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THE SITUATION ROOM
Tensions Boil Over possible government shutdown; New trouble targeting Gadhafi; Libyan Rebels in Panicked Retreat; Should U.S. Recognize the Rebels?; Meeting With Gadhafi; Washington, D.C. to Feel Burden of Shutdown; Religious Leaders Fast to Protests Cuts for Poor
Aired April 7, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Don, thanks very much.
Happening now, the top U.S. general in charge of the military mission in Libya now expressing doubts that the opposition has the manpower to topple Moammar Gadhafi, as deadly new air strikes force rebel fighters into another retreat. This hour, I'll speak with a former Republican Congressman who's in Tripoli right now trying to get Gadhafi to step down.
Also, growing outrage across the United States, amidst new signs tomorrow's potential government shutdown may -- repeat may be unavoidable. Why one lawmaker is telling Congress -- and I'm quoting right now -- "go straight to hell."
And possible presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, on a mission to tell President Obama, "you're fired." We're fact checking his controversial investigation into the president's birth.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first, the political showdown over the budget, as tensions reach a boiling point about 31 hours until impending government shutdown. Just hours from now, President Obama will meet with Republican House speaker, John Boehner, and the Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, for further negotiations. Those talks scheduled to begin 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Hundreds of thousands of people across the country will be impacted by the shutdown. And we'll be bringing you examples throughout the next two hours.
One place it would be felt heavily is right here in Congress' backyard, the city of Washington. Washington, DC -- its spending is tied to the federal budget. And this major metropolitan area could lose millions of dollars while a number of critical services, like trash collection, for example, would be suspended for at least a week.
Today, an enraged Eleanor Holmes, the delegate representing Washington, DC, lit into Congress over the stalemate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: It's one thing to beat up on the District of Columbia. It's another thing drop a bomb on the city. And that's what this Congressional -- C.R. does. It takes the route of authoritarian governments and dictatorships by dictating to a local government how it may spend its local funds. And it may force the District of Columbia government to shut down, although our government had a balanced budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And get this -- the members of Congress charged with reaching a deal, they'll still be receiving a paycheck if there's a shutdown, despite the hundreds of thousands of government employees who won't be receiving any paychecks. The current Congressional salary, by the way, $174,000 a year.
Our CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill with the latest developments -- Dana, specifically, where are the sticking points right now?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:
Well, look, Wolf, this is effectively a bill to fund the government. And the sticking points certainly are about how much spending to cut. That's what this whole issue has been about.
However -- however, one of the main issues, I am told, that were just -- that was discussed at the White House meeting this afternoon with the president, the House speaker and the Senate majority leader, was over not necessarily spending measures, but over lightning rod issues like regulating greenhouse gases and abortion.
BASH (voice-over): One of the biggest disagreements is not over government spending, but policy.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Some 40 or 50 policy restrictions that were attached to -- to our bill.
BASH: So-called policy riders Republicans call essential and Democrats call nonstarters. The most divisive is over abortion. A GOP plan to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion procedures in addition other women's health services.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a budget. This is to keep our country running. This is not a woman's health bill.
BASH: Planned Parenthood staged a rally outside the Capitol to protest.
CECILE RICHARDS, CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: They don't want to allow Planned Parenthood to serve the three million women that we see every single year. Ninety-seven percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are preventive care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I certainly don't think that taxpayers should subsidize abortions. It's -- if a woman chooses to have an abortion, it's legal to do that in this country. But I don't think taxpayers should be put in a position to have to pay for those abortions.
BASH: Another major sticking point -- how much spending to cut. A Democratic source tells CNN they have finally tentative agreement on slashing $34.5 billion from the rest of this year's budget. But a Republican source says there's no deal.
BOEHNER: There is no agreement on the number. There are no agreement on the policy issues that are contained with it.
BASH: Then there's the critical issue of what programs and agencies to cut. Democrats say they're trying to find spending cuts with the least impact on those who need it most. So they're pushing for things like temporary one year cuts in programs. Some examples, cuts in wetlands protection and Pell grants for summer school and graduate students.
