Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Airplane Crash Caused by Lightning?; Mosque Controversy Heats Up

Aired August 16, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A passenger plane is ripped apart in a crash landing. Could it have been caused by lightning? New details this hour of an airline tragedy.

Also, the controversy over an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York heating up, but you might be surprised what else is in the blocks surrounding the 9/11 site. We will take you on a tour.

And a Democratic candidate brings out his big gun, but it's not President Obama. It's Bill Clinton.

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

But we begin with a devastation that's beyond comprehension. That's how one longtime aid worker describes conditions right now in Pakistan. Massive flooding has submerged fully one-fifth of the country. Almost 1,500 people are known dead. Nine hundred thousand are already homeless. People are fighting for small rations of food and disease is spreading like wildfire, with millions of children at particular risk.

In a little more than two weeks, officials estimate the flood has affected at least 14 million people.

CNN's Sara Sidner bears witness to the ever-worsening situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The flooding in Pakistan is still so expansive, it's difficult to tell where the water ends and the sky begins.

Search-and-rescue missions continue daily, this one by the Pakistani military. Suddenly, on a tiny sliver of land, flood victims appear. They wade through floodwaters, their eyes fixed on the Pak Marines hovercraft as it arrives. These mostly women and children have been marooned here for two weeks now. They need everything, from food to medicines.

"Look at our children. They are sick. Where can we go? We can't go anywhere? There's water all around us," grandmother Bachul Kalhoro pleas. The other women in her clan chime in, spilling out their many woes.

The Pak Navy special services group tried to accommodate with the small bit of supplies they have. It's not enough. But the main thing on offer, a ride to safety, these villagers refuse to take. They tell us they will not leave their land, for fear their enemies in a neighboring village will snatch it. So, the craft pushes off, a single flood victim aboard.

LT. CMDR. BADSHAH, PAKISTAN NAVY: They are thinking that if they leave this area, they will not be allowed to come back. That's also one of the reasons.

SIDNER (on camera): The Pak Marines say they have already rescued about 25,000 people in a 110,000-square kilometer here in Sukkur. For those who are left behind, there isn't much help for them.

(voice-over): In all, more than 200,000 people have fled or been rescued from this area. Some end up in government camps. Others have made their own shelters atop the official dam, with little help, fearing the predicted next wave of water officials say is rushing down from the north.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Sukkur, Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: If you want to help these flood victims in Pakistan, go to CNN.com/Impact. There's a list of agencies you can contact to offer aid and much-needed funds. You can Impact Your World. Go there. It's important.

Gripping images of the crash of a 737 with 131 passengers on board, and there are two amazing aspects to this story. First, only one person was killed. And, second, there are questions about whether lightning may have caused this.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, what do we know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one pilot we spoke with said this damage right here on the nose cone could indicate a possible lightning strike. But we won't know conclusively until the investigation is complete.

Now, this looks like a horrendous accident, but pilots tell us the fact that at least two large pieces of the fuselage here got through this relatively intact was a real lifesaver.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Devastating impact, but when this Aires Airlines 737 crashed on San Andres Island, Colombia, almost all the passengers survived.

We dissected this accident with veteran airline pilot Mark Weiss.

(on camera): Why weren't there more people killed in this accident?

MARK WEISS, THE SPECTRUM GROUP: Well, you know, I think what you're going to see, if you take a look over here, the chute, the escape slide was deployed. What you also see over here is that -- a pretty clean break on the fuselage. I think what you're going to determine is that this aircraft impacted the ground, split apart because of the severity of the impact. There was no fire.

TODD (voice-over): But there were thunderstorms in the area as the plane approached in the overnight darkness. And:

(on camera): It was reported there were about 11 lightning strikes within about a six-mile range. So, they were happening all over the place here near the airport. What effect did that have, do you think?

