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THE SITUATION ROOM

America Closer to Government Shutdown; Obama: GOP's "Trying To Mess with Me"; Obama's New Fight in Coal Country; Dangerous Escape from Navy Yard; Olive Branch from Iranian President in Op-Ed; Interview with Ambassador Michael Oren

Aired September 20, 2013 - 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: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The American people don't want the government shut down and they don't want Obamacare.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: This place is a mess. Let's get our house in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congress creates a new crisis with a vote that could lead to a government shutdown, putting workers' paychecks and public services at risk.

Plus, a survivor of the Navy Yard massacre reveals the gut- wrenching story behind this photo showing her desperate attempt to save her good friend's life.

And Iran's new president sends a message to Americans that the age of so-called "blood feuds," that age is now over. But a top Israeli official tells me he needs hard proof.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, the U.S. government is one step closer to a potentially crippling shutdown in only 10 days. House Republicans pushed through a stopgap spending bill today that would keep the government running, but it would also eliminate funding for ObamaCare. That set the wheels in motion for all sorts of heated battles pitting the House against the Senate, Republicans against Democrats, and even Republicans against Republicans.

CNN's Erin McPike is on Capitol Hill.

She's got more on the shutdown -- showdown right now -- Erin, what's the latest? ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, our viewers should keep in mind that the House of Representatives has voted more than 40 times to stop ObamaCare since it was signed into law more than three years ago. But they think this is the most significant of all those votes, because this time it forces the issue on the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE (voice-over): A rare moment for House Speaker John Boehner, united Republicans celebrating their vote to defund ObamaCare.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The American people don't want the government shut down and they don't want ObamaCare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The yeas are 230 and the nays are 189. The joint resolution is passed without objection. A motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

MCPIKE: All but one Republican voted for the measure and two Democrats joined them, prompting this exuberant response.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: That way today when we acted, it wasn't just a group of Republicans, but it was a bipartisan vote.

MCPIKE: It was a show of force from conservatives, who insisted on defunding ObamaCare as a condition for approving a bill that keeps the government running.

But their effort is dead on arrival in the Senate, and Democrats seized on the potential consequences.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Hat is brought to the floor today is, without a doubt -- without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government. It could have no other intent. Its purpose is clear.

MCPIKE: House Republicans are working to shift blame for the threat of a government shutdown onto Democrats, who control the Senate.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Now it is up to Senate Democrats to show some responsibility and follow the House's lead.

MCPIKE: They're putting the squeeze on vulnerable Democratic Senators up for re-election in red states.

CANTOR: I want to know where Senator Pryor stands on protecting the middle class

(APPLAUSE)

CANTOR: -- from the consequences of this horrific bill. MCPIKE: Cantor singled out Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor and three other Democrats, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Mark Begich of Alaska.

But two of these senators have already told CNN they won't vote to strip money from health care.

Just 10 days remain for the Senate to vote on its plan to fund the government without cutting ObamaCare and pass the buck back to the House.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCPIKE: Now, House Republican leadership announced today that the House will be in session next weekend. And that is an indication that both sides expect that this fight will go down to the wire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will. All right, next weekend. Not this weekend, next weekend. It could be critical.

Erin, thank you.

As this potential shutdown crisis begins to unfold, the president is trying to put the blame squarely on the Republicans.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us now from the White House -- Athena, tell us more about the White House reaction to today's House vote.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, as you said, the blame game is well underway here. President Obama wants Congress to pass a spending bill that can actually make it to his desk. We know he's never going to sign this bill the House passed today. The president says that Republicans are trying to push a narrow ideological agenda, this anti-ObamaCare agenda, that he says threatens the economy and would hurt the middle class.

And today in Missouri, the president continued to make that argument. He called on Congress to pass a spending bill in time to avoid a government shutdown. And he called on them to raise the debt ceiling to avoid even more damage to the economy.

Let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, right now, the debate that's going on in Congress is not meeting the test of helping middle class families. It's just -- they're not focused on you. They're focused on politics. They're focused on trying to mess with me.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: They're not focused on you.

