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THE SITUATION ROOM

Space Shuttle Endeavour Lifts Off; Sotomayor Hearings Continue

Aired July 15, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, that's that.

Let's -- let's bring back Chris Ferguson, himself an Endeavour astronaut. John Zarrella is with us as well.

John, I know you have a question you want to ask Chris at a sensitive moment, a moment like this.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes.

Chris, I was thinking a couple of things. You were commander of the rescue shuttle, if I'm not mistaken, that would have had to go and rescue the crew of Atlantis on the Hubble mission. So, you were not far from here just a couple of months ago, God forbid anything had gone wrong.

But, right now, what goes through your mind as the commander at this point? You are now inside of a minute-and-a-half. What are you doing right now?

CHRIS FERGUSON,NASA: A lot of folks ask, hey, what do think in the couple moments leading up to launch?

And the truth be told, you are very preoccupied with monitoring not only the health of the vehicle and the systems that you're in charge of, but making sure the crew is prepared and monitoring their status as well.

And you are right. This was the rescue vehicle, Endeavour was, so it spent a fair amount of time outdoors. It was going to be the STS-400 rescue vehicle to launch on the northern pad. Once that was released after the Hubble crew returned successfully to Earth, they moved Endeavour to the southern pad there, where it stood in preparation for 127's launch.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: And we are all fortunate that we did what we did, and we covered that launch well, and we didn't need to do it.

BLITZER: Chris Ferguson is joining us.

Under a minute right now before this launch. John Zarrella is on the scene.

You know what? Let's listen in and see these final seconds as we get ready to see the Endeavour launch. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... are ready to start. The booster joint heaters are being deactivated at this time. T-minus 50 seconds. We're transferring to orbital internal power. Endeavour is now running off of its three on-board fuel cells.

Coming up on a go auto sequence start at T-minus 31 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) is go for auto sequence start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-minus 27 seconds and counting. Endeavour's on-board computers have primary control of all the vehicle's critical functions.

T-minus 18 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sound suppression water system has been activated, protecting Endeavour and the launchpad from acoustical energy.

We are go for main engine start. We have main engine start. Four, three, two, one, booster ignition, and liftoff of Endeavour, completing (INAUDIBLE) and fulfilling Japan's hope for an out-of-this- world space laboratory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, Endeavour. Roll (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, roll, Endeavour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is mission control Houston. Endeavour's roll maneuver is being completed. It is now going into a heads-down position on track for flight to the International Space Station, flying at 400 miles per hour, one mile in altitude and seven miles downrange already from the Kennedy Space Center.

Endeavour's engines are throttling down as the orbiter passes through the area of maximum pressure on the vehicle, now 50 seconds into the flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Endeavour, go at throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go at throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The three engines on board are throttling back up, Endeavour flying at 1,100 miles per hour, 10 miles in altitude, and 10 miles downrange.

At liftoff, the fully fueled shuttle boosters and external tank weight 4.5 million pounds. The total thrust at launch was 6.425 million pounds. One minute 33 seconds into the flight, Endeavour flying at 1,900 miles per hour, 17 miles altitude and 16 miles downrange. All systems continue to function well.

Endeavour has three good main engines, three good power- generating fuel cells and three good auxiliary power units for the hydraulic system.

We will be standing by for burnout and separation of the solid rocket boosters. Combined, the twin boosters provide 5.3 million pounds of thrust to propel the orbiter towards space.

BLITZER: All right, there it is.

The rocket boosters just separated from the Endeavour. It's moving towards space right now, about two minutes and 20 seconds, as you hear, into this flight. It looks like everything is going the way it is supposed to go right now.

Craig (sic) -- Craig (sic) Ferguson, himself an astronaut, the former commander of the Endeavour, is joining us on the phone, as is John Zarrella, our correspondent, who has been covering these space missions for a long, long time.

Chris Ferguson, I should say, Chris, so far so good. It looks like all systems go.

FERGUSON: Yes, this is great news, absolutely. We are glad to see them off the pad.

There, you can see one of the views looking down from the external tang at the bottom of the orbiter. Of course, that is a new view that we have added since Columbia just to inspect for any ascent debris that may fall off the tank. But so far, everything looks great.

BLITZER: Yes, Chris, the key is to make sure that there is no debris that could knock off even a tiny little piece of the Endeavour, of the space shuttle, is that right?

FERGUSON: Absolutely, Wolf.

As you know, we use very cold propellants inside that external tank. They tend to form ice in the humid environment in and around Florida. So we are very conscientious of ice that may come off or perhaps even the insulating foam that surrounds the external tank itself. So, that camera right there provides just an excellent view overall of what may come off the external tank and pass in and around the shuttle itself.

