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THE SITUATION ROOM

First Lady Michelle Obama Relates Personal Stories about Health Care; Prostest Break Out Today in Iran; Astronaut Tackles Issue of Immigration Reform

Aired September 18, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thank you.

Happening now: Michelle Obama's health care risks as she's adding her voice to the push for health care reform. Will she have more success than Hilary Clinton did as First Lady?

Anti-government anger returning to the streets of Iran today. Tens of thousands marching in dueling demonstrations and stones, bricks and tear gas starts flying

And an astronaut takes a rare public stand on a controversial political issue. He says he's doing it to help other children of immigrants reach for the stars.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's Command Center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Michelle Obama isn't exactly following in Hilary Clinton's footsteps. But the First Lady is playing a new role today in promoting her husband's push for health care reform. As we all know, the tag team approach didn't work out all that well for the Clintons. Mrs. Obama is keeping her involvement limited. But she is dramatically stepping it up today.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. He's got the details. Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Spokesman Robert Gibbs here at the White House saying that there's no real new strategy here. But a senior administration official telling me that the First Lady does plan to really step up her involvement in the push for health care reform.

And we saw the beginning of that today. She was at an event that was sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls. And the First Lady was pointing out how women often bear the burden for making a lot of the health care decisions in the household, for their children, often for their spouses. But that they are the ones who are often left out of what's covered for some of the critical tests that are needed.

So she was really trying to frame it as an issue of equality for the need of reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: For two years on the campaign trail, this was what I heard from women, that they were being crushed, crushed by the current structure of our health care. Crushed. But these stories that we've heard today and all of us -- if we're not experiencing it, we know someone who is. These are the stories that remind us about what's at stake in this debate.

This is really all that matters. This is why we are fighting so hard for health insurance reform. This is it. This is the face of the fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Now, the first lady remains very popular figure. in the most recent CNN polling that came out last month, her favorable ratings were at 67 percent, unfavorable 22 percent. And so the White House saying that to the extent that she really can help out in getting the message of health care reform across, then they're very happy to have her, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing extensively from her later this hour, Dan. Thanks very much. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. Gloria, can she really make a difference? How valuable is she?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, she can. As Dan was just saying, she's very popular. But her popularity is even higher with women. She's got a 75 percent approval rating with women. In politics, you always like to focus your message. And they're going to use Michelle Obama as somebody who can talk to women.

Today, she was talking about health care as very much a woman's issue. And don't forget, she was also a hospital administrator. She's going to talk about her own personal experiences, in particular, with women and discrimination against women when it comes to health insurance.

She's also going to make the case that women are the ones who very often take care of their elderly parents, and who are in charge of health care at home.

BLITZER: She can certainly help the president a lot. Now, the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, now the secretary of state, she says she's confident that this president will succeed, even as her husband failed in the early 1990s. She was asked today about health care reform. Here's what the secretary of state said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We just have to calm down here, take two Aspirin, go to bed, think about it in the morning. But I'm very optimistic. I think that, you know, it won't be pretty. It's like sausage making.

But we will end up with a bill for the president to sign that will be an advance. And that's what I think is in the best interest of the country. And, of course, it will have political benefits for the president. But I think that what's most important is getting this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say that the Obama team learned a lot from what not to do, necessarily, in terms of how the Clintons handled health care.

BORGER: They did. I have to say that sounds like somebody who is certainly glad she's not going through health care reform again. She seemed a little light-hearted about it almost. Yes, she had a real problem. And the folks who work in the Obama White House, many of whom worked for the Clintons, said we're not going to do what Hillary Clinton did, which is we're not going to write a bill and send it up to Congress so it becomes a big target for Congress to aim at.

They went the other way, and let Congress write the bill. And it remains to be seen whether they went overboard in the other direction, giving Congress too much authority, because here they sit waiting for something to still come from Capitol Hill.

The president had to jump in last week. And he kind of let the health care debate get away from him. Now he's trying to rest control of it from Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Good points, Gloria. Thanks very much.

