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The Situation Room

President Obama's War Council; Interview With Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Aired September 30, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We will have the latest on his talks inside the White House Situation Room.

Plus, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on charges the president is simply dithering. Does she see any downside to his go- slow approach to Afghanistan?

And a House Democrat says he's standing by his jaw-dropping claims about Republicans. He says their idea of health care reform is to allow sick people when they get sick to die quickly.

I'm Wolf Blitzer along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A turning point in the war in Afghanistan could be in the making right now. We're standing by to get more information on the president's high-level huddle inside the White House Situation Room with his top national security advisers. They have been meeting for hours. They have been meeting on the ground floor of the White House at least for three hours.

Some of the biggest names in the Obama administration right now are weighing in on one of the biggest potential decisions for his presidency.

We have this photo by the way of the meeting that is taking place just released by the White House office, the official White House photographer taking that picture inside the Situation Room.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's working the story for us.

Has the meeting broken up as far as we know, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House says that this is a critical meeting as the president tries to determine the way forward in Afghanistan. This is the second of five such meetings, and a White House aide telling me a short time that the three-hour meeting is about to wrap up.

This is really a closed door high-stakes effort. And we're now getting some pictures that the White House has released of this meeting where a big question is being addressed, whether now more U.S. troops should be sent in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's a heavyweight meeting in the secure Situation Room, President Obama and 18 others on his national security team focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, divided on how to proceed. Vice President Biden, Secretaries of State and Defense Clinton and Gates, Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, U.S. Central Command General Petraeus, and the top commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, beamed in via teleconference.

In weighing the options, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says three critical elements should not be ignored.


ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan cannot be our friend, on the one hand receive (INAUDIBLE) as they do, but also allow groups that are attacking the coalition forces to operate from their territory.

LOTHIAN: More troops to weed out terrorists and extremists and protect the Afghan people. And once the contested Afghan election results are settled, a new agreement on expectations.

KHALILZAD: To make sure the Afghan government does its part, because we cannot succeed if we don't have a good Afghan partner.

LOTHIAN: President Obama outlined his plan for Afghanistan in March. Now his reassessment is fueling criticism that he's second- guessing his own strategy, having doubts.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: And all of this waiting and doubting does nothing more than arm the enemy with more information and more time in order to further destabilize the country of Afghanistan.

LOTHIAN: But the White House says it's not about doing this quickly, but doing it right, and that a decision on how to proceed will not be based on politics.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to make the decision that he feels is in the best interest of the United States' national security.

LOTHIAN: But ignoring a growing public sentiment against deeper involvement in Afghanistan may not be easy, especially in light of a recent CNN poll that shows 58 percent of Americans oppose the war. Just 39 percent support it.


LOTHIAN: Now, the debate will not end with today's meeting. The White House says that there are three additional meetings planned. And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs saying that the president will make a decision on whether or not to send in more troops to Afghanistan in a number of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you will give us some more information if you get it within the next hour. Dan, clearly, this could be one of the most critical decisions of this presidency. We will watch it very closely, Dan Lothian joining us from the White House.

And just a short while ago, I spoke about all of this with the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. We spoke about the war in Afghanistan and the president's strategy.


BLITZER: Is it time, right now, for the U.S. effectively to double down its bet and deploy another 40,000 or more troops to Afghanistan?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, this is clearly the subject of discussion that President Obama is having with his national security advisers. And I think what -- that it is very important is that he get the different views of all the people that are advising him, in addition to General McChrystal. Obviously, there has to be some assessment of what's happening on the ground and looking at what we need in order to accomplish what President Obama had said previously in terms of al Qaeda.

But I think what's so interesting, Wolf, is that this is the kind of process that is necessary for a president who wants to get all the information. And I -- and I very much applaud the way they're going about it.

BLITZER: What about your gut instinct?

What does it tell you that Hamid Karzai's reelection is under doubt because of alleged fraud?

Is this time for the United States to really get more aggressive and more involved in effectively supporting his regime?

ALBRIGHT: I think that it's more -- it's not so much about his regime, but it is about what we consider in our national interests, which is the problem of al Qaeda and Taliban. And I think that what Secretary General Rasmussen of NATO talked about in the last couple of days, this a NATO operation. It is something that's very important to the alliance. And I am very disappointed, obviously, in the election process in Afghanistan.

But this is our issue in terms of our national security and what has to be done in terms of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Some supporters of the war in Afghanistan, like John McCain, for example, or Lindsey Graham, among others, say this is no time for the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, to dither. They need the troops, the military commanders say, they need them right now to help win this war.

What do you say to those critics?

ALBRIGHT: Well, the -- the president is not dithering. The president is doing what a president should do, which is get information and not make decisions based on some kind of gut feeling, but on what, in fact, are the facts on the ground.

And I must say that in contrast to the way other decisions have been made about when we increase forces, I believe that what President Obama is doing is absolutely right, it is to get the information. And -- and I applaud the way that he's doing it.

So he -- I think he is definitely not dithering. What he is doing is considering what the options are and what is appropriate for the United States and NATO.

BLITZER: On Iran right now, do you really believe sanctions, no matter how tough, will convince the Iranian regime to stop its nuclear program?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that, clearly, unilateral sanctions don't work, which is what the United States has now. But if there is international support for sanctions beyond what the U.S. is doing, I think that it is a tool that is very important to use against the Iranians. They do need to be a part of the international system. We've learned a lot about sanctions, Wolf. And as I understand it, they are looking at sanctions that effect some of the top leadership in assets freezes and travel restrictions. And -- and I think that it's important to keep all options on the table.

