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THE SITUATION ROOM
Certainty on Taliban Leader's Death; Three Leaders vs. Deadly Problem; Congressman Screams at Constituents at Town Hall
Aired August 10, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much.
Happening now, three leaders' shared mission. President Obama huddles with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. They pledge to battle major problems, especially one that's already left a lot of people dead.
After a small plane crashes with a helicopter in New York questions remain. Why did it happen, and could it happen again?
We're standing by for some answers. There's a news conference with the National Transportation Safety Board. Stand by.
And a congressman screams at his constituents. Did he have a public meltdown?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID SCOTT (D), GEORGIA: Not a single one of you had the decency to call my office and set up for a meeting. OK?
Then do that. Do that! But don't come and take advantage of what these individuals have done.
You want a meeting with me on health care? I'll give it to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tempers flare after a doctor confronts a congressman with questions over health care reform. Why this blowup?
I'll ask the congressman and the doctor whose question sparked the anger. They're both here.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All that coming up, but let's begin with the breaking news right now.
After days without 100 percent certainty that a notorious Taliban leader is dead, U.S. officials are now convinced he is. And CNN is learning specific details into this apparent strike against the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
Ed, what are you learning?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, basically, there has been that uncertainty, but I was told flatly by a senior U.S. official he's dead. And that is the indication that President Obama is getting from intelligence officials.
Specifically, one of the reasons why they believe that he was hit in this attack last Wednesday evening in Pakistan is that I'm told in recent weeks there was a dramatic escalation in the number of the unmanned drones that the CIA had trained on Mehsud. Specifically, there were about five of them.
The CIA wanted more. They sought more and got about four more. So, they had nine drones trained on Mehsud. That's why they were zeroing in, and they're convinced they got their man.
BLITZER: All right. So, how were they convinced? Specifically, what was the indication that this is a 100 percent done deal?
HENRY: Very interesting. Wednesday night, all of a sudden, a man appeared on the roof of Mehsud's father-in-law's home in Pakistan. It was a short, stocky man who was following the physical description of Mehsud. And specifically, a woman started massaging his legs.
The CIA knew that Mehsud had diabetes and his legs were in great pain. He often sought a refuge that way through these massages, and specifically it was on the roof, because it was very warm in Pakistan that day. That's when the CIA decided to move in.
They already had a pre-authorization from President Obama to strike if they felt they had a clear shot. They believed they did and they took him out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much.
Ed Henry with that report, the breaking news.
Let's go to the Pentagon, our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.
What are they saying over there, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I spoke with a senior defense official who said the reason you should care about this is because even though he was based in Pakistan, they believe Mehsud was responsible for coordinating a lot of the strikes against American troops over in Afghanistan. He says this is an example to others of what happens when your name ends up on that high-value target list.
On the other hand, we've also been taking a look at an assessment, a recent assessment by the director of national intelligence that says even if the Taliban lost that entire area in Pakistan, lost control of it, they could adapt. They felt that because of recent gains by the Taliban in the east and the south, that even if they had to move operations, it might put them at short-term risk, but they could adapt.
BLITZER: I was struck this morning reading "The Wall Street Journal," this interview that General Stanley McChrystal gave "The Wall Street Journal," Chris, in which he acknowledged rather bluntly the Taliban seems to have the upper hand right now. The headline in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Taliban is Winning." That must mean that the U.S. and its NATO allies are losing.
What are they saying over there?
LAWRENCE: Well, I talked to two sources with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and they flatly told me General McChrystal did not say that. They say, yes, he did say that the enemy is resilient; yes, that it is a very aggressive enemy, but that he did not say the Taliban is winning, he did not say that the Taliban has the upper hand.
That said, they did say they've got a lot of concerns. And, in fact, we heard from the president's national security adviser just recently that, really, after all these years of war, that, really, a firm strategy is really just now taking shape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. JAMES JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: My opinion was that we did not have a well-articulated strategy until March of this year. We had a strategy for security. We had a little bit of a strategy for economic development, which was other people's problems. And we had a strategy that may be addressed a little bit of governance and rule of law. This strategy merges all those three things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: Yes. And the key thing a lot of Americans are going to be concerned about, July was the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. August shaping up to be more of the same. And the top commanders are warning of possibly more to come -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris, thank you.
Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.
President Obama visited Mexico for the North American summit today, joined by the leaders of Mexico and Canada. One top topic, immigration reform.
President Obama says with all the issues he's facing right now, including health care reform, the battered economy, among other issues, immigration reform will simply have to wait until next year. The president did say he expects draft legislation on the issue this year, at least by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, swine flu is also a critical issue on the agenda.
Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's joining us. She's traveling with the president in Guadalajara.
Important that all three of these countries work together involving the H1N1, especially, Suzanne, as the swine flu gets -- the season gets closer and closer, the flu season.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
You may recall it was back in April when President Obama was in Mexico City. That's when this H1N1 virus first started to percolate. It was actually one of President Obama's aides who got sick with the flu, went home and recovered. The president never got sick, was never in any danger, we understand, but at the time, President Obama, his whole entourage, none of us had a clue that this was even going to be a problem, Wolf.