If we fail to increase the debt limit, we would send our economy into a tailspin. That's a quote, by the way, what I just said.

You know who said it?

The Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner. The Republican speaker has said if we don't pay our bills, we'll have an economic tailspin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So there you heard his argument about the debt limit. It's not just his opinion that not raising the debt limit would be bad for the economy, people like John Boehner agree with that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, so what's next for the president?

JONES: Well, you have folks like Republican Senator Ted Cruz saying this is just the beginning of this fight. This bill could go back and forth between the House and the Senate several times. And that very well may be the case.

But the White House's view is that this focus on ObamaCare is a big waste of time. And so you have the president and other officials here who are trying to make the case to the American people that if this all ends in a shutdown, Republicans are to blame.

Now, of course, they're still hoping they can avoid a shutdown. And so with that in mind, the president is planning to speak with Congressional leaders in the coming days.

Still no word on exactly when those conversations are going to take place. But as you know, they don't have a lot of time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he's going to be in New York, at least for part of next week, at the United Nations for the General Assembly meetings.

All right, thanks very much, Athena, over at the White House.

Other important news. The Obama administration has another fight on its hands right now in coal country. And it stems from new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Let's bring in CNN's government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

This is very significant, what the president is trying to do through the EPA.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's a big announcement that happened today. And the new rules are intended to cut carbon pollution generated from power plants.

But it's getting major pushback. Some coal industry advocates say the new rules will mean jobs lost and electricity price hikes. And some expect this fight will land in court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: President Obama took on the coal industry, with the Environmental Protection Agency announcing the first ever carbon limits on America's power plants.

GINA MCCARTHY, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution. New power plants, both natural gas and coal-fired, can minimize their carbon emissions by taking advantage of available modern technology.

MARSH: The proposed new standards would roughly cut emissions from coal plants in half. New plants would need new technology that captures carbon so it's not released in the air. One coal industry group says that would make the process of generating electricity 60 to 80 percent more expensive for an individual plant.

BEN YAMAGATA, COAL UTILIZATION RESEARCH COUNCIL: It is too costly. It is not ready for prime time. But it's also in an environment and a market where we have other options that are much less costly.

MARSH: Coal energy advocates argue the industry generates 40 percent of the nation's electricity and supports more than three quarters of a million American jobs. And they say these new rules could put it all at risk.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What these regulations are going to do is make it impossible to build any more coal-fired power generation plants in the future, which is a devastating development for a state like mine, which gets 90 percent of its electricity from coal-powered generation.

JOHN COEQUYT, SIERRA CLUB: There will be litigation. It will take some time to resolve. We are quite certain that this proposal is legal in its construction. We will defend it in the courts.

MARSH: Al Gore, Tweeting, "Today's EPA announcement is an important step forward for our nation and our planet."

The proposal is part of President Obama's push to tackle climate change calling wildfires, drought, flooding and pollution-linked health problems "the awful alternative" if climate change goes unchecked.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MARSH: All right, well existing plants are exempt from the rule outlined today. The agency is in the process of creating rules specifically for existing plants.

When pressed today, the EPA couldn't say if the increased costs for the technology would be passed onto the consumer.

BLITZER: There are still some unanswered questions here. MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: It's a work in progress, shall we say?

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Rene, thanks very much.

MARSH: Right.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh reporting.

Up next, this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bullet missed me and it shattered the glass right next to where my head was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She escaped the Navy Yard massacre, but her good friend did not. Stand by for her terrifying story and the photo so many Americans are talking about right now.

Also, Israel now responding to a new olive branch from Iran's new president with caution and a demand -- prove it. Stand by for my interview with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was one of the first images captured in the chaos after Monday's horrific Navy Yard massacre right here in Washington -- a woman on the ground desperately trying to save her colleague's life. But no one was entirely sure if it was directly related to the shooting, until now.

Our own Brian Todd has had a chance to speak with this woman and she's got some really unimaginable details to share.

What did you learn -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf, this woman,, says when she first heard the shots, she thought someone had dropped a table. Before she knew it, she was taking cover and her good friend was gravely injured.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Vividly recalls her friend's face, remembers how moments after he got hit in the temple by a gunshot inside their office at the Navy Yard, she thought she could save him.