Republicans call that smoke and mirrors.
BOEHNER: And our goal is to make real spending cuts.
BASH: Some examples of what Republicans want to cut -- money for food inspectors, Head Start education programs and funding for housing.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: This afternoon, House Republicans did pass a bill to keep the government running for one week past tomorrow's midnight deadline. It has $12 billion in cuts. It would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the year. But Democrats, including the president of the United States, call it a distraction and they say that they really want to keep the focus on what they're negotiating, which is a bill that would keep the government open -- keep the government functioning and funded for the rest of the year.
BLITZER: And the president's playing hardball. He's saying he'll veto that legislation --
BASH: He was, yes.
BLITZER: -- if it were to pass the Senate and come to his desk. I hear, Dana, that some employees already are getting furloughing notices.
Tell us about that.
BASH: It's true. This is just preventive. But all across the Capitol here today, people in offices and -- and -- well, really, everywhere -- were told whether or not, if, in fact, it does come to a government shutdown, if they're going to be here or not. And this is an example. We obtained one of the furlough notices. And I'll just read you a line. This -- imagine if this came across your desk. It says: "Because your services are not needed for the orderly suspension of operations and you're not engaged in one of the accepted functions, you're being placed on furlough effective Saturday, April 9, 2011."
Now, again, of course, this is just protective. The government is still open. But interesting that they're already getting ready for a government shutdown and telling people who will come to work and not.
One more note. Even people who are here, who are called essential, they're not going to get paid, either.
BLITZER: All right, Dana.
Don't go too far away.
We'll be in close touch.
The impact of the potential government shutdown is even being felt on the front lines of combat in Afghanistan. And Iraq. The Defense secretary, Robert Gates, is in Iraq right now. And he's telling U.S. troops they will feel a pinch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I hope they didn't have you standing out here in the sun too long
If -- if the government shutdown starts on the 8th and goes for a week, you'd get a half a check. If it goes from the 15th to the 30th, you wouldn't get a paycheck on the 30th but you would be back paid for all of it. So that's -- that's the deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Not great deal.
Gates also told the troops this would likely be his last trip to the country as Defense secretary and he wanted to say thank you.
He's expected to retire later this year.
Now to the deadly stalemate in Libya. New signs the military operation in the region is facing some tough new challenges.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr is here.
She's watching the story.
She's got more.
What are you learning? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there was very dramatic, very hard-nosed testimony today on Capitol Hill from the top U.S. commander responsible for the U.S. involvement in Libya, saying that Gadhafi forces are becoming increasingly difficult to target, as they are using civilian vehicles, mixing in with local populations, moving next to mosques, schools, hospitals -- all the same tactics we saw for years in Iraq.
And now, all of this today leading to a very dramatic exchange between General Carter Ham and one of the most vocal administration critics, Senator John McCain.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Hearing your testimony, General Ham, is almost an Orwellian experience for me. The fact is that if we had imposed the no-fly zone three weeks, four weeks ago, Gadhafi would not be in power today.
The fact is that the situation on the ground is basically a stalemate.
Would you say that the situation on the ground is a stalemate or an emerging stalemate?
GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Senator, I -- I would agree with that if present on the ground.
MCCAIN: So the goal -- our policy objective of the removal of Gadhafi is further from being achieved than it was three or four weeks ago.
HAM: Senator, I -- I don't know that I would agree with that. What I -- because that, again, was not a military mission. The military mission of protecting, I think, was not wholly achieved, but achieved in large part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: General Ham also acknowledging another problem -- a key U.S. aircraft, the AC-130, that flies low and slow to target on the ground, is facing what he called "a significant threat" from surface to air missiles, which he said remain effective and operational in some cases.
And, Wolf, get this. General Ham says there were about 20,000 of those surface to air missiles when the campaign started and they are concerned that an awful lot of them are still out there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much for that report.
Panicked rebels are once again on the retreat from Gadhafi's forces. Just today, at least three people were killed, another 10 injured, in new air strikes. And there are mounting questions about whether NATO could be responsible for the attack.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us now from Benghazi.
