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THE SITUATION ROOM
"Static Kill" Begins; Fishermen Reluctant to Return; Big Victory for New York Mosque Developer; New Front in Immigrant Battle
Aired August 3, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Rick.
Happening now, breaking news -- "static kill" begins -- the operation to stop the Gulf oil leak once and for all.
Also, an Islamic center and mosque only two blocks away from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks now one critical step closer to reality -- and the controversy is flaring.
Plus, an Arizona sheriff says he's facing death threats and a million bounty on his head all from Mexico's drug cartels. I'll talk about that and more this hour with the sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
And a CNN exclusive -- critically wounded American warriors flown from Afghanistan to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is the first reporter to make the life or death journey with them.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following breaking news right now. BP announcing just a short time ago it's begun the long awaited procedure to permanently stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico through a complex operation known as "static kill." We're now one hour into what could be a three day effort and possibly the beginning of the end of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Let's go straight to New Orleans.
CNN's David Mattingly is tracking all the latest developments for us -- explain to our viewers, David, what's going on right now.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is, indeed, the beginning of the end of this well. About an hour ago, BP starting pumping drilling mud -- a heavy liquid -- into that well. The idea is to eventually pump enough of that heavy material in there to drive this oil all the way back down the well and into the reservoir -- essentially pushing this beast back into the hole that it crawled out of and started this disaster 106 days ago.
What we're seeing right now is the result of a period of testing that was done. Just a couple of hours went by and BP said their test results came back and were absolutely textbook, telling them that this well is in great shape, that it has integrity, that it will be able to handle it, as they pump this mid -- this mud in and force that oil down.
Again, this is the single biggest moment of the life of this well since they put the cap o it in mid-July. At that time, they were able to get this well essentially caged. They had it under control. But now they are absolutely going to kill it, either through this procedure or possibly through the -- the final kill, when they do the relief well. That will be about a week from now.
But, again, a very big moment an hour ago, as they started the beginning of the end to kill this well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They're not going to take any chances. They're going to do the relief wells irrespective of whether or not the "static kill" works or doesn't work.
MATTINGLY: Part of the caution and the redundancy that they've had throughout this entire process. Yes, they could kill the well with this procedure, with the "static kill." But it's not going to be done until, they say, they've finished the relief well and filled it with a massive cement plug down there at the bottom. They may not need to do that, but it's something they are going to do as an insurance policy to make sure this threat is done for good -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A critical moment right now.
David, thanks very much.
And none of this can come too soon for the men and women who make their lives in the Gulf water.
And, in fact, it may be coming too late for many of them.
Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera.
He's in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish -- Ed, you've been talking to some people there who really have a lot at stake in what's happened and what is about to happen.
What are you hearing?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the fishing industry along the Gulf Coast, as you well know, has been hit especially hard throughout all of this oil spill. And as the spill is here coming toward the end, many people around here know that the cleanup process will last months. So that's why there's so much anxiety and apprehension over the future of the fishing along the Gulf of Mexico. And as we're coming here to the end, many fishermen are trying to figure out and answer the question, to fish or not to fish.
REV. JOHN ARNONE, ST. BERNARD CATHOLIC CHURCH: They need it in that boat. LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's a Cajun tradition -- a priest blesses the fishing fleet. But this year, there's not enough holy water to go around to make fishermen's troubles go away.
ARNONE: That's the biggest challenge, is not knowing if they're going to be able to get back out to do what they've done all their life, and that is live on the water.
LAVANDERA: Slowly, more and more fishing waters along the Gulf Coast have reopened. Seventy percent of Louisiana's fishing zones are reopen. But getting the fishermen, like Warren Guidroz, back on the water is the hard part. Guidroz and thousands of other fishermen face the same dilemma -- he's trapped crabs for 13 years. He'd love to go back. But his BP job is a steady and better paycheck -- for now. Crab fishing can be shut down any day.