BLITZER: John Zarrella is watching all of this unfold.

You have seen a lot of these space shuttles take off. This is so far a beauty. At least it looks like that to me, John. What do you think?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes.

As Commander Ferguson was saying, you are looking down from the external tank, the big orange cylinder down there. And it looks like -- where the connections are to the shuttle, to the space shuttle Endeavour. And we're coming up on the next major milestone is MECO, main engine cutoff, at eight minutes. And what we would see then is literally the separation of the shuttle from that external tank. And you will actually see that when it happens. That's the next major milestone. They will be traveling more than 17,000 miles an hour.

And at that point, Endeavour will be in space and that will come as I'm sure Commander Ferguson can verify at about eight minutes in when you have MECO, main engine cutoff.

BLITZER: We're getting closer to the eight-minute mark.

(CROSSTALK)

ZARRELLA: ... uphill, as they say.

Yes, we're at 4:48, five minutes, coming up on five minutes in, so another three minutes of powered flight on those three main engines that are firing now. And then you will have again main engine cutoff. The tank, which will fall away, is what fuels those main engines.

So, once the tank is gone, that's it, no more power from those main engines. But, at that point, the shuttle Endeavour and the seven-member crew will actually be in space.

And this is the 23rd flight of the shuttle Endeavour and the 29th flight to the International Space Station of a space shuttle. And as they are winding down the space shuttle program here, you are looking at seven flights to go now after this liftoff to complete the International Space Station before September 2010, which is the kind of soft cutoff date but a cutoff date nonetheless for the space shuttle program to come to an end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's supposed to be the last one. We will see if, in fact, that is the case.

Chris Ferguson, you were the commander of the Endeavour the last time it took off back in November of last year. All these steps that are going on right now, are they computerized, do they just happen automatically, or does the commander and his team, are they pushing all sorts of buttons right now?

FERGUSON: No, these are all preprogrammed actions. You can see in that camera that looks back over the orbiter, you see the shadow passing across the bottom. That's actually the orbiter performing a preprogrammed roll to what we call the heads-up attitude.

And the reason we do this is to regain or, should I say, acquire satellite communication. Up to this point, we are communicating through one of the ground sites in Florida. But we roll to the heads- up attitude because we are about to hand the communications and data transfer over through a satellite, the (INAUDIBLE) satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

So, that's why that roll to heads-up. And you may have also seen some of this video that we're seeing from the external tank will begin to get a little teary, a little scratchy because those antennas are beginning to approach the horizon. And we actually begin to lose some of the communication from them.

But we will probably keep the sectional tank antenna here up through main engine cutoff and into perhaps even darkness.

BLITZER: I don't know if you saw it, but it looked like a couple times, there was either some debris or some ice that seemed to move there, Chris Ferguson. Did you -- did you notice anything unusual, or is that just my imagination?

FERGUSON: You may have seen something, Wolf. It is not uncommon to see a little speck or two fly by.

We have very well-trained debris analysis teams who analyze this video. And they will let us know whether it is anything to be concerned of. We are really concerned with kind of a very sensitive period of time there that occurs somewhere between two and three minutes after launch.

It's kind of the debris sensitivity period, if you were, such that that debris could build up enough relative velocity to do any damage. So -- but there is a lot of criteria to meet. And we will know tomorrow, I'm sure, if there is anything of concern. But just to answer your question, I did not see anything.

BLITZER: And did you point out earlier that this new shot that we have from the camera that is up there, that was designed to be able to help NASA appreciate, if, in fact, there was any dangerous debris that might have chipped off parts of the space shuttle?

FERGUSON: Absolutely, Wolf. This was added the post-Columbia timeframe. And we have also added a few other cameras on the solid rocket boosters. But they're recorded on board, so folks, we don't get that video back until after we retrieve those boosters and bring them back to Florida. So, there are several more monitoring techniques to just clear the orbiter and make sure that we haven't incurred any damage.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: It looks like we are actually getting close to MECO here.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, explain what MECO is to our viewers who aren't familiar with the term.

FERGUSON: Sure. It's MECO. It stands for main engine cutoff.

It occurs a little bit after eight minutes of powered flight, when the engines shut themselves down and basically we have exhausted the propellant and we have reached the orbital velocity...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There it is. FERGUSON: Yes. It is about five miles per second. There you see the -- we have actually jettisoned the external tanks. And we're beginning the separate maneuver here.

BLITZER: What happens to that tank after it's separated?

FERGUSON: It's actually not long for the world, Wolf.

It's going to reenter the atmosphere very shortly. And it's going to end up in the Pacific Ocean, oh, in about 15 or 20 minutes.

BLITZER: Already in the Pacific? It just took off at the Atlantic. It's already going to be in the Pacific Ocean, you're saying?

