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The Situation Room

More Troops to Afghanistan?; Interview with Shah Mahmoud Qureshi;

Aired October 06, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama gets (INAUDIBLE) about the war in Afghanistan. New Details about those private talks at the White House just a short while ago. A CNN exclusive an embattled U.S. senator insists De did nothing wrong when he helped his ex-lover's husband get a job. We confront Senator John Ensign about his conduct

And one month and counting to a pair of votes that could be a referendum on President Obama, Two governors raised it.

And one big worry, jobs. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Whenever you crowd a bunch of Republican and Democratic lawmakers into a room with a President, guess what, there's going to be disagreement and at least some tension. That's what happen a short while ago over at the White House during closed door talks about Afghanistan -- more conflicting voices about the war for the president to digest right now. Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed how did it go?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf we're getting new dramatic details at a top house Democrat, privately cautioned the President behind closed doors that if he escalates the war further in Afghanistan, the U.S. could be stuck in region for the next 20 Years. That according to two participants in the meeting, Congressman David Ovee, he's powerful chairman of the house in the appropriations committee. Also warned the President that if he sends more troops the U.S. could spend $1 trillion alone in the next 10 years fighting this war and that he's worried it could be an open ended conflict.

If the President escalates again, remember he sent 21,000 more troops in March, now weighing whether to send 40,000 more troops. But attendees in this meeting are telling me that the President made clear as his staff has made clear the last couple of days, they're basically pulling out of Afghanistan is not an option that's on the table right now. And in fact, what's interesting is there was tension in that room with Democrats, but the Republicans emerged, people like John Boehner suggesting they're ready to support the President sending more troops. Take a listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We do recognize that he has a tough decision and he wants the ample time to make a good decision. Frankly I support that. But we need to remember that every day that goes by, the troops that we do have there are in greater danger.


HENRY: Now a spokesman for Congressman Ovee told me a couple of moments ago that he cannot confirm or deny exactly what the Congressman said because the Congressman does not like to talk about the advice he gives the President in private. But did acknowledge that the Congressman has been very skeptical about sending more troops, and the cost, both the human costs as well as the financial costs.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea when the President will make up his mind?

HENRY: Yes, we are learning from this meeting that the President suggested the lawmakers that a decision will be made in weeks not months. So I've heard from other in the Obama administration they expect something to be announced either in late October or early November. That's not definite yet but that's the expectation right now.

BLITZER: Pressure is building on all, thanks very much. The stakes enormous.

Despite word of some tension, the senate the majority leader Harry Reid made the talks with the president sounds like a meeting of the minds. Listen to this.


SEN. HENRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Everyone, Democrats and Republicans said whatever decision you make we'll support it, basically. So we'll see.


REID: There was a general discussion there, I hope people aren't talking in the abstract saying whatever decision you make, we'll support that came from the minority. OK?


Let's bring in the best Political team on television, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, CNN's Joe Johns and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. Ed Rollins is joining us, as well, our Republican strategist and CNN contributor. It looks, Gloria, as if the President, if he goes ahead and accepts the recommendation of his commander, General McChrystal, he'll get the support of the Republicans, but a lot of Democrats are not going to be very happy.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he probably knew that going into this meeting and I think he probably is a lot more aware of it coming out of this meeting. But Wolf, I don't think it's sort of an either or situation here. It's possible for example that the President might not accept a recommendation for 40,000, at least not right away and that he might try and do some other things, and that he might try and send some different kinds of troops over there, some special forces. So I think we're going to have to see just exactly what the President with his Secretary of Defense actually comes up with.

BLITZER: I'm going to play these two clips, one from Secretary Gates, what he's been saying about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. And then I'm going to follow that with what General Jones, the retired U.S. marine corps commandant now the National Security advisor said on Sunday.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And the reality is that because of our inability and the inability frankly of our allies to put enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have momentum right now it seems.

GENERAL JIM JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I don't forsee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger, imminent danger of falling.


BLITZER: Ed Rollins is there a disconnect there?

ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Definitely a disconnect. You know obviously I have great respect for both of those men, but they're not talking on the same sheet and I think at the end of the day, they do a great disservice to the President. I think Gates going public in the arena he did at the time that he did, clearly is the thinking of the Pentagon. Obviously commandant Jones maybe representing more some of the thinking of the White House types. But clearly they're still miles apart. And some of it explaining what Harry Reid said when he came out there,


BORGER: He's now speaking for Republicans or Democrats or nobody?