Since that has happened, things have dramatically changed. The U.S. government, the Mexican government, as well as the Canadians, all in constant contact over the swine flu, particularly taking a look at the flu season this fall.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The biggest concern for these three leaders, the deadly scourge of the swine flu, expected to re-emerge in the fall. It was the top priority for President Barack Obama and his counterparts from Mexico and Canada at the so-called "Summit of the Three Amigos."
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We resolve to continue taking all necessary preparations and precautions to prepare for the upcoming flu season and protect the health of our people. And this challenge transcends borders and so must our response.
FELIPE CALDERON, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO (through translator): H1N1, as we know it, will be back this winter. We are getting prepared, all three countries.
MALVEAUX: The H1N1 virus originated in Mexico in the spring. It then spread throughout the world. The leaders pledged to share information about flu cases and vaccines to assure the borders stay open and residents don't panic.
BLITZER: Suzanne, he may be in Mexico, but the issue of health care, his top domestic priority right now, certainly very much still on his mind.
MALVEAUX: And he was asked about this, Wolf, in the press conference. One of the things he's trying to do is regain control over the debate, obviously a very heated debate over the summer here. And he was asked whether or not he would take any lessons or any aspect of the Canadian model, which was largely funded by the government, their health care system.
The president did not take the bait. He said that what's good for Canadians is good for Canadians, that the Americans have to find their own way and their own system. And he said anybody who's trying to compare his health care reform to Canada's plan is just dead wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don't find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the opponents of reform think that they make a good bogeyman. I think that's a mistake. And I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get -- we're going to get this passed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Wolf, that is certainly what the president is hoping, and that's why he is headed off to Montana and New Hampshire this week. He is really trying to get a hold and take control once again of this debate. There has been so much emotion and criticism around this when you see those town halls, he's going to get out there and have a few town halls himself -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. I'm sure he will.
All right. Suzanne is in Guadalajara.
Thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File."
Jack, four years ago, this weekend, you and I began a partnership.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's true. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Can you believe it's been four years THE SITUATION ROOM has been on the air?
CAFFERTY: It's amazing, isn't it?
CAFFERTY: You know what I find remarkable? I look pretty much the same, but you've aged a lot.
BLITZER: I know I have. That's what THE SITUATION ROOM has done to me.
BLITZER: But time flies when you're having fun.
CAFFERTY: Well, it does. And this is kind of a fun thing we do.
In an update to a story -- this isn't fun, this thing I'm going to tell you about -- an update to a story we brought you last week in "The Cafferty File," a group of Republican and Democratic senators is now saying not so fast to the House's plans to spend more than half a billion dollars on new jets. "The Wall Street Journal" reports the senators, along with the Pentagon, are critical of the $550 million plan to buy eight new Gulfstream Boeing planes for government officials and VIPs to fly around in.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill says, "The whole thing kind of makes me sick to my stomach," adding that the move paints members of Congress as out of touch, spending money like it's Monopoly money. Several senators are planning to oppose the purchase when they take up the bill in the fall.
Let's hope they do.
Originally, the administration wanted $220 million to buy four jets to replace older planes, but before the House left town on vacation they doubled the order to eight planes. The measure was part of a larger defense funding bill.
In a masterful bid of rationalization, supporters in the House claimed that buying eight new jets will actually save money later on because the new planes are cheaper to operate than the older ones. They say it's not a question of whether or not the planes will be bought, but when they will be bought.
More rationalization. These guys are amazing. Those who approved this extravagance claim that these jets are mostly used by the military and that members of Congress only fly around in them 15 percent of the time.
So, I guess that makes it all OK. Right?
Here's the question: Should the House cancel its order for $550 million worth of new jets?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.
Here's a hint -- yes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It may be a hint, but I don't think they're going to do it. What do you think?
CAFFERTY: I think they will. I think that Claire McCaskill and some of the people in the Senate recognize just how tone deaf this action by the House of Representatives is. And doing it right before they leave town for a month, I mean, how symptomatic is that of the whole idea that they're trying to get away with something?
BLITZER: Good point.
Jack, thanks very much. Happy anniversary again.
CAFFERTY: And you, sir. I hope we're here four years from now.
BLITZER: At least. Thank you.
We're standing by for an NTSB briefing on that air crash between a small plane and a helicopter in New York. We're going to bring you that and dramatic 911 tapes also just now being released.
And a doctor versus a congressman. A congressman's temper flares after being questioned about health care reform. I'll speak with both men about exactly what happened.
Planning a trip? You might need to know how much gas is costing right now. Guess what? The prices are changing.
And how well or possibly sick is the leader of North Korea? A top U.S. official says the recent Bill Clinton trip is providing important clues.
BLITZER: You've seen some of the debate over health care reform, some of it getting heated. But this doctor asks a Georgia congressman a question in a recent Q&A forum, and then things got a bit testy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Well, I'm not voting on any plan. First of all, I haven't voted on any bill.
DR. BRIAN HILL, UROLOGIST: Are you plan on voting on that bill?
SCOTT: I don't know.
HILL: Do you support a government-run option? How about that?
SCOTT: Yes, I do.
And I'm listening to my constituents. OK? These are people who live in the 13th congressional district, who vote in this district. That's who I've got to respond to. OK?
Right. All right. That's everybody with different opinions.
