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Riot Police Break Up Iran Protest; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Not Running for Governor

Aired June 22, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Iranian protesters defy a new threat by the country's powerful security force. Riot police move in and Westerners try to escape the crisis before it's too late.

Also this hour, President Obama signs the strongest anti-smoking law ever. But should he be leading by example and finally kick his cigarette habit?

And a CNN exclusive only minutes away. The Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, you're looking at him live right now. He's about to reveal right here in THE SITUATION ROOM whether or not he's going to be running for California governor.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.


But up first this hour, the breaking news from Iran. A large crowd of anti-government protesters in Tehran thins out after riot police reportedly attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas and fired live bullets in the air.

Iran's feared Revolutionary Guard today issued the sternest warning yet to protesters hoping to crush more than a week of opposition to presidential election results. A surprise admission today from the Iranian government that more ballots were cast in 50 cities than the number of people eligible to vote there. But authorities insist that would not have changed the election outcome.

Britain, a target of anger in Iran, now is evacuating the families of diplomats from its embassy. It's the first country to do that since the crisis erupted. The Iranian regime is calling for a review of its ties to the U.K., accusing it of meddling.

Let's get a closer look at some of the amateur video that's been coming in from Iran throughout the day. We're monitoring it all as it comes in, and we're getting a telling new look at the strength of the Iranian security forces, as well.

Let's go to Abbi Tatton, our Internet reporter, first. She's over at the CNN Center in Atlanta at the International Desk monitoring what's going on in Iran.

Abbi, what's the latest? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, I'm here at the Iran desk because of the increasing restrictions on CNN in terms of our coverage from Tehran. We have got a whole team of people here going through the eyewitness accounts.

We're going through Twitter, iReport, YouTube, all the video that's coming in right now. And I want to show you some of the latest Natalia (ph) has just been monitoring here.

This gives you an idea of what the protesters are increasingly up against. This is a sports complex in Tehran. What we can see here is maybe three or four dozen motorcycles lined up, trucks as well. These are the motorcycles of the Basiji, the gang-like forces who have been patrolling the streets, and what you're going to see now is the intimidation that this force presents to the protesters.

Take a look at them run to the left here. We don't quite know why they're doing it. Now the camera, this amateur footage, pans around to the right, and take a look at that -- two, four, six, eight of these motorcycles slowly patrolling the streets. They keep on coming.

We saw this compound, this dispatch area that they came from earlier on. And you can see from this video the way the protesters just turn and run as that force patrols the streets.

At that point, you can really see from that dispatch center now in the forecourt of a sports center. These are areas set up so the Basiji, so these gang-like forces can then go out into the streets, go out into the demonstrators.

And Wolf, you just saw from that, you can see them run.

BLITZER: They are totally -- these Basiji militiamen -- totally loyal to the regime in Tehran right now.

Stand by. We're going to be getting back to you, Abbi.

CNN is harnessing all its resources to bring you the latest information from inside Iran, but the country is putting severe restrictions on our reporters and many others, even kicking out some journalists.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Roger Cohen, the columnist for "The New York Times." He's one of the few remaining western journalists still in Tehran right now.

Roger, what are you seeing? What are you hearing right now?

ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, today was relatively quiet again, Wolf, although there was a demonstration. I wasn't at it myself, but a report suggests the people that gathered there were quickly dispersed. The show of security forces on the street everywhere is pretty overwhelming, ranging from these plainclothes Basiji militiamen to police dressed all in black. I was looking into the story of this young woman named Neda today, who was shot last Saturday, and the video was made of that which is which has gone global, as you know. And there was a very moving little ceremony in central Tehran for her, but it was quickly broken up again by these Basiji militia.

BLITZER: When these Basiji militia come in, do they come in with batons, with tear gas, with guns? How do they do it?

COHEN: They come in with all the above. In this particular case, the gathering was small.

It was about 60 people in a little square called Nilufa (ph) Square in central Iran. They just came in with batons and waving people away. Many of the people there were women.

It was interesting that the regular city police, when the prayer was being said for this young woman who was shot on Saturday, they were joining in. They were kind of part of the ceremony.

So, there are divisions between the various security forces, and the most hard line, as you know, are the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji. And they have been ruthless in trying to hold the line on the result, so-called, of the election last Friday.