BLITZER: Let's Paul Begala explain that, go ahead Paul.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He's just trying to be nice I think to the minority, the Republicans, who were brought in, taken seriously, but this is a President who actually wants to hear from those who oppose and disagree with his ideas. What a welcome relief from the guy we had in there before. And then the Republicans, apparently, reciprocated by saying look, we're going to back you up whatever you decide. I think that's what most Americans want. I think it's, Barack, Secretary Gates also said actually on one of Sunday shows, a week or two ago that this will be the first time since the '80s when we have really have a strategy in Afghanistan. This is a man who served in three Republican administrations, so I think it's good that this President is going back to basic principles saying what's our goal here, guys, what's our real strategy, and what will it take to execute that.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But the question is if they do decide to increase troops, congress is going to have to vote to fund that and that's what Harry Reid was asked about, that's the bottom line here, will the Democrats be there to support the President if he endorses General McChrystal's decision. And it's not clear that they will.

ROLLINS: That's where he had a full of short because the question then was on funding and he said well, nobody gives any president a blank check before what they know what the policy is, I mean that was getting too..


YELLIN: But this could be in the Democratic Party, it could be a big problem.

BLITZER: Yes but if he has all the Republicans on board and most of them will support an increase in troops and all the moderate, middle of the road kind of Democrats, they're going to vote for that funding?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORESPONDENTS: Absolutely, and this is a situation where the President is sort of running against his own Democratic party in a lot of ways.


JOHNS: Absolutely, it's an unusual situation and as to the disconnect, you also have to realize we've been conditioned over the last eight years to an administration that for good or for bad was very careful about its secrecy, you didn't get a lot of information out in public. Now all of a sudden the -- now the public is being brought into this debate that the commanders, the generals and others are giving about what to do in Afghanistan and coming from the Secretary of State or whatever -- it's good to see a little bit of public discourse on this thing.

BORGER: Well we're not used to seeing a General, like General McChrystal going out there and talk about a policy that he wants and publicly disagree with the Vice President of the United States who doesn't want to send 40,000 more troops. And I was told his speech was cleared by the White House that he gave in London, but he kind of went rogue in the Q&A when he was talking about Joe Biden.

YELLIN: And it was not expected

BORGER: And it was not well received.

BLITZER: But there's also no doubt, Paul, as the President goes forward, he knows the consequences, what the consequences would be if he rejects General McChrystal's recommendation for another 20,000 or 40,000 troops. The General would still have the option at that point to either salute or to retire.

BEGALA: Absolutely, and if he chooses to resign, he can then publicly criticize the problem, attack him, that could be a political problem but you know what? He has, Barack Obama has a four-year no cut contract. He has the best political people ever known working for him. And I guarantee you what they're saying is, sir, you make the right policy choice and the politics will take care of itself.

BORGER: George W. Bush didn't agree with his generals either might I remind you, he decided for a surge in Iraq and had more troops than they were asking.

JOHNS: I was going to say administration is actually making a good strategy of not going after this General In a lot of ways. Because they know this President has the ability to articulate the issues that he has to deal with, he also according to one Democratic strategist, the experience of Iraq to inform Afghanistan and also more support in Afghanistan itself. So he has got some things going in his favor.

BLITZER: General McChrystal was hand picked by the General Patraeus, the Commander of the central Command. Don't go away, we have more to discuss.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The economy is beginning to recover by some accounts, but not in a way that hits millions of Americans the hardest. And that of course is unemployment.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says our economy will grow more than expected in the third quarter. He's looking for more than three percent growth, that would be pretty robust, but Greenspan points to the pretty awful September jobs report that were out last Friday which showed an unexpected loss of 263,000 more jobs. Greenspan says unemployment will continue to go up, eventually topping 10 percent. Its currently 9.8 doesn't have far to go, that's the highest its been since 1983. There are estimates then that as many as 750,00 additional jobs will be loss between now and next March and that would mean nine million jobs lost since the recession began of December 2007.

Well employment is a lagging indicator which means the economy will begin to show signs of recovery quite a while before we see a pick up in the jobs numbers.

All this has President Obama talking about job creation again. The administration and Democrats want to extend safety net programs like making unemployment benefits available for up to a year and a half. Probably not a bad idea in light of the midterm elections that are next year.

They also might impose new tax incentives for businesses to try to get them hiring again. Whether any of these ideas will work remains very much an open question. One Democratic aid said, quote, "There may not be anything we can do."

Here's the question then: Do you get any sense at all that the job market is starting to improve? Even just a little bit?

Go to and talk to me.

BLITZER: Get ready they will be talking to you Jack, thank you.

Some of you fear it, even top lawmakers and military chiefs openly talk about it, the possibility of failure in Afghanistan. If that happens, what kind of nightmare could that create? I'll ask a key U.S. terror ally. The foreign minister of Pakistan, he's standing by live and the elections are coming will you be voting for or against President Obama, voters and two governors races could actually be passing judgment on the president.