GUIDROZ: My big thing is working with BP right now. I'll probably be staying until everything is cleared up. Until then, I'm not going back crabbing, because I'm not going to go trolling out there, you see, and then they could close it, because the oil is out there.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Everywhere you go here in Delacroix Island, you'll still see boats sitting idle. And this is the kind of place where you can come and meet hundreds of people who making their living catching crabs. This is what they use to catch them. But they've been sitting here so long that in many places, it's given spiders time to spin their webs on these traps. And, of course, as long as these traps are sitting here on shore, they're not catching any crabs.
(voice-over): And even if Warren Guidroz returned to crabbing tomorrow, he's not convinced what he's catching is safe to eat.
GUIDROZ: They don't know if they should chance it or not.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Would you eat it?
GUIDROZ: Would I eat it?
GUIDROZ: No, not if I didn't know for sure.
GUIDROZ: No, not if I didn't know for sure.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Federal and state officials stress it's all completely safe. No oil or chemicals have been found in the tested seafood. The battle is on to restore the image and confidence in the Gulf Coast seafood industry and bring the fishermen back.
UWELL SMITH, LOUISIANA SEAFOOD BOARD: We need to rebuild the consumer confidence at the national level. People in South Louisiana and along the coast, they understand. They're tuned in to the message. They know that the seafood is being tested at these unprecedented levels. But we -- it's going to take us some time.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAVANDERA: Wolf, there's a great financial interest, obviously, in getting these fishing waters back to normal. Later on this week, state officials will meet to determine when they'll reopen the shrimping -- the white shrimping season here in the coming weeks. They say if that's given the -- the go-ahead here in the coming weeks, that that will be a sign to the rest of the country that things are starting to turn around here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope that they start to turn around. Thanks very much, Ed, for that.
In New York right now, controversial plans to build an Islamic center and mosque only a few blocks from ground zero are now one step closer to reality. A highly anticipated vote has cleared the way for the project to begin and it has passions flaring.
Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is joining us now from the scene with more on what's going on.
Tell us what happened today -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. And today's vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission means that the owner of this building can knock it down and go forward with his very controversial plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Count that vote to be 9-0 in favor of removing the Landmarks Preser -- moving this building from the Landmarks Preservation Commission's calendar.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): The vote denying this building landmark status allows the owner to pursue his vision for a new building that will house an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL, CEO, PARK 51: One in which we have worked tirelessly to realize an American dream which so many others share.
CHERNOFF: The real estate developer's American dream is a nightmare to opponents, who have argued a mosque simply doesn't belong near the site of the 9/11 terror attacks.
MARION DRYFUS, MOSQUE OPPONENT: I think the -- the goal is very much to manifest control and insert and infiltrate into our culture yet more evidences of Islam and Sharia law.
ANDREW SULLIVAN, MOSQUE OPPONENT: They should do it without hurting people. This hurts everybody.
CHERNOFF: But proponent of the planned Islamic center say its intent is to heal rather than hurt. They say the center will focus on helping Americans better understand Islam.
ZAED RAMADAN, PRESIDENT, CARE NEW YORK: This is a -- a victory for freedom of religion and our constitution. People were trying to attack it through the rhetoric of fear and hate and they did not win.
CHERNOFF: For months already, the building has been open as a prayer space for Muslims. New York's Landmarks Preservation commissioners could have had authority only over the building's exterior, not its use. And now they've chosen not to assume any control.
While the developer has a design on paper, it is not final. His company says, though, it will be a modern building rather than a traditional mosque -- a community center modeled on the YMCA.
EL-GAMAL: We are Americans, Muslim-Americans. We are businessmen, businesswomen, lawyers, doctors, restaurant workers, cab drivers and professionals of every walk of life represented by the demographic and tapestry of Manhattan.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
CHERNOFF: El-Gamal and the project's other leaders say they intend to build bridges to mainstream America. But given the opposition they face just over the Landmark Commission vote, they've certainly got their work cut out for them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story coming up.
Allan, thanks very much for that report.
