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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iran Ignores U.N. Nuclear Deadline; Health Care Reform Momentum?
Aired October 23, 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: Iran snubs a United Nations deadline and leaves the world hanging. Will it sign on to a deal designed to ease fears about its nuclear program? The Obama administration is now anxiously waiting for an answer.
Plus, unanswered questions and a lot of suspicion surrounding the pilots who passed the airport where they were supposed to land. The cockpit voice recorder could solve the mystery.
And it may be the world's largest pyramid. It's been discovered in an ancient city hidden deep in the jungle. This is a story you will see only here on CNN.
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.
Just when the U.S. thought it might be easing its Iran problem, the hard-line government in Tehran is saying, not so quick. It's now unclear whether Iran will sign on to a draft agreement designed to help end a global dispute over its nuclear program.
The U.S., Russia, and France gave a thumbs-up by today's deadline. But Iran now says it won't announce its decision until next week.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.
Suzanne, how is the Obama administration reacting to this?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you can imagine it's a disappointment here.
You're talking about three days of talks with Iran and still no answer whether or not it's going to cooperate with the international community. Now, I have spoken with officials from the National Security Council, the State Department. They are saying the same thing, that, essentially, they are disappointed. They had hoped for an answer today.
But they are going to go ahead and accept this delay just for a couple of days to figure out what Iran officially wants to do, what their response is. They still believe that it's worth it to talk to the Iranian government, but that their patience is wearing thin. This is how the State Department put it, Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We take it as a -- as a positive sign that they have agreed in principle to taking a couple of significant steps, the -- opening up the Qom facility and then working out a procedure for having their low-enriched uranium reprocessed in another country.
And, at the same time, our -- our patience is not -- is not limitless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, obviously, they are trying to put pressure here, saying their patience is wearing thin. The deal on the table from the United Nations, it's backed by Russia, as well as France and the United States, is for Iran to ship about 75 percent of low-grade uranium off to Russia, have Russia further enrich the uranium and ship it back to Iran.
That is meant to be transparent, to show that Iran's intentions are about building up energy, nuclear energy, a nuclear reactor, not a nuclear bomb. Iran today came back today, Wolf, and said, well, what if we buy the uranium on the open market? Would that be good?
Literally, the White House, as well as the international community, ignored that offer, even ignored the suggestion, and said, come back to us with a response on the U.N. plan. That's what is on the table. That's what we're waiting for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The State Department saying the patience is not limitless. Well, what happens if Iran continues to delay, delay, delay? What's going to happen?
MALVEAUX: Well, certainly, the United States is trying to push forward on tougher sanctions. Already, the U.N. Security Council has three resolutions for tough sanctions. They want to bring it even further.
Now, this is going to be a tough thing here. Obviously, what Iran has to do is show and open up to inspectors one of those super- secret sites that was recently discovered that was enriching uranium.
And, second, they have got to show that they are going to go ahead and ship this -- some of this uranium off to Russia and have them take care of it. If they don't do that, then perhaps Russia and China will be on board for tougher sanctions. But, right now, they are taking very much a wait-and-see approach, a step-by-step approach, because they are reluctant to do that right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right.
MALVEAUX: It is really a waiting game.
BLITZER: It certainly is. We will see what happens.
Thank you, Suzanne. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, is trying to reassure allies that the United States is not -- is not -- repeat -- not pulling its troops out of Afghanistan. Gates met today with his counterparts in NATO to discuss the war and their role in it.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Afghanistan -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: what some nations seem ready to send more troops and others are adamant about waiting.
(voice-over): The meeting, NATO's top defense ministers, the issue, Afghanistan. And with the U.S. wrestling with a decision to send more American troops, new signals emerge that allies may be ready to up the ante on their end.
ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There were a number who -- who indicated they were thinking about or were moving toward increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both.
LAWRENCE: But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says no exact numbers were asked for or given. And both the Dutch and Danish defense ministers say they won't send any more troops unless the runoff election in two weeks creates a legitimate Afghan government and President Obama makes his decision on overall strategy.
Gates signaled both events could coincide.
GATES: And I think that the analytical phase is beginning to -- is coming to an end, and that, probably over the next two or three weeks, we're going to be considering specific options, and -- and teeing them up for a decision by the president.
LAWRENCE: Americans make up about two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan today. General Stanley McChrystal says he needs more, and explained his assessment to the defense ministers, who mapped out a plan to one day let Afghans handle their own security.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: We have not agreed to start handing over the lead. The conditions are not yet right. The Afghan security forces are not yet strong enough.
LAWRENCE: But they will take the lead on November 7, Election Day. Afghan forces will be closest to the polling stations, with NATO forces farther back.
