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George Zimmerman Free on Bond; Lawmaker Stabbed, Son Dead; Time To "Remarket" and "Rebrand" Obamacare; Time To "Remarket and Rebrand" Obamacare?; Democrats Furious As GOP Blocks Nominees; Interview with Susan Rice

Aired November 19, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. George Zimmerman free on $9,000 bail.

This is George Zimmerman leaving the Polk Correctional Facility in Seminole County, Florida only a few minutes ago. This comes just hours after Zimmerman appeared in court four months after being acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Now he's facing a charge of felony aggravated assault on this woman, his girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, seen here in Facebook photos. She told police Zimmerman pointed a shotgun at her, prompting her to call 911.

CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is standing by.

Let's go straight to Alina Machado, first, in Sanford, Florida -- what's the latest, Alina, on George Zimmerman?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, George Zimmerman is free on bond tonight. We want to again show you that video of him leaving the correctional facility here in Seminole County with his bail bondsman.

He did not answer any questions from reporters as he was leaving the correctional facility. And his release came just a few hours after a judge set his bond at $9,000.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George, is she pregnant?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can begin, Your Honor. We're all set.

MACHADO (voice-over): George Zimmerman handcuffed, facing a judge in Seminole County, Florida on a felony aggravated assault charge and two misdemeanors following a domestic dispute Monday between Zimmerman and his girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your Honor, we had the opportunity to speak to the victim in this case. She is in fear for her safety and she would like that there be no contact and no return.

MACHADO: Zimmerman calmly answered the judge's questions during the first appearance.


MACHADO: A similar demeanor deputies say they saw when they arrived at this Apaka (ph), Florida home shortly after the alleged incident Monday. Zimmerman called 911 to share his version of what happened.

ZIMMERMAN: She got mad that, I guess, I told her that I would be willing to leave.


ZIMMERMAN: I guess she thought I was going to argue with her. But she's pregnant. I'm not going to put her through that kind of stress.

MACHADO: A call that came after Scheibe dialed for help.


SAMANTHA SCHEIBE: He's in my house breaking all my bleep because I asked him to leave. He has his freaking gun breaking all of my stuff right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George, anything to say?

MACHADO: As a condition of bond, the judge banned Zimmerman from having any guns and ordered him to stay away from Scheibe, who alleges he tried to choke her in a separate incident about a week earlier, an incident that was not reported to police, until now. Zimmerman's attorneys say they first learned of that allegation today.

DANIEL MEGARO, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER: I definitely would not characterize my client as a loose cannon. He is presumed innocent on these matters. And we're confident he's going to be acquitted. We just ask that it go through the normal channels of the process of the justice system.


MACHADO: Now, Zimmerman will be on electronic monitoring while he waits for his trial. And according to court documents, he is $2.5 million in debt. He is homeless and he is unemployed. Wolf, he's going to be back in court in January.

BLITZER: Alina Machado reporting with the very latest.

Thank you, Alina.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Charged with felony aggravated assault, two misdemeanors, as well, domestic violence, battery, criminal mischief. Yet he's now free. He's out on $9,000 bond.

Was that the right call? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That seems to be a pretty good call. The prosecution asked for $50,000. The defense asked for a much lower bond. Nine thousand is more than usual for a case like this. But it was enough for him to get out. And it's obviously very important, I think, that he was told to stay away from his accuser and to give up any access to firearms.

BLITZER: We heard the judge say today that he supposedly had been suggesting to her, to this former girlfriend, that he had nothing to live for, he was broke, he was threatening to commit suicide. He had these weapons. He's had these prior incidents.

Is he a risk to the community right now?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't know. I think the clear answer is we don't know. He has had a lot of problems with the law. Three women have accused him of various kinds of improper conduct in intimate relationships. Only one of those, so far, has led to -- have led to an actual case being brought against him.

He killed Trayvon Martin. He's been stopped by the police for driving infractions three times since his acquittal. This is a guy who seems to have an instinct for trouble. We'll see whether he winds up actually convicted this time.