A famously vocal critic of President Obama speaking out in less than an hour. That would be Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, who shouted "you lie" during the president's recent health care address. Wilson is set to hold a news conference in his home state of South Carolina. Our Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us now from West Columbia.

Brianna, you're in the room where this news conference is going to happen. Mostly local press, national press, what's going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a couple national media outlets here, Wolf. At this point, we're still waiting for the local media to show up. We're expecting that Joe Wilson will take his spot here at this lectern and that he's going to say it's really time to move past this. It's time to get on with the work that he has been put in Washington to do.

And this is a news conference. It's not a town hall. He's expected to be taking questions from the media, not from his constituents. But really we don't know what to expect from the crowd. The announcement of this meeting has gone out on local radio. It's gone out on local TV. So people around here certainly know.

And this is very much a Republican area, about a stone's throw from Springdale, the hometown of Congressman Wilson. We've spoken with a few people in the area. While a lot of them say it was not the proper venue to shout out at President Obama, a lot of them told us they share his sentiment, that they are opposed to President Obama's plan to overhaul health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm somewhere between embarrassed and proud of him. One more thing that makes South Carolina seem backwards, even though I personally believe that's misguided.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think before you speak, Joe. Maybe that's good for anybody. Maybe think before you speak next time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it was the right venue for it.

We're becoming socialists in sort of a way. We're borrowing money from other people. We're doing these programs. They're really taking away a lot of the choices from individual people, and putting it in the hands of our government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, Wolf, this is generally an area that supports Congressman Wilson, or Joe as everyone seemed to call him that we spoke to. But just in case, there are some people who come here to give him a piece of their mind. I want to show you what's been set up. All of this is standing room area. This is where if constituents come, they can stand. It's not chairs. And there's just one row of chairs here, about 25 or so chairs.

And we've actually been told by hospital officials, since this is in a hospital, that they've set this up essentially as a bit of a barrier, to discourage people from getting too close to the Congressman, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. You'll monitor that news conference for us. We've repeatedly invited Congressman Wilson to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. If he feels like it after his news conference, joining us for a few moments, we'd love to interview him, as well. Thanks very much for that.

Opponents of Iran's government show the world they haven't gone away. They return to the streets today and defended their leader when hard liners rushed to his car. We're going to find out what's happening in Iran right now. Our Christiane Amanpour, she is standing by.

And former CIA directors banding together against the Obama administration. What's going on?

And we'll also get to know one of the president's top economic advisers. He tells us he's just a part of the Obama pit crew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of like the guy with the tire tool in the Nascar thing. As they drive the laps, I come out, you know, get the tires on there and get them back out on the road. But, I mean, Obama's Dale Jr. in that story. He's the guy driving. I'm just like the tool guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Crowds taking to the streets once again in Iran. This protest in Tehran, an annual pro-Palestinian rally. Among them, thousands of green-clad supporters of the opposition movement. That according to CNN sources in Tehran.

This year, they've been especially -- they're especially tense, these demonstrations, after unrest over Iran's disputed presidential election back in June. Witnesses tell CNN some protesters shouted pro-Iranian government slogans, while others yelled against the regime. Witnesses tell us some protesters chanted "death to the dictator."

Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who knows this story very, very well. What does it mean that weeks after the elections, there are still these huge crowds gathering and they're shouting "death to the dictator," in reference to Ahmadinejad, the president.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What it means is this is the first time they've come out en mass in two months. Everybody was waiting to see whether they still had that protest spirit in them. And clearly they do. There were, obviously, huge pro-government organized demonstrations, or rather rallies, on this Jerusalem day, as they call it, Quds Day.

But in areas, there were also these thousands of the opposition who came out, including leaders of the oppositions. First time they've been seen out in the streets for a long time. And despite warnings from Ayatollah Khomeini and the government not to turn this into a protest day.

BLITZER: Two of the biggest opposition figures, Mousavi, Khatami, they were out there today as well. Describe to our viewers the significance, Christiane, of that.

