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Four Troops Killed in Afghan Battle; President to Students: 'Work Hard'; Health Care: What Will Obama Say?

Aired September 8, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A shattering explosion at Kabul's airport claims civilian lives, and four American troops are killed in a bloody clash in eastern Afghanistan. As the U.S. death toll rises, there's also growing concern right now in Washington that alleged election fraud by Afghanistan's government could set back the entire war effort.

CNN's Michael Ware is standing by live in Kabul, but let's begin with our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

Jill, serious allegations against President Karzai's government.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Have patience, let the electoral process play out -- that's what the State Department is saying today as evidence of vote fraud mounts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): Even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai moves past 50 percent of the vote needed for re-election, the country's Electoral Complaints Commission demands a recount of ballots from 600 polling stations, finding what it calls "clear and convincing evidence of fraud." Most of those complaints, the Commission says, point to fraud by supporters of Karzai.

GRANT KIPPEN, CHAIRMAN, ELECTORAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION: The one thing that we saw in one ballot box was 1,700 ballot stubs in one ballot box, when there's only supposed to be 600 in there.

DOUGHERTY: In what one senior State Department official calls "a shot across the bow to the Afghan government," U.S. ambassador to the Afghan, Karl Eikenberry, personally delivers a message to Karzai: "Don't claim victory just yet and don't interfere in the Electoral Commission's work."

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It is very important that these elections are seen as legitimate in the eyes of -- of the Afghan people and in the eyes of -- of the international community.

DOUGHERTY: If they're not, U.S. officials concede it would undermine the legitimacy of Karzai's government, not only at home, but in countries where public support for the war effort already is dropping. The U.S. isn't calling just yet for a runoff between Karzai and his closest competitor, Abdullah Abdullah. But one American election observer says that would help.

KARIN VON HIPPEL, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think most Afghans expect that -- that fraud will be part of this election outcome. I think they're mostly expecting that Karzai is going to win, that he probably will win by stealing a lot of votes. And so that's why, in a sense if goes to a second round, that would actually bolster the opinion of Afghans in their own government.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: But at this point, any runoff or even a determination of a final winner seems very far away. The State Department spokesman today predicting it could take months just to settle and to sort out those allegations of vote fraud -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Serious allegations, indeed.

Jill, thank you.

Four American troops died in Afghanistan today, 13 so far this month. And August brought a record death toll of 52.

CNN is on the scene of this increasingly bloody war with enormous ramifications for the United States.

Let's go live to the scene.

CNN's Michael Ware is joining us right now. Michael, I'll ask the blunt question to you -- is Afghanistan falling apart?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's very simple answer to that, Wolf, and that would roughly be, yes.

Has it gone beyond the point of no return?

No. It can still be salvaged. But there would be very few in the U.S. command or the U.S. mission here that would deny the fact that the mission is in crisis.

Let's look at the big picture here. Politically, this country is now in limbo. They haven't even determined the outcome of last month's elections because of these -- this storm of corruption allegations that we've just been talking about.

Now, everyone expected there to be some corruption, but had it been clean and swift and it had been done, that would have been better than this drawn out situation that we have now.

Militarily, as you say, 13 U.S. service personnel killed this month. That's in just eight days alone. The combat continues right now. And the entire war plan is under review. So politically and militarily, the mission is in limbo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There could be a recommendation from the -- the commanders -- the military commanders to the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, Michael, for thousands of additional U.S. troops to be dispatched -- deployed to Afghanistan.

Would that really make a difference?

WARE: Well, it depends if America wants to actually fight this war or not, because right now, certainly it isn't. I mean, this massive offensive that's underway in Helmand Province, where so many American and British and other troops are dying, is really just taking a very tiny bite out of a very large apple.

No one disputes the fact that none of the operations at the moment have any prospect of breaking the back of the Taliban. The Taliban war machine remains untouched -- its supplies lines, its sanctuaries in Pakistan, its command, its control, its ability to regenerate and replace its fighters. So troops are needed if America wants to apply anything close to real military pressure here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You were just on a night patrol with U.S. forces on the edge of Taliban territory and you had a close call.