(on camera): The candidates can start campaigning Saturday at noon, but only for 12 days. Military officials tell us that securing that election is now the highest mission priority for American troops and their allies -- Wolf.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And it's a tough assignment, indeed -- Chris Lawrence in Kabul covering the story.
New word today that the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will visit Pakistan soon. Details are being kept secret for security reasons. The announcement was made by Secretary Clinton's special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who has taken, at least in the last few weeks, a relatively low profile.
Holbrooke was asked why the role seems to have been eclipsed in recent days by Senator John Kerry. You remember Senator Kerry was actively involved in persuading Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election this following week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, SPECIAL U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: I'm not sure how to answer that. I would like to -- I would like to make a joke and say I'm always happy to be eclipsed by John Kerry, but then you will take it seriously. And that will cause more problems.
HOLBROOKE: So, let me -- let me address it on a more serious basis. I go to Pakistan and Afghanistan once every two months ago. I was there less than two months ago. I will be back in both countries within a -- within a short period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Ambassador Holbrooke says his main job is to stay here in Washington and be involved in the Obama administration's review of strategy in Afghanistan.
The Afghan president's main challenger is welcoming the November 7 runoff. Abdullah Abdullah isn't backing off of his allegations of election fraud.
Let's -- our chief national correspondent, John King, I should say, interviewed Mr. Abdullah for CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")
JOHN KING, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING": Let's talk a bit about the campaign and let's start with your concerns. In the last campaign, you obviously thought there was considerable fraud and you thought the government was complicit in some way in that fraud.
President Karzai told our Fareed Zakaria this. He said, there were some mistakes, there some incidents of fraud, but the election as a whole was clean and the result were clear.
What do you think of that? DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The -- to call this as clean elections, I think this -- with all due respect to Mr. Karzai, is a bit -- a bit of ignorance, I should say.
To say the least, this is like the fraud of the history. And, unfortunately, the government was involved. IEC was involved. That's according to everybody, international observers, UNAMA, Elections Complaints Commission, the people of Afghanistan.
So, to -- to ignore it, to -- just to deny it is not the solution. Yes, it was a step forward that the people of Afghanistan participated in the elections, but it wasn't a service to the people to ignore the institutions, the rule of law, and -- and -- and come up with such a -- such a process.
But, at the same time, one chapter is behind us. It led to the runoff. And we need to get it corrected, in order to open the door for the new chapter. So, denying it is not a solution, rather than admitting it and correcting will be responsible leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's bring in John King. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
John, it's no secret, short of a runoff election, there could be some sort of government sharing between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah. Some people here in Washington would welcome that. But what is the chance?
KING: The White House would certainly welcome it. They would even love if they could somehow do it before the runoff.
But he was very clear, Wolf. He said there are no negotiations going on right now. He said his focus is on the runoff election. And that will be his focus for the next two weeks.
And I also said, what about after the election? Any chance then, if President Karzai wins, you might come into the government, because President Karzai says he is open to that?
And Mr. Abdullah -- we will see if this changes -- he was very adamant. He said no. If that happens, he wanted to stay as an opposition figure, push for parliamentary reforms, a parliamentary system, push maybe for the creation of a prime minister's post.
He said he was in the Karzai government. He left a couple of years ago. He said in this interview -- and, again, things often change in politics, in Afghanistan and here -- but, in this interview, he said, flatly, not interested.
He said simply, even if Karzai wins, he doesn't believe he will change from the past eights years, believes the corruption will continue, and that he will not be a credible president for Afghanistan, or -- and this is important -- a credible partner for the United States. BLITZER: The going -- the going assumption here in Washington is that Hamid Karzai will win this runoff election.
Secretary Clinton, she made that point flatly in the interview she did the other day with Jill, Jill Dougherty.
Abdullah Abdullah react to that?
KING: Yes. I actually played a bit of that, Senator's -- Secretary Clinton's sound to him. And he said, well, you know, she also predicted that Karzai would win a majority in the first time.
So, he was gentle, but a little bit of a poke back. He said, why don't we let the Afghan people vote in the election?
So, he clearly doesn't like the fact that, here in Washington, they assume that Karzai will win.
One other quick interesting point, he said he agrees with General McChrystal's assessment, that the situation is deteriorating and the Taliban is making gains. But he did say, he thought, as long as it wasn't too long of a wait, that it was OK to let the political process play out for the next two weeks, and then make his decision about troops.
BLITZER: But he was -- was he suggesting to you he would like to see another 40,000 U.S. troops?
