Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Egypt's New President Ousts Top Generals; Ryan's Resume; Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Airport Security?
Aired August 13, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, talk ratcheting up inside Israel of an imminent strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, potentially even before the U.S. presidential election. I'll ask the Israeli ambassador to the United States this hour whether there's any truth to all the swirling media reports.
Plus, Mitt Romney in the key battleground state of Florida where concerns over his vice presidential pick are making major headlines. The chair of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she's here this hour to respond.
And a $100 million security system at New York's JFK airport breached, breached by a stranded jet skier.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But first to a stunning power shift at the highest ranks of Egypt's historic new government. The country's first freely elected president replacing top generals and stripping the military of much of its long standing grip on power since the revolution that took down the strong man, Hosni Mubarak. The surprise move could have serious implications for the United States and others in the region.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us from the Pentagon. She's got the latest information. What are they saying, Barbara, over there?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour, defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is trying to reach out to Egypt's new militarily leadership. Plenty of good reason for him to make that call.
STARR (voice-over): A salute from Egypt's new defense minister to the man who brought him to power, Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi. Abdul-Fatah al-Sessi is now the general the Pentagon must do business with when it deals with Egypt. It's a crucial U.S. military relationship, including massive military exercises, more than $1 billion a year in U.S. aid and access to Egyptian air space and bases.
President Morsi ousted several generals in an apparent effort to consolidate his own fragile power.
MICHAEL HANNA, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: These generals that were pushed out, they are the highest ranks in Egyptian military, and obviously, all of these senior officers are hold owners from the Mubarak regime. So, I think, trying to usher in a new political era, I think there's always an assumption that part of the battle is going to be over the right to appoint the most senior generals in the military.
STARR: Morsi is also dealing with rising militant attacks in the Sinai, forcing him to send in armed troops. But for Washington, it's the so-called retirement of field marshal, Mohamed Tantawi, an ally of former President Hosni Mubarak that is most critical. Tantawi was closely associated with the Egyptian military's effort to hold onto power even after the Tahrir Square revolution.
The field marshal has been a key contact for the U.S. throughout the last 18 months of the Egyptian uprising and government turmoil. Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has had regular phone calls with Tantawi, encouraging Democratic reform, all the while knowing it was the military still controlling behind the scenes. Just two weeks ago in Cairo, Panetta met with both Morsi and Tantawi and then said this.
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's my view based on what I have seen and the discussions I've had that President Morsi and the Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends.
STARR (on-camera): And Wolf, the rising violence the militant attacks in the Sinai are a continuing concern, specifically here at the Pentagon. As you have pointed out, there are 700 U.S. peace keeping troops in the Sinai. So far, they are safe. The violence hasn't come to them, but that is something that's being closely watch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume they've stepped up security for those American peacekeepers right in the middle of Sinai over there. I assume, Barbara. What are you hearing?
STARR: Well, they will not speak about the specific security arrangement for those troops, probably for good reason. But Morsi, the new Egyptian president and his new generals, are really making the push to go into Sinai and trying clamp down on the rising militant attacks there.
They're getting a lot of support from the U.S. and from Israel to take that position and try and get a handle on the situation, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, the U.S. still providing about $1.5 billion a year in various forms of military aid to Egypt. We'll see how that place out in the coming weeks and months. Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's turn to Israel right now where talk is once again ratcheting up big time of a potential strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. A number of Israeli media reports now even suggesting it could happen before the U.S. presidential election on November 6th
Joining us to respond to all of these reports, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.
MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Always good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get to Iran in a moment. Any reaction to this dramatic change in Egypt, what's going on, the removal of the top generals, the intelligence chief removed last week, the consolidation of power by this new president Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader? What's Israel's reaction to this because you have a peace treaty with Egypt?
OREN: For almost 35 years now. I won't comment on internal Egyptian political situation. What our major concern is, maintaining this peace which has been so crucial, not just for the security of Israel and for Egypt, but for the entire Middle East and the world.