Tell us what happened.

WARE: Yes, Wolf, actually it wasn't with U.S. forces. We were with an Afghan police patrol in the southern city of Kandahar one evening last week, patrolling a Taliban neighborhood. And, unfortunately, the gun truck the cameraman, Samad Kasirei (ph) and I were traveling in was struck by an IED -- a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban.

Fortunately, it was mistimed just by a nanosecond. Otherwise we might not be here to talking about this.

And, unfortunately, we've received a call from that Afghan police unit just earlier this evening. And less than 12 years ago, on the same road in the same place, that patrol was hit again. However, this time two of the police officers had their legs shredded. One of them has serious facial injuries and may be blinded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We saw you wearing traditional Afghan garb, Michael, and you've grown a beard.

Are you trying to blend in?

Is that the -- is that the theory?

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WARE: I mean down here, the less visible you are, the safer you are. Nothing can ultimately protect you, whether you're in uniform or out of uniform. But for us, it's just the less attention you attract, that's that little bit safer that you are. So if a bit of -- if a bit of facial hair and what they call a man dress or a shawak (ph) means it helps us get away with that, helps us to stay one step ahead, then I'll do it. I'll dress up in drag, Wolf, no problems.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, be careful over there. Stand by. We're going to be continuing to talk with you throughout this special week of our coverage.

By the way, tonight, an "A.C. 360" special report, "Afghanistan Elections: The Taliban Resurgence and Mounting American Casualties." It's a critical moment for the entire region. Anderson Cooper takes you inside Afghanistan "Live from The Battle Zone," all this week at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN, the worldwide leader in news.

We'll be speaking live with Anderson, by the way, in the next hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File.

I guess it's easier for Michael Ware to grow a beard and blend in than Anderson Cooper. He doesn't necessarily blend in that Afghan society all that well.

CAFFERTY: What's your excuse?

BLITZER: I don't think I would blend in either.

CAFFERTY: You have the beard.

BLITZER: I've got the beard, though.

CAFFERTY: Why is it nobody else can cover the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq the way we can with Michael Ware?

BLITZER: We have incredible resources.

CAFFERTY: Yes, we have Michael Ware.

BLITZER: And we have courageous, brave correspondents...

CAFFERTY: Oh.

BLITZER: ...who are willing to literally risk their lives, as we see.

CAFFERTY: And can you tell watching his stuff that he -- you know, there's a part of him that thrives on the danger and the adventure and the sense of...

BLITZER: Yes, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq...

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: ...or in Mexico.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He did some great reporting from Mexico.

CAFFERTY: Or Brooklyn, where he lives.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: OK.

The Congress gets back to work following a 40 day vacation.

Gee, I hope they're rested.

Things in Washington don't look all that different than they did before their summer recess, especially when it comes to health care reform -- House Democrats returning to the same set of problems they left behind 40 days ago.

Conservatives in the party unsure about backing the so-called public option; freshman lawmakers from suburban areas worried about increasing taxes on wealthy constituents; and liberals are threatening to oppose the bill if did doesn't contain the public option.

Something's got to give here.

Polls suggest Americans remain just as divided as they were a month ago. A new Gallup Poll showing 39 percent of those surveyed say they would tell their member of Congress to vote against a health care bill this fall. Thirty-seven percent want their member to vote for it.

Meanwhile, expect Congress to focus on health care, mostly as to how it may or may not affect their chances of holding onto their jobs. At the end of the day, politicians worry about their own political hides first and the public's welfare whenever. Polls show only about a third of Americans approve of Congress.

That's probably higher than it should be.

Since the Democrats control both Congress and the White House, you can expect the voters to take out more of their frustrations on Democrats during next fall's mid-term elections. And don't think for a minute they don't all have their eye on those elections already.

Here's the question then -- how has the health care debate changed during the 40 days that Congress was on vacation?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

Have you ever had a 40 day vacation?

BLITZER: No. But I just came back from a week's vacation...

CAFFERTY: A week?

Oh, all right.