But President Obama and Secretary Clinton have moved the ball forward a lot, in terms of the international support they got at the U.N. last week and now in these talks that are taking place.

But it has to be a systematic effort of incentives and disincentives with Iran.

BLITZER: But you say all options are on the table, the president says all options are on the table, including the military option.

At what point do you have to use the military option?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that you have to realize that it's always there, but you also have to look at the unintended consequences of every action that you use. And I am not in the middle of any discussions officially on this, but we know what the downside is of some of the military options in terms of where would you actually strike, what would you have to do, how would the Iranians react, what would they do in terms of bigger support for Hezbollah.

And so I think that those who are making the decisions have to keep the options on the table but look at the pros and cons of using them. And that's why, again, I believe it is very important not only in terms of Afghanistan, but in terms of Iran, for the president to be getting as much information as he can.


BLITZER: Madeleine Albright, she's going to be back later this hour with some discussion of the jewelry that she wears. But that's later. She's got some thoughts on that. Meanwhile, President Obama drew a line today connecting two of the nation's top concerns, the economy and health care. He went to the National Institutes of Health to award billions of dollars in research grant money from the economic stimulus package.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And that's why today we're announcing that we have awarded $5 billion, that's with a B, in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatment to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world. This represents the single largest boost to biomedical research in history.


BLITZER: The president specifically mentioned that the grant money would help cancer research. He says the disease has touched the lives of all Americans, including his own family.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it's been almost six months since the Obama administration lifted the ban on media coverage of the returning caskets of our war dead. And the press mostly seems to have lost interest.

"The Examiner" reports how back in April media outlets rushed to cover the first arrival of a fallen U.S. serviceman -- 35 members of press considerations were at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware that day. For the next returning casket, though, 17 media outlets showed up. That soon dropped to a dozen.

The numbers kept shrinking, until this month, when only one news outlet was on hand to document the casket bearing the body of a fallen Marine. That news organization was the Associated Press. In fact, the AP has made it a point to be there at every arrival of a military casket where the family has granted permission, which it does in more than half the cases.

The AP says it's their responsibility to cover these returns -- quoting here -- "It's our belief that this is important, that surely somewhere there is a paper, an audience, a readership, a family and a community for whom this homecoming is indeed news" -- unquote.

But where are the rest of the media outlets who protested President Bush's continued ban on showing flag-draped coffins returning to the United States? This is particularly troubling, in light of what's going on in Afghanistan. Nearly eight years into that war, 2009 will record the highest death toll.

Conventional wisdom suggests, if the American people aren't seeing returning war dead, it's difficult to comprehend the real cost of war. Here's the question. What does it mean when media coverage of fallen troops' returning caskets has all but disappeared? Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much. Good question.

The man who ran against President Obama throws the president's own words back at him.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The fact is that the president during the campaign and as short a time ago as last March said this was a war of necessity and one that we cannot afford to lose.


BLITZER: Senator John McCain urges the president, don't give up on the fight in Afghanistan. What might the president decide and what might be the consequences? Stand by.


BLITZER: We have just been alerted that Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida -- he's the congressman who said that the Republicans' health care plan basically wants sick people to -- quote -- "die quickly" -- he's coming over here to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. He's going to join us in this conversation. We will get an explanation on what he meant by that comment -- Alan Grayson on the way to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Meanwhile, President Obama has a major decision to make regarding Afghanistan, and he's hearing advice from a lot of different people today. Besides his national security team, Republican lawmakers are giving the president an earful. This is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The best way to deny al Qaeda a training camp in Afghanistan is to support an Afghan army and police force that can deny them that opportunity, have the Afghan people stand up for themselves with our help.

A counterterrorism strategy, I don't think, will achieve that goal. Afghanistan will fall if that's the way we go.


BLITZER: The Republicans warning the president about doing the wrong thing. What would the that be, though? And what would the actual consequences be?

Joining me now, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN's Joe Johns, our two political contributors Republican strategist Alex Castellanos and Democratic strategist James Carville.

I will start with you, James. What is the right thing for president to do, double down as they say on deploying a lot more troops to Afghanistan, or try to get out of there?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It kind of reminds you of the movie line. I asked you to do one simple little thing. I asked you to kill Superman.

Who knows? This thing has gone on seven-and-a-half years. It's under view. General McChrystal and people who have read his report say it's brilliant. He's a top-flight military guy. Ambassador Holbrooke. He's got some of the brightest people in the world -- Secretary Gates -- that are advising the president on this. I think it's good for him to take a breath, evaluate the policy, see what the best direction is.

But, look, we're seven-and-a-half years into this, and the Afghan army, the Afghan security forces are nowhere close to being up to this job. I think we have got to ask some really, really tough questions here and I think that's what's going on in this process.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with that, Alex, right?


But what the president hasn't made clear to Republicans or Democrats is what our goals in Afghanistan are, not what our strategy is. And to that he should go on TV tonight and clarify.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But he has made it very clear what the mission is.

CASTELLANOS: No, no, no.

BORGER: Yes. He said it yesterday and he said it before. It's to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda.

CASTELLANOS: Who's not in Afghanistan right now.

BORGER: Well, that's the problem.


BORGER: They're in Pakistan. That's the issue.


