Return to Transcripts main page


President Obama Sidesteps Congress; Reports of U.S.-Russia Spy Swap; NASA Administrator Under Fire

Aired July 7, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much.

Happening now, questions for U.S. troops about gays serving openly in the United States military. We have new information this hour about a brand new survey that could influence plans to repeal don't ask don't tell.

Plus, some of the alleged Russian spies now on the move amid reports that the U.S. may swap them for agents held by Moscow.

And what could liberal Democrat Barney Frank and libertarian conservative Republican Ron Paul possibly agree on? Find out when two of the most outspoken and provocative members of Congress team up right here.

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

Up first, a key step toward allowing gays to serve openly in the United States military. Today the Pentagon began sending out a formal survey to all U.S. troops about plans to repeal the don't ask don't tell policy. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She is working this story. It's only a matter of time, Barbara, until gays are allowed to serve openly according to the president but this is an important step today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is a huge step, Wolf. As you say, President Obama has said he wants the restrictions repealed. He wants gays and lesbians to be able to openly serve. Today an important step in that direction. The Pentagon began sending out a long expected survey to 400,000 military members, 200,000 active duty, 200,000 reserve and national guard asking them what they thought the impact would be if don't ask don't tell is repealed and gays and lesbians are allowed for the first time to openly serve in the U.S. military. Now, let's be clear. They're not asking the troops, should it be repealed? The assumption is the commander in chief's view will prevail, it will be repealed. They want to know how the troops feel it would be implemented, what their problems and challenges would be. But what about this whole notion of asking the troops what they think? Isn't the commander in chief the commander in chief and what he says goes? We asked a former top Pentagon official about this whole notion of asking the troops for their views.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It's a terrible idea because really what you're doing is giving the troops the impression that they can change the policy or alter the policy. Also if you go back and take a look at how the troops felt about other social changes whether integrating African-Americans, opening up combat opportunities for women, had you taken a survey those things, and you paid attention to it, those things would never have happened.


STARR: You know, nobody knows what would happen. What if 90 percent of the 400,000 surveyed come back and say, hey, I don't think I can cope with it. I don't think it's a good idea. Nobody thinks that's going to happen but nobody is really ready for that potential scenario. So what is this survey all about? More than 100 questions out to the troops, Wolf, and we now know what some of those are. Some of the categories had the question, what would be the impact on unit morale or readiness if your commander in your unit was openly gay or lesbian? If you had to share a room, shower facilities, a bathroom with someone in a war zone, another service member believed to be gay or lesbian could you do it? How would you react? What would you do? How would you cope? Similarly, if it is repealed, if don't ask don't tell is repealed, how would this affect your willingness to serve? But I must ask something, Wolf. The news media is so far not allowed to see this survey. It is not being made public. 400,000 confidential surveys going out to the troops. We are not being told exactly what the survey says. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know it's going to come out if they distribute 400,000 of these questionnaires. Why wouldn't they just release it right away? I don't understand.

That's a really good question, Wolf. For a transparent administration, for a Pentagon which says it is open to the news media, we are told that the answer is that the survey company and some of the top commanders involved in this are worried that confidentiality somehow would be compromised if the general public, if the American public was to learn the questions that are being asked. But procedures are in place in this survey for the responses to be confidential. If a sergeant, if a private first class responds, no one will know his name. So it is still to be seen how long the Pentagon holds this view that they'll keep it all quiet, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Barbara. Thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story.