So, what you've got to understand is, those of you who are here who have taken and came and hijacked this event that we're dealing with here, this is not a health care event. You made the choice to come here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was congressman -- the Democrat, David Scott of Georgia.
The questioner was Dr. Brian Hill, a urologist. They're both here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Let me introduce Representative Scott first.
What was so wrong about his question, Congressman, that got you upset?
SCOTT: Because the people of Douglasville, especially the African-American community in Douglasville, through which a highway, an $80 million new highway, was going through their community, they set this meeting up. It was not mine. It was the people of Douglasville that did this, and because of their homes and their businesses, 85 businesses will be removed.
It's going through a tunnel in Douglasville. It would come out on the other side.
This is a big, big deal. And imagine yourself with your home and everything else there. And many of these people have felt that they've been disenfranchised before. That's what this meeting was for.
BLITZER: All right.
SCOTT: So that when -- and the doctor knew it. He will tell you he knew it.
And then I have a health fair coming up this Saturday where we'll have all the health care providers, where there will be. So, when Channel 11 ran that clip, they picked...
BLITZER: Hold on a second, Congressman, because I want Dr. Hill to respond.
Dr. Hill, what do you say to that point? This was a discussion about a highway, and you asked a question about health care reform.
HILL: I do agree with him, actually. And I won't disagree with him at all. It was a discussion about Highway 92.
And I had called Congressman Scott's office and I spoke with them beforehand. And I actually asked them if they were going to be having a health care reform forum, and I was told no.
So, what I did is I went to the meeting, I waited three and a half hours. They made an announcement at the meeting, "We understand people are here to ask further questions about topics other than Highway 92. If you have any other questions about 92, come to the microphone, please."
People did. I went and stood at the end of the line. The final question about Highway 92 was asked. Nobody else was behind me. And so I stepped up and I asked a question about health care at that time.
BLITZER: And what was wrong with that, Congressman?
SCOTT: Well, the point was this -- if the doctor was sincere and he had an issue with health care, he could call my office...
HILL: I did.
SCOTT: ... set an appointment, like all my constituents do, and come in.
No, Doctor. You asked...
HILL: I did.
SCOTT: Hold on a second. Your question was, when is Congressman Scott having a health are forum? And the answer was, as my staff said, he's not. That's a difference from the fact that you had a question about this. So, you picked it up on yourself to come and take advantage of these individuals in Douglasville.
Now, Wolf, what I'm saying is...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Congressman, for a second. But if your staff said if you have a question on something else, and he waits in line until the very end, and he had a question about health care, what's wrong with simply answering the question?
SCOTT: Because it was this. That issue was, do you have any more questions about the highway? I've got a tour waiting up for people to take me to show the impact in that community.
Again, here's the issue -- the issue was they knew perfectly well that these people had spent months putting this together for a very destructive highway, and so that was the general question. I felt I had to stand up and defend the people of Douglasville. And the other thing is this -- this is an orchestrated opportunity here.
BLITZER: Let me stop you on that point, because Dr. Brian Hill totally disagrees with you that he's part of any orchestration.
Don't you, Dr. Hill?
HILL: It's 100 percent correct. I'm not orchestrating with anybody. I'm not involved with anybody.
My father-in-law, who's 66 years old, whom I called that morning -- and I decided probably about 1:00 in the morning on Friday that I was going to go -- I called him at 8:00 in the morning and I said, "Hey, do you want to come with me? I just want to go, I want to sit down. I'll sit through this meeting and I'll see if we can get some questions about health care in." And I sat through the meeting for four hours.
SCOTT: But here is the point.
BLITZER: Congressman, he is your constituent. He's a physician. He asked a simple question I'll paraphrase the question and we'll get your answer.
Do you support this public option, this public health insurance agency that would compete with the private health insurance companies?
SCOTT: And I answered that question yes, I do. Every question he asked I said yes.
HILL: I didn't say -- I said, why? Why?
SCOTT: Well, Doctor...
HILL: Why do you support that plan, you know, that I discussed about? And I want a good, educated response, not talking points.
SCOTT: OK. Let me answer for you now.
SCOTT: I genuinely believe, Doctor, that the big problem in this is the insurance company and the pricing system that is there. They lack competition. They have a monopoly on it.
We need reform of an option here that will force some competition while, at the same time, providing an opportunity for those who might -- the insurance companies might not want to take with having an opportunity. My final point is this...
HILL: How do we have a monopoly when there are multiple insurance agencies out there? And again, you're not even talking about how that is going to decrease costs. You're just doing talking points.
I mean, you're talking about a government-subsidized option that I've already looked at and we've already talked about. We've looked at data, we've looked at facts. I've talked about the Massachusetts health care plan.
We can talk about Canada. We can talk about, you know, Europe. We can talk intelligently. But I want to hear facts and numbers and data and figures.
And I hate to tell you -- I'm going to say this quickly because this bothers me a little bit. This is a health fair that you're holding on the 15th. And I'm a physician, right? And a health fair is where people come to go screening for diabetes and hypertension and prostate cancer and cholesterol levels. That's not a forum to go and talk about health care to have people raising voices and having discussion. And actually, somebody mentioned to me at the meeting that day -- they said, "You know what? I heard that he's having a health fair on the 15th." And I said, "You know what? That's not appropriate, for people to go to that kind of meeting and stand up and cause problems when patients and physicians are getting together to try to do what's right for the community."
