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THE SITUATION ROOM
Racism and Criticism; Examining Jordan Thomas Foundation
Aired September 16, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Jimmy Carter says some people oppose President Obama's policies because of the color of his skin. Now, Republicans are outraged and they're attacking Jimmy Carter. The GOP Party chairman, Michael Steele, he's standing by live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Health care for all -- there's finally a Senate plan for reform. A top Democrat says it can win support from both parties.
Why don't key Republicans support it now?
You need to know what's in this plan.
Plus, the CEO of the controversial group ACORN joins us live this hour to explain the embarrassing series of moments caught on videotape. It's her first live television interview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The goal is enormous, the costs eye-popping -- hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. That's to provide millions of uninsured people with health insurance, among other things. According to a newly unveiled Senate plan, there's lots going on. Perhaps the most important senator to push through this landmark bill would be Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee. There are items in this plan you may or may not like and items President Obama may or may not approve of.
But one key question -- will Republicans sign on board?
Let's go straight to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, they were working for a long time, this so-called gang of six, but what emerged was a gang of one.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's well put, Wolf. Look, I mean the reality is he insisted, Senator Baucus, that he's not disappointed that he didn't have Republicans standing with him. But the way Senator Baucus is trying to present this plan, which is getting so much buzz and so much attention here, is kind of like the Goldilocks option -- that it's too hot for some, too cold for others, so maybe it's just right.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH: (voice-over): After months of intense negotiations with Republicans in search of a bipartisan health care agreement, the Democratic finance chairman walked out alone, but still declared...
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE CHAIRMAN: This is a good bill. This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate.
BASH: What Senator Max Baucus means by that is his much anticipated health care proposal is more moderate than other Democratic bills. The most stark example, it does not include a government run-insurance option that many Democrats call critical to increasing competition and lowering costs. Instead, it proposes non- profit insurance cooperatives.
The $856 billion proposal also costs considerably less than the $1 trillion Democratic House plan. Senator Baucus insists it will be paid for with more than $500 billion in cuts in savings to government health programs, mostly Medicare, and nearly $350 billion in new taxes and fees. That includes a 35 percent tax on insurance companies for high end so-called Cadillac plans that cost over $21,000.
Baucus' proposal would ban discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and it would require all Americans to have health coverage. Those who don't would be penalized with a fine, up to $3,800 for a family of four making $66,000 a year. But low income Americans would get help from the government to pay for their coverage, either through expanded Medicaid or tax credits. To lower the cost of the plan, though, Baucus offers fewer subsidies than the House Democrats' bill.
BAUCUS: There are some who think I've not gone far enough. There are some on both sides of the aisle who think I've gone too far.
BASH: Some of the harshest criticism is coming from Baucus' fellow Democrats.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: How can we give all of these new con -- consumers to the health insurance industry, with no accountability, no competition and no real challenge for them to honor the reforms that we have in the bill?
BASH: Now, Baucus made other moves to try to lure in other Republicans. For example, he put stricter enforcement mechanisms in here to make sure illegal immigrants don't get health insurance coverage, and, also, more prohibitions for federal funding for abortion in health insurance programs. Still, Republicans he negotiated with are simply saying it costs too much. I think, talking to several senators on both sides of the aisle today, it's clear there will be vigorous attempts to change this when the votes start next week.
BLITZER: To put it mildly.
All right, Dana.
Thanks very much.
Let's talk about all of this with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- Gloria, correct me if I'm wrong, it doesn't look like the White House was jumping up and down today as a result of this announcement.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I spoke with some folks at the White House about this. And it's very clear to me that what they're trying to do, in their own way, is actually protect Senator Baucus, because they don't want to steal the spotlight from him. They don't want to get in the middle of a fight in the Senate. They know that he's going to spend the next few weeks marking up his legislation. So they don't want to get involved in this right now. And they think it's good for the senator if they step back.
So they kind of have given it some general support, but they're not going to embrace it. And that's also because, as you pointed out earlier, they don't actually agree with some of the things that are in it.
BLITZER: He's going to be all over the airwaves, the president -- the Sunday talk shows, "David Letterman" last week. He's got a full scale media campaign.
And the question is, is he overexposing himself?
BORGER: Well, there -- there are some people who say that he is overexposing himself. I spoke with someone at the White House who said, oh, would one of those people be in the media and would they like to take back the interview that we've offered to them?
They say that that kind of thinking is, as one put it to me, 1993, Wolf. They say there are lots of different media outlets right now. This isn't the Clinton administration anymore. The president is their best spokesman and they intend to use him because he helps them.
BLITZER: That's a fair point.
Thanks very much for that.
All right, thank you, Gloria.