Ben's watching all of this closely.
You just heard General Ham, who is the commander of the U.S. military's Africa Command. He was in charge of the mission before handing over complete control to NATO. You just heard him say there could be a stalemate out there.
What's the sense on the ground?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the sense was a few days ago that it was, indeed, a stalemate -- sort of a seesaw battle that went back and forth between Ajdabiya and Brega.
But what we saw today was that that seesaw was tipped over. And it was a general retreat by the opposition forces from somewhere near Brega to almost the other side of Ajdabiya. This, after this air strike, which almost everybody on the ground believes to be NATO leaving not three, but four people dead. And many others are still unaccounted for.
That set off this general retreat whereby we saw all their heavy -- all of the opposition forces' heavy equipment -- multiple rocket launchers, tens and tens of these pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns streaming through Ajdabiya to the other side, the far side of the city. Some of them going all the way back to Benghazi, according to the head of the rebel forces in the eastern part of the country, Abdul Fatah Younis. He says that the Gadhafi forces were approaching Ajdabiya from three different directions.
I would not call that a stalemate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben, you got a close-up look at some of the casualties today out on the front lines.
How bad is it?
WEDEMAN: It's very bad, very bad. I mean it wasn't just fighters. It was also medics who had gone to the scene of this reported air strike, which then got hit again. So one of them was a doctor, one of them was a medic. And we were in the hospital. And there was real anger at NATO, anger at the fact that when they needed those air strikes on the Gadhafi forces, they weren't getting them. And now, for the second time in a week, there's been another strike. Now, of course, we must stress that NATO says that they -- because they don't have enough boots on the ground, they can neither confirm nor deny this was a NATO strike. But certainly, speaking to eyewitnesses in the hospital, it certainly sounded like an air strike. And there are no other planes in the skies of Libya other than NATO planes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Benghazi for us.
We'll check back.
The U.S. says Moammar Gadhafi is no longer the legitimate leader of Libya.
So why not recognize the rebels?
Why one U.S. official says it raises serious concerns.
And a former U.S. Congressman in Libya armed with a message for the Libyan dictator.
Will he get to meet with him face-to-face?
My interview with Curt Weldon, that Republican former Congressman -- that's coming up, as well.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack.
He's got some nuclear concerns on his mind with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Well, they had another little temblor in Japan -- a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Northeastern Japan today, the strongest aftershock since that massive 9.0 quake and tsunami that followed devastated that nation four weeks ago. And this one today was in roughly the same area.
One of the big concerns, of course, is possible further damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, which operates the plant -- or what's left of it -- said there were no serious incidents as a result of today's aftershock.
So they say. Radioactivity from that plant has poisoned the surrounding land, air and ocean. Millions of people have been exposed. Millions more could be, as radioactivity has been picked up in food and drinking water and detected in faraway places, like California.
This week, workers plugged a crack in the plant that had been gushing contaminated water into the ocean for weeks. As a result, TEPCO says now radiation levels in the ocean waters off the coast there have dropped dramatically.
Yesterday, the head of the United Nations' scientific committee on the effects of atomic radiation said the Fukushima accident is not expected to have any serious impact on the health of the Japanese people. He said, quote: "We have seen traces of iodine in the air all over the world, but they are much, much, much lower than traces we have seen at similar distances following Chernobyl," unquote.
Well, not everybody is convinced. In South Korea, more than 130 primary schools and kindergartens ordered closed today outside of Seoul. People there were worried that windy, rainy weather could be carrying radioactive material from Japan.
North Korea aired warnings on television for its people to stay indoors during that rain storm and to take a full shower if they were caught outside in the storm.
Even here in the United States, some chefs are now using sensors to test levels of radiation in the fish they plan to serve in restaurants.
Here's the question -- do you think you're being told the truth about the nuclear accident in Japan?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.
If your -- if your trout is he glowing, Wolf --
CAFFERTY: -- you might want to send it back and get a ham sandwich.
BLITZER: You want it well done, but not necessarily that well done.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.
Not a laughing matter.
BLITZER: Serious stuff.
