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Pres. Signs Border Security Bill; Next Immigration Fight: Florida?; Big Advancement in Alzheimer's Disease; The Empowered Patient

Aired August 14, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: From his situation room to ours, National Security Advisor James Jones sits down with me for an exclusive interview. Why he says the door could be open for direct U.S. talks with Iran.

Plus, President Obama signs a $600 million border security bill in to law. Will it be enough to quiet the bitter debate over illegal immigration? I'll ask his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

And he broke from the Republican Party to run as an independent candidate for the United States Senate. Now Florida Governor Charlie Crist attends a Democratic fundraiser right here in Washington. Whose side is he on?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hints of a new olive branch toward Iran straight from the inner sanctum of the president's war council. Here's President Obama's National Security Advisor Retired General James Jones, sitting next to the president in the White House situation room. He left that high- level meeting this week and he came right here for an exclusive interview. We spoke at length about a range of topics, including the Iranian nuclear threat, and the fate of the American hikers being held by Teheran. We begin with the possibility of direct U.S. talks with the Ahmadinejad government, or military action?


BLITZER: If the sanctions don't work, and there are-I don't know if there are a year left, two years, before Iran has a nuclear military capability, is the U.S. ready, the Obama administration to take military action to stop Iran from having a nuclear bomb?

GEN. JAMES JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that. I would just simply say that what we've achieved, I think, quite successfully is three levels of sanctions that frankly very few people thought we could pull off. We being, us, the U.S., the international community, the U.N. sanctions which are joined by Russia and China made a very, very strong statement with regard to how the world community feels about Iran's direction with regard to its nuclear program. Followed almost immediately by the European Union sanctions, followed by individual countries that are sanctioning Iran as well. So the message to the government is that as long as you persist in going down the path that you seem to be going down, we will have no choice but to try to pressure you to change your mind.

BLITZER: But if the sanctions don't work? If the sanctions don't work?

JONES: At the same time, we leave the door open for them to come back in and change their behavior. It's really quite simple. What the world is asking is not hard to do. We have indications, as the president said last week, that the sanctions are in fact causing them a great deal of difficulties, that their nuclear program is not quite as progressive as some might have thought a year ago. We've done a lot of work to find out what our time frames are and what is the -- if I can use the word "wiggle room", with regard to the international community. So this is very much not just the U.S. effort, but involves the -- the huge number of countries that agree with us on this.

BLITZER: In terms of the time frame, the wiggle room, is it one year?

JONES: That's harder to be precise. And I don't want to get in to that. But I think there's -- there's general agreement in the international community as to what that is. And people are comfortable right now with where we are on that -- on that linear path, if you will. And we want to give these sanctions a -- a good shot at working before we do anything else.

BLITZER: Would you like to engage in direct diplomacy with the Iranians?

JONES: That door is open.

BLITZER: When you say that door is open, the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is going to be in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Is President Obama ready to meet with Ahmadinejad without any preconditions?

JONES: I think the path that we've asked them to follow is to come back to the table in Vienna at the P5 Plus 1 dialogue, which is the right place to talk about this program, and their intention. But as far as, you know, going -- as far as heads of states meeting, only time will tell. They have to make those initial steps I think to show that they're sincere. There is no point in a theatrical meeting without any building blocks leading up to it.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise. If the Iranians agree to resume the diplomacy through the International Atomic Energy Agency, you are leaving the door open to some sort of high-level U.S.-Iranian meeting, a direct meeting, perhaps even including the president of the United States and the president of Iran?

Ultimately, if, in fact, we find the accommodation and the convergence of paths here that shows a sincerity, a willingness to be open and transparent, and to meet the very reasonable standards that the international community has asked them to meet, then all those things are possible.

Another thing they might do is return our three hikers that they've detained now for over a year. These are three young people that -- that were hiking, they were climbing. They're not spies. But, yet, here's a government that detains them from their families for over a year. That's not behavior that is consistent with the norms that we associate with most other countries around the world.

BLITZER: So if they did that, if they returned those three hikers, that would be a gesture -- an important gesture.

JONES: It would be a very important gesture.

BLITZER: It could lead to what?

JONES: It could lead to better relations. We've been very clear about what it takes to have Iran come back onto the fold of the community of nations. And the community of nations is very worried that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability. That they might export it to terrorist organizations and they might trigger an arms race in the Middle East as a result. That is a genuine -- that's genuine apprehension that's not just bilateral. It is multilateral.

