Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

What A Difference Four Years Makes; Deadly West Nile Outbreak Spreads Across U.S.; Interview with Former Virginian Governor Douglas Wilder; Race Factor?; Violence in Syria Continues

Aired August 15, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, a blistering attack on President Obama from a prominent African-American who once played a key role in getting him elected. Just ahead, the former Democratic congressman, Artur Davis. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And he's unleashing serious allegations about the vice president and race on the campaign trail.

Plus, the president ends his three day swing through Iowa in what -- what could be his most powerful weapon out there on the campaign trail -- the first lady, Michelle Obama.

And a deadly West Nile virus outbreak slams the United States, in the worst spike the country has suffered in almost a decade. Just ahead, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the latest on the dangers, the symptoms, what you need to know to avoid getting infected.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

What a difference four years makes, a stunning transformation. He used to be one of the most prominent Democrats in Congress, and certainly a rising star in the Democratic Party.

But now, Artur Davis, who once helped Barack Obama get into the White House, has shifted his support to Mitt Romney as an -- and unleashing a blistering attack on the president's campaign and leveling some serious allegations against the vice president after he said this on the campaign trail yesterday in Virginia.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they're proposing. Romney wants to let -- he said in the first hundred days, he's going to let the big banks, once again, write their own rules -- unchain Wall Street.


BIDEN: They're going to put you all back in chains.



BLITZER: Don't forget, Artur Davis is the former Democratic Congressman who was entrusted with that prestigious honor of seconding Barack Obama's nomination for president of the United States at the 200 Democratic convention.


ARTUR DAVIS, ROMNEY SUPPORTER, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I am honored to second the nomination of the man whose victory tonight takes us closer to becoming what we know America can be, ladies and gentlemen. This is the cause for which we stand -- an American president named Barack Obama who will lead and inspire the free world.


BLITZER: That, of course, was the 2008 Democratic convention. But that was then and this is now.

And Artur Davis is joining us now from Virginia.

Congressman, thanks very much.

The last time we spoke, you said you -- you left the Democrats, you left President Obama because he had moved too far to the left.

The question is this, Paul Ryan, the congressman -- you know him quite well. You worked with him when you were in the House of Representatives. He's pretty much aligned with the Tea Party and the right.

You feel comfortable with him?

DAVIS: I feel very comfortable with him. And I'll tell you what, I felt comfortable with him when I was a Democrat serving alongside him on two committees. He's an incredibly gifted public servant.

If you ask if I agree with everything he's ever said in his political career, no. But then again, no two people agree on everything, that I know.

Governor Romney, if he wins this election, is going to be setting policy. He's obviously going to have the benefit of Paul Ryan's council. And he's going to be getting very good council -- someone who's smart, who's pragmatic, who has shown he knows how to work with Democrats. Right now, he's working with a Democratic senator to fashion a compromise to save the future of Medicare. That kind of intelligence and that kind of leadership and that kind of capacity to work with the other side will be a useful asset in the next vice president of the United States. BLITZER: What was one or two issues that most disappointed you or surprised you, as far as President Obama is concerned, and caused you to leave his -- to leave his side?

DAVIS: Wolf, I have to tell you, I don't have to go any further than 24 hours ago. When I heard the vice president of the United States, someone I grew up admiring, someone I've been on platforms with, when I heard him go to Danville, Virginia and talk about politics in a way that no serious candidate ought to talk about it, when I heard him reach the bottom of the deck and talk about one party putting people in chains, when I heard someone that I admired and had been on platforms with talk about ordinary conservative principles as being essentially racial viciousness, because that's the allegation he was making yesterday, I was disappointed by it.

But I have to tell you, it brought back memories for me. It brought back memories of these Democratic politicians in the South who think they can go before black crowds and say one thing and nobody else will hear it and that they can somehow get a cheer in the room and that they can blithely go on about their business.

That's not the way you can do politics anymore because of the media. And I think Vice President Biden -- I hope Vice President Biden learned an important lesson -- you can't say one thing to a certain kind of people thinking nobody else is hearing you.

BLITZER: Well, there were TV cameras there. I assume he -- he knew that everyone would be watching an event like this. It wasn't simply a closed door event.

But what the -- what the campaign -- the Obama campaign says, is he was simply referring to what Republicans have said, that they want to quote, "unshackle big business in the United States" and get rid of many of regulations and he was responding to that.