The land at the center of the controversy was first developed back in 1858. In 1990, a Burlington Coat Factory store opened on the site, operating until 9/11. That's when the building was hit by debris from one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center. A one ton piece of landing gear hit the roof and crashed through two floors of the five story building. In this shot taken days later, you can see a blue tarp covering the hole. The building sat vacant until last July, when a real estate investment firm bought it for almost $5 million. Most recently, it's been used as overflow prayer space for a nearby mosque.
A new tactic is gaining for fighting illegal immigration is gaining steam among some Republican senators. They now want to take a second look at the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Plus, $700,000 of your tax dollars going to study the reaction of monkeys -- it's just one example in a very long list.
Is it a good use of your stimulus money?
We'll have a reality check.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack. CAFFERTY: Wolf, right now, it's all about the 2010 midterm elections -- or is it?
As soon as the polls close November 2nd and the winner are announced, the focus will shift immediately to the presidential race of 2012. Even though that may seem far away, for some, the presidential campaign is already underway. Potential Republican hopefuls are already logging multiple visits to key early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is set to make his fifth visit to Iowa next week. He's also made three trips to New Hampshire. Pawlenty says he won't decide whether or not to run until early next year. Maybe. But in the meantime, he's working it big time, meeting the local politicians, shaking hands with the voters, making speeches about how to fix the country, talking about his blue collar background, blah, blah, blah. And, of course, raising money for the all important political action committee. You get the idea.
And Pawlenty is not the only one. Far from it. According to Radio Iowa, since the 2008 presidential race ended, the following politicians have been to Iowa multiple times -- former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; former Arkansas Governor Huckabee; also, former Governors Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and George Pataki have each been once.
It could very well be that one of this crop will be the one who tries to reseat President Obama, assuming he runs for reelection. But for the rest of us, what it means is before we know it, we'll be bombarded daily with the polls and the television ads and the fundraising pleas and the debates and all that wonderful stuff that goes along with a presidential campaign. And I should point out here that Wolf is positively giddy in anticipation of all of this happening, the sooner the better.
Here's the question -- how early is too early for another presidential campaign to begin?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
You get short of bother just thinking about it, don't you?
BLITZER: I'm just thinking about moderating a few of those presidential debates and I'm getting excited thinking about that, Jack.
CAFFERTY: You are hopeless.
BLITZER: All right, never too early.
We'll -- we'll stay on top of this story for you and all of our viewers.
BLITZER: Thank you.
CAFFERTY: I'm sure you will.
BLITZER: On Wall Street today, all three major indices were down, as investors responded to some lackluster reports. New government data show personal spending and income stagnant in June, adding to concerns about the slow pace of economic recovery. At the same time, factory orders fell for the second month in a row, down 1.2 percent. And pending home sales fell 2.6 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors.
All of this comes against the backdrop of the upcoming midterm elections, now only three months away.
Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.
He is joining us -- David, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wrote an op-ed today -- you probably saw it -- suggesting the economy is recovering. A lot of folks don't feel it.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: They sure don't. Tim Geithner has been a better Treasury secretary than many critics have given him credit for, I think, Wolf. And it's understandable that he would want to cheerlead. All Treasury secretaries do that.
But to have an article today called "Welcome to the Recovery" seems particularly like tin-eared, that headline does, for most Americans.
You know, is -- Ben Bernanke has said we're in a period of unusual uncertainty. Alan Greenspan has said it feels like a quasi recession. And all of us know growth is slowing. Unemployment may be going up. There are -- and -- and there are considerable questions about whether this is -- the -- the recovery is stalling out. And, very importantly, Tim Geithner says -- and I think he's right -- that business investment is up.
But you know from talking to business leaders that there is massive uncertainty out there now about, you know, where government regulations are going, where government taxes are going, where the economy is going. And a lot of people are sitting on money. There's $1.8 trillion in cash sitting out there right now.
BLITZER: Look at these poll numbers, this Gallup daily tracking poll. Among registered voters, "Are you very enthusiastic about the voting coming up in November of this year?" Forty-four percent of Republicans say they are; only 22 percent of Democrats say they are. And you know in mid-term elections, voter turnout is everything. The Democrats have a huge enthusiasm problem right now.