WEISS: Well, I think what you see from lightning -- the lightning strikes are not necessarily the reason that this accident happened. What you're really going to focus on is going to be probably the convective activity all around the airport. And what happens is, with the terrain over here, you're going to look for downbursts from the thunderstorms, microburst activity, lightning flashes that may have blinded the pilot.

TODD (voice-over): Something that Weiss says might have happened just seconds before impact. Weiss and other pilots tell us, planes often get hit by lightning, but not brought down by it. Those incidents are common enough that some have been posted on YouTube.

Pilots say the lightning can knock out radios and other instruments, but it often simply goes through the metal skin on the fuselage and out the other side and doesn't threaten the cabin. As for the pilots:

(on camera): You have been in the cockpit when the plane is hit by lightning. What does it feel like?

WEISS: Well, oftentimes, you will get an explosive feeling and -- but it lasts for just a second or so. And it's certainly unnerving, but with this type of weather, you're almost prepared for something like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The last time a commercial plane crashed in the U.S. due to a lightning strike? Well, according to the Web site Weatherimagery.com, that was in 1962. That Web site cites a Pan Am Boeing 707 in a holding pattern over Maryland when lightning created a spark that ignited jet fuel vapor in a holding tank. That triggered an explosion, but nearly 50 years ago, Wolf, according to that Web site, the last time a commercial plane in the U.S. brought down by lightning.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, a statistic, Brian, on how often planes are hit by lightning?

TODD: We have been hearing reports, reading reports all day, Wolf, that say that commercial aircraft, each commercial aircraft is hit on average at least once a year. So that gives you kind of an idea just how often this happens. Pilots say it's really often not a big deal.

You can deal with it in the air. You can fly through it. It often does not bring down a plane like this that in this case, a lot of them are telling us it's very likely going to end up being the thunderstorm, you know, the convection, the downdrafts and things like that, the turbulence that might have brought this plane down.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then, why some Democratic candidates are embracing former President Bill Clinton, while keeping President Obama at arm's length. And a suspected 9/11 plotter held at Guantanamo Bay for years. So, why are new images of the accused al Qaeda operative now showing up in propaganda videos?

Plus, the controversy over a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York, but what else is in the neighborhood? CNN's Mary Snow takes us on a tour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're two blocks away from Ground Zero. And what you see on this street is something you might find on any city street, drugstores, retailers, a dentist, off-track betting site right over there. And then just down the block is the site of the proposed Islamic community center.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File"-- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq's top army general says his troops won't be trained and able to take control of security until 2020, 10 more years from now. They put us through boot camp in San Antonio, Texas, in 12 weeks.

The warning comes as the U.S. says it's on target to end its combat mission and pull thousands of troops out of Iraq by the end of this month -- Lackland Air Force Base.

The White House says it's pulled out 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office, and that thousands more will leave at the end of August.

The U.S. plans to keep about 50,000 troops in Iraq for support and training, but they, too, will be gone by the end of next year if the current plan holds.

Iraq's military brass doesn't think that is such a great idea. And Iraq's top army general may have a point. Iraq's political leaders still haven't been able to form a new government five months after holding elections.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones said despite this assessment by Iraq's army, there will be no significant U.S. troop presence after next year in Iraq and that -- quote -- "The mission is on the way to being accomplished" -- unquote -- in Iraq.

The U.S. better hope so now that it's focusing a lot of time and money and military resources on the war in Afghanistan, where insurgent attacks are at record levels.

It doesn't look like Afghanistan is going to be in any shape to see U.S. troops leave as soon as next summer, which is what President Obama wants.

Here's the question then: Iraq's army says it won't be ready to take control until 2020. Should U.S. forces still leave by the end of next year?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

Twelve weeks, they ran us through boot camp and said, now get out of here and go do something productive with yourself. And here I am.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And you are doing something very productive, Jack. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Two of the most controversial cases in the country right now are both headed for the same court. We're talking about the Ninth District Court of Appeals. Its justices will be deciding the future of same-sex marriage in California and Arizona's law cracking down on illegal immigrants.