BLITZER: Do you see a similarity between him and O.J. Simpson?

TOOBIN: Well, there's a potential similarity. I think everybody remembers that O.J. Simpson was acquitted in the death of Ronald Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown. And then there was a separate case, the new case in Las Vegas which, frankly, to a lot of people, including me, seemed like a pretty weak case.

But there was an element, I think it's safe to say, of payback, that he got away with the first case, so he was prosecuted to the max the second time. And he remains in prison.

This could be a parallel situation, where the acquittal in Trayvon Martin leads to a later successful prosecution. But we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. Let's see what evidence the prosecution can develop. Let's see if the defense can put out evidence that leads to these charges being dropped. We'll know a lot more in January.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin.

Thanks very much.

We'll speak later, as well.

Nancy Grace is going to come join us at the same time.

Let's get to another shocking story that's still developing at this hour.

Police in Virginia are investigating what they say is an attempted murder/suicide that's left a well-known lawmaker in the hospital with multiple stab wounds and his son dead. Creigh Deeds is a state senator and former candidate for the Virginia governor.

Police now suspect he was attacked by his 24-year-old son just hours after the young man underwent a psychiatric evaluation.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us from Charlottesville, where police have just released more information on what happened.

What's the latest you're hearing -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest, Wolf, is that police are now looking into this solely as an attempted murder. Basically, this was a man who, just a few years ago, was running for the governor of Virginia with his son by his side.

And police now say it was that man and his son who were just the two of them in the house when a violent altercation erupted. It left his son shot dead. One bullet -- police now say one shot was fired. They believe that was the suicide.

The father, Creigh Deeds, was stabbed multiple times, up in his upper chest, in his head area. And police now say he was able to walk down a hill. The house is set well back from the road -- that he walked down about 75 yards down that hill to the main road, where his cousin was passing by. His cousin picked him up, brought him to his home. And that's where he called 911.

The police came, airlifted him to the hospital.

Right now, investigators say they are not looking for any other suspects. So the mystery of exactly how this happened and why rests solely with the two men, the father and the son, who were in that home together.



Based on the evidence we have right now, we are looking into this as an attempted murder and suicide. Now this is not an absolute determination, because it's still very much an ongoing investigation.


LAWRENCE: Now, Deeds' condition has been upgraded from critical to fair. But the key here may lie with mental health issues.

"The Richmond Times Dispatch" is reporting that they spoke with the director of a mental health board, who said that the younger Deeds, Gus Deeds, was evaluated just on Monday. It was an emergency order to sort of evaluate him over a four hour period. They may have been able to hold him longer, up to two days, for further evaluation, but there were no available psychiatric beds in that whole area of Western Virginia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a terrible, terrible, tragic story.

And once again, the condition of Creigh Deeds right now is?

LAWRENCE: Has been upgraded to fair. And I can also tell you that he has been alert, after stumbling down that hill to the main road and getting picked up, then getting airlifted to the hospital, police say he has been talking to them, both when they first made contact with him, and then later at the hospital itself.

BLITZER: All right, Chris, thank you.

Chris Lawrence reporting.

What a sad story that is.

Just ahead, Syria's civil war brings carnage right to the do doorstep of Iran's embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

And as the U.S. tries to close a controversial nuclear deal with Iran, there's a spat that has developed between Washington and Jerusalem. All of this going on. THE SITUATION ROOM is going to be a busy place today. I'll speak with the national security adviser to the president, Ambassador Susan Rice.

Tweet us some of your suggested questions. Use the hash tag sitroom.

Susan Rice coming up this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- ours, not theirs.

Can the president move beyond his Obamacare troubles, by the way, by pointing to other things that are working well right now?

We'll have more on that. A lot more news coming up.


BLITZER: He may not be able to put his health care problems behind him very easily, but the president tried for a positive spin today.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar -- Brianna, the president spoke to business executives today. He spoke about the economy.

He wasn't able to completely avoid the topic of Obamacare, was he?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, that's right. He acknowledged the problems with the Web site, Wolf. "My Web site," is actually what he called it.