GERGEN: They sure do, Wolf. And -- and they know it. And, you know, if you look at the overall tracking polls, they on -- in generally, they say the Re -- Republicans -- well, if the vote were held today, I think what the tracking polls tell us the Republicans would take the House of Representatives and they would gain several seats in the Senate. But the election is three months away, so there is time for things to turn around, new headlines. But at the moment, Americans are not feeling that this is a recovery. You know, if this is a recovery, my goodness, we're waking up to a nightmare.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens in the next three months.
All right, David, thanks very much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: The State Department says the U.S. is worried because of escalating violence right now along the border between Israel and Lebanon. We're going have an update coming up.
Plus, the battle over the Lockerbie bomber is heating up -- why Scotland's leader is now taking direct aim at a U.S. senator.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What do you have -- Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, the Obama administration is expressing concern about tensions now heating up again between Israel and Lebanon. An Israeli officer and several Lebanese soldiers were killed in clashes along the border between the two countries. The Lebanese Army says the incident occurred when an Israeli patrol tried to enter the disputed territory. But Israel disputes that. The two countries were embroiled in a five week war back in 2006.
Scotland's first minister is accusing a U.S. senator of insinuating a link between BP and the controversial release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Senator Robert Menendez plans to chair Congressional hearing investigating whether the release was part of a deal that allowed BP to drill off the Libyan coast. The minister says Abdelbaset Ali Ma -- Mohammed al-Megrahi was released only on judicial grounds.
Supreme Court justice nominee, Elena Kagan, could be one step closer to being confirmed. The Senate has begun the floor debate on her nomination. Among the issues of contention, Kagans' lack of judicial experience and concerns about work she did while in the Clinton White House. Kagan is expected to be confirmed place Thursday and could be sworn in by the end of the week.
A new victory for civil rights activists today. President Obama has signed into law the so-called Fair Sentencing Act, which reduces gaps in the penalties for crack and powder cocaine use. Government statistics indicate that African-Americans have typically received harsher penalties than whites or Hispanics for possession of crack- cocaine. And police believe eight people plus the gunman are dead and two wounded after a shooting at a Connecticut beer distribution business today. Police say the shooter was alive when they responded, but later was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police were told the gunman was brought in for an administrative meeting and was told to resign or be terminated. As he was being escorted out of the building, shots were fired. An investigation into the motive is underway -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a tragic story that is.
All right, thanks very much, Lisa.
We'll get back to you.
Could changing the U.S. Constitution help solve illegal immigration?
Some Republican senators want to take a second look at the 14th Amendment.
And he's America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff.
So what does it mean that there are now some death threats, reportedly coming from Mexico's drug cartel, against him?
I'll ask the sheriff, Joe Arpaio. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, at least 1,400 dead, millions affected in the wake of a massive flooding disaster in Pakistan. We'll get the latest on the desperate rescue attempts now underway in this growing devastation.
Plus, he's considered by some to be bin Laden's heir apparent.
So why are some civil liberties groups now arguing that it's unconstitutional for the U.S. government to pursue Anwar al-Awlaki
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM
A new front is opening up in the battle over immigration. A group of Republican senators wants to re-examine the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It's the one that makes children illegal immigrants citizens as long as they're born in the United States. It reads, in part -- let me quote, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United State and of the state wherein they reside."
Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who's working this story for us.
What do these senators who are critical now want this to be re- examined?
What are they saying?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, they want it to have -- basically, that's it, be re-examined -- have another look at what's called the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, because, they say, it encourages illegal immigration. And the new interest in this idea being fueled by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
KEILAR: (voice-over): A leading Republican who once supported comprehensive immigration reform is now proposing to change the Constitution so children born in the United States to illegal immigrants won't automatically become American citizens.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's thousands of people coming across the border to have their children in American hospitals illegally. It makes no sense to me to award citizenship when someone breaks the law to get here.