CASTELLANOS: He should read a book by a fellow named George Friedman called "The Next 100 Years."

It offers us a way out of this dilemma. And it says this, that a great nation like the U.S. doesn't always have to win a war to achieve its ends. Sometimes, just preventing other powers from consolidating power and coming after you, that's enough.

BORGER: Right.

CASTELLANOS: That may not mean that we need to win the war in Afghanistan. I know that's heretical for a Republican to say. It may mean that all we need to do is to have enough instability there that they can't win.

BORGER: Right.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That may be OK for you, but if the president doesn't beef it up, the fact of the matter is a lot of people on the Hill, particularly Republicans, are going to start calling him the cut and run president and he's going to be the cut and run president all the way through the next election.

BLITZER: There's no doubt, is there...


BLITZER: Let me let James weigh in.

There's no doubt, James, that if in fact the U.S. starts withdrawing from Afghanistan and al Qaeda decides to move from neighboring Pakistan back into Afghanistan to work with the Taliban and they other warlords, we could be back where we were before 2001. Is that a fair assessment?

CARVILLE: Well, no, because I think we would be much more aggressive.

A military strategist by the name of Anthony Beseyovich (ph) -- I hope I have his name right -- if I don't, Colonel, I apologize -- said that, you know, we can fight this a lot along the lines of the Cold War. You can deny them certain things. You can in essence isolate them.

There are any number of things that -- options that the president can have. But, yes, look, he's going to get criticized. He gets criticized for taking his wife to dinner. He's going to sure get criticized for anything that he says on Afghanistan. And, I mean, that just comes with the job.



CASTELLANOS: I hate to agree with James Carville, but he's right again on this one.

Look, a stable Afghanistan with the Taliban in charge, we don't want. But we may not be able to get a stable Afghanistan where democracy flourishes as it does here. But that may not be what we need. An unstable Afghanistan, where we deny al Qaeda the opportunity to consolidate and come back and hit us, may not be enough.

It's a tough political call, because Joe's right. He's going to get political heat for it, but it may be the right thing to do. BORGER: Well, he's going to get political heat for it because he gave a speech in March saying that he was redefining our strategy in Iraq -- I mean, in Afghanistan, and he may be redefining it again seven months later.

So, he's going to have to talk to the American people about...


JOHNS: What is it about superpowers going into Afghanistan and finding real trouble? The Soviet Union...

BLITZER: So far, none of them have had a good experience there, whether the Soviet Union or Britain or whatever.


BLITZER: All right, guys, hold your thoughts. We have got a lot more to discuss.

Remember, we're waiting for Democratic Senator Alan Grayson. He's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. We're going to talk to him about his comment that has caused a huge uproar, his suggestion that Republicans, that their health care policy is basically making sure that sick people die quickly. Those were his words. We're going to get him to explain what he means by that.

Also, scenes of utter devastation. We have some brand new iReports coming in from American Samoa, where entire villages were wiped out by a killer tsunami.

And a disturbing new study showing professional football players at a stunningly higher risk for a debilitating condition.

And the actor John Travolta tells of an alleged blackmail attempt on the day his son died.



BLITZER: If you thought the health care debate just had gotten just about as ugly as it could get, listen to this.


REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: Die quickly. That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.


BLITZER: A freshman Democrat's attack on Republicans and what he did for an encore today. I will be speaking live with Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson. He's getting ready to walk in to THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A Democratic congressman says he didn't do anything wrong when he suggested Republicans would just as soon see sick people -- quote -- "die quickly."

Freshman Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida made the charge on the House floor as part of the increasingly bitter debate over health care reform. Listen to this.


GRAYSON: If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do.

If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly. That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.


BLITZER: All right, Republicans understandably were quite furious.


REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: It's shameful, what's been done. Mr. Grayson, how about apologizing? Mr. Grayson? Mr. Grayson, how about apologizing?


BLITZER: All right, Congressman Grayson later went back to the House floor just a little while ago to offer, I guess, this apology, if that was what it was. It certainly wasn't the one Republicans wanted.


GRAYSON: Take a look at this. Read it and weep. And I mean that. Read it and weep because of all these Americans who are dying because they don't have health insurance.

Now, I think we should do something about that, and the Democratic health care plan does do something about that. It makes health care affordable for those who can't afford insurance, and it saves these people's lives. Let's remember that we should care about people even after they're born.

So I call upon the Democratic members of the House, I call upon the Republican members of the House, I call upon all of us to do our jobs for the sake of America, for the sake of those dying people and their families. I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this Holocaust in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. Alan Grayson, by the way, the congressman -- he's on his way over here to THE SITUATION ROOM. He's going to join in our discussion as soon as he gets here -- Alex Castellanos, those are strong words from this Democratic congressman, as you clearly heard.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I thought I was watching like Ahmadinejad -- one of those guys in the U.N. there. He's a very colorful figure, this congressman. He's actually providing Republicans an opportunity here. Look, everybody knows Washington is a place where hyperbole and exaggeration and all of that.

So if he's making a point, who cares?

He's letting Republicans stand up now and be the bigger guy in this debate. He's -- it's not -- he is, I think, lessening the seriousness of his claims for these theatrics. Republicans shouldn't ask him to apologize, they should just stand up there and ask what should we talk about seriously (INAUDIBLE)?

BLITZER: Let me get James Carville to weigh in, because some folks are saying, you know, what he's saying about Republicans, James, is effectively what Sarah Palin said about death panels and the Democrats.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, it's the same thing that Virginia Foxx said on the House floor, Paul Broun or Ginny Waite Brown or Gohmert or somebody like that from Texas.