BLITZER: Afghanistan, let's move on to Afghanistan right now.

The U.S. is spending what? About $100 billion a year in Afghanistan. Increasingly, critics, and a lot of Democrats in the House, as you know, in the Senate, but also even some Republicans are wondering is it worth it when there are, what, between 50 and 100 Al Qaeda fighters remaining in Afghanistan. Is it worth it?

JONES: I think -- we've adopted, at the president's direction, a regional focus. And so it's Afghanistan, it's Pakistan, it's India, it's the neighboring countries. We're embarked on a long-term effort to bring peace and stability and to rid that region once and for all of insurgencies and --

BLITZER: This is an enormous financial drain and a drain on the lives of American men and women.

JONES: It is.

We have -- we have a strategy that's in place right now. We have a review process that's going to take place in December. We have a NATO summit coming up in November. And we have a date next year when the president will make some decisions about, you know, the future of troop presence with regards to the Afghan capacity to take over some of the responsibilities of their own country.

BLITZER: Because there's some ambiguity as to what that date, in the summer of 2011, means. He's going to start withdrawing them. You can withdraw 100, you can withdraw 10,000, you can withdraw 50,000.

JONES: Correct. It will be conditions based, but at least there's a line in the sand now the focus is not only ourselves and the Afghans, but the whole international community that signed up to the strategy that says by that time, we expect that we should be able to see given the emphasis on the training of the Afghan police force, the Afghan army, the efforts that the government is making towards providing better governance and the rule of law, combating corruption, being able to see some of these things starting to take hold, so that Afghans can see a better future for themselves.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in President Karzai's government that they can do this?

JONES: I think that they are doing better. I think we will make an assessment in December as to what adjustments, if any, need to be made. General Petraeus is fully engaged in this, not only in Afghanistan, but with Pakistan also. Because a lot of what happens in Afghanistan is dependent on -


BLITZER: I want to get to that. You served during Vietnam war.


BLITZER: How worried are you that if the American public loses its confidence, loses support in this war, in this operation that's under way in Afghanistan right now, that the support will be gone for the men and women on the front lines, as occurred for us during the Vietnam war.

JONES: It is very worrisome. But -- but the elements of success are all present and they're visible. We know what they are. We're working very hard with both sides, on both sides of the border, specifically in Pakistan. We need to see more activity on the part of the Pakistani army to go after the insurgents and the safe havens that allow the transit between Afghanistan and Pakistan to go on.


BLITZER: Is Pakistani --

JONES: This is fundamentally important.

BLITZER: Is the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, part of the problem or part of the solution?

JONES: Hopefully, they're increasingly part of the solution.

BLITZER: When you say hopefully, is there still some doubt in your mind? They seemed to have played both sides in years past.

JONES: They've played both sides in years past because of their uncertainty with regard to our long-term - staying, our long-term commitment. But over the last three years, we've worked very hard with the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, and the --

BLITZER: And the intelligence service, too? JONES: And the intelligence service. That showed that there is a better way for Pakistan. And the first step that has to be taken is to reject the concept that harboring safe havens inside the country is -- has anything to do with the future of the Afghan people want, which is a better future.

BLITZER: What's the president's biggest fear when it comes to Afghanistan

I would -- I would say that the biggest fear with regard to Afghanistan would be that the -- that we might get to a point where we decide that we can't turn this -- the violence around. And I don't think that's going to happen. But I think that in order to -- in order to get the good governance, get the economic engines started, get better rule of law and battle corruption, you have to convince the Afghan people that there is a better way of life. And that starts with basic security in the towns, the villages, the districts, and the -- and the governance and the country. And once you get that -- once you get that swing, it becomes somewhat irreversible. And that's where we are now.

BLITZER: General Jones, thanks for coming to my SITUATION ROOM.

JONES: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Thanks for -- you're pin from the White House situation room. Maybe next time we'll come over to your place.

JONES: We'd like to see that happen.

BLITZER: Thank you.

JONES: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: A new warning that Israel may soon reach the point of no return and take military action against Iran and its nuclear program.

And a major step forward in detecting and treating Alzheimer's before it ravages the brain.


BLITZER: Israel, unilaterally bombing Iran in an effort to stop the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. It's a scenario that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg says is increasingly likely. In an article entitled "The Point Of No Return," he writes in "The Atlantic" magazine, and I'm quoting him now: "Based on months of interviews I have come to believe that the administration knows that it is a near certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon" -- soon - "if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program."

