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THE SITUATION ROOM

Pan Am Bomber To Be Freed; Dems May Proceed Alone on Health Reform; Interview with Bill Richardson; Milwaukee Mayor Talks About Being Attacked; Violence and Voting in Afghanistan; Don Hewitt Dies of Cancer at 86; Democrats Consider "Going It Alone" to Pass Health Care Reform

Aired August 19, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Rick.

Happening now, the health care debate raging out of White House control, hopes for bipartisanship stymied so far. Now the president is said to be weighing a drastic option, going it alone, pushing for a bill without a single Republican vote.

Also, deadly violence against U.S. forces and election workers in Afghanistan just hours before the polls open in this country's critical presidential vote. We are on the ground seeing firsthand what election officials are up against.

And a big-city city mayor is speaking out about the brutal beating that sent him to the hospital. But so far, the family of the accused attacker is also speaking and now conflicting stories are beginning to emerge about what really happened.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in CNN's Command Center for breaking news, politics, extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First, we begin with breaking news. A decision reached in a case the U.S. has been watching very closely, trying to fervently influence. Should a terminally ill man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 be granted compassionate release and be allowed to die at home? Our CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is joining us live. Jeanne, what are we hearing about this decision?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, we're told that the Obama administration has been notified informally that Abdel Baset al- Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, will be released by Scottish authorities on humanitarian grounds. Senior State Department officials tell this to CNN producer Elise Labott. They say that this is a compassionate action on the part of the Scots. The exact terms of his release have not been clarified to U.S. officials as yet.

Now, U.S. officials have been very outspoken in their views on this case. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder have been in contact with Scottish justice authorities to voice their opinion that this is a man who should stay in jail. In addition, the Lockerbie families have weighed in. There's some division of opinion, but those who believe he should stay in jail have been very outspoken, say they are horrified of the thought that this man could be released from jail whether he's ill or not. He's 57- years-old. He has cancer.

You can expect tomorrow that you will hear a very vehement reaction from U.S. officials probably in the White House, the State Department, the Justice Department. They will not be happy that Scottish authorities have made this decision. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much. I'm sure we'll get more information. We'll come back to you as soon as we do. Now joining us by phone is Bert Ammerman. He lost his brother in the Lockerbie bombing. Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to ask you first, obviously, your reaction to the news here that the bomber, the alleged bomber, will be allowed to die at home and be released from prison.

BERT AMMERMAN, LOST BROTHER IN PAN AM BOMBING (on phone): Well, this is a bitter moment in this 21-year odyssey. It's sort of ironic that 21 years ago, this coward along with others bombed a plane with 259 people on it at 31,000 feet, 270 were killed and here we are 21 years later and I've been given other information by some people calling earlier that they're going to try to get him out under the cover of darkness tonight and then make the announcement tomorrow.

Really it's sort of ironic if that is true, sneak attack 21 years ago and in the embarrassment of governments having to move this killer of 270 people on the ludicrous grounds of compassionate release.

MALVEAUX: Do you think that he should die in prison, or do you think that this is -- it's OK for him to die at home, that they've made the right decision?

AMMERMAN: Oh, it's the wrong decision on a couple of accounts. First of all, he got his compassionate release when he got life imprisonment and not capital punishment, which Scotland doesn't have. He should finish out his term in his natural life in confinement, then return the body to Libya. Number two, he's going to be going back, even if he has terminal cancer, as a hero and he's going to be received as a hero in Libya.

And number three, let's cut through all this information. He's being released because big business in the United States, Great Britain want the oil in Libya and that's what's driving this whole wagon.

MALVEAUX: Well, we'll obviously be looking into many of the different questions surrounding this. Is there anything that you believe your family can do or will do in light of this new information that's come forward?

AMMERMAN: No, because what they did brilliantly, some of the British families wanted him released so they could continue to have the appeal process and according to them, find out who really did this. I don't agree with them. But by him dropping his appeals to me is a government decision between the United States and Great Britain because now they've successfully stopped everything.

So, Pan Am 103, odyssey as we've known it for 21 years, has been successfully closed. And that's what bothers me because the manipulation from Bush 41 to Clinton to Bush 43 and now to the Obama administration, even though I did hear in your introduction that the United States is protesting. My 21 years' experience in dealing with governments has taught me one thing -- if the United States didn't want him released through back channels, this man would not be released. So, they can go out and say anything they want tomorrow and how upset they are. Don't insult my intelligence.