The commander-in-chief becomes the salesman-in-chief -- President Obama pitching hard for health care reform. That will certainly be a dominant topic when he sits down this Sunday with our own John King, of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." He'll interview the president. You can watch that interview at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Sunday morning.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Former President Jimmy Carter says that racism plays a major role in the opposition to President Obama. Carter says part of this intensely demonstrated animosity is based on the fact that the president is black. And Carter says that racism is bubbling up among many white people all over the country because they think African-Americans are not qualified to lead. Carter calls it an abominable circumstance.
The former president also says that racism was a play in the recent outburst by Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who called President Obama a liar on the floor of the House of Representatives. Some say a white president would never be treated that way.
But critics say all this is nonsense. The head of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, says that President Carter, is "flat out wrong." Steele, who's black, says the opposition isn't about race, but rather about policy. He calls these charges of racism a distraction by Democrats to shift the debate away from health care reform.
And then there's Rush Limbaugh. He talks about how race rules all in what he calls "Obama's America." The right-wing radio talk show host suggests that race is at play in nearly every aspect of society today, including the story of a white kid who got beat up in Illinois on a school bus full of black students. Limbaugh also says that racism is behind the media's treatment of Kanye West after his stunt at the Video Music Awards, which Limbaugh considered relatively mild behavior.
I wonder how he would have felt if that had been his daughter up there accepting an award and this clown runs up and jerks the microphone out of her hand. But that's another subject for another day.
Here's the question: Does racism have anything to do with the opposition to President Obama?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Pimps, prostitutes and politics -- you've heard tales about illicit behavior at a liberal activist group, ACORN. We're going to hear in moments what may be the most bizarre so far. Plus, ACORN's CEO -- she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain what's been caught on tape and more.
And he's responsible for some of the most memorable songs in American pop culture, so why is Paul Simon speaking out about health care reform right now?
Wait until you hear his compelling arguments. Paul Simon is here -- not Simon and Garfunkel, Simon and Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The embattled advocacy group, ACORN, is ordering an independent investigation after two employees were caught on tape appearing to give illegal advice to a couple posing as a prostitute and a pimp. Now, another undercover video has surfaced. This one shows a worker talking about prostitution and murder. But the worker on the tape says it's not what it seems -- a claim that's backed up, in part, by police reports.
Let's go to CNN's Abbie Boudreau of our Special Investigations Unit -- Abbie, what's on this new tape?
ABBIE BOUDREAU, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this -- this new tape is very similar to many of the other ones. This couple spent the summer going around the country posing as a pimp and a prostitute, dropping in on ACORN housing offices in various cities, asking for help in setting up a fictitious brothel. Now, we have tape number four -- some calling it the strangest of the bunch.
BOUDREAU: (voice-over): This undercover sting was shot in San Bernardino, California -- same story line as the other three videos. The filmmakers posed as a pimp and a prostitute, asking for ACORN's help to set up a brothel to fund a future political campaign. The ACORN worker responds by claiming that she, too, once ran a prostitution service, though now, she says, she was just playing games with the filmmakers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I ran a service.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Heidi Fleiss is my hero.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand. And believe me, I do know, because I used to employ girls that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You worked...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that -- that would do this because they didn't care. I had people who would take care of every little wish, you know, every fantasy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOUDREAU: And the ACORN worker doesn't stop there. She also tells the pair she killed her ex-husband in self-defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I shot him. I shot him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In self-defense?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just picked up the gun and said (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE). And I shot him. And he died right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOUDREAU: However, the San Bernardino Police Department looked into the woman's claim to be a killer and issued this statement: "The claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well."
The pair who shot this and the other videos, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, are both conservative activists and don't try to hide the fact that they're on a mission to take down ACORN -- a group that's been the subject of serious allegations of corruption and election fraud.
ACORN is fighting back just as hard. It provided CNN with a sworn statement from the woman in the most recent video, where she tries to explain herself. She says: "I told them several times that ACORN would not support what they were doing in any way." The woman also denies ever having run a call girl service, saying: "I felt like they were playing games with me, so I proceeded to play games with them."
BOUDREAU: the woman in the video that you just saw says she had no idea that she was being taped. We have reached out to her. At this point, we're hoping to speak with her very soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Have you been able, Abbie, to speak with these two filmmakers?
BOUDREAU: Yes. We have been trying to talk to them from the very beginning, but they have not returned repeated calls from CNN.
Also, we want to reiterate that these videos were edited together. We have not seen the unedited version. And, Wolf, it's also important to note at least four of the workers from the previous tapes have been fired from their jobs. ACORN announced just today, Wolf, that it's putting a hold on new hires and retraining its workers so they don't make the some kinds of mistakes we've seen over the past few days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbie Boudreau, thanks very much.
ACORN is a community organizing group.
Let's get some more background on exactly what it does.
Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit is joining us.