The white house is defending the president's decision to side step Congress to install his choice to oversee the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Republicans and even a few Democrats are upset about this. Republicans I should say are fuming, even the top Democrat, though, says he is troubled by the move. Let's bring in our white house correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan, why did the white house go ahead with what's called this recess appointment?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president really thought it was important to move forward on this position because this is the person who plays a key role in implementing the new health care law. Now, all presidents obviously have the right to make these recess appointments but they're always controversial and Republicans are criticizing the president saying he is circumventing the American people. It's an insult to the American people. Some Republicans pointing to him saying that the reason that they don't like him is because of comments that he has made in the past that they believe suggest that he is an advocate for rationed health care. Robert Gibbs' white house spokesman saying he doesn't believe that's the case. What's also interesting about this controversy as you pointed out that also some top Democrats are criticizing the president, Senator Max Baucus saying he is troubled that rather than going through the standard nomination process the president has decided to go this route. The bottom line for the white house is they decided to move forward because they believe Congress has been throwing up a lot of road blocks.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's the type of politics that demonstrates just how badly broken the appointments process is. The president is going to install people that need to be installed for this government to run effective and efficiently. In this case, because the appointments process is clearly broken, he did so through a recess appointment.


LOTHIAN: Republicans also saying here the white house simply did not want to have a confirmation hearing because they did not want to have some tough questions asked. By the way, this appointment lasts until the end of 2011, Wolf.

BLITZER: If there had been a confirmation hearing, a formal confirmation hearing and testimony and all of that, does the white house believe he would have been confirmed?

LOTHIAN: Very good question and Robert Gibbs was asked that today at the briefing. He says, yes, they believe he would have been confirmed but I'll tell you there are some key Republicans who had been looking to put up some road blocks during that hearing so it's unclear whether or not there would have been enough votes there to get him through the Senate.

BLITZER: Very sensitive and controversial issue. Thanks very much, Dan Lothian, for that.

The search for missing passengers after a tourist boat overturns. We'll have the latest on the accident near Philadelphia. And the head of NASA raising some big questions about the program and its priorities. Is space taking a back seat to global politics? I'll ask the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, whether President Obama has broken his promises on immigration reform.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the Cafferty file. Jack? JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's unlikely the federal government will do anything meaningful any time soon about illegal immigration, but that has not stopped them from suing Arizona for actually trying to tackle this growing crisis. The justice department lawsuit charges that the Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants is unconstitutional. The federal government says that the state's immigration law conflicts with the federal law that it would disrupt immigration enforcement and would violate the rights of innocent Americans and legal residents. Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer calls the federal lawsuit nothing more than a massive waste of taxpayer funds saying the money could be better used against violent Mexican drug cartels. And she's right. Meanwhile, despite President Obama's repeated calls for bipartisan immigration reform, senior Democrats say they see virtually no chance of Congress taking up such a bill before the mid-term elections. No surprise there, right? Wouldn't want to throw around a political hot potato and vote on the hot issues right before an election. Nay, nay. While the federal government twiddles its thumbs on this the costs keep piling up on us, the taxpayers. A new study claims harboring an estimated 13 million illegal aliens costs $113 billion a year. That translates to about $1100 for every, quote, native headed household in America, unquote. The report was conducted by the federation for American immigration reform. It shows the most money goes towards schooling the children of illegal aliens. Critics say this group, which aims to end almost all immigration to the United States, is extremist, and they say their report on the costs is inaccurate. Anyway, here is the question. Why is the federal government suing Arizona instead of enforcing its own laws against illegal immigration? Go to file. Post a comment on my blog. Wolf?

BLITZER: Fair question, Jack. We'll have more on this story later as well. Thank you.

11 alleged Russian spies now formally stand indicted of conspiring to act as secret agents. The indictment unsealed today amid reports that the suspects may be involved in a spy swap between the United States and Russia. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is here with all the new developments for us. It takes a major new twist today, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It really does. I tell you. Well, neither the United States nor Russia wants the spy scandal to upset the reset in relations and exchanging spies could be a way of doing that.


DOUGHERTY: Spy swaps. That symbol of the cold war could make a comeback with reports that Washington is ready to give Moscow ten alleged Russian spies in exchange for a Russian convicted in Moscow of spying for the U.S. and perhaps others released as well. The family of the nuclear researcher tells CNN that Igor Sutyagin currently held in a Moscow prison is on a list of prisoners the U.S. wants free, that the Russians forced him to sign a document admitting his guilt, something he has refused to do so far. Meanwhile, like clues in a spy novel a hearing in Virginia for three alleged Russian spies is abruptly canceled. They along with two other suspects in Boston are being sent to New York. In Washington the Russian ambassador meets with the senior state department official at the Russian embassy but the department spokesman is tight lipped.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Did the case, spite case come up? Likely it did. Am I going to get into the details? No. I'm going to refer you to the justice department.