And we will support any move that will advance that, particularly, with what's going on in Sinai now, where as Barbara Starr indicated just previously, we are cooperating with Egyptians who no end to the that peace treaty there were strict limits placed on the number of troops that Egypt could have in Sinai and the type of weapons that they could carry.
And we enabled these numbers to increase in order to help Egypt to restore security there. So, we are being very cooperative together with the United States.
BLITZER: Let's hope that that security is restored in Sinai. We're so quiet for so many decades. It's unfortunately in a bad situation right now. Let's talk about Iran. You've seen these reports starting Friday, Saturday, Sunday, throughout the Israel news media that a decision almost has been made by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities before the American elections. Is that true?
OREN: Well, you know, we have a very active press, Wolf, in Israel. A very open press. So, I won't comment on the press reports. What I can say is this, that no country has a greater stake than Israel in resolving the Iranian nuclear threat by diplomatic means. We are facing 70,000 rockets that were supplied by Iran to terrorist groups along our border.
Iran has plotted to kill Israelis on five continents in 25 countries, including right here in Washington, D.C. Iran has -- rarely misses an opportunity to reiterate its pledge to wipe Israel off the map. Ahmadinejad just said it last week again. But, time is running out for us (ph).
BLITZER: Is it true that the Obama administration is urging you not to do that, not to take military action, to give diplomacy, if you will, sanctions more time (ph)?
OREN: President Obama has said on more than one occasion that all options are under the table. He has said that Israel has the right to defend its health against any Middle Eastern threat and that only Israel, as a sovereign nation, can decide how best to defend it --
BLITZER: So, if you do take action, do you believe he will support you?
OREN: I believe that President Obama has recognized our right to make this decision. And it's not just a right, Wolf, it's a duty for us. And eight million Israeli lives are at stake here. And understand, America is a big country. It's far away from the Middle East. It has very big capability. It's not being threatened daily with annihilation by Iran.
We're a small country with certain capabilities that is being threatened with obliteration. And the Iranian nuclear program is advancing. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the Iranian nuclear program is accelerating at the sanctions. So, they've taken a big chunk out of the Iranian economy have not stopped the program --
BLITZER: So, what's the window?
OREN: The window is small, and the window is getting smaller.
BLITZER: Can you give me a ballpark (ph)? Weeks, months?
OREN: Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that it's not years, but it's certainly not -- not days and weeks, but it's not years either.
BLITZER: When I was in Israel two weeks ago and met with Israeli military and intelligence sources over there, they clearly made the case that it would be so much better if the U.S. were to take military action as oppose to Israel. The U.S. could do a better job. They've got more sophisticated bombs, if you will, and the Israelis would really like the U.S. to do it more than Israel.
OREN: Well, I think that United States obviously has bigger capabilities. Israel does not have strategic bombers, doesn't have aircraft carriers. But again --
BLITZER: --those big bombs that would go deep under ground, the U.S. has a much better capability than Israel has.
OREN: I won't go into, you know, tactical details here. But let's be very candid. Our clock is moving more swiftly. The Iranian program --
BLITZER: The Israeli clock as opposed to the U.S. clock? Is that what you mean?
OREN: For very simple reason. The Iranians are stockpiling in rich uranium. They now have enough enriched uranium for nearly five weapons. There's been some negotiations going on in Europe. During that period of those negotiations alone, Iran has given absolutely no concessions, and it has enriched enough uranium to significantly fill up an additional device.
They're also moving big chunks of this program underground, thousands of centrifuges underground where given our capabilities, we will no longer be able to reach them.
BLITZER: And so, the -- obviously, you're not confident in diplomacy. Apparently, you're not confident in the sanctions which have been dramatically ratcheted up in recent months. Covert action. We've seen this covert war going on, cyber warfare. You don't necessarily think that's going to get the job done. When all the dust settles, you think it will be military action?
OREN: We have to look at the facts. The fact is numerous ways have been tried to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing nuclear weapons which will threaten not just Israel and the entire Middle East but the world. They have not worked. Whether it'd be the sanctions, whether it'd be diplomacy, we see the Iranian nuclear program which is an advancing apace.