BERTILLA LAVERN, TRIED TO SAVE FRIEND FROM SHOOTING: LAVERN:

I felt him breathe.

TODD: Lavern says she was just a few feet away from her friend and co-worker, Vishnu Pandit, when gunshots slammed all around their office. She never saw the shooter.

(on camera): You almost got hit yourself, right?

LAVERN: Yes. The bullet missed me because we were already -- I was already moving. And so the bullet missed me and it shattered the glass right next to where my head was.

TODD (voice-over): Pandit was down. But Lavern says when she checked his pulse, it was strong. She and her co-workers ignored their own safety. And what happened next, while the shooter was still on his rampage, is right out of a movie.

LAVERN: The security guard showed up. And, they helped me get him to a chair to wheel him to the stairs. We put him in the emergency evacuation chair and I was talking to him and praying the whole entire time.

TODD: What were you saying to him?

LAVERN: I prayed that God would protect him and that we need him here, and that his friends loved him.

TODD: Lavern, a former navy medical specialist, says at that point, Pandit's pulse was still strong, but there was another problem trying to get her friend, who had the nickname Keesan, out of the building. Did you know where the shooter was at this time?

LAVERN: No. And I really didn't care. We had to get Keesan out. That was the important thing.

TODD: As they were descending the stairs, they heard over a guard's radio that the shooter was right in the direction they were heading.

(on-camera) Bertillia Lavern says they managed to sneak out a side door, got Pandit to a law enforcement vehicle which then sped outside the base to this corner.

(voice-over) That's where these images were captured. Bertillia Lavern, the woman in pink, administering CPR, desperately trying to save her friend.

LAVERN: And then the ambulance showed up. They strapped him in. All of this happened within a few minutes of time, but it felt like a lifetime.

TODD: Vishnu Pandit (ph) died on the way to the hospital. A doctor later said his injuries were not survivable. Lavern now describes her feelings for the man she used to joke with every morning.

LAVERN: That I miss him and that I won't be able to say good morning to him, that I will not be able to say good morning to him. But, I know that he's in my heart and I know that his family loves him so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on-camera): Bertillia Lavern says Vishnu Pandit (ph) had recently welcomed a grandchild who she described as the light of his life. He was buried yesterday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I know she also describes the heroism of others during those truly terrifying moments.

TODD: She does. She says that her supervisor, a man named Andy Kelley (ph), was fearless risks his life to go get help. She also says the security guards who helped her carry Vishnu Pandit out of the building actually formed a human cordon around her as they were making their way down the stairs.

By the way, at certain points toward the shooter, so that in any event the shooter came toward them, they would protect her. I mean, incredible acts of heroism there.

BLITZER: Incredible, indeed. A wonderful woman. I'm glad you did that report. Brian, thanks very much.

Still ahead, mixed reports on whether Bashar al-Assad is following through on the deal to give up his chemical weapons. Could the best chance for peace still mean war? We're going to talk about that.

And a disturbing video of a pedestrian hit by an SUV. Wait until you hear and see who is behind the wheel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other top stories we're monitoring in the SITUATION ROOM right now.

Chicago police say an assault style rifle with a high capacity magazine was used in a mass shooting in a park last night which left 13 people injured, including a three-year-old boy. The shooting which is believed to be gang-related was just the latest for the city which now has the highest number of homicides in the country.

The incident has prompted Chicago's police superintendent to call for a national ban on assault weapons. We'll have much more on this story coming up in our next hour.

Take a look at this disturbing video of a black SUV driven by Houston's police chief striking a man as he's stepping off the curb. The police chief says he was at fault in the incident and is holding himself to a higher standard. He's accepted a one-day suspension without pay. Police believe the man who was thrown several feet on impact may have suffered a broken arm.

Some adorable new video of the baby panda at the National Zoo here in Washington who turns four weeks old today. Zookeepers say the panda who's seen here with her mother is growing exponentially and is nearly as round as she is long. She's expected to open her eyes in the weeks ahead and will become more mobile.