Jeffrey Goldberg is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jeff, I spoke earlier today with the president's national security advisor, General Jim Jones. He suggested that if the Iranians now under pressure from the sanctions decide to get back involved with diplomacy, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, start releasing those three American hikers, there's an opportunity for a high-level U.S.-Iranian dialogue. Any of that likely to happen?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE ATLANTIC": The dialogue is possible. The Obama administration has been seeking that dialogue for a couple of years, almost a couple of years. The question is what can the Obama administration do to stop the Iranians from pursuing their nuclear programs.

It's one thing to sit down and talk about these issues. But it seems unlikely to me that at this point that Iran is simply going to say because President Obama asks, we're going to end our nuclear program.

BLITZER: What if the sanctions are really punishing? The sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council with the backing of China, and Russia, the Europeans. What if they really come down on the folks of Iran?

GOLDBERG: This is the million-dollar question. The question is can they ratchet up pressure to the point that the Iranian government acts in what we think of as its rational self-interest and stop the program. Even President Obama, though, when a group of journalists spoke to him last week, went in, and he acknowledged that maybe they don't have the same cost benefit analysis that we do. Maybe they simply want this program at all costs, and will suffer, or allow their people to suffer through sanctions.

BLITZER: You were invited to the White House last week.


BLITZER: For what was supposed to be a background briefing with senior officials. But to your surprise, the president himself walked in and spoke to all of you on the record.

GOLDBERG: Right, a very senior official, as they say.

BLITZER: That would be the president of the United States.

GOLDBERG: Yes, and he was on the record.

BLITZER: What was his message to you, the journalists, the columnists, the editorial writers, about a possible situation unfolding with Iran?

GOLDBERG: Well, his message was a pretty basic message. He was saying, look, our sanctions actually seem to be working. He used the word "rumbling" to describe what they're hearing in Iran. It is a long--rumbling is a long way from the Iranians deciding to drop their nuclear program. He also reiterated - and this has been a steady program of theirs, a steady idea of theirs, the also reiterated that the administration is open to talking with the Iranians. They're on a two-track process right now. One track is pressure, that's the sanctions. And the other track is saying, look, the door is open. We want to build you an off-ramp, to get off of this program.

BLITZER: Because you say, and in your article that the president is seized by this issue.


BLITZER: What does that mean?

GOLDBERG: People think this is about the safety of Israel or the safety of America's Arab allies. This is a whole other thing as well. The president is a guy-is a president who's really devoted to the idea of nuclear zero. He's wants to see -- he's very engaged in nonproliferation. He wants to see the world get rid of nuclear weapons. He understands, and he said this, he understands that if Iran goes nuclear, it could have a cascading affect in the Middle East. Egypt would go nuclear, Saudi Arabia would go nuclear, Turkey would go nuclear. He would inadvertently oversee the greatest expansion of nuclear powers in the world, rather than bringing down the number of nuclear states.

BLITZER: You interviewed Prime Minister Netanyahu, a lot of political officers in Israel, a lot of political leaders. You have concluded that an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, in your words, is a near certainty.

GOLDBERG: Well, it is a near certainty in the long term, even in the next year I give it a 50 percent, or better, chance; next year meaning by next July. Look, the Israelis believe they are facing the threat to their existence the likes of which they've never seen before. It has always been Israeli defense doctrine not to let a regional adversary gain control over a nuclear weapon, or get a nuclear weapon.

Iran is close. Secretary Gates says they're one to three years away. The Israelis hear one to three years and they figure they have six months to figure out what to do. The prime minister, I don't think, wants to do this. And I think there is a real - there is an open question about whether Israel has the capabilities to do this.

BLITZER: What you described a scenario of 100 Israeli F15s and F16s flying over Saudi Arabia and Iraq, or Turkey and hitting the -- could they get the job done?

GOLDBERG: This is the key question. They could reach these sites. They could drop their munitions on these sites. But they don't have a return capability. It is one thing to fly over Saudi Arabia once, and come back, but constantly to go back and forth, the kind of flying that the American Air Force can do, is not within Israel's capability. Which is why the Israelis, obviously, along with, as you know, certain Arab countries would rather see the Obama administration do this. Obviously, the Obama administration is not there yet. They believe that a combination of diplomacy and sanctions will work.

But like we were just talking about, the president is dead serious about trying to stop Iran from getting these nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: The article is entitled "The Point Of No Return" in "The Atlantic" magazine. Jeffrey Goldberg is the author. Jeff, thanks very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.


