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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama to Address Nation on Health Care Reform

Aired July 22, 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: This number is worth repeating over and over again. About 46 million Americans or more don't have medical insurance. And even some who do have insurance are going broke when they get sick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOLLY SECOURS, CANCER SURVIVOR: I bought the insurance with a major carrier, and still it wasn't enough to prevent me from nearly losing my home. And now that very same policy has doubled, and I am terrified to get another one, because I know that, now that I have cancer, I'm a marked woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bringing it back down to the stakes here in Washington, nothing less than the future of the Obama presidency may be on the line right now.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Ed, first to you. We are learning the president has been on the phone. He is trying to work some sort of deal, obviously the stakes enormous. What can he say tonight to turn things around in his favor?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House aides say more than anything, this president will try to exude confidence. We have just gotten our hands on some of the excerpts of the remarks he will make at the beginning.

One thing he says is -- quote -- "We will do it this year." He wants to show that amid the naysayers, the critics, he still believes this will get done in the next few months. How does he plan to do it? He's going to try to lay out to the American people, look, it has been confusing. There's a House bill. There's a Senate bill. There's another Senate bill, try to cut through all that noise and say, here is the bottom line, how it matters to you.

If we don't act, there's going to be 14,000 Americans every day losing their insurance. He's going to try to say, if we do act and you have insurance right now, it's going to become more stable. He's also going to try to point out, no longer will insurance companies be able to prevent coverage for preexisting conditions. Show the stakes for the American people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, what can the president say tonight that's going to ease the concerns of some of his fellow Democrats who are getting nervous?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you what the senators in these bipartisan talks working on a compromise don't want to hear from the president. They don't want to hear demands or a deadline to hurry up, because they say they know what he wants, expanded coverage, lower medical costs and something that is actually paid for.

And these senators say they agree. But to get something that can actually pass Congress, it just takes time. And they say they are just working on it. But outside of this room, Wolf, and, inside, the Democratic leadership, the president's own Democratic leadership, we are hearing from the sources that they want to hear more from the president than just -- quote -- "rhetoric." They want him to come forward with concrete proposals on what is vexing them, like how to pay for this reform.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much. Ed Henry, thanks to you as well. Don't go away.

We expect the president to get bombarded with questions about health care reform. No doubt about that. But guess what? That may not necessarily be his main focus tonight. I e-mailed a top White House official and asked what is the most important message the president wants to send to the American public tonight? Here is the answer that I received.

And I'm quoting now. "This is a six-month report card, actions to stabilize the economy and next steps in rebuilding for the recovery."

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, now says she may keep the House in session past its scheduled summer break to vote on health care reform. We still have no firm idea on what the final package will look like. But we have been asking some of the best minds at CNN to give us their take on what you stand to gain or lose.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

You have been studying this, the pros and the cons.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.

Here is a quick look at some of the positive and negative potentials from the health care reform. The pros, first of all, it should control costs if we get reform. Your health records also should be instantly accessible to doctors no matter where you have. And in theory, there should be less paperwork, which we would all love.

But on the downside, of course, someone is going to have to pay for this, so look to higher taxes or higher premiums for some folks. And then of course some people will have to pay insurance penalties if you don't sign up for that insurance. So, we are going to talk further about this a little bit later when we take our political time- out, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will be ready for that. Jessica, thanks very much.

You could call this ground zero in the health care debate right now. Democrat Max Baucus tells our Dana Bash that President Obama is pleased with the progress he and his Senate colleagues are making behind closed doors.

Here is a taste of some of the drama playing out today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What you see behind me, the office of Senator Max Baucus. He is the Democratic Finance chairman. It's effectively a political bombshell.

Senator, the president has a press conference tonight. A big part of is -- you're live, Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He will be back?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be back.

BASH: A big part of it, sir -- thank you -- is to pressure you, to pressure Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no, no, no.

BASH: You are not feeling pressure from the White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not. I'm not. No, I'm not.

One of three Republicans in that room has pulled out of the talks. That Republican is Orrin Hatch of Utah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Hey, Steny. How are you?

He is very pleased with my progress report, very pleased.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Another major story unfolding right now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on damage control after scaring a lot of people in Israel.

In an interview, she described how the United States would protect its Persian Gulf allies from Iran -- and I am quoting now -- "once they" -- she is referring to Iran -- "have a nuclear weapon." A top Israeli official, Dan Meridor, says it sounds as though the U.S. in his words has already come to terms with a nuclear Iran.

Oops.

Secretary Clinton quickly backed down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran needs to understand that its pursuit of nuclear weapons will not advance its security or achieve its goals of enhancing its power both regionally and globally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In Iran right now, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is showing rare defiance against his strongest backer.

Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly ordered Ahmadinejad to fire his choice for vice president, but Ahmadinejad is refusing.

Outside the United States right now, a hunger strike is under way, a show of support for Iran's opposition movement.

CNN's Reza Sayah is there to explain what the leadership dispute in Iran really means -- Reza.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this means, for the first time, we are seeing cracks among hard-liners and conservatives.

In the past, we have seen reformists and so-called moderates take on the hard-liners. But we have never seen hard-liners take on one another. And that appears to be what's happening. The controversy surrounding Rahim Mashai, the man President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed vice president last week, Ahmadinejad's son is married to his daughter. But that's not the problem.

The controversy came about last year when Mashai said Iranians are friends with everyone, including Israelis. The hard-liners didn't like that. Now they are calling for his resignation, which doesn't look good for the Ahmadinejad administration.

In the meantime, in New York, a three-day hunger strike by Iranian exiles who are trying to put the pressure on Iranian leadership to free hundreds of detainees arrested after the controversial election on June 12 -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Reza, thanks very much. What's happening in Iran by no means over at all.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has got "The Cafferty File."

It's dramatic, this situation in Iran. And we don't know what the end result, Jack, is going to be.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, we don't. But my guess is that thing has got a long way to run before it is over. I was thinking the same thing when you said it.

President Obama will hold his fourth prime-time news conference tonight, after just six months in office. For the record, that's the same number that former President George W. Bush held in eight years.

As this president takes his pitch for health care directly to the American people, much like he did for the economic stimulus package, some are wondering if we are seeing too much President Obama. Politicos suggest the challenge for the White House in the coming weeks will be to not overuse the president.

And it is not just news conferences. President Obama has held more than a dozen town hall meetings in eight states, along with one in France, you will recall. He has also been out with major addresses on everything from the economy, to detainees, torture policy, Iraq, America's relations with the Muslim world and on and on. In fact, hardly a day goes by that President Obama isn't on television talking about something.

By one count, President Obama has given more interviews to television networks than any recent president at this point in his first term. The risk, of course, is that people will begin to tune him out.

When asked about the president's nine health care speeches in nine days, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said -- quote -- "I don't think he can probably say enough" -- unquote.

Well, that will be for the American people to decide. The president's approval ratings have begun to trend down and are now at the lowest point of his presidency, 56 percent.

Here's the question. Does President Obama risk overexposure in the media? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Trending down, you're absolutely right -- 56 percent, though, not too bad.

CAFFERTY: Oh, no.

BLITZER: Not 60 or 65, but 56 is pretty good.

CAFFERTY: Well, and I think the outcome of this health care debate is going to have a lot to do with how he is viewed going into the next three years of his first term. He could be in some trouble on this one.

BLITZER: Yes, you are right. All right, Jack, thank you. Imagine being 26 years old and working for the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN LEWIS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS ASSISTANT: Because I didn't know I could actually walk through the gates of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian inside the White House behind the scenes with the young, black and powerful members of the president's staff.

And outrage over the arrest of a black Harvard University professor. He calls it a clear-cut case of racial profiling. Now hear what people across the country are saying.

And a SITUATION ROOM investigation -- terrorists recruiting young Americans to help them. Rudy Giuliani tells me what he thinks the U.S. should do about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Only here on CNN, it's a whole new image for a commander in chief. He's young, he shoots hoops and of course he's African-American.

And inside the Obama White House, it's a whole new world for young people on the president's staff.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, went one on one with some of them -- Dan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from the president on down, African-Americans are playing key roles in this White House, whether it is helping to push health care reform or education or urban issues.

Some have been around Washington for quite some time. Others are in the freshman class.

(voice-over): They help manage the message and the policies of the president, hard-driving staffers fueled by coffee and soda.

(on camera): And so that's the fuel? Is that the fuel?

KAREN RICHARDSON, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: This is the fuel, like, instead of coffee.

LOTHIAN: No one at the White House dwells on the issue of race, but it's hard to ignore the obvious, young African-Americans who are now on the inside. RICHARDSON: Now that I am here, it's a little surreal, and it is an extraordinary honor, but it is something that you definitely don't take for granted.

LOTHIAN: Karen Richardson, who has been focused on health care for the Office of Public Engagement, is 30 years old. Press assistant Kevin Lewis is 26. And Michael Strautmanis, Valerie Jarrett's chief of staff, is 40 years old.

As I went behind the scenes, I found loyal aides who have a sense of pride and purpose.

MICHAEL STRAUTMANIS, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I read all the time about the African-Americans who have had a chance to participate in history. And it seems like the people that have made the most impact have connected with something beyond themselves.