BLITZER: So, basically what you're saying is that they are totally loyal to the Ayatollah Khamenei and to the president, Ahmadinejad. But within the police force, you're beginning to see some cracks, some disarray, if you will.

What about the regular army?

COHEN: Haven't heard much about the regular army, whose role, you know, essentially is to guard the borders. But yes, they are -- certainly the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji, kind of the shock troops of the regime. But even there, there are unconfirmed reports -- and rumors are swirling here everywhere in Tehran, rumors and whispers. And one of the rumors is that one unit of the Revolutionary Guards refused to participate in this crackdown and that the commander of that unit has been arrested. I can't confirm that.

There's also clearly a very intense political battle, Wolf, going on within the regime, the rather weird way in which the Guardian Council has now said that, oh, a mere three million votes might have been miscounted. Well, that's almost eight percent of the total vote, and if they're really just intent on ramming through this election, it does seem strange that they're admitting that three million votes may have been miscounted. And there are very senior figures within the regime, including the parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, who is saying that the opposition may have some sort of a case.

It still seems probable that, given that the supreme leader has said this recount is basically a waste of time, that they will hold the line. But it's clear to me that there are very serious political debates going on within the revolutionary establishment.


BLITZER: Roger Cohen, "The New York Times" columnist. We're going to be speaking with him in the next hour as well. He's on the scene. He's very courageous. He's giving us an eyewitness account of what's going on, one of the few remaining western journalists still in Tehran.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

These guys like Roger Cohen, they're very, very tough, hard-nosed. He's been visiting Iran for many years. He knows what he's doing, but it's pretty scary.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is very scary, and he sounds just as calm and cool as a cucumber. I admire his self-control in the face of what must be a very, very nerve-rattling situation.

The protesters in that country are not packing up and going home despite warnings from the government that they ought to do just that. Earlier today, the Revolutionary Guard -- you saw some in this footage -- warned people that to disturb the peace or stand up to security forces is a crime that would be met with a strong response. And they mean it.

As riot police attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas, they fired live bullets into the air to break up one rally in Tehran today. Witnesses also said at one point helicopters were hovering overhead, they noted heavy police presence in other parts of the city. The country's highest electoral authority, as you just heard, supposedly investigating allegations of voter fraud.

Gee, really? You counted 36 million ballots in two hours? Come on.

They acknowledge now that there were some voting irregularities in 50 electoral districts. Nevertheless, the council insists that these problems don't affect the outcome, which is what you'd expect them to say.

Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi vowing to keep up the protests, defying the country's supreme leader.

It is impossible to know for sure how many people have been killed or injured in these protests. The Iranian government severely restricting international media coverage. Reporters Without Borders reports that 20 journalists have been arrested in Iran in the last week. Many others simply have been kicked out of the country.

But violent amateur videos and pictures continue to make their way out of Iran through the social networking Web sites, and when they do, they make their way on to CNN, so we show them to you. And the story is still very much alive, although a bit cloudy at this point.

The question this hour is this: Do you think the protesters can ever prevail in a country like Iran?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Iranians know all too well that the crisis could explode into a full- fledged revolution. Some have lived through two previous government upheavals.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution was fueled by religious fervor, a desire for political change, and anger at the U.S.-backed regime of the shah of Iran. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was forced to flee the country. An Islamic fundamentalist leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, seized power.

The shah had lost a power struggle before back in 1953 to the democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The CIA and British intelligence services, however, engineered a coup that brought the shah back to power.


BLITZER: And we're only a couple minutes away from an exclusive interview that could turn the California governor's race on its head. The Los Angeles mayor -- there he is, Antonio Villaraigosa -- is standing by to reveal whether he's running for the top job in his state. You're going to hear it first right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, we're monitoring all the amateur video from Iran as it comes in to CNN, and we'll bring you some more remarkable pictures. They're coming up. It's history unfolding online right now and we've got it for you.

And a new move by the president of France that could further ignite Muslim anger at the West. We'll tell you what happened, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right. We're about to get the exclusive announcement right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The mayor of Los Angeles set to announce whether he will or will not run for governor of California.

The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is joining us live from Los Angeles.

Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.



You told me a few weeks ago that you would tell us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM your decision. I know you've been agonizing over this decision for weeks if not months.

Are you going to run to become the next governor of California?