BLITZER: Which is pretty good.

CAFFERTY: That's good, right? BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: It's not every day this a world leader shares insights about his relationship with his father. Today, though, President Obama got very personal with some curious young Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was sort of arrogant and kind of overbearing. And -- and he had his own problems and his own issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fresh off his national speech to school kids on education, Mr. Obama prepares for his upcoming address to Congress, as well, to pitch health care reform.

And the circumstances of a teenaged athlete's death play out in court. On trial right now, his high school football coach.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Conservative critics and worried parents claimed he would indoctrinate America's children. But President Obama proved today that his goal is to educate.

In an address set to students, he avoided politics and he urged the kids to work hard and stay in school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Before his nationwide speech, the president and the Education secretary, Arne Duncan, met with a group of ninth graders, and the president took some pretty personal questions from the students.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: All right.

Who else?

Right here.

BRANDON: Hi. My name is Brandon (ph). I was wondering, you know -- you said that your father wasn't really in your life. That's kind of like me. My parents were divorced.

OBAMA: Right.

BRANDON: But how do you think your life would have been different if he would have been there for you...

OBAMA: (INAUDIBLE).

BRANDON: ...like if, how would your education have been and would you still be president?

OBAMA: Yes. That's an interesting question. You know, you never know exactly how your life would turn out, you know, if there was a change in circumstances as -- as big as your dad being around. I think that -- I actually wrote a book about this called "Dreams from My Father," where I tried to figure out what was he like, who was he.

He was a very, very smart man. He was sort of arrogant and -- and kind of overbearing. And he had his own problems and his own issues.

So my mother always used to say that if he had been around, I probably would have been having a lot of arguments with him all the time.

I think that I was lucky, though, that my mother always -- she never spoke badly about him, which I think since I was a boy, knowing that even if your dad wasn't around, that you still were hearing good things about him, I think probably then improved my own self- confidence.

You know, when I look back on my life, I think that -- you know, Michelle's dad was around and Arne, I think, knew him. He was just a great guy -- a wonderful, wonderful man. And he actually had multiple sclerosis, so he had to walk with canes, but went to every basketball game that my brother-in-law played in, was there for every dance recital Michelle was in. He was just a great family man.

And, you know, when I look at her dad, I say to myself, boy, that would be nice to -- to have somebody like that that you can count on, who was always there for you.

On the other hand, I think that not having a dad, in some ways, forced me to grow up faster. It meant that I made more mistakes because I didn't have somebody to tell me, you know, here's how you do this or here's how you do that. But on the other hand, I had to, I think, raise myself a little bit more. I had to be more supportive of my mother, because I knew how hard she was working. And so, in some ways, maybe it made me stronger over time, just like it may be making you strong over time. JESSE: Hi, Mr. President.

My name is Jesse (ph).

When I grow up, I would like to have your job.

Is there any...

OBAMA: Good.

JESSE: Is there any advice you can give me or career paths that I -- things I need to know?

OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me give you some very practical tips. First of all, I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age, whatever you do it, will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you're young, you know, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. And I've been hearing a lot about young people who, you know, they're posting stuff on Facebook and suddenly they go apply for a job and somebody's done a search and -- you know, so that's some practical political advice for you right there.

That's number one.

Number two, look, obviously, doing well in school is hugely important, especially, you know, if you don't come from some political family where they've got you all hooked up. You know, if you're going to succeed, it's because people are going to think that, you know, they have confidence that you can do the job. So really excelling in education is important.

Number three, find something that you're passionate about and do that well. You know, there are a lot of people who decide to go into politics just because they want to be important or they like the idea of having their name up in lights or what have you.

The truth is, is that I think the people who are the best elected officials are the people who they've found something they're good at, they get really -- whether it's they're a really good lawyer, they're a really good teacher, they're a good business person. They've built a career and -- and learned something about how to organize people and how to motivate people. And then they go into politics, because they think that they can take those skills to do some more good, as opposed to just wanting to get elected just for the sake of getting elected.