KEILAR: Senator Lindsey Graham's proposal got more attention when the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said he supported Congressional hearings on the issue. Other Republicans agree, including Arizona's John McCain and Oklahoma's Tom Coburn. Coburn points to why the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment was adopted, so that Southern states following the Civil War couldn't deny citizenship to freed slaves.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: There was never an intent by our founders nor, if you take the readings, that just because you were here and you had a child born here and you were here not as a resident, that your child would become a citizen. So I think it's an interesting thing to look at.
I'm not sure that I'm going to embrace it, but might. I think we need to look at it.
KEILAR: But Republicans are cautious as they wade into this contention debate, saying it's not just about illegal immigrants who have children in the U.S., but so-called citizenship tourism -- when foreigners come to the U.S. legally just to give birth.
GRAHAM: If a tourist comes to visit the United States and have a child, that child is an American citizen. If you go to France or England on vacation and you have a child there, you're not a British or a French citizen. It makes no sense to me to -- to sell tourist visas so people can have babies in this country and earn citizenship that way.
KEILAR: Democrats say this is just election year rhetoric. And when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked about Republicans who want to change the Constitution, he made his point by quoting a conservative columnist who opposes the idea.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: They're either taking leave of their senses or their principals.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KEILAR: Of course, it's very difficult to change the Constitution. It requires two-thirds of the House and Senate's approval and then three quarters of the states would have to ratify any change. So it's really not seen as likely -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Brianna.
I want to pursue this a little bit more.
Joining us to talk about this is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona.
Do you think, from a law enforcement standpoint, the interpretation of the 14th Amendment should be changed so that children born here of illegal parents -- illegal citizens -- illegal immigrants should not necessarily be allowed to get immediate citizenship?
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Well I got mixed emotions. Let's have some hearings. Let's study the whole situation and then make some decisions on the constitution.
BLITZER: But in your experience, are pregnant women trying to cross the border into Arizona so they can have a child born in Arizona?
ARPAIO: Well, that happens quite frequently at the border. I'm not at the border. I'm in the Phoenix area. I believe that happens. Once again we ought to look at whole situations as part of our illegal immigration, so-called reform.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some threats that are now being reported against you, reports that Mexican drug cartels have now placed a $1 million bounty on your head. You've heard of these reports. I know you faced death threats before. Tell us about it?
ARPAIO: Two years ago it was $5 million. I think the economy must be bad in Mexico. I'm not trying to make jokes about it but it happens quite often but we take everything serious. My staff does and my office. So we'll see what happens. I'm going to continue to do my job. I was the regional director of Mexico City with the drug enforcement administration and in Texas and in Arizona so I think I know how they operate these drug organizations in Mexico. A lot of violence going on now. They're killing police and judges and everybody else along that border. This doesn't surprise me but we have to just look at it and make sure it doesn't occur.
BLITZER: We've done some reporting on this CNN. Let me read to you from our CNN.com report. "FBI special agent Manuel Johnson, a spokesman for the bureau's Phoenix office, said the agency is aware of the reported threat but he knows of no federal investigation. Johnson said the bureau would help if Arpaio's office would request assistance." Have you asked the FBI for any help in these reported threats?
ARPAIO: We had deputies assigned to the FBI task force. I'm sure they're talking about it. I don't know about officially whether my people have asked them to enter into the investigation but we'll see how this develops. They have text messages and they're spreading all over the United States, I guess the world my pictures and these threats. Once again I'm not going to be intimidated. Still going to do my job. This is part of the job of doing business being a high profile sheriff that's cracking down on drugs and illegal immigration.
BLITZER: Let me ask press you. Do you think it's serious enough at this moment you can say right now on television, do you want the FBI to get involved to investigate these threats?
ARPAIO: Well, I'm not going to -- I'll let my staff decide.
BLITZER: What do you think? You're the sheriff.
ARPAIO: I don't know. I delegate this. I'm the victim too. I delegate this to my staff. We have a threat unit that investigates all threats on me. They're kept very busy. So let them make the decision if they want to call in the FBI or what have you and we'll see. Once again we do cooperate together with the FBI on drugs and other matters too.