You've spent a lot of time looking at this group -- Drew.
What exactly does ACORN do?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: You know, you can't think of ACORN as one entity, Wolf. And that is decidedly part of the problem that ACORN is having with itself. And I'll get to that in a minute. But it's really like hundreds of various agencies -- corporations, non-profits and even partisan political groups that all work under this umbrella of ACORN.
Yes, they do help people with low income housing. Yes, they do help modify mortgages. Yes, they do some good things. But there's also a lot of political things they do and a lot of other things that they do -- voter registration drives -- that have come into question. And internally, ACORN has had -- been having a lot of problems as of late.
BLITZER: And, as we just heard, ACORN does have a lot of problems. There's been a lot of controversy over the past year or so.
What else is part of the controversy beyond these current videotapes?
GRIFFIN: It's -- it all has to do with the organization of ACORN. We reported on an internal 14-page memo that ACORN had done of itself last summer, Wolf. It looked at how this organization was put together. And, quite frankly, the summation of that memo was we've got sloppy accountability, we've got sloppy accounting problems. ACORN is still suffering from an embezzlement eight years ago that was just found out last year by one of its leaders. It has multiple investigations going on of its voter registration drives. And we've seen various prosecutions taking place all across the country.
And when I interviewed the CEO of ACORN last December, I think it was, Bertha Lewis, along with the executive committee, she acknowledged that her organization is in deep organizational trouble. They hired antitrust attorneys. They hired accountants. They hired a full management review. They basically were saying they were going to clean up their act, Wolf, much the way they say they're going to clean up their act again today -- a full top to bottom review. I'd like to find out what exactly happened with that review.
BLITZER: Well, let's find out right now.
Bertha Lewis is here, the CEO of ACORN.
Miss. Lewis, thanks very much for coming in.
BERTHA LEWIS, CEO, ACORN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: What about that top to bottom review you promised Drew?
It -- it looks like there's still some problems there -- very serious problems.
LEWIS: Well, Drew is absolutely right. I took over last year as the CEO and totally revamping the management structure, our financial control. And he's right. We have been implementing this now and we've been a full year into it, getting down into the weeds on this, absolutely.
You'll -- as Drew can tell you, when we saw these videos -- reprehensible, indefensible.
BLITZER: How could that happen?
LEWIS: Well, I think...
BLITZER: I mean these are ACORN employees.
LEWIS: I think what -- what the full story is -- and, hopefully, you guys will get the unedited tapes. You will see that this sort of notorious crew went around to dozens of our offices. What you don't see is the offices that threw them out, offices that filed complete -- police complaints...
BLITZER: But there are some rotten...
LEWIS: ...and so what you had...
BLITZER: ...rotten apples out there.
LEWIS: I have over 700 employees. And I would be the first to say, under my watch, this is unacceptable, these are not our standards and our practices. And let me make -- add, because of our quality control, not one application, not one document, not one shred of paper was ever filed or put in for these people. As soon as we found out in our board they were terminated and I began to institute a review of this, because we were concerned about putting other things together.
But you know what?
I have to thank -- I have to thank the undercover folks, because they sort of did us a good service. This is what we are all -- also adding to our -- our overhaul.
BLITZER: Do you believe that some of those videotapes were doctored or edited?
LEWIS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
BLITZER: Because I'm going to play a little clip for you.
BLITZER: Show me where this could have been doctored.
BLITZER: But let's watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your business is as a performing artist?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A performing artist?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you are.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, so you're not lying. It's a little play on words.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's kind of boosting my ego.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) a performing artist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK?
So stop saying busted (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, that was in the Baltimore office of...
BLITZER: ...of ACORN.
What -- where -- where was that doctored or edited, if you will?
LEWIS: Well, first of all, you didn't see the entire unedited version. You saw a very small clip. Also, you see...
BLITZER: But was that little unedited clip accurate?
LEWIS: And that little -- that little piece that we saw, this was...
BLITZER: Did that woman cooperate with this sting operation?
LEWIS: That -- well, first of all, she never filed out anything. But that woman was terminated immediately. This is just not with our values. And whether or not they were duped or stupid doesn't matter. That kind of thing cannot go on. This is why people were terminated quite quickly. And this is why we are instituting...
LEWIS: ...a top to bottom review. BLITZER: So you say they actually did you a favor, these -- these filmmakers -- by going out there and finding these bad apples. But you want...
BLITZER: In the past, your people have suggested you want to sue these guys.
LEWIS: Well, here's the thing. In certain states, you can only tape people with their permission. You have to have both parties.
BLITZER: On telephone calls.
LEWIS: And telephone calls, too.
BLITZER: On telephone calls.
But could you...
LEWIS: But not in video. And...
BLITZER: You can't go in?