LOTHIAN: This is their connection. And Lewis has seen firsthand what that can mean, especially to older blacks he meets on the street.

KEVIN LEWIS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS ASSISTANT: It's almost like they take -- like they adopt me. They're like, well, their son is there. Someone they know is there.

LOTHIAN: Lewis, who was raised by a single mother in Brooklyn, New York, joined the Obama campaign five days before it officially launched. He rode the wave to the White House and was still pinching himself on his first day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

LEWIS: Because I didn't know I could actually walk through the gates of the White House. I walked through the gate, and I couldn't stop smiling.

LOTHIAN: Richardson's journey to the White House began with an internship offer in then Senator Obama's Washington office.

(on camera): And did you know anything about Barack Obama at that point?

RICHARDSON: No. He was the guy with Kenyan roots.

LOTHIAN: Strautmanis shares the president's love for basketball, and, as I found out during a shoot-around in his office, plays a mean defense.

STRAUTMANIS: You need a little defense, man. Need a little defense.

LOTHIAN: He met the first couple in Chicago when he was a paralegal and they were engaged. Now, this lawyer is on the inside looking out and taking friends and family along for the ride.

STRAUTMANIS: You can imagine, to call your family members from Air Force One. They are usually so stunned, they really even don't know what to say.

LOTHIAN: All of these White House aides could make a lot more money doing something else. Instead, they are cashing in on history.

LEWIS: You can't really put a price on what I'm doing now. And you can't put a price on what it represents.

LOTHIAN (on camera): All three of the people we profiled said that they are using this platform to mentor other young people, to give speeches about how they got here, a chance, said one of them, to show how, with hard work, the options and possibilities in life are limitless -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

We are counting down to the premiere of a new installment of CNN's groundbreaking report "Black in America."

People right now are gathering in Times Square for a special preview that will begin at the top of the hour, less than an hour from now.

We are joined now by two special guests taking part in the discussion in Times Square, the comedian D.L. Hughley, and Bev Smith, the radio talk host.

Guys, thanks very much.

We are really looking forward to what you are going to do in the next hour.

But let's talk, first of all, Bev, about the reaction you are hearing from your listeners all over the country to the arrest of the Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates. What are folks saying?

BEV SMITH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: We are outraged. We are outraged that an intellectual -- and that's Henry Gates is. Henry is known all over the world as one of the talented 10th.

And, a matter of fact, not only he is one of the talented 10th, but he has become a geneticist. He is not unknown in his community, nor is he unknown by the police department. My listeners, we're calling the police department and registering our outrage. We cannot have our leadership treated in such a way. So, we are outraged. But we are not surprised, Wolf. We are not surprised.

BLITZER: You know, D.L., the police dropped all the charges and they are trying to make it clear nothing is going forward.

Do they owe him, though, an apology?

D.L. HUGHLEY, COMEDIAN: Well, ultimately, even if you buy the fact that they were acting in good faith and were, you know, investigating what looked like to be a suspicious break-in, after that, once he identified himself, there was no need to kind of do what they did.

And I think that they -- obviously, they owe him an apology. But I think things like this have a way of eroding all the positive things that have happened. And I think that people are certainly disturbed. And also people throw their hands up and kind of go, things never make that much significant change.

And I just think it was just a dumb -- once he identified himself, it should have been over at that point. I don't understand how it escalated to that point.

BLITZER: It did certainly escalate.

I have been asking a lot of our guests and I'm going to ask you, D.L., have you ever been what you would consider to be racially profiled?

(LAUGHTER)

HUGHLEY: It would be easier to tell you how many times it happened.

Growing up, ultimately, growing up, my father had that conversation with me about how to interact when the police stop you. And I have had it with my son. And, hopefully, it will stop when my son goes to have that conversation with his son. But that's kind of just the reality.

And I think the younger you are -- I lived in an urban community. I grew up in Los Angeles. And it was a constant thing. And you never really knew where it was coming from. But, as you get older, you understand that those things are a reality, and you can't necessarily not be prepared to face those situations. So, it was always -- it was a very -- it was a constant thing.

BLITZER: Racial profiling, Bev, has been around for a long time. But based on everything you see and hear -- and I know you got your ear to a lot of listeners out there -- is the situation for African- Americans getting better?

SMITH: No, absolutely not.

D.L. and I had a little bit of disagreement on some points around what happened to Skip, because the people in the community where Skip lived for a very long time knew who he was.

BLITZER: Skip, just to tell our viewers, is Henry Louis Gates, the eminent professor.

SMITH: Yes, the eminent professor. And the people knew who he was.