So, this is a health fair. This is not a health fair forum.
SCOTT: May I answer you please? OK, Doctor?
HILL: Please do. Yes. I would love an answer.
SCOTT: You very eloquently explained the complexities of this issue, the fact you wanted data and all that information. You live in the district and you're a physician.
Why not take the time to call your congressman, set an appointment, and come in where we can lay all this out for you rather than...
SCOTT: Rather than come on in a very -- and the video didn't show the raucousness.
HILL: Because there wasn't raucousness there. Because the whole video...
SCOTT: Listen, my friend. This was not for health care. That was the issue that rubs. This is where people whose homes are impacted by a road that's coming through that could destroy them.
HILL: Sure. And we're talking about 300 million millions that are going to be impacted by this health care plan. And I agree...
SCOTT: This was not for health care.
HILL: ... Highway 92 is important.
SCOTT: And you...
HILL: Yes. I won't talk over you. Sorry.
SCOTT: OK. But all I'm simply saying, Doctor -- and I don't want to talk over you.
HILL: Yes, I agree. I'm sorry. That's my fault.
SCOTT: I want to make clear that on the tape, when I was saying don't come in and take advantage of what these folks have done, that's what I've said, because I owed it to them to stand up for them and respect the hard work they've put for this. Their homes are going to be affected and destroyed, businesses, in this African-American community who has expressed a desire and a feeling of being disenfranchised. So, here you all come, taking advantage of that on a very controversial, complex issue that you know and I know full well is going to take far more deliberation. I'm anxious to hear your views...
BLITZER: Let me let Dr. Hill respond to that.
BLITZER: And Dr. Hill, get back to the point that, you know, you're not part of any organized group, or you're not even a Republican, I take it. Are you?
HILL: No, I'm not. I'm an Independent voter. I actually like to look at data.
I'm a data guy. I'm a physician. I live my life on data.
As I mentioned to Congressman Scott, we practice medicine using what we call evidence-based medicine. We do research. We see outcome data. And we actually do and practice medicine based on those outcome data.
So, I'm all about outcome data. So, that's why I looked at and spoke with data coming out, pure data, saying that this health care plan is not achieving what we want.
We want to improve access to health care. We want to decrease costs to health care. And we're not seeing that happening out of the plan as it's being run in Massachusetts.
SCOTT: Let me say this, as an opportunity to extend an invitation to you, Doctor, that I would love to set up a meeting where you could come to the office, we can sit down. I'd love to have your input. Let's work together on this bill. It's very valuable for us to work.
But that's what I am very much after. I want to bring down the high cost of health care, while at the same time expanding its coverage. That's a very difficult thing to do, and we do need your help, and I would love for you and I to sit down and see if we can't make some contribution to this.
BLITZER: Do you accept that invitation, Doctor?
HILL: Oh, I would love to do that. But I will tell you -- and the things I worry about -- because I don't want this to be politicized. This is not a political issue. This is an issue that should not be politicized, that should not be along any type of ideology.
This is health care. This is people's daily lives and their health. And I'm a little afraid that we go and we sit down and we talk, and there's nobody that's going to hold you accountable to what you say and what we talk about.
BLITZER: Well, let me make a proposal.
HILL: And that's something that's going to be out there. And so I don't...
SCOTT: Doctor, I'm a part of the force in Congress that slowed this down. I'm a part of the group in Congress that worked on this to make sure we bring down the cost.
I'm a member of the Blue Dog Coalition that was the force that stopped this. I am interested in getting your points of view heard.
I spoke with Obama to do this. And he agreed to do it.
So, please, don't paint me in that corner. I want to work with you to make sure your views are expressed. You are a member of my constituency, and I would love to rep you on it, and I'd love for you to...
HILL: How about a nice health care forum? How about a nice -- is this health fair on Friday -- I mean, on Sunday -- excuse me, on Saturday the 15th, is that truly a...
SCOTT: I think it will be excellent because we're going to have the physicians there, doctors. We're going to have the people who are actually providing the health care, the drug manufacturing companies. So, people will be there who can entertain that.
HILL: Will you be there?
SCOTT: It starts at 10:00. I will be there and I'd love for you to come to it.
HILL: And we can answer questions? We can have questions in an open forum?
SCOTT: You can ask questions.
HILL: Because I'll give you a little time to do your research so you can actually come back with numbers and tell me why you're supporting a government-subsidized option when we're already seeing that government-subsidized options increase costs. So, I would love for you to come back with numbers to show us so we can talk to understand why you're supporting an option that has shown to increase costs, because that's exactly the opposite of what we really need to do, isn't it?
BLITZER: All right.
Go ahead, Congressman, and then we've got to leave it.
SCOTT: Well, the point that I'm saying is that the government option is designed to bring down the cost of insurance because they can compete. Now, I'm not saying monopoly. You have a few of these insurance companies, they work together. It's sort of like a collusion there. We all know that.
There are certain areas there that we can work with. But whether it is a government option or a co-op or something...
HILL: It's the same word.
SCOTT: Well, Doctor, maybe you can work with us to can get something that can force the insurance companies to be more competitive and bring down their prices. And I would love to work with you on it.