BLITZER: Right now the Obama Administration is urging Pakistan to do more to fight militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan. This as the President weighs whether or not to send more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan.

Many law makers, military officials, even many of you are openly wondering what might failure look like in Afghanistan. What would be the consequences? Here to talk about that and more, a key in American ally, Pakistan's foreign minister is Shah Mahmood Qureshi is here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Foreign minister, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Did -- you just met with the Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton here in Washington today, right.


BLITZER: Did she reassure you that the U.S. is there to stay in Afghanistan and will not just cut and run?

QURESHI: Yes, she did.

BLITZER: What did she say?

QURESHI: She said that they are there, they are committed to a long-term engagement with the region, they want to see stable, peaceful region in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

BLITZER: Is it important for Pakistan that the U.S. deploy more troops to Afghanistan right now as General McChrystal is recommending?

QURESHI: Well, that depends on what the generals are recommending and depends on what is the field situation in Afghanistan. They are the military experts, I'm not. That's their decision. What we are looking for is a long-term commitment to the region and Pakistan. BLITZER: You want the U.S. military, the U.S. to stay in the region?

QURESHI: Obviously they have to stay in the region.

BLITZER: Why is that so important to Pakistan?

QURESHI: Because you have learned from the past. You pulled out in a hurry when the Soviets were pushed out and look at the mess and look at the consequences we are facing.

BLITZER: How unstable is that Afghanistan situation right now? How worried are you about a come back by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

QURESHI: Well, we have to be consistent. What I can tell you is in Pakistan the situation has changed significantly.

BLITZER: Under this new government -

QURESHI: Under the new government of (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Because U.S. officials say you're becoming much more aggressive, assertive in going after the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

QURESHI: We have built a consensus within Pakistan. We built a consensus inside the Parliament and outside the Parliament and we are very clear that it is in Pakistan's interest to fight, defeat terrorism.

BLITZER: Would you like the U.S. to get involved, directly come into Pakistan and help you on the ground.

QURESHI: No, we don't need that.

BLITZER: Why not?

QURESHI: Because we are capable of doing it ourselves. (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: If the U.S. came in, could that have been better?

QURESHI: No. It will not be accepted by the people of Pakistan.


QURESHI: Because that's a red line, because we have - see (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: Why should the people of Afghanistan accept that? But the people in Afghanistan won't accept it.

QURESHI: Because we are two different situations, we are two different countries. The capacity of the institutions of two different countries are different.

We have demonstrated through action, through (INAUDIBLE) our forces, our people are capable of doing the job.

BLITZER: Because right now the U.S. simply sends these drones, these predator drones over Pakistani territory looking for Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders to kill them, but they don't send troops on the ground?

QURESHI: No. The point is, why understand - we are the same because they understand that the geography is very, very difficult and the terrain is very hostile. And that's the quickest way of reaching the - by the time the ground forces moved, the Taliban have done the job and they run away.

BLITZER: The U.S. is giving you the assistance, the military assistance you need to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda along the border with Afghanistan?

QURESHI: I think our relationship has qualitatively improved in the last year.

BLITZER: To the point of what?

QURESHI: To the point of greater engagement, to the point of building a new partnership.

BLITZER: Where is Bin Laden?

QURESHI: Who knows?

BLITZER: Where do you think?

QUERSHI: I don't know.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find him?

QURESHI: You tell me.

BLITZER: You're the foreign minister from Pakistan. Everybody says he's in that disputed, that border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, probably in the Pakistani side.

QURESHI: The United States is the most informed nation, the most screwed up nation in the world.

BLITZER: Did you know what's going on in Pakistan?

QURESHI: So do you. Americans are in the region and you have intelligence, ground intelligence. And you know, a sophisticated intelligence.

BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe that either Pakistan, the U.S., anyone else is any closer to finding Bin Laden?

QURESHI: Well, I think to a great extent, we have in Pakistan, I can speak for Pakistan, we have to a great extent broken the pack of the militants, the swat (ph), the Malakhan operation has broken the back the second tier. The third tier of leadership has been eliminated or arrested.

BLITZER: Do you see any evidence that the Taliban or Al Qaeda are moving from Pakistan back to Afghanistan?

QURESHI: I think they are running away from Pakistan. And they are not necessarily running into Afghanistan. There could be other destinations they are looking for -

BLITZER: Like Somalia or some place like that?

QURESHI: Perhaps.

BLITZER: Is that what you're seeing that's going on?

QURESHI: That's a possibility.

BLITZER: How worried are you that Afghanistan could go down?