The truth of the matter is, is that there's probably a little bit too much talk about death and killing people and stuff like that. I think the congressman makes a good point, that the Harvard study says there's 45,000 people a year that die because of lack of coverage. And, you know, people take some poetic license when they're in a political debate.

But it does strike me that we're -- we're testing the -- the limits here and we probably could engage in a pretty healthy debate without some of this. It just -- it seems that we're getting pretty far out there.

But it's also striking to a Democrat that when a Republican says something, it's not a big deal; when a Democrat does, everybody falls apart over it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, somebody has to take -- well, somebody has to take the first step here. Honestly, if I were a Democratic leader right now, I would go to this Congressman and I would say you need to go to the floor and you need to apologize right now. Somebody has to be a big boy here or a big girl. And we're not seeing a lot of that.

So why are we surprised when people go to town hall meetings and start screaming at each other?


CARVILLE: Can I ask Gloria something...


BLITZER: Hold on, James. Hold on, James.

BORGER: Sure. Sure.


BLITZER: One second, James.



BLITZER: Go ahead, Joe.

JOHNS: I was just going to say, it was like subtitles, you know. And it sort of accentuated the point. But I mean there are people who will say, gosh, the time for truly civil discourse, at least on this issue, is almost over in the United States. And there have been a lot of people who have been bemoaning the fact that Democrats' and Republicans' language has become increasingly critical for probably the past 10, 15 years.

So -- and why is that?

It's really all about money, because you polarize the sides, everybody on the right gets a bunch of money, everybody on the left gets a bunch of money. Then the people in the middle, that -- that group starts shrinking. It's just the why American politics is (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: All right. James wanted to make a point.

Go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, Gloria somewhat -- I don't disagree with what Gloria said, but why is it always the Democrats that have to go apologize?



CARVILLE: Why hasn't somebody told Paul Bourn to apologize or Virginia Foxx to apologize?


CARVILLE: And the only way Brown apologized is -- we're -- we're always the party that is supposed to go hat in and hand apologize and a lot of the Democrats just feel like...

CASTELLANOS: James, can I recommend...

CARVILLE: -- hey, you know...

CASTELLANOS: -- you start watching CNN, because if -- if James were watching a little bit of CNN, he would have noticed we've just had this Congressman Wilson fellow who said something and Democrats were asking him to apologize.


CASTELLANOS: I thought that was the current debate.


CASTELLANOS: Maybe you didn't.

BORGER: Well, I think Republicans should have asked Wilson...

CASTELLANOS: You missed that again.

BORGER: Republicans...

CARVILLE: Again...

CASTELLANOS: It's not Democrats, James. It kind of works the other way around.

BORGER: No. It's both parties, honestly.

CASTELLANOS: Well, that's, I think, the point.

BORGER: When you have somebody who misbehaves, the leaders need to appease.

CASTELLANOS: Why are we so polarized?

It's not -- it's not Americans' fault.



CASTELLANOS: It's a -- there's an administration...


CASTELLANOS: ...that is pushing a transformation of this country...

BORGER: Oh, don't...


BLITZER: But, James...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I think the point that Gloria is making and making well, James, is that when the Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, shouted out, "You lie" to the president, the Republican leadership quickly came to him and said you have to apologize to the -- the president of the United States. She's saying that the Democratic leadership now should tell this congressman, Alan Grayson, you should apologize to the Republicans.



CARVILLE: There are a couple of Republicans.

JOHNS: It's a little different.

BLITZER: But let -- hold on.


BLITZER: Let James weigh in.


CARVILLE: It's a little bit different. I think that it was directed at a person. This was a general thing. And there have been five statements by Republicans just as egregious as what this congressman said and nobody called on them to apologize.

I do think, and I have said, you know, somebody -- something -- some -- we've got to walk some of this stuff back just a might. I mean, I'm as partisan as the next guy and, you know, I guess I can be as much hyperbole as the next person.

But we're -- we're testing some new highs in terms of the -- the -- how this rhetoric is going.

BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go away, because the congressman is on his way here. We'll press him on what he meant, what he wants to say. And we'll give him an opportunity to really apologize, if that's what he wants to do.

Also, sending a message through jewelry.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE, PRINCIPAL, THE ALBRIGHT GROUP: I had a lot of different animals when I was dealing with the Middle East, mostly turtles, because everything was so slow, and sometimes a crab, because it was getting more and more frustrating.


BLITZER: A former secretary of State and a different kind of diplomacy -- more of my interview with Madeleine Albright. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Congressman Alan Grayson, the Democrat from Florida, he's on his way here. We're going to talk to him about his comments earlier about Republicans' health care options -- health care reform plans, simply wanting sick people to "die quickly."

We'll discuss that with him.

He's on his way here to THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're also talking about this whole poisonous environment that has developed in Washington. Thomas Friedman, "The New York Times" columnist, writing today in "The New York Times" this: "Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into the delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here in the United States that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination."

And -- and that's causing a huge uproar comparing the environment in Israel that led to the assassination of Rabin and what's going on in the United States right now.

Michael Steele, the Republican Party chairman, said this.


MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: Where do these nut jobs come from?

I mean come on, stop this.

I mean, wait a minute...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But wait a minute...

STEELE: How do you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thomas Friedman is a nut job?