BLITZER: I know I heard some other interviews that you've done. I know you're not worried about yourself but you have said you're worried about your family which is totally understandable.
ARPAIO: Yes, you know my wife -- I've been married 53 years. She's followed me to Turkey, Mexico, all over the world fighting the international drug traffic. I've been threatened, shot at and everything else. Now being the sheriff, very controversial and high profile. She may have some concerns but we'll make sure we take care of her.
BLITZER: All right. Well be careful over there, Sheriff, and we'll stay in close touch.
ARPAIO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, coming to us from Arizona.
It's Election Day in several states across the country. Could some critical primary results spell trouble for Democrat this fall? Our own Gloria Borger will break it all down.
Plus more than a million dollars to capture and analyze some exotic ants and hundreds of thousands of dollars funding monkey research. Just a few of the wasteful things that Republicans say federal stimulus money is going toward. We're going to have the details coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Voters in Kansas, Missouri, and Michigan are weighing in on a serious of contentious political battles. Taking center stage, a GOP Senate race, some gubernatorial primaries and a critical provision in the new health care reform law. Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. There's one race I know you're interested in. It's a Republican senate contest in Kansas, Jerry Moran against Todd Tiahrt. Why do you like this race? What's so important about watching it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting because it's kind of emblematic of all the Republican primaries we've seen across the country which is that one conservative candidate is trying to run to the right of another conservative candidate. They're vying to replace Senator Brownback in Kansas who's going to run for governor, very conservative. I want you to take a listen to their ads while - which shows you how they try to run to the right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Congress Todd Tiahrt supported amnesty for illegal immigrants and benefits like lower in state college tuition for illegals. Jerry Moran believes we should secure the borders, enforce our laws and send law breakers to the back of the line.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Moran raises taxes, defends Washington and embraces Obama. Todd Tiahrt takes on taxes, liberals and Obama and that's just the way we like it.
BORGER: You know, immigration, a big issue in the state of Kansas. I don't think so but yet it's in ad. Taxes of course another big issue. The interesting thing about this race is that Congressman Moran has been endorsed by Senator Demit, very conservative but Congressman Tiahrt endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin. He's going to try to take advantage of the tea party movement and he's hoping that that's going to help him. Whoever wins this primary is going to likely be the next senator from the state of Kansas.
BLITZER: In these prime Republican primaries she has a pretty good track record so far. Let's talk about Missouri a little bit, what's called proposition C. It's getting a lot of attention.
BORGER: Yes. Proposition C is about health care. It's the first referendum that we really have seen on the health care law, specifically about whether states like Missouri should be required to buy into these individual mandates. The people of Missouri have to buy health care reform. That's at the heart of health care. And we're going to see now not just polls on this but voters actually voting. All we have are polls and take a look at ours. We asked last month should Congress repeal the health care bill and replace it with new proposals. Yes, 48, no, 50. So what you see there is a public that's very conflicted. They want some kind of health care reform. They're not sure they like what they got because they haven't seen much of it yet.
BLITZER: They'll haven an opportunity to learn over the coming months or years if they like it or don't like it. Thanks very much. BORGER: Sure.
BLITZER: A New York mosque developer gets a controversial green light to build an Islamic center near ground zero. Was it the right decision? We'll talk about it in our strategy session.
We're monitoring breaking news BP's critical static kill is now under way. It's just started. It could mean a permanent end to the massive leak.
BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy issue in a contentious issue that's going on right now. Joining us are two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national radio talk show host Bill Bennett. We're talking about this new Islamic center and mosque that could go forward based on this decision today near only a block or two away from ground zero. Let me set it up, this conversation. First a reading from what Dan Senor, a former Bush administration official wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" today, an open letter on the ground zero mosque. He writes this. He says, "The fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center of peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim, quote, military victory." That was Dan Senor who does not want this mosque and community center to go forward. But listen to the mayor of New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a very different perspective.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: Everybody has a right to their opinions. You don't have to worship there. You don't have to support whatever -- wherever there is. But this country is not built around a state religion. It's not built around only those religions or clergy people that we agree with. It's built around freedom.