HILL: I think that would be wonderful. I think (ph) competition amongst insurance companies. I think that's a great idea.
I think we need to -- and we can talk about knocking down, you know, the borders so that people can actually buy health insurance from Texas and people can buy health insurance from other parts in the country. I think we need to...
SCOTT: Well, I look forward to working with you. We'll have physicians there. We'll have people there from the government and everybody. And let's sit down...
SCOTT: ... and we will get your viewpoints there.
BLITZER: I would like to propose to both of you that CNN cameras be allowed inside so that we can record this and let our viewers continue this dialogue.
SCOTT: That would be wonderful.
HILL: That would be great.
SCOTT: It will be at (INAUDIBLE) High School in Clayton County, Georgia, in Jonesboro, this Saturday from 10:00 to 2:00 p.m.
I look forward to seeing you, Doctor and shaking your hand.
SCOTT: Maybe we'll have a beer together.
HILL: I'd love to have a beer with you. You can never turn down a beer. SCOTT: All right.
BLITZER: It seems to be the way of resolving these issues nowadays, sit down and have a beer.
HILL: I still want truth, but -- I still want numbers and data. That doesn't resolve things for me until I see that we're going to do what's right for the American people.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens on Saturday.
Congressman David Scott, Democrat of Georgia, Dr. Brian Hill, a urologist of Georgia, a constituent of Congressman Scott, thanks so much for having this good discussion.
HILL: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.
Thank you, Congressman.
SCOTT: Thank you, Wolf.
Thank you, Brian. Appreciate it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Betty Nguyen. She's following a developing story for us.
Betty, what's coming in?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We are getting word that a 7.6 magnitude earthquake has struck near India's Andaman Islands.
Now, this is being felt in a number of countries. We're hearing that even Tokyo was shaken because of this.
It's also called a tsunami watch, and that watch covers India, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, as well. So, it could cause quite a bit of damage.
We've got a tsunami watch for all of those countries. It was a large magnitude quake, a 7.6 magnitude quake, near India's Andaman Islands. But again, it's being felt in a number of countries, Wolf, including right there in Tokyo. They felt the aftershocks of it.
BLITZER: Wow. Betty, there's some other news you're following right now, as well, right?
NGUYEN: Absolutely. We want to talk gas prices making a steady upward climb. Want you to take a look at this.
It's risen every day since July 21st, when the national average price per gallon was $2.46. Well, today is up to $2.65, up 19 cents in just 20 days. Analysts expect the price to peak as high as $2.70 a gallon, still well below last summer's record high prices. And a wave of deadly bombings in Iraq has left at least 48 people dead and more than 200 injured. The country's Interior Ministry blames al Qaeda in Iraq and says the group is trying to inflame sectarian tension by targeting Shiite civilians. Now, similar attacks on Shiite targets Friday killed 50 people.
And the condition of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, well, that is being described as minute by minute right now. A source close to the family says relatives were quickly summoned again today after what's being described as a setback. The 88-year-old Shriver is in critical condition. She is the sister of the late President John F. Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Betty. Stand by. We will be getting back to you on all those developments and more.
You have heard the debate over health care reform, but you're going to find out how it's affecting people in their everyday lives. You will hear stories from one place in Ohio that might be very similar to your own stories.
And a new twist in the investigation of Michael Jackson's death -- there appears to be some results now into what killed him. We may not know for a while what exactly it is, and we will tell you why.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You just heard a lively debate between a congressman and a concerned doctor over health care reform.
Right now, the head of the insurance industry's top lobbying group here in Washington says the battle for reform will either live or die this month -- that according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the raging debate continues around the country, as Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, tours her state today. How was the reception?
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's joining us from Missouri with more on that.
How was it, Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Different receptions at different events, Wolf.
Right now, we are at Senator McCaskill's third event of the day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, in southeastern Missouri. And it's a pretty contentious debate going on in this room right behind me, a lot of supporters, as well as opponents, of health care reform, of Democrats' efforts at health care reform, especially some very vocal opponents, though, at this point, this debate has not made a turn towards chaos. I can definitely tell you that. But what we're seeing here is a very different scene from what we saw in Kennett, Missouri, about an hour southeast of here.
KEILAR (voice-over): Apart from its claim to fame as the hometown of singer Sheryl Crow, Kennett, Missouri, is like many rural American communities. This is where Democrats are trying to win the health care debate.
And, as Senator McCaskill is well aware, it's a tough crowd.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Why don't you raise your hand if you are so mad about the idea of federal health care reform, you can't even think straight?
KEILAR: More than a few hands here at McCaskill's health care town hall meeting. But, unlike many recent events around the country, this one was civil. One audience member, a critic of Democrats' reform efforts, asked McCaskill what she makes of those rowdy health care events.
She was empathetic.
MCCASKILL: I think it was a huge mistake for anyone to suggest that anybody who is opposed to the health care plan is manufactured. I -- I -- it's not manufactured. Now, I think both sides are organizing. But that's what we do in a democracy.
KEILAR: As McCaskill tried to disarm critics of the Democrats' proposal for a government-run insurance plan that she supports, she was also quick to rebuff conservative claims, that it would limit care for seniors and fund abortions...
MCCASKILL: There is nothing in the bill that mandates any kind of abortion coverage. That's just simply not true.