STEELE: Well, well, I'm just saying to make those kind of equations, you know, examples and -- and put that out there that way, it, to me, is just crazy. And, yes, I mean I'm sorry, but you -- if you -- if you're going to approach this discussion, approach it from a rational position.


BLITZER: James Carville, did Thomas Friedman have a rational argument in his column?

CARVILLE: I'll tell you what, a lot of people feel sort of queasy about this and I -- look, I happen to like Tom Friedman. I happen to think he's a smart guy. But like anybody else, I don't always agree with him, but he's certainly not a nut job. But be that as it may, you know, this thing is getting out there pretty good. And a lot of people are troubled by it. To be honest with you, I'm troubled by it, too. I don't think it's like the mainstream Republicans or all that.

But the -- you know, and I think when historians look back at this and unearth, I think that most people are going to agree that it started with this Murtha movement (ph), which, as Friedman said, there was this whole effort to delegitimize this president. And from there, it seemed to get pretty wild. I -- I don't know. Some of it makes me kind of queasy.


CASTELLANOS: A slightly different point of view here. Thomas Friedman, we have to like. He's got a great mustache. But he's missed something and that is that look at the Virginia governor's race. When you ask voters there, how interested are you in this election and what's going on politically, on a scale of one to 10, the voters who say eight, nine and 10, they're the ones that are going to show up.

Guess what?

Republicans are 10 or 12 points more interested and excited about what's going on and concerned about what's going on in politics now than Democrats.


And that's because of what's going on in Washington. There really is something out there. Main -- these are mainstream voters. These are not the fringes on either side.

What Friedman is missing is that there's an America out there that feels Washington is taking its money, telling it what to do, enslaving it in debt and they're very concerned. It's not their fault they're angry. Somebody in Washington is making them so.

JOHNS: But where is that sort of respect for the office of the president, you know?

I mean, it sort of went downhill with Clinton. George W. Bush really got smacked.

CASTELLANOS: These people -- the mainstream Americans who are concerned, they have a tremendous amount of respect for this president. And, you know, there are fringes and nut jobs on both sides. We saw -- I think one of them may be coming to visit. We don't know.

BLITZER: Well, hold on. He's coming in, Alan Grayson.

CASTELLANOS: (INAUDIBLE) filled with fiery folks on both sides.

BLITZER: The Congress -- the Democratic Congressman from Florida is here. Congressman Grayson...


How are you?


BLITZER: ...we've been talking about your comments.


BLITZER: A lot of people have been talking about your comments.


BLITZER: And -- and we heard you say the Republicans and their health care plan is simply they want sick people to, "die quickly."

Go ahead, tell us what you mean.

GRAYSON: Well, what I mean is they've got no plan. It's been 24 hours since I said that.

Where is the Republican plan?

We're all waiting to see something to take care of people who have preexisting conditions, to take care of the 47 million people in this country who have no coverage at all. There is no plan. And that's what I meant...


GRAYSON: ...when I said the Republican plan really is don't get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.

BLITZER: But you're -- you're...

GRAYSON: Insurance companies like that, too.

BLITZER: You're saying that the Republicans want sick people to die quickly.

GRAYSON: They have no...

BLITZER: You're branding all...

GRAYSON: ...plan.

BLITZER: So that's -- maybe they may have no plan. They say they have plenty of plans.

But if they -- do you really believe the Republicans want sick people to die quickly?

GRAYSON: Look, what I want is for us to work together to solve our problems and I don't see the Republicans doing that. (CROSSTALK)

GRAYSON: There's no effort by the Republicans to actually pass any kind of bill...

CASTELLANOS: Congressman...

GRAYSON: No bill whatsoever. They just want to stop everything.

BLITZER: Has -- has any Democratic leader asked you to apologize to the Republicans?


BLITZER: Do you plan on a...

GRAYSON: And you know why?

You know why they haven't asked me?

Because I'm saying what everyone else has been thinking, but no one else has been saying.

BLITZER: And so you have no intention of apologizing?

GRAYSON: Of course not.


I'm not the one who should be apologizing.

JOHNS: Do you admit...


GRAYSON: They should apologize to America.


BLITZER: Hold on.

JOHNS: Wasn't it over the top, though?

I mean do you at least admit that?

GRAYSON: Well, look, I'm 6'4," so it takes a lot to be over my top.

JOHNS: Me, too.


CASTELLANOS: I'm a Republican, congressman, and I have just a question.

GRAYSON: Yes? CASTELLANOS: Which particular Americans do you think I would like to die?

Can you name some?

GRAYSON: Listen, do you want to make sure that people have affordable, universal, comprehensive health care in this country?


GRAYSON: Do you?

CASTELLANOS: And that's why I, by the way...

GRAYSON: Now, what have you done about it?

CASTELLANOS: The Republicans actually have a very different approach than the Democrats do, but it's very concrete. Instead of a big gamble, this one...

GRAYSON: Oh, please.

CASTELLANOS: ...huge plan that Obama has...

GRAYSON: You know, that's...

CASTELLANOS: ...Republicans are supporting a...

GRAYSON: ...amorphous nonsense.

CASTELLANOS: ...very -- fix, six, seven steps...

GRAYSON: Do you really think tort reform...

CASTELLANOS: ...that all Republicans agree on.

GRAYSON: going to take care of 47 million people...

CASTELLANOS: Not only tort reform...

GRAYSON: ...not having...