LEWIS: And in Maryland, you can't do this audio at all. So our lawyers are looking to go after Mr. O'Keefe, who has done this before and admits he is a right-wing conservative videographer who does things like this.
And, you know, we are going to make sure that all of the tapes get out and have -- and seek to stop this kind of thing.
BLITZER: Are you open to an external review right now, because there's talk not only of federal, but state and local authorities -- they want to investigate ACORN and find what else is going on given all this commotion.
LEWIS: Well, ever since last year these kinds of things have come up, you know...
BLITZER: But now the FBI director says he's -- Robert Mueller, he's open -- he -- he's thinking about an investigation.
LEWIS: Well, maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But here's...
BLITZER: Mayor Bloomberg of New York says this Brooklyn operation...
LEWIS: And we will -- well...
BLITZER: ...he wants -- he wants an investigation.
LEWIS: And here's what we think. If they investigate this incident, I think it would be good. Again, when you tell the truth, tell the whole truth. Show everything. Show the tapes where people were thrown out. Show the tapes where this doesn't work. And also show the tapes where, at the end of this conversation, people were -- said we really can't assist you.
BLITZER: The Senate has now voted this week 83-7 to suspend all federal funding for ACORN. And it's going to go to the House. And I assume it's going to be a lopsided vote there. You're going to be cut off from federal money. That's going to hurt ACORN.
LEWIS: Well, let me just say this. It's going to hurt the people that we were giving services to...
BLITZER: How much do you get...
BLITZER: ...from the federal government?
LEWIS: Here's what we do. We've been...
BLITZER: How much do you get a year?
LEWIS: On average, probably around $2 million across the entire organization...
BLITZER: So if you get zero from the federal government...
LEWIS: It's not going to stop our core work of fighting foreclosures, for affordable health care, making sure that people get paid sick days, making sure that our neighborhoods are safe -- the core work that we have been doing for 40 years.
Now, would we like for this not to happen?
Of course. But given our budget and given our core work, we're going to continue.
LEWIS: The Census Bureau says they don't want to cooperate with you anymore, looking ahead to the 2010 census. A lot of us remember the controversy over the voter registration -- you know, people signing up as Mickey Mouse or King Kong, all of that. It was pretty outrageous last year...
LEWIS: Well, with all due respect...
BLITZER: ...some of that voter registration.
LEWIS: Well, some of that voter registration was outrageous.
But guess what?
The same thing happened then that just happened now. When some employee of ours does something outrageous, they are terminated. The same instance for voter registration. Right now in Florida, all 11 of those folks, we turned them in, as we did across the country. And in time and time again, we've been vindicated.
BLITZER: What's the next shoe...
LEWIS: Let me just...
BLITZER: What's the next shoe that's going to drop...
BLITZER: ...as far as ACORN?
I mean, you're the boss, right?
The bucks stops with...
LEWIS: I absolutely am.
BLITZER: The buck stops with you.
LEWIS: Right here.
BLITZER: And you've been there for, what, a year?
LEWIS: I've been the CEO for almost a year.
BLITZER: All right. So you've got to clean up this ACORN house...
LEWIS: That's right.
BLITZER: And you've got a major responsibility...
LEWIS: And I'm doing it. That's right.
BLITZER: There's a lot of problems out there.
LEWIS: Well, here you go. Any corporation that has 700 employees are -- are bound to have some problems. However, we are committed to re-establishing the public trust. As we've said before, we will do whatever is necessary, just as we've implemented other changes. We're not done yet.
But it is rather peculiar that, with all of the allegations that have made -- been made against us, someone would have to fabricate a scenario like this.
But you know something, Wolf, this is not going to stop our core work. We are still going to organize low and moderate income folks despite what our critics say.
BLITZER: Since taking office...
BLITZER: ...as the CEO of ACORN, how many people have you fired?
LEWIS: Well, given this past round...
BLITZER: With the...
LEWIS: ...(INAUDIBLE) got fired...
BLITZER: In terms of voter fraud...
BLITZER: And in terms of the videotapes right now?
LEWIS: Well, with all of the voter folks, we had 18,000 workers. Maybe about 100 of those were let go, which we (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Those were part-time workers who went out and did (INAUDIBLE)?
LEWIS: So those folks...
BLITZER: Of the...
LEWIS: ...and maybe about 20 other people.
BLITZER: Of the 700 full-time employees?
LEWIS: About 20 other people since I took over.
BLITZER: And they've been fired because of?
LEWIS: Either incompetence, they weren't doing their job. You know, I didn't feel as though they would be able to come into the new ACORN and do things in a professional manner. They did not meet our standards.
BLITZER: Because even the White House today -- Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, he described ACORN's activities on these tapes as completely unacceptable.