And that nuclear program, in the words of Ahmadinejad, in the words of the chief of the Iranian military, it's designed to wipe Israel off the map. Again, we have not just the right. We have the duty. There's a responsibility here. It's not about trusting the president or the Congress or the people of the United States.
Of course, we trust them all. It's about where the buck stops. And in this case, the buck stops in the office of the government of Israel and Jerusalem.
BLITZER: So, basically we're out of time. What I hear you saying is that you're aligned with the U.S., with the Obama administration, but not perfectly aligned. There are nuances, significant nuances, where you don't necessarily agree?
OREN: Well, we still believe that a combination of truly crippling sanctions together with a credible military threat. That's a military threat that we just -- not that we say it, but folks in Tehran actually have to believe it. That if they pursue nuclear weapons, they're going to cop (ph) against the credible military threat. That stands the best chance of dissuading this regime pursuing these murderous nuclear weapons.
BLITZER: Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, thanks for coming in
BLITZER: So, could Paul Ryan be toxic for Mitt Romney in the key battleground state of Florida? The presidential candidate is about to speak on the ground where concerns are deep about the vice presidential pick. Those concerns are making headlines.
Also, we're going to get reaction from the chair of the Democratic Party. My interview with the Florida congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. That's coming up this hour as well.
And you're going to find out how a stranded jet skier managed to walk onto the runway at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question last hour is how much will Paul Ryan help Mitt Romney's chances of winning the presidency? Mark writes, "They're both more accomplished gentlemen than the two crooks we have now occupying the presidency and vice presidency. They have a positive outlook for America where if you work hard, you should be able to keep your hard-earned money instead of the government redistributing it to the takers."
Jenny in Georgia writes, "I don't know about winning the election, but hopefully, it will focus the election on what this country needs, and that's an economic plan to put people back to work."
Curtis in Philadelphia, "I've already met a woman in her 60s who is leaning towards Romney, but with the selection of Ryan is now either not voting or sticking with Obama. She lives in battleground Pennsylvania, and I bet she's not alone."
Drew writes, "I voted the straight Democratic ticket four years ago. I won't do the same this time. I was initially on the fence over whether or not I could support Romney, but his pick of Paul Ryan swung me, an independent voter, over to his side. I wanted a staunch fiscal conservative. I'll be voting for Romney and Ryan."
Jim in Denver, "Not at all. By doing this, Romney has thrown his hat in with the ultra right. Centrist independents and moderate republicans will not vote for this ticket."
And Kevin writes, "Paul Ryan has many good qualities the Republicans haven't had on a presidential ticket in years. He's smart, young, isn't out of touch with the average American and actually has some ideas. The problem with him is the ideas part. Agree with him or not on Medicare, Social Security and a whole host of other issues, he and Romney will scare the seniors in Florida. Forget Wisconsin and Iowa for a second. Without Florida, Romney is toast."
If you want to read more on this subject, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.
Republicans across the country are praising Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate, but look at some of these not so praiseworthy newspaper headlines in that key battleground state of Florida. Many of them tied to concerns among seniors about the House Budget Committee chairman's controversial stance on Medicare. Romney addressed those concerns today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare. The president's plan for a budget deficit was to make it worse. And Paul Ryan and I are going to get America to cut our spending and to finally get us to a balanced budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about this and more with CNN contributor, Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine, also joining us, our CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, of the "National Journal." Ryan, how much of a problem, potentially, is Paul Ryan for Romney in Florida?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, Medicare is a huge issue there, a lot of seniors in Florida. And I don't think the Democrats are going to attack Paul Ryan. Everyone likes Paul Ryan. He's a nice guy. But as the campaign moves on, Paul Ryan is going to fade. He's going to turn into Romney and Obama like these things always do.
And what Romney is going to be left owning is not this great, nice mid-westerner Paul Ryan, it's going to be the Ryan plan. And I'm still a little mystified by the pick, because Romney has moved the whole debate of the campaign away from jobs and the economy, which were his strengths, if you look at any of the polling, and to the set of fiscal issues and specifically Medicare that is not, frankly, the Republicans' best issue. He's spending all his time on defense now.