CASTELLANOS: ...but shopping for insurance...

GRAYSON: Not only nothing. That's what I hear.

CASTELLANOS: across states...

BORGER: What is this...

CASTELLANOS: Excuse me. Shopping across for insurance -- across states is not nothing.

GRAYSON: Oh, and you really

think that that's going to solve... CASTELLANOS: Letting people...

GRAYSON: ...people's problems in this country?

CASTELLANOS: ...letting individuals buy the same -- have the advantages in buying insurance that businesses have is not nothing.

GRAYSON: You know -- you know, that's just...

CASTELLANOS: Tort reform is not nothing.

GRAYSON: ...helping the people who give Republicans money.


BORGER: What does...

GRAYSON: That's all you're doing.

BORGER: What does...


GRAYSON: ...the insurance companies and everybody else. That's all you're doing.

BORGER: What does...


BLITZER: All right. One at a time. One at a time...


BLITZER: Wait. Look, Gloria.

GRAYSON: Hitting those trial lawyers, just like you love to do.

BLITZER: Congressman.

GRAYSON: Let's concentrate on helping this country. Let's concentrate on stabilizing...

BLITZER: Hold on.

CASTELLANOS: You could still...

GRAYSON: ...and saving money.

CASTELLANOS: You could still (INAUDIBLE)...

GRAYSON: ...and not the usual cliches when you're (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: I want -- I want Gloria and then...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: ...and James.


BORGER: What...

BLITZER: Alex, hold on a second. Gloria then James.

BORGER: What does your statement on the House floor do to raise the level of the debate or do to help get health reform passed in the United States Congress, if that's what you want?

GRAYSON: It gets it back on track.

BORGER: Why do that?

GRAYSON: It gets us back on track...

BORGER: How does that get...

GRAYSON: We are stalled...

BORGER: How does that...

GRAYSON: Nothing is happening. We're waiting and waiting and waiting while people die. A Harvard study that was published just two weeks ago said that 44,000 Americans die every year for lack of health coverage. That's over 4,000 almost every month, OK. While we were debating this today on the floor of the House, another 40 of them died.

BORGER: But how does this get the debate back on track, if you (INAUDIBLE)?

GRAYSON: Because it gets people concentrating...

BORGER: I don't understand that.

GRAYSON: ...on the fact that there is a bill and on the other side, there is nothing. These nattering nabobs of negativism have to stop blocking every single thing that we try to do here...

CASTELLANOS: But Congressman...

GRAYSON: ...or at least come up with something resembling a plan of their own.

CASTELLANOS: We -- we should give the congressman his thanks for something, though. He is at least giving an opportunity for Republicans to look responsible in this debate. And for that...

GRAYSON: Well, that's a great thing to say, I must say.

CASTELLANOS: But it's not fair to say that the Republicans have no plan.


CASTELLANOS: They actually do.


BLITZER: All right. Let me let James Carville weigh in.

Go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: Yes. Well -- well, first of all, I would make the observation that this congressman, unlike other people that say something controversial, actually walked right into THE SITUATION ROOM and walked right up to everybody there and started asking -- answering questions. So let -- let me at least let me congratulate on him on the fact that he's got at least the courage to go up and say what he said.

Congressman, you said that -- can you name anything, or Alex, anything that the Republicans have that would deal with the problem of people with preexisting conditions that can't get coverage?

CASTELLANOS: The Republicans support that, James.

CARVILLE: Can you think of anything that they (INAUDIBLE)?

CASTELLANOS: I believe the insurance industry supports that. Obama and Republican -- President Obama put that on the table. If he put tort reform, if he put portability, if he put shopping across state lines, he could put together a package right now and Republicans would stand with him 100 percent.

GRAYSON: That's fantasy.

CASTELLANOS: He could get bipartisan support.


CASTELLANOS: Republicans do support those things.

GRAYSON: That's absolute fantasy. You are finally...


CARVILLE: I think I would ask him not to...


GRAYSON: You are paying the price for -- for doing nothing...

CARVILLE: I think I was asking the congressman a question, but that's OK.

GRAYSON: help people months afterwards.

BLITZER: Congressman? GRAYSON: Well, let me tell you this. You, among all people, stand for a principle and that principle is Democrats have to have guts. And now we have to have the guts to take the majority that the American people have given to us and we have to do something with it. And what we have to do is we have to solve people's problems. We have to eliminate the phenomenon in country of people dying for lack of health care. We have to eliminate the phenomenon of people in this country having to pay $4 a gallon for gasoline, as they did under the Republicans, when the Republicans took us careening up to the brink of national bankruptcy.

BLITZER: Congressman, what's been the reaction to your comment. As you walk through the halls of the House of Representatives today, you see fellow Republicans and you see Democrats.

GRAYSON: You know, it's -- everyone has been overwhelmingly positive about it -- overwhelmingly positive...

BLITZER: You mean -- you're talking about Democrats?

GRAYSON: ...and particular people from (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: You're talking about...

GRAYSON: Yes, but the phones -- the phones are lit up with people who wanted to comment, including the oldest surviving AIDS survivor in this country. He called me and he said, Thank you. God bless you."

JOHNS: The Republicans...

GRAYSON: God bless you for fighting for health care and for fighting for survival.

JOHNS: The Republicans are sort of comparing you to the Joe Wilson situation, the congressman...

GRAYSON: No, it's not the same.

JOHNS: Well -- well, how is it not the same?