The panda team performed her latest veterinary exam Monday and hopes to conduct another one next week. Good luck.

Coming up, a red line for Iran's new president. A top Israeli diplomat tells me about the test that Hassan Rouhani needs to pass if his peaceful overtures are to be believed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New signs today that two dangerous U.S. adversaries may suddenly be willing to give diplomacy a chance. Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, is calling for a constructive approach to global disputes, including his nation's nuclear program.

In a "Washington Post" op-ed article he wrote, "To move beyond impasses whether in relation to Syria, my country's nuclear program or its relations with the United States, we need to aim higher rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse. We need to think and talk about how to make things better."

Meantime, a watchdog group says Syria has submitted what's described as an initial disclosure of its chemical weapons program. Bashar al-Assad faces a deadline tomorrow to declare his poison gas stockpiles under that new U.S./Russian deal. It's a remarkable turn of events when you think about it.

Only a week or so ago, the United States seemed to be on the brink of attacking Syria with air strikes and it's all playing out only days before President Obama addresses world leaders at the U.N. general assembly. But for Israel, it's very, very skeptical right now of all of this, especially about Iran. I asked the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for his take on Hassan Rouhani.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI TO AMB. TO UNITED STATES: This is the same Rouhani who back in 2004 bragged about smiling at the west and installing centrifuges for a nuclear weapon. He says that Iran never wanted a nuclear weapon. American intelligence knows that's a lie. Israel intelligence knows that's a lie. In the "New York Times" article, he says the window for solving the Iranian nuclear program is closing. What is he threatening there? That they're going to make atomic power for peace?

BLITZER: So, you don't see any significant change between this new president and Ahmadinejad?

OREN: May be a change of style. If there's any seriousness to this approach, he has to fulfill basic requirements which is that he has to cease enriching uranium. He has to take the stockpile that they have and ship it abroad. He's got to close that underground secret facility that was made to prevent the west from preventing him from getting a nuclear weapon, close that, and he has to close the plutonium reactor which can make a nuclear weapon very quickly.

BLITZER: Could that be done through dialogue? I raise the question because there's a lot of speculation, the White House is indicating that maybe the president next week at the United Nations general assembly, President Obama would meet with President Rouhani. How would you feel about that?

OREN: President Obama has said that Rouhani's words have to be tested, and there are four Security Council resolutions that Iran has violated. Remember how hard it was to get a Security Council resolution on Syria? Here you have four of them. They're in violation. Let them comply with what the international community has demanded of them, then they can talk.

We believe that -- the talks can proceed after, only after they have stopped the enrichment, only after they had closed COM, and shipped the stockpile abroad and after they close that plutonium reactor as well.

BLITZER: So you would be upset if there was a meeting next week based on those four conditions you just laid out between President Obama and President Rouhani?

OREN: We believe that he has to be -- Rouhani has to be tested and this is how he can be tested. This is a man who has lied about the nuclear program in the past. He's bragged about lying about the program to the West in the past. Test him. See if he's serious.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to be speaking at the United Nations next week, too, right?

OREN: He's scheduled to.

BLITZER: He's scheduled to speak then he's scheduled to come to Washington to meet with President Obama. Is he -- remember last year's speech, he drew that -- you know, that hourglass, if you will, time was running out. How much time is there do you believe the Israeli government in allowing a peaceful resolution of this nuclear issue that has been at the forefront in Iran?

OREN: Well, remember he drew that red line and that was --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That was Netanyahu.

OREN: And that was the key -- yes. Drew the red line to keep the Iranians from acquiring the amount of enrichment they need for one nuclear bomb and he had succeeded. They didn't cross the red line. What they did do was install thousands of centrifuges, additional centrifuges.

Some of those are of a new generation that can increase the enrichment rate by fivefold which means they can break out for a nuclear bomb in very short period of time and create not one bomb, but several bombs. So indeed, the time has grown much, much shorter. Wolf, no country has a greater interest in resolving this peacefully than the state of Israel. We've got the most skin in the game. But for that very reason we have to be very careful. We've seen the Iranians lie about this program time and time again.