BLITZER: See you in a few moments.
New questions this hour about the capabilities of the rebels in Libya and whether they have the power to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.
Should the United States -- should the United States have a hand in helping arm the rebels?
Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, with this part of the story.
What are you hearing over at the State Department -- Jill. JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, other countries have done it, other countries like France and Italy have done it -- recognizing the opposition. And supporters say now, with the rebels in retreat, the U.S. shouldn't wait.
But what would it really change anything?
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The U.S. says Moammar Gadhafi is no longer the legitimate leader of Libya.
So why not recognize the rebels?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is full of praise for them.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: These were not soldiers. These were not trained military forces. They were doctors and lawyers and university professors and economists and, you know, young men who were students. And they are being attacked by mercenaries, by ruthless forces that Gadhafi is utilizing to show no mercy against his people. And they are courageous. They are moving as fast as they can to try to form themselves into a military operation.
DOUGHERTY: Clinton has met with the rebel leaders personally, but the administration still is cautious. The president authorized the CIA to send in agents to learn about the rebels and assess their needs. Clinton's special representative, the State Department's Christopher Stevens, seen here in 2008 in Tripoli, is on the ground in Benghazi, scoping them out.
MARK TONER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We sent somebody in to get that kind of on the ground assessment of the -- of -- of their identity, of their leadership structure, to talk with them firsthand and to see what direction we think they're moving in. We've seen some positive signals.
DOUGHERTY: Recognizing the rebels, a senior official tells CNN, raises serious issues. It would acknowledge that Libya is now a divided country.
And could the U.S. be sure the group represents the whole opposition movement?
It's a bit early, this official says. Maybe they turn out not to be the right folks.
But Secretary Clinton knows the timing is urgent.
CLINTON: What NATO is doing is buying time, buying space.
DOUGHERTY: So far, the U.S. is providing what's called non- lethal humanitarian aid. The administration hasn't yet decided to arm them or provide financial assistance.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: But a senior U.S. official tells CNN there's a lot the United States could be doing right now without going so far as to recognize the rebels, pointing out that the U.S. funds political groups and other organizations around the world. But this official says you want to be careful about who they are.
So, so far, caution seems to be winning out over urgency -- Wolf.
Jill, thanks very much.
Jill is at the State Department.
The House speaker, John Boehner, may be doing double duty if the government shuts down this weekend. You're going to find out why he could be cleaning up a lot of trash in his own backyard.
And a former U.S. Congressman now on a mission to meet with Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli in person. Curt Weldon, he's here. He'll join us in THE SITUATION ROOM from Tripoli. You're going to find out who he says would be a good replacement for the embattled Libyan leader.
BLITZER: Military leaders have a message for Congress about "don't ask/don't tell."
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, military leaders say preparations for repealing "don't ask/don't tell" are going better than they expected. They testified before a House committee today about getting rid of the policy that bars openly gay service members. They caution, though, that it will take time and training to implement the repeal. And it must still be certified by President Obama, the Defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Well, your Smartphone just got a little smarter. The FCC is requiring that wireless carriers provide access to the mobile Internet anywhere it's available, even when it's offered by a competing provider. And that could be a huge -- make a huge difference to smaller carriers, who told the FCC they just can't compete otherwise against industry heavyweights like Verizon and AT&T.
New York City school chancellor, Cathie Black, is stepping down after only three months on the job. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says her short stint just didn't work out as either of them had expected or hoped. Her approval rating has plunged to 17 percent.
Black chaired "First" magazine before overseeing the nation's largest school system. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will replace her.
And a war of words is erupting between an emerging Republican star, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and his state's largest teachers' union. In a network TV interview, Christie called the union leaders, quote, "political thugs." He blames them for teacher lay-offs that he says could have been avoided if they had not opposed salary freezes. The New Jersey Education Association is firing back, accusing Christie of name-calling -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sticks and stones will break many bones.
SYLVESTER: Sticks and stones may break my bones --
BLITZER: All right.
SYLVESTER: But words never hurt me.
BLITZER: Thank you.