KING: He was interesting on the issue, because makes very clear in discussing the security situation that he believes more troops are necessary. But then he makes equally clear that he believes, if President Karzai wins reelection, that he will not have an honest government, that he will not be a credible partner with the United States.
And I tried to get him -- so, if that's the case, if you were President Obama, and you were convinced nothing would change in Afghanistan, would you send more troops?
And he said he was going to worry about his own political situation right now.
BLITZER: The full -- the full interview airs Sunday morning 9:00 a.m.
All right, stand by, John, because we got some domestic stuff to talk about as well.
And, by the way, after you hear Abdullah Abdullah on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday morning, you can also hear from the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. The exclusive interview with Karzai airs on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
There's new urgency over health care reform in Congress right now, and there's new hope for a government-run insurance option. We're going to tell you what is behind some sudden momentum.
Also, the sheriff in the balloon boy case is sharing some of the unusual and downright strange messages he's been getting from the public.
And check out what happens when about a dozen tanks fuel of jet fuel and gas ignite.
BLITZER: A new shot of adrenaline today for care reform, perhaps.
Democrats now are pushing to hold votes in a matter of weeks, maybe as soon as November 10 in the House of Representatives. Leaders in both chambers are scrambling to try to assess support, particularly for the so-called public option.
That would give Americans the choice of buying government-run health insurance, or they could stick with the coverage from private insurers.
Supporters say the competition would reduce health care costs. Critics fear it would drive some of those private insurers out of business. So, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is now talking of a plan to let states opt out of the government-run program.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who is working the story for us.
Dana, give us the latest on what is going on as far as the public option is concerned in the Senate.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Wolf, spent all day today held up in his office scrambling to try to get the votes for this new approach, a public option allowing the states to opt out.
And he met with several senators one on one in person and on the phone, in particular moderate or even conservative Democrats who he needs to convince that the public option is the right way to go. One of those senators he met with was Mary Landrieu. She is a senator from Louisiana.
We talked to her on her way out of Reid's office. And we will put up on the screen what she said.
She said: "Let me be clear. A government-run, government- subsidized national mandatory public option, we have said, under no circumstances, can we support."
Then she went on to say, "However, there is some light here, because, as we explore the different ways of crafting and providing more choice to Americans, which is the goal, there are promising discussions going on about the potential compromise on a version of a public option." Now, Landrieu has her own ideas, but she clearly sounded persuadable. But, Wolf, I can tell you, in talking to a Democratic source who knows where Reid stands right now, he does not have the votes for this at this point.
BLITZER: You mean he doesn't have the 60 votes to beat a filibuster?
BLITZER: All right. Now...
BASH: ... which is the name of the game.
BLITZER: Right. In the Senate, of course, if anything important is going to be passed, you almost always need at least 60 votes.
In the summer, so many people were writing off the public option as sort of dead, but it's making a comeback. And, in the polls, it's showing some strength. What happened?
BASH: You just named it, really. You hit the -- the -- the nail right there on the big reason that I'm told by Democratic sources. It is those polls.
CNN had a poll out this week. Others were very much like it showing that they is actually growing support out there among Americans for this idea of a government-run health insurance option.
And that's given ardent supporters and especially a very local liberal base some ammunition to pressure Harry Reid and say, look, why don't you do the best you can in terms of a public option that could get that 60 votes you were talking about and start, from -- their position, a position of strength on this issue, and put this bill on the floor with that in it, and see where the -- where the chips fall? There will be a lot of debate. There will be some votes on amendments, but at least start from that position.
And he's clearly listening.
BLITZER: What about Olympia Snowe, the only Republican so far to vote for health care reform in the Senate? How is this playing as far as -- as her stance is concerned?
BASH: She is very much opposed to this idea of a public option and allowing states to opt out of it. And that is actually making the White House pretty wary of this idea.
We are told that in the meeting that the president had with Senate Democratic leaders yesterday, he made pretty clear that he still wants to make this, at least to be able to try to call this bipartisan, a health care bill. And, right now, obviously, Olympia Snowe is the only one out there.
But I can tell you that, here in the Senate, there are Democrats that we're hearing more and more from that they're frustrated, that they say that this can't just be held up by one Republican senator.
And, again, that is something that Harry Reid is clearly listening to as well.
BLITZER: Tough decisions for all around.
Dana, thanks very much.
Let's bring back John King, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," and our own senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Let's talk about a possible endgame for all of this, because, in the next several weeks, this is going to play itself out, presumably before the Christmas break. What's going to happen?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well...
BORGER: ... it's hard to predict.
I think, look, this is -- this is kind of a risky strategy for Harry Reid. But -- but don't forget he's got a lot of pressure on him, not only from his -- his liberal Democrats but, also, back home in Nevada. Labor is very important to him. He's facing a very tough reelection.