KEILAR: ... or that it's a government takeover of health care.
MCCASKILL: I can tell you, Congress is not going to pass a single-payer plan.
KEILAR: And McCaskill pointed a finger at insurance companies.
MCCASKILL: In 2007, they made $12.9 billion in profits. So, we have got to do something about health insurance reform. If you get really sick and lose your job, they have the right to say, we're not going to give you insurance.
KEILAR: And that's a key Democratic talking point, something we saw Democratic leaders in the House and Senate really hit hard on, painting insurance companies as the bad guys, Wolf, before they left Washington for this very critical August recess. BLITZER: All right, Brianna -- Brianna Keilar in Missouri at that town hall for us. Thank you.
Let's back to the breaking news right now.
Chad Myers is watching this earthquake.
Chad, set the scene for those viewers who might just be tuning in.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Two separate earthquakes, one a 7.6, the other about a 6.4. They are still going to go up and down. They always do. These big quakes always go up and down just a little bit.
One here near the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea right here, and this right here would be India. There may have been a tsunami. There's a tsunami watch. There may have been a tsunami generated. It could have gone east. It could have gone west.
So, there's a watch for India, for Myanmar, all the way down to Rangoon as well. And then, 12 minutes later, not really associated with this earthquake whatsoever, we are going to take you all the way over here to the coast near Honshu. This would be very close -- about 100 miles or so from Tokyo.
This was a 6.4, and the Japanese meteorological agency saying, yes, we could have a tsunami with this, but it's probably only about a foot-and-a-half, so not life-threatening, not devastating, although it depends if you're in the wrong place at the right time. A foot-and-a- half rise, as the tide goes out and comes back here, especially if you're a fishing vessel or such, you could also be in the way of this.
So, right now, these are about 20 miles deep. Sometimes, you want to see a -- an earthquake very, very deep, Wolf, and that means that it's not going to shake the sea floor, tsunamis, because the sea floor shakes. You get a shallow quake, the sea floor shakes quite a bit. And so that's why you could get a larger tsunami, like we obviously had years ago.
But that's all I have. This was a 6.4. It was about 100 miles from Tokyo, but they did feel the shaking, and they did feel the -- the movement of the buildings in downtown Tokyo from our buildings and our -- from our bureau there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Six-point-four is huge, but 7.6 is incredibly...
MYERS: That's right.
BLITZER: ... incredible, large.
What you're saying, Chad, is it's just a coincidence these two happened 12 minutes apart?
MYERS: Absolutely, just a coincidence.
BLITZER: All right. We are going to stay on top of this story.
I want to go to New York right now.
The NTSB is briefing us on that plane crash, small plane crash, with a helicopter over the weekend.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
DEBORAH HERSMAN, CHAIRWOMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: ... about the airspace.
As you all are -- are aware, the accident occurred in very complex airspace over New York City -- in between New York City and New Jersey. There are three major air carrier -- carrier airports and a variety of other general aviation facilities accommodating both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
There are also amphibious aircraft that take off and land from the water in this area. They have a high density of traffic here. And most of the airspace in this area has been designated Class B airspace by the FAA.
VFR operations are authorized below the Class B airspace surrounding this area in both the Hudson River and the East River, as we have discussed before. As you all know, we were here for the Cory Lidle accident investigation in October of 2006.
These exclusion areas were first identified in 1971. The FAA stated that the purpose of the Hudson and East River exclusion areas at that time was to provide for VFR aircraft operations over the rivers for transiting, landing, or departing aircraft.
Before the exclusion areas were defined, the floor of the Class B airspace extended down to the rivers. The class -- the floor of the Class B airspace, it is required that anyone within that Class B airspace coordinate with air traffic control. And they are positively controlled when they're in Class B airspace.
Seaplane and helicopter bases are currently located in or near these exclusion areas, and aircraft also use the exclusion area over the -- in the Hudson River to transit underneath the Class B airspace that is in the vicinity, La Guardia, Newark, and the other airports.
The Piper was talking to the Teterboro tower after takeoff, and then was electronically handled off to the Newark tower. That is, on the radar screen of the Teterboro tower and on the radar screen of the Newark tower, there is a symbol depicting a discreet target for this aircraft.
One aircraft basically pitch -- or air traffic controller basically pitches that aircraft to the other one electronically. The receiving air traffic controller essentially catches it, acknowledges that he's got that aircraft, and then the Teterboro air traffic controller goes back to the pilot in the Piper, advises him to change frequencies over to Newark tower. Now, as we -- as I briefed yesterday, they had done the electronic handoff when the air traffic controller went back to the pilot and advised him to change frequencies. The Newark air traffic controller never had any communication from the pilot.
The Newark air traffic controller went back to the Teterboro air traffic controller, asked him to put the aircraft on a heading, and advised him to change frequencies. The Teterboro controller attempted to hail the aircraft to do that, and received no response.
We are looking into all the timelines for this communication, trying to corroborate that information with the timelines that we have on the radar hits that we showed you yesterday for both the Piper, as well as the Liberty Tour helicopter, also trying to communicate -- corroborate any communication that might have taken place over that common frequency.
We're still trying to determine if anyone records that common frequency in the Hudson River area. Teterboro does not own or control the airspace above 1,101 feet. That airspace is managed by Newark.