LEWIS: And we agree. And that's why they were terminated. And anyone else that we find to do such a thing...
BLITZER: If the house...
BLITZER: ...isn't cleaned, at what point do you decide you know what, I have to resign?
LEWIS: No. Here's the thing. I've been with ACORN almost 20 some years. I am always going to make sure that we serve low and moderate income people of color. I will clean this house. It is being done now. And I -- and here's what I would like. I'll come back in three months and you can look at what we've done.
BLITZER: And you -- and you think in the next three months, we're not going to see more of this controversy?
LEWIS: I hope we don't see any other undercover tapes. I don't know any corporation that can...
BLITZER: And if...
LEWIS: ...guard against any...
BLITZER: And if we do see more of this?
LEWIS: Then bring it to light and you will see what action we take.
BLITZER: But the buck will stop with you (INAUDIBLE)?
LEWIS: The buck always stops here.
BLITZER: You've got a major mission out there.
LEWIS: I really do. Yes, I do. But we're not going to stop organizing.
BLITZER: All right. Bertha Lewis.
We're going to watch ACORN and see what you do, because...
BLITZER: ...I think the whole country is watching right now.
LEWIS: And that's a good thing. And we want the country to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
BLITZER: Bertha Lewis is the CEO of ACORN.
Thanks for coming in.
LEWIS: Thank you.
BLITZER: New information about the murder of that Yale student, Anna -- Annie Le. Police say they now know how she died.
Plus, new details on the Yale employee detained in the case.
And members of the Mafia accused of polluting their country and their people to make millions dumping toxic waste.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the head of the GOP firing right back at Jimmy Carter, saying the former president was dead wrong for claiming racism in playing a part in the opposition to President Obama's health care plan. Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, explains his position live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up.
And a 60-year-old blind woman sees again. The key to her amazing recovery -- get this, her own tooth. We'll explain.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get back to our top story, the push for health care reform. Millions of you are weighing in. We want to introduce you to one American on a very, very special crusade. Although he's disabled, he's taking major steps to help millions of amputees.
Let's go to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
She's working the story for us -- Brooke, explain.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I have gotten to know Jordan Thomas and you know what?
He would not describe himself as disabled at all. And he is one of two million men and women, young and old, who have come right here to Washington wanting change in our nation's health care.
And their argument -- that arms and legs are not a luxury.
JORDAN THOMAS, FOUNDER, JORDAN THOMAS FOUNDATION: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Jordan again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you, sir.
THOMAS: Good to see you.
BALDWIN (voice-over): As the debate over health care reform rages on in Washington...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now -- now, the college in Charleston just let you off (INAUDIBLE)?
THOMAS: I guess. I had to come up to Washington, you know.
BALDWIN: Twenty-year-old Jordan Thomas is fighting for a cause close to home. Jordan is a bilateral amputee. He lost his legs in a boating accident when he was just 16.
THOMAS: My dad jumped into the water immediately and held me afloat, and I remember looking at him and saying, "Dad, my feet are gone."
BALDWIN: During his recovery, Jordan met children whose parents, unlike his, couldn't afford expensive prosthetics.
THOMAS: My legs are $24,000. And a lot of companies will put caps, a $5,000 cap, for example, and then you have to pay the -- the rest.
BALDWIN: So, the then 16-year-old started the Jordan Thomas Foundation, raising money to help disadvantaged kids like Noah (ph) get the prosthetics you need. (on camera): You like the knee?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
BALDWIN: How's it work? Just like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and you can do this. Watch.
BALDWIN (voice-over): Taking Noah's story to the next level.
(on camera): So, what are you doing? You're pounding down the doors...
BALDWIN: ... congressmen?
THOMAS: Yes, trying to get ahold of so many of them, yes, and just -- just raising awareness. That's the thing about, you know, the whole amputee deal, is, it's not kind of a red state or blue state deal. It's just kind of an ethical deal.
What would you do...
BALDWIN (voice-over): Jordan is taking his hard-hitting questions...
THOMAS: What do you do to ensure that the amputees have access to the best possible people for them to provide prosthetics?
BALDWIN: ... hoping lawmakers will listen and follow through.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: There's an awareness level that is hugely raised when someone like him is here.
BALDWIN: Joining Jordan, dozens of amputees taking their message to the U.S. Senate, the same day that Senator Max Baucus released his road map to health care reform.
DAVE MCGILL, AMPUTEE COALITION OF AMERICA: We want legislation that will eliminate the caps, so that amputees across the United States have access to the types of devices that allow them to function every day.
BALDWIN: There are two million amputees nationwide. Jordan is simply one of them taking on Congress step by step.
THOMAS: It's just -- it's a no-brainer.
BALDWIN: Jordan has in fact become one of our own CNN heroes.