MALVEAUX: Bert Ammerman, I want to thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM for this breaking news. And obviously, this is a story that we're going to be following throughout the next three hours.

The White House says that bipartisanship is the preferred option, but top Democrats close to the White House are now telling CNN that the Obama administration is considering pushing a health care reform bill through Congress without Republican backing by invoking what is a seldom-used procedure. Senate Democrats could thwart a filibuster and pass a bill with a simple majority. But Republicans warn that would be, quote, like a declaration of war.

Our CNN senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, he is working the story for us. Ed, tell us why all the talk now of trying to go it alone. It's dramatically different when we see the last 12 to 24 hours, when has been coming out of the White House.

ED ENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Suzanne. The bottom line is that the president has invested so much political capital in getting this done and after all the speeches, the PR offensive, he still has basically no Republicans on board, and that's why top advisers to the president are saying that they are actively considering, as you said, using, basically muscling this through the Senate with Democratic-only votes by using this budget maneuver, reconciliation, they call it, where instead of needing 60 votes, you'd need a simple majority, 51 votes to get it through.

The bottom line though is that there's no final decision on this. They're actively considering it. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs saying the president is still holding out hope that he can get bipartisanship here in large part because there are three Republicans still negotiating in the Senate Finance Committee.

But as you know, they've been meeting for weeks now with very little success, and that's why advisers to the president say that if this isn't done by, say, mid-September, they're very likely to move ahead with reconciliation. They say while Republicans will scream in protest, the bottom line is if in the end they get a win for the president, it will be a win, people remember that, not the process, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And let's bring in CNN senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, obviously, you've been talking to folks all day. What are congressional leaders saying about this latest twist?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, the senators leading the bipartisan talks, Ed was just talking about, Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Republican Charles Grassley, they've both released statements to CNN today insisting they are still committed to bipartisan negotiations, that they have been engaged in for months.

And they reminded us there's actually a meeting, a conference call tomorrow night with those six senators. However, a spokesman for the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, issued a warning, Suzanne. He said that Democrats' patience is not unlimited and said Democrats will ultimately do whatever it takes to pass health care. And I'll read a statement from Senate majority leader Harry Reid's spokesman. He said, "The White House still prefers a bipartisan bill and neither the White House nor the Democratic leadership has made a decision to pursue reconciliation. We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill. However, patience is not unlimited and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary."

Now Suzanne, that is just about one of the clearest statements yet on the record about what we've been hearing privately from Democrats for months and especially in the past 24 hours. They are already quietly figuring out how to jump legislative hurdles to push through health care without Republicans. Why? Because privately Democratic leaders really doubt those bipartisan talks are going to be successful.

OK, Dana Bash, thank you very much. Ed Henry, we'll leave it there. Thank you both. We now are joining Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File." Jack, what are you following? Good to see you.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, nice to see you. Six months since the Obama administration pushed through that massive $787 billion economic stimulus package, so where are the jobs? House Republican Whip Eric Cantor says he doesn't think the program is working as well as it was advertised and he says nobody should be highlighting the benefits of the stimulus plan. Cantor points out that when this thing was passed, the administration predicted it would keep unemployment lower than 8.5 percent. Hasn't happened, the jobless rate in July was 9.4 percent. The White House has pushed back against critics of the stimulus bill, saying that it's working as planned by easing but not erasing the impact of the recession. They say it'll take a very, very long time, their words, to fill what they call a very, very deep hole. That's fine. But where are the jobs?

Most economists agree the recession would have been worse without the stimulus although they don't agree on how much it has actually helped. Meanwhile, a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows most Americans think the stimulus package has cost too much money and is not doing enough to end the recession, 57 percent of those polled say it's having no impact on the economy or is making things worse, 60 percent doubt the plan will help the economy in the future. And only 18 percent say it has done anything to help their personal situation. Not exactly rave reviews there.

So, here's the question, why hasn't the stimulus package produced more of a recovery in the jobs market? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog. A lot of people out of work in this country, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, thank you, Jack.

Well, we are getting word of severe weather hitting the St. Paul area. Chad Myers is with that, breaking news is up next. Plus, a potential breakthrough in the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. We are going to talk to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He has been meeting with North Korean diplomats and he's going to make news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, the deadliest day in Iraq since U.S. forces withdrew from the country's cities and towns two months ago. New details of a wave of deadly bombings.

