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Romney and Ryan Launch Bus Tour; Obama Camp Reacts to Ryan Pick; Earthquakes Strike Iran; Clinton Holds Talks on Syria; Murfreesboro Mosque Opens; South Sudanese Marathoner in the Olympics
Aired August 11, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Mitt Romney and his newly announced running mate aren't wasting any time hitting the campaign trail. Just a few hours after introducing Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, the presumptive Republican ticket is making its case to voters in Virginia.
Right now, they are in Virginia, getting ready to hold their third event of the day, a rally in the town of Manassas. CNN's national political correspondent Jim Acosta is on the way to Manassas on the press bus there.
So Jim, what's the message that Romney and Ryan are holding onto?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've seen a lot of messages today from the Romney/Ryan ticket -- we can now call it that -- starting this morning, where Mitt Romney really threw down the gauntlet to the Obama campaign and said, This is not going to be about personal attacks in this campaign, it's going to be about the issues. And they started to get into some of those issues. Paul Ryan, of course, took the stage and talked about the need to cut the national debt in this country.
And then, Fredricka, some of that that we saw at the second event in Ashland, Virginia, which was very interesting. They started to sharpen their rhetoric on the Obama campaign, on the president. We saw Paul Ryan introduce Mitt Romney and say, talking about the economy, It doesn't have to be this way. We can do better.
And then Mitt Romney got on stage, and at one point basically warned the crowd, warned Republicans that the attacks are going to be coming from Democrats, to get ready for these attacks coming from Democrats, aimed at Paul Ryan. And it was something that he had described as getting dragged down in the dirt. So Mitt Romney's sort of preparing Republicans for the onslaught that will be coming.
We're on our way to the third and final event of the day. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will be taking the stage in Manassas, in the voter-rich section of northern Virginia. This is the key battleground of the state of Virginia. If one of these campaigns is going to emerge victorious here, they're going to have to win northern Virginia. And I think, Fredricka, one thing that we're going to see in the coming days, we're going to start to see Paul Ryan sort of come into his own as a candidate on this ticket. Tomorrow, both of these men will be going on to North Carolina for a couple events there. They're going to be going then to Wisconsin for sort of a homecoming for Paul Ryan.
But we've just confirmed with the Romney/Ryan campaign that on Monday, Paul Ryan will be going to the Iowa State Fair, where he'll be campaigning on his own. Mitt Romney will be going back down to Florida, and then on to Ohio to finish up this bus trip. But then Paul Ryan will be emerging at that point as the top surrogate of this campaign at the Iowa State Fair, which is obviously full of lots of color and a few voters out there who know their way around a voting booth.
The Iowa voters are a shrewd bunch and they'll be putting Paul Ryan to the test.
WHITFIELD: So Jim, you know, is Romney revealing in any greater detail why he selected, you know, Paul Ryan?
ACOSTA: Well, one thing I heard from a Romney adviser today about why this pick, why now, they do want to have a conversation about the social safety net in this country, the entitlement debt load that the country faces right now.
And Paul Ryan is the embodiment of that debate. After all, he is the House Budget Committee chairman who laid out that fiscal blueprint that called for a partial privatization of Medicare for future seniors.
Now, the Obama campaign loves all of this. They think this is going to work to their advantage -- senior voters down in Florida. But the Romney and Ryan campaign -- this is a calculated risk that they're making, Fredricka. They are making the -- they're taking the gamble here and making the gamble here that the voters out there want to have this conversation, even if they may not necessarily agree with this ticket on some of these issues.
Of course, the Romney campaign also put out some guidance earlier today that as president, Mitt Romney will be writing his own budget. He's not going to be passing Paul Ryan's budget word for word, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jim Acosta traveling with the Romney/Ryan camp now, appreciate that -- through Virginia.
All right, the White House responded to Ryan's selection by tying him to the policies that crashed the economy. CNN's Jessica Yellin is at the White House.
Jessica, what, specifically, is the Obama camp saying?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Well, it's the Obama campaign that is slamming this choice as a sign that Mitt Romney is doubling down, if you will, on the narrative that the Obama campaign's built that Mitt Romney, in their words, wants to slash taxes for the wealthy on the backs of the middle class.