And, so, Teterboro basically would coordinate a handoff to Newark, and it's their responsibility to control that aircraft when they're in that Class B airspace.
We have some -- some information from the air traffic control tapes. These are the FAA's air traffic control tapes at Teterboro. And these were some of the communications as far as clearance that the air traffic controller and the pilot of the -- of the -- of the Piper aircraft had.
Air traffic control asked, "Are you going to request VFR down the river or southwest-bound?"
The pilot responded: "The most direct. I will take either one."
ATC came back: "Let me know, so I know who to coordinate with."
And the pilot responded: "OK. Tell you what. I will take down the river."
So, we're trying to determine exactly the communication sequence, the timing, and what the expectations were for handoff and control, and what frequency there was understanding that the pilot would be on, both from Teterboro tower and Newark tower and information that might have been conveyed to the pilot.
Pilots are advised when they enter that exclusionary on the Hudson River to tune into a common control -- common traffic advisory frequency. That traffic advisory frequency is 123.05 megahertz when they're operating in the Hudson River exclusion area. This is an advisory in nature only. It's not required.
This information is published on the VFR charts. But this -- this pilot was being handled by Teterboro and was being handled -- handed off to Newark, which would be on a different frequency. The floor of the Class B airspace is 1,101. And the ceiling of the exclusion area over the Hudson River is 1,100.
There were some discussions of midair collisions in past briefings, with some questions. I wanted to advise you some of the recommendations that the NTSB has issued in the past. We have issued 14 recommendations to the FAA regarding collision avoidance or collision warning systems.
Twelve recommendations have been issued with respect to collision avoidance methods, technique, or awareness programs, such as see and avoid or scanning techniques. We have made recommendations on this -- on this issue almost going back to the creation of the agency.
The Safety Board's been around for 40 years. In '72, we asked the FAA to alert the general aviation community of the increasing potential for midair collisions in the vicinity of airports.
In 1993, we issued a recommendation to the FAA to identify airspace that warrants special protection due to the presence of commercial air tour operations and to create special operating rules for such airspace to reduce the potential for midair collisions and other accidents.
We have investigated other midair accidents recently. We investigated an accident in Phoenix involving two electronic news- gathering helicopters. They were involved in a midair collision while they were filming a police chase.
The Safety Board made several recommendations stemming from that accident. One of them was to increase the conspicuity of the aircrafts to make them more visible to each other, including such things as high-visibility blade paint schemes for the blades of the helicopter, or high-visibility anti-collision lights on their aircraft.
We also asked the FAA to develop standards for helicopter cockpit electronic traffic advisory systems, so that pilots could be alerted to the presence of other aircraft in their vicinity, regardless of their position.
We have long had collision avoidance technology available. We are actually in the second generation of that on our passenger- carrying aircraft. The challenge is, there is commercial off-the- shelf technology available for helicopters with respect to collision avoidance, but helicopters often are operating in such close proximity to other traffic that they get a lot of nuisance alerts.
There is a lot of, basically, alerts that go off, so that the pilots -- it becomes essentially white noise. So, in this recommendation this year to the FAA, we were asking them to develop better standards for helicopters, so that they could have tighter margins for operation.
And, so, if you're in a -- in a commercial aircraft, and you get a warning three miles out, well, if you're a helicopter operating in a news-gathering operation or in the Hudson River, if you're getting alerts for any aircraft that are within three miles of you, that's not going to be especially helpful.
So, we want to make sure...
BLITZER: All right. We're going to break away -- Debbie Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board briefing all of us on that collision, a small plane, a helicopter, over the Hudson River over the weekend.
She's going to be joining us live, by the way, during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We have got a lot of questions about what happened. We will go back to Debbie Hersman of the NTSB. That's coming up.
Meanwhile, health care is stealing the spotlight, but President Obama says there's another crisis about to boil over. So, why is he kicking reform down the road? We're going to answer that question, talk about that and a lot more in our "Strategy Session."
Donna Brazile and Tony Blankley, they're standing by live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it. It's causing ongoing tensions inside the United States. It's not fair, and it's not right. And we're going to change it.
Now, I have got a lot of my plate. And it's very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in a way where they don't all just crash at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, the president saying comprehensive immigration reform, it's going to have to wait until next year.
Let's talk about that with Democratic strategist CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Tony Blankley, a former spokesman for the then House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It's the first time I remember hearing the president saying, you know what, we can't do everything right now, and, as important as immigration reform is, I have got to punt.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If -- if you think health care reform is a very difficult issue, then try immigration reform. And the Republicans know this, as well as the Democrats.
It's very difficult to get this kind of legislation through, given the timetable we know exists at -- toward the end of the year. I think the president is correct to look at it in terms of next year.
Chuck Schumer of New York is -- is going to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill some time this fall. Members of Congress will have enough time to look it over and to begin to discuss it with their constituents next year.
BLITZER: Were you surprised the president acknowledged he's got a full plate right now, simply no room for anything else?
TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, no, I -- I -- he's correct.
There are -- I think there are two good political reasons not to be doing immigration this year. One is, as you say, because of the health bill, which is going to take the rest of the fall, at the minimum to -- to get done. And, two, you don't want to do immigration when unemployment is above about 6 percent, because, when unemployment is high, then you have less people who want to be receptive to immigrants, legal or illegal.