A former U.S. Congressman is in Tripoli, Libya right now. His goal -- to talk to Moammar Gadhafi. His message -- we'll talk about that. My interview with Curt Weldon coming up next.
Plus, we showed it to you earlier -- a member of Congress telling colleagues to, quote, "go to hell."
Now she's is joining us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES NORTON: -- of Columbia. It's another thing to drop a bomb on a city. And that's what this --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former Congressman Curt Weldon is in a -- Weldon is on a mission to Libya right now to try to meet with the embattled leader, Moammar Gadhafi. But that may be easier said than done.
Joining us now from Tripoli, former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
And joining us now from Tripoli, former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania.
Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
CURT WELDON, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your meeting with Moammar Gadhafi. I take it it has not yet happened.
Do you expect to meet with the Libyan leader? WELDON: Absolutely. The invitation that was sent to me was from his chief of staff, Bashir Salah, who I've met on all three of my official visits here in 2004 and 2005. And the letter specifically says we want you to come over and meet with the leader and our senior leadership.
And I said it's worth me coming over to support the administration and to try to let the leader know face to face that this is facing -- it's very grave timing in the situation and they have to have some movement fairly quickly or they're not going to be happy with the -- with the alternatives.
BLITZER: What's taking so long?
Why haven't you been able to meet with Gadhafi yet?
WELDON: Well, it -- that's not unusual. I mean all three of the delegation trips that I led here in 2003 and 2004 -- or, actually, 2004 and 2005 -- they always make you wait until 30 minutes before the meeting and then you go. And some of those meetings were at 10:00 at night, some were at 5:00 in the afternoon.
As you know from the excellent reporting being done by your folks here, there's a lot of security concerns, and they are very concerned where Gadhafi is at any given moment. That's one of the issues, but we have been making ourselves available.
We have been doing a lot of back-channel meetings with friends and associates that I have here, and we have met with the chief of staff and one of the sons, and today with the prime minister, a very lengthy meeting for two hours. So, we're going to give them until tomorrow. We're not going to stay beyond that. And we have given them some suggestions, and we expect a response by midday tomorrow. And if we don't, we will done exit conversation with your people and let you know our feelings.
BLITZER: What's the major headline that you got out of these meetings with other leaders? I take it you met with Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi, one of the sons of Moammar Gadhafi. What are they saying to you?
WELDON: Well, we actually didn't meet with Saif. I have met with Saif probably 10 times over the past seven years, both in America and here in Libya. I have not yet met with Saif. I have offered, if he is available.
I have met with Saadi. And the general thrust is obviously that they want peace and they want to find a way out of this. But as I have explained to them, there's certain things that have to be done according to our president and our secretary of state, who I'm here to support.
We don't have a different agenda. There's no compromise on our part. Our only mission here is to talk face to face with them and say this is reality and this is a grave situation, and you need to do certain things that we suggest that we think will get our administration to respond to your actions. And again, we're not doing any negotiating.
They know me, they have seen my efforts. I have not taken anything from their country in the way of financial benefits, and I'm here only because I want to avoid war. I don't want to see American soldiers killed, and I don't want to see more innocence Libyans killed.
BLITZER: You wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times" this week saying that once you meet face to face with Moammar Gadhafi, you will tell him to step down. Is that still your intention?
WELDON: Absolutely, Wolf. I wrote the op-ed before the trip was planned. And I wrote it, Wolf, because back in 2004, when I led the first delegation of Americans to sit down with him in the tent in Tripoli, he said to me, "Congressman, why did it take 30 years for someone from your country to come and sit with me and tell me to my face that you believe that I'm a criminal and a terrorist. And then if you didn't believe me, bomb me?"
And I said, "Leader, I can't explain that." So I said now it's time for someone to sit in a tent face to face with Colonel Gadhafi and let him know how grave this situation is.
And I'm willing to do that. And I think I'm probably the best person because I have met with him three times, and because I sat in that tent in 2004 and listened to him tell me that. So, in effect, that's why I'm here.