BLITZER: You're mystified now. You were flabbergasted a few days ago as you recall. Are you mystified as well, Ron?
RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It is a radical shift in the theory of the case.
I mean, the Romney campaign for the first seven months of this year was pretty much in a do no harm, make this as much as possible a retrospective effort (ph) on the past four years, stay relatively unobtrusive to voters, even though they put out some plans, and now, they have kind of moved in the direction that the Obama campaign has wanted from the beginning, which is making the campaign more of a perspective choice.
Now, the referendum is still going to matter a lot, with or without Paul Ryan. But, the fact is is that Romney has kind of taken the gauntlet that the Obama campaign has thrown down in a way that is a reversal of what seem to be their strategic direction earlier in the year.
BLITZER: Let me read, Ron, from your column, "The National Journal" on Sunday, "The GOP today is increasingly dependent on the votes of older and blue collar whites, who while eager to scale back government programs that transfer income to the poor are much more resistant to retrenching entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that largely benefit the middle class. So, is the Ryan choice going to slice into Romney's demographics, if you will?
BROWNSTEIN: And that is, I think, one of the fascinating questions here. The Republican coalition, as we talked about many times on the show, is different than it used to be. They are much more reliant on the votes of blue collar and older Whites. They won about 60 percent of those voters in 2008 and 2010, both elections, than they used to be.
And those voters are generally anti-government. You saw some of those comments in Jack Cafferty's file. But when it comes to the entitlements, the benefit of the middle class, they have a very different view. Now, Romney and Ryan will say, well, this doesn't affect anybody over 55 in terms of the changes they would bring to Medicare, but it's tough to make that argument.
And in polling, you see substantial resistance so far this year and last year when it was first voted on by the House Republicans among blue collar and older Whites who are essential to that modern Republican coalition. They simply have not bought the idea of converting Medicare into a premium supporter voucher program.
And Wolf, one other thing, we're polling it in isolation. When you poll it with the other half of the agenda, which is tax cuts tilted toward the more affluent, that is the combination that was especially powerful from Bill Clinton in 1996. And that's going to be another challenge for the Romney and Ryan ticket.
BLITZER: You want to weigh in?
LIZZA: Well, it's going to add the buzz among the Democratic strategist today is, look, we spent the whole campaign trying to tie the Ryan budget to Romney. But the problem, Bill Burton, for instance, said this today --
BLITZER: He runs that pro-Obama Super PAC.
LIZZA: Yes. So, his pollsters are saying, look, the problem was, voters would not believe that Mitt Romney would support something as extreme as the Ryan budget. And so, Democrats are arguing today that he's done our homework for us. He's allowed us to tie what they will argue are very controversial policies to Mitt Romney when previously they couldn't do it.
BLITZER: Are you among those, Ron -- I think I know the answer -- who believes that the differences between the Obama campaign, the Obama position and the Romney position on these sensitive issues, not necessarily is great as some are suggesting?
BROWNSTEIN: No. I think they are. I mean, I think, look, one thing the selection of Ryan is going to do is put more pressure on President Obama to give us a better sense of what he would do in a second term. He's been pretty light on those details. In many ways, the best we know is from the reporting about the deal he seemed to be willing to cut last summer with John Boehner on the budget.
But I do think if you look across the full panoply of issues from the role of the federal government and society to the economy, energy, the environment, the difference between these two candidates is as stark as it has been since at least Reagan in 1980, and probably, I think, since Johnson and Goldwater in 1964.
BROWNSTEIN: You were talking about very significant changes in direction. The Ryan budget over the long term envisions the federal government reverting to only 60 percent of the economy by 2050. That's a level at last was at in 1950, which is not only even before Medicare and Medicaid, but even the interstate highway system.
So, you're talking about a very stark divergence, I think, and a clear choice for voters. And again, in many ways, a sharper choice than you might have expected Republicans to pose in a year when dissatisfaction with the status quo might have been enough to allow you to kind of ride through the victory.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
LIZZA: I totally agree. Actually, it's one of the best things about the Ryan choice is that we do have a clear decision now between two very distinct views of what to do after the selection when the fiscal cliff looms and whoever is president is going to have to deal with these fiscal issues.