And, in the end, Wolf, you never know. Maybe he takes a vote on the Senate floor, he loses, and says, OK, I tried it your way, but are you going to stand in the -- in the way of a final health care reform bill? So, maybe we have to do it another way.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people have said that to me, John. You know what? He knows he doesn't have the 60 votes. He might have 55, 56, 57. He's willing to see a major defeat, not getting the 60 votes, but then come back and say, well, then -- now we will go ahead without the public option.
KING: And that may be his best approach, because he has -- he may have, next to the president, the toughest job in town right now, because he's doing three jobs.
He's the Democratic leader in the senator. He has keep to his family, the Democratic family, happy. He's trying to keep that one Republican vote and perhaps create a situation where you could get one or two more Republican votes in the end on the floor.
And, yet, he's the senior senator from Nevada who, as...
KING: ... Gloria noted, is in a very, very tough race right now. And, so, he has his own personal survival to worry about.
You have right now -- there could a Rosetta stone for health care translation by the time we're done here, in the sense that... (LAUGHTER)
BORGER: ... opt in, what's opt in? Opt out, what's opt out? In the end, many people think we will get a trigger, which means no public option up front, but if insurance companies don't get their act together and lower costs and increase affordability and access, two or three years down the road, it kicks in.
But how -- getting from here -- this will go on, Wolf, probably up close to the Christmas season.
BORGER: It's very hard.
But -- but, this way, in the Senate and in the House, you give liberals a chance to vote for something they like. You give moderate Democrats a chance to vote against something that costs, they think, too much and is too risky. So, you give people an opportunity to vote on things, which might help them in the 2010 election.
KING: But then you run huge -- huge calculated -- calculated risk, if you're asking people to take a vote on something that is not final...
KING: ... that they could then be used against them in the...
KING: ... 2010 elections.
So, as public polling -- public opinion polling does this in the next few weeks, so will...
BLITZER: Is it a done deal -- and we're -- we're out of time -- is it a done deal that Nancy Pelosi has 218 votes in the House to pass a robust public option?
KING: I don't...
BORGER: No. I don't think anything is a done deal with votes right now. I think everything is completely fluid. And people are bargaining right now, trying to use their leverage to get they want in this bill.
BLITZER: OK, guys, thanks very much.
John is going to have a lot more coming up Sunday morning on this, 9:00 a.m., "STATE OF THE UNION."
Is that right, John?
KING: Nine a.m.
BLITZER: All right.
But you're going to have a lot more on this subject?
KING: Oh, you bet. We are going to have some of these key Democrats who are in the middle of this debate right now.
BLITZER: I'm sure you are.
All right, guys, thanks very much.
BLITZER: New Jersey investigators have a mystery that has rocked one town. A priest is found dead in the rectory of his parish the day after a public safety seminar there. Police are treating his death as a homicide.
And a Northwest Airlines flight overshoots Minneapolis by only 150 miles. Investigators want to know what was going on in the cockpit. What will the voice recorder tell them? Our coverage of that story -- coming up.
BLITZER: Don Lemon is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Don, what is going on?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot going on, Wolf.
New Jersey police are investigating the killing of a Catholic priest. His body was found in the rectory of his church in Chatham. Sixty-one-year-old Ed Hinds had failed to show up for morning mass. And authorities say they are treating his death as a homicide.
An incredible site in San Juan, Puerto Rico -- clouds of black smoke rise over a fuel storage facility there. A huge explosion was felt by residents just after midnight. About a dozen tanks fool of jet fuel and gasoline ignited there. Firefighters are trying to keep 29 other tanks from exploding. Hundreds have been evacuated. The FBI has been called in and is looking into graffiti that was found which reads, "Boom. Fire. RIP," or rest in peace.
One injury is reported. Though contained, authorities say it could take at least a week to put that fire out.
Crews on commercial flights, well, you know they have to be ready for just about anything, but what about delivering a baby? That's above and beyond, so to speak, right? Well, a Malaysian woman gave birth prematurely to a boy on board an Air Asia flight this week just minutes before that plane landed. Air Asia says they are, you know, both in good shape today.
The carrier now says the 31-year-old mother and her son will get free flights for life.
LEMON: There you go. Get free flights if you're born on a plane.
BLITZER: Yes, pretty cool. Congratulations.
LEMON: Have you ever had to deliver a baby, Wolf?
BLITZER: No. No. Hope I never have to.
BLITZER: Don, thanks. Stand by. We're getting back to you.
LEMON: All right. Thanks.