AMANPOUR: Well, significant because there have been mounting concerns over the last week that the government may be paving the way to arrest some of the opposition leaders, notably Mr. Mousavi, and the cleric, Mehdi Kal-Oubi (ph). Nobody knows whether the government would touch a former president, Khatami, but there have been concerns.

As you can see there in that illuminated picture there, that is Mousavi, and you can see actually a guard in front, sort of trying to hold control there. So some kind of protection going on there. And also there was a picture of the Mohammad Khatami, the former president, reformist, with some around him clutching his turban. Unclear whether he had been jostled or shoved. But they were clearly surrounded by their supports.

Anyway, this went on despite what has happened, which is so many people have been killed during the protest, so many arrested, so many now with allegations of torture while in prison, and so many still in prison, including, I might say, at this point a journalist, a fellow journalist, Masia Bahari (ph), who is still in prison in Iran, and for whom the journalist community are insisting that he actually be charged or be released.

BLITZER: And three Americans who inadvertently crossed into Iran, they're still being held, as well.

AMANPOUR: Interestingly, Ann Curry of NBC, who interviewed President Ahmadinejad, asked specifically about that. And he said, well, they entered illegally. They have to be punished. But then he went on to say that he would work as hard as he can to get them freed, but only if the U.S. frees Iranians in U.S. custody. And it's unclear what he actually means by that.

But nonetheless, these -- the fate of these hikers are now on the top of the agenda. A lot of publicity about them. And Ann Curry did put that question and he did say he would see what he could do about it. But unlikely or uncertain whether that's going to be resolved any time soon.

BLITZER: He seemed to strongly suggest, Christiane, that he would release those Americans if the U.S. or the Iraqis released five Iranians, what he called diplomats, who are being held in Iraq. I thought they were released already, which seemed to suggest to me either he was confused, didn't know what he was talking about, or there's something else going on that we don't know, in terms of other Iranian diplomats maybe are held.

AMANPOUR: Well, precisely. Those five diplomats were a source of huge contention for the Iranians for the last two years. And you notice, he did talk about it in the past. They were held for two years. So he's obviously aware that they'd been released. Maybe there are others that he thinks are in custody or others that we need to find out what he's talking about.

But clearly, there have been a lot of protestations about these three who have crossed over into Iran. You know, I've talked to sources who say they have had cameras or other such things. They were not in any nefarious undertakings.

But here's the thing, the Iranians are obsessed with this notion of a Velvet Revolution. You can talk to anybody and the regime is obsessed, paranoid about this notion that the United States has decided there's no way it's going to regime change by military means, but that the United States is still bent on regime change by soft means.

So this is what they are using as their excuse now for rounding up so, so many people who are in jail at the moment.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thanks very much for that. We're going to stay on top of this story. And to our viewers, I want you to know, of course, all of you, though, Christiane's decades of experience covering these and other stories; now she takes her experience and her intelligence to a whole new show right here on CNN. "AMANPOUR," a new global program. She'll interview political leaders, cultural icons, influential people on the global stage.

You can watch "AMANPOUR" Sunday, September 27th, that's the debut at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

And another story we've been following, this one over a year. The assassination of the former Pakistani president -- prime minister that is, Benazir Bhutto, back in 2007. You may recall, she was running to lead Pakistan once again at the time of her death. And she wrote a letter to me before she was killed. She asked me not to read it until or unless she was killed.

The current Pakistani president, Bhutto's widower, says this in front of an audience at London's International Institute of Strategic Studies. Listen to what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTAN: My wife had left behind a letter addressed to Wolf Blitzer of CNN. So she from her grave shouted out that the policies, to say the least, did not give her enough security. We have, in turn, taken a political decision to take Pakistan -- the whole Parliament, provincial assemblies, the national assemble, the Senate of Pakistan passed a resolution asking for the UN to come in and to be present in assisting us to investigate.