GRAYSON: Because I didn't insult the president in front of 40 million people.

BLITZER: But you did insult Republicans.

BORGER: Every Republican.



GRAYSON: What the Republicans have been doing is an insult to America.

CASTELLANOS: But you're talking... GRAYSON: They've been dragging their feet. These -- these are foot dragging, knuckle dragging Neanderthals who think they can dictate policy to America by being stubborn. And I think it's -- the time is over. We had an election. That's it. Now we have to move ahead in just the way the president wants us to.

BORGER: But -- but this is name -- you -- I mean you've just called Republicans Neanderthals. This is the kind of name-calling that people were upset at Joe Wilson for doing to the president of the United States.

I mean why is your name-calling to all of your Republican colleagues any different from Joe Wilson's?

GRAYSON: Well, listen, I didn't call names. What I said is true. The Republicans have...

BORGER: No, you...

GRAYSON: ...nothing even remotely resembling a plan. And when you don't have a plan, what that means is your plan is don't get sick.

JOHNS: Should health care...

GRAYSON: So what I said is true.

JOHNS: Should health care...

GRAYSON: What Joe Wilson said, on the other hand, is false.

JOHNS: Should health care be a food fight, though or should it be sort of a thoughtful conversation about important ideas?

GRAYSON: Listen, I'm new to this, OK?

I've only been in Congress now for barely eight months. And I wish when I came to Congress I saw some thoughtful opposition from the other side. But instead, all they do is drag their heels day after day...

BLITZER: So when you accuse...

GRAYSON: ...month after month.

BLITZER: ...the Republicans of being Neanderthals, you're talking about John Boehner, the Republican leader; Eric Cantor?

Are you talking about the leadership of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives?

GRAYSON: Whoever it is that's causing the Republicans to fight tooth and nail against anything, absolutely anything, to have every vote come down to being 257 to 175 in the House, over and over and over again, those are the people who are -- who are really disserving American.

BLITZER: But, congressman, you can...

GRAYSON: Americans deserve...

BLITZER: can disagree...


BLITZER: You can disagree with the Republicans on health care and you can say they don't have a plan and you can say whatever they're trying to do is disrupt the Democrats' efforts to try to get health care reform passed. But to then go one step further and say they want sick people to die quickly, that -- that's a huge, huge insult.

GRAYSON: Well, isn't that exactly what the insurance companies want?

BLITZER: But to say they want people...


GRAYSON: And who is it...

BLITZER: -- sick people to die quickly...

GRAYSON: And who is it that are -- are inspiring the Republicans to be stubborn this way, despite every conceivable reform of any kind, in any area?

CASTELLANOS: (INAUDIBLE) that's just not true. You're...

GRAYSON: If not the insurance companies, who else is doing it?

CASTELLANOS: You're accusing the Republicans of supporting death panels now, am I understanding that correctly?

Look, would you support -- would you stand with Republicans who want portability, who want to be able to shop across state lines...

GRAYSON: You know...

CASTELLANOS: Who want -- who support...

GRAYSON: ...honestly...

CASTELLANOS: ...eliminating preexisting conditions.

GRAYSON: ...if you're the Republican who's in favor of that, you're the only one I've heard of to say that.

CASTELLANOS: Well, actually...

GRAYSON: And I deal with them every single day.

CASTELLANOS: That's a common denominator...

GRAYSON: The Republicans simply...


GRAYSON: the House, they simply said no, no, no, no, no, no.

CASTELLANOS: So you would?

So you're saying you would if Republicans...

GRAYSON: That's the Democratic plan.

CASTELLANOS: ...come here?

BORGER: What about a senator...

GRAYSON: What you just described is the Democratic plan.

BORGER: Olympia Snowe?


GRAYSON: Oh, you think you can steal the emperors' clothes that way?

BLITZER: Congressman, would...


CASTELLANOS: ...the Republican approach. By the way, the insurance companies support (INAUDIBLE) other people support it.

BLITZER: What did you -- how did you act when Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, the Republican vice presidential nominee, accused Democrats and the president of the United States of wanting to create death panels?

GRAYSON: How did I react?

I said to myself, I wish Sarah Palin read the bill, because that's not what this bill says. The Democratic bill doesn't do anything even approaching that. That's a scare tactic.

What I said, on the other hand, is the God's honest truth. And truth is an absolute defense.

BORGER: Have you heard from the House speaker on this?


JOHNS: Did you really think that you were going to intentionally sort of create this uproar?

Because I noticed the -- the sign, the poster you went out. It seemed like it was very intentional and calculated.

BLITZER: Good question.

JOHNS: Did you try to do this?

BLITZER: Walk us through -- I think it's a great question. Walk us through your mind as you bill -- went to the House floor with those charts.

GRAYSON: What was going through my mind is this. Two weeks ago, a medical journal, a prestigious medical journal published an article by Harvard scientists that said that 44,000 Americans die every year for lack of insurance. And I was just thinking and thinking and thinking, what do I need to do about this?

And what you saw yesterday was my answer to that question. We cannot go on any longer in this country where people cannot afford health care, where the coverage they got is good unless they actually need it and when people are dying. We need affordable, comprehensive health care. And we need, above all, universal health care. That's what we need. And that's why I said what I said.

BLITZER: And you say your -- the reaction from your district -- where is your district in Florida?

GRAYSON: It's -- it's in Central Florida.

BORGER: Orlando.

GRAYSON: It's -- it's mostly in Orlando.