But he said those problems and also the government shutdown should not distract from the fact that the economy is doing better. And he also said that once the Web site is fully up and running, he's going to have to pitch his health care program all over again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident that the model that we've built, which works off of the existing private insurance system, is one that will succeed. We are going to have to, A, fix the Web site, so everybody feels confident about that. We're going to have to obviously remarket and rebrand.


KEILAR: Now the challenge for President Obama is that the economy is no longer the top issue for Americans, as it has been for years. In fact, in a recent Gallup Poll done earlier this month, it actually came in third behind dissatisfaction with government and health care concerns, general health care concerns.

So, Wolf, you know, while the Dow is doing really well, while unemployment is ticking down, you're simultaneously seeing the president's approval ratings dip. In fact, they're at an all-time low in some polls.

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are. You know -- there's another story we're watching. The White House catching some grief, as you know, for the president not attending the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address. The president did record a version of the Gettysburg address for a project that's being organized by Ken Burns, the film maker.

I did a version of the Gettysburg address for Ken Burns as well. But there was a difference between these versions and the president's getting some criticism. Explain what's going on.

KEILAR: That's right. Well, the version that the president read, Wolf, did not include the words "under God" as the version that you and the dozens of other folks on the project, theirs included those words. Well, the White House, officials here saying, hey, that's not our fault. This is the version that was provided to us by Ken Burns who's in charge of this project.

And one producer on this project, Wolf, tells CNN that this version without the words "under God" was provided for President Obama and only President Obama to read to highlight the fact that there are different versions and there are different versions, five of them, in fact. Two of them do not include those words, three of the other versions that Lincoln wrote up later after the address do include the words.

You read one of those versions. And I think also worth noting, though, Wolf, when you look at the dozens of people who participated in this project, you're in pretty good company. Not just the president but you had Usher and Taylor Swift doing this as well.

BLITZER: And they're saying the president didn't directly participate in Gettysburg because of scheduling problems, is that right?

KEILAR: Yes. They're saying -- we've heard that it has to do with scheduling. we also have heard from Ken Burns on this project that one of the reasons that he didn't do this, that President Obama told him he was working so much on being involved in the commemoration of the march in Washington that he couldn't do two of these really big sort of commemorations in such proximity to each other. But we've also heard from his senior advisor to President Obama that it was a scheduling issue.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna Keilar at the White House.

Other news, make it strike three for the president, trying to get his nominees on to a very important appeals court, one more reason for Democrats and Republicans to be at each other's throats. Our chief Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here in the SITUATION ROOM with the latest details. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you well know, Senate filibusters require 60 votes to overcome and it's a pretty high hurdle in a politically divided Senate, but the ability to filibuster has been sacrosanct. Neither party has dared take that power away from the minority.

But Democrats are so frustrated right now that they can't get the president's nominees confirmed. They're once again threatening to do just that, the nuclear option.


BASH (voice-over): democratic frustration is palpable and vocal.

SEN. HARRY REOD, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: Republican obstruction has become endemic in the senate.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) MAJORITY WHIP: I urge my Republican colleagues to stop these filibusters now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go again.

BASH: Republicans blocked three of the president's key judicial nominees in three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The motion is not agreed to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The motion is not agreed to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

BASH: But unlike other partisan brawls over the course, this is not about qualifications or ideology of the nominees. It's about the makeup of the court, itself. The D.C. circuit, the powerful federal appeals court that hears most challenges to laws passed by Congress, now evenly split, four judges appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. And the GOP wants to keep it that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way the president can successfully bypass Congress is if he stacks the court with ideological allies who will rubber stamp those executive orders.

BASH: But Democrats say wait a minute, there are three vacancies on that court and it's the prerogative of this president or any president to appoint qualified judges.

REID: No president should have to put up with what President Obama has had to put up with.

BASH: Republicans argue that D.C. circuit workload isn't heavy enough to need three more judges. They say Democrats are the ones playing politics.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: In order to concoct crisis on the D.C. circuit so it can distract Americans from the failings of Obamacare.