BLITZER: All right. So let's see what happens. Rouhani will be in New York next week. We'll see what he says. I know he's going to be sitting down with our Christiane Amanpour as well while he's in New York. We'll hear what he has to say.

Syria. Do you think this U.S./Russian deal to destroy eventually Syria's chemical weapons stockpile can work?

OREN: Well, we hope so. We think that it's interest not just of Israel, it's the interest of the entire Middle East and global security. And if it will work, we certainly will be there to support it.

What ties the two in, Wolf, Syria and Iran, is the credibility of the American military threat. That has what got people to talk about diplomatic solution in Syria and we believe that the continuation of a credible military threat on the table stands the best chance of bringing the Iranians without the diplomats --

BLITZER: Do you believe that U.S. military threat that President Obama put out there convinced Bashar al-Assad to, A, acknowledge he does have chemical weapons, B, to promise he would detail where they are, how much -- how much he has and eventually destroy them? Was it the U.S. military threat that did that?

OREN: I think the Israeli -- the American military threat was so credible that it certainly brought the Russians around and convinced them to cooperate.

BLITZER: So -- give us the Israeli government's reaction to what's happening in Syria. Right -- now you're right next door so you obviously have a lot at stake. What do you think the U.S., the international community, should be doing? 100,000 people have been killed over the past two years.

OREN: We're not going to get dragged into the Syrian civil war. Clearly, Bashar al-Assad is a man who killed over 100,000 of his own citizens. He has provided tens of thousands of rockets to Hezbollah and Lebanon that are aimed at our homes. He himself tried to make a secret military nuclear facility several years back, you remember.

BLITZER: Which Israel destroyed.

OREN: Well, it doesn't exist anymore, put it that way. And thank God it doesn't exist anymore. So the world would certainly be a better place without him. We're not going to be dragged into that internal civil war but we want to see the chemical weapons removed and we want it to be verifiable and a commitment on the part of the international community that that will indeed happen.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, I know you're wrapping up your tenure here in Washington, four and a half years going back to Israel, good luck to you. Thanks for all the times you came here on CNN.

OREN: My great honor.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we're going to continue this conversation as Bashar al-Assad already cheating, though, on the deal to give up his chemical weapons. We're going to talk about that. And whether the best chance for ending the Syria crisis is war.

Fareed Zakaria and Sebastian Junger, they're both here in the SITUATION ROOM.

And a Catholic conservative's explosive comments about gays. CNN's Chris Cuomo asked some very tough questions in a fiery exchange that you will want to see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Ukraine, artists performed during a show at the National Circus. In Germany, storks fly over a meadow. In Mali, people danced during the inauguration of their new president. And here in Washington, look at this, a full moon rises over the National Mall.

"Hot Shots." Pictures coming in from around the world.

More news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The United States is adamant about keeping the threat of military action on the table, even while moving forward with a deal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

Let's talk more about Syria, Iran and the United Nations meeting in New York next week.

And joining us now, Fareed Zakaria. He is the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." Also joining us, Sebastian Junger, the journalist, the author of the important book "War."

Sebastian, you wrote a very provocative, important article in the "Washington Post." Let me read a sentence or two from it. Referring to Syria, "At some point pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death and isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It's not a matter of how we're going to explain this to the Syrians. It's a matter of how we're going to explain this to our kids."

You're saying that war actually may be the answer to what's going on in Syria right now. Explain.

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, JOURNALIST: My first war was in Bosnia and every war that I've covered since then has been ended or drastically reduced by U.S. military action, by NATO military action. I think a true anti-war position doesn't just mean ignoring a civil war like we did in Rwanda. It means eventually after all diplomatic efforts have failed to use military threat and eventually military action. In Bosnia, a two-week NATO campaign ended a genocide. Amazingly, in the United States, the only people I knew who are against that were my fellow liberals and pacifist who thought that there was never a reason to use violence, and I think that's wrong. Certainly looking back on World War II, imagine had we not entered that war what the results would have been for the world.

BLITZER: And you speak as a war correspondent.

Fareed, what do you think about that?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, I think the question really is it's not enough to be outraged by what's happening in Syria because there's all the reason in the world to be outraged, but how would an American military intervention stop the suffering?