In a statement from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, he says the Ryan budget is a new budget -- supports new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy by putting greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, and describes Ryan as the architect of the radical Republican House budget.
And I'll tell you that I spoke to an official there who, you know, laughs that the Romney -- that the -- candidate Romney is trying to distance himself from Ryan's budget, as Jim pointed out, the same day that he's picking Ryan as his vice presidential candidate.
WHITFIELD: So clearly, this is going to shape some of the campaign ads that we've been seeing from, you know, the campaign -- from the Obama campaign and perhaps even from some of those super-PACs for President Obama, as well.
YELLIN: Well, absolutely. You can see where this is headed already. The Obama team is up with a video they blasted out to supporters today. This is on the Web. And it makes their argument that Ryan -- Paul Ryan's budget, which he proposed to the House of Representatives, makes cuts that would hurt, in the Obama campaign's view, women, the elderly -- I think we have a bit of that video if we could roll it -- women, the elderly, veterans, students and middle class families.
What you should take away from this is the Obama team's thinking that this can be targeted to different key constituencies that can turn out in the election. This is not just about -- the one big thing you keep hearing is that Medicare and the way it deals with Medicare hurts seniors.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jessica Yellin at the White House, thanks so much for that.
People in Iran -- well, they're staying outdoors, fearing the worst isn't over. Two powerful earthquakes killed dozens and injured hundreds, as well. We'll get a live update on the aftershocks.
WHITFIELD: All right, new reports coming out of northwestern Iran paint a picture of widespread destruction and loss of life after two powerful earthquakes. The Fars News Agency says the quakes destroyed four villages near the city of Tabriz. Sixty other villages are severely damaged, and as we understand, Fars is reporting that the number of injuries and the death toll are in the hundreds.
Let's bring in meteorologist Tom Sater with the latest on this. Tom, it seems when Iran has these earthquakes, they are so severe. We can't forget that just a few years ago, there was a huge, widespread earthquake that claimed hundreds of lives.
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. There were actually two in recent history. The year 2002, they had a 6.5 magnitude quake, killed 227. But in 1999, they had a 7.4, and that killed about 47,000.
So when you look at the strength of the magnitudes across the world, typically, when it comes to 6.0 to 6.9 magnitude quakes, around the globe, we have about 137 of them a year. Now, strong is considered 6 to 6.9, but it depends on the structure, what it's made of, the materials. This is a real rocky terrain here.
And for the most part I want to give you an idea of what we're talking about, where we are in the world, just to give you an idea. Of course, this is Iran. Here's Tehran. This is the Caspian Sea. You've got Turkmenistan to the east. Here's Azerbaijan.
Now, to the north -- what's so interesting about the quakes today is that Ahar has a population of 94,000, Tabriz to the southwest has 1.4 million people living there. Now, the first quake, just 60 kilometers from the magnitude -- first quake -- excuse me. I knew I was going to go metric on you. I'm from CNN International.
SATER: That's about 36 miles, OK? But to give you an idea, it was just 11 minutes apart from each other, within 11 minutes and only seven miles. So for the most part, when you look at these quakes, not only was it the time short and they're almost twins, but it's basically what we look at is the depth, so shallow in this mountainous zone, 6.5 miles deep, the second one only a 6.9.
You like to have these at least 18 to 20 miles deep so the earth's crust can absorb all this energy. They've had at least 17 aftershocks, magnitude 4.5 to 5.0. It's hard to say -- now, they're in darkness. They're about 8.5 hours ahead of us, so it's hard to say how many hundreds of thousands are sleeping in darkness right now in makeshift tents. It's going to be -- take some time. They could have aftershocks for two weeks, most likely, and so the death toll, which is up to about 153 now, has just doubled in the last hour.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And with that darkness, so many people feel like they're safer by being outdoors.
SATER: That's right.
WHITFIELD: It's really they're concerned about the infrastructure there. But in the dark, you don't -- you know, you're only going to go by senses. You're not going to know where to go, what's a safe...
WHITFIELD: ... you know, respite...
SATER: And these aftershocks could continue for two more weeks.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. All right, Tom Sater, thanks so much. Appreciate that.
All right, weighing the options now. As Syrian rebels and government forces battle it out on the streets of Aleppo, the U.S. and Turkey talked about taking steps to end this crisis.