VILLARAIGOSA: The answer is no. And I make that decision because, as I've said many times, I love the city I was born and raised in, the city that my grandpa came to a hundred years ago.

Cities all across the country are on the front lines of the challenges facing us in terms of the economic crisis. Here in the city of L.A., a 12.5 percent unemployment rate, 21,000 people have lost their home over the last two years. We're facing an unprecedented and historical budget deficit at $530 million. And I feel compelled to complete what I started out to do.

I said to Los Angeles four years ago to dream with me. I said we were going to take on the many challenges that we face in the city, public schools and public safety, the issue of the environment. I said that we were going to do everything we could to come together as a city, and I can't leave this city in the middle of a crisis. It's as simple as that.

BLITZER: But you know, Mayor, if you're the governor of California, there's a lot you could certainly do to help not only the people of Los Angeles, but a lot of other cities throughout that state, as well.

VILLARAIGOSA: You're right, Wolf, and that's why this was an agonizing decision. What is going on in Sacramento currently is an abomination.

The system is fundamentally flawed. It's broken. It's currently in a meltdown as we speak. But I was elected mayor and re-elected by the people of this city. They've given me the honor for a second term, and I feel compelled to complete the promise that I made to them.

I'm going to dream, and I want the people to dream with me. But in order to do that, we're going to have to take on the immediate challenges of finding jobs, of turning the economy around, of continuing the education reform, of building on the public safety record that we've established where we're the second big city in America, crime down eight years in a row, and safer than any time since 1954.

But those things are good, but they're not good enough. We've got to do more. And I've been...

BLITZER: I was going to say, Mayor, the other guys who are running, including Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, in all the polls it showed that you would have been very, very competitive with them.

When did you make up your mind that this is something you didn't want to do, run for governor?

VILLARAIGOSA: I've been making up my mind for a long time, frankly. The reason why I didn't early on make a decision one way or the other was because, as I said, this city's given me so much. I didn't want to walk away. But as you said, the challenges of the state are so great, as well.

I was speaker of the assembly. I have a great deal of support in the legislature and throughout the state. But this is about the city I love. And I also have a young girl, 16 years old. She's the apple of my eye, and she's got two more years of high school and then she's gone. And I don't want to be campaigning for a year and then leading the state in Sacramento and my little precious is, you know, finishing up her high school education.

BLITZER: It's always personal decisions as well as political decisions.

The "L.A. Times" poll had your approval number at 55 percent approve of the way you're doing your job, 37 disapprove. There was a cover of "Los Angeles" magazine that branded you as a failure. I'm sure you've seen that cover, as well.

Are you ready to endorse someone now for the Democratic nomination?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, let me just say when I was asked in a press conference what I thought about it, I said great picture -- three years younger, 10 pounds lighter. You know, that's what happens when you're mayor. You're the focus of the good times and the bad.

The fact of the matter is we've got many challenges in this city. In a time when the unemployment rate is at 12.5 percent, a 55 percent approval isn't so bad. But I recognize that I've got a lot of work to do. I've got to do a better job...

BLITZER: Who do you like for the nomination?

VILLARAIGOSA: And I've got to do a better job even than the job that we've done over the last four years.

In terms of who I like, I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on my job and the challenges that we're facing. There's plenty of time to weigh in on that race.

I can tell you this -- whoever is going to be the next governor in the state of California better talk turkey with the people of California. I said the system is broken, and it is. A two-thirds vote to pass a budget, one of only three states in the country that require that. Two-thirds vote to pass taxes, one of 16 or 17 that require super majority.

Term limits is broken. The fact of the matter is we need to support open primaries.

The initiative process is broken when it takes a majority vote to deny a whole group of people the fundamental right to marry but you can pass a -- you need a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.

So there's a lot of things broken. I hope to participate in that conversation, but my focus will be on the city of Los Angeles. My focus will be on -- and the national stage, really making the case for cities in metropolitan areas.

Just elected the second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We're going to be in Washington, D.C., making the case that if we're going to turn America around, we've got to turn our cities around.

BLITZER: Mayor Villaraigosa, we'll see you here in Washington, D.C.

Thanks very much. Thanks for living up to your commitment to tell us first your decision, and the decision is you are not running for the governor's race in the state of California.

Thanks very much for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is our national political correspondent. She's just back in Washington from Los Angeles, her hometown.