CNN's Dan Simon is in San Francisco with more on this court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been a punching bag for conservative commentators. Rush Limbaugh refers to the San Francisco-based court as the Ninth Circus.

The court's most notable decision over the last several years, that public schoolchildren should not recite the Pledge of Allegiance because of the words "under God." But this year, the court reversed itself, saying "under God" is OK.

And, today, some legal experts say the Ninth has shed its liberal reputation.

(on camera): Is it still fair to say, though, that among the federal courts, it is one of the more liberal federal courts?

KEVIN JOHNSON, U.C. DAVIS LAW SCHOOL: I would be hard-pressed to say that. I view it as, you know, middle-of-the-road and like many other courts.

SIMON: Kevin Johnson is the dean of the U.C. Davis Law School and advised President Obama on immigration during his campaign. He says eight years of George W. Bush conservative appointees and eight years of mostly moderate Bill Clinton appointees have given the court a much different complexion.

JOHNSON: I do think that the Ninth Circuit gets somewhat of a bad rap as being ultra-liberal, when I think that it's much more moderate than popular opinion would have it.

SIMON (on camera): The court has 29 active judges -- 15 were appointed by Democratic presidents, 10 by Republicans. Cases are heard by three-judge panels. Losing sides, they can appeal, which are then heard by 11-judge panels. After that, they would appeal to the Supreme Court.

(voice-over): Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, says politics play far less a role for judges than people assume.

ALEX KOZINSKI, CHIEF JUDGE, NINTH CIRCUIT DISTRICT COURT: They see themselves as performing the function of judging.

SIMON: In 2008, the Ninth Circuit issued what is considered a conservative ruling on immigration. It upheld an Arizona law that revoked the business licenses of employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Chapman law professor and former Republican candidate for California attorney general John Eastman says how the court goes on an issue ultimately depends on the panel.

JOHN EASTMAN, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: I would say it's a very liberal court with very liberal elements, but some staunchly conservative elements as well that sometimes can balance it out depending on who ends up on a particular case at a particular time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: So, while experts may not be able to agree on the precise ideology of the court, there's no question the Ninth Circuit will be handling two of the most controversial subjects in the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much -- Dan Simon reporting.

The Ninth Circuit, the judges have to decide, by the way, between now and 5:00 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday whether or not to allow the stay on same-sex marriage to continue. If they reach no decision, same-sex marriage will go forward after 5:00 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday. We will see what the Ninth Circuit judges do between now and 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

Automatic overdraft fees, be gone. New federal rules kick in soon that could change the way you use your debit card.

And be careful what you post on Facebook. A former Israeli soldier is finding that it could trigger an international incident and get her into big potential legal trouble in Israel.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Another cautionary tale about being careful about what you share on Facebook, this one centers around a former Israeli soldier and a couple of photos she posted.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is following the ensuing scandal that has the Israeli military scrambling and the Palestinians considering legal action.

This note: CNN policy is to blur faces of military prisoners so that they cannot be identified.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a former military soldier has caused a storm here in Israel and her actions have been called shameful by the military. Now, this former Israeli soldier who goes by the name of Eden from Ashdod online, Ashdod being an Israeli town in the south, has posted photos of herself on the networking site Facebook.

In these photos she's seen posing in front of blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. In one photo, you can see her sitting on a concrete blast barricade with one blindfolded prisoner. In a second photo, you can see her sitting in front of three blindfolded prisoners. At least one of them has his hands tied in front of him.

Now, according to Israeli media, these photos were labeled "IDF best time of my life." Now, the Israeli military has been very quick to respond and telling CNN: "These photos are disgraceful. In no way does the IDF condone this behavior." The spokesman went on to tell us, "In matters of information security aside, we are talking about a serious violation of the IDF ethical code."