So we're waiting for the process to finish. The family, as you know, we have not -- the first information report. Because we do not want to equate our loss with any individual or individuals. We want the United Nations and history to judge. (INAUDIBLE)

And we want to change the reason, the cause, the symbol, the system, especially the people, the mind set that did not let the first woman prime minister of Pakistan, A, rule, B, survive.

So that's what we're after. We intend to change the system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And upon her death, I did read that e-mail that Benazir Bhutto had sent me with all of her deepest fears.

Fresh details emerging right now of a high profile kidnapping case. It concerns the man accused of the abducting and keeping a young girl for 18 years. Police are looking for any clues that suggest the suspect committed other crimes.

And astronauts are not known for getting political. But one astronaut is right now. He's making very compelling arguments for his cause.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: It's among the most personal and revealing stories you'll ever hear from the First Lady. Michelle Obama speaking about heart ache and heart break as she pitches health care reform.

Standby, you're going to want to hear the First Lady in her own words. She tells some heart felt stories as she calls for women to act.

Take a look at this, Big Sky and open road in Montana. But is this opening leaving the U.S. vulnerable? Wait until you see how your tax dollars are being spent on key borders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, fighting for his life; an Ohio inmate tries to stop an unprecedented second excuse attempt. An emotionally charged case for all sides. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firing back at critics who charge President Obama caved into Russia by scrapping a Bush era missile defense system in Europe.

And remote border crossing, at least one of them that gets fewer than two vehicles a day is now getting a multi-million dollar upgrade, courtesy of the federal government and your tax dollars. What's going on? We investigate.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an issue affecting every American family. Now pushing for it has become a family affair. The First Lady is joining her husband and pitching health care reform. Michelle Obama spoke to women over at the White House today. She says health care reform is also a woman's issue, because it's so often involves women making health care decisions for themselves and their families.

The First Lady even related some very personal stories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier. So we knew something was wrong.

So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and said something's wrong. We didn't know what. But he told us that she could have Meningitis. So we were terrified.

He said get to the emergency room right away. And fortunately for us, things worked out. Because she is now the Sasha that we all know and love today, who is causing me great excitement.

But it is that moment in our lives that flashes through my head every time we engage in this health insurance conversation. It's that moment in my life, because I think about what on Earth would we have done if we had not had insurance. What would've happened to that beautiful little girl if we hadn't been able to get to a pediatrician who was able to get us to an emergency room? The consequences I can't even imagine. She could've lost her hearing. She could've lost her life, if we had had to wait because of insurance.

And it was also fortunate that we happened to have good insurance, right? Because if we hadn't had good insurance, like many of the panelists up here, we would've been saddled with costs for covering that emergency room visit, for her two days in the hospital. We would've still been paying off those bills.

And this issue isn't something that I thought about as a mother. I think about it as a daughter. As many of you know, my father had Multiple Sclerosis. He contracted it in his 20s. And as you all know, my father was our rock. He was able to get up and go to work every day, even though it got harder for him as he got sicker and more debilitated. And I find myself thinking, what would we have done as a family on the South Side of Chicago if my father hadn't had insurance, if he hadn't been able to cover his treatments? What would it have done to him to think that his illness could have put his entire family into bankruptcy?

And what if he had lost his job, which, fortunately, he never did? What if his company had changed insurance, which, fortunately, never happened, and we became one of the millions of Americans, families, who can't get insurance because of a preexisting condition?

So, these are the thoughts that run through my mind as I watch this debate and hope that we get it right.

The status quo is unacceptable. It is holding women and families back, and we know it. Fortunately, that is exactly what my husband's plan proposes to do.

And it's important for us to understand some of the basic principles of that plan. Under his plan, if you don't have insurance now, or you lose your insurance at some point in the future, you will be able to purchase affordable coverage through an insurance exchange, a marketplace with a variety of options that will let you compare prices and benefits.

This is exactly the approach that is used to provide members of Congress with insurance. So, the thought is that, if it's good enough for members of Congress, it should be good enough for the people who vote them in.

