for dear life, as it were.

MOOS: it's believed she suffered a concussion and a minor bladder rupture, but she's fine now. You'd suffer a bladder rupture, too, if you were stuck here for 11 miles.

(on camera) How does something that big fit in here? Check out the size of a pooch that managed to get stuck in a grill in Brazil.

(voice-over) It was like a tug of war. They had to drag the dog out by its hind feet. It kept coming and coming. How much dog can you fit in a grill? And then, as it slinked off, they started yelling "dog" in Portuguese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

MOOS: Because the dog was heading back into traffic.

All kinds of critters get stuck in car grills. From a type of weasel to a parrot. A woman thought she hit the bird, then heard chirping the next day. And this red-tailed hawk looked done-for until mechanics began taking apart the grill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked in there, and he had his head turned kind of sideways, and I could see his eye and he blinked.

MOOS: Injured, but alive.

And then there was the rabbit stuck in this grill. The owner took off the bumper and tried to coax him out. Who are you calling dumb?

(on camera) Maybe he mistook it for a Volkswagen rabbit.

(voice-over) Whatever. Out he came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we go. Hell, yes.

MOOS: Better to be a rabbit in the grill than on the grill. But watching the extraction isn't always pretty. As one person posted, first time I've seen a car give birth. Tell that Peugeot to push.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (HOLDING UP WASHINGTON NATIONALS SHIRT): One final note. Here is my new favorite shirt. You like this shirt? BOLDUAN: I like that shirt.

BLITZER: The Washington Nationals, the new champion, ML East. Congratulations to my Washington Nationals. Love your hat, too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's it for us.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" -- here's the shirt -- starts right now.