Plus, a battered big-city mayor speaking out for the first time about the vicious attack that sent him to the hospital. And now the other side of the story is starting to emerge as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Severe weather reported in the St. Paul area. Let's go right to CNN's Chad Myers with the breaking news. Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Suzanne, still tornado warnings for the areas east of St. Paul. We did have a tornado reported by the public just north of literally downtown Minneapolis. I'm going to take you to what's going on here. There is the town of Minneapolis here. Here is the convention center. We know that part of the roof is off of the convention center itself. And then as we spin you around, we know that there were reports of damage all along 35W all the way down about Fourth Avenue South and about 35th Street. And then a little bit of wind damage through the downtown area itself. This weather popped up very, very quickly, and the severe weather will probably continue for much of the night. So, we'll watch Minneapolis. We will also watch parts of Indiana and Illinois for the potential for severe weather tonight. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you very much. Chad Myers with breaking news there on the St. Paul area.

Breaking news also in the standoff over North Korea nuclear weapons' program. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been meeting with two of the country's top diplomats. Governor, what can you tell us about your talks? What do the North Koreans want?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, first, the North Koreans are sending good signals that they're ready to talk directly to the United States. They felt President Clinton's visit was good, that it helped thaw relations, make them easier.

They did feel that getting the two American journalists out was a gesture on their part. They mentioned several other gestures they've made recently, the release of the South Korean detainee. And so, I detected for the first time -- and I've been meeting with Minister Kim, who's the top U.N. diplomat -- a lessening of tension, some positive vibration. The fact that they're ready to have a dialogue again. But the issue is should that dialogue be in the context of the six-party talks which the United States wants with the other Asian countries or bilaterally as the North Koreans want, directly U.S./North Korea.

MALVEAUX: Did they tell you they were willing at the very least to go back to the six-party talks and to begin renegotiating in that form, that the United States, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, has preferred?

RICHARDSON: No. They don't like the six-party talks. They felt that it's produced sanctions on them. They want a new format. And the format they want is direct talks with the United States. Now, maybe a compromise might be some kind of direct talks within the six party format. But, again, this is something that diplomats should negotiate. I'm not negotiating on behalf of the Obama administration.

They called me, the State Department approved the visit. They've come here three times before. I know Minister Kim well. We're going to meet some more this afternoon and then tomorrow. So, maybe there will be a little more. But the good news is I detected a lessening of tension, good vibrations.

The Clinton visit helped. They feel, the North Koreans, that by giving us the two American journalists, that they've made an important gesture. And now they're saying the ball's in our court. That's in essence what I got from the first meeting this morning.

MALVEAUX: Do you feel like they've conveyed that the U.S. owes them anything, that they have expectations from this Obama administration now?

RICHARDSON: Well, they do feel that they are owed a gesture on the U.S. part. I don't believe that should be the case because this is a humanitarian gesture that needed to happen. These were two American journalists. They were only doing their job. They suffered for several months, and they were released thanks to some very good diplomacy by the Obama administration.

But the North Koreans obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip and now they want a gesture in return. What I believe they want in return is, all right, the U.S. is now ready to talk directly, maybe substitute the six-party talks for bilateral talks, but this is something the U.S. is going to have to decide in some tough bargaining. This is why I mentioned that perhaps within the six-party talks, the Asian countries, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, the U.S., that there been bilateral talks by the U.S. and North Korea within those talks.

But you first have to get together. There first has to be a dialogue. And I think the North Koreans are...

MALVEAUX: Who do they want to talk to, governor? Do they want to talk specifically with former Bill Clinton? Are they asking to speak with the current president, Obama? RICHARDSON: No. They're ready to talk to our designee, our Ambassador Bosworth, our special envoy. They're leaving it up to the U.S. on who should they talk to. They didn't place any conditions, and that's good news. I think they felt that the high level visit of President Clinton, although as a humanitarian, unofficial visit, gave them international prestige.

And I think it did. And it took somebody of the stature of President Clinton to get the two journalists out, and this credit should go to President Obama and his team that realized that this was the only way to get them out.

MALVEAUX: And, governor, are they specifically talking about nuclear negotiations here, a willingness to take a look at their program and perhaps give up their nuclear ambitions? Is that what they are talking act when they say we want one-on-one talks?