QURESHI: Well, we are there to be supportive, and since the democratically elected government has come into office -

BLITZER: - in Pakistan.

QURESHI: - in Pakistan, our engagement, our relations have improved.

BLITZER: Do you trust Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan?

QURESHI: We certainly have improved our relations to Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Do you trust him?

QURESHI: We have to co-exist, and we can only co-exist if we build a relationship of trust and compromise and we intend to do that.

BLITZER: But it's not there yet?

QURESHI: It's happening. It's building.

BLITZER: It's a lot more work to do?

QURESHI: Obviously there's more work to do, but we have covered considerable ground in the last year and a half?

BLITZER: Good luck, Mr. foreign minister. Thanks for coming in.

QURESHI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tough times all around, hundreds of people who help make booster rockets for the space shuttles get some grim news about their jobs. Plus a CNN exclusive, we catch with the embattled Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada. He speaks out for the first time since explosive new allegations about his affair.



SEN. JOH ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: We are going to cooperate with any official inquiry.


BLITZER: The best political team on television will return shortly. But first let's check in with Betty Nguyen. She is monitoring some other important stories incoming "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, 550 contract workers have lost their jobs in layoffs related to the planned phasing out of NASA space shuttle program by the end of 2010. The company that makes booster rockets for the shuttle says the job cut affect engineers, factory workers and others at three Utah locations. ATK Space Systems says the pink slips are also related to the end of production for a government missile program.

The man accused of murdering a Yale grad student appeared in court today, Raymond Clark, a lab technician, who worked with Annie Le did not enter a plea. However, his lawyers said that he expects that he will plead not guilty. Police have called Annie Le's death a case of workplace violence. Her body was found inside the wall of the Yale Laboratory Building last month.

Elizabeth Taylor said she is headed to the hospital for a heart procedure. Taylor revealed the news on her twitter page. She says the fairly new procedure will involve repairing a leaky valve with a clip and avoiding open heart surgery. The 77-year-old Oscar winner did not provide any further details.

And U.S. lawmakers among those honoring the Dalai Lama with a human rights award today. Accepting the prize in the nation's capital, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader chastised America for not fully addressing what he calls a huge gap between the rich and the poor. He urged the U.S. to observe its ancestors' principles. Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Betty.

By the way, he's going to be here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" on Thursday. The Dalai Lama will talk about his criticism of the nation's economic divide. And also get his reaction to President Obama's decision not, repeat, not to meet with him while here in Washington this week. The Dalai Lama, His Holiness will be here Thursday in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Governors are on the ballot in two states, but will voters there be sending more of a message about President Obama. We're counting down to election day less than a month from now. And election politics and jobs, what's driving new talks of a second stimulus package. And what if Rush Limbaugh were to buy a stake at a pro football team, would liberals boycott the games? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Exactly four weeks from today, voters in Virginia and New Jersey may send a powerful message about the Obama presidency. Democrats in those states are in difficult fights to hold on to the governor's offices in New Jersey. The new poll shows the incumbent Jon Corzine now running neck and neck with his Republican challenger, Chris Christie.

In Virginia, recent polls show Republican Bob McDonnell leading democrats Creigh Deeds by four to nine percentage points. They're vying for the job now held by the Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kane.

Let's get back to our panel to discuss what's going on. Ed Rollins, our Republican strategist, is this going to be seen as a referendum on the Obama administration? These two governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia.

ROLLINS: I don't think Obama personally, I think what it is is can Republicans come back and take a state like Virginia where we've done well historically. New Jersey is all about Corzine, who obviously has had serious problems and voters are in the mood to throw them out. I don't think anybody walks into a ballot place and says we're going to vote against the president.

BLITZER: But Paul, if democrats lose in both states, they lose the governor seats they now hold in New Jersey and Virginia. A lot of democrats who are up for re-election in the House of Representatives and in the Senate in 2010, they'll say, you know what, maybe I don have to work all that hard together with the president.

BEGALA: They might but I will counsel them to look at history. New Jersey has not gone with the president's party for 24 years. Virginia hasn't gone with the president's party in 30 years. These states are kind of contrary and I would say in 1993, I worked in New jersey for the incumbent governor Jim Florio. He was in some trouble. We ran a relentlessly negative campaign.

We just were, Kristen Whitman was down by 16 points and she pulled it out in the end because she hired the smartest guy in American politics (INAUDIBLE).

YELLIN: Who is that?

BEGALA: My friend, Mr. Rollins there (INAUDIBLE) I still resent you for that.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember that, you know what's going to be a key issue here - jobs, jobs, jobs and you know what, so far they are not coming back. Fifteen million jobs for the last couple of years.