And we have a lot -- I'll be honest with you, I mean there are a lot of politicians like that, who, all they're thinking about is just how do I get re-elected and so that they never actually get anything done.

But that's not just true in politics. That's true in life. I think, you know, even if you didn't want to be president, if you wanted to be a successful -- successful in business, most of the most successful businesspeople I know are people who they were passionate about some idea about a product or a service and they really got into that. And then the money was a byproduct. The money came because you really did something good, as opposed you're just thinking about how do I make money.

You know, I mean you talk to somebody like -- like a Bill Gates. That guy is just fascinated with computers. And that's everything he was thinking about. Now, he got so good at it, that he then ended up being a very good businessman, as well. But -- but his focus was on how do I create something that actually helps people or is useful to them. And I think you should have that same attitude, whatever it is that you decide to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As the president spoke with the students in Virginia, members of his cabinet fanned out to schools across the region, and the nation, indeed, to watch his speech with students and offer their own pep talks.

The battle over a public option, as it's called in health care coverage, may be coming to a head. President Obama makes his big pitch for reform to Congress tomorrow night.

Will his address on health care hit the mark or will it be too little, too late?

And parents bury their young son after his tragic death, but turn his funeral into a wedding.

Stand by.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: T.J. Holmes is in Atlanta monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- T.J., what's going on?

HOLMES: Well, up first here -- and this was a big deal and a big sigh of relief. California's Bay Bridge is open and it's open a bit ahead of schedule. Cars began streaming across the bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland around 6:40 local time this morning. It was shut down over the weekend because it was part of a retrofit project to try to make sure the bridge was strong enough to withstand a very powerful earthquake.

Well, in the midst of that, they found a crack, which they had to fix. And that threatened to delay it. Well, good news. They got the crack and everything else fixed and it opened this morning just fine. They were repairing that key beam. Again, they did beat the post- holiday rush hour and had that thing open just in time this morning.

Also, a story of a wedding and a funeral all wrapped up into one. Seven-year-old Asa Smith of Buffalo, New York died of terrible injuries sustained in a highway crash last week. Well, hundreds of people turned out for his memorial service yesterday. Asa had often insisted that he wanted his parents to get married. Well, they surprised everybody there and about an hour into the service, they got married -- yes, had their wedding at his funeral.

One more story to pass along to you here, Wolf. Promoters and the Jackson family have announced a major tribute concert to the king of pop who, of course, died June 25th. Jackson's brother, Jermaine, said today that the concert will take place in Vienna, Austria on September the 26th. He says of the 25 artists, including Natalie Cole, Sister Sledge and Mary J. Blige will all perform there. They're expecting some 65,000 fans to attend. And, Wolf, another person expected -- being reported going to perform is Chris Brown, who we just saw in an exclusive interview with our Larry King. Chris Brown, of course, who admitted to beating his girlfriend, Rihanna. It could be the first time, Wolf, we see him perform since all that went down.

BLITZER: Do you know, T.J., if they -- why Vienna, Austria, of all places?

HOLMES: I've been -- I've been looking and trying to figure out exactly why there. But Jermaine Jackson was there and made the announcement in Vienna. I'm not sure why they picked that spot. But we're expecting more details, certainly, in the days and weeks to come.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, T.J., for that.

President Obama challenges his critics on health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: What are you going to do?

What's your answer?

What's your solution?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Mike Pence -- he's one of those critics. I'll ask him if he has any solutions to the health care reform stalemate. He's getting ready to debate Democratic Congressman Chris van Holland. Stand by for that.

And as the president gets ready for a make or break speech to Congress on health care, what does he need to say?

Candy Crowley, Donna Brazile and Ed Rollins -- they're standing by live.

And prosecutors say he ran a barbaric practice. Now a high school coach is on trial, charged with causing the death of a player.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama has asked for supporters' help to get the word out on his health care reform plan. Now the grassroots campaign group, Organizing for America, is reorganizing to answer his calling.

Will this be a tougher sell?

And keeping the country competitive through education -- how sending teachers off to work on Pentagon missile projects could get U.S. students fired up about math and science.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It may be the make or break moment for his health care reform effort -- tomorrow night, President Obama will address Congress and try to refocus what has become a deadlocked debate on how to move forward.