BLITZER: President Obama hits the road for campaign swings in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Will his popularity translate to big money for two incumbents facing tough reelection bids next year?
And free access to swine flu vaccines has them lining up in California. We will check out the newly opened clinics in Los Angeles County.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: war games. The United States and Israel conduct a joint exercise. With 1,000 military personnel in place, are they trying to send a message to Iran right now? Stand by.
The first lady turns her attention to a disease that kills 40,000 women in this country every year. Michelle Obama talks about why the health care is not working for many of these women living with breast cancer.
And ancient secrets hidden deep in the forests of Guatemala -- we're going to show you what may be the largest pyramid in the world. Experts say what they are finding right now in that part of the world could rewrite history. This is a CNN exclusive.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama putting on his coveted campaigner's hat once again today, with a very busy schedule of appearances in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. He's traveling with the president. He's in Boston right now.
How powerful is the fundraiser-in-chief for his fellow Democrats, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president is a powerful force, and the White House is pushing hard with fundraisers as it tries to maintain Democratic control of Congress. And while Wall Street bigwigs may not be happy with pay cuts, and while most Americans are struggling through a recession, President Obama is finding plenty of people willing to give to the party and its candidates as he campaigns for cash.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pushing his clean energy policy.
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Recovery Act provides the largest single boost in scientific research in history.
LOTHIAN: It's the appetizer in a day of big fundraising meals. First, a reception for friend and Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick. Then off to a Connecticut dinner to raise cash for Senator Chris Dodd.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He's trying to help the people that are helping him up on Capitol Hill. Secondly, the president is the one that's drawing all the star power right now. He is the fundraiser-in-chief as much as he is the commander-in-chief.
LOTHIAN: Even as he debates the way forward in Afghanistan and fights for health care reform, Mr. Obama has been doing a flurry of fundraisers all across the country. Since taking office, more than 20 events, compared to just six during former President Bush's entire first year. However, that's also when 9/11 happened.
Mr. Obama is a presidential ATM machine fighting for his party's future, so far helping to raise more than $25 million.
STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The Democrats are aware of significant vulnerabilities in next year's midterm elections. They want things to go well now. There's a special in New York and governor elections in Virginia and New Jersey. They don't want to start a ball rolling against them.
LOTHIAN: But some warn there's a danger to the administration's ambitious fundraising effort.
MADDEN: When you're engaged in this type of travel and you're engaged in nonstop fundraising, what happens is the White House begins to look very hyper-partisan, hyper-political, and that could then hurt the Obama brand. LOTHIAN: But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested this level of fundraising is necessary because of the president's strict contribution rules.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This president doesn't accept money from PACs -- doesn't accept money from PACs or lobbyists and doesn't allow lobbyists to give fundraisers that he's at as well.
LOTHIAN: A spokesman for Governor Patrick says the events today raised $600,000. Now, the stepped-up fundraising effort doesn't end tonight. President Obama will appear at events in Florida and Virginia early next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he's going to be busy not only tonight and tomorrow, but over the next year, because big-time elections coming up a year from now.
Thanks very much.
Dan Lothian in Boston.
Los Angeles County -- that's out in California -- operating its first public clinics for the H1N1 vaccines today. It's giving access to free vaccines to people in priority groups who are uninsured or don't have a regular source of health care.
CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us now from L.A.
So, what's the response, Thelma, where you are?
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you the response is absolutely tremendous.
Take a look right behind me. You can see the line that has gathered right here outside of this clinic. Hundreds of people have stood in line for several hours waiting for a chance to get this vaccine.
Now, so far, there have been 60 fatalities in Los Angeles County and 400 hospitalizations as a result of the H1N1 virus. And all of these people say they want to make sure that they have the opportunity to get this vaccine, free vaccine that has been actually open and available to everyone here in the public.
Joining me now is Dr. Karen Davis (ph).
Dr. Davis (ph), you're here because you say that you wanted to be one of the first to get it.
DR. KAREN DAVIS (ph), IN LINE FOR VACCINATION: Well, yes. It seems like it's the responsible thing for me to do, because I work with children. Not only am I exposed, but if I am exposed, I don't want to contaminate any of the patients that I work with, or my clients.
GUTIERREZ: Did you have a hard time trying to get this vaccine elsewhere?
DAVIS: Yes. I've called around to doctors. No one had it. It was very hard to find. And the only way I found out about it was in line at the market this morning when someone told me.
GUTIERREZ: So you're going to be one of the first.
DAVIS: I guess so.
GUTIERREZ: All right. Well, thank you so much.
And Wolf, that's the kind of thing that we've been hearing about from some of the people who have been standing out here in these lines.