Does that make sense to you?

DAVIS: Wolf, I know that's the spin, and it's creative. I'll give them credit for creativity. But I happen to have spoken to a few African-American audiences in my time representing a predominantly African-American district. I know what Joe Biden was doing yesterday. And every black person in that room knew who the "you all" was. They knew what the chains were about. They knew what the metaphor was. And I will give that audience credit. If you listen to a tape of that audience, you actually hear what appear to be boos, or what appears to be shock from some people in that audience.

That says a lot that is very good about people in that audience, that when Joe Biden went to a place he never should have gone, that instead of getting the cheers he just knew he'd get, he got a negative reaction from a lot of the African-Americans in the room. That doesn't lift up Joe Biden or excuse his comments, but it says something positive about the people in that audience.

BLITZER: Well, let me just be so -- be precise before we move on. What are you saying that this represents, this underscores, as far as the vice president is concerned?

DAVIS: It's a divisive tactic that's insulting to African- Americans. It's insulting to the American people. It's an insult to the legacy that he used to build up as an orator who knew how to inspire people instead of strike fear in people's hearts. And it ought to embarrass President Obama.

President Obama has talked so movingly about our country moving beyond race and his own vice president makes this kind of comment yesterday?

It was wrong. And the president ought to be embarrassed by it. And the president ought to say it was wrong.

BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate, the man you support, Mitt Romney, he's been pretty tough out there in going after President Obama.

I'm going to play two clips back to back, one from Ohio yesterday, one on the CBS News today.

Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.


ROMNEY: Well, I think if you look at the -- at the ads that have been described and the divisiveness based upon income, age, ethnicity and so forth, it -- issues designed to bring a sense of enmity and jealousy and anger.


BLITZER: When he talks about hate and anger, is he going too far, Romney?

DAVIS: Governor Romney is calling out the Obama campaign on something they try to do on the sly and they hope no one will call them out for it. I give Governor Romney credit for doing it. Frankly, I wish more people supporting Governor Romney would call out the Obama campaign for what they're doing.

I know this tactic. I've seen it with Southern Democratic politicians before. They get in front of one kind of crowd and they think they can say one thing to that crowd, touch some of the worst nerves in American politics, and then in the light of day, they can say, oh, I didn't really mean that. I was simply making a metaphor.

Governor Romney is right to call out this tactic for what it is. And he can't stop it, but the American people can certainly fail to reward it by voting the other way this November.

BLITZER: So you're with Romney when he says that President Obama is running a campaign of anger and hate and jealousy?

DAVIS: Governor Romney is absolutely right when he says the Obama campaign is running a divisive campaign, that routinely -- and so it wasn't just yesterday. It's been a routine for the last year -- pitting one set of Americans against another on issue after issue.

It wouldn't be so bad if Barack Obama had not campaigned in such a different way. He's doing what any politician does who's running, who's struggling in the polls and has a 45 percent approval rating and has a bad economy -- he's trying to change the subject. He's doing what ordinary politicians do.

But Barack Obama said four years ago that he was no ordinary politician. And so many of us believed him when he said that. That's the sad thing about what's happened in this campaign.

BLITZER: And you believed him, for sure, because you seconded his nomination at the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008.

Artur Davis, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVIS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we're going to get reaction from a prominent African-American who knows a thing or two about Democratic politics in the South. We're talking about the first African-American governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder. He'll be joining us to get some reaction to what we just heard from Artur Davis. My interview with Governor Wilder only minutes away.

The first lady of the United States joins President Obama on the campaign trail. And she's poking fun at him.

Plus, the serious threat that's causing several countries to warn their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.

And a teenager cheats at the National Scrabble Championship. We're going to tell you what he was caught doing.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's not necessarily breaking news, Wolf, but stunning nevertheless. Only one in 10 Americans thinks Congress is doing a good job. With numbers like these, it's tough to imagine that any of these lawmakers will get reelected in November. But sadly, a lot of them will.

According to a new Gallup Poll, Congress gets a whopping 10 percent approval rating, which ties its all-time low for the last 40 years. Eighty-three percent disapprove of Congress. What's more, Congress' approval rating is down among all political groups -- 9 percent for Democrats, 11 percent for Independents, 10 percent for Republicans.

And while experts say it's hard to pinpoint exactly why Americans are so negative about Congress, the answer is probably everything.