FERGUSON: Yes. Well, it's got a little traveling to do across Europe, across the Indian Ocean. But it will reenter the atmosphere very shortly here.

And, of course, in order to keep the shuttle into orbit, we will light what's called the orbital maneuvering engines here in another about half-hour or so. And they will circularize the orbiter to keep it in space.

BLITZER: How long before the space shuttle actually gets to the International Space Station?

FERGUSON: Well, the crew is going to go to bed here shortly, in about six hours or so. Of course they have a lot of business to attend to, to convert that orbiter into a spacecraft that can be used in space.

They have to stow the suits and stow the seats. Tomorrow, they will wake up and they're going to do a complete head-to-toe inspection using that large inspection boom to take a real good look over the leading edge, the bottom of the orbiter to make sure we didn't incur any damage.

And then finally on the third day, we're going to wake up and we get right into what we call the rendezvous checklist. It's a long series of preprogrammed and manual maneuvers to bring the orbiter into close proximity to the space station, so, in 48 hours time on what we call flight day three, their third full day in space.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, I want to show -- we have got the video of what we suspected was some debris and we have highlighted it. Watch the screen and tell us if you think that was anything serious or not so serious. It just flashed right by. We will cue it up and we will show it to our viewers again.

FERGUSON: Yes, Wolf, I am not going to be able to comment on it. I'm sorry. I am looking at NASA TV.

BLITZER: Oh, you are not seeing CNN right now? FERGUSON: That's true.

BLITZER: John Zarrella, are you seeing CNN? Did you see what we just saw? There it is right there.

ZARRELLA: No. I am seeing NASA TV.

BLITZER: You're seeing NASA TV, too. All right, so, never mind.

(CROSSTALK)

ZARRELLA: Yes, I saw -- I did see it. I did see it, Wolf, as you said, you described it. I saw it when it happened in real time. And I kind of saw the same thing that -- yes, right there, something going by.

And I did see that same thing. I said, hmm, what's that? But it looked like little flakes or specks that were -- yes, right there. It could have been pieces of ice, but I wouldn't want to speculate if -- I'm sure, at the post-launch news conference coming up, we may get some questions about exactly what that might have been that went by.

It could have been a reflection. It looks like it's a reflection, not anything that's actually hitting the vehicle, but something along the side. It almost looks as if that's a reflection against the white...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We have been replaying it. I don't want our viewers to think that it's happened 10 times. It's the same piece of video. It's in a loop. And we have been replaying it to try to appreciate what exactly it was. We are hoping it was obviously nothing.

And at what point, John, do they have that post-launch news conference when the NASA authorities will be able to explain what's going on?

ZARRELLA: It should come up in about 90 minutes, within an hour to 90 minutes after liftoff. They will hold the post-launch newser.

And I'm sure that question is going to be asked. And they may well say, look, as Commander Ferguson was saying, we are going to have to analyze that video, take a look at that, before we can tell you what that is. And then they will look from the other camera angles that they have, some of the video that is stored that will have to be downlinked.

I think Commander Ferguson was mentioning, too, they have got cameras on the boosters, but that was long after the boosters were -- were gone. But they will have other camera angles they will be able to look at as well that were added post-Columbia as well in order to get a handle on what, if anything, that was -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, John Zarrella, watching this for you. Chris Ferguson, thank you to you as well. We are going to stay in close touch with you and with John. So far, everything looks good. We will try to get a better appreciation what, if anything, that little -- it looked like some debris or ice that was flashing across the space shuttle Endeavour. We will try to figure out if it was anything significant or not.

But we will continue to stay on top of this story. Thanks to both of you guys. Deeply appreciate it.

There is the other story that we are watching right here in the nation's capital, right here in Washington, D.C. Just a little while ago, police sealed off entrances to the U.S. Capitol after shots were fired on a nearby street.

We have got on the phone Dale Lanigan of Toledo, Ohio, an eyewitness to what happened.

Dale, tell us what you saw and heard.

DALE LANIGAN, EYEWITNESS: I was walking up -- I guess it's Louisiana Avenue. I'm not sure of the roads, because I'm not from around here.

But I saw a white Mercedes come flying by, oh, maybe about 60 miles an hour, with two cops -- cop cars behind him. It looked like one driver in the car. It looked like he had his left hand on the wheel and he was kind of slouched over. I don't know if he was reaching for anything. But it was not a normal position that a person would be in when they're driving.

He made a quick left-hand turn on to New Jersey Avenue. Oh, maybe about 15 seconds later, I heard five quick shots, and that was it.

BLITZER: And when you say that was it, what happened? The white Mercedes stopped?