BLITZER: All right, Bill. Go ahead and weigh in on this controversy.
BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it's built around freedom but it's built around sensitivity too. I think this is hallowed ground. Before we get into the moral arguments and there are interesting moral arguments, sensitivity issues Dan Senor and others have talked about, the karma like nuns from the pope removing that convent from the site near Auschwitz. Not because the nuns were up to anything bad but lack of sensitive toward the suffering of the Jewish people is what a lot of people thought that convent meant. So one does approach this very carefully. Before you even get to that level though, Wolf, you need to ask some questions. I've been looking into this on the radio show. Can't get answers. Where is the money coming from? Where is the ultimate source of the funding? Second, what kind of building are we going to have? Is it going to be a big mosque with a minaret and it will cast a shadow over the ground over the area or it is going to be a large business building with several small rooms, one of them called mosque, one of them called Christian reflection chapel. I've heard both versions. I think until we get an answer to those questions, clear and straight, we don't know how to answer this. BLITZER: What about that? Where do you stand on this, Donna?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Wolf, I recently starting looking into this issue. I have to tell you that I support Mayor Bloomberg and the city officials in New York who I think are doing a thorough job not just the investors but also making sure that this project comports with the area around 9/11. Look, in just another month we will observe that horrific day. It is an opportunity for us to not only remember the sacrifices of those who perished that day but also call attention to our own values, and we have unique American values. We also cherish, you know, religious tolerance. And think this is an opportunity for us to show and demonstrate to not just to ourselves but to the world that we can allow a center that is now being discussed to be put near 9/11. I'm not opposed to it. As long as it goes through the proper checks and balances and the city mayor and other city officials are looking into the investors and it comports to the local laws are in terms of building, I don't have a problem with it.
BLITZER: Bill, I want to bring you back into this conversation, but address this specific point. Yes, the 19 hijackers were all Muslims but among the 3,000 people who were killed there were plenty American Muslims who were killed in the world trade center that day. Shouldn't these families have an opportunity to remember their loved ones like Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, and Buddhists and others?
BENNETT: Yes and there is a place for that. Does it have to be right there? Most of the people, the vast majority were not Muslims, and a lot of the Muslim world, frankly, remains ambivalent about this whole question. There was celebration in a lot of Islamic cities the day after 9/11. Yes, checks and balances, check it out. Aren't the sensitivities of the people of New York and the sensitivity of the vast majority victims relevant here? Can't they build it near the site but not on the site? I think from what I know and from the failure to answer the questions I would be opposed not because of an issue of religious freedom. As George Washington said in that classic letter to the Hebrew congregation, yes, there religious freedom but we must count on the support of those peoples who freedom is protected, the support of disseverment in this republic. I think when it comes to a lot of Islamic government and a lot of Islam, that support isn't there.
BLITZER: Donna, would it make any difference to you where the money is coming from to build this new structure? If for example Saudi money was coming into it, would that be an issue? Would you be concerned about it?
BRAZILE: Wolf, I would not want any money that came from any links that came from terrorist organizations but I'm not sure whether it came from a country like Saudi Arabia or any other country that it's linked to terrorists. I'm not an expert and I couldn't tell you but I would like to know more information. Look, I want to say there's so many Muslim Americans today serving in our military and armed forces, protecting our country and protecting our freedom, and I would hope during this debate we're sensitive to their sacrifice and the fact that they're also serving their country as well. BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there, guys. Donna and Bill, the subject I'm sure is not going go away. A good discussion indeed.
How early is too early for another presidential campaign to begin? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.
Plus the life and death journey of Americans critically wounded in Afghanistan. CNN's own Barbara Starr is the first reporter to document this. She has an exclusive report, part two of her series you're about to see.
BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is how early is too early for another presidential campaign to begin? Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty about to make his fifth visit to Iowa. He's already made three trips to New Hampshire and for some of them, they are running already.