DOUGHERTY: The white house, too, is mum.

GIBBS: I don't have anything on that. Obviously this is as we've said earlier a law enforcement matter.


DOUGHERTY: Right. So though the state department and the white house are referring all questions to the justice department, the spokesman at justice says we're not commenting on this spy swap stuff. And tomorrow those ten Russian suspects will be arraigned in court in New York, Wolf.

BLITZER: They say it's a law enforcement matter but it is that but it's also a political matter in terms of U.S./Russian relations.

DOUGHERTY: Totally, yes.

BLITZER: All right, Jill. Thanks very much. We'll have more on this story coming up later as well.

Two people now missing after a tourist boat collides with a barge in Philadelphia. We'll have the latest on what went wrong.

And the head of NASA raising huge questions about the program and its priorities. Is space taking a back seat to global politics? We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Two people are missing this hour after a tourist boat collided with a barge on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. 37 people were onboard when the boat overturned. A coast guard search is under way. No word yet on the condition of any of the people pulled from the water.

The British scientist involved in a controversial scandal over global warming are cleared of any dishonesty. An independent report released today finds the so-called climategate e-mails which surfaced last December did not exaggerate threats of global warming as critics alleged. The head of the university research unit behind the e-mails stepped down during the situation. He will now return to the institution in a new post.

And it was a terrifying moment at last night's Texas Rangers baseball game. Take a look at this. A fan took a 30-foot fall from the stands trying to catch a foul ball. The fall itself wasn't caught on tape but we want you to watch the reaction right after it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nelson Crowe who had a three-run homer called back yesterday. Whoa! The fan tumbled out, and I pray that he's okay. How far a drop that is. And the rescue personnel were right on the scene. They did everything they could to scramble and get there.

SYLVESTER: That was a 30-foot fall. The amazing part is that friends say Tyler Morris will make a full recovery. The local TV station reports he has a head injury and sprained ankle but no broken bones. So very lucky there, Wolf.

BLITZER: You have to be really careful going for those foul balls especially sitting in the first row in an upper deck. I always worry about that whenever I go to a game. Thank god he's okay. Thank you, Lisa.

NASA's administrator is taking some heat right now for making controversial comments that are raising new questions about the future of the U.S. space program. Brian Todd is monitoring the story. What's going on Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a NASA official tells us they think this has been blown way out of proportion but in this post McChrystal atmosphere in Washington public comments from administration officials overseas are razor edge sensitive. The head of NASA is now getting some back lash.


TODD: The white house moves quickly to dial back comments from NASA's administrator about America's priorities in space. In a recent interview with al Jazeera while visiting Cairo, retired Marine Corps Major General Charles Bolden said this about the missions he was given by President Obama when he was tapped to head up NASA. "Perhaps foremost he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering." Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin says either the administration has its priorities backward or Bolden misspoke.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, FORMER NASA ADMINISTRATOR: It's hard to believe that anybody in public policy seriously believes that is President Obama's view of NASA's major priority.

TODD: White house and NASA officials now tell us Bolden misspoke. NASA issued a statement saying, "Administrator Bolden understands that NASA's core mission is exploration both in space and in scientific endeavors here at home." NASA and white house officials say that does mean collaborating with the best scientists from everywhere. Pushing the bounds of space exploration says a white house requires NASA to partner with countries around the world like Russia and Japan as well as collaboration with Israel and many Muslim majority countries. While the administration says there is no specific space outreach program to the Muslim world, conservative critic Frank Gaffney at the center for public policy still has a problem with collaboration. What's wrong with trying to get the best in technological ideas from all corners of the globe including the Muslim corners of the globe if it'll help your space program?

FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: Well I don't know of anybody who thinks there is a huge abundance of technological know how in the space business in the Muslim world at the moment. So what the president is talking about is really transferring our know how to them and I think it's a fair bet that the first application of that know how is going to be for military purposes.

TODD: A NASA official vehemently disputes that saying the agency follows specific security guidelines on what can and cannot be shared with other countries. John at Alterman at the center for strategic and international studies' says this about the security risk.

JOHN ALTERMAN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC AND INTL. STUDIES: We are not teaching nuclear physics. We are teaching basic science technology, engineering, and math. We're working in partnership to create a broad set of opportunities.


TODD: Alterman says collaborating with Muslim countries in space technology will undoubtedly improve the Muslim world's view of America and he says from a practical standpoint U.S. officials have to broaden their portfolio with Muslim leaders. In his words they have to have something more to talk to them about than just security issues, Wolf.

BLITZER: It comes at an awkward moment given the controversy involving the entire future of NASA.

TODD: That's right. This comes a few months after President Obama announced the cancellation of the constellation flight program that would send a man back to moon and possibly to mars. Some former astronauts oppose the cancellation of that program. Some were for it. A NASA official told us today it is misleading to think they're scrapping plans to go back to the moon. He said they had to have a way to make it affordable and achievable. The constellation program wasn't getting that done. They're trying to put the best public face on that and say, look, we're trying to get back to those places but have to do it in an affordable way.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's move on. Boycott threats against Arizona over the state's controversial immigration law. Would Latinos wind up being punished? I'll ask the Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He is standing by live.

And keeping the faith along the gulf coast. How religion is helping some people survive the oil disaster.

Find out how the Israeli prime minister security team, get this, lost a gun during his trip to the United States.



Happening now, the hail from political opposing parties now, Congressman Barney Frank and Congressman Ron Paul are teaming up on a critical issue. Could it have serious consequences for the war in Afghanistan? Stand by. I'll speak with them.

What's making workers helping clean up that massive oil spill in the gulf sick? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has an exclusive interview with the head of BP's medical team.

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

To Iran right now where the son of a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for committing adultery is issuing an emotional appeal. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom has more.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sajjad Mohammadie Ashtiani says he will never forget the day he watched as his mother Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani was lashed 99 times. Her punishment for being found guilty of adultery in Iran.

SAJJAD MOHAMMADIE, ASHIANTI'S SON (through translator): The authorities asked if I wanted to wait outside. I said, no. I could not leave my mother alone.

JAMJOOM: Sajjad says he thought the worst was over but then a judge's panel re-evaluated the case and decided his mother should be stoned to death for her alleged crime.

MOHAMMADIE (through translator): Five years ago, at that time it should have been finished. They should have punished her only once. She is innocent.

JAMJOOM: Human rights activists have taken up Sajjad's and his sister's cause to clear their mother's name protesting a sentence they say is unjust but so far there is no public comment by Iranian officials in the case. With all appeals exhausted he says the only other thing that can stop her imminent execution is a letter of pardon from Iran's supreme leader or the judiciary chairman. Despite numerous attempts, Sajjad says he has been unable to obtain a meeting to plead his mother's case in person but he refuses to give up.

MOHAMMADIE (through translator): It is crucial I tell these men what I have to say. Dr. Khamenei, Mister Ahmadinejad, and Mister Larijani, all I ask for is a letter. I want a letter for my dear mother. Please write this letter of pardon because she is innocent, 100 percent innocent. If you do not have respect at what I am saying just take a look at her file. You will see she is innocent.

JAMJOOM: For now as Sajjad waits for any news and is allowed to visit his mother through prison glass for 15 minutes every Monday. He is never sure if it will be his last. Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: Emotions are running very high right now in the wake of the Obama administration decision to take Arizona to court over the state's controversial new immigration law. The move is generating lots of reaction around the country particularly in the Latino community. Joining us to talk about that the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Thank you for coming in.