And, really, Wolf, amputees nationwide will wait to see if there will language in the proposed health care pull to include full coverage, or parity, if you want to get technical, for people with prosthetics, but, in the meantime, they are just simply here trying to raise awareness -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sounds like a real hero to me.
Thanks very much for that report, Brooke Baldwin, working the story.
Fresh details emerging right now of a murder at Yale. We're awaiting a news conference with police regarding that graduate student who was killed. Could an arrest be near?
And Jimmy Carter says some of the anti-President Obama rage is fueled by racism. Now Republicans are outraged. I will speak about that live with the party chairman, Michael Steele. He's standing by.
And Paul Simon, he's standing by as well -- not Simon and Garfunkel, Simon and Blitzer together -- here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Love that music.
A famous singer says millions of uninsured Americans cannot afford the sound of silence. He's speaking out about health care reform in America, especially for kids.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the great singer and songwriter Paul Simon, and Professor Irwin Redlener. They're both co-founders of the Children's Health Fund. Irwin Redlener is also a professor at Columbia University. Paul Simon needs no introduction.
You're here in Washington. You have been meeting with congressional leaders. You're passionate, Paul, about children and making sure they get the health insurance, the health care that they need. But we thought this was taken care of with that SCHIP legislation that got the kids the health benefits that they needed.
PAUL SIMON, CO-FOUNDER, CHILDREN'S HEALTH FUND: Well, to go back to my passion for the -- for the children and why I came here today, there's such a din of voices, and there's so much fury about -- in the political arena -- about this particular debate, that it's very hard to -- to have the -- you know, the most vulnerable element of our population be represented.
And, so, I feel I -- I can be of service as a -- a lobbyist, if you will, for -- for poor kids and their -- and their health needs.
BLITZER: Well, let me -- let me interrupt, because, Irwin, didn't the SCHIP legislation take care of the poor kids and make sure that they would get the health they needed?
DR. IRWIN REDLENER, CO-FOUNDER, CHILDREN'S HEALTH FUND: Well, a lot of people thought that combination of Medicaid for the very poor and the CHIP program, Children's Health Insurance Program, for the, let's say, low-, middle-class low earners would do the trick, but it turns out that we still have 21 million children and young people -- this is zero through age 24 -- who are still out of the system and not getting care.
And we saw evidence of this even a couple of months ago when H1N1 started showing up, that these people without health insurance and a lot of children were flooding our emergency rooms. We have millions of children who still need help. And we think that the health reform that requires coverage for everybody will -- will ultimately and definitively take care of this.
BLITZER: Do you support, Paul, the president's efforts right now to do this major health care reform?
SIMON: Generally speaking, I do.
I don't -- I don't feel like that they are going to pass a perfect -- a perfect bill, but -- but I would rather see that -- that happen than see it go down to defeat.
BLITZER: And -- and, as far as the public option, creating a government-run health insurance company to compete with the private health insurance companies, whether that's in or out, is that important to you?
SIMON: Well, I mean, doesn't the government already run Medicaid?
BLITZER: Yes, it does.
SIMON: I mean, so, I don't see what the -- what the issue is as far as that. It's not a precedent.
The fact that the government will be overseeing this, would that be more -- you know, more to the benefit of the constituency than the private sector? You know, perhaps it would be. The private sector in this -- in this particular case is -- is being influenced by -- by the insurance companies and their power.
BLITZER: Because -- because some of those who are saying they need that -- that public option on the left, they're -- they say, Irwin, if -- if it's not there, it's really not going to be health reform.
REDLENER: Well, actually, we can get health reform, if we start with a mandate that everybody gets covered, and we start with some very significant insurance company regulations, so they can't exclude people with preexisting companies, you can't lose your insurance if you change jobs, and so forth.
The public option is something that we happen to believe in. And we think, eventually, we will need to see it, because I don't think we will get the cost savings in the system, without the public option, ultimately. And people should have that choice. But if we get through this and end up with mandated coverage and significant reform and efforts that control costs, I think we will be in pretty good shape, and, most importantly, families and families with children will see a whole new day, in terms of their health care relationships.
You know, they -- it's the story that they -- if they like what they have, they can keep it, but there will be a lot more options and a lot more security and stability for health care for children, if this gets passed.
BLITZER: I want both of you to listen to Michael Moore, the filmmaker. He has got a new movie that is just coming out. And he was asked about the president's efforts in health reform. And he told CNN this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Maybe part of his problem has been that he's only gone halfway, instead of going all the way for a single-payer system, like every other Western country has. This sort of public option thing has not really energized the base to get out there and support him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Does he have a point, Paul?
SIMON: Well, you know, pragmatically speaking, I think he's trying to to -- to accomplish what can be accomplished in the -- in the context of the United States and the psyche of people, of Americans.