Liberal Democrats are digging in their heels over a government- run health care plan.

Listen to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that a -- a public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives, because, as the president has said -- and -- and I listened to him very carefully -- he believes that the public option is the best way to keep the insurance companies honest and to increase competition in order to lower costs, improve quality, retain choice -- if you like what you have, you can keep it -- and expand coverage in a fiscally sound way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and two CNN political contributors Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ed, I'll start with you. They are probably watching at the white house right now. Give the president of the United States some advice, the single most important thing he needs to do tomorrow night.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, he needs to be very clear and very honest in what he's laying out here. I think the American public is very confused. This is something very important to all Americans. 85 percent of Americans have health coverage today, and they want to make sure -- and another 48 million people have Medicare. They want to make sure that what they have is not in jeopardy, and there's a lot of rhetoric about we're going to saving money by reducing costs on the Medicare side that. That sends a wave of real fear through those who have it and the other 30 million who are going to have it in the next 20 years.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing he needs to do tomorrow night, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Lay out his vision of what he will support. To let the American people know that if they have health insurance, they will retain their health insurance, but for those Americans without health insurance and those who continue to lose their health insurance because they lose their jobs or because of pre-existing conditions, let them know that he will help them find insurance. He will help them keep insurance and, yes, Wolf, the public option is a wonderful tool to ensure that there's no gap in the coverage that people receive and that there are more options for those Americans who are self-employed and people who own small businesses.

BLITZER: It's a lot easier said than done though, Candy, because he's got a Democratic caucus in the house and the senate with the liberals very much in disagreement with the more conservative Democrats.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And this speech needs to at least begin to bridge that gap. I'm not sure this is a make-or-break speech but I think it kicks off a make -- or-break time for health care. Listen, what the Democrats on Capitol Hill want to hear is how much can they give and where is the line? What does the president absolutely have to have in this health care bill because as you know so many times one party or another has sort of, you know, run to the barricades for their president only to find that he was not behind them, that he had veered off, so what's important to these Democrats are two things. Take some leadership on this, Mr. President. It's going to take you to get this passed, and second of all, what do you want and what can you give up?

BLITZER: Be specific. All right, guys, stand by. We're getting breaking news in from our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash who has been covering up this up on the hill.

Dana, what are you learning right now?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the so called gang of six, the six senators meeting in a bipartisan way, just broke up, this meeting that really was a lot riding on it because the chairman of the finance committee who runs these meetings, he has put out a proposal, and he has made clear that he wants to have something soon or else. Well, he actually just came out and talked to us after this meeting, and he made very, very clear that he wants this to move quite rapidly. In fact, Wolf, he said that he told the other five senators that he wants their counterproposals by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and that there will be another meeting tomorrow afternoon. His hope, not a deal-breaker, but he said his hope is to have some kind of answer before the president's speech tomorrow night.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, is there --

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: I'm just hopeful when the president gives his statement tomorrow night that that's going to help move the ball forward and very expeditiously because the rubber is starting to meet the road here. We'll have to start fishing or cutting bait pretty soon and I made that very, very clear to the group so on the one hand we want to work to get a solution. On the other hand, I want to make it clear that we're not going to dally, not going to dawdle?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now Senator Baucus said there are four or five issues that separate the senators in these meetings. He insisted that they weren't so big that they can't overcome them. He said they are not insurmountable. We are still waiting to hear from the Republicans in the room to see if they agree with that. We do know one thing and tax on insurance companies is something that the Republicans in there don't like in this proposal. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, good work. Stand by.

Ed Rollins, is this all just wishful thinking right now? Is there any real hope that more than one or two Republicans will join the Democrats in the senate, forget about the house right now, in the senate and support health care reform?

ROLLINS: I think the only potential senators are Senator Snowe who has been obviously involved in these meetings and she may get her fellow senator from Maine, Senator Collins, but there's no other -- no other Republican going to buy a public option or buy some of these other things out there. It's totally against our principles and I think we're not going to basically give in on them.