Now, one of the doctors here says that this is one of the largest public clinics that has been mobilized since the polio epidemic in the 1950s. So, you can see, many people taking this very seriously and out here waiting to take advantage of this vaccine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There's a lot of people who are just scared about this vaccine. They're afraid to take it. Some have suggested, don't get it.
Are folks over there nervous at all? Have you spoken to anyone who is a little hesitant?
GUTIERREZ: You know, Wolf, that's very interesting, because we did speak to a couple of people who said that they were worried at the very beginning. But once they started hearing some of the public health officials come forth and talk about the fact that this is the way to protect yourself -- they say this is going to be effective in protecting healthy adults against the H1N1 virus in 90 percent of the cases, and that was the message that some of the public health officials, the mayor and some of the city leaders have been out here trying to convey to the public. And as this word spreads, more and more people feel more comfortable and are determined to come and get this vaccine.
BLITZER: Thelma Gutierrez on the scene for us.
Thelma, thank you.
She's in L.A. County.
We're going to have a lot more on the status of the swine flu vaccine. I'll be speaking with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. That's coming up in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. We've got good some questions for him, questions that you want answered.
And as you might imagine, the sheriff in the balloon boy case has gotten an earful from the public, critical of the way he's handled the case. He's even getting complaints about his clothes.
Also ahead, the Obama administration's take on the Virginia governor's race. Is the White House throwing the Democratic candidate under the bus? What's going on?
And later, we'll go inside the cockpit to try to understand how a flight crew managed to land in the wrong spot.
BLITZER: The sheriff who's been the face of the balloon boy case, Sheriff Jim Alderden of Larimer County, Colorado, says sometimes he doesn't know what to write about in his weekly blog. That was not the case this past week.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton?
Abbi, what did he post online?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, after more than 1,000 phone calls and e-mails to his office, Sheriff Jim Alderden felt that he wanted to share some of them with the outside world.
First, there were the ones that went after his handling of the case. Once said, "Are you ignorant? Watch the damn 'Wife Swap' show. This was a total hoax. Hell, even watch the damn home video of the parents. How you are a sheriff is beyond me."
Then they went after his clothing. Look at this one.
"Sheriff, you recently appeared on TV wearing a shirt made with the U.S. flag print. The aesthetic hideousness of a denim shirt, interwoven with the stars and stripes, notwithstanding, the wearing of the flag as clothing is a violation of the U.S. flag code. I suggest you donate it to the poor."
There was fan mail amongst all of this, but there were also the crackpots like this one, who said, "I need to speak with Mr. Heene, as I know that the reptilians that he speaks of exist and are here on this planet right damn now."
This goes on and on, on his blog, on his Web site. Sheriff Alderden says he got calls and he got e-mails from Australia, to Japan, to Finland. His favorite, he says, was the caller who had proof that Hillary Clinton was a space alien. He said at least that caller had some credibility.
Take a look at the blog, Wolf. It seems that Sheriff Alderden is quite the comedian, even after all of this.
BLITZER: Yes, I can see. Here's my question -- when is he going to press charges?
TATTON: No charges yet, but they are expected early next week, possibly Monday or Tuesday.
BLITZER: All right. We'll wait for those and see what he comes up with.
Thanks very much for that, Abbi.
War games in the Middle East? What if something happened over there? The United States and Israel are conducting a huge joint exercise with the scenario of Israel being under attack. What does any of this have to do with Iran? It's a "what if?" scenario.
And swine flu strikes close to home for the lawmaker who shouted "You lie!" at President Obama. We're going to tell you if Congressman Joe Wilson says the vaccination is a good idea.
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RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's former vice president, Dick Cheney. And now the current vice president, Joe Biden, is responding.
Let's get to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now, our CNN political analysts, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist, Leslie Sanchez.
Guys, thanks for coming in.
Just a little while ago, the vice president says this regarding the "dithering" charge by Dick Cheney: "I think that is absolutely wrong. I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do and what I think it warrants doing. And that is making an informed judgment based upon circumstances that have changed... to come up with a sustainable policy that has more than one dimension."
That sounds pretty smart, Leslie. Doesn't it?
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it may sound smart, but I think it's difficult for a lot of people that have boots on the ground to have patience with, if you had to mess that up. But basically, the concern is right now that for ever minute that it takes for this president to come up with a strategy, especially abroad, that our enemies are defining it. And that's what you hear, and I think that's the concern. As much as the White House is trying to say they're trying to make the best moves, I think there's a lot of impatience growing with our men and women in uniform.