Is this a big surprise?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, there's been a lot of debate about whether this was going to happen, and Mayor Villaraigosa has been telling his donors for several weeks now that he just hasn't been feeling the fire in his belly to run for governor. There are a number of reasons. That L.A. magazine cover that said "Failure" really not fair, because the article inside says his job as mayor is incomplete, but that played a role, the sense there in Los Angeles he has more work to do.

And also, his personal life has been in the headlines lately once again, and there's more work for him to do. So a lot of folks were expecting him not to run, but it will be a tectonic shake-up of the governor's race there, an incredibly exciting race in California.

BLITZER: It will be exciting in California. And he's still a young guy, Antonio Villaraigosa, so he's got a long political future ahead of him irrespective of his immediate decision.

YELLIN: Yes. And the big question is, which does candidate does this help? Right now Jerry Brown's forces (ph) says it helps him because he has a longtime alliance with the Latino community there. But Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, thinks this really helps with younger voters. Many Latino voters are young, and he thinks he has a good chance of picking them up now.

BLITZER: And that's just on the Democratic side. There are Republicans who want to be governor of California, as well, and there's a current Republican who is still the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

YELLIN: That's right.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

President Obama wants fewer people to smoke, but can he kick the habit himself? The president signs into law a tough new anti-smoking measure, but the White House is elusive on whether or not the president continues to smoke.

And more of the dramatic amateur video from Iran coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Our Abbi tatton is back with the pictures, getting reaction from the entire world.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, amid death and protests, some of Iran's top religious leaders may be joining the protest. Might Iran's supreme leader face an insurmountable backlash?

Reporters risk their lives to bring you stories from the war zone. A "New York Times" reporter escaped a seven-month hostage ordeal. Our Nic Robertson recently asked the Taliban about that. How can reporters stay safe?

And it's being called the terror gap, a gaping legal loophole that allows suspected or even known terrorists to buy guns and explosives, possibly in gun stores near you.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get back to the breaking news this hour.

Iranian riot police break up a major protest in Tehran using tear gas and firing bullets into the air. Internet postings have mentioned a possible rally today in memory of a young opposition protester named Neda whose death was caught on camera.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent.

Christiane, a lot of people all over the world, billions of people, saw this picture of Neda, this young girl who was killed in this demonstration in Tehran. It's almost an iconic picture, and some are saying, the millions of people who see it online, or on YouTube, or on television, it's going to have an impact and potentially could further exacerbate the problems for the regime in Iran.

What do you think?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly this image is a particularly distressing image, and it has gone boomeranging around the world. I think what's significant is that it is not boomeranging as much in Iran because it's not the whole country that's wired to the Internet, it's not the whole country which has satellite television. And as you can imagine, the state media is not running any of that imagery.

There was a suggestion that inside Iran today, some of the gatherings could be vigils in protest and in memory of that young girl. But to the best of our knowledge, that did not happen.

We've tried to find out. We've phoned for eyewitnesses. We've looked around. Were there candlelight vigils, were there silent memorials? But to the best of our knowledge, if there were, they weren't in any great numbers and they weren't that visible. At least at this particular time we don't know. So it's probably very symbolic, more symbolic outside than in.

BLITZER: Are we seeing cracks in the Iranian security services, the police, the Basij, the Revolutionary Guard, or are they pretty much united behind the regime?

AMANPOUR: Well, the very hard line have taken a very public tough stance, which are the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij.

The Revolutionary Guard posted two comments in the last two weeks, one just before the election, accusing Mousavi and the reformists of trying to lead a Velvet Revolution, and vowing to crush it. Just today, they have posted yet another on the Revolutionary Guard Web site, saying that any more protests in the street would be crushed.

Well, today, some hundreds, according to an eyewitness who we trust, saw some gather -- some hundreds gather at one of the squares, but in not the same numbers or the same sort of volume as the previous days. And they were very much outnumbered by the Basij, by the riot police.

Now, the police chief of Tehran said on state media that they are equipped with riot gear and to put down protests, but not to use their firearms. They're issued with them, of course, but they say they have not been given permission to use them.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour -- Christiane, we will stay in close touch. Thanks.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, President Obama is still refusing to take the bait of some Republicans who accuse him of being too cautious in his response to the crisis in Iran.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She is joining us from the State Department.