(APPLAUSE)

M. OBAMA: And this is also an important part of the plan.

If you already have insurance -- and it seems that there are a lot of people who are worried that they will lose what they have under this plan -- but, under this plan, if you already have insurance, you're set. Nothing changes. You keep your insurance. You keep your doctors. And you're blessed.

(LAUGHTER) M. OBAMA: This plan just puts in place some basic rules of the road to protect you from the kinds of abuses and unfair practices that we have heard.

Under this plan, insurance companies will never again be allowed to deny people like Debi and her son coverage for preexisting conditions. Sounds like a good thing.

So, whether you have breast cancer, diabetes, asthma, or hypertension -- or even just had a C-section, or some mental health treatment that you had in your past -- none of that will be a reason to refuse you coverage under the plan that my husband is proposing, because, when you're fighting an illness, he believes that you shouldn't also have to be in the process of fighting the insurance companies at the same time.

(APPLAUSE)

M. OBAMA: It's a basic idea.

Under this plan, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you get too sick, or refuse to pay for the care that you need, or to set a cap on the amount of coverage that you can get. And it will limit how much they can charge you for out-of- pocket expenses, because getting sick in this country shouldn't mean that you go bankrupt. That's a basic principle of this plan.

And, finally, this plan will require insurance companies to cover basic preventative care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The first lady getting very personal on the most substantive issue facing the president right now domestically. I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more from her.

In the darkest days of the recession, one of the president's top economic advisers says he was too busy to eat more than Tic Tacs for dinner. Stand by to learn more about his role on team Obama.

And it's unusual for an astronaut to take a public stand on a political issue. It's even more unusual for him to do it in space.

And it's like Twitter with a Yiddish accent. It's a new way for Jewish mothers to spread the love online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's not often that you hear the Obama administration compared to a stock car racing team, but that's the way one of the president's most important economic advisers sees it.

Listen to Austan Goolsbee liken his job to being a member of a NASCAR pit crew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: I'm kind of like the guy with the -- with the tire tool in the NASCAR thing. As they drive the laps, I come out, you know, get the tires on there, and get him back out on the road.

But, I mean, Obama is Dale Jr. in that story. He's -- he's the guy driving. I'm just, like, the tool guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

You had a chance to do some serious talking with Austan Goolsbee.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I did, Wolf.

I don't think he would want to be known for eternity as the tool guy, but he is really one of the president's longest-serving advisers, going back to his 2004 Senate race. Now one of Goolsbee's top concerns, he says Congress has to pass new rules to prevent another Wall Street meltdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): With stocks flying through the roof, Wall Street seems to be on a manic high, while the rest of the nation is reaching for its antidepressants. That disconnect is not lost on Austan Goolsbee.

GOOLSBEE: They kind of go back to the mentality was, hey, well, we made a lot of money from that; let's -- let's go back to doing that again.

I think we have got to try very hard to avoid that.

YELLIN: Goolsbee is one of the president's top economic advisers.

GOOLSBEE: Every meeting, the president is kind of like, what have you done to get people hired today?

YELLIN: He tells us, what's needed are new rules for Wall Street, and he's worried the urgency to reform the system is slipping away.

GOOLSBEE: I do worry that, if the focus doesn't remain on protecting consumers and protecting the system, that kind of the lobbyists just take back over and just write the rules that are in their favor and that kind of got us into this mess.

YELLIN: Goolsbee is not the most famous member of the White House economic team, but he has served the president the longest, going back to their Chicago days. He's known for his quick wit, here during the campaign.

GOOLSBEE: Obama has sort have been the steady hand in the storm, and McCain has been the storm.

YELLIN: ... or talking about the scandal-plagued insurance giant AIG.

GOOLSBEE: These guys should have gotten the Nobel Prize for evil.

YELLIN: On late-night TV, he has explained the state of the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Are -- are -- are we broke?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: No.

STEWART: We're not broke?

GOOLSBEE: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Goolsbee says new reforms have to include a consumer watchdog that could have presented the worst abuses.