LANIGAN: Yes. There were about 20 police cars around it. It sat there for maybe 10, 15 minutes. Nothing much happened. I saw them bring the fellow out of the car, put him in the ambulance, and then there's all kinds of stories now floating around here about what happened to him.

BLITZER: All right, hold on a second, Dale -- Dale Lanigan of Toledo, Ohio, an eyewitness.

Brianna Keilar is our congressional correspondent.

Brianna, you just had a news conference up there with some more information?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

We heard, Wolf, from Sergeant Kimberly Schneider, the information officer for U.S. Capitol Police, that this began as a routine traffic stop, where Capitol Police were just stopping a man in a vehicle, and he essentially fled from them, gave a bit of a chase.

This was about a few blocks, I would say, north of the Capitol. Gave chase in this vehicle, was resisting verbal commands from police officers, at one point, actually struck a police officer, who was injured, and then headed towards the Capitol, ending about a block north from the Capitol.

At this point, the suspect, according to Schneider, got out of the vehicle and pulled out a weapon. Capitol Police, she said, ordered him to put it down. He didn't. And she said they fired. And it is her understanding now that the suspect is dead, Wolf.

BLITZER: The suspect is dead, because, earlier, we had heard that the suspect was taken away in an ambulance.

These are live pictures that are coming in right now from our affiliate WUSA here in Washington, D.C., lots of activity.

And just to be precise, Brianna, you know this area well. New Jersey and Louisiana, that's right on Capitol Hill. That's right near the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.

KEILAR: Yes, this is near the -- this really about a block, not even, north of the Capitol Building itself. It is about a block west of some of the Senate side office buildings. And it's really just steps from what's called Upper Senate Park.

So, this is almost -- it would seem as a tourist that it would seem to be on Capitol grounds between some park area very close to the Capitol, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, Brianna, that the incident is now resolved, it's over with, and they are dealing with the post-incident?

KEILAR: Well, they certainly haven't said there is any other suspect, but there is still a lot of activity going on here, police tape, just dozens and dozens of officers, Wolf, if not more than -- than -- well, I don't want to speculate too much, but, I mean, dozens and dozens, I would say somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to 100, if not more.

BLITZER: And I just want to alert our viewers this incident was taking place just as the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, the confirmation hearings Sonia Sotomayor were wrapping up.

But that was taking place in the Hart Senate Office Building, which is pretty far away from where this chase and incident took place.

In fact, let's walk over to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's over here at the magic wall for us.

You have got the drawings of the U.S. Capitol. A lot of our viewers in the United States and around the world, Tom, have visited the Capitol. Show us where this went down. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're talking about here is, this is the Capitol, Wolf, as you mentioned, right in here, Supreme Court right back here. We had all these events going on today, the Senate end down here.

And if we move this way, toward Union Station...

BLITZER: And those are the Senate office buildings on the right there?

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Senate office buildings right back over here.

If you move this way, toward Union Station, this is all like parkland in here. It's very relaxed and very pretty with trees and everything. This is what we're talking about, this intersection right over here. The distance from here, Wolf, to this end of the Capitol is roughly a quarter-of-a-mile.

And, as best we can tell, from what we are being told by the witnesses there on the ground, this man was headed this way on this street, which, as you know, is a very busy street, a lot of traffic all through here merging in and out going to the Capitol, business here, and people going to Union Station, a very buys train station.

BLITZER: Union Station is the main train station.

FOREMAN: Exactly. And, CNN, where we are right now, is right down this street just a short distance.

Coming down this way and right at this intercession is apparently where it all started coming apart. This is the intercession of D and Louisiana. This is the area we are talking about, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, as Brianna says, police now say they shot and killed this suspect in the white Mercedes after he is said to have brandished or held up a weapon. So, it looks like the incident has now been resolved.

FOREMAN: Sure. And it would have been right on the edge of what any casual viewer would say is the Capitol grounds, because, certainly, if you walk to this side of the street, you are on what you would consider the Capitol grounds. Over here, it's more of a business area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, it's a scare on Capitol Hill. But stuff happens. And we will get more information and bring it to our viewers.

All right, Tom, thanks very much for that.

We will stay on top of this.

We are watching the space shuttle Endeavour. You saw it live, the launch that place over in Florida. We are also going to be bringing you shortly some new video that what we have just received of that infamous Pepsi commercial when Michael Jackson's hair caught fire. We have some shocking video of that accident. Few people have ever seen this video before. We will show it to you, get you all the other news of the day right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

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

Happening now: On day three of her confirmation hearings, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is grilled on abortion, gun control, her wise Latina remarks, and much more. And one of her toughest exchanges is with a Democratic senator. We will tell you what happened.