YELLIN: That's right. If we keep looking at those poll numbers with the unemployment numbers are what the candidates are all focused on right now. And that is a referendum on President Obama. They're nationalizing these races. In Virginia, in particular, the Republican is calling his Democrat opponent an Obama Democrat. And there is a state where -- let's keep them honest, as we like to say here -- President Obama campaigned promising to turn states like this purple and blue, promising that in the future, once he sweeps, these states will move to the Democrat column.

BORGER: Well, and that's why you have folks in the White House meeting now to talk about how they're going to stimulate the economy so that there could be a little less joblessness as you head into the elections after this, into the 2010 midterm elections. And they're talking about extending unemployment benefits, extending health benefits for people, enhancing tax credits for small businesses, giving the states loans, because the states are in really big economic trouble.

BLITZER: But could that really help, Joe, these Democratic candidates within four weeks? They're going to be up for election.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. But it's a tried and true technique. The closer you get to the election, the more you start thinking about roads, highways, bridges and that kind of thing. Take something home to the folks that they can see and they'll forget everything else -- at least that -- that's the assumption.

But the fact of the matter is, there's a lot of volatility out there. And -- and we all know -- we all know that starting now and going straight into the midterms, there are a lot of people out there who look at where I am at this point in my life and -- and do I really like this president?

And those people who are angry at the Democratic Party, say, might very well go after it.

BLITZER: Does it make any difference for the president...

JOHNS: A little bit more...

BLITZER: ...if health care reform, whatever emerges, passes before or after the November 3rd elections?

BEGALA: I -- I don't think it can, frankly. It's just not possible. I think he'll be lucky -- I think he'll get it, but they'll be lucky to get it by New Year's Eve. I think that -- that neither of these states, though, is a referendum on Obama. He carried both of them. I think, instead, what you have is, in Jon Corzine, a pretty able candidate who's doing a really good job. And I think he can catch and pass Chris Christie.

In Virginia, Creigh Deeds has been underwhelming. If he -- he has a chance if he makes it a referendum not on Barack Obama, but on Pat Robertson, the controversial preacher, whose college educated the Republican candidate, Bob McDonald, where he wrote a very controversial thesis saying -- Gloria will love this -- that women working is detrimental and birth control is bad -- and really crazy (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: We see those commercials, Gloria, lately in Virginia.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: We see them here in Washington, where all of his daughters are out there...

BORGER: You can't miss them.

BLITZER: ...they're -- they're saying...

BORGER: They're great for women.

BLITZER: independent...


BLITZER: ...and wonderful...

BORGER: Yes, great for women.

BLITZER: ...their father is.

BORGER: Yes, right. I mean, look, they're -- they're clearly worried about women voters. Women tend to vote. And so this is something they're nervous about. And this is -- this is how Deeds has made up a little bit of the deficit -- not enough. I still think he is -- he is really the underdog...


BORGER: that state...


BEGALA: But I'd rather be the Obama guy against the Robertson guy. I mean, nobody likes Pat Robertson in Virginia, in the polls. I mean, there's a few who do...


BEGALA: ...but he's not a popular figure in that state.

YELLIN: Even some of the president's aides are saying, look, if they need to distance themselves from us, that's fine with us. And they realize that has to happen again.

BORGER: Presidents always say that.


JOHNS: It is also about the candidate. And I have heard a couple of Democratic analysts say they're not really that worried about Corzine, but in Virginia, they think there's a problem.

BLITZER: Voter turnout, Ed Rollins, I suspect it's not going to be all that great, but, you know, the older you are in Virginia and New Jersey, the more likely you'll -- you'd vote. In other words, seniors are probably going to be very much visible on election day. ROLLINS: Well, historically, in off year elections, seniors do turn out. And seniors are still the group that's very angry about the -- the health care issue.

So to a certain extent, the great trick that the president pulled off in Virginia, particularly, he had a tremendous number of African- Americans. He had a tremendous number of women. He did extremely well in Northern Virginia. Now, whether that can be repeated or not, I don't know.

In New Jersey, it's a heavy Democrat state. Corzine has spent an enormous sum of money. He's come back. But more important, the Independent candidate has been diminished, as you see by that poll. So it's a neck and neck race. And I think as Paul will attest, you never bet on one of those when they're coming down to the -- to the wire.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Do we expect the president to be campaigning a lot for his fellow Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia between now and election day?

BEGALA: Well, there's certainly a lot in New Jersey where he's still quite popular. In Virginia, I suspect you'll see him maybe in these northern suburbs, not far from D.C., but a lot in Hampton Roads, a lot in Newport, a lot in the -- in the areas, particularly to help with the African-American vote.