So, how is the job so far?

GOOLSBEE: I didn't come for the fun, and I haven't been disappointed.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Goolsbee says the administration will keep the heat on Congress to get that reform legislation done. As for the general state of the economy, while there has been some positive economic news, Wolf, GOOLSBEE: acknowledged that it will really take some time for the jobs picture to improve.

BLITZER: Yes, quite a bit of time.

YELLIN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that, Jessica.

Let's get to an astronaut now who is boldly going where few have gone before. He took a controversial stand from space, urging the Obama administration to pass immigration reform. It's a very personal issue for this Mexican-American who has just returned from his first shuttle mission.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez went to his hometown to talk to his family.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, astronaut Jose Hernandez was born to immigrant parents. As a child, he worked right here in the fields of Stockton, California, alongside undocumented migrant workers. His parents told us, those experiences are the reason why he's taken such a vocal stance on immigration reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jose Hernandez, mission specialist number two on the mission, is making his first spaceflight.

Booster ignition and liftoff of Discovery.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): A trip to space, against astronomical odds for one astronaut.

SALVADOR HERNANDEZ, FATHER OF NASA ASTRONAUT JOSE HERNANDEZ: (INAUDIBLE) also, everything in the field, you know.

GUTIERREZ: Salvador and Julia (ph) Hernandez were migrant workers from Mexico who took their children to work with them every weekend.

HERNANDEZ: Because I want them to learn how to -- to learn money.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): It sounds like the lesson paid off.

HERNANDEZ: It sure did. It sure it, because you see that result now. You see the result.

GUTIERREZ: They say, every night, one child, Jose, just 7 at the time, would lay out on the grass and stare at the stars. He told them he would become an astronaut.

Though Jose was born in the U.S., the family followed the harvest, and he didn't learn to speak English well until he was 12. But Jose was gifted and proficient in the language of mathematics. He excelled in physics and engineering, and never gave up on his dream. For 12 years in a row, he applied to NASA and was rejected.

Then, in 2004, he was finally accepted, at the age of 41.

LETICIA CORONA, SISTER OF NASA ASTRONAUT JOSE HERNANDEZ: You think about when we were working in the field.

(LAUGHTER)

CORONA: You think about all the struggles, the hardships that we faced.

GUTIERREZ: On his first flight that just ended last week, Jose gave an interview from space to the Spanish-language TV network Televisa. He talked about his background, the mission, and how he hoped the Obama administration would pass comprehensive immigration reform.

His public comments on a controversial issue caused NASA to take its own stand. In a statement released to the media, NASA said, "Hernandez's opinions are his own and do not represent the space agency," but that he has every right to express his personal views.

HERNANDEZ: I'm really proud of this -- this guy here right there.

GUTIERREZ: His parents say they're glad their son hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings. They hope he will inspire other children to seek their place in the universe.

(on camera): Jose Hernandez says he wants to make sure that other low-income students have a chance to achieve their dreams. And so he started a foundation called Reaching for the Stars to help raise scholarship money, so that they can pursue their studies in math and science -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. What a story.

A Senate Democrat is raising a red flag about immigration and the party's support among Latino voters. James Carville and Alex Castellanos are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And we will confront James, by the way, with his alter ego. There he is. That's not James. Just for laughs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SETH MEYERS, ACTOR: James...

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: ... what do you think of these protesters?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The first lady of the United States goes out big time to today help her husband pass health care reform.

Let's discuss this and more with our CNN political analysts, the Democratic strategist James Carville and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I think she can really help the president. She made a very compelling speech today. JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, they're in a fight. And, when you're in a fight, you marshal all your resources. And she is a resource. And she was very good.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But there is a history of first ladies getting involved in health care reform. And you remember that quite well. It didn't exactly work out perfectly.

CARVILLE: Well, I was afraid you would bring that up.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes.

CARVILLE: Yes. But, I mean, this is an entirely different thing. She's coming in for a couple plays. And it's fine. It -- and people -- the public looks at this. I know, in campaigns, we used to think, well, the public expects your spouse to be for you, but it's nice for her to say a few nice words about you anyway.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with this at all.