After a long career in comedy, Al Franken gets down to very serious business as the newest member of the Senate, a look at his road from character Stuart Smalley to Senate Judiciary Committee member.

And the growing speculation on what caused Michael Jackson's death. Was the singer a victim of homicide? All of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Los Angeles police are shooting down reports that investigators are now treating Michael Jackson's death as a homicide. They are telling CNN simply that the case is -- quote -- "ongoing."

Let's bring in "Inside Edition" chief correspondent Jim Moret. He's been on this story from the very beginning.

I want to get to all of that in a moment. But I want to show you and our viewers some video that we have got a clip of from "Us Weekly." It shows Michael Jackson's hair catching fire during the filming back in 1984 of that Pepsi commercial. Let's watch it.

Jim, you are familiar with this. And then we will talk about it -- January 27, 1984. You saw that bald spot. You could clearly see the fire on his hair. It was a very, very sad moment. I have never seen that video before. But give us some context, Jim, because you have covered this story for a long time.

JIM MORET, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "INSIDE EDITION": I actually covered that story. I was a local Los Angeles TV reporter at the time.

Michael Jackson and his brothers were shooting a Pepsi commercial. This, I believe, was on the sixth take of that commercial. And there were pyrotechnics. They went off too early, when he was still at the top of the stairs. They weren't supposed to go off until he was down below. But a spark hit his hair, ignited, and then you saw he was clearly unaware that his hair was on fire for that entire way down the stairs. And then there was a tremendous bald area where the hair and the skin were literally burned off, causing second- and third-degree burns.

And, Wolf, this is significant, first of all, because we have never seen this video before. It has basically been under wraps for some 20, 25 years. But this is the moment, perhaps, that you could look at in Michael Jackson's life as being the beginning of the undoing, because Michael Jackson, as a result of those injuries, needed Demerol for pain.

And we know now that, years later, he became addicted to Demerol. And he admitted himself going into treatment for that. So, when you look back on his life, and certainly in context of his final days, that moment right there was a critical moment in Michael Jackson's life.

BLITZER: Yes, a very sad moment, this happening right around the peak of his career, the "Thriller" album and all of this. And, all of a sudden, he is doing this Pepsi commercial.

And you basically -- and you see that fire of his hair. And he didn't realize it until, obviously, it was way too late.

MORET: And I -- I don't know if you were able to tell, but Miko Brando, who has appeared various nights on "LARRY KING LIVE," talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The son of Marlon Brando.

MORET: Yes. He was the person who actually jumped on Michael Jackson there and with his own hands, tried to put out the fire.

But, clearly, there was so much damage already done. He was in a tremendous amount of pain as a result of that. And we need to, again, stress -- no one sets out to become a drug addict. Certainly, Michael Jackson didn't. He needed Demerol because of the severe pain.

However, as a result of taking the Demerol, he became addicted to it. And that led to a number of problems for the entertainer.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the other story that's out there. Supposedly, the LAPD -- there was a report -- TMZ reporting that they were effectively already assuming this was a homicide investigation, the death of Michael Jackson. Although now LAPD is saying that their investigation is still ongoing and that report may have been premature.

But we've been hearing for days now that there are serious allegations, especially for some of the family members, of foul play.

MORET: There are serious allegations, Wolf. You're right. And the LAPD isn't closing the door on a homicide investigation. They're simply not, at this point, committing to it.

I think we heard very clearly Chief Bratton saying that they're waiting for corroborating evidence from the coroner to determine the cause of death. They're specifically looking at what we've been talking about for days, to see whether Diprivan -- Propofol, was the cause of death. That's a medication that's only used in strategies, in hospitals and clinics, never for private patients and always with an anesthesiologist -- somebody to monitor you.

So if Propofol -- Propofol was the cause of death and it was administered -- administered at his home, they find the doctor who did it, then you may open a homicide investigation or look for foul play, as the family called it.

But the police have not opened the door -- they've opened the door, but they have not yet closed the door to that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will know a lot more -- we believe next week the coroner's office is going to be releasing the toxicology report -- the final determination on the cause of death, is that right?

MORET: Right. The coroner yesterday, when visiting Dr. Arnold Klein's office, said that report should be released. It won't be done piecemeal. They're going to wait for all of the evidence. And, clearly, they're still gathering more evidence. But they will release it, probably midweek, by next week.

BLITZER: So we'll know more.

All right. Jim Moret helping us better appreciate what's going on.

We'll continue our coverage of this with you tomorrow.

Jim, thanks very much.

MORET: Sure.

BLITZER: He's a Republican turned Democrat and Senator Arlen Specter was pretty tough on the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, at her confirmation hearing today. The best political team on television is standing by.

Plus, police called her a person of interest in the murder of a couple with 16 children. Now that person has been located.