As I can see it, American military intervention, even if it is successful, would depose Assad. We know what would happen. Assad and the Alawites and supporters of that regime would fight back as insurgents, as guerillas. That would be phase two of the civil war in which the Sunni militias that are currently opposed to Assad would go on a rampage and slaughter the Alawites and their -- and their supporters. And then there would be infighting among them.

We've seen this movie before. This is exactly what happened in Iraq. So I'm perplexed by Sebastian's point that American military intervention has always stopped and solved wars. I'm thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm even thinking of Vietnam, you can think of lots of cases. We can always pick one's history to prove one's point but let's stick with this particular case.

If the United States deposes Assad, if anyone could explain to me how the civil war in Syria, which is really a deep sectarian struggle, would end, I would be -- I'd be much more comfortable with it. I think what is more likely to happen is, frankly, would escalate and you would then have a blood bath between the two sides with the Assad regime fighting back as guerillas and insurgents, the Sunni militias each trying to take power and simultaneously rid the country of the Alawites. It strikes me as a fairly messy situation.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Sebastian.

JUNGER: Well, I was speaking very specifically about civil wars that we intervened in. I was completely against invading Iraq. These humanitarian crises started in the '90s -- in the '90s after the fall of the Berlin wall. And we did end war after war, Sierra Leone, Liberia. It was pretty amazing how effective NATO was.

In terms of Syria, the president -- our president is not saying that we're going to do something to -- we're going to intervene to end the war and depose Assad. In fact, he's specifically saying that he's not trying to do that. His point, as I understand it, is that when weapons of mass destruction are used against citizens, against civilians, it is -- it's contrary to humanitarian law, it's a crime against humanity. And if we let this pass, in some sense it's not even about the Syrians, it's about the future of the world. If this passes, the next time someone does this it might be even worse. Then we have to draw a line that there are certain crimes against humanity that cannot occur without some kind of consequence for the government that perpetrates them.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And just to be precise --

ZAKARIA: Sebastian, I agree with you. I agree with what the presidents doing.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

ZAKARIA: But -- I agree with what the president is doing and I very much support the idea of taking the chemical weapons out. All I'm pointing out is it won't end the civil war.

JUNGER: I don't think anyone is suggesting it will.

BLITZER: You know, I guess what a lot of people are wondering, and I want, Fareed, you to weigh in first. There are now these reports that even as the Syrians supposedly were going to alert the world where their stockpiles are and that they're going to go ahead and eventually allow them to be destroyed, suggestions are being moved around, concealing, hiding some of these chemical weapons.

What's your assessment? Is this deal going to work, Fareed?

ZAKARIA: I'm sure they are hiding some of these. But I still hold out hope for the deal.

Here's why, Wolf. If you are concerned about these chemical weapons and the precedent it sets and the dangers, and I think Sebastian and I both agree that this is a real problem, then anything we can do to secure some large part of this arsenal and potentially destroy it is a good thing. Remember, the military strikes don't do that. The military strikes are purely punishment. You don't ever attack a chemical weapons depot because that would actually release the toxins into the atmosphere.

So the negotiated strategy with the threat of force of actually securing them is a more effective way of actually dealing with the problem of chemical weapons. We won't get 100 percent of that. I'm absolutely sure the Syrians will cheat. But if you look at the Iraq example, the inspectors actually got most of the chemical weapons out of Iraq, which is why when we invaded, we found nothing in there.

BLITZER: Let me get both of you to quickly weigh in on what we heard from the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren.

Sebastian, first to you. He clearly is not very excited or happy about the possibility that President Obama will meet at the United Nations next week with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. What do you think about all of this?

JUNGER: I mean, I believe that -- the threat of military force does act to coerce people into good behavior. It's why police carry guns. But I think if you're going to do that, by the same token, you also have to reward good behavior. And if the Iranians are asking for a negotiation, as long as this country and the world community is very, very strict about what they deem acceptable behavior, I think you have to sort of take it on good faith that at least it's the start -- it's the start of a dialogue.