BLITZER: Let me play a clip of what President Obama then candidate Obama told Jorge Ramos of Univision just before the election. Listen to this.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I cannot guarantee it's going to be in the first 100 days but what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting and that I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the first year.

OBAMA: In my first year in office.


BLITZER: All right. It's now a year and a half he's been in office. Did he break his promise to the Hispanic Latino community?

VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely not. What I've said is let's remember, President Obama does not have a vote. This is up to the Congress. He's made it clear on many occasions that he expects the Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and that provides a pathway to earn legality, earn citizenship. He's made that very clear. He made that clear last week again in his speech in Washington D.C. It's up to Congress and particularly to the Senate where a group of Republicans, I believe there are 11 who supported the McCain/Kennedy framework some years ago who have refused to get behind comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt. He really hasn't started pushing this issue until a few weeks ago. He didn't push it at all during his first year in office and only recently has he started to push it at a time when it's unlikely to go very far. He didn't capitalize, in other words, on his enormous popularity early on to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

VILLARAIGOSA: Well we had a little problem called the economy, the most serious challenge facing us since the great depression. He has passed the health care reform bill, universal coverage. He's been focused on the biggest challenges facing us. He is now saying and he said a number of times in the last year and a half that it's up to the Congress to move ahead. I agree with him. I think we need to move ahead on a bipartisan level and put it up for a vote as well. I don't buy the idea that we've got to wait forever for Republican support. The fact is this issue was too important. The vacuum that was created in Arizona is a vacuum that's created when the federal government fails to act on something that everybody agrees -- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal. The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. You need to secure those borders.

BLITZER: You know, Mr. Mayor --

VILLARAIGOSA: And provide a pathway for citizenship.

BLITZER: There are probably going to be far fewer Democrats in the next session of Congress after the mid-term elections in November than there are right now and the Democrats by and large support comprehensive immigration reform. If it doesn't get passed now it's probably not going to get passed in the next two years either is it?

VILLARAIGOSA: That's exactly right. That's why we need to move ahead. More importantly we need to move ahead so we can avoid what's going on in Arizona. People are focusing a lot on SB 1070 and whether it is constitutional to enact laws like that but what about the other things they've done, enacted laws to preclude the teaching of ethnic studies in our classrooms, enacted a rule in the department of education in Arizona that says if you have a heavy accent you can't teach English as a second language. Now proposing to strip citizen children of their citizenship because their parents are undocumented. Finally, someone running for public utilities commission arguing that we shouldn't provide power to the undocumented. This is the kind of stuff that happens when the federal government doesn't do its job.

BLITZER: Here is what the Sheriff Paul Babeu, I interviewed him yesterday. He's from Pinal County in Arizona. He supports the Arizona immigration law, what he told me last night when he spoke with me, he said the federal government has been derelict in not dealing with the security along the border with Mexico. Listen to this.


SHERIFF PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA: We have paramilitary squad sized elements 80 miles north of the border every night that are operating that are escorting these drugs and they're killing each other. They shot one of my deputies. What is it going to take for the president to defend America? Here we're in wars halfway across the globe spending billions of dollars and we can't secure our own border here in America?


BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Sheriff Babeu who says they're sick and tired of the federal government not doing its job? They had to take matters into their own hands.

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't agree with that but I do agree that the federal government has to do its job. I do agree that we must secure our borders and, in fact, the U.S. conference of mayors unanimously passed the resolution calling for the repeal of the Arizona law and calling on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, that makes sure that as he mentioned the drug dealers and terrorists and others aren't entering our country without the kind of protections we deserve while at the same time ensuring that people who can demonstrate they've been working here, they've paid their taxes, they've not broken our laws, get at the end of the line and have a pathway to citizenship.