And let me make this also clear, having lived in an all-white community in Rockville, Maryland, in Montgomery County. The white police officers know who the blacks are in their community. They knew that professor Gates lived in that home, just like when I lived in Rockville in Flower Valley, they knew who I was living in the home. So, if a report came out, they would approach it differently as they do when there are reports of a suspicious-looking white character around a house. So, I don't think it's getting any better.

As a matter of fact, I think what's happening is people find themselves freer to make statements that we totally find unfavorable. And I think you are going to see a new kind of movement as was discussed last week right here in New York for the NAACP. We might have to go back to the streets. We might have to go back to the ballot box for those people who are working against us. We cannot allow this to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: D.L., hold your thought. You guys are going to have the whole hour coming up at the top of the hour. We are going to leave it right here.

But we're looking forward to hearing a lot more.

Remember, our special coverage begins tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right at the top of the hour. "Moment of Truth" we are calling it, our countdown to "Black in America 2," which concludes Henry Louis Gates' first television interview. Soledad is doing that interview. And it's all followed by President Obama's news conference at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And then join us at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for the first night of "Black in America 2," a special event right here on CNN.

One senator calls it dangerous policy. Others call it a constitutional right. Should Americans be allowed to carry concealed weapons over state lines? There was a major vote on that today. You are going to find out what happened.

And a new development in the mysterious disappearance of an American soldier now in the hands of the enemy in Afghanistan -- exactly what happened and how was he captured?

And it is the biggest terror investigation since 9/11 here in the United States, young Americans vanishing from their homes, ending up dead in another country. Tonight, Rudy Giuliani weighs in right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The FBI says they have never dealt with anything like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, somebody must have put something in his mind. He must have been somewhat disillusioned and indoctrinated, because he didn't have any clue about Somalia at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Young men recruited to fight for a terrorists group are now dying. Brian Todd with a CNN investigation.

Plus, we are about an hour-and-a-half away from President Obama's prime-time White House news conference. We are taking a closer look at some blunders past presidents have made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Anything you would like to say to Monica Lewinsky at this minute?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's good.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're counting down to President Obama's news conference about 90 minutes or so from now. It will be another chance to promote health care reform to the American people and to some wary members of his own party.

Jessica Yellin is back, along with the best political team on television.

Jessica, the president doesn't necessarily need Republicans to go along. He needs Democrats. What is happening with these Democrats?

YELLIN: The problem for the president right now, Wolf, is that his party is like a dysfunctional family. Let's think of it, for the sake of this, like a Thanksgiving dinner. And, clearly, they are not vegans.

OK, so we're going to ask, what's this food fight all about? Democrats are trying to figure out the right ingredients for a health care overhaul. Should it include higher taxes on some people, maybe some new taxes on employers? What's the best way to trim medical costs? I guess that's pumpkin pie.

And should a government-run insurance option cover every conceivable medical condition or are there some it should not? It is all on the table. And in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi cannot get deficit-conscious Blue Dog Democrats to support the bill. They are worried about how much it costs, any of the bills, in fact.

And, in the Senate, well, Max Baucus, the senator you see over there, he is the main guy who is now trying to pass a version of this bill that could get some bipartisan support. But, because of all these disagreements, Democrats have at least four different versions of the bill out there. That's like four different recipes, and they cannot get cooking until they settle on one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Cooking is a good word.

All right, Gloria Borger is here. David Frum is here, the former speechwriter for the Bush White House. Nia-Malika Henderson is here as well from Politico.com.

What is the -- let me ask you the blunt question. Are the Democrats messing up the president?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: They are doing him a lot of harm. They are doing -- they did him harm in round one.

I keep thinking we are dealing a lot with the hangover from the stimulus. That's one of the reasons why these debt questions are so terrifying. But it's the same kind of cram-down.

Nancy Pelosi gave an interview to "The Washington Post" today in which she said: We don't need Republicans. We're going to shove it down their throats.

That's not the quote, but that's the intent. And that contradicts the spirit of the Obama presidency. And it also leaves him dangerously exposed.

BLITZER: Gloria?

BORGER: But, you know, it's not about the president, it's about them. It's about the Democrats. It's about getting reelected. You have these conservative Democrats who come from conservative districts, Wolf, and they cannot go back home with large tax increases. They're going to have a very difficult time selling it. So they're all thinking about 2010 right now.

But, in the end, I've got to believe that they're going to consider it in their own self-interests to work with a popular president to get something done.

BLITZER: Because, Nia-Malika, the White House released an advanced -- an advanced text of some of what the president is going to say in his opening comments, before he starts taking questions. Among others things in these excerpts, he says: "I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to go for the kill."