RICHARDSON: Well, they said that everything would be on the table -- security issues, normalization issues. But, look, they're very tough bargainers. Previous administrations have tried before, nuclear agreements in exchange for them giving up their nuclear weapons. They get food, aid, energy. That hasn't worked.

So, there's probably going to be a need for a new format, not just in terms of negotiating but also the issues. But I think the important thing, because the relationship has been so negative for the last two years, it's just sitting together and talking, dialogue, diplomacy, because it's in both our countries' interest for North Korea to end their nuclear weapons, to have stability in Asia and to improve the situation of the North Korean people.

MALVEAUX: And governor, last quick question, I know you have more talks and this will continue. But did they you any indication that they are willing to compromise, willing to pull back on their nuclear program? Was that something they had offered or said they were willing in some ways to change? Have you gotten to that point?

RICHARDSON: No, no, and they wouldn't bring that up with me. This is up to the two governments. I'm sort of a liaison here, but they know me. I've dealt with them over the years, and they asked to see me. So, I will convey back to the administration what they said.

But the negotiating on the hard stuff like reduction of nuclear weapons, termination, some kind of an agreement, which is in our interests, getting them to stop exporting their nuclear material has to be handled by our diplomat, and we have some very good ones, especially Ambassador Bosworth.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you very much, Governor Bill Richardson, for joining us in here THE SITUATION ROOM.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Well, deadly violence and a logistical nightmare. We are on the ground in Afghanistan, a country on edge just hours ahead of a crucial presidential election.

Plus, Hurricane Bill now a very dangerous Category 4 storm. Where is it heading right now? We'll have the latest forecast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Poppy Harlow is monitoring the stories that are coming into "The Situation Room" right now. Poppy, what are you working on?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Well Suzanne, Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says security arrangement in his country needs to be re-evaluated. This following six bomb attacks in Baghdad today alone. At least 95 people were killed and more than 560 others were wounded. Two bombings targeted government buildings including the ministries of foreign affairs and finance. An Iraqi army official says two suspects in custody are believed to be senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Meantime, also making headlines, Hurricane Bill is now a powerful Category 4 storm with winds topping 135 miles an hour. It is expected to pass north of the Leeward Islands in the next 24 hours. The storm could intensify as it moves north. Forecasters say Hurricane Bill could produce dangerous rip tides and high surf on the Eastern Coast this weekend. A new hurricane advisory is due out soon, and CNN's meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers will have all the details on that in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And an 11-year-old British boy has become the world's young wing walker. That's right, see him there on the top of the plane? Tiger Brewer broke that record today by standing on top of his grandfather's biplane as the plane flew 1,000 feet in the air. Thankfully, his feet were strapped down. Wing walking is a family tradition for the Brewers. Tiger's grandfather operates the world's only formation wing walking team. He says his grandson has been waiting for this day for years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIC NORMAN, BOY'S GRANDFATHER: Tiger's been asking to do this since he was three years old. And I've always said, no, you've got to be bigger, and until you fit the straps properly. You know, about six months ago, he said to me, well, granddad, can I do it this summer? I said we'll have to see, we'll have to see. He said well, granddad, I've told my friends I'm going to do it. I said we'll still have to see. We'll have to see if you fit into the airplanes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Suzanne, you could not pay me to do that.

MALVEAUX: That's a brave young man is there. Thanks, Poppy.

Well, Milwaukee's mayor battered and bruised, and for the first time he is talking about how he got those injuries in a bizarre weekend attack.

And we are following breaking news out of Minnesota. Severe weather in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We'll have the latest information on that storm system and the damage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Afghans go to the polls in just a few hours but security is a huge concern as Taliban militants step up attacks to intimidate voters. Are their terror tactics working? We'll have a report from the capital, Kabul.

And a shocking attack in Georgia. An elderly couple is mauled to death by a pack of wild dogs. The bizarre details coming up.

And NASCAR champions in the driver's seat and at the White House. Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is now speaking out about how he was attacked while trying to help a woman on the street. The incident happened last weekend as the mayor was leaving the Wisconsin State Fair. Our CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now. Brian, what did the mayor say about this attack? It's the first time he's talked about it.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the first time since the incident happened. Suzanne, the mayor says he was having a nice evening out at the state fair with his family on Saturday. They noticed a disturbance as they were leaving the event and then he says things moved very quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): With a substantial cut on the left side of his face and his broken right hand heavily bandaged, Milwaukee's mayor gives new detail on the attack that sent him to the hospital.