And, you know, basically these two candidates are now saying all through 2011 and 2012, we couldn't get together in Washington and solve these problems. Now, you, the voters, get a choice to settle the debate. And that's a good thing. That's why we have elections.
BLITZER: That's stark debate, indeed. Very quickly.
BROWNSTEIN: Unlikely, the voters are going to sell it, though. It's going to come back very close to 50/50 and all likely presence (ph) in the Congress, and you're going to still be left with the same questions. Can these parties with such divergent views find a way to compromise when the voters are giving them roughly equal power in Washington and all likely --
BLITZER: I'm anxious to get those first national polls, especially some of those polls in the battleground states in the aftermath of the Ryan selection. We'll see if there's a bounce, maybe not a bounce. We'll see what happens. Guys, thanks very much.
Another question that's being asked about Paul Ryan is about his foreign policy experience. Just how much does he know when it comes to taking to the world stage? We're checking it out. Stay with us.
And a dramatic new development involving the butler who allegedly leaked hundreds of the pope's secret documents. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Many Republicans are embracing Paul Ryan for his reputation inside the Republican Party as a lightning rod for conservative fiscal policy here in Washington, but when it comes to the world stage, his resume may not necessarily be all that well known.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now. She's working that part of the story. What are you finding out about his resume when it comes to international affairs?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, vice presidents, of course, don't make final decisions when it comes to foreign policy. But, remember Sarah Palin. She showed us that their views can have an effect and they can become an issue in the campaign. So, what does Paul Ryan's view about the United States have to do with all of this?
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our fiscal policy is on a collision course with our foreign policy.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Paul Ryan lives and breathes domestic policy not international issues as he noted in the speech last year.
RYAN: Why would a House Budget chairman be standing here addressing a room full of national security experts on American foreign policy?
DOUGHERTY: Obama supporters say Ryan has a thin resume on international issues, a charge Barack Obama, himself, heard when he ran in 2008. But Mitt Romney brushes that off.
ROMNEY: He has the experience and judgment, capacity and character to become president.
DOUGHERTY: This seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, chief architect of the Republican plan to balance the budget, sees a link between America's economic policy and its national security.
RYAN: If we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power.
DOUGHERTY: Paul Ryan has seen some of the world, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam several Middle Eastern countries, seven Congressional trips, 18 countries in 14 years. On Afghanistan, like the man with the top of the ticket, he's criticized President Barack Obama's planned withdrawal of U.S. troops.
But Ryan said the U.S. can save a trillion dollars by winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Congressional Democrats and the administration agree. On China, Ryan's less of a hawk than Romney, who wants to designate Beijing as a currency manipulator. He wants more money for the military, less for the state department, but he got into hot water when he claimed there was a lot of smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon budget. He later said he misspoke.
DOUGHERTY (on-camera): So, what would Paul Ryan advise Mitt Romney to do on Iran or on Syria? Well, he hasn't been tested on those issues yet, but he will be now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume he will be tested when he debates Joe Biden, a foreign policy expert, in October. That will be lively. Jill thanks very, very much.
The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz, she is standing by to join us. That's coming up. Also I'll ask her about Mitt Romney's vice presidential picks and how the Democrats plan to respond to his efforts to put budget issues front and center in the campaign.
And later, how did a stranded jet skier wearing a bright yellow life jacket get past security, walk onto a runway at JFK Airport in New York? We have details.
BLITZER: A re-energized Mitt Romney hits the ground in Florida, fresh on the heels of a dramatic vice presidential announcement. Also with him, someone who is considered a potential candidate for that number two spot, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with Romney and he's joining us now live. Are you on the bus? Where are you, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're on the press bus for the Romney campaign right now. We just finished up a news conference with the GOP contender at the airport heading towards an event right now in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood with Marco Rubio. And Wolf, it was interesting, nearly every question that was asked in this 10 minutes news avail (ph) was about Medicare, was about Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare and whether it was Mitt Romney's plan for Medicare and the GOP contender answered yes that basically their plans are one in the same.