How much -- how might -- what might she know about this truly shocking crime?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now the question President Obama didn't ask and the answer Sonia Sotomayor refused to tell the Senate about today -- exactly where does she stand on the issue of abortion rights for women. On this, the third day of her confirmation hearings, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee was grilled on a wide range of topics. We've been covering it live all day here on CNN. We'll resume our coverage when the committee reconvenes at 9:30 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning.

But in the meantime, let's check in with our senior correspondent, Dana Bash.

She watched it all unfold from a unique vantage point today up on the Hill -- Dana, tell our viewers how it went.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was another very long day here. And certainly the judge was asked a lot of questions about a host of issues that she will face, potentially, on the Supreme Court. But we didn't get very many details. The senators certainly tried, though.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: (voice-over): Sonia Sotomayor returned to face a slew of questions on one of the most divisive issues for any Supreme Court nomination -- abortion. Staunchly anti-abortion Tom Coburn, an obstetrician, gave several examples in his search for answers.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Let's say I'm 38 weeks pregnant and we discover a small Spina Bifida sack on the lower sacrum.

Would it be legal in this country to terminate that child's life?

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I can't answer that question in the abstract because I would have to look at what the state of the state's law was on that question.

BASH: Sotomayor deflected a number of attempts to elicit her position on abortion, but did say the White House never asked.

SOTOMAYOR: I was asked no questions by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue.

BASH: It wasn't just anti-abortion conservatives pressing Sotomayor on the issue. Her judicial record reveals so little, that abortion rights activists wanted answers to. The committee's newest Democrat asked perhaps the most specific questions.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Do you believe that this right to privacy includes the right to have an abortion?

SOTOMAYOR: The court has said in many cases -- and as I think has been repeated in the court's jurisprudence in "Casey," that there is a right to privacy that women have with respect to the termination of their pregnancies in certain situations.

BASH: Again, Republicans asked over and over about her "wise Latina" comment, pushing her on what they called contradictions. Her promise is now to strictly follow the law, but half a dozen speeches suggesting her gender and race could lead to better decisions. SOTOMAYOR: My rhetorical device failed. It was a bad choice of words by me, because it left an impression that has offended people and has left an impression that I didn't intend.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, from same-sex marriage to executive power, these questions were asked over and over by senators. They probably knew when they were asking they weren't going to get answers. But still, it did seem to frustrate some veteran senators like Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter, who was hoping that he would at least get some answers to questions.

Even so, Wolf, sources in both parties after this long day, too, say they don't see anything to change what seems to be the inevitable -- that Sonia Sotomayor does seem to be heading for confirmation.

BLITZER: Day two of questioning, day three tomorrow.

Dana will be with us.

Thank you, Dana.

Let's asses how day three in the overall hearings went.

Joining us now, the members of the best political team on television, Gloria Borger, John King and Candy Crowley.

What did you think -- Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I thought she had another day of no fouls. I thought it was -- actually, I thought she showed more personality today, in some ways. I mean she got a little ticked off at Arlen Specter. She laughed with Al Franken. So I -- she seemed more animated and much more at ease today. I think she got, probably, some atta girls last night out of the White House.

And it just felt as though she was more relaxed. It also felt as though we got basically no information. And it also, the steady march toward confirmation is pretty obvious.

BLITZER: Yes. Speaking of Arlen Specter, he praised her at the end of his statement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

BLITZER: But grilled her pretty hard earlier on.

I'll play you a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOTOMAYOR: I know that with some important issues, they want to make sure that there isn't the procedural bar to the case of some type that would take away from whether they're, in fact, doing what they would want to do, which is to (INAUDIBLE)...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, was there a procedural bar?

You've had weeks to mull that over, because I gave you notice.

SOTOMAYOR: Senator, I'm sorry. I -- I did mull this over. My problem is that without looking at a particular issue and considering the cert brief style, the discussion of a potential colleagues as to the reasons why a particular issue should or should not be considered...

SPECTER: Well, I can --

SOTOMAYOR: ...the question about...

SPECTER: Could I answer?

Let me move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He seemed frustrated a few times during the questions in this half hour of Q&A.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt he's going to vote to confirm her?

BORGER: Yes. I -- I think so. But he has some hobby horses here. You know, one is why didn't the Supreme Court take up this case of terrorist surveillance?

Why don't they take more cases?

Why -- why don't they clarify what's the role of Congress versus what's the role of the courts?

And you see him speaking as a senator of many years who has gone up against the court on many issues and is saying to her, look, I'd like, in a way, for the court to be more active -- not necessarily activists, but get to work.