There's the economy, the skyrocketing national debt, the rapidly approaching fiscal cliff, the soon to expire Bush tax cuts, unemployment topping 8 percent for 42 straight months now. And there's no longer any compromise in Congress whatsoever. Hyper partisanship means all Congress does now is bicker and accomplish virtually nothing.

Currently, Congress has decided to give itself another five-week vacation. Despite all these problems that they're refusing to address, they're on vacation. The country's on the road to ruin. And Congress bears a lot of responsibility. And yet, chances are if you check back after the election, many of these very same lawmakers will be right back in the seats they've held for years.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? The definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.

Here's the question, why won't Americans vote Congress out of office? Go to File and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: When I saw those poll numbers, Jack, the first thought I had is, who are those 10 percent that think Congress is actually doing a good job? I speak to a lot of members of Congress, they, themselves, don't even think they're doing a good job. So, who are these 10 percent?

CAFFERTY: It must be the margin of error in the poll.

BLITZER: Maybe that's it.

CAFFERTY: Ten percent margin of error.

BLITZER: Check that poll. See what the margin of error is. That's a good point. All right. Thanks very much.

This is the final day of President Obama's three-day bus tour of Iowa. This morning, he stopped for breakfast with three veterans. Later, he was joined by a very special guest, the first lady. We're awaiting the Obama's final stop, by the way.

Meantime, our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us now with more on what the first lady had to say when she joined the president. How did that go today, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the campaign believes that it went well, Wolf. Her role today was to remind Iowa voters of the president's biography. That is something that the president, himself, has not been talking a lot about on this trip. Instead, he's been focused on the farm bill, on wind energy. And today, some tough words for his GOP opponents on Medicare.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Representative Paul Ryan's selection as Governor Mitt Romney's running mate guaranteed that Medicare would go from a relatively minor talking point to the center of this presidential race.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That means seniors would no longer have the guarantee of Medicare.

LOTHIAN: The Romney campaign is countered with political ads in battleground states, accusing the president of taking money from the popular entitlement program for seniors to pay for, quote, "Obamacare."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare.

LOTHIAN: But on the final day of his three-day Iowa bus tour, the president delivered his most detailed defense against sharp Republican criticism.

BARACK OBAMA: I have strengthened Medicare. I have made reforms that have saved millions of seniors with Medicare, hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs.

LOTHIAN: A new web ad from the Obama campaign featuring news reports and economist, Paul Krugman, pitches that message to seniors even though under the Ryan budget plan, only those currently 55 and under would be affected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ryan could hurt Romney in Florida.

LOTHIAN: In this Medicare battle with dueling charges of dishonesty and hypocrisy, a different voice entered the stage.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I am just as happy to be back in the great state of Iowa where it all began.

LOTHIAN: First lady, Michelle Obama, directed her pitch toward the middle class by trying to portray the president as one of them.

MICHELLE OBAMA: But your president knows what it means when a family struggles.


LOTHIAN (on-camera): You saw there the first lady trying to make that contrast between the president and Governor Mitt Romney. The campaign telling me that they believe that she's a critical voice in the campaign. One official telling me that there's no better advocate for the president's policies than the first lady -- Wolf. BLITZER: Dan Lothian in Davenport, Iowa, with the president. Thank you, Dan. In the next hour, by the way, the president and the first lady will wrap up their three-day bus tour through Iowa. As soon as they get to the podium, we're going to go there live. We're also awaiting Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, to begin his latest speech in Ohio. We're going to show you some of that as well.

A deadly virus is making a comeback and has a major city declaring an emergency. We'll get he latest from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And weighing in on the Biden controversy. We're going to talk with the former governor of Virginia on the growing fallout on the so- called chains remark.


BLITZER: There's growing concern across the United States as a deadly West Nile outbreak spreads across the country. Right now, more than 693 people in 32 states have been infected, and 26 people are dead, 16 of them in the state of Texas alone. Just hours ago, the mayor of Dallas declared his city is facing an emergency, which clears the way for aerial spraying to kill infected mosquitoes which carry the disease.

Let's go straight to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, for the latest. Sanjay, what do we know, first of all, about this aerial spraying?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is something that's been done quite a bit really since 1987. We obviously are hearing more about it, seeing it, Wolf, because of the context of all of this with the number of cases of West Nile virus. But, you know, these toxins, this is something I've reported on a lot, I've paid a lot of attention to in part because I'm a reporter but also because I have young children.