GRAYSON: Orlando, Ocala and (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: That's a pretty -- that could be Democrat, it could be Republican. It's a -- it's a pretty it's a pretty competitive district.

GRAYSON: Well, we have more Democrats than Republicans in the district.


BORGER: Can -- can I ask you...

GRAYSON: But it's not the point. Everyone in America, Democrat or Republican...


GRAYSON: ...expects us to work together and come up with solutions...

CASTELLANOS: Do those Republicans in your district...

GRAYSON: ...not just no, no, no, no, no.

BLITZER: All right. One final thought from James and then I've got to go.


BLITZER: Go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: Congressman, are you aware of how much your life is going to be different here for the next two weeks than it was for the last two weeks?


GRAYSON: No, no. Maybe, James, you can school me, OK?

Yes, I can learn from you.

CARVILLE: Yes, you know, I would -- I would call them regressive as opposed to Neanderthals, but it's your -- it's your choice of words.

CASTELLANOS: We'll help the congressman to overcome his shyness.

CARVILLE: But I -- I've got to give you credit, you make for great television here and, you know, unlike other people that -- you come out and come on -- come on THE SITUATION ROOM. And, you know, all of us -- some -- some of us agree with most -- with most of what you said. Some agree with very little of it.

BLITZER: He had...

CARVILLE: But thanks for coming on the show.

BLITZER: He had the guts to do it.

GRAYSON: I'm just telling is like it is.

BLITZER: Congressman, he's not backing away and that's that.


BLITZER: All right, guys.


BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. And I think James Carville is absolutely right. I think your life has changed over the past 24 hours.

GRAYSON: Well, I got to you, too, didn't I?

BLITZER: That's right.

GRAYSON: That's an important change.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, congressman, for coming in.

Jeanne Moos is standing by. She's got something that is Moost Unusual.


Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what does it mean when media coverage of fallen troops returning caskets has all but disappeared?

Carol writes: "It means the American people have not really been touched by either war, Iraq or Afghanistan. We still have everything we want, unless you lost your house due to the bad economy. But the war? Young people who have given their lives, who really cares? Not many. That's the sad truth."

Harry in Baltimore writes: "A symptom of today's news media environment. Like it or not, if a news story doesn't reach some arbitrary level of sensationalism, it's not considered newsworthy enough to deserve the coverage. The A.P. is reminding us a news story is newsworthy when it's based on certain coveted principles, such as the ultimate sacrifice our military is prepared to make in the defense of this country."

Dan writes: "It means public interest has all but disappeared. It doesn't surprise me at all that Associated Press is the only source still covering the story, since they seem to be the only news outlet dedicated to journalism. Everyone else prays before the altar of public opinion. They go where the wind's blowing that day. Right now, the wind's blowing toward health care and gossip about Jon and Kate. Everything else has become back page material."

George writes: "Jack, here in Canada, the media do a good job covering the fallen soldiers in Afghanistan. In the U.S., Michael Jackson for two weeks. You guys are so sick. Have a nice day."

Laurie writes: "You only cared during Vietnam because there was a draft. Our citizens are apathetic about everything."

And Jack in Florida says: "It means people have become desensitized to the deaths of our troops. The media has once again failed to perform its purposes. Sensationalism is the only coverage the media wants to perform. The death of each service man should be the lead in every news story. They're not just coffins, they're our children."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check my blog,

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much for that.

Conan versus the City of Newark -- a Moost Unusual moment.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Call it a dissing match -- if you dare dis Newark, New Jersey, prepare to be dissed back. Mayor Cory Booker...


MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Last week, Conan O'Brien took a swing at our city.



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: The mayor of Newark, New Jersey wants to set up a city wide program to improve Newark residents' health. And the health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.


MOOS: Newark's mayor fired back on YouTube.


BOOKER: Conan, I want you to hear directly from the people up in Newark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear what Conan O'Brien said about the City of Newark?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, what did he say?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You gonna need some health care. This (INAUDIBLE) you talking about right here, chump. You don't mess with Newark like that.


MOOS: And then the mayor clipped Conan's wings.


BOOKER: I'm officially putting you on the Newark, New Jersey Airport no fly list. Try JFK, buddy.


MOOS: Some actually thought the mayor was serious, calling it an abuse of power. Nah, it was more of an abuse of humor. "Saturday Night Live" also picked on New Jersey with an impersonation of New York's blind governor, David Paterson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the way, you know how to go to hell, Seth (ph)? You take the Holland Tunnel straight to New Jersey.


MOOS (on camera): But if you think Newark has an image problem, wait until you hear what had the Wisconsin Tourism Federation going what the (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

(voice-over): The Wisconsin Tourism Federation has been around 30 years, but lately its initials have taken on new meaning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have decided I'm going to do a quick segment called what the (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).





MOOS: Although the dad in the new sitcom, "Modern Family," still hasn't gotten the word.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a half pint (ph). I surf the Web. I text LOL -- laugh out loud; OMG -- oh my God; WTF -- why the face?

MOOS: But when the other WTF, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, saw their initials mocked on Web sites like "Your logo makes me barf," it was the final straw. WTF made the switch to TFW -- Tourism Federation of Wisconsin. Easy for them to change their name, but what's New Jersey do?


BOOKER: Try JFK, buddy.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne, for that.

This important announcement -- tomorrow, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, he'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about his efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, among other subjects. Arnold Schwarzenegger in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meantime, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.