Jason in Birmingham, Alabama: "American politicians spend too much time running and not enough time governing. A short election cycle, say no longer that a few months would allow more time to get to the business of making this country work for real people and not just the political pundits."
Tom in Iowa writes: "I live in Iowa and I have to put up with these ads and visits from the campaigns for almost three years out of every four. I am sure I speak for many Iowans who say, stay the hell out of our lives until at least February of 2011."
And Cindy says: "I actually think that there should be laws about this like they have in England where campaigns cannot last longer than 90 days prior to the Election Day. This long endless campaigning is a whole lot of what is wrong with our political system. It takes too much money and big money corrupts the process."
David says: "Considering the current occupant of the white house, not soon enough."
Ron writes: "October 2012 is too soon. Each four years we begin earlier and produce less and less competent candidates and presidents. Long campaigns only bring increased mediocrity."
J.C. writes: "Since the incumbent is running all of the time it is never too early for the opponents to start."
And Gordon in New Mexico: "Never too soon especially on slow news days. It is like a soap opera without the distracting commercials."
If you want to read more on the subject you'll find it on my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile.
BLITZER: 2011 is going to be a great year, Jack. CAFFERTY: Well, it depends upon your point of view.
BLITZER: In terms of covering politics?
CAFFERTY: Well, yes, for people like us, but the public gets worn out with this stuff.
BLITZER: They love it.
CAFFERTY: They get beat over the head with the commercials, and you know, it is -- it is a long slow process.
BLITZER: And we will watch it very, very closely.
CAFFERTY: Every step of the way.
BLITZER: Every one of those commercials, Jack. Thank you. Here is a question, are your stimulus tax dollars being wasted on monkey business and more? We are about to take a serious look at the allegations of waste. We will do a reality check.
We are following the breaking news in the Gulf of Mexico where the static kill operation is now under way. We are going to get a live update.
BLITZER: There are serious new allegations of massive waste of the stimulus money. Let's got to CNN's Lisa Sylvester who is looking into this for us. What are you learning, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf as you know, it is an election year and people are very concerned about the jobs. The Obama administration says that the multibillion dollar stimulus program has created millions of jobs, but the Republicans say that there are also examples of waste.
SYLVESTER: One point nine million dollars to capture, analyze and photograph exotic ants. More than $700,000 to develop a computerized dance program in North Carolina and nearly half a million dollars for smokers to receive a smartphone to help kick the habit, and almost $700,000 to figure out why monkeys respond the way they do when something is unfair. Some of the stimulus projects Republican Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn say were wasting money.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: What the American people would like to see is oversight. Where we are actually doing our job to see how we are spending their money, and their kids' money is actually making a difference.
SYLVESTER: The white house credits the $862 billion stimulus plan with helping create or save 3 million jobs and stabilizing the U.S. economy. The two Republican senators acknowledge that it has had a positive effect, but they say that the stimulus plan helped to drive up the national debt to $13 trillion.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When you spend this much money, and some jobs are created, but what is the price that we have paid for future generations of Americans? A $1.1 trillion additional debt.
SYLVESTER: The Obama administration says that the spending has been well worth it, and white house spokesman Robert Gibbs getting in a dig at Senator McCain noted that a one-time economic adviser to him, economist Mark Zandi has credited the stimulus program with softening the economic downturn.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that this has much more to do with politics. I think maybe the best person for Senator McCain to debate on this would be the chief economic adviser of his own presidential campaign.
SYLVESTER: But the programs will be soon petering out, and the unemployment rates are still stubbornly above nine percent.
PETE SEPP, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: What we are seeing now are expenditures on things like infrastructure and community development projects, and those, too, will start to wind down soon and what we are left with is a mountain of debt to put a drag on the economy and not a boost.
SYLVESTER: Now the vice president's office which is overseeing the stimulus plan defended the program noting that the examples given by the two senators account for a quarter of one percent of money on all stimulus programs -- Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Lisa. Thank you.