BLITZER: Donna, the "L.A. Times" in ran editorial writes this today. "In a make or break speech Wednesday on healthcare reform, President Obama is expected to give Congress more details on how he wants to expand coverage, control costs and improve quality. He's late to the game, possibly too late." Is that your fear as well?

BRAZILE: No, I don't think the president is late at all, Wolf. I think the president is really going to rally not just the Democrats but the American people to follow through on a commitment that he made last fall about he ran for president to reform the system, to bring down costs and provide more quality care for all Americans. Look, I think the president spent a lot of political capital trying to find some compromises with the Republicans, but now at the end of the day the Democrats must be resolved to do what's right for the American people to provide this coverage without add together deficit. I think it can be done and tomorrow the president must show the leadership in how to move forward.

BLITZER: Candy, the dilemma the president has right now, if you listen to Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker, she says it can't pass without a public option as it's called, but if you listen to Max Baucus, the senator, the Democratic senator, it can't pass in the senate with a public option. How does he -- how does he walk that tight rope?

CROWLEY: Well, listen, we'd all be rich if we had a dollar for every time somebody said something absolutely wouldn't clear this or that house without some sort of caveat about some sort of issue so I think what you're hearing now is part of -- part of the posturing here. This is part of the negotiating process that goes on in public. This is part of pushing the president, so I think what we've heard and we can only go by what we've heard over the past couple of days is we don't have a president who is going to draw that bright line when it comes to the public option. We haven't seen it. We've heard him say I think this is the best way to control costs, but we haven't heard him say I have to have this. This is absolutely essentially to my health care. Look, no one ever doubts that this is a president who has a way with words, and I think we'll be parsing them very, very closely, but in the end I think what's important are the words he says behind the scenes and what sort of head-knocking goes on after this speech.

BLITZER: We'll see if he can get the Democrats to work together. Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: He will.

BLITZER: Candy, Donna and Ed.

Prosecutors say he ran a barbaric practice. Now a high school coach is on trial charged with causing the death of a player.

And as the war in Afghanistan turns deadlier than ever for American troops, we're going to go live to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's on the ground for us right now in the war zone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More testimony today in the trial of a high school football coach charged with causing the death of one of his players. Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow who has been looking at trial that could have far-reaching ramifications.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really could, Wolf and coaches around the country are watching this trial believed to be the first of its kind and today in Louisville, Kentucky, prosecutors continued making their case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Jeff Gilpin described the afternoon in August 2008 when his 15-year-old son Max died on a football field. The teen died three days later. Prosecutors alleged that the coach Jason Stinson is responsible for running what they call a barbaric practice forcing players to run sprints with very little water. Jeff Gilpin recalled getting to his son's practice late that day. That it was hot and he saw players in full equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see your son throw up on the field that day? JEFF GILPIN, FOOTBALL PLAYER'S FATHER: Yes, I did, as well as other players. He wasn't the only one.

SNOW: Gilpin said when his son collapsed he and others tried to cool him down and that Stinson was not with them as another coach dialed 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's breathing.

SNOW: Gilpin said at first he didn't see anything wrong with the practice but changed his mind after hearing from others and he admitted that initially he didn't blame coaches in an interview he did with a reporter roughly two months after his son's death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recall telling them that they being the coaches did everything they could, that I would have done?

GILPIN: Yes.

SNOW: Gilpin testified his son took the drug Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder and said his son had also taken creatine which is a supplement used to stimulate muscle growth. Defense attorneys are trying to prove that other factors may have played a role in the teen's death summing up their case during last week's opening arguments.

BRIAN BUTLER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This has been nothing but a witch-hunt by these people.

SNOW: Stinson pled not guilty to charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment. He faces up to ten years in prison if he's found guilty. Prosecutors said with his training he should have known not to subject his players to those brutal conditions.

LELAND HILBERT, PROSECUTOR: He put competition and winning, winning his first game as a head football coach, ahead of safety.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Stinson is getting the backing of other coaches who say Max Gilpin's death was a tragic accident. A website has been set up for a defense fund with Coach Stinson with coaching organizations across the country contributing to it.