BASH: But Democrats are so frustrated with Republicans blocking judges and other Obama nominees, they're once again openly discussing the so-called nuclear option, changing decades-old rules and taking the Republicans' filibuster tool away.

Are you at the point where you're going to consider the nuclear option?

REID: I'm at the point where I need -- we need to do something to allow government to function. I think what we need and the American people want, to get things done around here.


BASH (on-camera): Now, this is not the first time the Democratic leader, the majority leader, threatened to detonate the nuclear option, but what's different now is that he's getting some new key allies who are fed up. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat Senate veteran, she was very reluctant before to take away the minority's power of filibuster, but Wolf, now, she's changed her mind.

She's done a reversal. She says it's because she sees it as the best change that's needed for Washington to work.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats reluctant to fight with that filibuster rule, because they might be in the minority one of these days.

BASH: Exactly. She was one of them. She switched, which is significant.

BLITZER: Significant issue. Now, there's another story that's developing here, pretty shocking story. Republican congressman from Florida, Congressman Trey Radel. He has now been charged in D.C. superior court, misdemeanor cocaine possession after an October 29th arrest. Thirty-seven-year-old Florida republican serving his first time in Congress, winning office last November. What is the latest? I understand he's just put out a statement.

BASH: He did. He just put out a statement and let me just read you the first graph which sort of says it all. He says, "I'm profoundly sorry to let my family, particularly my wife and son, the people of Southwest Florida. I struggle with the disease of alcoholism and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice. As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them."

And he says later that he realizes that he's disappointed his family, his constituents, but the good news is that now he can seek treatment. It certainly is shocking. And I have to tell you, it's sort of something more out of the house of cards, but then, you know, fiction than something that really happens these days in Congress.

But it certainly looks like it did. He is a freshman, maybe not that well known to people out there, but he has made his name because he is a new Republican who hasn't been that strident, not sort of a Tea Party guy.

BLITZER: Yes. The spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office says that the charges come with a maximum 180-day imprisonment and/or $1,000 fine. It's a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge.

BASH: Exactly. And you know, I should also say that he is somebody who many reporters got to know because he was himself a television reporter, local reporter, before he went into Congress and went into politics. He actually was an intern for CNN before that.

BLITZER: Years ago. All right. What a story that is. Thanks very much, Dana, for that story.

Coming up, Iran, Israel, Syria, her situation room is probably a lot busier than ours today. I'll speak with the president's national security advisor, Susan Rice. She's standing by live. Tweet us, by the way, some suggested questions. Use the #sitroom.

Also ahead, children's toys tainted with dangerous chemicals. We're going to tell you what you need to know. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: So, can President Obama recover from the Obamacare rollout? Let's discuss what's going on with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentator, Donna Brazile, and the former Romney senior advisor, Ed Gillespie. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Ed, let me start with you. You're the man surrounded by two women. How does he survive this?

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Oh, I mean, he's going to survive. He's got three more years in office.

BLITZER: But he's got a lot of stuff on his agenda he's got to do over the next three years. This is a problem.

GILLESPIE: That's going to be very difficult for him right now. The thing that's most interesting to me in these numbers is not just the drop in the approval ratings to historically low numbers, but for the first time, being upside down on personal characteristics and attributes, trustworthiness, believability, likability, his unfavorable majority 52 percent.

And so, it's one thing you can kind of come back and get people to change their opinion. It's hard to get them to change how they feel.



BLITZER: Yes. But you also worked for President Bush so you know.

GILLESPIE: And so, you know, what's the biggest impact here is not what people think but how people feel about him.

BLITZER: How does he do it, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I don't think the American people would like to see the president fail. I think they want to see all presidents succeed. So, I think there's a predisposition for the president to come back if this website can be fixed, if people can enroll, if the president can show that he can get other things done, there's no question that the president's approval ratings will rise again.

BORGER: You know, but really, and you know this from running the Romney campaign, is that what President Obama had going for him in the re-election was the fact that people trusted him to do the right thing all or most of the time, and they liked him and that's his real problem right now.