At one point during the news avail (ph), Wolf, he said that my plan for Medicare is very similar he said to his plan for Medicare, which is to not change the program for current retirees --
ACOSTA: But then he was sort of asked about the politics of changing (INAUDIBLE) whether the voters are ready to change the program that they relied on for 50 years. And said quote "(INAUDIBLE) the Medicare issue but I can tell you about the truth" and (INAUDIBLE) the truth is we simply cannot continue to pretend like Medicare is on track to become bankrupt and somehow that's acceptable. So, Wolf, obviously this was a gamble for Mitt Romney to pick Paul Ryan as his running mate as down in Florida, where senior citizen voters are very crucial. This issue is definitely issue number one, at least today on the campaign trail -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. It certainly is. Thanks so much, Jim Acosta. Appreciate it. And as we've been reporting, Mitt Romney is in Florida today. He's on the offensive against President Obama when it comes to entitlement reform and Medicare. Let's talk about that and more with Democratic Congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wassermann Schultz. She's joining us from Florida as well.
You know Paul Ryan. You've known him for many years. You've been on my show with him over the years. In fact I went back and looked. Two years ago you were on with him in THE SITUATION ROOM. I have a clip of that conversation I had because he explains where he stands on Medicare. It's a very specific issue, the ages where he would accept changes. Listen to what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, 2010: What I am trying to propose is something responsible. Prevent cuts from hitting current seniors, people near retirement, and reform these programs for those of us are under 54 because we know they're going bankrupt and put them on the path of solvency and sustainability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So the question is, just to be precise, he does call for dramatic changes for people 54 and under. But anyone who is 55 or older or any senior living in Florida right now they have absolutely nothing to worry about because if his plan were to be approved because it would not affect them at all. You accept that, right?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: No, Paul Ryan's views two years ago on Medicare and how we can shore it up and preserve it for future generations were extreme and wrong then and they're extreme and wrong now and made even worse by the fact that now they're in charge of the House of Representatives, and actually if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan became president and vice president of the United States, they would be able to end the Medicare guarantee, shred the health care safety net that Medicare has provided for more than 50 years, and turn Medicare into a voucher program, leaving seniors really out in the cold because as health care costs grow larger than the voucher provides, seniors wouldn't have enough money to cover their health care costs. And we know that the Romney/Ryan plan would increase Medicare premiums by $6,300 each year for seniors, Wolf, so --
BLITZER: But we're talking about -- but he says there would be --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- take another approach like Barack Obama --
BLITZER: He says he's not calling for any changes for anyone who is 55 or older including anyone who is on Medicare right now. Those changes, let's say I accept --
BLITZER: Let's say we accept all those -- the description you have of all of those changes, that affects people 10 years from now --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.
BLITZER: -- let's say 65 or 67 when they're eligible for Medicare. But it doesn't affect anyone who is receiving Medicare right now or those who have 10 years to go, 55 and older.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It certainly does and I'll tell you how --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: First of all --
BLITZER: Explain that. Explain how if you're --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I will.
BLITZER: -- 56, 57 or --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm happy to.
BLITZER: -- 83 years old how his recommendations for those under 55 impact them?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm happy to. First of all, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan presume that the people who are younger than 65 years old who have spent decades in their --
BLITZER: He says 55.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK, so 55 and younger. We'll start with that age. Those people have spent decades paying into Medicare and because of the arbitrary cutoff of 55 years old that Romney and Ryan have established that means that we would no longer for those people have Medicare be a guarantee. Instead, we would shred that safety net. It would no longer be a guarantee. It would be a voucher. They'd pay more than -- $6,000 more in premiums to pay for their Medicare coverage and because health care costs often rise higher than that voucher would at a faster rate the voucher wouldn't provide for all the health care costs --
BLITZER: But that --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's also --
BLITZER: That would affect only for people who are under 55 right now, current recipients of Medicare.
(CROSSTALK) WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Why do we presume --
BLITZER: He says --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Wolf --
BLITZER: He says that his proposal and he spelled it out in the House Budget Committee. He's the chairman of that committee.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK.