Another Republican Senator, the president will say, said that: "Defeating health reform is about breaking me. So let me be clear. This isn't about me."

He's trying to take the big picture and show that this is about health -- health care in America. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly. And tonight what we'll see him do is really kind of try to ground this around people's kitchen tables and essentially explain to -- to folks what this means for them, that they're going to save money on their premiums if they have health insurance. And if they don't, he's going to figure out a way to get them this health insurance. So that's what we'll hear him say tonight.

BLITZER: But this will...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, make your point.

FRUM: But then he needs to release a couple of his ideological prejudices. He needs to get rid of the surtaxes and he needs to get rid of the government plan. Those are the two...

BORGER: I'll tell you...

FRUM: The two things that make this ideological, not national.

BORGER: You know, I talked to the White House today. The president is not going to give that away tonight. He's going to -- he's going to continue to meet privately with folks. He met with these Democrats for 90 minutes the other day. But he's not going to cook that until he needs to.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold on for a second. I want to go back to Jessica.

This will be the president's fifth solo news conference -- his fourth in prime time. We have yet to see him truly flummoxed by a question, but you never know when he might get a curveball, do we -- Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you know it better than most. It happens to every president. Each has gotten a stumper that's both revealing and a little embarrassing.

Now, first, you might remember when our last president was asked to name a mistake he's made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer. But it hasn't yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Now, Papa Bush also flailed when asked how the deficit would affect him personally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I'll try to answer it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: And then, Wolf, this one, of course, should be familiar to you, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What, if anything, you'd like to say to Monica Lewinsky at this minute?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's good.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Quite a reaction, Wolf.

I guess we'll see if we get a stumper tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see.

Just -- Gloria, what would you ask the president?

BORGER: Well, I don't think I'd -- a stumper like, like yours, I cannot match, Wolf. And I don't think he's going to answer any questions directly on health care reform and what -- what's in and what's out.

So a couple of little things. I'd like to get his take on the Henry Louis Gates story. I'd like to see what he thinks about that.

I'd also like to say to him, assuming Iran is still going forward with its nuclear program, are we still going to negotiate and with whom?

BLITZER: What would you ask the president?

FRUM: I think I would be tempted to ask, Mr. President, half a dozen years ago, your predecessors and advisers took out their chalkboard and figured out that the Iraq War wasn't going to cost the U.S. any money. Now your advisers are saying your health care reform is going to save the United States money.

Why should we believe that your math is better than your predecessor's?

BLITZER: Nia-Malika?

HENDERSON: I think I'd raise the issue of transparency. He, on the campaign trail, promised that all of these discussions about health care would be aired on C-SPAN and that hasn't happened. And a group has even asked that they release some of the -- the visitor logs for the folks who have been meeting on health care. And they've refused to do that. So I'd raise that issue.

BLITZER: And there's going to -- do you think there's going to be a surprise question in there some place in the course of an hour -- an hour news conference?

BORGER: I know Ed Henry is working on it right now.

FRUM: I think it's surprise answers we're looking for, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I think the key is for a lot of these reporters to throw away the questions they've come in with, to listen to what the president says and if there's a -- if there's a demand to follow-up with a good follow-up question, to go ahead and press the president, because in these news conferences, you know, you just ask a question and you sit down.

The president answers -- may not necessarily even answer the question, but then they move on to the next question. And the key is to listen and to follow up if they want to. That's my recommendation.

Guys, thanks very much.

We're counting down to the president's prime time news conference. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Join me, along with Anderson Cooper, full coverage right here on CNN.

Immediately after President Obama speaks, don't miss "Black In America 2," the first of this two night event. It starts tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right after the news conference.

Young men vanish from an American city and end up dead a world away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OMAR JAMAL, SOMALIA JUSTICE ADVOCACY CENTER: All of these kids missing. And they all have one thing in common. They all participated in youth programs in that mosque.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Young Americans joining a terrorist group -- our Brian Todd travels to Minneapolis to uncover what's going on in tonight's SITUATION ROOM investigation.

Plus, I'll speak with the man who oversaw the response to the biggest terror attack in American history -- the former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, on what we can do to prevent another attack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Almost eight years after 9/11, they're still out there. Terrorists are being trained and recruited from places such as Baghdad and Kabul. And now they're being recruited in, of all places, Minneapolis -- right in the heartland of America.

Let's bring in our own Brian Todd.

He's just back from Minneapolis with a very disturbing story and some disturbing images -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. An FBI official tells me they have never dealt with anything like this.