Now, this spokesman told us that obviously if she was still within the military, then she would be court-martialed, but the fact is she finished her military service a year ago, so it's actually not clear at this point what exactly the military can do. Now, unsurprisingly, the Palestinian government is not impressed, the prisoners ministry saying they're disgusted by what they see and they're also thinking of taking legal action.

Now, Israeli military does report there were some comments from some of Eden's friends. In one of these comments the friend said, "That looks really sexy for you." And Eden replied to this, referring to one of the Palestinian blindfolded prisoners next to her, "I wonder if he is on Facebook, too. I will have to tag him in the photo."

So, certainly a shock for the Israeli military, but at this point is not really sure what they can actually do with this soldier -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks reporting for us from Jerusalem, thank you.

It's a controversy pitting freedom of religion against America's reference for Ground Zero. Before you make up your mind about a planned Islamic center and mosque, you may want to see what the reality right now is on the ground. Mary Snow getting ready to take us on a tour.

Also, new images of an accused 9/11 plotter at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba now being used as al Qaeda propaganda -- details of why they have surfaced right now.

And a seven-hour space walk and critical repairs to the International Space Station -- details of a delicate mission accomplished.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Pictures have now surfaced of an accused terrorist suspected of being a key player in the 9/11 terror attacks. They show Ramzi Binalshibh inside his cell in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Let's get some insight from our national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

All right, you know something about Ramzi Binalshibh. Tell us about these pictures, why they surfaced now and what they're likely to mean.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they appear to have come from the Red Cross. They were taken by the Red Cross and given to the detainee's family and somehow they have...

BLITZER: When representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross was allowed to visit Guantanamo Bay, they took these pictures?

BERGEN: Right. Right. And then they have come through the lawyers or the family. It's unclear. And they have shown up on some jihadi Web site. Of course, for the jihadists, Ramzi Binalshibh is a great hero. He's one of the persons who by his own admission planned the 9/11 attacks.

BLITZER: So the fact that these now are being used for propaganda on these pro-al Qaeda Web sites, what does that mean to you?

BERGEN: I don't know. These pictures could play either way, because they certainly show that Ramzi Binalshibh is looking pretty well. He is obviously showing no signs of ill health or poor treatment. He's actually -- he looks better than he did several years ago.

So, I think the pictures are just, for the jihadists, this guy is a hero. Recent pictures of him is something that they would want to show.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers what he did in connection with 9/11.

BERGEN: Well, he applied for an American visa. He wanted to be one of the hijackers. He was turned down. He's a Yemeni.

He then basically assumed a quite important role in coordinating all the acts of the hijackers. He was a liaison between the hijackers in the United States and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He did this all from Hamburg, Germany, where he was then living.

BLITZER: I guess one of the arguments is that these pictures show him devout, looking pretty good. I guess the argument is if you support al Qaeda, take a look at Ramzi Binalshibh. He has defeated the Americans. Look at how good he's doing, how well he's doing right now.

BERGEN: Yes, I didn't -- I don't necessarily take that away. Maybe if you were a jihadist, you would.

But the main takeaway to me is that this is a guy who's obviously in good health, who has not been badly treated, and who has been allowed access to the International Red Cross.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this other story that's now come forward. A couple, a young couple in Afghanistan stoned to death by the Taliban for eloping, if you will -- this is the first time I think this has happened since the U.S. went into Afghanistan after 9/11.

BERGEN: Actually, there have been some other cases, maybe not directly the Taliban doing it, but there have been people stoned to death for adultery in Afghanistan since 9/11.

What is interesting to me, Wolf, is this took place in Kunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, an area we don't think of as an area being controlled by the Taliban. A very good piece this weekend by Josh Partlow in "The Washington Post" explaining how the Taliban have increasingly infiltrated the north, an area -- the north doesn't have that many Pashtuns. The Taliban is a largely Pashtun movement. But there are pockets of Pashtun. So, the fact that you have got a stoning of a man and a woman in an area that two or three years ago you would have not said there were any Taliban element there, that to me was one of the takeaways of this story.