What's the latest on this part of this story, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, diplomacy is supposed to be rational and objective.

But, here at the State Department, they're watching events unfold in Tehran along with the rest of us. And those emotional images that they are seeing are really hitting home.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Blood flows on Tehran's streets, but President Barack Obama, in an interview with CBS, treads carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.

DOUGHERTY: Throughout the weekend, the president huddles with advisers in search of a game plan. Officials admit they have no idea how the crisis in Iran will play out. But, for now, President Obama's Iran strategy, engagement, is on ice.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: This is not about us. This is not about our bilateral relationship right now. This is about Iranians and -- and the Iranians having their -- their rights to express themselves.

DOUGHERTY: On Capitol Hill, Republicans urged the president to get tougher.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If we're standing for democracy, we need to back up people that are for democratic principles in other countries.

DOUGHERTY: Iran's former crown prince says, if things get worse, Obama must be prepared to act.

REZA PAHLAVI, FORMER CROWN PRINCE OF IRAN: The question is, what will world governments do this time? Are we going to have Tiananmen Square revisited, or is it going to be, this time, different?

DOUGHERTY: The prince broke down at the thought of the Iranian woman Neda, whose death on Tehran streets has become a rallying cry for opposition.

PAHLAVI: ... bullets piercing our beloved Neda...


DOUGHERTY: And here at the State Department, just like at the White House, they say that that image of Neda is one of the most shocking they have seen since this crisis began -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty reporting for us from the State Department, thank you.

It was a shocking image, indeed.

President Obama sees a new ray of hope, despite threats to his goal of reforming the health care system.

A lot ahead, the housing secretary personally tries to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. We confront him with one family's horror story. Stand by.

And, later, how the Iranian news outlets are trying to keep exploding political unrest under wraps.


BLITZER: President Obama wants more people to stay away from cigarettes, so, today, he set in motion the strongest ever anti- smoking government act. But can the president himself kick the habit?

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, what's the latest on this?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president says that this anti-smoking measure will not only save lives, but dollars.

And while the president gave a stern warning about the dangers of smoking, he offered up only a CliffsNotes version of his personal story.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's a hard habit to break, and President Obama says he should know. He got hooked on smoking early.

OBAMA: Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday. I know. I was one of these teenagers. And, so, I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time.

LOTHIAN: In a Rose Garden ceremony, Mr. Obama signed a tough new anti-smoking measure into law, aimed at snuffing out temptations young people find hard to resist.

OBAMA: It will curb the ability of tobacco companies to market products to our children by using appealing flavors.

LOTHIAN: While the president has been outspoken in this anti-smoking campaign, it's unclear whether he practices what he preaches. Mr. Obama ignored a question I asked on his personal struggle with smoking. His spokesman said the addiction remains a day-to-day battle.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't honestly see the need to get a whole lot more specific than the fact that it's a continuing struggle.

LOTHIAN: But, on the campaign trail, the president frequently got specific on the issue. Kicking the habit became part of his narrative.




OBAMA: Yes. LETTERMAN: And you -- see there -- you're using the gum.


LETTERMAN: So, you're OK. Are you still smoking? Or are you OK with...


OBAMA: Oh, no, no. The gum -- the gum's working good.

LETTERMAN: Working good.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

SMITH: I could use some now.


LETTERMAN: How do you...



LOTHIAN: Well, this all matters because, as a popular and powerful figure, the president has the opportunity, some say, to better influence young people with his personal struggle.

But, for now, with the exception of the few words that we heard today, this once public part of the president's life has become private -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us.

From smoking to health care, President Obama is praising what the nation's pharmaceutical industry has agreed to do. They will cut drug costs for senior citizens.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

You're a senior political analyst, but you're not a senior citizen, Gloria.



BLITZER: Just wanted to make that clear.


BLITZER: But what's going on right now is rather unusual.

BORGER: It is unusual. And, if you talk to folks at the White House, they will tell you that this is quite significant.

But Wolf, at the very least, this is something that, if it comes to fruition, will be very, very important for senior citizens. And let me tell you why. Take a look at this. And we're going to put this up on the wall.

There -- Medicare covers about -- there we are -- Medicare covers up to $2,700 of your prescription drug benefits if you're a senior. And catastrophic coverage kicks in at $6,100. But, between those two, there's a $3,400 -- we have a doughnut hole -- hence, our little doughnut -- that is not covered.