Deeds is not doing well in the African-American community. Doug Wilder, the first African-American governor in that state's history, has refused to endorse. Sheila Johnson, a very prominent African- American in the state...



BEGALA: ...has endorsed the Republican. She's a Democrat. So he's got a real problem in the African-American community.

BORGER: Well, but he can help mobilize the vote in -- in those communities and he can also help raise money.

BLITZER: Joe, Rush Limbaugh, he's thinking about buying, or at least participating in a group that buys the St. Louis Rams in the NFL. We love football.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What, if anything, would that mean for the St. Louis Rams?

JOHNS: Probably very little because...

BLITZER: Right now, they're not very good. JOHNS: Right. Frankly, you know, you've got a good football team in a place like -- like St. Louis, people are going to watch.

And -- and so what if Rush Limbaugh is the owner?

That's the only kind of...


JOHNS: Right.

BEGALA: But just don't put him in charge of the team's drug policy.


BEGALA: That's the only thing. Don't give him access to that medicine cabinet.

BLITZER: Because you know...


BLITZER: ...Ed, there's a lot of liberals in St. Louis, as you well know.

ROLLINS: Just so long as he has deep pockets and spends it on a good team. You know, you have to -- I will pit Rush Limbaugh, as unpopular he may be among liberals, against the owner of the Washington Redskins on any given day on a popularity contest.

BLITZER: We're 2-2 in Washington, which isn't that bad.


BLITZER: And you know what?

Give Dan Snyder (ph) a break.

ROLLINS: I said your...


ROLLINS: I said your owner.


BLITZER: All right, guys.

ROLLINS: Who's not won many contests.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that excellent discussion.

He admitted the affair, but now there are serious new questions about what he did afterward for his lover's husband. We have an exclusive interview with Republican Senator John Ensign. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, why was it so important to get -- to get Doug Hampton a job?

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Just look at our tape (ph).



BLITZER: Dark clouds hang over a senator mired in scandal, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada. He recently admitted cheating on his wife with the wife of his former chief of staff. Then we learned that the former chief of staff, Doug Hampton, got a lobbying job with Senator Ensign's help. "The New York Times" reported the senator helped Hampton secure lobbying jobs for two Nevada-based companies -- power company, NV Energy, and Nevada airline, Allegiant Air.

"The Times" also reports Hampton lobbied the senator on behalf of his clients. Congressional ethics rules bar a former aide from lobbying a former boss for one year after employment.

Now this question -- did Senator Ensign breach any ethics rules?

He's not spoken publicly since those explosive new allegations came forward, but CNN found Senator Ensign earlier today.

He spoke to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our Congressional producer, Ted Barrett, exclusively.


ENSIGN: I said in the past, I recommended him for jobs, just like I've recommended a lot of people. But we absolutely did nothing except for comply exactly with what the ethics laws and the ethics rules state. We were very careful in everything that we did. And you can see our statements on that, OK?

BASH: Do you have any indication that the Justice Department is investigating?

ENSIGN: You know, we -- we fully plan on cooperating. We -- we are going to cooperate with any official inquiries. But, as you all know, you cannot comment on any of those -- on any of those matters.

BASH: Well, you can tell us if you've gotten any calls from the Justice Department or your lawyers have.

ENSIGN: Let me -- let me state this very carefully. We will cooperate with any official (INAUDIBLE), OK?

TED BARRETT, CNN CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER: Senator Ensign, do -- I mean the -- "The New York Times" (INAUDIBLE) that you had meetings with Allegiant Air and NV Energy and intervened on their behalf on specific items that they needed help with. And Doug Hansen represented them.

Now, do you deny that that is the case?

ENSIGN: All of these things will, you know, come out. All of these things will come out in due time. But there is no question, we complied with all of the ethics...

BARRETT: Well, you...

ENSIGN: ...we...

BARRETT: had contact with (INAUDIBLE).

ENSIGN: We complied with all of the ethics. Remember, just like -- you know, we -- sen -- senators who -- who leave, they have two years. It doesn't mean you don't -- you don't talk to them.

BASH: Senator, what -- Senator, why would you...

ENSIGN: You can talk to anybody.

BARRETT: But not about clients and not about matters that they're lobbying for.

ENSIGN: Well, I never met with Doug Hampton (INAUDIBLE).

BARRETT: But your staff did.

BASH: Senator, why is it so important to get -- to get Doug Hampton a job?

ENSIGN: Just look at our tape. Look at our tape. It's very clear on that.

BASH: Is there any chance -- is there any chance that you -- are you considering resigning?