BLITZER: The way it's been described by eyewitnesses, this young couple, a 25-or-so-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, they're surrounded by hundreds of people who are just throwing stones at them and kill them.

BERGEN: Yes. Well, and certainly, under the Taliban, public executions of this kind were not uncommon.

And I think there's a reality check for those who say, well, the Taliban is people we can do business with or negotiate with. Well, do you really want to do business with a group that continues to do these kinds of things?

BLITZER: It's shocking, when you think about it.

All right, Peter, thanks very much.

BERGEN: Thank you.

In Iran, it will be at least another five days until the final verdict is rendered for an Iranian woman condemned to die by stoning. Sakineh Ashtiani was sentenced to die by stoning for adultery. Last month an Iranian official said the government would review her case. The international committee against stoning is saying she won't be executed during Ramadan which began last week. The final verdict is now expected August 21.

The Senate majority leader Harry Reid is the latest politician speaking out against plans to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks away from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City. That's places Harry Reid at odds with President Obama but in line with many Republicans who call Ground Zero sacred. You might be surprised to find out what else is near the site of the former world trade centers. CNN's Mary Snow takes us on a tour of the area. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, you know, many have dubbed it the ground zero mosque, but the site sparking controversy is not just a mosque, and it's not adjacent to ground zero. As the debate over the Islamic center spreads far beyond New York, we take you to lower Manhattan to give you a sense of where it will be and what's there now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: We're at the corner of BZ and Church Street and you can see behind me, behind these gates is where the construction site of ground zero is. Now we're two blocks away from where the Islamic community center is slated to be built. We're going to take you along our path and show you what's here. Heading north, just about a block from ground zero, some office buildings, retailers, and you'll see over here a catholic church. There are tourists over there. This is a remnant of 9/11. It's getting to be lunchtime and it can get pretty busy down here. There's lots of construction going on including that site right across the street. We're two blocks away from ground zero on this street. Something you would find on any city street, some retailers, a drugstore, a dentist and O.T.B., off track betting site. And just down the block on this end is the site of the proposed Islamic community center. Taking a closer look at the surrounding businesses, restaurants, retailers, a video store, including adult videos, crossing the street, someone handing out pamphlets for a strip club.

And then directly around the corner from where the proposed site is, this is New York Dolls. We just saw the pamphlets being handed out. It calls itself a gentleman's club. We now circled the block. We're on the corner of Park Place. There's a lot of construction going on. Behind us is the site of a building for the City University of New York. And as you can see, the Islamic center is down here. No surprise, we find news crews outside. As we get closer, we find an artist who's set up on the sidewalk expressing his opposition to the Islamic center through painting.

What do you think is an appropriate distance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a crazy question. I can't answer that question, but I'm telling you right now, not here.

SNOW: This old Burlington Coat Factory is at the center of the controversy. The plan is to build a community center that will house a mosque as well as a performing art center and a gym. It will be 13 floors. And the center will look out on to this office building that's 21 stories high.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Although the center is two blocks away from ground zero, it was close enough that during the attacks on 9/11, landing gear wound up on the roof.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, there's a strip club within a block or two of 9/11? Is that what you saw?

SNOW: There's a strip club a block away from this Islamic center. It's three blocks from ground zero.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks for that tour. Mary Snow reporting for us.

Bill Clinton campaigning for fellow Democrats. Why some want to be seen with the former president instead of the current president.

And details of a delicate mission high above the earth, a seven hour space walk and critical repairs to the international space station.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's a former president, not the current president campaigning in Florida for Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek. Bill Clinton is acknowledging voter discontent with his party. Take a listen to this.