BLITZER: Mayor Villaraigosa, thanks very much for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Religious leaders traveled to the gulf for a first-hand look at the oil disaster. One well known figure is calling the spill, I'm quoting now, a moral issue. And suspense is building as the NBA star Lebron James gets ready to reveal whether or not he'll stay in Cleveland. We're taking a look at the big money riding on his big decision. And the former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, is sentenced to his latest stint behind bars.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national radio talk show host Bill Bennett. Thanks very much for coming in. It's the day after the big meeting between the Israeli prime minister, president of the United States. "The Wall Street Journal" in its editorial today concluded with this. "Following Mr. Netanyahu's disastrous meeting with Mr. Obama earlier this year, we noted the administration's habit of squeezing America's friends while coddling its enemies. It's good to see at least one of those friends no longer getting the squeeze. Now Mr. Obama has to get serious about the enemies." You hear this all the time that he's been tough on friends and he's been coddling some of the enemies. What do you say?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I disagree with them. First of all, Mr. -- the prime minister said that the relationship is strong, that there is no rift. I don't know if "the Wall Street Journal" editorial --

BLITZER: They referred to the earlier meeting in March when there was a serious rift.

BRAZILE: The fact is the president and Mr. Netanyahu have now met four times, five times total and they are strengthening ties and as they said yesterday it's an unbreakable bond. Look, this president has made sure that we have killed more than 600 al Qaeda leaders in the last year. That's more people, more terrorists than were killed under President Bush in his last term. Also, he has a tough sanction against Iran, North Korea. We have a new start treaty with Russia. I don't know what they're talking about.

BLITZER: Do you know what they're talking about? Because I assume you agree with the editorial page.

BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think it's worse than that. I think it's a shame. He treats the president of Mexico much better than he treats one of the governors of these United States.

BLITZER: What are you talking about?

BENNETT: The president of Mexico on the white house lawn, talks about --

BLITZER: He is a close ally and friend.

BENNETT: Sure. But his first loyalty is to the United States and when he lets this president of Mexico come, criticize the governor of Arizona, join in that criticism, and then the Congress goes and gives the guy a standing ovation. He met with the president of Mexico many times before he met with the governor of Arizona. Iran, look at that. Pathetic statement out of the state department about the stoning of this woman.

BLITZER: Who is accused of adultery.

BENNETT: Yeah. This statement out of the state department was we think this is disproportionate to the crime. Can't do any better than that? Look. He sent greetings to the Islamic republic. He said we're not going to meddle in the affairs of the mullahs. No doubt we're not going to meddle in the stoning either.

BLITZER: Is there anything wrong with trying to reach out? Maybe it didn't work. What was wrong with a new initiative?

BENNETT: Because we have 20 years' record of reaching out to Iran getting nothing and we've learned enough that anxious propitiation doesn't work with these folks. Look at the allies too. Those who said we understand we're no part of the center of American policy.

BRAZILE: You want to have a debate about all the friends we alienated during the Bush and Cheney years? I think we should have that debate.

BENNETT: Much worse now.

BRAZILE: I think this president has not only restored America's standing in the world. More of our allies are comfortable working with the United States.

BENNETT: Nonsense.

BRAZILE: The fact we have China working with us on tough new sanctions in Iran.

BENNETT: You think? You think we'll have them you think?

BRAZILE: I believe we will.

BENNETT: I'd like that. I'll take you to dinner when we do.

BRAZILE: This administration is working to improve that.

BENNETT: In terms of cooperation --

BRAZILE: We've killed more al Qaeda terrorists.

BENNETT: That's good. I salute that.

BRAZILE: He is not going to conform to the neo cons' world of war all the time, Bill. He is going to use every tool at our disposal.

BLITZER: On Iran he has become much tougher lately.


BLITZER: In terms of getting China and Russia onboard. Now he signed into law this Congressional resolution imposing even stricter U.S. sanctions.

BENNETT: It may be too late.

BRAZILE: What are the other options right now, Bill?

BENNETT: Well, not just sanctions but threatening and doing something actually that says we're going to cut off your supplies, you're not going to have those refineries. And then as John McCain said if you have to act, the only thing worse than that is a nuclear armed Iran.