What started out as a couple of simple missing persons cases has evolved into what authorities are calling one of the most significant anti-terrorism investigations inside the U.S. since 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Jamal Bana was the kind of son a modest immigrant family pins its hopes on -- 20 years old, the oldest of seven, a college student studying engineering -- preparing to live the American dream. Then last fall, his family says, suddenly, with no warning, he disappeared. A few days later, the phone rang. A local community activist translates for the boy's mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he said I'm in Somalia and hung up the phone.

TODD: Somalia -- violent and deeply poor, was the place Jamal's family had fled in hopes of building a better life. Now, he was mysteriously back there.

Why?

Through short, fitful communications, in which Jamal always sounded guarded, the family came to believe this is what he was caught up in -- a vicious, chaotic civil war between Somalia's government and a terrorist group called al-Shabaab, linked to al Qaeda. Family and friends believe Jamal was recruited to fight with al-Shabaab.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Omar Boley, a close family friend, says then came another contact earlier this month and the shock they never dreamed possible.

(on camera): So his father wakes up Saturday morning and someone has told him that there's a picture of his son.

What happened?

OMAR BOLEY, BANA FAMILY FRIEND: Yes, to the Internet. And he was really upset. And when he saw...

TODD: Jamal Bana.

BOLEY: That's Jamal Bana, yes. TODD: (voice-over): Pictures posted on the Internet show a man with a fatal bullet wound to the head, the same man being carried through the streets of Mogadishu. The parents believe this is Jamal. The circumstances of his death are unclear. His mother, still barely able to talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KARE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And somebody must have put something in his mind. He must have been somewhat disillusioned and indoctrinated, because he didn't have any clue about Somalia at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Who convinced Jamal Bana to go to Somalia?

An FBI official tells me the Bureau is investigating what appears to be a substantial recruiting effort by that terrorist group, al- Shabaab, in immigrant communities across the US. More than a dozen young men of Somali dissent have disappeared from the Minneapolis area alone in recent months. At least three, including Jamal Bana, have wound up dead in Somalia. There was also Shirwa Ahmed, who blew up himself and 29 others last fall -- the first ever suicide bombing by a naturalized U.S. citizen. And just weeks ago, community activist Abdirizak Bihi lost his 17-year-old nephew, Burhan Hassan.

(on camera): Do you know about their methods?

How do they do this?

Do they come in and talk to these young men inside the mosque outside?

Do they call them on cell phones?

Do they kidnap them?

ABDIRIZAK BIHI, NEPHEW KILLED IN SOMALIA: They kidnap them in the sense of mental kidnapping, not physically. But they play a role of a male role, a mentor.

TODD: (voice-over): Bihi, community leader Omar Jamal and others say they hold one place at least loosely responsible.

JAMAL: All of these kids missing, they all have one thing in common. They all participated in youth programs in that mosque.

TODD: (on camera): This is just a leafy working class street in Minneapolis. It seems like an unlikely setting for it. But some community leaders say that this is the center of the recruiting effort to send those young men to Somalia, the Abubakar As-Siddique Islamic Center. And we have not been allowed to film inside, but we did catch up to the imam of this mosque at another institution where he works.

They are saying that your mosque is responsible, that you allowed, at the very least, people to come in and recruit these young men to leave and go fight with the militants.

What's your response?

SHEIKH ABDIRAHMAN SHEIKH OMAR AHMED, IMAM, ABUBAKAR AS-SADDIQUE ISLAMIC CENTER: That is -- that is a baseless accusation, clearly. The mosque -- the mission of the mosque is a -- to worship. It's a worship place. And people come to worship and go. We don't have any control over what comes to everybody's mind or ideology.

TODD: (voice-over): Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar Ahmed says at least two of the young men who died did worship at his mosque. But he says no recruiters came around. His mosque does not support al- Shabaab and he says he's encouraged local families to keep their sons from going to Somalia. The imam has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

Federal authorities made their first arrest in the case, charging Salah Osman Ahmed and Abdifatah Yusuf Isse with providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure people overseas.

CNN could not reach Ahmed's attorney. Published reports indicate he planned to plead not guilty.

The other suspect, Isse, has pleaded guilty to at least one count, providing material support, and is cooperating with federal authorities.

And this may be just beginning. In court papers obtained by CNN, his attorney says, Mr. Isse will be the last defendant indicted -- cold comfort for families to fled violence and terrorism only to find it followed them.

(on camera): How do you think his family will do from here?

And he was the oldest.

BOLEY: Tough. The last time you were with -- with me and we went home. And she doesn't want to hear this story again because she told me whenever I see someone who is talking about my son, I feel bad. I cannot sleep. I get sick. So this happened. There's nothing I can do. We pray for him. That's what she says. And I that's what I believe.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, a man closely associated with the war against terrorism, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

Tom Foreman is here.