ENSIGN: I am only doing my work. I continue to focus on my job.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

He says he complied with all the rules of the game, Dana. But he does acknowledge that he spoke to Doug Hampton knowing that he was involved in some of these Nevada firms that have interests in Washington.

BASH: And this really goes to the heart of the central question behind potential ethical and possible even criminal problems for Senator Ensign, Wolf. And that is that the rules are very clear. It requires former staffers not to actually go back and lobby their former bosses for one year. And, you know, people up here take that very seriously. And the reason is because it's not just a rule, Wolf, it's actual the law now, with the so-called revolving door ban, that is aimed at trying to minimize corruption here in Washington.

And now, you heard Senator Ensign. He insisted to us that he violated neither the Senate rules nor the actual law. But, you know, he also was very interesting. He strongly suggested that he hasn't heard yet from the Justice Department. And the Justice Department, they won't comment either way to us on whether they actually are investigating this.

BLITZER: What are his Republican colleagues in the Senate saying about all of this?

BASH: You know, between Ted Barrett, our Congressional producer, and me, we talked to just about every Republican senator today in the GOP leadership. And every one of them said, "No comment," when we asked them. They were, as you can imagine, not very happy to be asked about Senator Ensign's troubles.

And what they're -- what they're saying, Wolf, is that they don't have a comment because they are using the investigation that is currently going on in the Ethics Committee as cover, saying that they're going to let that panel do their job.

So I think it's fair to say that they're kind of punting on this issue and trying to keep the -- keep the issue quiet for now. And, in fact, I asked a couple of senators who were in the Republicans' weekly policy lunch, which they have every Tuesday, whether or not they talked about it in that lunch. And the answer I got was no.

BLITZER: All right, Dana.

I know you'll stay on top of this story for us.

Good work today.

Thank you.

Protecting against swine flu while ordinary people simply line up for the vaxzine -- vaccine. Some famous people won't be needing it. We're going to tell you about a Moost Unusual celebrity trip.


BLITZER: We'll get to our Political Ticker in a moment.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?


Tonight, the growing rift over the war in Afghanistan -- a divided administration. President Obama facing top lawmakers today of both parties. Democrats saying they'll support any decision; Republicans, as well, with some minor differences.

And different war plans being debated -- the request for more troops going, so far, unanswered. Is a consensus possible?

Is division within the president's administration too large to overcome?

Also, ACORN's alleged crimes bigger than first thought. One lawmaker calling the president's ties to the leftist activist group "a conflict of interest" and he's calling for the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor.

Sex, blackmail and extortion -- tonight we'll have all of the new developments in the Letterman, Polanski and Travolta scandals.

Also, concerns about the swine flu -- should the government be allowed to force health care workers -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to take the vaccine?

That's the subject of our Face-Off debate tonight.

Please join us for all of that and a great deal more -- all the day's news at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. And thank you.

Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour, do you get any sense at all that the job market is beginning to improve?

Not a lot of optimism out there,

Steve in California writes: "As a small business owner here, I say no. Business is down 70 percent from three years ago. My personal salary down 50 percent. My employees are getting paid more than I am. I had to lay off half my staff and I don't see that we'll be doing any hiring any time soon."

Jimmy in Houston: "They're extending unemployment benefits and they're charging employers more to pay for it. No. Jobs aren't going to come back when the government continues to use employers as an ATM machine. Hiring more employees means paying even more to the Unemployment Insurance Fund."

Jerri in Connecticut says: "I believe the job market is improving. There is no silver bullet. America didn't get into this overnight. We won't be able to get out overnight, either"

Chris, says: "Hell, no. I was laid off from the financial services industry in January. I've been looking for my next job since. All I get back in response to my applications is either no response or a response that the position has been canceled."

Dianne in Atlanta: "When an establishment like ESPN Zone, a very popular sports bar in Atlanta, closed last week after 10 years in business, doesn't that tell you something -- especially during football season?"

Captain Denise: "Yes. Even though I have been unemployed since December 2008, I've worked in the luxury super yacht niche industry. And we see definite signs of improvement on the horizon, both domestically and internationally. The people that buy these luxury yachts are also big time investors and CEOs, so they must know a thing or two or three."

And Brenda says: "No. I'm unemployed in Flint, Michigan. Hope and change aren't working out so well for us here. The mantra around these parts is the last one out, turn out the lights."

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

BLITZER: Michigan is very, very hard-hit and very sad up there.

CAFFERTY: Brutal. Brutal.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

On our Political Ticker right now, new fuel for speculation that Republican Congressman Mike Pence is weighing a possible presidential bid in 2012. The conservative from Indiana has given high profile speeches in the key early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. Pence is set to return to South Carolina next week for political appearances, including a meeting with state GOP activists.