BLITZER: He says there would be absolutely no change --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And I'm on that committee --
BLITZER: -- for -- so you're familiar with his recommendations. That no one over 55 --
BLITZER: -- would be impacted by his recommended changes.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK here's how though. As I said, because -- first of all, we do care that we have a safety net in place in health care for people are 65 now and for people as they turn 65. We made a decision in the 1960's --
BLITZER: But they would continue to have that safety net.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That we were going to -- no, they wouldn't because --
BLITZER: But he says anybody over 55 is still going to receive exactly the same Medicare that they receive right now.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK, but Wolf, they end -- their plan ends Medicare as we know it --
BLITZER: For people under 55 years old.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes and that's not OK. It isn't OK --
BLITZER: Well, that's a legitimate debate. I just wanted to make sure that you and he were on the same page that the changes he's recommending will affect younger people --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No --
BLITZER: -- not necessarily those who are currently on Medicare or those about to get Medicare.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Here's why that is not accurate. Because people who are younger now, by ending the guarantee, by causing Medicare to be a voucher instead of a guarantee what you're going to do is you're going to cause insurance companies to cherry pick the healthiest seniors, and you're going to cause Medicare to be financially even more unsustainable. Because you'll have only the sickest seniors left in Medicare. And that will affect seniors on Medicare right now.
So if we implement -- if God forbid Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are elected president and vice president, they can pass that plan next year, then their plan to shred Medicare safety net and end the guarantee, turn it into a voucher means that we will impact seniors now because the younger seniors, the healthier seniors will go into private insurance, and the less healthy seniors will end up in Medicare, and that will make Medicare more financially unsustainable. Barack Obama and Democrats believe that we can take Medicare and shore it up, leave it as a guarantee, make sure that safety net stays in place.
Just like we did when we added eight years of insolvency through the Affordable Care Act, like we did when we added benefits by closing the prescription drug donut hole and made sure seniors could afford their prescription drugs, like we did in the Affordable Care Act by adding a wellness visit that is without a copay or a deductible so seniors can go and get a checkup, which they couldn't before so they can stay healthy. So we have shown that you can add solvency to Medicare, leave it as a guarantee.
And if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the extremist Republicans want to just throw out the guarantee that's Medicare, then we're going to have a debate about that. But it is not going to make it better for seniors current and it will rip that safety net out from under future seniors and that's not acceptable.
BLITZER: The debate will clearly be intense, as we all know there are so many other issues on this Medicare to get through. Unfortunately we don't have time right now. But you know what, we'll have you definitely back. This is a key issue --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: -- not only in Florida but in a lot of other states where there are a lot of seniors.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: All over.
BLITZER: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, all those battleground states. It's not going away, the debate over Medicare. Debbie Wassermann Schultz thanks very much for coming in.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Two deadly earthquakes leave whole villages in rubble in northwestern Iran. We're going to update you on the latest and a lot more news coming in.
BLITZER: The death toll climbs after a pair of deadly earthquakes hit Iran. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. Iranian authorities are now reporting at least 306 people are dead after two quakes shook northwestern Iran over the weekend. More than 3,000 were wounded and hundreds of villages were destroyed or damaged. Thousands of tents have been set up throughout the region. Officials say rescue operations have now been called off.
And intrigue at the Vatican. Pope Benedict's personal butler will stand trial for allegedly leaking hundreds of secret documents from the Pope's personal apartment to an Italian journalist. According to a judge investigating the case, the butler acted out of a desire to fight quote "evil and corruption in the church". A second man, a computer technician, will also be charged.
And a new study shows that laws restricting the sale of junk food and sugary drinks in schools may curb adolescent obesity. Researchers found that children in states with strong and consistent laws governing the nutritional content of snack food gained less weight from fifth to eighth grade than those with weak laws or no laws at all. Students were also less likely to remain overweight overtime if they live in states with strong laws.