BLITZER: He was also asked, the current vice president, about his role in advising the president on Afghanistan, and he said this -- he said, "I'd be surprised if he..." -- meaning the president -- "...publicly dismissed anything I had to say, number one. Number two, look, I knew when I signed on as vice president that he is the president. The only thing, the only guarantee I got, and that he's kept, is that I get the opportunity on every important decision to be in on the deal, to give him the benefit or lack thereof of my opinion."
So, I mean, there's no secret that there's a division of opinion as far as Afghanistan, troop deployment is concerned, among the president's top advisers.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And Wolf, that's good. The president should receive an array of information before he makes this important decision.
I understand Republicans are once again using partisan talking points to talk about war strategy. We have to get it right.
If we're going to maintain our troops in Afghanistan, we have to come up with a credible strategy that not only (INAUDIBLE) our troops, but that civilians who will also have to go. Poland just decided to increase the number of troops as part of the NATO alliance there, 600 troops. They want to make sure that we get it right, too, so when the troops are there, they know what the mission is.
And what is the mission? That's what the president must decide.
BLITZER: Yes. Six hundred troops, with all due respect to Poland, is not 100,000, which is what some people want the United States to have in Afghanistan.
BRAZILE: But Secretary Gates is over in Europe today trying to get more troops from our allies so that we can train the Afghan forces, train the military, train the police, train the civilian government. The Republicans want us to put troops there without a functional government. That makes no sense.
SANCHEZ: Let's go back to the commander in charge, who's the one -- I think our commanders on the ground, who have the strongest sense of what's happening in this situation, the crisis of this situation, and who have been warning the United States and our leaders about the concern and the hotbed that's spreading there, those are the ones we should be listening to.
BLITZER: You're talking about General Stanley McChrystal.
BRAZILE: Well, I wish the previous president would have listened to the commanders on the ground. But remember...
SANCHEZ: Well, no, I wouldn't call him the Republican.
BLITZER: Let's move from national security to domestic politics.
And I woke up and read in "The Washington Post" this morning, Donna, a story on the Virginia gubernatorial race. Creigh Deeds is the Democratic candidate, as you know.
And this was the lead on "The Washington Post" front page: "Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election."
Wow. They're already saying he's a loser?
BRAZILE: Well, you know, first of all, whoever contributed to that story, as much respect I have for a lot of people at the White House and the DNC, that's amateur hour. You don't withdraw from the battlefield until the war is over, and President Obama is going there next week.
We know that this is an uphill climb. No party that has held the White House has won the Virginia race in 32 years. But Creigh Deeds has received the endorsement of "The Washington Post." He has some significant support in that state.
I wouldn't pull the rug from under him. He came back from behind in the primary. He could still sneak up on Bob McDonnell.
BLITZER: The this "Washington Post" story, it looks like they are already saying, you know what? He's to blame. He ran a crummy campaign, and the national political leadership, including the White House, they had nothing to do with this.
SANCHEZ: Well, clearly, you know, political folks in the White House have been looking at these numbers. Bob McDonnell doing very well, gaining momentum, even in some of the suburban areas where you're looking at a lot of suburban, more moderate voters, especially women voters, doing strong with him as well. And with that, completely, I think they are jumping ship, but I think more than anything, it's classless. I think there's no other way.
Republican or Democrat...
BLITZER: Yes, but there's still 10 days to go.
SANCHEZ: ... you don't do that.
BLITZER: In politics, a lot can happen in 10 days.
BLITZER: He may be behind by eight or 10 points in the polls, but all of us who have covered politics know stuff can change in the last 10 days.
BRAZILE: A week is a long time in any election. And I can tell you, he can still win this race. And if he win this is race, I'll be the first to help him do a belly dance at the White House.
SANCHEZ: There you go. But think about how hard people are working in both of these campaigns. It can be a very tight race.
BLITZER: That's why I'm so surprised to read that story in "The Washington Post" this morning.
BRAZILE: That was premature.
All right. Let's talk a little bit about Congress right now.
Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls, "How is Congress handling its job?" Twenty-nine percent of the American public approve, 69 percent disapprove.
Not a great endorsement of the Democrats, who are the overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate.
BRAZILE: You know, I wouldn't take it personally. The Democrats are working very hard. They're putting ideas on the table. They're getting them through Congress.
The party of no is just, you know, whining and complaining. And right now, I wouldn't worry about those polls. I would just try to figure out how to create jobs. It's about jobs, jobs, jobs.
BLITZER: Because the Republicans shouldn't be gloating on these poll numbers, either Leslie. "How are Republican leaders of Congress handling their job?" A whopping 33 percent approve, 66 percent disapprove.