You can point to European systems and -- and make a case that they are superior, but Americans are not Europeans, and they don't think the same way as Europeans or feel the same way as Europeans. So, we can't simply say, let's -- let's adopt a system from -- from another culture.
BLITZER: If -- the best of all worlds, would you be among those, Irwin, who would support what they call a single-payer...
BLITZER: ... or a nationalized health insurance program?
REDLENER: And, by the way, there's a lot of variants of that sort of...
BLITZER: Is that -- am I getting a yes from you?
REDLENER: Yes, you're getting a yes from me.
But, on the other hand, I agree with Paul. It's not the time now for extremes on the left or the right. And we have got to stop that and get to the core issues. Let's get some of the big problems solved, as I think that's the direction we're going in. And, then, later, we will see. If it doesn't work, we may have to revisit it.
But, right now, I think we have to respond to where the American people are. And I think we have a pretty pragmatic Congress and a very pragmatic president, who just wants to get this first big step done. And I think he will. And I think he will before the end of the year.
BLITZER: I know both of you have a deep commitment to children's health. Thanks so much for what you're doing. Guys, thanks for coming in.
REDLENER: Thanks, Wolf.
SIMON: Thanks for having us.
REDLENER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Brooke, what's going on?
BALDWIN: Hi, Wolf.
I want to take a look at some of the pictures that are coming in to us from Hayward, California. Take a look at this, some of the -- really, the carnage of this airplane as it took off.
According to our affiliate KGO in San Francisco -- by the way, Hayward just across the bay from San Francisco -- one person was on board that plane. That person, of course, has been taken to -- to the hospital. Fire crews, you see them there on the scene, responding. This was a King Air twin turbo. We don't know how this thing happened. We're making phone calls out of our San Francisco bureau. We will bring you that information as soon as we get it.
Want to move on and tell you about another massive development in this Yale student story. Annie Le here was strangled to death. That is according to the Connecticut Medical Examiner's Office. Her body was found this weekend stuffed behind a wall in the lab where she worked.
And here's a name, Raymond Clark. That's a technician at the same lab. He was released yesterday from police custody after police took samples of his DNA. Important to point out here he has not been identified by police as a suspect.
And here's a question. What was on this ship lying deep, deep in the Mediterranean Sea there? Italian police tipped off by an informant worry that it contains barrels of toxic waste, waste that someone hired the local mafia to dispose of by scuttling the ship -- a lot less expensive than I suppose paying the fees for proper -- proper disposal, Wolf.
The mafia. Who knew?
BLITZER: Yes, a little mystery going on in the Mediterranean.
BLITZER: We will stay on top of it.
Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Thanks, Wolf.
Former President Jimmy Carter making a controversial connection between racism and President Obama's critics -- our political team standing by to weigh in. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
And we're also awaiting a news conference on the latest developments in that murder investigation of that promising young Yale student -- new details about what caused her death. We will go to New Haven live. That's coming up at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" with two CNN contributors, Roland Martin and Mary Matalin.
Guys, I'm going to play the clip of what former President Jimmy Carter told Brian Williams on NBC. It's causing an uproar. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS")
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American.
I live in the South, and I have seen the South come a long way. And I have seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African- Americans. That racism in connection still exists.
And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's not the only person, Mary, who has uttered those kinds of words, but he's the most prominent.
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's -- he's -- it's patently absurd. It's demonstrably untrue. Seventy-eight percent of Americans -- unaffiliated-with-any-party Americans reject that view. Seventy-three percent of African-Americans reject that view.
You know, Jimmy Carter, for those of us who have worked in national politics since his presidency, he's a notorious meddler. You can talk to President Clinton or any of the Bushes. But this is very dangerous politics that he's putting Barack Obama in the way of it.
If people feel like any opposition to any issue they take is going to brand them -- of his -- is going to brand them a racist, it's going to make them even angry. It's not true. It's a bad tactic. And Barack Obama's staff has rejected it.
Barack Obama himself needs to -- he's going to have to give one of his -- I'm afraid, one of his post-partisan race speeches again, because this is getting out of control.
BLITZER: All right.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I don't think he has to give a speech to address comments by President Jimmy Carter.
I mean, and, certainly, I don't think one can paint a broad brush in saying that all of these folks who have criticism, anybody who criticizes the president, it is -- it is based upon the issue of race.
But there's no doubt, when you look at statements that have been made, when you look at the fact that this president, according to reports, there's a 400 percent increase in terms of threats against this particular president. What is the chief difference between him and the previous 43?
But, also, I think that we have to broaden the conversation, and when you say something like, you're a racist. But the reality is, there are people, though, who do make -- take positions and have views and look at those things through a racial prism.