We're going to continue this discussion.

But Brian Todd, excellent reporting you've done. And you're getting new information on how these guys actually, what, went over to Somalia?

TODD: That's right. We spoke to a local travel agent in Minneapolis. We were asked not to give this agent's name or the name of the business, Wolf.

This person says that one of the young men who died traveled from Minneapolis to Nairobi, Kenya on November 4th of last year. This agent says that agency sold tickets to at least two of the young men who died. He is -- this agent has seen a pattern of young men flying to -- from Minneapolis to either Nairobi or to Dubai and the UAE, paying about $1,800 in cash per ticket.

Now, from one of those two cities, this agent says, they make their way to Mogadishu on a Somalia carrier named Da'allo Airlines. But this is essentially the pattern that this agent has noticed in their travel.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Brian, one of the things that is raised by this, obviously, one of the big fears is if they can go this way in this fashion, what is to keep any of these young men, after being indoctrinated or joining such a movement, from coming back here?

TODD: That is a real concern. An FBI official told me flat out, they cannot rule out -- the bureau cannot rule out the possibility that these young men, when they're trained in Somalia, could come back to the United States and conduct a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Many of them have U.S. passports.

BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, I'm anxious to get your thoughts, as someone who was intimately involved in battling terrorists.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Sure. Well, I mean, that's the way the attack in London took place on July 7 of 2005. Coincidentally, I happened to be there, a half a block away. So I got involved in all the information about it.

They were -- if I recall correctional, they were English citizens. They were citizens of the U.K. They had gone to Pakistan or Afghanistan for training and then came back, because it was easy for them to come back.

FOREMAN: And, in many ways, the attackers that you dealt with on 9/11...

GIULIANI: Right.

FOREMAN: -- were people who were sent here...

GIULIANI: Right.

FOREMAN: -- in seemingly benign form -- traveling. And they settled in. And then these people...

GIULIANI: Perpetrated this (INAUDIBLE). But what -- what they did in the U.K. was, they just added -- I know this is a bad word -- but they added to their profile. So all of a sudden, they started looking at people that were going back to Pakistan -- people who were traveling over recent months back there. And so they tried to add to their, at least, set of facts that they used, this new piece of information, which, hopefully, the FBI will do. And if they have somebody cooperating already, they at least have a -- a nice leg up trying to figure this out and (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And what is so worrisome is the recruiting methods -- if they can get to these guys, you know, and sort of brainwash them to -- to fly over there to begin with.

GIULIANI: And think of it as a cult. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) these parents, it's like -- it's like the cults that would get control of their teenage children and take them off on some camp somewhere.

FOREMAN: So having dealt with this directly on your city on this terrible, terrible day, talk to us about the tools that you think we need now to stop this.

What are we missing (INAUDIBLE)?

GIULIANI: Well, always the most important think you need is information. I mean the -- the thing we lacked -- the government lacked on September 11 was enough information about these organizations.

The fact that the FBI is in there already investigating has -- apparently hasn't cooperated...

BLITZER: Right.

GIULIANI: ...it's going to help.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: -- information gathering technical ability grown better or worse since then?

GIULIANI: Well, it's grown more sensitive. Better. It's grown better, much more able to focus on these things, much more aware of it, much more international cooperation. Even with whatever political breakdowns happen, the cooperation with the U.K., the cooperation with Germany, the cooperation with France much, much better than it has been in the past.

FOREMAN: What else, very quickly?

What are some other items we need more of?

GIULIANI: We need electronic surveillance. It's part of information. But when you -- part of what the FBI does is if you have an informant and you have information, you're going to turn that into -- you're going to turn that into wiretaps. You're going to turn it into trying to get into the organization; ultimately, trying to infiltrate the organization itself. That's the best way to -- that's the best way to break it up. And then an understanding of what's going on over there, as well as what's going on over here. This is being exported and imported back and forth, as you pointed out. So we're going to have to have a lot of presence over there and try to find out what's going on within those organizations.

BLITZER: Intelligence is a priority...

GIULIANI: And then educating...

BLITZER: ...number one.

GIULIANI: And then educating the families. I mean the most heartbreaking part of this is it appears as if these families don't want this. This is not -- this is not -- you would think this was happening, you know, in some parts of the Middle East. This training takes place in the mosque, in the family. Here, this is -- and this is the good part of it, at least from the point of view of America -- this does not appear to be happening in the family. This is happening external to the family. So more awareness of it by families can -- can help.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much, as usual.

GIULIANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Brian, excellent reporting.

FOREMAN: Yes, thanks.

GIULIANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hard to believe this kind of stuff is going on in Minnesota and elsewhere, presumably, as well.

Tom Foreman, thanks to you, as well.

Little more than an hour to go before the president's prime time news conference.

But is President Obama risking overexposure?

Jack Cafferty and your e-mail -- that's coming up.

And all across Asia today, the sky became dark -- tonight's Hot Shots.

And we're only minutes away from "Moment of Truth" -- the countdown to "Black In America 2".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File -- Jack. CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, does President Obama risk overexposure in the media?

He's going on the air here in a little over an hour for a prime time news conference. He will have held more of them in six months -- or as many as President Bush did in eight years.

Mitzi in Georgia writes: "I'm happy to hear the president give me an update. We went eight years with nary a nod from the former president, unless you were a Republican supporter. I happen to think the president owes us his time and an explanation. I'm grateful for every presidential media event. I get to learn what President Obama thinks, not what the media wants me to think that he's thinking."

Pat in Kentucky says: "Yes, I'm already hitting the mute button when I see him at a microphone. I wish he'd be a little less transparent, maybe just go in the Oval Office, stay there for a few days. I'm an avid Obama supporter, but I need health insurance. And I also need a break from seeing and hearing him every single day."

Carol writes: "I can only speak for myself, but I am sick of seeing his face and hearing his voice everywhere. At no time during his broadcasts does he encourage us to engage in dialogue with him or ask for an exchange of ideas from we, the people. All he does is preach to us about how we just don't get what it is he's trying to sell. Please, somebody find the off switch."

Mary Jo writes: "No, he doesn't risk over exposure. He's the best spokesman he's got for his policies and his agenda. He explains it so that people can understand it. And for the first time in a long, long time, for most of us, he is believable."

Richard said: "It's not media overexposure, but a reaction to his policies that have turned people off. Tonight, he's trying to convince the American people to back health care reform, but there isn't even a solid health care plan in place."

And Gary from a town in New York I can't begin to pronounce writes: "How dare the president continue to keep us updated and informed, just when we got used to eight years of secrecy and clandestine operations."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

And I will see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Before you go...

CAFFERTY: Yes?

BLITZER: ...(INAUDIBLE) Jack, right now, if you were at the news conference with the president tonight, what would you ask him?

CAFFERTY: I think I'd ask him something about why -- why we haven't been privy to more of the specifics that's in this health care legislation. I -- I don't get the feeling that people have a clear idea of what it's going to mean to me if some kind of a massive bill gets through Congress. I wish they'd explain that a little more clearly.

BLITZER: And I don't think he will tonight.

CAFFERTY: No, he won't.

BLITZER: I think he'll take the high road and try to dodge some of those specifics.

CAFFERTY: It's all about the big picture.

BLITZER: Because it's different -- it is a big picture, in fairness. But there are specifics that will help us better (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: No, I mean I think that's -- I think that's probably -- part of the problem the public is having with this.

BLITZER: I agree. I would ask that question, too, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: It's all right.

CAFFERTY: See you tomorrow.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow.

Thanks.

Programming you won't want to miss and we're only minutes away from "Moment of Truth," the countdown to CNN's ground-breaking special report, "Black In America 2," live from Times Square.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of today's Hot Shots from our friends over at Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In India, a partial solar eclipse is seen behind the Golden Temple.

In Rome, the Italian synchronized swimming team performs a combination at the Swimming World Championships.

In Switzerland, riot police face-off against farmers during a demonstration over the price of milk.

And in Uzbekistan, check it out -- a tiger got placed in the grass over at a zoo.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words. Two mules and their costume handlers apparently could pose a security threat -- that according to the federal government. Historic re-enactors at a Pennsylvania park had to get special security clearance to keep their jobs. It's a classic case of broken government and you'll see the story tomorrow, only -- only here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up tomorrow.

A big, big night tonight coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'll be back one hour from now with live coverage of President Obama's news conference.

Then at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, the premier of "Black In America".

But starting right now, "Moment of Truth," the countdown to "Black In America 2," hosted by Soledad O'Brien in Times Square -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Hey, Wolf, thank you very much.

And welcome to New York City's Times Square, everybody.

As you can see, we're in front of a live audience, literally smack dab in the middle of Times Square. We have brought together this evening some of the most influential radio talk show hosts in the country. And, in turn, we've asked them to invite the most influential people who brought them to a life-changing "Moment of Truth," is what we're calling it.

It is just the beginning of a momentous night right here on CNN. We're premiering CNN PRESENTS "Black In America 2," which is a look at the most challenging issues facing African-Americans and, also, the solutions to those issues.