BLITZER: Pentagon cuts certain to be felt far beyond the base; a look at impact on hundreds of civilians and their communities.

Plus, a move in Florida to follow Arizona's lead with a tough new crackdown on illegal immigration. Does the governor and now Senate candidate Charlie Crist support it? I'll ask him.


BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is promising big cuts in the Pentagon's massive budget. Among the changes he outlined this week, a 10 percent cut in spending on contractors who provide support services to the U.S. military, and a reduction in the number of admirals and generals across the armed forces, by at least 50 over the next two years.

He is also planning to close the military's joint forces command in Norfolk, Virginia. So, what if these cuts hurt the Norfolk community? Our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence is there.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the melting pot of the military, where the Army, Navy, Americans, Brits, Italians, all learn to fight a war together.

What we try to here is share our information amongst all of our coalition partners.

LAWRENCE: Joint Forces Command, with one sentence, it went from essential to national security to the chopping block.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The U.S. Military has largely embraced jointness as a matter of culture and practice.

LAWRENCE: The Defense secretary says it's work to be folded to other existing units, and saved $240 million a year. But some of these 6,000 soldiers, civilians, and especially contractors won't make the cut.

CRAIG QUIGLEY, JFCOM DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS: Which are retained and which will be ultimately eliminated is predicated on the analysis of tasks that is just now being started.

LAWRENCE: Plenty of people are waiting to hear.

(On camera): Sure the command is on the base, but it's part of the community. Taken away and all kinds of folks feel the pinch.

How does JFCOM factor to what you do here? RENEE FIGURELLE, FOOD BANK OF SOUTHERN VIRGINIA: Well, they volunteer hours to us. If they're doing a food drive for us-actually Friday they dropped off 191 pounds of food for us.

LAWRENCE: Some economists estimate the command brings $1 billion a year to the local economy. So think of all of the soldiers, civilians, and contractors that won't be eating here anymore.

BILLY LIGHTSINGER, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: They come here sometimes like three or four times a week.

LAWRENCE: Billy Lightsinger opened this restaurant last year just to be close to joint forces.

LIGHTSINGER: It is going to take a big -- a big effect if it does close.

LAWRENCE: But Secretary Robert Gates says the Defense budget can't keep getting bigger. If cuts have to come, better the Pentagon use a scalpel now than Congress swing the ax later.

GATES: We have to demonstrate a compelling argument that we have, in fact, tackled the things that worry them -- excessive reliance on contractors, waste, abuse.

LAWRENCE (On camera): Pentagon officials tell me it's their call whether to close the command. Virginia Congressmen here on Capitol Hill say, not so fast.

REP. GLENN NYE, (D) VIRGINIA: As a member of Congress, we have a role in the process of deciding how Defense dollars are spent, and that will absolutely impact any proposal that the secretary makes here.

LAWRENCE: Representative Glenn Nye says the state's Democrats and Republicans will fight to keep those jobs.

NYE: An off-the-top of the head proposal by the secretary just isn't going to fly in this environment.

LAWRENCE: What is this environment? High unemployment? And an election just 12 weeks away. Try going back to your voters with a few thousand job losses. But, the Pentagon says some of the money save willed be dumped back to the individual branches. So the Navy, for example, may have more money to build more ships down there in Virginia, perhaps make up for some of those losses. Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: President Obama signs a bill to send more agents and equipment to the border. How much will it help? I'll speak with the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. And there's a new proposal in Florida, for legislation similar to Arizona's controversial immigration law. Where does the governor of Florida Charlie Crist stand? My interview with him. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Democrats say this could be a first step toward immigration reform. The president signed a $600 million bill to send more agents, more equipment to the border with Mexico. The Senate passed it in the special session this week.

Some Republican say the bill doesn't go far enough and they accuse Democrats of passing it for political gain in this midterm election year.

Joining us now from the White House, the Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What's taking so long to secure the border with Mexico?

NAPOLITANO: Well, actually, the border is - is safe and secure in the sense of every statistic that needs to go up is going up and every statistic that needs to go down is going down. The number of illegal immigrants crossing the border is way down. The number of drug seizures, gun seizures, money seizures, is way up.

We want to continue to do even more and that's what this bill permits us to do. It allows us to hire at least a thousand more Border Patrol agents, to add more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, two more unmanned aerial vehicle systems, more telecommunications, the entire system that needs to be in place to make sure that the border remains safe and secure all the way across, from San Diego all the way to Brownsville.