Tom Barrett says, as he and his family were leaving the state fair Saturday night, people in his group heard someone yell, "Call 911." They noticed a woman holding a baby.

TOM BARRETT, MAYOR OF MILWAUKEE: Within seconds, we realized the problem was not with the baby, it was with the man. And he came up and was very, very agitated. And events took off from there very, very quickly.

TODD: Barrett wouldn't give more details on the beating, citing the investigation. But his brother did describe the incident to CNN, saying the other man punched Mayor Barrett, threw him to the ground, then:

JOHN BARRETT, BROTHER OF MILWAUKEE MAYOR TOM BARRETT: This guy has a -- a -- like, a police baton that extends. And he is basically pounding Tom over and over with this -- with this baton, and knocks Tom's -- like, a tooth on the bottom of Tom's mouth out right at the -- at the root.

TODD: Police in nearby West Allis, Wisconsin, tell CNN the suspect, 20-year-old Anthony Peters, is still being held, and a local district attorney says a decision on possible charges could be made by Thursday.

A separate 911 call indicates Peters was threatening the grandmother of his 1-year-old daughter, when the mayor interceded. But other members of Peters' family have indicated they think the mayor may have provoked Peters. Peters' older brother spoke to CNN affiliate WTMJ, but asked that he not be seen on camera or identified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody got involved that really shouldn't even have got involved.

T. BARRETT: My first reaction was, that's pretty bizarre. We were literally walking down the street. And so that -- I don't want to say anything more than that. We were literally walking down the street.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Peters' mother told our CNN affiliate, if it had been anyone else beside the mayor -- quote -- "It wouldn't have even hit the news. My son probably wouldn't have been arrested" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Was there any security detail around the mayor?

TODD: There was not. And he explained that, actually. He said he was home Saturday night. His wife was out of town. He had some of his kids with him. He was looking for an excuse not to make dinner. He got calls from some of his siblings, a brother and a sister, to go to the state fair and listen to a band that they liked.

He said, this was a completely spur-of-the-moment decision, and that's why his security detail was not with him there.

MALVEAUX: Wow. Heroic act by the mayor.

Thank you so much, Brian.

Well, deadly new violence in Afghanistan just hours ahead of the country's closely watched and critical presidential election. Six American service members have been killed since yesterday, five of them in hostile attacks.

And militants are also targeting election workers, with at least six deaths reported. All of this is creating a very tense atmosphere. It's just over four -- six hours to go before the polls open at 10:30 Eastern time tonight.

Our CNN's Ivan Watson is in Afghanistan with the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in a convoy on a police truck. We're escorting this truck ahead up of us. In the dust, you might be able to see it. And it's taking ballot boxes up to some of the polling stations here in Afghanistan's central Bamyan province.

As you can see, security is important here, even though this is one of the safest provinces in the country. Despite that good track record, election workers say, in some parts of the province, they have heard of armed men going house to house, warning people not to vote.

And, also, there's been a spike in violence and insurgent attacks over the past three months, as insurgents have tried to disrupt this election process.

Now, you can tell the roads here are not paved. Despite the fact that Bamyan is one of the safest provinces in the country -- it's been spared the -- the daily car bombs and roadside bombs that the south and the east of the country have seen and some of the assassination attacks -- it still hasn't really benefited from reconstruction.

There are fewer than five miles, five kilometers of paved road in this entire province. And that makes this election a real logistical challenge. You can see the posters over there of some of the candidates for provincial council and for president.

People here, they say they are going to participate in the elections tomorrow. And there is a lot of support here for the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, in part because some of the traditional ethnic Hazara leaders -- this is a predominantly ethnic Hazara province -- they have endorsed the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Ivan Watson mentioned the logistical challenge of the election. I want you to take a look at this.

Officials have enlisted more than -- this is amazing -- 3,000 donkeys to help deliver ballots to remote corners of the country. In fact, there are more donkeys being used than cars. This massive effort is being conducted by an election staff of 165,000 people.

Well, we possibly wouldn't even be here without him, Don Hewitt, a TV news pioneer whose influence reached far beyond his groundbreaking newsmagazine, "60 Minutes." We look at his life and legacy.