(CROSSTALK)

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly not. Smart political move on the part of the Democrats. Michelle Obama is the popular Obama...

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: ... not that the other one isn't.

And the Democrats have had a lot of success with the gender gap, driving female votes on the caregiving, nourishing issues. Health care is one of them. It should help.

But here's the concern. Women are at the center of paying the health care bills, managing health care in household. They are the ones who are most concerned about preserving the doctor-patient relationship. When their kids or parents are sick, they don't want anything interfering with the relationship with that doctor.

That's why women are key to the argument against big government- run health care.

BLITZER: I think seniors right now are the most concerned about the president's plan, because they're the ones obviously who get the sickest all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: This is -- this is true. And I think you see in the president going out tomorrow morning. I think people know this is -- you know, this is really going to be an intense political fight. I'm glad to see that they're moving on this. And I think when you're in something like this, you -- if you got resources, you -- you deploy them. You don't hold back.

CASTELLANOS: And, on top of that, the debate was being polarized along racial lines. Now they can change the subject. Good move.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: They don't want -- yes, right. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Democrat, you know, he says, maybe it should -- it's not such a bad idea that illegal immigrants in the country could have access to buying insurance under the new plan. So many kids, for example, they're mixed families.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: The kids may have been born in the United States. The parents are not here legally. What's wrong with Senator Menendez's idea?

CASTELLANOS: Well, I think most Americans would tell you that, if it's little for you to be here, that illegal actually means illegal, and you shouldn't benefit from a taxpayer-funded system. So, that's what wrong with it.

It certainly is a political loser. Even President Obama distanced himself from that in his speech to the joint session. But this is Washington theatrics. This is a senator who has a large Hispanic population saying, I'm going to fight for you.

But, at the end of the day, the Democrats are not going to go with this. They're going to throw this under the bus. And both sides of the Democrats will win on this.

CARVILLE: I have got a feeling this is not a political winner in New Jersey, all right? And I don't think it is a political winner.

But he makes the case. If -- if you have insurance -- right now, if you're illegal, you show up at the emergency room, they pay. They don't -- they don't deny you care, which obviously we don't that in the United States.

I think, as a policy argument, here is an arguable position. As a political argument, it's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. All right. Hold your fire. Hold your fire right now, because I didn't know this until I watched "Saturday Night Live" this week, their special -- their special program. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And it was clear to James Carville has a twin brother. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Thank you, Seth Myers.

MEYERS: So, James...

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: ... what do you think of these protesters?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, you see these people out are protesting, grown -- grown men dressed up as jokers and goblins and Hitlers. I mean, these -- these people are first-class crazy. And I should know, Seth, because I'm as crazy as they come.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I mean, look at me. I see this in the mirror every morning and I think, yes, that's good-looking.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I mean, come on. I look like a Skeletor.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Well, surely, they're not all crazy. I mean, what do you make of the argument that there are moderate conservatives in those crowds as well?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Moderates? No, no, Seth, there ain't no moderates in the tea party. They only seem moderate because they're surrounded by the super-crazies.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It's like when a midget stands next to a smart car.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You ain't tall, midget.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You just clever.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: When do..

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: When exactly do little people stand next to smart cars?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, you come down to Louisiana. You will get an eyeful of clever little people.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: So, how do you think the White House should respond to these demonstrators?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ignore them. I mean, when -- when a crazy drifter comes up to you on the street and says, hey, snake face, you the devil, you don't stop and...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, snake face. You the devil.

Did you ever see that guy before?

CARVILLE: I never saw him before.

You know, Governor Jeb Bush, when he first saw me on TV, he knew my wife was dating me, calls up and says, that boy looks like he swam too close -- he's like a fish that swam too close to a nuclear reactor.

So..

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: ... people have been making fun of the way I look a long time.

But my kids will be very happy. I have 14- and 11-year-old daughters.