BLITZER: And you're a former governor of Arizona, so you're familiar with the subject. But you acknowledge there's still plenty of illegal immigrants crossing in from Mexico into the United States?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we always want to do more. I'm not only the former governor, I'm the former attorney general and United States attorney for Arizona. So I've been working this border for about 17 years now. And I know that what we are doing at the border, what the president asked the Congress to pass and what they passed will give us the resources we need on a sustained and permanent basis to close gaps in that border and to keep it safe and secure.

BLITZER: Now your critics are saying what you've done now in this $600 million program is largely reacting to your successor, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer and that controversial new immigration law that went into effect but now is on hold, at least some of the more controversial parts, that you're simply reacting to the political uproar rather than taking the initiative.

NAPOLITANO: Yes. I would - I would say look at history. We actually began surging federal resources to the Mexican border in March of 2009, well before 1070 became law, well before this issue became national in scope.

I knew as a former governor of Arizona that we needed to make sure that we kept that southwest border safe and secure and that it would require some new initiatives and some new targeting and focus in order to do so.

So we began many of these efforts and began putting record amounts of agents, technology and infrastructure at that border way back in March of '09.

BLITZER: When will the Obama administration introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants?

NAPOLITANO: Well, first of all, I think - I don't think pathway to citizenship quite captures what the president has supported, and it's a framework that was announced by Senators Schumer and Graham this spring.

It's - it's earning citizenship - citizenship should be earned. It should be something that you earn by getting right with the law, learning English, making sure you pay your taxes, staying free or not having any criminal record. That you earn citizenship.

The president has supported that framework, but as you know, he cannot, himself, introduce a bill or pass a bill. That requires Congress and in particular it requires Republicans.

BLITZER: When do you think the Congress will do this?

NAPOLITANO: You know, I think we're ready any day, but it is up to the Congress and as you, yourself, I think have noted, you know, we're now getting into the election season and that obviously plays a part. But the president continues to urge the Congress to deal with the underlying immigration system. The country needs to move forward to get through with this - to move forward on this issue, into the 21st century, have an immigration system that really works.

BLITZER: The Pew Hispanic Center recently estimated that some 340,000 babies born in the United States in 2008 were from illegal immigrants. That's about eight percent of all the new children born in the United States in that year. And it's raising questions about the 14th amendment to the constitution.

Do you think we should take another look at that amendment which grants citizenship automatically to anyone born in the United States including children of illegal immigrants?

NAPOLITANO: No. I think it is surprising to say the least to talk about opening and/or tampering with the United States constitution and the 14th amendment which guarantees equal protection and due process among other things. Instead of dealing with what - what Congress can deal with and should deal with right now and that is updating, reforming, revising the entire statutory scheme that governs immigration.

BLITZER: I want you to react to what a Republican Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, is saying, suggesting that there is a plot that terrorists want children born in the United States so some day they can come back and kill Americans. Listen to what this Republican Congressman says.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: It appeared they would have young women who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists and then one day, 20, 30 years down the road be sent in to help destroy our way of life.


BLITZER: You're the secretary of homeland security. Do you have any evidence of what he's talking about?

NAPOLITANO: No. No. And I think that it's, you know, that is so off the mark. Where we need to be is a safe and secure border, and this president has put really unprecedented amounts of resources at this border, and - and has done so since almost the day he took office. We've been moving agents, materiel, aircraft, and other things to the border. Even more now is coming and being made permanent by the bill he just signed.

But beyond that, the overall immigration system needs to be dealt with by the Congress, by Republicans coming to - to the table and let's work our way through this problem.

BLITZER: One final question on this proposed Islamic center and mosque that's supposed to go up near the World Trade Center Ground Zero. Is there any security concerns that you as homeland security secretary have with this mosque going up there?

NAPOLITANO: No security concerns whatsoever have been presented to me.

BLITZER: Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Florida Governor Charlie Crist was elected as a Republican and is now running for the U.S. Senate as an Independent. He's getting help from Democrats. Whose sign is he on? I'll ask him.