BILL CLINTON: I know a lot of people are mad and a lot of people are frustrated. But I want you to think of this. Those of you who are over 40 will know this. You just forget about politics a minute. Every time in your life you made an important decision just because you were mad, there's about an 80% chance you made a mistake, isn't there? So what I want you to think about is how people can deal with their frustration and their anger and their fear and their worry. What is the best way to do that? And here's what I would like to say about it. The country normally turns to the Democrats when things are all messed up. Things are going along well, they would just as soon vote for Republicans. They like to hear them talk. It all sounds so good but then when they govern, oh, my goodness. And they turn back to us. So the Democrats won a majority in the Congress in 2006. It got bigger in 2008. President Obama was elected in 2008. I got elected in 1992 because the country was in a mess. Jimmy Carter got elected in 1976 because the country was in a mess. That's how come we get elected. So people hire us to fix things. And that explains why we're under duress now. People think well it's not all fixed. Well, I want to tell you is well, we were in a big hole.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Some new polls are coming out about this race for the U.S. Senate in Florida. What are we learning?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Some surprising results, Wolf. Essentially when the Democratic primary happens next week, it will determine -- it will have an unexpected impact on who wins in the general. Right now it's a three-person race. The conservative Marco Rubio is a Republican. Of course Charlie Crist, the governor, is a Republican turned Independent and then there are two Democrats, Kendrick Meek with President Clinton and Jeff Green. The polling shows that right now neither of the Democrats if the election were held today neither of the Democrats would win. But if Kendrick Meek wins the primary, that means polling shows Marco Rubio, the more conservative Republican, would win the general election. If Jeff Green were to win the primary, then Crist, that independent moderate, would become the senator according to today's polling. It leaves Democrats in an awkward position. And some are privately saying they would prefer that the weaker Democrat Green win the primary so that they could get Crist elected to the Senate. Many Democrats think that Crist would ultimately caucus with the Democrats were he elected.

BLITZER: Yes I questioned him on that when he was in THE SITUATION ROOM last week. He didn't give us a final answer on that, but that's what a lot of Democrats suspect. But Bill Clinton is now campaigning at three events with Kendrick Meek. We haven't seen President Obama, correct me if I'm wrong, campaigning for Kendrick Meek. YELLIN: That's right. The white house makes a point they have sent some of their most important people down there. Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, was down for an event happening there. President Obama is going to Florida and having a big Democratic unity event this week and Kendrick Meek will speak there. But that's not the same thing as going out and doing fundraiser. They say it's just his schedule and it's just the way things are. Bill Clinton does have a long history, though, with Kendrick Meek.

BLITZER: He has a long history in politics as John King who's here with us certainly remembers over the years. What, John, what is his likely impact in a state like Florida to be for this Democratic candidate?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Number one, the reason some Democrats, not all, but some Democrats would prefer Clinton to Obama is just the better economy of the Clinton days. Right now, it's very hard for the current president of the United States, whether you blame him or not, to come in. He's associated with the current economy which is a funk or worse depending on what part of the country you're in. President Clinton can say we created more than 20 million jobs. We had the only balanced budget in anybody's lifetime. So there's a more positive economic message you can get from President Clinton. Kendrick Meek's problem is a many layered problem. It's a problem many house members have when they first run statewide. They represented a small district in their state. Florida is a big economically diverse state, ethnically diverse state, politically diverse state. He has catered to his Miami area district the entire time he's been in the Congress. Now he's asking people in the central parts of the state and in the independent Tampa to Orlando route to vote for him. They don't know who it is. If you can get a national celebrity like Bill Clinton to come in hopefully you can boost the name I.D. but a lot of house members struggle especially the first time they run statewide.

BLITZER: I guess a lot of Democrats are worried, if you divide up that Democratic vote between Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist, for example, that guarantees that Marco Rubio is the next United States Senator from Florida.

KING: It is a huge concern which is why the point that Jess just made is so important. One of these Democrats will win the primary and right now people think it is Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist but whoever wins on the Democratic side, number one, they will face pressure from the party, and number two the president and the Democratic money machine will face a big decision. Do you essentially try to pump up a Democrat who you're 99% sure cannot win, or do you withhold resources hoping instead that Charlie Crist can win that seat and caucus with you? In this election year with the stakes so high, control of the Senate potentially at stake, they will have to make those calculations.