BLITZER: The ramifications as they said could be enormous from this trial. Thanks very much for that, Mary Snow, reporting.

The battle lines are drawn. Both sides are digging in their heels when it comes to health care reform. Coming up, a debate between two outspoken members of the House of Representatives. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Battle lines are drawn. Both sides are digging in when it comes to health care reform. Can President Obama break the deadlock with a crucial speech before congress tomorrow night? Let's talk about it. A key sticking point is the so-called public option, a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurers. Joining us now Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

Chris Van Hollen, first to you, can health care reform pass the house without that government-run so-called public option?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, we're going to work very hard to get a bill that concludes the public option. It creates greater competition and choice, and that's what we want. We're trying to bring down the cost of health care. We're trying to bring down people's premiums, and it's hard to know what the other side is so afraid of. I understand why the insurance companies don't like the public option because it creates more competition for them, but it helps consumers, and that's why we're going to fight hard to try to get it past the house

BLITZER: What's wrong with a little more competition, Congressman Pence?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well, look, let me be very clear. Republicans support health care reform that lowers the cost of health insurance, Wolf, and lowers the cost of health care in the long term, but I think most Americans and Republicans in congress understand that if you introduce a government-run insurance plan to compete with the private sector, that tens of millions of Americans will lose the health insurance that they have at their employer now, not because the bill will require them to give up their health insurance, but in this difficult economy, an economy that's at 9.7 percent unemployment, you know, there's not an employer worth his salt who isn't going to look at the opportunity of canceling their coverage and sending people to a government-run health insurance plan. We don't need that. We need competition within the private sector, and Republicans have ideas about how to do that.

BLITZER: Well, what about that argue, Chris Van Hollen, that this would simply force a lot of private insurance out of business?

HOLLEN: Well, first, Wolf, I'd like to see the alternative plans that Mike Pence is talking about because the Republican leadership said they were going to have an alternative.

BLITZER: Before you get to that though, just answer the question that he suggests.

HOLLEN: Yes, the nonpartisan congressional budget office looked at the house bill, they looked at the interaction of these different proposals and what they concluded was just the opposite of what Mike Pence said, they said by the year 2019, by the time these plans are kicked in, you'll have more Americans on employer health care that you have today, that you would have 30 million Americans that choose to participate in the health insurance exchange, like a shopping market for different insurance proposals, that of the 30 million people that go into this exchange, 20 million will choose private insurance plans and 10 million will choose the public option. That's hardly the case of the public option swallowing up the private insurance market or swallowing up the employer sponsored bill. CBO, look, sometimes CBO comes up with numbers that we don't like but we all have to live with them, that was their conclusion, the year 2019, more Americans are on employer sponsored health care coverage.

BLITZER: Congressman Pence, have you read that CBO report?

PENCE: We have looked at it a little bit, and I respect the Congressional Budget Office, but that CBO report assumes a level of economic growth in the near term here, Wolf, that is hard to accept in an economy that shed 2 million jobs since the so-called stimulus bill was passed last February. Look, I got to tell you, I really do believe when I was home doing -- I did seven town hall meetings across Indiana; people understand that we need to bring real competition to the private marketplace.

Chris, here's a Republican idea, let Americans purchase health insurance across state lines the way members of congress can through that federal employee health benefits plan. We ought to allow real competition and new health insurance products to come in. But a government option in this economy in particular is going to result in employers across this country saying to people, look, I love you, we appreciate you, but we're going to pay the 8 percent payroll tax and send you to the feds for your insurance.

BLITZER: Why not let the insurance companies compete across state lines instead of forcing every state to have a limited number of private insurance companies?