An encouraging news about a disease that impacts millions of people. We'll get details about what some are calling a medical breakthrough.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The legal and political fight over immigration that's divided over the people of Arizona could play out in another state soon. The Florida Attorney General, Bill McCollum, now is proposing legislation similar to Arizona's new immigration law. Among other things, it would require Florida law enforcement officers to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants when they're stopped. McCollum is in a heated primary battle for the Republican nomination for Florida governor. The job now is held by my guest, Charlie Crist. He's running as an Independent for the United States Senate.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Are you with Bill McCollum on this new legislation?

CRIST: I'm not, no. I don't like the Arizona law. I don't think it's the right way to go. And I think the key word that came out during your introduction was people that are suspected of being illegal immigrants, well, how do you make that determination? By what they look like? I mean, that's not part of the America that I believe in.

BLITZER: So in other words, you - you'd be afraid of racial profiling? Is that what you're saying?

CRIST: Precisely, yes.

BLITZER: Because a lot of Republicans disagree with you on this - this specific issue, they favor that new immigration law which is now before the courts.

CRIST: No, I understand that, but I don't.

BLITZER: You don't want it to go before the voters in Florida. If it did come up for a vote in Florida, how do you think they would vote, the people of Florida?

CRIST: I'm not sure, but, you know, the people of Florida are very fair minded and the - the notion that you would, you know, pull somebody over because of how they looked or how they appeared and based on maybe nothing else but that and that is a cause for law enforcement to stop you, I don't think that's a state that anybody would enjoy.

BLITZER: Yes, and there probably could be some protests against Florida in the process, just as in Arizona. You guys need a lot of tourism, a lot of conventions and you don't - don't necessarily need that kind of headache. Is that what you're suggesting?

CRIST: That's absolutely the truth.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about why you're here in Washington. Among other reasons, obviously you want to be in THE SITUATION ROOM, our SITUATION ROOM -

CRIST: I came here to see you.

BLITZER: -- but tonight you are going to a fundraiser.

CRIST: Right. BLITZER: And some prominent Democrats are hosting this fundraiser for you, including some who are very close to the former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

CRIST: That's true.

BLITZER: What does that mean? Are you now a Democrat for all practical purposes?

CRIST: I think it means we have broad support and I'm very pleased by that. I mean, from Republicans, Democrats, Independents, I think everybody has the notion and the idea that they would like an Independent voice in the United States Senate fighting for Floridians first.

And that's what this is all about, being independent, putting people above the party, and making sure that they have a voice in the Senate that's an honest broker, looks out for their interests first, and Democrats and Republicans and Independents want it.

BLITZER: Are you getting more support now from Republicans or Democrats?

CRIST: I'd say it's pretty evenly split. I mean, you know, a lot of friends from the Republican Party have stayed with us, continued to help, and God bless them for that. New Democrats who have become very good friends and some Democrats who've been friends for a long time are just stepping up in a much more significant way now.

BLITZER: The fundraiser tonight is going to be basically Democrats, though.

CRIST: That's correct, it is.

BLITZER: There are two Independent U.S. senators, as you know, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, but they both caucus with the Democrats and the Democrats are in the majority, they have chairmanship committees and committee rankings and all of that. If you're elected to the United States Senate will you caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans?

CRIST: I've always said that I'll caucus with the people of Florida. And what I mean by that is, issue by issue, whatever is in the best interests of the people of my state, my fellow Floridians, I want to be able to be with those who are going to help Florida.

BLITZER: But you got to make - you got to make a decision because if you're not going to be caucusing with one party or the other party, you're not going to have any committee ranking and you're not going to have any influence in the United States Senate. You're going to have to make a major decision.

CRIST: Well, if I have the honor of winning, I'll have a vote in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: You'll have one vote, but if you're chairman of a committee, if you caucus with the Democrats, chairman of a subcommittee, you could have some influence. So you're going to have to decide whether to caucus with the Democrats or Republicans. You just can't caucus with yourself, if you will, if you want to have some influence.

CRIST: Well, I got to keep my eye on the ball and the eye on the ball for me means looking at November the 2nd. I'm not going to be a chairman of anything if I don't get elected to the Senate first. So I have to continue to work hard, campaign hard, continue to strive to earn the trust and confidence of my fellow Floridians.

BLITZER: So when the Democrats at the fundraiser tonight ask you, Charlie Crist, we're going to give you money, they'll say, are you promising us you'll be with Harry Reid and the Democrats if you're, assuming he gets reelected, in the United States Senate, you wouldn't go with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans?

CRIST: I'm not going to commit to either one because I'm only committed to the people of Florida.

BLITZER: So you'll commit after - if you're elected. Is that what you're saying?