Now, what the drug companies are saying is, they will pay for half of seniors' prescription drugs in that doughnut hole. And that would affect about 3.5 million seniors, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. And it would save them about $1,700 a year.

That's a lot of money.

BLITZER: Seventeen hundred certainly is a lot of money.


BLITZER: But there's got to be another price tag for this...


BLITZER: ... for this latest development. Who's going to pay for it?

BORGER: Well, the pharmaceutical companies are chipping in about $80 billion. Thirty billion of it will go to pay for this drug benefit. Another $50 billion is going to go to the bottom line of health care reform.

So, right now, you have got the committees working on how they're going to spend that money. Now, when you're talking $1 trillion over 10 year, Wolf, you might say that's not a lot of money, but every little bit does help.

BLITZER: I don't care how many years. A trillion dollars...

BORGER: Eighty billion -- and $80 billion is a lot of money.


BLITZER: Yes, that's all a lot of money.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. But it will be a savings, we think, of $1,700 for seniors who need $6,100 -- more than $6,100 -- up to $6,100.

BORGER: Right. And, right now, they have -- and, right now, they have got to spend that $3,400. BLITZER: Yes. All right, that's significant.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: It's nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina. There's been a lot of progress, but some people are still suffering. The U.S. housing secretary goes to New Orleans to check out the situation, and CNN is there with him.

And Republicans urge President Obama to speak out more forcefully about what's happening in Iran. Will he? He's holding a news conference tomorrow.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, doing his part today to try to help victims of Hurricane Katrina nearly four years after the disaster.

CNN caught up with him to make sure he knows full well how badly some people in New Orleans still are suffering.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in New Orleans. He's the one who caught up with the secretary.

How did it go today, Sean?


Clearly, the secretary in town to tout the volunteer spirit, but what people here and in all states really susceptible to hurricanes want to know, is the federal government prepared now that we're in hurricane season? What steps do they have in place to provide housing should a catastrophic storm strike?


CALLEBS (voice-over): It's hard to imagine that, just five weeks ago, this New Orleans home looked like this.

KENENTH WILTZ, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: This is Barbara, my wife, 47 years.

CALLEBS: For the last six months, Kenneth Wiltz and his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease, lived in this gutted-out shell.

WILTZ: Absolutely rough, tough. It's a hard thing to do. I don't recommend it.

CALLEBS: But, after Hurricane Katrina, the Wiltzes didn't have a choice. There was no other housing for them. And if it wasn't for the Saint Bernard Project, they would still be living in a shell. Nearly four years after Katrina, there are still thousands of people like the Wiltzes, people who fell through the cracks. We showed these pictures to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

SHAUN DONOVAN, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: Frankly, I'm disturbed that more progress hasn't been made more quickly. And that's exactly why I'm here today.

CALLEBS: Donovan spent the day volunteering, working on homes with the Saint Bernard Project.

Hurricane season is here, and Donovan promises that the federal government is better prepared to provide temporary housing in the face of a catastrophic hurricane. Officials say they don't want to make the same mistakes.

DONOVAN: In New Orleans, what we have seen is that there was not an adequate system in place to help people make the transition from emergency -- emergency shelter to longer-term housing for recovery.

CALLEBS: From the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast, hurricane season always brings anxiety. As someone who suffered horribly the last four years, Kenneth Wiltz implores the Obama administration.

WILTZ: Oh, my goodness. You know, if it -- be prepared. Help the people. The people, you know, need -- need help.


CALLEBS: And people, so many like the Wiltzes -- we're inside their home now -- suffered so many times, first by the storm, then by contractors.

What was up here before was Chinese drywall. It was defective and gave off a harmful gas that corroded, Wolf, not just the wires, but all kinds of appliances as well. So, if it wasn't for volunteer organizations like the Saint Bernard Project, there would be scores of people like the Wiltzes with simply nowhere to turn -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How hot was it in New Orleans Tuesday, Sean?


CALLEBS: I don't know if you saw just how much the secretary was sweating, but it -- I would say it was about up to 112, with the heat index, with what I'm told from our satellite truck out there.

It's warm. Let's put it that way, very, very warm.