BLITZER: Speaking of John McCain let's make the turn to Arizona. He faces a challenge from J.D. Hayworth the former Republican Congressman for the Republican nomination in Arizona. Listen to the war of words in these competing ads.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah I appeared in this. One of the staples I learned growing up is buyer beware. Buyer beware.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John McCain is hiding his record behind false attacks on my husband. John McCain has sold out the people of Arizona on immigration, bailouts, and tax increases. Now John McCain has embraced character assassination to keep his job. John McCain should be ashamed.


BLITZER: Does John McCain have a serious problem getting that Republican nomination in the face of this challenge from J.D. Hayworth?

BENNETT: I don't think so. Full disclosure, I voted for John McCain and I also endorsed him in this primary. No, I don't think so. It's a challenge but a lot has come out about Hayworth that isn't good. I don't think you should say John McCain should be ashamed of himself. I think the whole record of the man's life shows he shouldn't be ashamed. I've disagreed with him on some things but he will get this nomination. Otherwise the Republicans will run the risk of losing that Senate seat which we cannot do.

BLITZER: You don't really think John McCain has a serious problem do you?

BRAZILE: No. I think McCain has finally hit 50 percent but it is a very contested primary over who will control the future of the Republican Party. I know McCain is up for this fight but J.D. Hayworth is one fighter as well.

BLITZER: It's one Senate battle we will watch very closely.

BENNETT: I think it'll be tougher in the fall. I think the Democrats are going to be even tougher on McCain.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in November. First we have to wait until August for the Republican --

BRAZILE: August 24th.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

BRAZILE: That'll be a night.

BLITZER: We are following a developing story in Philadelphia right now and will have the latest on the collision between the tourist boat and barge. Much more coming up.


BLITZER: Another weather setback in the oil disaster zone. Rough seas right now delaying the connection of a cleanup vessel right now to the ruptured well. The new target date Saturday. Officials say it could capture up to 53,000 barrels of oil a day once it's hooked up. Let's update the situation from the gulf scene as Brooke Baldwin is standing by. You went on a boat tour with some religious leaders today. What did they say, Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did, Wolf. When you think about it in covering an oil spill it makes sense to hear from the white house, the coast guard, maybe some fishermen turned now cleanup workers. But yes I heard from a rabbi, a catholic, and a nationally known theologian. They say the same thing. This is a moral issue, that faith and oil indeed mix. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VANASA BARTHOLOMEW, BARATARIA BAY RESIDENT: I think a lot of people are not praying like they should pray.

BALDWIN: Born on the bayou, this Louisianan falls upon her faith to survive this massive spill.

BARTHOLOMEW: God is really testing us to see how strong, if we're really going to get to god or let it destroy us.

BALDWIN: Vanasa is one of many in these oil soaked communities who this group wants to talk to, religious leaders of multiple denominations who have come from across the country to witness the damage first hand. The trip is sponsored by the Sierra Club.

JIM WALLIS, CEO, SOJOURNERS: This isn't god's plan. This is human folly, human sinfulness, human greed, and it's wrong.

BALDWIN: Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners in Washington isn't playing politics here. He says this is a moral issue. Wallis is praying for an epiphany starting with our nation weaning itself off of oil.

WALLIS: Epiphany is a religious term for waking up. You know? Something hits us and we feel something we've never seen before and it's all new now, like conversion. If this doesn't lead to a conversion or an epiphany then all of the suffering and the pain that we're seeing will be in vain.

BALDWIN: The pain is evident within these tight gulf communities. Tom Costanza says he sees it every day as he works with the archdiocese of New Orleans.

TOM COSTANZA, EXEC. DIR., CATHOLIC CHARITIES: There's depression, there's substance abuse. These are issues of family issues. We have to be very aware of the family unit and keep it together.

BALDWIN: Constanza's concern is for the fishermen's families, if they're lucky feeding their children by doing cleanup but their boss is BP that is if they're working at all. At the same time this man of faith insists Louisianans are resilient.

COSTANZA: They're pulling together. It is hard on them.

BALDWIN: I mean Katrina was just five years five years ago and people are saying, why again?