Also, a new role model for scorned women everywhere, the wife of South Carolina's cheating governor empowered by scandal.

Plus, NASCAR at the White House -- President Obama welcomes the cars and the drivers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, TV news as we know it would not exist without Don Hewitt. The veteran journalist and creator of "60 Minutes" has died of pancreatic cancer at age 86.

As CNN's Kyra Phillips shows us, Hewitt's influence on the industry extended far beyond the venerable news show that he started.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody goofed. It was supposed to be a...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody goofed is right.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pioneering journalist Don Hewitt in the early days of television.

DON HEWITT, CREATOR OF "60 MINUTES": Call me Tuesday, when you get back. Call me collect.

PHILLIPS: He began his career in print journalism. He moved to CBS in 1948, where he stayed for more than 50 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SEE IT NOW")

ANNOUNCER: "See It Now," a document for television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: He directed the CBS documentary series "See It Now" and the legendary series "CBS Reports."

He worked alongside correspondent Edward R. Murrow and producer Fred Friendly. They set the highest standards, virtually inventing the new medium of television journalism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "DOUGLAS EDWARDS AND THE NEWS")

DOUGLAS EDWARDS, CBS ANCHOR: Coast to coast, Douglas Edwards reporting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: As producer and directory of "Douglas Edwards and the News," he had a tremendous influence on the development of day-to-day television news programming. He headed CBS' early political coverage, including the 1960 presidential debate.

HEWITT: Nixon was ill. This guy had been in the hospital. He arrived here looking like the wrath of God. Jack Kennedy looked like (INAUDIBLE)

PHILLIPS: Seventy million viewers tuned in to that debate, which revealed the awesome power of television.

HEWITT: That people who heard it on radio thought that Nixon won. All the people who watched it on television saw this sort of sallow green, pasty, hesitant Richard Nixon, and decided that Kennedy was the winner.

PHILLIPS: Don Hewitt is best known for creating the groundbreaking news broadcast "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "60 Minutes." It's a kind of a magazine for television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: "60 Minutes" became one of the most successful and profitable news programs in television history, an impressive achievement for the man who dropped out of college after just one year and admitted he was not really an intellectual.

His genius came in creating stories in a way that appealed to the average person.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

HEWITT: I go to every screening as a viewer. And I sit there and I say to myself, if I were a guy sitting home at 7:00 Sunday, would I look at this? Does this interest me? Can this be told better?

MIKE WALLACE, "60 MINUTES": He did a book about it called "Tell Me a Story." It was a story. It was a story. And he loosed us, this whole crowd, on stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Hewitt developed the reputation of a hands-on manager, a person whose fingerprints could be seen on every frame, every line of every story, a stickler for perfection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

ANDY ROONEY, "60 MINUTES": He's a kind of idiot savant of broadcasting, flying by the seat of his pants in a control room, an edit room, or careening around the hallways adjacent to his office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: He also developed a reputation as a domineering boss. His handling of "60 Minutes" staffers is legendary, sometimes volatile and heavy-handed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

MORLEY SAFER, "60 MINUTES": There are oftentimes blood on the floor of that screening room, believe me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Over the years, "60 Minutes" became appointment television, bringing us some of the most memorable and sometimes touching moments in television history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES")

BILL CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage. That's a very different thing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: In June, 2004, Hewitt stepped aside -- some would say he was pushed aside -- as executive producer of "60 Minutes." He left at age 81, after heading "60 Minutes 'for 36 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

STEVE KROFT, "60 MINUTES": He's been a great boss. He's been a great boss. You can challenge him. You can fight him. The only thing you cannot do is bore him in the screening room.

(LAUGHTER)

KROFT: That is the one thing that is not allowed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Well, we want to show you a bit more of the CBS show "See It Now" that Kyra mentioned. Hewitt was right in the middle of the action, alongside CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow during the first live coast-to-coast transmission of a program back in 1951.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SEE IT NOW")

ANNOUNCER: CBS Television, in cooperation with its affiliated television stations, presents the distinguished reporter and news analyst Edward R. Murrow in "See It Now," edited by Mr. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly, a public service of the CBS Television Network.

EDWARD R. MURROW, CBS NEWS: This is an old team trying to learn a new trade. When we started this series of program, we had to decide where to do it from.