BLITZER: A tough issue down there in Florida. All right, guys. Thanks very much. John, we'll see you at the top of the hour.

The crew members of the international space station are saying it pays to think ahead. How a seven hour space walk and a part delivered well in advance made an important repair possible.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Astronauts on the international space station have finished a more than seven-hour space walk to replace a vital piece of equipment. CNN's John Zarrella watched it all unfold. Explain what happened, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf you know, this was considered the most serious failure in the history of the space station program. The two U.S. astronauts spent 23 hours in space, three separate space walks since the failure of an ammonia pump back on the 31st of July. Bottom line, Wolf, the ammonia pump supplied cooling to electronics and avionics and science experiments on the U.S. side of the space station. Much of the U.S. side had to be shut down until they could get this repair done. Today at the end of the third space walk, the 780-pound spare unit that had been brought up by a space shuttle a long time ago -- good prior planning by NASA -- was installed by the astronauts. It appears to be working fine. They're going to check it out over the course of the next 24 hours or so but by tomorrow or the next day, the space station should, NASA officials say, be back up and operational full speed.

BLITZER: If something else goes wrong though the impact of the cancellation of the U.S. space shuttle program would be significant.

ZARRELLA: No question about it. This is a 780-pound unit they had up there, brought up by the space station, the spare, the original, and other spares that are there as well. Without the space shuttle, a lot of really big pieces of the space station, you're not going to be able to get up there very easily until a heavy lift vehicle is built. In fact, today, in a press conference, NASA officials were really urging NASA and Congress to go ahead and authorize one additional shuttle flight. They wanted a decision by the end of August if possible so that they can move ahead with plans for this additional flight sometime June next year in order to bring more spare parts up to the space station. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right John. Thank you, John Zarella reporting.

Iraq's army says it won't be ready to take control until 2020. Should U.S. forces still leave next year? That's Jack Cafferty's question this hour. He'll be back with your e-mail in just a moment.

And a car, a commercial, a chimpanzee and an unhappy animal rights group. CNN's Jeanne Moos sorts out how in the end, everyone was pleased with the outcome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right back to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, Iraq's army says it's not going to be ready to take control until 2020. Should U.S. forces still be out of there by the end of next year? Don in Ontario writes, "Iraq will turn into a volatile mess whenever America pulls out, 2010, 2020. Ditto with Afghanistan. The American military advisers to the success of U.S. presidents either have no understanding of these foreign cultures or they and the CIA provoke wars to keep the armaments and securities industries busy. These two particular wars have cost an unprecedented amount of money. It appears the terrorists have bankrupted America."

Don writes, "Yes they should leave as soon as possible. If the Iraqi army can't defend the country by now, they won't be able to in 2020 or 2050. Why is it that these guys can easily fight U.S. troops with no equipment, no body armor, no sophisticated air support, but they can't do anything when it comes to fighting their own homegrown insurgencies? It's not a case of needing more time to train and prepare. It's a case of lacking the motivation to take care of themselves."

Darrell writes, "Yes, if you keep feeding a dog it will never learn to hunt. It's time to get out of a place we had no reason to be in the first place."

Tim in Texas says, "Let's see. We've been there for seven years fighting a war we had no business getting into in the first place. Combat troops do no good whatsoever in setting up a government. We probably lost in Afghanistan when we needed to win because we went into Iraq and the whole thing cost us gobs of money. Let's stay another ten years just for the hell of it. I also like to chew on ground glass."

Joanne in Iowa says, "If the Iraqis say they'll be ready to take control of the war in 2020, when it gets to be 2019 they'll ask for a few more years and then a few more years. No. We've been there long enough. Leave on our schedule. They've had enough time to plan for this. We've spent enough and we've shed enough blood."