And so we cannot deny that race does indeed have an impact in our society. But I can't -- you can't sit here and say, well, I'm going to say that 90 percent of you are disagreeing because the issue of race.
But, even when you have had people who have made these kind of comments at some of these rallies -- I debated this idiot last night on "ANDERSON COOPER." I said, if they were at your tea party rally, would you stop them? He said, well, I wouldn't stop them...
BLITZER: All right.
MARTIN: ... because that's the First Amendment.
BLITZER: Because, Mary... MARTIN: That -- that makes no sense to me.
BLITZER: ... there is a little fringe element out there that -- we saw those pictures of President Obama dressed as some sort of African witch doctor, and -- and all sorts of ugly comments that -- that do surface from time to time.
What you're saying is that there's a tiny little fringe element, but the -- the overwhelming majority of those who criticize his policies aren't doing so because he's African-American?
MATALIN: Well, to me, I mean, it's absurd.
The -- I'm saying it's very dangerous politics. Barack Obama got, in the last election, more white male voters than any of his predecessors. Iowa, and it's 2 percent black, when he won Iowa, he -- that was his -- that's how he won the primary in the first place. It's just absurd.
And people -- you know what? People felt really good. Republicans and conservatives and Democrats and liberals, the whole country felt very good putting -- setting aside policies after his election. He enjoyed unprecedented approval. And, indeed, long after his policies started coming out, his personal popularity stayed as much as 20 points above his policy prescriptions.
BLITZER: All right.
MATALIN: He's a popular president.
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on, Roland.
I want to play what Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said today, because he seems to agree with Mary. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does not believe that -- that criticism comes based on the color of his skin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, a pretty strong statement.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, I mean, that was the position of the Obama campaign we saw all in 2007 and 2008, in terms of how they dealt with the issue of race.
But I can also say, frankly, that this White House and even his campaign were very afraid to even go down this road dealing with anything with race.
I want to say this here. Even though we have elected President Barack Obama and put him in the White House, it does not mean that race has somehow left the nation. We still have -- we still have these elements. We still have these examples of people who are appealing to that.
I mean, Rush Limbaugh made a comment today, in Obama's America, you know, white kids are beaten by black kids on school buses, when race had nothing to do with it. It was simply having a fight on a school bus.
And, so, you have people who want to seize upon this, but I cannot sit here and deny that race still is an element of America, not like it was in 1960, but it has not left us completely. And we must at least be willing to admit that.
BLITZER: Guys, we have got to leave it right there, but we will continue this conversation. Thanks to both of you.
And we're also going to invite others to weigh in on Jimmy Carter's controversial comments as well. Wait until you hear what the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, says about that. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk with him.
And he's the leader of the free world, but how much clout does President Obama really have? He and the first lady are pushing for Chicago to win a highly sought-after prize.
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" today: President Obama is taking a stab, hoping for a gold prize for Chicago. The president and the first lady, Michelle Obama, hope to help Chicago score the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Today, over at the White House, they hosted an event to boost Chicago's bid -- also competing for those 2016 Summer Games, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo. The decision will be handed down next month.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, does racism have anything to do with the opposition to President Obama?
Dave writes from Gainesville, Florida: "Jack, I'm a left-leaning member of a large, conservative, old Southern family. And I see and hear from people daily who do not support our current president. I can tell you that the racial component to the opposition is significant, even if liberalism is the primary foe. I have been battered by it, subtly and overtly, ever since the president began campaigning for his job. And I think President Carter is on the mark, even if many of us deny that that's the case."
Jerry in Pennsylvania: "I live in rural Harlansburg, Pennsylvania, and I constantly hear racist remarks about Obama. Several people have told me they hate him because he's black."
Chuck writes: "Race has nothing to do with it. The issue is specifically about what is right and what is wrong. The policies Obama chooses are not good for this country. We need less government, not more. This is what makes him a bad president, not the color of his skin."
Reed writes:"I am a Southern-raised boy, and know that most of these people are lying. From first-hand experience, I know what they say behind closed doors. I am saddened that people are fooled by such covert tactics, disguised in a political shroud of distraction. Time could very well prove Obama wrong, but, for now, he has been left with an unsolvable problem. And, so, they will crucify him for not being able to clean up the white man's mess, making him the scapegoat. It's a 21st century lynch mob using politics and rhetoric as the noose."
Kate in New York writes: "To some extent, yes, but not as much as some liberals make it out to be, and not as little as some on the right pretend it's not."
J.D. in Texas: "Lily-white tea parties, didn't anybody notice? That said it all."
And Lloyd in Montana: "I just attended a tea party. I saw more racial hatred than I have seen in the last 40 years. I thought I was in Macon, Georgia, in the 1960s. The only thing missing, the dogs and the fire hoses. I fear this country has learned nothing."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. We post a bunch of them there as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.