We decided to do it right here from the studio. My purpose will be not to get in your light any more than I can, to lean over the cameraman's shoulder occasionally and say a world which may help to illuminate or explain what is happening.

We have here two monitors, which will serve, in effect, the purpose of loudspeakers. They are tied, so to speak, to lines that come from Chicago, New York, Washington, various other places. We will from time to time show film on those monitors as well.

We are, as newcomers to this medium, rather impressed by the whole thing, impressed, for example, that I can turn to Don Hewitt here and say, Don, will you push a button and bring in the Atlantic Coast?

HEWITT: This is camera one at a point of vantage on Governors Island. There's the island. It's right down that way. There's where the big ships sail out to Europe and all other ports of the world. MURROW: Good. Thank you very much.

Now, on monitor two, may we have the Pacific Coast, please?

HEWITT: Hello, New York. This is the Golden Gate, the waters of San Francisco Bay leading out to the Pacific Ocean. It's rather hazy out here, Mr. Murrow.

MURROW: Thank you very much, indeed, gentlemen.

We, for our part, are considerably impressed. For the first time, man has been able to sit home and look at two oceans at the same time. We are impressed with the importance of this media. We shall to hope to learn to use it and not to abuse it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, highlighting the use of multiple video screens in reporting, that's something we love here in THE SITUATION ROOM. "See It Now" ran from 1951 to 1957. We owe him quite a bit.

Well, Democrats and the White House may try to push through health care reform without Republican support. How will that sit with the American people? The latest poll results in today's "Strategy Session."

And drawing a line in the sand. The wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford talks about his affair and reveals what he has to do to save their marriage -- her words resounding with the public and Hollywood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A possible shift in the Democrats' health care strategy tops our "Strategy Session."

Joining us today, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala, and Frank Donatelli, the deputy chair of the Republican National Committee and who, should we mention, works at a consulting firm that represents health care clients.

Thank you very much for joining here on THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to start off -- there's a lot of talk now, specifically over the last 24 hours or so, whether or not the president, the Obama administration, should try to bring on Republicans, or just abandon it altogether.

Here's what the latest poll shows, whether or not they should have broad support. Congress should approve health care reform only with support from Democrats. Well, 36 percent agree, but 59 percent disagree.

So, Paul, how does the president handle this? How does he push it through? And what does he need to do to get Republicans on board, or should -- should he just say forget about it? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's interesting is, he's got two campaign promises that are in conflict.

He ran around the country and said: I will be post-partisan. I will rise above the fray. I will bring Republicans and Democrats together.

And, you know, he's not going to be able to do that. I think he -- to paraphrase George W. Bush, he misunderestimated the Republicans. I think he -- he gave them credit for being reasonable and responsible, when they're not.

He and his team have accepted -- get this -- over 100 Republican amendments and changes to the health care bill, for which they have gotten no Republican votes. So, I think he has no choice. He promised to do health care, and he promised to be bipartisan.

When those two are at war, health care is a lot more important. He's got to do his job, which is to try to bring quality affordable health care the American people, even though the Republicans won't do their job.

MALVEAUX: Frank, is there some room for the Republicans to jump on board with the health care reform, or are they just not saying the right things yet?

FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there might be, but here's a suggestion to the president. Actually try to get Republican votes.

He's supporting a bill in the House of Representatives that was written by George Miller, Henry Waxman, and Charles Rangel, three very, very fine representatives who are among the most -- most liberal members in the entire Congress. And that's the bill he's supporting.

It might be 100 amendments, Paul, but these are very small, technical things. He's refused to talk about things that could be truly bipartisan, in a time when the American people really, I think, are looking for a bipartisan solution.

BEGALA: Let me give you an example. The so-called death panels -- that is, compensating docs through the Medicare system if they spend time counseling people on advanced medical directives and living wills, right -- that's an idea that came from two Republicans, Johnny Isakson, a Republican senator of Georgia, Olympia Snowe, a Republican senator from Maine.

It was included in the bill, I am told, because these two Republicans wanted it. They put it in the bill. And then the radical right, not the responsible Republicans, but the radical right, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, others, even Charles Grassley, starts calling it -- that we're going to pull the plug on grandma and calling it a death panel?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's a Republican idea...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: But then Isakson has since kind of distanced himself from -- from that whole original idea about -- that he was a part of the legislation that we're now seeing in its current form.