COSTANZA: Well, you know, it is the strength and the testament of these people and they will come back and no doubt about it.

BALDWIN: According to this rabbi, they are going to come back with the spiritual strength of the entire nation.

JULIE SCHONFELD, EXEC. V.P. RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY: Ultimately the issue rests not with the people of the gulf alone, and it rests not with BP alone, it rests not with the government and the administration alone, it rests with people of conscience saying, we are busy, and we lead lives of great stress, but I will give my attention here.

BALDWIN: Attention that this woman would welcome despite doubts of those who don't believe. Do you understand why some people say that this is something that god can't fix it, and man needs to fix it? What do you say?

BARTHOLOMEW: But you know god gives the man wisdom to do what they have to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BALDWIN: And you know, Wolf in talking with Jim Wallis of Sojourners he said when he goes back to Washington he hopes to do two things, one he will be giving a full report to the administration, to the white house and two, he will be talking to leaders of Congress and his suggestion he says he will be suggesting no August recess because he says look, if these cleanup workers don't get a break cleaning up the mess, he said unless they don't pass some bill helping the situation here, they shouldn't get a vacation either, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin on the see for us, Brooke thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is reading your email. He'll be right back with the Cafferty File.

And we are tracking those alleged Russian spies being transferred to New York City. Are they about to be part of a prisoner swap with the Russians?


BLITZER: Jack is back with the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is why is the federal government suing Arizona instead of enforcing its own laws against illegal immigration? We have a lot of mail.

Glenn writes in New Jersey, "I believe it is because Obama and many on the left openly support illegal immigration and want amnesty to guarantee them more votes should the illegal aliens become citizens. If they oppose really state laws interfering with the immigration laws at the federal level then you have to wonder why they are not suing sanctuary cities and states."

Kathy says, "I'll tell you why they're suing Arizona, egg on the face syndrome. They are embarrassed that a state's taking the lead and trying to solve a problem that Washington, both Democrat and Republican, has been unwilling to address. When will enough be enough? Secure the borders and go after the companies who hire the illegals. Without the jobs, it will disappear. It's that simple."

Someone in Texas writes, "Because those 11 to 20 million illegal aliens have probably parented three to four times that many citizens AKA anchor babies and the Democrats believe by ignoring the real citizens of America, they can buy all of those future voters."

Sandra writes, "Because they are focusing on perceived problems with racism rather than the real problems. I would have thought that our justice department and our president would have learned the definition of illegal in law school. Do we enforce laws or do we tolerate and turn a blind eye to illegal immigration and the problems it creates? I guess we just create a side show by suing a state that's actually trying to do something."

Talitha in Walnut, California, "We all know that this administration is no different than the previous one, it is all about cheap labor. The administration is telling the American citizens to go straight to hell, we don't care about you. They're saying yes, we know they broke the law when they crossed our borders, but we don't care."

And Dave writes, "Obama's pandering to the key constituency that he needs votes from in November and he wants to lock them and their legal children up as Democrats for a generation. Simple math, and in the meantime, Rome burns."

If you want to read more on the subject you will find it on my blog at Wolf?

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack.

There are reports coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, the spy swap and adding to the intrigue surrounding those alleged Russian agents. Our national security contributor Fran Townsend is standing by live.

And Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank are finding common ground between the left and the right, and they are standing by live as well.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf. Well, a gun belonging to the Israeli agent is missing after their luggage was lost during the prime minister's trip to Washington. The agents say that four guns were inside of the bag mistakenly flown from Los Angeles to New York, and the bag has been reportedly found, but only three of the guns were turned up. American Airlines and law enforcement agencies are now investigating.

If you need a passport, you might want to get one fast. The state department is jacking up the fees on passports Tuesday. It will cost you $135 to apply for your first passport which is up from $100.

And the West Virginia governor confirms he's considering running for the late Robert Byrd's senate seat. Democrat Joe Mansion says he will push to hold a special election this November to fill the last two years of Byrd's term. That may require action by the state legislature. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Lisa.