And finally Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson (ph) was arrested over the weekend on domestic abuse charges. Now he's out of a job. Johnson was cut by the team yesterday, one day after he allegedly head butted his wife, who is a cast member on the VH1 reality show "Basketball Wives". The two were married in July and their time together was set to be the subject of another reality show on the same network and that show has reportedly also been canceled -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's ugly.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, Kate. Thanks very much.
So how did a jet skier end up on a runway at New York's JFK International Airport? We're going to give you the answer and tell you the fallout.
And what caused a U.S. missile destroyer to collide with an oil tanker near a major international waterway -- all that and a lot more coming up at our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour.
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In Berlin, a woman passes by portraits of victims killed at the Berlin Wall which was constructed 51 years ago today. In India, followers of a popular yoga guru protest his arrest by police in New Delhi. In Washington, a runner takes a break from an early morning jog at the Lincoln Memorial and in the Indian Ocean -- look at this -- a standup paddle boarder navigates the waves -- "Hotshots" pictures coming in from around the world. An embarrassing security breach over at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is raising serious concerns about airports around the country. CNN's Sandra Endo is following the story for us. She is over at Reagan National Airport here in Washington. Sandra, tell us what happened.
SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, many airports are on the waterfront just like this one here at Washington's Reagan National and many times the water actually acts as a security barrier for these airports. But other times, it's the source of great concern.
ENDO (voice-over): Motion detecting wire fences and video cameras, all part of $100 million security system surrounding New York area's four airports. But all that state-of-the-art technology didn't stop a stranded jet skier from wandering on to JFK Airport. The incident is raising a red flag with airport security experts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very surprised by the incident in New York.
ENDO: Port Authority police say 31-year-old Daniel Casseia (ph) was jet skiing with friends Friday night in Jamaica Bay (ph) when his jet ski broke down. Authorities believe he swam towards JFK Airport and when he got on shore, he jumped the barbwire fence and walked across at least one runway to Terminal Three. No one saw Casseia (ph) or stopped him until he was near gate seven when a Delta employee saw him, then alerted authorities.
JEFF PRICE, LEADING EDGE STRATEGIES: It's definitely time to take a look at perimeter security. It's definitely time to see if there are possible threats that can come in from the perimeter where somebody can access an aircraft.
ENDO: CNN shot this video by boat at the edge of the airport security zone. Casseia (ph) was charged with criminal trespass and now the Port Authority says it's increasing its around-the-clock police presence to secure the facility's perimeter, including its waterfront. In a statement, the Port Authority says "we have called for an expedited review of the incident and a complete investigation to determine how Raytheon's perimeter intrusion detection system which exceeds federal requirements could be improved."
Raytheon, the company which designed the perimeter security system did not want to comment, only saying it's reviewing what happened. But the Port Authority Police Union says the system has been riddled with problems, including too many false alarms and security breaches.
PAUL NUNZIATO, PORT AUTHORITY POLICE BENEVOLENT ASSN.: Technology can never replace your boots on the ground. Otherwise all have you is a well recorded incident. In this case, since the system doesn't work, you have nothing.
ENDO: It raises the question of perimeter security at all waterfront airports like ones in the nation's capital, Tampa, and San Francisco. The union is calling for a uniform perimeter plan for all airports, but experts say that may not be so clear-cut.
PRICE: Not one airport security measure fits all sizes. We have 450 commercial service airports out there, everything from Fairbanks, Alaska to Atlanta Hartsfield. A security standard in place at one airport doesn't belong at another.
ENDO: And the Transportation Security Administration just issued a statement saying it's working with investigating authorities as well surrounding this incident at JFK. And law enforcement officials there say that Casseia's (ph) story may in fact be true. They say that a boat patrol was out and was approached by a person who said his jet skier friend went missing around the same time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sandra Endo, thanks very much for that report. Congressional committee sues the Attorney General Eric Holder over the administration's refusal to release certain documents linked to a controversial weapons program -- that and a lot more coming up in our next hour.
BLITZER: Happening now, the president is set to go another round against Mitt Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan. We'll hear from him live this hour.
A new lawsuit against the attorney general, House Republicans are fighting a White House claim of executive privilege.