But what does the president need to do? I mean, is there something -- is there one thing that he could offer here that...

DONATELLI: Well, let me give you two.

MALVEAUX: ... the Republicans would sign on board?

DONATELLI: Yes, thank you. Let me -- let me give -- let me give you two.

Talking about equalizing the tax treatment between people that buy their insurance directly from an insurer and people that get insurance directly from their employers, that's a reasonable position that the president should be willing to talk about.

But he criticized John McCain in the presidential election, and the unions are against it, so he won't talk about it. Medical malpractice reform is another commonsense solution. Again, the trial bar, which gives a lot of money to the Democrats, is opposed to ti.

So, I would say to the president, you have an opportunity to get something bipartisan here, but you have got to walk away from the left side of your party.

He's never been willing to do that.

MALVEAUX: Paul, I want to -- I want to show you this poll here, NBC News poll, how health care is being handled by President Obama.

Forty-one percent approve, but 47 percent disapprove. It's better than they see in Congress, Republicans in Congress, 21 percent approving, and 62 percent disapproving.

But there's a lot of misinformation. You talked about the so- called death panels and so forth. How does -- how does the president right now cut through a lot of that? He has been trying for weeks now. And, so far, we are still seeing a disapproval rating higher than the approval rating.

BEGALA: Right.

Well, what's interesting, Paul Steinhauser, who wrote up this story on our CNN "Political Ticker," one of our producers here, he points out that that 41 percent approved, it's not very good, but it hasn't gone down since all of this ruckus at these town hall meetings.

In other words, the August recess has not damaged President Obama. He's trying to take on the very hardest issue, except for race, the hardest issue on the domestic front in American history, the last 75 years in American history.

MALVEAUX: Frank, I want you to weigh in real quick.

DONATELLI: Well, but what has gone up is the hard disapprove. And now the public opposes the public option by several percent. That's a sea change, really a tough problem for the president.

MALVEAUX: All right. We are going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much, Frank Donatelli and Paul Begala.

CNN iReporters on the scene of a series of deadly bomb blasts in Baghdad -- you're going to see what they see as the Iraqi capital is rocked.

Also, we are standing by for a new forecast on Hurricane Bill, now a very dangerous Category 4 storm. And the U.S. East Coast could be feeling its effects soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Jack joins us again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, I do, Suzanne.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, why hasn't the stimulus package produced more of a recovery in the jobs market?

Stacy writes from Florida: "I have been in Delaware since the middle of May. There is road construction everywhere you go. A lot of dump trucks on the road. And when the dump trucks are moving, construction is happening. Everybody around here says, thanks, Joe."

That would be Joe Biden, who is from Delaware.

Michael writes: "It's a very silly question. When we are funding studies on the brown marsh mouse, more unemployment benefits, more food stamp benefits, et cetera, with a stimulus package, should we wonder why it isn't working? The stimulus package was nothing more than political payback to those who voted for Democrats, very little infrastructure spending, which actually would have had a double benefit: more jobs and better infrastructure."

Dave writes: "The last I heard, only 12 percent of the money has been sent out. And the states are still awarding contracts, so we need to give it time to work its way through. It's only been seven months."

Bob writes: "The bailout failed because small businesses and consumers still cannot get affordable financing. The Wall Street bailout let horribly run firms stay in business. And that prevented new, more responsible lenders from replacing them, and that is preventing Main Street from recovering."

And Don in Alabama writes: "As a college philosophy teacher, I have to say that the biggest problem with the stimulus package is not the package itself, but the culture that needs the package. We, the people of the American culture of bounty, are spoiled to the point of absurdity, wanting quick fixes for our own comfort, rather than giving the potential process time to work its way through the wilderness that our traditional demand for bounty has produced."

There's a reason I didn't do well in college. I'm not sure I understood that.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: 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.

Did you follow that, Suzanne?

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: I didn't either. So, we're OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: We're in good company there.

All right, thank you, Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Well, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Hours before Afghan voters go to the pools braving a new wave of bloody violence, Iraq's insurgents provide nightmares of that country's darkest days. Six bombings leave hundreds dead and wounded. We will take you to both war zones.

Betrayed wives in the spotlight -- now the wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford opens up about her husband's affair and how she's dealing with it.

And a politician makes a dramatic marriage proposal to his fiancee using a police helicopter and police boat. Can he make it up to taxpayers?