So, you know, I know about this particular one. It's called duet. It's made up of a couple of different toxins, chemicals that are, you know, obviously design to try and decrease mosquito populations. The EPA has weighed in on this. Other organizations have weighed in on this. It appears to be fairly safe, Wolf, for children, for pets, and certainly for adults.

There are certain caveats, they say, when this is still wet. People should avoid those areas that have just been sprayed. And also, do all that you can to try and prevent taking it into your own home. So, for example, if you live in one of these areas that's being sprayed, take off your shoes, for example, before entering your house. It may sound like a simple solution, but can be quite effective, Wolf.

BLITZER: This virus spreading pretty quickly. How do you know if you have it?

GUPTA: It can be hard, wolf. And I will tell you, this may be good news to some extent, is that the vast majority of people who get infected with West Nile virus don't know because either the symptoms are non-existent or they're very mild. And, you know, more severe cases, people will develop fever, they will develop swollen lymph nodes, for example, as the body tries to fight off the infection.

Sometimes, people will get a rash usually on the trunk area, the chest, the abdomen, or the back. In the more severe cases, Wolf, these are the cases people really pay attention to, there's a neuroinvasive component. It's just what it sounds like. It invades the area around the nervous system, and people will develop significant sleepiness, coma, get seizures, and all the things around the spinal cord and brain.

And those cases can proceed to death, Wolf, as you've heard. But one thing I think is important to point out is that there's an incubation period for this. Meaning, that, you know, right after you get a bunch of bites, you likely are not to get sick right away if you have West Nile virus. If you do get sick, it could be as late as two weeks later.

So, if you think about this and you have some of these symptoms and you thought, well, it was two weeks ago when I got bit, remember this concept of the incubation period and don't ignore those symptoms.

BLITZER: If you live in Dallas or some of these other hard-hit areas, potential danger areas, what should you do to protect yourself?

GUPTA: You know, a lot of this is on the consumer. Obviously, you talked about the spraying, and I can tell you, Wolf, we know that there's a lot of people working hard to develop a vaccine, but there isn't one. So, for the individual, you know, this is going to sound, again, commonsensical, but, you know, long sleeve, long pants.

Even in some of these hot weather states, it will do a lot to protect you. Using, you know, the various bug sprays including DEET to try and ward off mosquito bites as well and dusk and dawn tend to be the worst times of day. So, that's when mosquitoes are going to be most active. So, try and stay inside at those times of day.

If you have water around your house, you know, that's where mosquitoes like to breed. Get rid of that standing water and keep in mind that the elderly and people with weak immune systems are most at risk. Those are the ones who really need to be a list (ph) like that and pay even closer attention to it.

BLITZER: This is a real problem out there. We'll stay in close touch with you, Sanjay, to find out what's going on. Appreciate it very much.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Thank you.

And stay here in the SITUATION ROOM, the former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, he's standing by to respond to some of the explosive things that former Democratic congressman, Artur Davis, said about the vice president, Joe Biden.

Plus, why several countries are now warning their citizens to immediately get out of Lebanon.


BLITZER: At the top of the hour you heard my pretty shocking interview with the former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis (ph) of Alabama. His allegations that the vice president, Joe Biden, is attempting to use race, race, in his attacks on Mitt Romney. Here's a little clip from that interview.


ARTUR DAVIS, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: It brought back memories of these Democratic politicians in the south who think they can go before black crowds and say one thing that nobody else will hear it. And that they can somehow get a cheer in the room and that they can blithely go on about their business. I represent a predominantly African-American district. I know what Joe Biden was doing yesterday and every black person in that room knew who the y'all (ph) was. They knew what the chains were about. They knew what the metaphor was.


BLITZER: Wow, pretty strong words from Artur Davis. Let's get some response now from former Democratic governor Doug Wilder. He's the first African-American governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the former mayor of Richmond as well, someone who knows a lot about politics in the south. Give me your immediate reaction. I assume you know Artur Davis. What do you think of those blistering comments about Joe Biden, the vice president?

DOUGLAS WILDER (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I know Artur. I saw him at the convention. As a matter of fact, Wolf, I saw him at the convention in '08. And we had pleasant exchange. I think he (INAUDIBLE) what 180 degrees. He's gone obviously not just against Biden's comments. He's gone against even the re-election of the president. And that might be reason for him having that view, but my view on the comments made by Joe Biden were these.