Finally Gary in Arizona writes, "Should U.S. forces leave Iraq next year? Absolutely not. They should live on Friday."

If you want to read more on this, check my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile.

BLITZER: Just getting this in from the Reuters News Agency. The U.S. ninth circuit court of appeals, a panel there has decided to continue the stay on allowing gay marriages to go forward in California until they decide whether the lower court was right or wrong. As you know, the district court judge had decided unless the state was continued by the ninth circuit court of appeals, the stay would be lifted at 5:00 p.m. pacific time on Wednesday at which time gay marriage would be allowed to resume in California but now the ninth circuit, this panel, has decided the stay will continue. They are, according to Reuters, going forward with a rather aggressive schedule for deciding the overall constitutionality of proposition -- of the proposition that banned same-sex marriage in California. The Reuters says they want the briefs from the respective parties to come forward between September 17th and November 1st, at which point they would consider the final constitutionality of gay marriage in California. We'll stay on top of the story. As of now gay marriage will not resume at 5:00 p.m. California time on Wednesday. The state continues at least according to the ninth circuit court of appeals.

The issue of a mosque planned near ground zero has spilled over from Manhattan. How President Obama's comments have now made it part of the national debate, just three months out from the midterm elections. That's coming up on "JOHN KING USA" at the top of the hour.

And a new car commercial starring a chimp triggers complaints from an animal rights group. What happened next made everyone happy. CNN's Jeanne Moos checks it out.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots. In Manila, Philippines a worker sorts through recyclable plastic at a junk shop. In China, a woman sells traditional music instruments outside a garden. In India a worker dries noodles used to make a sweet traditional dish. And near Berlin in Germany, a bee pollinates a sunflower in full bloom. Hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Put a chimp in a car commercial and an animal rights group together and you could get a battle royal. Thanks to rewriting everyone is satisfied, even happy with the final product. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with a most unusual dispute.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold it. Hold it.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the story of what happened when Dodge got a tongue-lashing from the animal rights group PETA for using a chimp in their commercial. This is the spot before PETA complained.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This event could not more amazing. Wait, there's a monkey. I stand corrected.

MOOS: And this is the re-edited after PETA complained version.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait there's an invisible monkey. Unbelievable.

MOOS: Monkey see, monkey do. Do not see monkey. Okay, it's a chimp not a monkey. Those who hate PETA were thrilled. Finally someone stood up to the morons at PETA. Genius Dodge genius, if the genius could not spell it. We read some of the praise to the CEO of Dodge. Good on Chrysler for giving PETA the finger. I mean --

RALPH GILLES, PRESIDENT & CEO, DODGE: Oh, my gosh. Definitely not the intent.

MOOS: Some people are interpreting this as Dodge poking PETA in the eye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is not the case. The response has been completely enthusiastic.

MOOS: Not only did Dodge change the commercial, it pledged to never again use great apes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're absolutely delighted.

MOOS: Dodge's CEO said he was touched when PETA told him baby chimps are torn from their mothers to be trained to act often kept in deplorable conditions, sometimes whacked as this PETA video seems to show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Dodge we learn from our mistakes.

MOOS: This is great for Dodge, because it turned out the invisible monkey is getting greater visibility than the original monkey. All glory to the invisible monkey posted one fan. The invisible monkey saga became a Taiwanese animated re-creation that ends with PETA and Dodge toasting the invisible monkey. Whoever came up with the invisible monkey is the hero here, right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my agency WNK. They're awesome.

MOOS: To get from this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait there's a monkey.

MOOS: To this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait there's an invisible monkey.

MOOS: They have to have the voice over retracted by the actor that plays serial killer Dexter no less.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not joking. I kill people.

MOOS: People maybe, but at least not monkeys.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Remember, you can follow what's going on behind the scenes on THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn, wolfblitzercnn all one word.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.