In addition, they don't think he's got great management skills. So, what he's got to do is he has to ask himself when this is all over, and I'm told there's going to be some kind of internal review, but they have to get through this --

BLITZER: Does that mean a shakeup of staff? People losing their jobs?

GILLESPIE: There's going to be a change.

BORGER: There's going to be a change, but I wouldn't guess and you might know more. I wouldn't guess that he's going to bring in some new outsider that he doesn't know very much. This is a president who goes to his comfort level with people -- I mean, even if he makes changes, I'm assuming it's going to be somebody he knows very well.

BLITZER: What would you do if this had been the Bush White House, you were a senior advisor to the president? The president after Katrina, President Bush, he had enormous problems, too, in terms of his credibility.

GILLESPIE: You just have to power through. I mean, you have to persevere. You have to pursue your agenda. You have to keep talking about the things you care about. I disagree with Donna, not surprisingly, that it's going to get better as time goes on and the website gets up and running, assuming that it does. I don't think it is. And in fact, I think --

BORGER: Oh, you don't? GILLESPIE: No, because you have the individual market behind that comes the group insurance market. I think people there are going to get hit hard, too. And what this is, look, the Supreme Court was right. This is a massive tax increase. I wish they had overturned the law. They sustained the law on the basis that it's a tax increase but not just the mandate.

What you're seeing now is the effect of really what is built into it is a massive tax increase on people who have insurance now and that's why their premiums are going up.

BRAZILE: This is why I think the Republicans are not going to succeed, because first of all, they have a blank slate. They're not offering an alternative. They're not giving people who are desperately seeking health care an option to even enroll in something that they can afford.

So, I think while the Republicans are cheering, you know, for failure, the American people really want this to work because they understand that health care was a leading cause of our deficit, 18 percent of our GDP. I think the president is doing the right thing in making sure it gets fixed and we'll see if his poll numbers rise.


BRAZILE: -- again it's OK, because he's not up for re-election.


BORGER: But that's what was crazy about the defund strategy and shutting down the government, which was, OK, if you want to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over it, then you ought to have an alternative. And they don't.


BORGER: But that's what was crazy about the defund strategy and shutting down the government, which was OK, if you want to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over it, then you ought to have an alternative. And they don't.

GILLESPIE: That's not fair. Republicans have an alternative they brought forward at the time of the debate around the Affordable Care Act. They have other alternatives. I think you will see more and hear more about it because the American people are open to hearing it what is the alternative because we don't like what we're getting right now.

BLITZER: We've heard a lot of negative things about the Affordable Care Act, but hundreds of thousands of people who had no health insurance are now getting health insurance thanks to Medicaid. They are going on this new extended Medicaid programs through the states. That's going to be hard to take it away from them.


BRAZILE: And the pre-existing conditions, young people --

GILLESPIE: But you can protect preexisting conditions without having these skyrocketing premiums, without holding people to 29-hour work weeks and without having people who lose their plan if they like it or maybe lose their doctor, too. I think that's what you will see here, people will be increasingly upset.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, maybe a presidential candidate, maybe not a presidential candidate. He said this, striking a different note from a lot of other Republicans, not for the first time.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I feel badly for President Obama. He just won a year ago and everybody's like, so who's next? There is work to be done in this country, and as we shove him out the door, we minimize his ability to be an effective executive. And we shouldn't do that.


BLITZER: All right. Ed?

GILLESPIE: Look, I think Governor Christie is right. It is remarkable to me the speed with which we move from one presidential cycle to the next in terms of the punditry. And I do think we ought to give some time to govern here.


GILLESPIE: But that's not, you know, I don't think that's the problem that President Obama faces right now in terms of his inability to get things done, that people have moved past him. His problem is that he's dealing with really bad policies and a really bad implementation of bad policies.

BLITZER: He's - clearly, the president and Governor Christie have a good relationship. The president doesn't have a good relationship with a lot of other Republicans, but he does with Christie.