CRIST: Probably.

BLITZER: You don't have to caucus - you'll have to make that decision down the road.

CRIST: Well, I don't know that Wayne Morris did. And I think he literally -

BLITZER: You're right.

CRIST: -- took a seat in the middle of the aisle, right?

BLITZER: He then - he took a seat in the middle. But, you know, then the people of Florida could suffer if you don't have the influence that you would like to have.

CRIST: Well - and you've just hit on the pivotal issue really - what is in the best interest of the people of Florida? We don't know who's going to be in the majority after November 2nd, after the general election. And so I think it's important to keep an open mind, to stay committed only to one thing and that's the people of my state.

BLITZER: Your Republican challenger, Marco Rubio, was here. He was sitting in that seat in THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago on July 20th. He said this.


MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't believe he is really an Independent. I think there is increasing evidence that he now is embracing the Obama agenda.


BLITZER: You heard what he said.

CRIST: I heard what he said.

BLITZER: You're smiling.

CRIST: Well, why wouldn't I smile?

BLITZER: But are you - are you in -

CRIST: I'm a happy guy.

BLITZER: Are you increasingly embracing the Obama agenda? Because he's saying you flip flopped on a whole lot of issues where you were Republican, but now you're siding with the Democrats, including President Obama.

CRIST: Well, that's what you would expect him to say. He is my opponent after all, one of them. And we don't know who the other one is going to be yet until the primary concludes on August 24th. So I look forward to that. I really do.

And there will be distinctions between us on a lot of issues. But that's the kind of thing you hear from a lot of the, you know, party candidates, if you will. They like to take shots at people. I'm not here to really do that today. I'm here to offer myself to the people of Florida as an independent voice who wants to rise above that kind of back-and-forth stuff that's driving them crazy all over the country.

BLITZER: The situation as far as the Gulf oil disaster, in your state, Florida, is concerned, I assume it's much better now since the oil is basically stopped flowing out of there for a month.

CRIST: That it is and - and that's a blessing. It really is. I mean, we have had the good fortune to really have our beaches virtually untouched. A little bit in Pensacola Beach early on, but they're beautiful. The water is pristine. We just opened more fishing opportunities in the waters of Florida.

BLITZER: So business is back to usual. Tourists can come and show up and not be worried.

CRIST: Even the president is coming to the Sunshine State this weekend.

BLITZER: They're for a long weekend with his family.

CRIST: We're glad that he's coming and it'll be a great advertisement for the Sunshine State.

BLITZER: And the bill that Floridians are going to give BP, is that a significant bill? Not a big bill? What are you going to ask BP to reimburse the residents of Florida?

CRIST: We've already asked them for a lot.

BLITZER: How much?

CRIST: Initially, 25 million then another 25 thereafter, 7 million on top of that. We're going to keep asking.

And Ken Feinberg I believe will do a great job. He's in charge of the $20 billion fund. That's something that really gives us a great opportunity to do a lot for Florida.

BLITZER: And the checks are coming?

CRIST: Yes, they are.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

CRIST: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Good luck.

CRIST: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: A breakthrough on Alzheimer's research, details of a simple test raising complex issues.


BLITZER: There's some encouraging news about a disease that impacts millions of people around the world and their families - Alzheimer's.

And joining us now our CNN Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's the author of the brand new book just out entitled "The Empowered Patient." This is a critically important and even, I must say, a life-saving book that we're going to talk about, Elizabeth, in just a moment.

But I - I first want to talk about some of the news of the day. Apparently, there's a new test that can pretty accurately predict whether someone is going to get Alzheimer's.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is a huge advancement in medical science, because up until now, there really hasn't been a way to predict who would get Alzheimer's.

What researchers did is, they gave people spinal taps. They got some of their spinal fluid out by putting a needle in their back and they found that if certain proteins were in that fluid, that person had a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life.

Well, as usual, the rest - we all sort of need to catch up with new technology. The question is, if this test becomes widely available, do you want it? Do you want to know that you are likely to get Alzheimer's, considering that there is not much you can do to stave it off? Wolf.

BLITZER: But there is a possibility that the results of this new test will help researchers come up with some ways to deal with Alzheimer's and perhaps stop the onset of Alzheimer's. Isn't that right?

COHEN: Yes, that is right. And that's why from a medical science point of view, from a research point of view, this is huge. However, from a patient, consumer point of view, you want to take a step back and think, do I really want this test if it becomes widely available?