"How are Democratic leaders of Congress handling their job?" Thirty-eight percent approve, 59 percent disapprove.
I think it's fair to say the American public doesn't approve of what Congress is doing right now.
SANCHEZ: Not at all. Look at the fact you've got both Republican and Democratic pollsters agreeing that any incumbent is in trouble right now. They need to be very concerned about these numbers. It's the lowest point in the -- according to Gallup in the last two decades, and Congress has basically seen an 18 percent drop since the beginning of the year.
BLITZER: What do the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate need to do to get those approval numbers up?
BRAZILE: You know, in this toxic partisan atmosphere, it's going to be very tough. But if they pass a real strong health care bill, trust me, they'll be fine. BLITZER: You think they will?
BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely.
BLITZER: With the robust public option, or punting the ball down the road, maybe triggering it in a few years?
BRAZILE: Or a robust public options.
I understand that Speaker Pelosi, the majority leader, Mr. Reid, they are whipping the caucus right now. The fact of the matter is that Democrats will stand on the side of the American people who will like to see their premiums costs reduced.
BLITZER: I think you'll agree there will be some health care reform passed. The question is, how significant will it be?
Is that what you think?
SANCHEZ: How significant? And I think one easy comparison, they say a year ago, Congress was able to bail out Wall Street with about $800 billion. That's about the cost of what they're looking at for health care now. Why can't they get that done?
There's tremendous frustration. You have the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who's under investigation for tax fraud. I think there's just a lot of frustration about these members. They want them to get things done.
BLITZER: Leslie Sanchez is the author of a brand new book.
Have you seen it yet, Donna?
BRAZILE: Yes. She just submitted an accusation.
Mr. Rangel did submit his name to the Ethics Committee. There will be an investigation. And once the investigation is complete, then we'll all comment on it.
BLITZER: "You've Come a Long Way, Maybe." That's the name of Leslie's book.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much for that.
BRAZILE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: How one airplane managed to overshoot the airport by a mere 150 miles. Investigators want to know if the pilots were really talking, or were they both asleep? The cockpit recording might have the answers.
And another airport mishap. This time, the pilots land on the taxiway instead of the runway.
Brian Todd teams up with a veteran flight instructor to show what these pilots saw.
And a real Whopper. We're talking about a Whopper indeed. How an unusual deal between Burger King and Microsoft is bringing this massive seven-patty hamburger to Japan.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at The Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.
In Thailand, a man walks across hot coals during a festival. Oy.
In Russia, figure skaters perform their short program and a cup of -- at a Cup of Russia competition.
In Las Vegas, a man from Norway cheers after winning the 2009 Monopoly World Championship. He won more than $20,000 in prize money.
And in England, check it out. A 5-month-old baby gorilla clings to his mother's legs as she walks around an enclosure.
"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.
On our "Political Ticker" today, the wife of Congressman Joe Wilson has swine flu. The South Carolina Republican who yelled, "You lie!" at President Obama says he'll keep his distance from his wife Roxanne.
Wilson says he plans to get the H1N1 vaccination soon, but only after the majority of the American people get it. So far, only one member of Congress, Washington Republican Greg Walden, has swine flu. That's what we know.
Senator John McCain's 97-year-old mother has been hospitalized in Portugal after fainting and injuring her head. Senator McCain's office says the senator has spoken to his mother and that the doctors are reporting she's recovering well.
According to the hospital, she's stable and will be held for observation. The feisty Roberta McCain, who was touring Lisbon, often made headlines, speaking her mind when her son was running for president.
We wish her, of course, a very speedy recovery.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.
You might call it a Whopper of a promotion. Burger King in Japan is out with a seven-patty burger. It's called the Windows 7 Whopper and it's part of a cross-promotional deal with Microsoft.
CNN's Kyung Lah is in Tokyo, where she tackles the mother of all Whoppers.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This week, Microsoft is launching in Japan Windows 7, its new operating system. In a promotional move, it decided it wanted additional publicity, so it decided to join with Burger King and launch the Windows 7 Whopper.
So, there are seven patties in the Windows 7 burger. And for this week, at every single Burger King in Japan, you can buy this for 777 yen. Only the first 30 customers. That's about $8.5, about $9.
That's about 791 grams of meat, which is just under a kilo, but also about 1.7 pounds. In case you're wondering who would eat all of this, we actually found some people who are eating it. But not everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks good, but I don't know if I can keep all of that down. So I went with the Double Whopper.
LAH (voice-over): In Japan's economic slowdown, McDonald's has seen record profits, fast, big-portioned food at low prices. Burger King has a smaller market share but hopes this joint promotion in tech-loving Tokyo will join generate buzz and business.