All right. Well, good luck to all the folks in New Orleans, Sean Callebs reporting for us.

Let's talk about this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Is there a point, Paul, where the continuing plight of folks in New Orleans, along the Gulf Coast, all of a sudden becomes a problem, a political problem, for the current administration?


But, first and most importantly, it's -- it's a policy problem. In other words, it's his responsibility now. He's our president. I think it's great that, you know, in the first weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama went to New Orleans, spoke at Tulane University.

You saw Sean there covering the secretary of housing showing up. It's not his first trip to that region either. Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, has been there. That helps a lot.

Putting people, the policy-makers, on the ground to see what's actually going on is enormously helpful. But you're right. He's going to be now held accountable going forward for how we handle future storms, but also whether we're able to finally do right by the people of Gulf Coast.

BLITZER: And potentially, if things don't really get much better, as you know, Ed, this becomes a huge political problem for the president.

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, it's a national disgrace as it is. And I think nothing did President Bush in more than the -- than the poor handling both of the -- of the hurricane itself and the post.

So, I -- I would argue very strenuously what Paul had said, that, if three years from now or two years from now, that city is not rebuilt and the resources are not applied there, then I think -- I think this becomes a problem for President Obama.

Equally as important, as you look to the appropriations process, there's a story today about all the Corps of Engineering money that's going to the senior members of the appropriation committee that handles that. And someone better step in there and make sure that that money is being spent properly to protect American citizens who need to be protected, and not just more pork for various congressional...


BLITZER: Yes, because it's exactly that kind of story that can make people crazy out there, as you both of you guys know.

Go ahead, Paul. You want to say something.

BEGALA: In fact, yes, if I could -- if I could jump in, you know, everybody on YouTube looked at the -- the little testy exchange that Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, had with that general from the Army Corps of Engineers. Folks should know that part of what Senator Boxer is trying to do is push the Corps. The Corps has been pretty slow in completing a comprehensive plan there. She has suggested, in fact, that the Corps has to scrap, perhaps -- at least look at scrapping the plan that they have right now to shore up three drainage canals in New Orleans, and do something more like what the local folks in Louisiana say they need to be safe.

So, Barbara Boxer has been tough as nails on this. And -- and I think that kind of pressure -- she understands it's her responsibility now, as the chairwoman of the relevant committee in the Senate, and she's trying to hold the Corps of Engineers accountable, even if it sometimes ruffles their feathers.

BLITZER: Yes. She wanted to be called "Senator," not "ma'am," as a lot of our viewers...

BEGALA: She did.

BLITZER: ... no doubt remember.

He's going to have a news conference in the Rose Garden, the president of the United States, Ed, tomorrow, and, no doubt, Iran is going to be very high on the agenda. What -- what -- what does he need to say tomorrow on this sensitive issue?

ROLLINS: I'm not arguing what he's done to date has not been the correct policy decision.

But I think, tomorrow, he has to be more emphatic. This is an emotional issue. And people, for days and days, have watched innocent people murdered in the streets. And he has to express some outrage, some moral outrage. Here's the most popular man in the world today who basically represents this great democracy that we are.

And we have to basically say, that behavior is unacceptable. This is peaceful protests. Regardless of what happened in the election -- and, obviously, we can't change that -- you cannot murder innocent people in the streets. You cannot cut off press relations with the world. The world is watching you, and we're watching you.

BLITZER: He's known as a very, very cool guy, as you know, Paul. But does he have to show some passion, some outrage tomorrow?

BEGALA: I think he's got -- I mean, he's a very calibrated guy, as you mention. And -- and you can always ramp up. And maybe he needs to ratchet up a little tomorrow, although let's not make this America's problem to solve.

We can't solve it. And -- and we don't want to go invading another country. We have invaded enough countries lately. And, so, I think he's been very wise in pulling back. It was telling us, our reporting earlier today, that -- that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is now blaming the Brits, rather than the Americans, calling them the "Great Satan," which I think is at least something of an improvement. I thought the president was exactly right in an interview yesterday on CBS, where he said to them, essentially, we don't want to become the excuse for a bloodbath. We don't want the -- the -- the Revolutionary Guard -- which is really a terrorist organization, frankly -- to use America as an excuse for murdering Iranians.

And, so, in that sense, I think he's doing what he can to support this without giving an excuse to these thugs to murder more people.