WHITFIELD: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Turkey discussing the Syrian crisis. She's been meeting with Turkish leaders and Syrian opposition activists. And Ivan Watson has details now from Istanbul.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "There is a very clear understanding about the need to end this conflict quickly, but not doing it in a way that produces even more deaths, injuries and destruction."
(voice-over): This was a direct quote from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after a round of talks with the Turkish foreign minister here in Istanbul on Saturday, this announcement coming 17 months after the uprising began in Syria, after the deaths, by conservative estimates, of more than 17,000 people, and after the UNHCR registered nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees that have fled across borders to neighboring countries and many more believed to have gone across borders, fleeing the violence unofficially, Clinton announcing after these talks that it was now time to set up a working group with their Turkish allies that would include intelligence and military assets and that they would work on setting up contingency plans in the event of the downfall of the Assad regime, basically, analysis for the future about the crisis that has been tearing Syria apart for more than a year.
(on camera): When asked about what fears Clinton had about Syria, she said one fear was that it could become a breeding ground for terrorism. Take a listen.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We worry about terrorists, PKK, al Qaeda, and others taking advantage of the legitimate fight of the Syrian people for their freedom to use Syria to promote their own agendas and even to, perhaps, find footholds to launch attacks against others.
WATSON: In private conversations with CNN, Turkish officials have expressed frustration with what they have characterized as U.S. foot- dragging on the biggest crisis currently facing the Middle East, one Turkish diplomat saying that it feels like Turkey's been left alone to deal with the refugee crisis and the conflict across the border.
(voice-over): Another Turkish diplomat telling CNN now that the U.S. asked for this special round of urgent talks with the Turkish prime minister and president and foreign minister, that now it appears the U.S. is starting to recognize the severity of this conflict and this crisis for the region.
(on camera): During her visit, Mrs. Clinton also met with Syrian activists, one dissident activist telling CNN that she specifically asked about which groups and opposition leaders would be worth giving U.S. money to and which groups they should not give money to.
Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.
WHITFIELD: It's been delayed by protests, legal troubles, and vandalism. Despite the odds, a mosque in Tennessee has opened its doors. But the security concerns remain.
And tomorrow, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is celebrating "Robot Week" on his new show, "THE NEXT LIST." On "THE NEXT LIST," Dr. Sanjay Gupta profiles Ben Kaufman (ph), founder and CEO of Quirky.com.
BEN KAUFMAN, FOUNDER & CEO, QUIRKY.COM: I really enjoy the design and the creative process, and like, you know, pulling little levers there and tweaking little details from a design perspective.
But what really gets me excited is when I -- literally, when I hand an inventor their product for the first time, a product that they conceived on a napkin and posted on the Internet. And here I am, some random dude, handing it to them and it's a real, live physical thing that they're going to be able to buy at Target next week. That to me is the most special part of the project.
WHITFIELD: A Tennessee mosque that opponents fought to keep closed held prayer services for the first time Friday. The Islamic Center in Murfreesboro has endured two years of court challenges, protests, even a bomb threat and an arson attack. Opponents claim mosque leaders are trying to spread radical Islam. But the mosque held its first prayer session under a temporary permit. George Howell has details.
SALEH SBENATY, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MURFREESBORO: When we broke ground, I broke down.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sitting in this mosque for the first time after a two-year struggle to see it built, Saleh Sbenaty's dream is now reality.
SBENATY: I'm 54 years old, and I've seen a lot, you know? And it's not easy to get excited about something anymore. But this is certainly something that I hold above and beyond anything that I've done in my whole life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love your neighbor as yourself is a concept existing with any religion.
HOWELL: Inside, it's a 12,000-square-foot facility, much larger than the old mosque members outgrew.
AMIRAH FATHY, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MURFREESBORO MEMBER: We've been waiting so long to have a proper place to pray. I mean, it feels really good.
HOWELL: While there is excitement and relief about opening these doors, there's also real concern.
REMZIYA SULEYMAN, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MURFREESBORO MEMBER: We knew that possibility something could go wrong, and I have to -- we have to thank God that it didn't. You know, that's always in the back of your mind, what could happen.
HOWELL (on camera): It's been a very charged climate -- the Sikh shooting in Milwaukee, you know about the mosque that burned down in Missouri. Are you concerned about this mosque expanding, opening after two years of controversy?