BLITZER: Sebastian Junger, Fareed Zakaria, to both of you, thanks very much.

Fareed, by the way, has a very important interview, an hour-long interview Sunday morning with the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Also 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Fareed and Bill Clinton, our viewers will want to see it.

Here's a look at what else is coming up on CNN later tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: CNN tonight. At 8:00 on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" a new resident of a small North Dakota town wants to make it all white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not hate. It's the First Amendment.

ANNOUNCER: But see how some longtime locals are fighting back.

And on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00, who is really to blame in the death of Michael Jackson as the defense rests in the wrongful death trial? What does it mean for the doctor already behind bars for his death? Piers gets Conrad Murray's side of the argument.

It's all on CNN tonight, starting with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" at 7:00, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:00 and "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00.

Tonight on CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And just ahead here in the SITUATION ROOM a heated exchange on CNN's "NEW DAY." Our own Chris Cuomo confronts a leading Catholic conservative on an issue front and center inside the church. Homosexuality.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, the Catholic conservative's heated exchange with our own Chris Cuomo over homosexuality and the church.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: There's nothing that Pope Francis has said that would give any relief to these people who are saying all of a sudden now the conservatives should shut up. We're not going to shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The leading contender to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve could have another unofficial title as one of the most powerful women in the world with the least recognizable name perhaps.

Here's our chief domestic affairs correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Janet Yellin is a Brooklyn native, the mother of one and after a messy selection process, the smart money is on her to become the nation's next Fed chair.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, on the list of the world's most powerful women. Time to add Janet Yellin?

(On camera): You ever heard the name Janet Yellin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I have not. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, this is the first time. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never heard of her.

YELLIN (voice-over): Yellin is poised to become the first woman nominated to run the Fed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's going to run the what?

YELLIN: The Fed. Short for Federal Reserve. The agency oversees all U.S. banks ensuring the money supply is stable. It's one of the most powerful jobs on the planet.

(On camera): Do you know what the Fed does?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't they regulate interest rates?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Money. Control the money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They control interest rate and stuff like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do know that they have two functions. First is to maximize employment and second is to control inflation.

YELLIN: Wow. How do you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well --

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: Are you American?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

YELLIN: Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Holland.

YELLIN (voice-over): For 19 years the Fed was run by the famously inscrutable Alan Greenspan.

ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Increased uncertainty can induce a higher discount of those returns.

YELLIN: Then came Ben Bernanke, the great recession, cheap money and a more user friendly Fed.

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The economic recovery has continued at a moderate pace.

YELLIN: Now the president has to fill those shoes.

BERNANKE: Janet.

JANET YELLIN, VICE CHAIR, FEDERAL RESERVE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

YELLIN: Yellin has degrees from Brown and Yale, taught at Harvard and got tenure at Berkeley. Her son is an economist, her husband has a Nobel Prize in economic theory. The 67-year-old has been on the Fed for more than a decade. She's been a trailblazer for women in her field.

YELLIN: At the highest level since central banking there are very few women.

YELLIN: She ran the San Francisco Fed where she was known for standing in the lunch line with office staff and for her work on jobs and wages. She recently said unemployment is not just statistics to me. That's why so many Democrats like her. But she's also seen as a pretty safe choice on Wall Street.

(On camera): What have you heard about her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That she's very steady and -- and probably continuing the policies of Bernanke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now if she gets the nod, she is subject to Senate approval. But at this point it looks like she'd get it. There is a good deal of support for her.

And I will add, Wolf, that there is no family relation that I know of. She is not my Aunt Janet. I point out she spells her name wrong. It should be spelled I-N, not E-N.

BLITZER: Excellent point. Jessica, thanks very much.

Pope Francis's explosive new attempt to try to shift the Catholic Church's focus on a number of critical issues including homosexuality and abortion certainly is fueling a heated debate inside the church community.

Our own Chris Cuomo talked about it earlier today on "NEW DAY" with William Donohue. He's the president of the conservative Catholic League and the exchange got testy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONOHUE: The Catholic Church is not about homosexuality, abortion, the poor or the environment. It's about salvation. And people are tied up in these little micro-issues on the left and the right and we've lost the focus of what the Catholic Church should be about. It's a change in tone. It's a change in style. But it's not a doctrinal change in substance. That also should be noted.

CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, CNN'S NEW DAY: I feel like this may count as the Pope's first miracle. Because to hear you saying these things is going to be very shocking. Because it really sounds like you're one of the people he's sending this message to, to be fair, Mr. Donohue, isn't it?

I mean, you have bashed on these issues for years and years, most infamously recently saying that the church had a homosexual problem, not a pedophile problem. I mean, really incendiary flagrant divisive stuff.

DONOHUE: Chris, let me just say that --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Are you saying you won't do that anymore?

DONOHUE: Well -- oh, no, I will always tell the truth. If 81 percent of the victims are male and 100 percent of the victimizers are male.

CUOMO: Right.

DONOHUE: And if 78 percent of the victims are post pubescent, the word in the English language is not pedophilia, it's called homosexuality.

CUOMO: No, it would be called --

(CROSSTALK)

DONOHUE: No, it is. It is.

CUOMO: It would be call ephebophilia. That is where --

DONOHUE: No.

CUOMO: That is when you attack people who are in their teens.

DONOHUE: That's not even -- it's not a critical term. That's a made-up term to make people feel good.

CUOMO: You know very well you cannot find a pedophile in any prison anywhere who will say that they're homosexuals. It's never been about homosexuality, it's been about criminals and wrong acts. And this is your chance to say you won't do it anymore. Pope is asking you to.

DONOHUE: When men have sex with adolescent men, it's called homosexuality. It is not pedophilia. John J. College of Criminal Justice is not a conservative right-wing organization. Less than 5 percent of the priests involved in molestation of pedophiles. I will never stop telling the truth. And the pope never said we should either.

I am against gay bashing to say that because you are gay you're going to be a molester.

CUOMO: That is exactly what it sounds like.

DONOHUE: No, no, no. If most of the molesters are gay, that is true. It is not true that most gay priests are molesters. That is a gay bashing comment. People have to make critical distinctions. I have nothing against gay people any more than I do against straight people. I do have against -- molesters, whether they be straight or gay makes no difference to me, but I'm not going to lie about the figures.

What I just said about the figures is absolutely true, it's not negotiable.

CUOMO: Well, but that's the problem, isn't it?

DONOHUE: What?

CUOMO: Because there are so many who would say not only is it negotiable but it's irrational, what you're saying, because so many people are --

DONOHUE: Explain it to John J. then. They just made it up, I guess.

CUOMO: Do you --

DONOHUE: Do you think I made up those figures, Chris?

CUOMO: I think you're parsing them.

DONOHUE: No, I didn't parse them.

CUOMO: I think you're cherry picking them.

DONOHUE: No.

CUOMO: And I think that the most important part is your motivation. You just heard what the Pope said.

DONOHUE: The Pope didn't say --

CUOMO: Why wouldn't you try to move past this parsing rhetoric and try to be what your church is supposed to be about?

DONOHUE: This is the problem with the left. They're trying to take what he says and then run with it like "The New York Times" said. Said the bishops are on the defensive now because they're concerned about abortion, contraception -- and gay rights or gay marriage.

No, no, no. The Obama administration is the one who's hoisting this on the bishops. The bishops are reacting. They -- there is nothing that Pope Francis has said that would give any relief to these people who are saying all of the sudden now the conservatives should shut up. We're not going to shut up because we're in -- compliance with what the Pope says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Happening now, dramatic turnarounds by Syria and Iran, at least potentially. Is President Obama finally making some progress on two of his most pressing problems in the Middle East?

Also, House Republicans launched a government shutdown battle voting to defund Obamacare.

And on the day the new iPhone goes on sale, hackers already targeting its trademark fingerprint scanner, even offering a cash prize.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One is a longtime thorn in President Obama's side, the other more recent concern that exploded into a full-scale crisis. Now there are some small signs of what may be, may be some positive developments regarding Iran's nuclear program and Syria's chemical weapons. But with unreliable players in a combustible region, it's way too soon to celebrate.