BLITZER: You wrote also in "The New York Times" this -- you wrote, "Colonel Gadhafi's son, Saif, a powerful businessman, a politician, could play a constructive role as a member of the committee to devise a new government structure or constitution."
You know, a lot of people, including the opposition, the rebels, as they're called, they think Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi is just as much a killer or thug as his father is, and they say they have no interest in dealing with him either.
What do you say to that criticism?
WELDON: Well, what I said, I'm not endorsing anything anyone for any office here. What I am hoping for is what the president wants, which is a free and fair election to take place, hopefully sooner rather than later.
But having been involved with Libya for seven years, I was a witness to the work that Saif did in the Lockerbie case, the La Bella nightclub bombing. I personally witnessed through the Gadhafi Foundation the work that Saif did to free up the Bulgarian nurses who were sentenced to death twice, along with a Palestinian doctor.
I have seen the work that Saif and Dr. Salani (ph) at the foundation have done in dealing with chemical weapons destruction and with the elimination of landmines and humanitarian efforts worldwide. I have been out to (INAUDIBLE), the chemical weapons plant, and I have actually seen visibly how they have removed the chemical weapons production materials. He was behind all of that.
Believe me, Wolf, I'm not happy with some of the statements and the actions that he's made over the past month, and he knows I'm not happy. But I think in a fair election, up until now, he should be given the opportunity to seek office where he can run against other candidates, perhaps, for the presidency. And so I would at this time think that he should be allowed that opportunity.
That's not to say I condone anything that he said or his actions. He will have to be accountable for those on his own.
BLITZER: Because you make him sound like he's a decent guy when so many people think he is a killer, a murderer, especially given the statements that he recently made, that if he goes into Benghazi, if he finds these rebels, he will go and kill them all. You make it sound like he's a decent guy.
WELDON: Well, I -- you know, I haven't been with him on a continual basis. I have met with him a number of times, both in the U.S. and here, under some very stressful situations, especially when it came to resolving the Lockerbie case and the La Bella nightclub. And despite what Sarkozy said about resolving the issues of the Bulgarian nurses when they were sentenced to death twice, it was Saif who played a very critical role against some very powerful forces in this country that wanted to kill those people.
You know, I don't know of any incidences where I, first hand, have seen evidence of him committing human rights violations, and if he did, he has to be held accountable like everyone else. And I have said that publicly and I will say that privately.
So my judgment is just based upon my experience with him, the fact that he is a knowledgeable person, he understands the need to interact and interface with the West. I think he could be a viable candidate. But ultimately, my opinion is hopefully going to be the opinion of the Libyan people.
BLITZER: Because you probably have seen all of the articles, the reports over the past month, month and a half, of mass murder, of killings, not only by Saif Al-Islam, but some of his brothers that have gone on, the atrocities that have been so widely reported. I hear what you're saying about his role over the recent years when the Bush administration, and later the Obama administration, was trying to improve relations with Libya, but over the past several weeks, based on all of the international reporting we have seen, it's been a brutal record that he has accomplished.
WELDON: Well, again, I don't have firsthand evidence of that. I just got here two days ago. And I fully support an international tribunal to look at human rights violations on everyone in this country. That's necessary. And if they find evidence that he has been involved in that, then he should suffer the consequences of his actions.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: In our next hour, part two of the interview with former congressman Curt Weldon. There have been some questions raised about his motive. Is he in all of this for the money? You're going to find out his answer to that and more. Stand by.
Also, Washington, D.C.'s congressional delegate is telling colleagues -- and I'm quoting her now -- "Go to hell." She is joining us live in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us why.
Plus, no budget deal, no food -- the extreme tens of thousands of people are going to as a government shutdown looms.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the outrage boiling over on Capitol Hill, only hours before a potential government shutdown.
Joining us now, the Democratic delegate representing the city of Washington, D.C., Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: Of course, Wolf.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say that Washington, D.C., a city of a population of about 600,000 people, the only major metropolitan -- the only major city in the United States that's going to foal the direct impact of a federal government shutdown so dramatically, so powerfully, because it is a federal district.
Give me an example of what's going to happen if there's a government shutdown.