First of all, without question they were appeals to race. And if you don't argue with that then if you understand that, then the next question is why? Why do you feel you need to do that? But the more important thing that I got out of this was Biden separated himself from what he accused the people of doing. As a matter of fact what he said is they are going to do something to y'all. Not to me. Not us.

So he was still involved with that separate American. And I'm sick and tired of being considered something other than an American. We are like no other country in the world. We are of every race, every description, every ethnicity, every religion and so I don't know why he felt that he needed to do that at this stage. More importantly, the president doesn't need this now.

The president needs to be a part of the bringing people together. I heard one of the president's -- one of the members of the Congress speaking rather concerned about if the president has to have a Democratic loss in the Senate and the Republicans take over the Senate and keep control of the House, he has got to work with someone if he is re-elected.

BLITZER: Governor, let me interrupt for a moment. I just want to be precise on this. You support obviously the president for re- election. You don't support Mitt Romney. But what I hear you saying is that you agree with Artur Davis in your criticism of the words that the vice president selected.

WILDER: Oh, no question of that. I do. Because when he says they are going to put y'all back in the chains, what he means, you were there, I wasn't. And when you go back, I won't be going with you. It's a separate argument. It's a separate talk. We don't need that from leaders. We don't need that from anybody. We need people to talk about healing one nation indivisible.

BLITZER: And do you agree with Artur David when he says that this reminded him of when other white politicians come to African- American audiences in the south and say these kinds of things?

WILDER: Wolf, I used to wait tables in just about every hotel and country club in Virginia. And I've heard these people say those kinds of things when they were speaking to the audience where I was working, waiting and yet when they would come to my college at Virginia Union University, something altogether different. And then some would say things like, well, you know, I can't say what I would like to say publicly. But let's not get too far gone in that.

As far as I am concerned, the president would not associate himself with those remarks, would not make those remarks. And I expect as the days go forward there will be more clarity associated with what the president feels about what Joe Biden said. I saw something earlier today about someone saying that they should dump Biden for Hillary Clinton. It's too late for that. The real question is the people of America need healing. They need to be brought together. Biden's remarks brought race into the campaign. And they were not necessary.

BLITZER: You were referring to what the former Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, said on FOX a little while ago. He said it might be wise for President Obama to pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate --


BLITZER: -- adding "I think Obama might be wise to do that. But that's not going to happen obviously for a whole variety of reasons.

WILDER: That's right.

BLITZER: So on this -- on this, do you go as far as John McCain in saying that maybe the president should dump Biden and put Hillary Clinton on the ticket?

WILDER: I had said something like that, similar to that several months ago. As a matter of fact, over eight or nine months ago that it would have been in the president's best interest to pick Hillary because -- and I'll go even further. If Hillary were on that ticket today based on the job she's done as secretary of state, I think that would be a clearer advantage the president would be seeing. It's not going to happen. It's too late. I think she'll be getting herself together for 2016. But that doesn't help the president today. What the president needs to do is to disassociate himself from trying to show anybody that division is what this administration is about.

BLITZER: So if Joe Biden is watching this show right now, the vice president of the United States, Governor Wilder, what do you say to him?

WILDER: As some may have said, cool it, back up. And there's nothing wrong with saying I was wrong. I never intended to do this. What I said was inappropriate. It was wrong. You can't defend it.

BLITZER: Governor Wilder, you're still going to vote for President Obama and Joe Biden is that right?

WILDER: Well, they're not separated. You vote for one, you're going to have to vote for the other.

BLITZER: So you're still a supporter of the Democratic ticket?

WILDER: I have never said anything differently.

BLITZER: OK. Governor Doug Wilder, the former governor of Virginia. Thanks so much for coming in.

WILDER: Always good, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

It's a recall every parent of infants needs to know about. Why a consumer safety agency is calling for changes to a popular baby seat and applying high-tech science to the sport of horse racing. Will it predict winners?


BLITZER: There's a new recall of a popular baby seat. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf, some important information for a lot of parents. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says four million Bumbo baby seats are being recalled because infants can fall out of them. Nineteen babies have suffered skull fractures, they are reporting. The Commission is urging parents immediately to stop using the seats until they order and install a repair kit that includes a restraint belt. The seats were recalled five years ago for similar reasons.