BLITZER: Especially if there's nothing you can do to stop it in the - in the interim.

All right. Let's talk about your new book, "The Empowered Patient." You wrote this book in part because of a personal experience that you and your family went through, Elizabeth. Share that with us.

COHEN: That's right. A few years ago, my mother was having health problems, and she was misdiagnosed. And that's why I wrote this book.


COHEN (voice-over): My mother, Sheila Schwartz, is a firecracker. Mother of four, grandmother of 11, wife, lawyer and social worker. She's been active and healthy her whole life.

But around the time she turned 60, something changed. She began feeling achy and dizzy. Her blood pressure went up and she was so tired. My mother says her family doctor told her "don't worry about it."

COHEN (on camera): They told you, "Look, lady, if you just stop working so hard, your blood pressure will come down."


COHEN: So they kind of patted you on your head and said -

SCHWARTZ: Go home. Calm down.

COHEN (voice-over): My mother didn't question her doctor.

COHEN (on camera): Were you an empowered patient?



SCHWARTZ: No. I was not - I was unempowered in this process. I was an empowered mother. I was an empowered social worker. I was an empowered teacher. I was not an empowered patient.

COHEN: Did you just trust the doctors?

SCHWARTZ: That's what I was brought up to do.

COHEN: A good girl from the '50s.

SCHWARTZ: Forties.

COHEN: From the '40s.

COHEN (voice-over): Then one day, my mother flew in to visit me in Atlanta. I could tell she felt awful.

COHEN (on camera): And you remember what we did while you were there.

SCHWARTZ: You called your physician who came in on a Saturday and saw me.

COHEN: And he had a theory that you had what's going in your adrenal glands.

SCHWARTZ: Adrenal adenomas.

COHEN: And that - those are growths on the adrenal gland.

SCHWARTZ: Yes. And that was affecting my kidney functions.

COHEN: It was like this a-ha moment.

SCHWARTZ: That's right.

COHEN: Like, now, it makes sense.

SCHWARTZ: Now, it makes sense.

COHEN (voice-over): It turns out my mother all this time had been seriously ill. If it had been caught earlier, a pretty simple treatment would have fixed the problem, but instead it's come to this. She needed a kidney transplant. My mom's life depended on the success of this surgery.

SCHWARTZ: Bye time. Thank you.


BLITZER: All right. So, how - how's your mom doing after that kidney transplant, Elizabeth?

COHEN: Wolf, I'm so happy to say, thank goodness, she is doing great. The transplant worked beautifully. We are so grateful. We're especially grateful to our cousin who donated the kidney to her.

BLITZER: How old is your mom now?

COHEN: She's 71.

BLITZER: So, she is doing just fine. She doesn't need dialysis or anything like that?

COHEN: Nothing. She doesn't need anything. She was going to have to go - undergo dialysis if she hadn't received the kidney. She, you know, she works - she works as hard as you do, Wolf. I think you and she are the two hardest working people I know.

BLITZER: Well, God bless her. Let's talk a little bit about why you decided to write this book. I assume it's because of you saw, at least in part, the way your mom was misdiagnosed.

COHEN: That's right. What I saw is that sometimes we need to challenge our doctors and be bad patients.

If my mother had said to that original doctor, hey, you know, I don't think this isn't about me working too hard, I think that this is perhaps something different. I feel very strange. She would have probably gotten her doctor maybe a little bit angry, but that that is OK.

I think sometimes we are - especially women are people pleasers and sometimes that's not the right way to be and you really have to challenge your doctor. If they're telling you something that your gut says doesn't sound right, you need to ask questions.

BLITZER: And God bless your mom's cousin as well. He's a great -

COHEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- man for going through this, in effect saving your mom's life.

COHEN: He is indeed. He is - he is a great man. A shout-out to Colonel David Cantor (ph), who donated the kidney. And he - he's her age, also, so they're both two incredible people.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we wish both of them only, only the best.

The book is entitled "The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time" - the writer, Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent.

Elizabeth, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ramadan and breaking the fast. That picture and more coming up next in our "Hot Shots".


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" from Kabul, Afghanistan. Men prepare bread to eat after sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

In the Philippines, workers carry large sacks of rice. The Philippines imports more rice than any other country in the world.

In Brussels, look at this, a gardener prepares a massive flower carpet made up of about 700,000 flowers.

And over the zoo in Israel, a 41-year-old ape holds her new born baby. "Hot Shots", pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.