And we're at 9.4 percent, I think, so that I would guess that the White House, if they're practical -- and I assume they are -- they will wait for the -- for the -- for the unemployment rate to go down to a point, maybe, you know, 5 percent, 5.5 percent. At that point, they might try to raise the issue.
BLITZER: People will be more -- and the poll shows that there's increasing anger about immigration as a result of the high unemployment, the jobs.
BRAZILE: But 12 million people are in limbo because they're looking for a path to citizenship. And I think that we cannot continue to put it off, just because of...
BLITZER: Well, they're...
BLITZER: They're -- they're going to be in limbo at least until next year.
BLITZER: That's when the president says. They're going to have to wait.
BLANKLEY: I mean, keep -- keep in mind that long -- longer unemployment is relatively high in America, the more illegal immigrants go back to countries, at least those who can -- who can move on land. The people who have to fly to Asia is another matter. But people from Mexico, Central America, South America are -- are leaving...
BLITZER: All right.
BLANKLEY: ... because there are not jobs.
BLITZER: Quickly, on Dick Durbin yesterday saying this to our John King -- listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I support a public option, but, yes, I am open. Just understand that, after we pass this bill -- and I hope we do -- in the Senate, it will go to conference committee. We will have a chance to work out all of our differences. So, we will see how this ends. But I don't want the process to be filibustered to failure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that realistic, that, if the House passes health insurance reform with a public option, a -- a government-run insurance agency to compete with the private insurance companies, the Senate doesn't, that, when they get together and they try to have their conference committee, they will get that public option in there? Is that realistic?
BRAZILE: I hope so, Wolf, simply because...
BLITZER: I know you hope so, but is that realistic?
BRAZILE: Well, I think so, because four out of the five committees clearly are supportive of that option.
BLITZER: In the House.
BRAZILE: And the -- and the Senate. There are many...
BLITZER: Nobody is...
BRAZILE: There are many senators...
BLITZER: In the Senate, there's a lot of opposition, including from Democrats.
BRAZILE: There's opposition -- there's opposition, Wolf, but, look, if we're serious about reducing costs, we need to look at a public option.
BLITZER: Is it realistic...
BLITZER: ... they could get it back in? BLANKLEY: Look, there's an old technique. You say, let's just pass something into the conference and get it fixed there. That works on legislation that is not highly visible.
On this one, if the votes are not there in the Senate for their floor vote, it won't be there for the conference vote. But, at this point, I don't blame the senator for wanting to just move it along and hope for better later on.
BLITZER: Guys, we will continue this conversation. Thank you.
Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: That's the American way when it comes to our government, isn't it? Kick it down the road and open something good happens later on.
BLITZER: That is correct.
The question is: Should the House cancel its order for $550 million worth of new jets?
You bet they should.
Ted in Oregon writes: "Yes. Maybe they will find a heck of a lot of business that really isn't as official as they pretend. They could spend their time in their offices and on the floor of the House reading the bills they pass off on us. Let them go coach for a while and see what their constituents are stuck with."
Dave writes: "The $550 million for new Gulfstream and Boeing jets should be canceled immediately. The House members should take up driving hybrids, flying coach on commercial airlines, using teleconferencing and video-conferencing, and riding bicycles."
CAFFERTY: ... in Louisiana -- can you picture some of them on bicycles?
Don in Louisiana: "I don't have a problem with the government buying jets. What's the difference between $500 million in jets and $500 million in stimulus? The jets will put more people to work than most of the projects in the stimulus bill."
Susan writes: "With all of the TARP, bailout and health care discussions, we're asked to think about the greater good. When one in nine people are collecting food stamps, businesses are being boarded up, and unemployment is skyrocketing, how can Congress rationalize this? It seems everyone except the government is being asked to tighten their belts." Patsy in Texas: "Absolutely, it should be canceled. I called my congressman's office" -- this is great -- listen to this -- "I called my congressman's office to ask how he voted on the Appropriations Committee, but they said those votes were not disclosed, and my congressman was in Alaska, so they could not ask him. I then e-mailed the question. Of course, no answer yet. What a rude awakening this has been. I am happy to see that someone, somewhere, is seeing this for what it is, scratching each others' backs while Rome is burning. Thanks, Jack, for not letting this thing die."
They couldn't reach him? I guess, what, they don't have cell phone service in Alaska.
Shantell writes: "Hell yes. Cancel the planes, or we will cancel them in the next election cycle."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.
Not a lot of support for what these people are trying to do, Wolf.
BLITZER: Why am I not surprised, Jack?
BLITZER: Thank you.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening: the search for bodies and answers, after a shocking collision between a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter full of tourists -- why some pilots say this was an accident waiting to happen.
Are America's enemies now winning in Afghanistan? The U.S. commander there makes a dire assessment amid predictions that U.S. troops could be in Afghanistan for many years to come. We're going to Kabul.
And we will take you to the skies over Britain, where a man is now crossing the country on a flying bike. You're going to see it to believe it.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As divers look for the last of the victims, investigators are looking for answers to the weekend collision between a small private plane and a helicopter carrying a group of sightseers.
One hotly debated issue, the crowded airspace along the Hudson River.