Other news we're watching, investigators are trying to determine why two planes collided -- just look at this video -- on the ground at Nashville's airport. CNN affiliate WTVF reports the Gulf Stream and Beach Craft King Air (ph) jets collided yesterday while the Gulf Stream was being towed. No passengers were onboard the planes and no injuries were reported thankfully.

And picking a winner in horse racing may be getting a little easier. A thoroughbred research company called Equinome (ph) is analyzing a strand of horse DNA nicknamed the speed gene. Breeders can use a test to determine what type of horse would be produced through different couplings. Equinome's (ph) managing director says the first horses produced their speed gene testing are already racing professionally -- way, way above over my head on that one.

You could call it the case of the missing blank tiles. For the first time in 30 years of competition, a cheater has been nabbed at the National Scrabble Championship Tournament in Orlando. A Scrabble official says a teen was spotted dropping two blank tiles near his foot instead of returning them to the grab bag. After he was confronted the teen confessed and was removed from the tournament. Further proof it never helps to cheat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Don't cheat. Good advice we all learned in kindergarten. Thanks very much.

The candidates are traveling across battleground states. Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan returns to his alma mater in Ohio while the Obamas, both of them, wrapping up their tour of Iowa. We're going to bring you their remarks. That's coming up live in the next hour.

And a city under siege, we have a graphic firsthand look at the relentless violence in one Syrian city where even a hospital isn't safe.


BLITZER: Plumes of black smoke and flames that was the scene in Syria today after a huge blast targeted a military complex near a hotel housing U.N. monitors. Three people were injured. This as the death toll is reportedly climbed to almost 200 people just today. And Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Beirut right now. Nick, another huge blast in Damascus, the casualties mounting right now. What's the latest on the violence?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Damascus blast I think more symbolic because it targeted the inner sanctum of the Syrian regime hitting a military compound. Apparently according to state media three people injured, but also the hotel where many U.N. monitors stay rattled by no U.N. casualties, the FSA, Free Syrian Army saying that the U.N. were of course not their target. They were trying to hit an ATA (ph) meeting of senior Syrian regime officials.

But it's really those plumes of black smoke in the center of Damascus where the regime is supposed to have forensic control over the area. That is that symbolic victory of today's blast in a day where we heard of reports of other clashes from Syrian activists in areas across Damascus and claims we can't independently verify that they managed to launch rocket propelled grenades against the building of the new Iranian Embassy there and even the prime minister's office. A death toll also mounting in Aleppo, the city in the north currently seeing clashes between the rebels and military, suggestion as many as 90 people have died there, some in an air strike by government jets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's -- when -- just when you just think it can't get worse, it gets worse. Now, you're in neighboring Lebanon right now. I was pretty surprised to just hear that Saudi Arabia is now telling all of its citizens in Lebanon, and there are plenty of them there, that they should leave the country right away. Is the spillover from Syria beginning to impact Lebanon?

WALSH: That's always been the fear. The longer the conflict drags on here with its regional dimension sectarian (INAUDIBLE) the greater the risk that it will spill over the border here into Lebanon. Over the past few weeks and there's a complicated back story to today -- over the past few weeks there have been a number of people here accused of links or assisting the Syrian regime picked up by pro- Syrian rebel groups. Some were Lebanese programs. Another man was accused of working for the militant group Hezbollah.

Today there was a sea change (ph) in that. The relatives, the clan of one of these men who had been kidnapped themselves kidnapped Syrian rebels, as many as 20 of them. They also reportedly kidnapped a Turkish citizen. Now that's significant because Turkey is a key backer of the Syrian rebels. As a result of this, this fear of tit- for-tat kidnappings in the rival factions related to the conflicts across the border in Syria has prompted the Saudi Arabian government themselves, another open backer of the Syrian resistance to tell their citizens to leave this country.

It's caused an awful lot of concern here. The hugely flammable and political environment inside Lebanon wrought for decades -- by decades for civil war could possibly be impacted by what so far across the border has yet to really stir society here. Huge concerns that today's tit-for-tat kidnappings and Saudi warning may be the start of something more sinister -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a huge development when Saudi Arabia tells all of its citizens to get out of neighboring Lebanon. That is big. Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut for us, Nick, thanks very much.

Syria's largest city of Aleppo has been engulfed in brutal fighting now for weeks. CNN's Ben Wedeman was there when government forces attacked from the air a hospital in a part of the city controlled by the opposition. We want to warn you what you are about to see may be very disturbing. Here is CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman.





BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve-year-old Muhammad (ph) screams out in fear and pain.


WEDEMAN: Shrapnel ripped through his right leg in an air raid on the (INAUDIBLE) hospital in Aleppo Shad (ph) district. Three passersby included Muhammad (ph) were wounded in the attack.


WEDEMAN: The task of treating the wounded here harder by the day nurse (INAUDIBLE) tells me.


WEDEMAN: Half of our equipment no longer works, he says.


WEDEMAN: For almost an hour, Syrian government jet bombed and strafed the area, twice striking the clearly marked hospital.


WEDEMAN: (INAUDIBLE) rebels fired back fruitlessly at the plane. In an entranceway across the street from the hospital, the blood is still wet where Muhammad (ph) wounded took cover. Nerves still on edge at the possibility the plane will strike yet again.







WEDEMAN: Muhammad's (ph) brother Abdul (ph) fled the emergency ward in panic after the second attack on the hospital and is afraid to go back in. The shelling and air raids have no rhyme or reason. The rounds smash into crowded neighborhoods, far from the frontlines. Muhammad (ph) (INAUDIBLE) was in a back room when his apartment was hit. He had sent his family away just a few days before.


WEDEMAN: Thank God they weren't here, he says, but what am I going to do? Where am I going to live?


WEDEMAN: His neighbors clear away the rubble with exhausted resignation. (on camera): The random nature of the shelling and the air raids on the rebel controlled parts of Aleppo means that any building anywhere in this part of the city could be hit at any time. In fact, this building was hit just 20 minutes ago. For many of the residents of Aleppo, it's simply time to leave.

(voice-over): Some go by foot, most by car or pickup, taking the bare minimum.


WEDEMAN: The shelling, answers (INAUDIBLE) when I ask why he and his family are leaving. We don't know where it is coming from.


WEDEMAN: Their destination is what they hope is a safer part of town. But here, no place is truly safe.


BLITZER: And Ben Wedeman is joining us from inside Syria right now. Aleppo at one point, Ben, was the largest city in Syria, about two million people. Do we have any idea how many thousands or tens of thousands of folks have already fled?

WEDEMAN: Well we've already heard from relief officials, Wolf, that at least 200,000 have left, but there's no question that many, many more have left. As you drive into Aleppo, you see truck after truck, car after car, families leaving. The city is slowly being pounded to smithereens by the regime forces and many people just can't live there any longer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad situation. Ben Wedeman, be careful over there. We'll speak with you again tomorrow.

Public approval of Congress is hitting a record low here in the United States, but will that translate to action in the voting booth?

And the first lady joins the president on the campaign trail. We'll have her message in Iowa. That's coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: Here is a look at this hour's "Hotshots". On the Indian-Pakistani border countrymen celebrate the two nation's respective independence days. In South Africa, a police vehicle approaches as miners stage a sit-in. In France, swimmers compete in a triathlon. And in Spain -- look at this -- a CNN IReporter sends this photo of clouds drifting over a windmill -- "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world. Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I like when you do "Hotshots". Those are good.

BLITZER: Me too.

CAFFERTY: The question -- yes -- the question this hour is "why won't Americans vote Congress out of office" -- speaking of hot shots.

Lou, "because the two party system only allows you to vote for the lame guy already in office or the enemy from the other team. We in Iowa rarely get challengers to our kings of Congress, Harkin and Grassley. No regular Joe can get past the party machinery in order to get on the ballot."

Kevin in California, "because they fear the devil they don't know more than the devil they do know and incumbents have more money to sway opinions."

Lavina writes "most people who vote don't even know who is in Congress so they just vote for the red or the blue. Eliminate the party next to the person's name and maybe people would actually do a little research."

Bob again in Iowa "Gerrymandering. Were you asleep when the locals rigged the system?"

Elizabeth in Toronto "that's the million dollar question. Congress has done squat since before George W. Bush was out of office."

Mark in Topeka writes "the incumbent has inherent advantages in name recognition, influential friends, fund-raising and the credibility associated with experience. It is hard to demonstrate that any challenger will be clearly better."

And James in North Carolina sums it up this way. "Get rid of my guy? Never. He's been up in Congress as long as I can remember. But he knows my name and he answers my calls quickly. Why would I replace him with some up-and-comer?"

If you want to read more about this, go at the blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page and I will see you, Mr. Blitzer (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.