BRAZILE: Well, look, I agree with Governor Christie who, by the way, sidestepped the issue of health care saying the clock was running out. Again, demonstrating the Republicans have no solid ideas of how to fix our health care system.

But the president has tried, he's put issues on the table, he's put the grand bargain back on the table. He can continue to reach out, put initiatives on the table, but as long as the Republicans are intent on just saying no to everything that President Obama said --

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold that thought.

BRAZILE: -- saying no to his budget, there's something wrong.

BORGER: I think Chris Christie was talking about himself. Don't minimize his ability to do his work. Don't shove him out the door because that's where he's going.

BLITZER: Yes, nobody is shoving him out the door.


BLITZER: Stand by. Stand by, guys. We will continue this conversation.

Also, Syria's civil war brings carnage to the doorstep of Iran's embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

And as the U.S. tries to close a controversial nuclear deal with Iran, a spat with Israel goes public. I will speak live with President Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice. She is standing by over at the White House. Tweet us your suggested questions. Use the hashtag #sitroom.


BLITZER: Syria's brutal civil war brought carnage to Lebanon's capital today with a horrific pair of suicide bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Twenty-three people died, including an Iranian diplomat. A group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility, demanding that Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia stop sending fighters into Syria. All this comes as the United States is trying to close a deal with Iran to suspend at least part of its nuclear program in exchange for easing some U.S. and other international sanctions.

Meanwhile, a U.S. split with Israel on this sensitive matter seems to be going public. Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us with some more. Jim, what's the background here?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a difficult deal to make under any circumstances. When you make a deal like this, you would like to have your friends on board. But the Obama administration having enormous difficulty convincing Israel as well as both Republican and some Democratic lawmakers on the Hill that this is a good and safe agreement for the U.S. and its allies.


SCIUTTO: Just days ahead of a potential breakthrough deal with Iran on its nuclear program, Iran's foreign minister accused Israel of attempting to scuttle it.

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: They have been pushing so hard to torpedo a process whose only option was to resolve an international problem that they have been claiming concern over. Why is it that they don't want this resolved?

SCIUTTO: Israel kept firing back, continuing a loud public campaign against an agreement, calling Iran untrustworthy --

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Iran's dream deal is the world's nightmare. SCIUTTO: -- and the U.S. its closest and most powerful ally, naive.

NETANYAHU: Rather than surrendering to their charm offensive, it's important that they surrender to the pressure that can be brought to them.

SCIUTTO: While U.S. officials say their differences are purely tactical, they go to the core of whether any diplomatic agreement with Iran is possible.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WILSON CENTER: You have probably the most significant breach in terms of perceptions and realities between an American president and Israeli prime minister in quite some time.

SCIUTTO: Facing similar skepticism from U.S. lawmakers at home, today President Obama met with Senate leaders to push his case, though several left the White House still unconvinced.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think all of us are concerned. We know who we're dealing with, and we watched this same type of activity occur in North Korea, where you began to alleviate sanctions. And I think what the concern is that whatever you do on the interim basis becomes the new norm.


SCIUTTO: The president met with the Senate leaders for about two hours, and the administration argument is essentially that this is a fair tradeoff, that Iran will freeze and even roll back some aspects of its nuclear program while the West is giving only mild and reversible sanctions relief. Just a short time ago, the president spoke and he said I don't know if we'll be able to close a deal this week or next. Some expectations management there, Wolf, but the Iranian foreign minister spoke earlier today. He said he's optimistic. As you know, we'll be there. We'll be watching.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thank you.

Let's bring in the president's national security adviser, Ambassador Susan Rice.

She's joining us live from the White House.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I know your voice is a little weak. You're coming off a little cold. Just explain that to the viewers.

RICE: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about this deal with Iran.

Deal or no deal, do you expect, in the coming days, in Geneva, the U.S. and its other friends to reach this interim deal with Iran that would sort of freeze its nuclear program?

RICE: Well, Wolf, the truth is we don't know.