HOLLEN: That's what the health insurance exchange does, Wolf. What the health insurance exchange does is open up a national marketplace with set, basic requirements with respect to consumer protection, but then says to the insurance companies, why don't you go out there and compete based on cost, compete based on quality and in addition to have having the private insurance packages offered as part of this exchange, you're also going to have a public option because there's some parts of this country who are only going to have one or two insurance companies, they have a monopoly on the market, why not allow them to have a little more competition? The public option is very circumscribed, it has to support itself based on the premiums received. Any money advanced to it from the federal government for startup purposes has to be repaid, it has to play by the rules that all the private insurance companies have to as it should. Why not allow one more nonprofit entity to compete on the exchange?

BLITZER: Do you want to respond to that Congressman Pence?

PENCE: Well I do. The federal government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck. It consumes it. In the federal employee health benefits plan that Chris and I are both a part of, our families are a part of, 10 million federal employees are a part of, there is not a public option. People choose between I think about five different private health insurance plans. We ought to bring competition. There is where Chris who I've known every day that we both been in Congress and I respect him, Chris and I agree, we have got to break these essentially monopolies at the state level by bringing competition, but why the federal government has to come in with a public option and with this structured exchange to do that, let's just let the American people buy health insurance the way they buy car insurance.

HOLLEN: But that's the point, Mike. The point Mike is it's an option. No one's required to go into this plan and no one has to buy it. I know why the insurance companies are scared of it, but why is everybody else so scared of more competition and more choice.

BLITZER: Very quickly guys.

PENCE: It's hard to keep your health insurance if your employer cancels it. And I've got to tell you, the American people get this, they understand it. We can do this without a public plan.

BLITZER: Let's continue this debate.

HOLLEN: Let's ask the nonpartisan studio to ask that.

BLITZER: It's an important debate and it's not going away. We'll continue with both of you. Thank you for joining us very much for joining us.

President Obama opens up to some high schoolers today and takes some very personal questions about his dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But how do you think your life would have been different if he would have been there for you? Like if -- how would your education have been and would you still be president?

BLITZER: We talked to the student who posed that question to the president and he got a very emotional response from President Obama, stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File.

Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour has how has the health care debate changed during the 40 days and 40 nights congress was on vacation? Gee, do you think that was enough time off?

Dar writes, "The Democrats need to stop infighting and get the job done. The Republicans are laughing all the way to the next election because we haven't passed this legislation and moved onto the next issue. President Obama, you got the votes. There was no scam. Step up. Shut up the opposition and make it happen. That's what I voted for you for." Laura writes, "Village idiots showed up at town halls yelling out things they forgot to fact check first, while young middle class people were busy working and having to watch these crazy people on TV in the evening. My opinion has stayed the same. If I have to continue to pay 15 percent of my pre-tax income to Blue Cross Blue Shield for crappy health coverage and our government passes something that allows me to choose, then good bye Blue Cross."

Anthony writes, "The insurance lobby has injected all it can to derail any real debate. Hyperbole has been used to paint anybody who favors the public option as a communist (a perfectly legitimate political opinion) rather than somebody who simply believes that health care should not be a commodity. Big insurance is winning."

Linda in Arizona, "It's only gotten nastier and everyone is more entrenched. Obama is going to fail to persuade anyone in Congress. It's a waste of time and political capital. But wasting political capital is what Obama is best at. Stay tuned."

And Kathy in Phoenix, "Maybe if we had 40 days to relax like good ole Congress we wouldn't need to worry about health care so much."

And this has nothing to do with the question of the hour but Jeff writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas, we were talking about Michael Ware, "He spent three days with my unit in Iraq in 2005. He is extremely passionate about what he reports. As a medic on a few patrols with him, I know he will do whatever it takes to tell the story."

If you didn't see your mail here, you can go to my blog on CNN.com/Caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others. Wolf?

BLITZER: He is a great reporter Jack and very courageous. Thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news, a last chance in new deadlines for health care reform. Key law makers are back from their vacation, they are scrambling for a bipartisan compromise. They only have a day before President Obama confronts congress and sets new ground rules for reform.

And the students who heard the president's controversial speech in person, did he say anything to offend them or to inspire them? Mr. Obama shared very personal lessons from his own life.

And the fight for Afghanistan, as you'll see it only here on CNN, growing concerns right now about voter fraud and whether the U.S. war strategy is working.