NORTON: Absolutely, although your viewers will be shocked by what they are about to hear.
They know a little bit about taxation without representation -- we pay our taxes, then we have full representation in the House and the Senate. But I bet they didn't know that our local budget, without a dime of federal money in it -- and we support ourselves almost entirely -- has to be sent to the masters in the Congress to sign off on it before we can spend our own local money.
Well, listen to this, Wolf. We passed our budget in -- last spring. The appropriators signed off on it last summer.
So, why are we in a federal budget fight over their money when it is our money I am talking about? I have put forward amendments that said the district can spend its own local funds.
BLITZER: What's going to happen in the District of Columbia Saturday, Sunday, Monday, if there is a government shutdown? Give me an example or two.
NORTON: I will give you some dramatic ones. How about the shutdown of the D.C. government itself? Because since the final gavel hasn't fallen on all the federal appropriations, then the district government has now prepared to shut down on Saturday morning just because the federal government is shutting down.
We are at the height of the tourist season, the Cherry Blossom Festival. That has been severely curtailed because of the federal shutdown. That's going to -- three million people come here just in one month for the cherry blossoms. Our mayor has had to put out a list of agencies that will be open and a list of agencies that won't be open.
BLITZER: Trash collection -- will there be any trash collection in the District of Columbia?
NORTON: No trash collection, and some residents have started up a Facebook page that says if they close down the District of Columbia, we're carrying our trash to Speaker Boehner's House.
BLITZER: You don't support that do you?
NORTON: I do not.
BLITZER: All right.
NORTON: And let me just say right here, I do not. But let me tell you, I am only expressing a little of the rage that the taxpaying residents of the District of Columbia are feeling.
BLITZER: But let me ask you this, Congresswoman, because the Democrats were in control, they had a large majority in the House all of last year; in the Senate, a significant majority. They failed to pass a budget. Don't the Democrats deserve a lot of the blame for this current impasse?
NORTON: Absolutely not, because the Democrats would never have held our budget up here.
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Why didn't they pass the budget?
NORTON: Well, that doesn't have anything to do with us. This is our local money.
All it would take is -- the Democrats in the Senate are ready to agree. The president is ready to sign an amendment --
BLITZER: But they could have done this any time last year.
NORTON: Wait a minute, Wolf. Wait a minute -- an amendment that said while we're fighting it out on the federal budget, we will let the district spend its own local funds.
So that's all I'm asking. I'm not in this fight, so don't ask me why the Democrats didn't pass the Democratic budget.
I passed -- we passed our budget. Our budget is balanced. The only issue before the Senate and the House is, can we spend our local money? It doesn't have anything to do with their budget.
They can go on from now until Timbuktu. Let us spend our money and don't close down our city because the federal government can't get its act together.
BLITZER: I'm with you there. This is an outrage, the fact that there is -- if there is going to be shutdown. I'm still hoping there won't be a shutdown, but it's --
NORTON: I think there may not be.
BLITZER: -- ridiculous when you think about it, when you think about how close they are. It would be a horrible, horrible tragedy, because 800,000 people directly are going to start losing their paychecks. And the District of Columbia, which is, as you point out correctly, taxation without representation, is going to suffer a great deal more than any other city in the United States.
Good luck, Congresswoman. Thanks very much.
NORTON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I feel your pain.
Concerns within military families over a government shutdown. Also, why they are downright scared they won't be able to put food on the table.
And tens of thousands of people on a hunger strike, including some members of Congress. We'll explain why.
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do you believe you're being told the truth about the nuclear accident in January?
Fred writes, "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth."
"Just how should a government balance our right to know the truth with the perceived need to not create a panic and thus a larger problem? Can you really evacuate a million people? To where? Yes, without the truth, how can anyone try to act reasonably?"
"In the end, we do have a right to know the truth. Honesty is the best policy."
Paul in Ohio writes, "Jack, I believe they're telling what they think they know with certainty. It is most certain that they don't know everything."