BLITZER: I asked this question of Ed -- of Ed Rollins, because you were there with Ronald Reagan when he told the Soviets, "Tear down this wall."

What would Ronald Reagan do in a situation like this right now?

ROLLINS: I think -- I think he would shake his finger very strenuously.

I -- I -- I -- Paul, I don't disagree with you. All I'm simply saying is, I think American public is outraged by this. And it's not about their election or their process or any of the rest of it. I mean, when you see visuals that are -- that are basically off the phone of innocent people being killed -- and Reza Pahlavi is a friend of mine, and has been for a long time, who fought, with his own life at risk, for democracy in his country, and for him to basically break down, as he did today, I think is -- you know, you have got to basically be empathetic to that.

BLITZER: I want to show you this picture that we're just getting into THE SITUATION ROOM, Paul, two people you know quite well.

Take a look at this. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, she broke, I guess, her right elbow there, and it looks like she's got either a sling or a cast. She went -- underwent surgery on Friday.

You got any inside information on how she's doing?


Frankly, I haven't -- I decided not to -- to bother her while she's recuperating. But I'm glad to see she's -- she's up and at work. As you know, Wolf -- you have covered her -- there is nobody tougher.


BEGALA: This is not going to keep her down. I'm glad to see that she's back to work.

BLITZER: Yes, had to cancel a trip overseas to Italy and Greece, but that's totally understandable.

And if you -- if you know somebody who's ever had a -- a broken elbow, it can be very, very painful, indeed. And we wish her a very speedy recovery. I know I speak of you -- on behalf of both of you...

ROLLINS: Absolutely. BLITZER: ... and all of our viewers.

Guys, thanks very much.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Most of Iran's most influential clerics may be turning on their supreme leader. Are cracks forming in the Islamic regime, as opposition protesters fill the streets? We should say some of Iran's influential clerics, not most of Iran's influential clerics. Some of them seem to be turning on their supreme leader.

We will have a complete update on what is going on.

Also ahead, images the Iranian people are not seeing -- how the state immediate is report on -- or, rather, not reporting on the political crisis.

And Senator Ted Kennedy rushes to the rescue of an embattled colleague.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... their statement and their position.



BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Senator Ted Kennedy lends his name and support to an embattled fellow Democrat.


KENNEDY: Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life. And Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight.

Today, more than ever...


BLITZER: Senator Dodd's campaign began airing that TV spot across his home state of Connecticut yesterday. It's scheduled to run for at least a week at a cost of at least $100,000. Dodd is facing a tough reelection fight next year.

In the midst of the fight for his political life, Senator Dodd reveals he has had a change of heart about same-sex marriage. He wrote an opinion piece in a Connecticut newspaper published yesterday, saying he's now proud to count himself as a supporter of full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is, can the ever prevail in a place like Iran?

Billy writes from Las Vegas: "Yes, but only if the young people in the army and police join them, like they did in Russia in 1991. Otherwise, the Iranian kids end up like the Tiananmen Square kids in communist China two decades ago. Unfortunately, it looks like the latter is what is going to happen.

Darren writes, "With the advent of Twitter and YouTube and Facebook, clearly, the government's ability to cloak their ruling with an iron fist is coming to an end, as more and more Iranians demand a better way of life, not necessarily a democracy, but something a bit more 21st Century."

Thomas in Fort Lauderdale: "I'm afraid the only way that Iranians can take their country back is to arm themselves. It's what our forefathers did. They took up arms and fought the injustice until they succeeded. They didn't walk down the street showing a peace sign. If only that was enough. While I hate violence of every kind, this regime will understand nothing less."

Dorothy in Washington writes: "The protesters must keep at it. Freedom is worth everything. I was 14 years old when the U.S. government allowed the police to beat us with batons, hose us down with water, and sick dogs on us. My brother was severely injured after being bitten repeatedly by a dog held by a police officer. No international help came to us, but we persisted. The cost of freedom can never be underestimated. I pray the Iranian citizens are able to free themselves from their current government."

And F. in New Hampshire writes: "Who will win in Iran? Just like the pen is mightier than the sword, the camera phone is mightier than the gun. The old fogies running the country can't even figure how to block the media. The protesters will win eventually, if not right now."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and spend the rest of your natural life looking for your e-mail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.