When we left Geneva almost a couple of weeks ago, the negotiating side that we're on, what we call the P5-plus-1, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, were all agreed on a very solid text of an agreement. The Iranians had studied it. They had worked with us. They had come close.

But at the end of the day, they couldn't accept it.

So everybody went back to their capitals to consult and consider.

When we reconvene in Geneva over the next couple of days, we'll see where the Iranians are.

But the deal on the table, Wolf, is a good one. It's a good one for the United States for the following reasons.

First of all, we are deeply committed -- and you've heard the president repeatedly reaffirm that we are not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

So how do we best accomplish that?

Well, we've applied massive international and national sanctions over the course of several years that have brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Their economy is vastly weakened. They are prepared now, perhaps, to make the kind of accommodations that they haven't to date.

This deal, if it were agreed, would halt all the progress in Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key respects over a six month initial period.

At the same time, the international community would have unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear facilities and full transparency into what they're doing. So they wouldn't have the ability to sneak out or break out. Everything they do would be monitored, as it would be rolled back at the same time.

This would be an initial step for six months, designed to buy time and space for a comprehensive negotiation toward a final deal.


RICE: And that final deal would ensure that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: During this interim agreement phase, the key sensitive issue, the one that, obviously, the Israeli government and other friends of the U.S. in the region, whether the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates, they don't like the fact the U.S. and other international partners would ease sanctions on the Iranians.

Explain what you have in mind as far as easing these ongoing sanctions in this interim period.

RICE: Well, I'm glad you asked.

First of all, Wolf, many of the numbers you've heard are wildly inflated. Nobody is talking about $40 billion or $50 billion in sanctions relief. We're not even talking about at all loosening the sanctions architecture.

The oil sanctions, the financial sanctions that have been so effective in straining the Iranian economy, would all remain in place.

What we're talking about is some very limited, modest and reversible economic access to, actually, Iranian resources that are frozen overseas, in very small quantities relative to what they are losing...

BLITZER: How much money are we talking about?

RICE: -- every month.

We're talking about a modest amount of money, a fraction of the number that you've heard out there.

BLITZER: $10 billion, $20 billion?

RICE: Less.

BLITZER: $5 billion?

RICE: I'm not going to get specific, Wolf. This is still an ongoing negotiation. But the fact of the matter is, these inflated numbers that you've heard are really not accurate.

BLITZER: We asked our viewers to send us some suggested questions on Twitter. I know you're active on Twitter.

Here's one that came in from Joshua Carney. I don't think he's related to the White House press secretary.

"How can the U.S. save face in Israel and maintain a dialogue with Iran at the same time?"

It's a good question.

And I want to play a clip from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who says this interim deal, at least the way he's understood it, is pretty bad.

Listen to Netanyahu.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Iran is practically giving away nothing. It's making a minor concession which they can reverse in weeks. And you endanger the whole sanctions regime that took years to make. So I don't think it's a good deal. I think it's a -- it's a bad deal.


BLITZER: All right, so what do you say in reaction to what he's saying?

RICE: Well, first of all, it's not a bad deal.

If you recall -- and it is a good deal.

If you recall when Prime Minister Netanyahu went to the United Nations General Assembly last year, he put up a chart that showed a bomb. And it showed a line across the bomb, which was the quantity, then, of Iran's highly enriched uranium.

And he was very concerned that in a little while, that line would get to the point which he described as breakout.

Well, Wolf, under this deal, that line would come very far down and the quantity available to Iran would be much reduced. So even by his own standards, that is a substantial part of any good deal.

But the other thing that needs to be understood is that we're not doing anything to undo the sanctions architecture. The relief that the Iranians would get if this deal happened is, as I said, limited, modest, temporary and reversible. And it -- they will still be losing billions of dollars every month because of the sanctions that will remain in place and be fully enforced. So what they lose every month of this six month period will far exceed what they may gain.

BLITZER: And you're suggesting that in the coming days, there may be such a deal.