He also mentioned the fact that they take off three months in the summer. And, you know, he'd like to see them take up some more cases.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: -- vacations.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But in the aftermath of the Robert Bork -- unsuccessful confirmation, from Bork's standpoint, all of these nominees who come forward, they try to avoid as much substance as they possibly can. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has been the standard since the Bork nomination, so for two decades now, that they will not answer -- anything they can say, that's a case that could soon be before the court -- anything. Ask them their name and if it's going to be soon before the court, they will say, I can't answer that question.

And on most other pressing legal issues, they say I need to be very careful. The precedent says this.

She did say a couple of times, I have ruled in this particular case and this is what I said in that case. But that doesn't tell you what might come forward.

I thought, Wolf, the most interesting thing today, in the second round, was we saw a number of Republican senators who are inclined to vote against her go back to the same points -- the "wise Latina" speech, gun rights, some of the affirmative action issues -- laying out, essentially making their case that we will see in their press release and their announcement days or a week or so from now, when they say I'm voting against her and here's why.

BLITZER: We also saw Al Franken make his debut as a senator questioner. He's been a senator, what, for about a week right now.

What did you think?

CROWLEY: He seems like a pretty quick study. I thought, off the bat, he said, OK, so it seems like judicial activism, it really means that somebody is going to rule the way you don't want them to. And just, you know, hit it, what's your definition?

Of course, she was unhelpful. He didn't get any more answers out of her than the seasoned veterans. But I think, you know, he said he was coming to Washington to be a normal person, to represent -- and I think he asked normal person questions that if you were watching it, he was accessible in a way some of them citing case law might not have been.

BLITZER: He show a little personality both at the beginning at the and the end, when he cited her love, as a little girl growing up in the Bronx, with Perry Mason. He said you know what, I used to watch that show with my family, as well. I loved Perry Mason, as you do.

BORGER: Right. And so it -- so he sort of struck a nice balance there, because he wasn't afraid to sort of crack a joke. And on the other hand, he was very serious and asked serious questions about, for example, the future of the Internet.

BLITZER: Now, let's look ahead to tomorrow. Tomorrow, Lindsey Graham, in the morning -- they're going to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. We'll have live coverage here on CNN.

He was exciting yesterday in his 30 minutes of questioning. He's going to have another 20 minutes tomorrow. Set the stage for us.

KING: Well, Lindsey Graham -- it was a compelling back and forth, a conversation with Judge Sotomayor yesterday. And Lindsey Graham left some seeds. He planted some seeds -- I want to talk more about abortion, I want to talk more about executive power, I want to talk more about, perhaps, affirmative action.

And he is a potential yes vote. He, like Senator Hatch, is among those who say even if I disagree with you, the president gets to make these picks. Elections have consequences. And he has indicated he is inclined to vote for her even though he disagrees with her on a number of issues.

So I would watch tomorrow to see the tone of his questioning. It will give you a pretty good hint as to whether, like Senator Hatch, you can put Senator Graham in the likely yes vote on the Republican side.

CROWLEY: And there were some pretty strong signals from him outside the hearing room, saying, as you know, as he said before, I think when a president is elected, they should pick a nominee and should get that nominee if they're qualified. And, oh, by the way, it doesn't change the balance of the court.

BLITZER: Do you think anybody's mind has been changed here?

BORGER: I don't think anybody's mind has been changed. But I think, as John is saying, they're laying out their reasons for why they're going to vote the way they're going to vote.

And one interesting thing Lindsey Graham said is, look, her speeches outside the courtroom are edgy. And the reason they're important is they tell us how she really feels when there's no precedent to follow. And the Supreme Court doesn't have precedent sometimes, because it sets precedent.

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: Nobody's mind changing helps her case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

KING: They would like more Republican votes, but they have enough to get her confirmed. I'm sure they'd like to change some Republican minds, but they're doing just fine right now.

BLITZER: They have 60 Democrats, so they're in pretty good shape.

All right, guys, thanks.

We'll see you all back here at 9:30 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning.

BORGER: Bright and early. BLITZER: We'll continue our coverage.

In the meantime, let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thank you, Wolf.

We'll have complete coverage of what has been the third day of Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearing. Republicans say she's failed to provide clear answers to their questions. We'll examine the judge's performance in our face-off debate tonight.

Also, President Obama making a new effort, trying to sell his controversial health care plan. Critics say that plan would lead to crippling new taxes in the midst of recession. Three of the country's best economic thinkers join us here.

We'll have the very latest for you on the investigation into the murder of a Florida couple who adopted special needs children. Police have located a woman who's wanted for questioning. The top law enforcement officer says this is a humdinger. So far, it is proving to be exactly that.

Join us for that story, all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Lou, thank you.