VIRGIL GAMMON, DEPUTY CHIEF, RUTHERFORD CO. SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Well, we don't -- we don't -- we don't feel like we need to be because of the events we've seen occur up until now have not been violent in that sense, on that level.
HOWELL (voice-over): Law enforcement is keeping a close watch, given the short history of this mosque. In just two years, it's been the target of vandalism, arson, and even a bomb threat, resistance, Sbenaty believes, being pushed by a larger national agenda.
SBENATY: The true people of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County are not representative of the two years that have passed, and they are behind us now.
HOWELL: While he doesn't expect everyone to understand his religion or even agree, Sbenaty says simply he believes in what it means to be an American, the promise of religious freedom regardless of what you believe.
George Howell, CNN, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
WHITFIELD: I spoke with the imam of that Tennessee mosque, and hear what he has to say about the healing properties for the entire community with the opening of this building. All that tomorrow at 5:00 o'clock Eastern time. And you can also catch Soledad O'Brien's documentary "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" tomorrow night, 8:00 and 11:00 o'clock Eastern right here on CNN.
WHITFIELD: Our top story, Mitt Romney and his newly announced running mate aren't wasting any time hitting the campaign trail. Romney introduced Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick earlier this morning, and they're making their case to voters in Virginia today. Romney, boasts (ph) Paul (ph) as, quote, "an intellectual leader of the Republican Party and a person who will help lead the country," quote, "to widespread and shared prosperity," end quote.
A gunman dressed in civilian clothing has opened fire at a military base in the Garmsir district of southwestern Afghanistan. Three U.S. Marines were killed. Also Friday, three U.S. special forces soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman.
All right, back in the U.S., people are living near -- people, rather, living near a huge sinkhole in southern Louisiana are under a mandatory evacuation order. The sinkhole has swallowed an area the size of a football field. A company mining a salt cavern may have triggered it. To make matters worse, about 150 homes might be sitting on a chemical powder keg. If drilling a relief well hits a pool of underground liquid butane, the whole area could go up in flames.
All right, people who live in the world's newest nation of South Sudan have a big reason to watch the Olympics. A hometown favorite is running in that marathon tomorrow. His goal isn't just to win a medal, but to outrun his violent past.
WHITFIELD: Dozens of elite runners will be competing in the Olympic marathon on Sunday, but one man stands out among them. Guar Marial will be carrying the hope of the world's youngest nation on his shoulders. Here's Becky Anderson.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For many, the marathon is the most grueling of Olympic events. But Sunday's race will be nothing compared to what Guar Marial has endured so far in his young life.
Guar was born in what is now South Sudan, the world's newest country after it became an independent state in July 2011, ending decades of civil war. South Sudan doesn't yet have an Olympic committee. The games haven't exactly been the country's top priority. But the IOC granted him permission to run as an independent.
(on camera): I know that you, sadly, lost a lot of friends and family...
GUAR MARIAL, SOUTH SUDAN MARATHON RUNNER: Yes.
ANDERSON: ... on the way, didn't you.
MARIAL: Yes, I did. And not just only my family, but I'm very concerned about the two million people who died for freedom. That's -- it's for to me, it feels like that's my family right there.
ANDERSON (voice-over): Guar lives in the United States, where he fled to escape the bloody conflict. He hasn't seen his parents since 1993, but running on Sunday means they may get a chance to catch a glimpse of him after so many years.
MARIAL: I talked with them the day before I took the plane to London. Like, 40 people from (INAUDIBLE) were on the phone. They were kind of fighting on the phone. The other one...
MARIAL: ... would want to take the phone, try to talk to me. So it was very exciting to be able to hear my dad, especially my dad. It's a big -- is big influence to me.
ANDERSON: Even though he won't compete under his country's flag, Guar Marial basks with pride as the first athlete from the world's youngest nation.
FREDRICK WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That was Becky Anderson reporting. Of course, we wish him and all the other marathoners the best tomorrow in the final day of competition in the Olympic Games. That's going to do it for me.
Fredricka Whitfield. We'll have much more in THE NEWSROOM in about 30 minutes. But for now, time for SANJAY GUPTA, M.D.