Jeremy in California, "So I'm confused. Is the current California radiation level 'harmless to human health,' 'not immediately harmful to human health,' not permanently harmful to people outside the region,' or no more than an apples-to-oranges transcontinental flight?"
Craig writes, "Perspective. In Japan, they have had yet another earthquake and have lived in fear and chaos for over a month. And yet, their government hasn't shut down. Nuclear disaster, natural disaster, absolute destruction hasn't kept their elected officials from doing their duty to the people.
"Yet, in America, we get Harry Reid, John Boehner and a White House who are more concerned with the 2012 election campaign. It's times like these when we see just how far off the mark we really are."
Louis writes, "No. Just too many things going wrong. They say that the seafood will be safe. I ask this: Do fish migrate or do they set up housekeeping in one spot and then stay there? And if so, why don't I catch fish in the same place every day?"
And Jim in Colorado, "The nuclear industry telling the truth? The unicorn, garden gnome and I were talking this over just the other day, and we all agreed it could happen. Why not?"
If you want to read more about the unicorn and the garden gnome, go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: We will, for sure, Jack. Thank you. See you in a few moments.
Several sticking points in the ongoing budget negotiations, but will the government shutdown come down to money or social issues?
Plus, Donald Trump, he's making allegations about President Obama's birthplace. Does Donald Trump have any grounds for any of that? We're digging deeper for answers.
BLITZER: The growing outrage over the budget crisis isn't just about Congress' failure to reach a deal, it's also about some of the cuts that are being proposed.
Lets bring in our own Lisa Sylvester once again. She has the details -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, as congressional leaders hammer away on a budget compromise, a group of religious leaders have been fasting and praying to raise awareness of cuts in the budget that they say will harm the poor.
JIM WALLIS, PRESIDENT, SOJOURNERS: Orange juice never tasted so good.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's been 10 days since Jim Wallis last had solid food. The president of Sojourners, a Christian group that advocates for the underprivileged, is leading the charge among faith groups on a hunger fast to protest proposed cuts in the federal budget for the poor.
WALLIS: We're saying a budget is a moral document. And whether at your kitchen table, as a family, or a church or a nation, you make choices. What's important, what's not?
SYLVESTER: Wallis said in the last 10 days, more than 30,000 people around the country have joined in the fast in their own way. He says they have become a bit like God's lobbyists for the poor, putting a theological and moral spin on the cuts. Wallis said he is all for deficit reduction but --
WALLIS: I don't think doing this at the expense of the poorest people is a good choice, or hurting those who are already hurting the most is moral or even is smart.
SYLVESTER: Fiscal conservatives have suggested cuts in food stamps, foreign aid, and preschool programs for low-income families, that private groups can and should provide for the needy. But David Beckman of Bread for the World, who used to work at the World Bank, says the private sector can't fill the gap.
DAVID BECKMAN, PRESIDENT, BREAD FOR THE WORLD: All the private charitable feeding in the country amounts to about six percent of the food that poor people get from the national programs. So if you slash food stamps, as the House Republicans are proposing to do, there is no way that churches and charities and charitable people can make up for that.
SYLVESTER: Tony Hall was a member of Congress for years. As part of the fast, he is urging his former colleagues to reconsider cuts.
TONY HALL, ALLIANCE TO END HUNGER: When you make decisions about people's lives, be careful. You don't cut the poorest of the poor, because they didn't get you here. They didn't cause this mess.
SYLVESTER: On Wednesday, members of Congress began signing up for the fast.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Several members of Congress today will be joining you in this fast.
SYLVESTER: Now, Sheila Jackson Lee, Keith Ellison and Jim McGovern are among 28 congressional Democrats who have signed on so far to join the hunger fast, and they will be doing a relay, with each taking one day to fast and then passing on the fast to their colleagues.
Wallis and Hall, they're doing it a little differently. They're fasting all the way through Easter Sunday. But they say for them, this fight for the poor is larger than just the specific budget battle -- Wolf.
BLITZER: These are committed, committed people to try to help.
All right. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.
We're going back to Libya in just a few moments. Rebel forces, furious with NATO right now, the R-rated message they are sending through our own Ben Wedeman.