And we're also getting some new details right now into that investigation -- into the murder of that Florida couple who adopted special needs kids. Police say they've located a woman they're calling a person of interest who could provide some significant information about the crime.

Plus, President Obama is taking some heat for his pants -- his choice of jeans, to be exact.

What was he thinking?

CNN's Jeanne Moos is on the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are new developments happening right now in the case of the murder of those parents with 16 kids down in Florida.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera, joining us with the latest -- Ed, what do we know now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, with know that authorities here in Pensacola are interviewing that -- that woman of interest, who they say was the -- perhaps the landlord or dabbled in real estate around here, in the Pensacola area.

Authorities say that she, perhaps, had been in contact with the person that authorities say was the ringleader of the -- of these murders, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. and that Pamela Laverne long had been in touch with him in the days before, and perhaps even the day of the murder.

So because of that, they want to speak with her. They found her shortly -- just a short while after they had announced that they were looking for her. She was found in Orange Beach, Alabama, which I'm told is about 40 miles west of Pensacola.

We were told she was coming back here on -- on her own, driving with her attorney. So we don't know the extent of what has happened during those communications between investigators and her at this point. So we're waiting to hear the details on that.

But the other fascinating thing that we're learning, as even though authorities here are saying that they have found the seven people they believe were on the property the night that the Billings family was killed, that authorities continue to look for people.

And, in fact, now they say they're operating under the theory that perhaps there should have been another person involved whose job it would have been to turn off the surveillance and camera system at the Billings home. And that for some reason, they believe whoever was supposed to have done that backed out of it. They say that these people went to great lengths to practice and rehearse this and they don't understand why those cameras were left intact -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So we're getting more information all the time.

I know you're going to stay on top of it.

Ed, thanks very much.

It's all in the president's jeans -- why fashion experts say, though, he struck out at the All Star game last night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the blogs, he got hit up immediately -- mom jeans.

ROBERT VERDI CELEBRITY STYLIST: They're mom jeans. Yes, for sure.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of today's Hot Shots.

On the Black Sea, U.S. sailors and Georgian Coast Guard crews do training exercises.

In Afghanistan, vendors wait for customers as they sell bread.

In Belarus, a new army recruit is tossed into the air at a draft center. And in Philadelphia, check it out -- a newborn baby sloth spends time with his -- its mother over at the zoo. Wow!

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

President Obama knows how to sport a suit. But in denim, maybe not so dapper.

CNN's Jeanne Moos on a Moost Unusual flap that's going on right now over the president's jeans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOOS (voice-over): When President Obama threw out the first pitch the other night, he already had one strike against him.

VERDI: They're way too short.

MOOS: Not his pitch

VERDI: And these look frumpy.

MOOS: Not his wind up.

VERDI: It looks like he's got two big tree trunk legs.

MOOS: Critics summed it up in two words -- mom jeans: "a sweet pair of mom jeans,"

"nice mom jeans, Obama."

OK, so a couple of blogs called them dad jeans. But for the most part...

VERDI: They're mom jeans. Yes, for sure.

MOOS: The kind of high-waisted jeans mocked by "Saturday Night Live".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY SNL/BROADWAY VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Introducing mom jeans. You'll love the nine inch zipper and casual front pleats. Give her something that says I'm not a woman anymore, I'm a mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Mom jeans even have a song dedicated to them.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The attack on the president's jeans brought out defenders: "love it," "perfect," "he is adorable," "they're pants, who cares?"

The Huffington Post did a poll of its generally Obama friendly readers, who voted overwhelming for "he looks super cool."

But don't tell that to a celebrity stylist.

VERDI: They're terrible. There's nothing modern about them.

MOOS: Robert Verdi is a huge Obama fan.

(on camera): But this isn't the first time that President Obama has been accused of wearing the dreaded mom jeans.

(voice-over): There was the time back during the campaign when he went bike riding in a helmet and jeans. And some speculated that he was trying to look nerdy to combat the charge of elitism.

The last time we heard such a chorus of mom jeans mockery, it was directed at Jessica Simpson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jessica Simpson and her mom jeans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mom jean controversy exploded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A serious pair of mom jeans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jessica, do you regret wearing those mom jeans pants?

MOOS: Somehow, we doubt the president regrets not wearing designer jeans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to know what becomes between me and my Calvins?

Nothing.

MOOS: Yes. Well, let's keep what comes between the president and his mom jeans a state secret.

Jeanne Moos...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...CNN...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...New York.

(VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: The pitch wasn't so great, but at least he reached the catcher at the All Star game last night.

Let me just recap. Tomorrow morning, 9:30 a.m. Eastern, we'll be back here. We'll have live coverage of what is expected to be the final round of questioning by U.S. senators of Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 9:30 a.m. Eastern -- our coverage will continue then.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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