While I have you, Ambassador Rice, a quick question on Afghanistan, because there were reports today that the U.S. is now on the eve of an agreement with the government in Afghanistan that would allow the U.S. to keep troops in Afghanistan, thousands of them, beyond the end of next year. And one of the requirements that the Afghans have made is they want a formal apology from the president of the United States.

Is the president ready to apologize to Afghanistan in order to keep U.S. troops on the ground there?

RICE: No, Wolf. I've seen those reports. I have no idea where they come from. That is a complete misunderstanding of what the situation is.

BLITZER: What is this letter...

RICE: The situation is...

BLITZER: -- this letter that Karzai wants the president to give, in which he acknowledges that the U.S. erred in various ways in dealing with what's going on in Afghanistan?

A lot of people are interpreting that as an apology.

RICE: No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. We have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgency and al Qaeda.

So that is not on the table. We are in the last stages of negotiating what we call a bilateral security agreement. It was agreed between Secretary Kerry and President Karzai last month. The last details are still being negotiated.

And if agreed, it will be put toward their loya jirga.

It's important for Afghanistan that they have that agreement with the United States, because that would enable us to continue training and assisting Afghan forces, providing the support that they so badly need and supporting -- continuing to help them develop their economy. Without such an agreement, that level of cooperation would be all but impossible.

BLITZER: Important work that you guys are doing.

And one final question, Ambassador Rice.

I know your time is limited.

You've been with President Obama from while he was running back in 2007-2008. You were an early supporter. You see him now multiple times a day.

How is he doing in the aftermath of his poll numbers going down, people questioning his reliability, his honesty, if you will?

Give us a little inside information on how he's doing, how he's behaving, reacting to all of this.

RICE: Wolf, the president is doing great. He's a very even-tempered, get it done guy. And he's here working every day to do what's best for the American people and for America's leadership role in the world.

And he can never get too up or too down based on what -- a poll here or a poll there may say.

He's been around long enough to know that the business of serving the American people is a tough and sometimes thankless job. He does it with pride and with a great deal of commitment to get done the many things -- growing our economy, creating jobs, providing health care for all Americans, keeping us safe and secure -- that he was elected twice to do.

BLITZER: And so you're basically saying he's on an even keel right now?

RICE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: But he's got to be -- he's got to be a little disappointed and depressed, given the serious problems that the Affordable Care Act rollout have created. RICE: I think he's certainly frustrated, but he's by no means depressed or down. He is his normal, active and enthusiastic self.

BLITZER: How are you doing, other than your...

RICE: Other than my...

BLITZER: -- your voice?

RICE: Other than my cold, I'm great.

BLITZER: All right. And you enjoy your new job after the United Nations?

RICE: I am very much.

Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser.

Good to have you back in our SITUATION ROOM.

We're looking forward to coming over to your Situation Room and interviewing the president there one of these days, as well.

Thank you very much.

RICE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: More important guests here on CNN. Later tonight Senator Rand Paul will be Erin Burnett's guest on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And Senator Ted Cruz he'll join CNN's "NEW DAY" tomorrow morning.

Lots of important guests here on CNN.

Also coming up, we're just learning about a possibly unpleasant surprise George Zimmerman got while he was in jail.


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

U.S. authorities have seized more than 200,000 dolls shipped to ports across the country from China due to hazardous chemicals. They say the shipment valued at $500,000 have been targeted for months due to the potential safety threat they pose to the public, particularly children.

At least two people are dead, 30 others injured after a roof collapse at a shopping mall under construction in eastern South Africa. Search and rescue crews are looking for another 40 people believed to be trapped in the rubble. No word yet of the cause of the collapse. A historic moment for the United States. The daughter of former President John F. Kennedy bowing before the emperor of Japan with her credentials to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. The 55- year-old Caroline Kennedy arrived at the Tokyo's Imperial Palace in a horse-drawn carriage amid lots of fanfare. It all comes as the country marks the 50th anniversary of her father's assassination this week.

Coming up, an attempted murder-suicide leaves a U.S. lawmaker hospitalized, his son dead. Now there are reports psychiatric problems may have played a role.