BLITZER: I'm going to show you. He was wearing the same outfit that you wear, the same shirt, same jacket, similar tie.

CARVILLE: Right. BLITZER: Let's take a look and compare outfits. The real -- that's not the real one. There's the fake one.

CASTELLANOS: How do we know?

BLITZER: And there's the real one right there. They look like -- they look...

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: Wolf, I would like to see...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: I would like to see some I.D. here. If I have been debating the "Saturday Night Live" writers for years...

BLITZER: Yes.

CASTELLANOS: ... it's a problem.

BLITZER: It is a problem, but...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: And, besides that, who's home, James?

BLITZER: He was good.

CARVILLE: He was -- he was good.

BLITZER: He was really good.

CARVILLE: He was good.

BLITZER: All right.

CARVILLE: My daughter Emma got me to wearing blue ties and blue shirts, so...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Alex -- Alex, you know you will have made it when they start doing Alex Castellanos on "Saturday Night Live."

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

There's a new takeoff of Twitter that may give you a laugh and give you a hankering for chicken soup. Stand by.

And a former beauty queen talks about the day she became a controversial figure and a conservative role model. And on the return of anti-government protests in Iran, is the hard-line government now feeling threatened?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": A former Miss California joins with prominent conservatives in reaching out to -- to those conservatives.

Carrie Prejean took part in a -- an event here in Washington earlier today. She spoke about the incident that turned her into a political figure when she was asked during the Miss USA Pageant whether same-sex marriage should be legalized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARRIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA: So, there I was, about to answer this question. And the moment the judge asked it, I tried to stand there and look pretty, but, in my head...

(LAUGHTER)

PREJEAN: ... I could not believe that they were asking that question at Miss USA. I could not believe it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PREJEAN: I thought it was...

(APPLAUSE)

PREJEAN: I thought that it was extremely inappropriate for that venue. Any other venue, it would have been all right. I would have had no questions asked. But, at that venue, I thought that it was extremely inappropriate. We see all the time, Miss Congeniality. What do they want to hear? World peace.

(LAUGHTER)

PREJEAN: As soon as you -- as soon a woman doesn't give the world peace answer, why is all of a sudden she all over national news, and it's this huge, huge controversy, all because I said a marriage is between a man and a woman?

(LAUGHTER)

PREJEAN: Are you serious? It doesn't make any sense to me, a 22-year-old college student.

As I began to answer the question, in my head, I was thinking, God, why is this question being asked? But you know what? I'm going to deal with this question. I'm going to answer it to the best of my ability, stay true to who I am, what I believe, and the way that I was raised.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) PREJEAN: And that's it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.

Now that I'm on Twitter, along comes Twitteleh. It's a parody of Twitter specifically geared toward Jewish mothers and their kids.

Let's bring in Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, why Twitteleh?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Because, Wolf, actually calling your Jewish mother may take hours. With Twitteleh, you can update her in an instant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twitteleh, Twitter for your Jewish mother.

Every time you want to update your Jewish mother, go to Twitteleh.com, and answer these three questions: Where are you? What have you eaten? Are you wearing a sweater?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: There's no Twitteleh -- Twitteleh.com. This is a parody video on YouTube made by two old college buddies, who said they were all joke -- always joking about Jewish mothers constantly checking in. And they decided to make a video about it with one of their mothers. This is Emily Tigerman here, mother of Reg Tigerman, who, as you can see, was a very good sport about it.

This is now a trending topic on the real Twitter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Simmering for weeks, now rage boils over in the streets of Tehran, thousands of people risking arrest, beatings, even death, to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his reelection. He's heading here to the United States next week, and one hotel is now refusing his business.

Also, they're two of the most remote and seldom-used border crossings in the entire United States. So, why does the federal government want to spend more than $30 million on these two posts?

And a botched execution -- the condemned man pricked with a needle 18 times. His executioners try for two hours to deliver a deadly cocktail of drugs, to no avail -- now controversy raging as they plan to try once again.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.