In Delaware, a Senate showdown may be brewing between two of the biggest names in state politics. Republican Congressman and former Governor Mike Castle announced today he's running for the seat held for decades by the vice president, Joe Biden. Castle could end up facing Biden's own son in next year's fall election.

The Delaware attorney general, Beau Biden, is considering a bid for the Democratic nomination.

A long time Biden aide, Ted Kaufman, was appointed to fill the vice president's Senate seat, but he has said he won't run for the job in 2010.

Sarah Palin is criticizing President Obama, not in person, but from her computer screen. She's posted a note on her Facebook page urging the president to devote more resources to the war in Afghanistan. Palin wrote that the United States can win there. And then this dig at President Obama -- and I'm quoting her now: "Now is not the time," she writes, "for cold feet, second thoughts or indecision. It is time to act at the commander-in-chief."

And check out Tom DeLay's latest return on the dance floor. It may be his last. "People" magazine now reports the former House majority leader will announce tonight he's leaving "Dancing With The Stars." DeLay performed last night despite stress fractures in both feet. His doctor and the producers urged him to call it quits, but DeLay did the samba anyway. He wore a big GOP elephant on his back. His partner wore a donkey. And they shimmied to the tune, "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

Look at this.


BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out You can always read my Tweets at Twitter, by the way. Go to -- wolfblitzercnn all one word. I'll tell you some stuff that's going on behind the scenes.

While Americans line up for swine flu vaccines, some familiar faces have already done battle with the virus.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Eventually, I -- I woke up one morning and I just simply couldn't hardly walk. I was stumbling. I just couldn't take a few steps, even. So that's what really clued me in that there was something going on here.


BLITZER: Stars falling ill -- CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

Plus, awaiting his holiness, the Dalai Lama -- just one of today's Hot Shots.


BLITZER: As ordinary folks line up for vaccinations, a growing celebrity trend is catching on, even though no one wants to catch it. We're talking about swine flu.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It's the who's who of swine flu. The latest victim, one of the Backstreet Boys, Brian Littrell.


BRIAN LITTRELL: Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with the swine flu.


MOOS: Using YouTube to apologize to fans for missing appearances.


LITTRELL: And my job right now is to stay away from as many people as I can.


MOOS (on camera): Is he almost crying?

Big boys don't cry, not even in boy bands.

(voice-over): Even Harry Potter's best friend...


MOOS: ...caught the H1N1 virus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just like normal flus.


MOOS: News anchors are dropping like flies.


HARRY SMITH, ANCHOR: And my family won't talk to me.


MOOS: CBS "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith called in sick from his apartment, suspecting swine flu.


SMITH: And they won't get within 10 feet of me.


MOOS: MSNBC anchor, Rachel Maddow, dropped a viral F bomb.


RACHEL MADDOW, ANCHOR: I had the flu, the capital F flu.


Which one, swine?

MADDOW: Uh-huh.


MADDOW: Yes, I left some (INAUDIBLE). Cheers.


MOOS: And shared hand sanitizer with Jimmy Fallon. When actor Tom Arnold mentioned swine flu to TMZ, he added insult to injury.


TOM ARNOLD, ACTOR: Actually, I got the flu that they named after my ex-wife.


MOOS: That's polite compared to this.


MOOS (on camera): Just because you saw you have swine flu, doesn't give you the right to act like a pig, Marilyn Manson.

(voice-over): On his MySpace page, Manson posted: "So I have officially been diagnosed by a real doctor with the swine flu."

About the same time, he was videotaped at a concert blowing his nose on his fans.


MOOS: There's a name for this, though Manson first denied doing it then later quibbled with TMZ.


MARILYN MANSON, MUSICIAN: I don't know if they -- they were necessarily rockets.


MOOS: At least one fan thought it would be an honor to get swine flu from Manson. His concert promoter later denied he even had H1N1.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta got it in Afghanistan, where Anderson Cooper also got sick with something.

GUPTA: And I was freezing cold despite being in the desert.

Are you coughing right now, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm still coughing, I will say, just a little bit.

MOOS: How swine flies when you're having fun.

GUPTA: You have viral infections and you have -- yes. I know you're really (INAUDIBLE) me that.

MOOS: It's the A-list for H1N1.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: If you're thinking about getting the swine flu vaccine, it's just now arriving in some states. Health care workers in Tennessee and Indiana were among the first to get the H1N1 vaccine. Ten million to 20 million doses per week will be shipped by vaccine makers over the next couple months. The initial swine flu vaccine doses are the nasal spray version, which is recommended for people with no existing health conditions. Arm injections will begin next week.

We'll watch this story closely for you.

We want you to check out our political podcast. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.