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The Costs of Presidential Power; Officials on Bush/Obama Meeting; How Much Power Will Biden Have?

Aired November 11, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new details on plans for an Obama White House. Officials talk about when we might hear names for cabinet posts and how much money this massive transition could cost you.
And it could look like round two between Barack Obama and John McCain. One unsettled race could set the stage for a sort of political rematch between these two rivals.

And Sarah Palin calls U.S. politics a brutal beast. She reveals how she survived and talks about if she'll enter the arena again in 2012.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Becoming the most powerful leader of the free world certainly does not come easy. And it apparently doesn't come cheap. For the first time we're learning how much this presidential transition could cost. And officials are responding to questions you want answered.

Who will help President-elect Barack Obama run the government? And will anyone in the Bush administration stay on board?

Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent Ed Henry. He's working the story for us.

Ed, you and some other reporters were briefed today on some of the details. What's going on?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff, he's now co-chair of the Obama transition. Just a few moments ago he was talking about how massive the operation is.

Basically, he's planning to employ 450 staffers to get the government going, the new government. Also spending $12 million, $5 million of that coming from taxpayer funds. They're going to raise the other $7 million themselves.

And what he talked about that's quite interesting is that they're planning to accelerate the normal timetable for rolling out cabinet appointments, top-level positions. What he was saying is in the modern era, basically, a lot of times these appointments did not come until December. John Podesta saying they're likely to get these going in November, and the reason why is the financial crisis, the concerns about al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations trying to take advantage of a transition. They want to get this government going as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: There's been a lot of speculation, as you know, that the defense secretary, Robert Gates, might be asked to stay on, maybe even for a small amount of time, as the chief Pentagon officer over there, in effect. What are you hearing?

HENRY: Everyone's trying to read the tea leaves. Here's what's interesting, is John Podesta would not play ball with the reporters on any possible names for the cabinet. But when he was asked about a possible short-term transition at the Pentagon, basically could Robert Gates stay on, as we heard a lot of speculation about, what he did say was President-elect Obama has great respect for Robert Gates.

So read into that what you will. But what we've been hearing from other transition officials privately is that Barack Obama is taking very seriously the possibility of having Robert Gates stay on temporarily, and then get a more long-term person on board.

The reason he would do that, with two wars going on, Iraq, Afghanistan, have some stability. But I can tell you, at the grassroots level, some liberal Democrats are starting to raise noise about this, saying why would you keep a Bush official on board when you're trying to have a clean slate and turn the page? It will be a very interesting decision for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: We'll see what he does. We'll see what happens with Robert Gates.

Ed Henry, we know what's happening you. Thanks very much.

He'll be here on CNN.

Barack Obama is not yet president of the United States, but he's still trying to get things done. He's still a United States senator, after all, and he is president-elect of the United States.

He apparently is urging President Bush toward some dramatic action to save jobs tied to one major struggling industry. That's just one revealing detail we're learning from the private meeting that the president-elect had with the president.

Let's go to our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. She's in Chicago where the president-elect is spending a lot of time right now, his hometown.

Candy, there are lots of questions whether there's some wheeling and dealing going on. What is going on?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are told absolutely not in yesterday's meeting between the president and the president-elect was there any quid pro quo, any wheeling and dealing for what Barack Obama would like, although he did outline his priorities to President Bush in those private meetings. It should not come as a surprise since Obama has said in public he would like sooner rather than later a second stimulus plan, that he would like help for the auto industry, and help for drowning homeowners whose homes are about to be foreclosed.

So those were on Barack Obama's priority list when he sat down with President Bush. We're told that President Bush also noted that he, in fact, would like to see passage of the Colombian Free Trade deal, something that most Democrats are against. But there was no discussion about, well, if I help you with this, will you do that? We are told, however, that Barack Obama did urge the president, at least, to do something about the failing auto industry.

Now, we also know that Capitol Hill is going to try to take this up next week, that there are lots of things going on at this point. But as far as Barack Obama was concerned, he did, in fact, urge the president to take a look at helping out the auto industry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He also spent some time on this Veterans Day, Candy, honoring the men and women who serve our country. Walk us through what he did.

CROWLEY: Well, he went to a wreath-laying ceremony here in Chicago. He was accompanied by Tammy Duckworth, a Gulf War hero. You may remember she ran for Congress but lost.

She is a big name here in Illinois. Certainly sustained egregious injuries during her time in the Gulf War. Clearly, she and Barack Obama also know each other. So he had a Veterans Day salute. That is the only time we've really seen him in public.

We do know he was going to his transition headquarters here in Chicago because there are two different transition offices, one in Chicago and one in Washington. Joe Biden also out in New Castle, Delaware, back near home where he, too, took part in a Veterans Day ceremony -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Thanks very much.

Candy's not going away. We're going to be checking back with her shortly.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: When's the last time a losing vice presidential candidate was still in the news a week after the election? Nobody seems interested in interviewing Joe Biden or, for that matter, John McCain. But we just don't seem to be able to get enough of Sarah Palin.

The news media are scrambling to get her thoughts on everything. And I could do a cheap joke about that not taking very long, but I refuse to stoop to that level.

We want to know what she thinks about the campaign, the charges from within the McCain camp that she is a whack job and a rogue. We want to know about that $150,000 wardrobe, those travel expenses for her family that were charged off to the taxpayers of the state of Alaska. It is obviously something besides her keen and subtle grasp of the complexities of being president of the United States. In fact, her apparent total lack of knowledge of the aforementioned proved to be a handicap to McCain's campaign, especially in the closing stages.

A majority of Americans felt that Sarah Palin was hurting McCain's chances rather than helping them. And yet speculation persists that the Republican Party may decide to hitch its wagon to this hockey mom from Alaska when the 2012 presidential race rolls around. Go figure.

Here's the question: Why is there still so much interest in Sarah Palin?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: : I think it's fair to say a lot of viewers out there are intrigued by this woman. And you may be happy, you may not be happy, Jack, to know she will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. I'm going to be interviewing Sarah Palin.

And I want our viewers to know they can participate in this interview as well. This is what you can do. You can send us your questions.

To upload your video questions for the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, you can go to We're going to try to get some of your questions to Governor Palin.

Tomorrow I'll be down in Miami, where she's going to be attending the Republican Governors Association meeting for that interview. We'll be doing the show from Miami tomorrow.

From the presidency -- from one president to his successor, that is. President Bush says President-elect Barack Obama asked for a bit of advice in their private meeting. And the president tells CNN what advice he gave.

You're going to get the first exclusive interview with President Bush. He spoke with our Heidi Collins just a little while ago. And he spoke about what happened at that White House meeting in the Oval Office yesterday with Barack Obama.

You're going to want to see this. Stand by.

And coming after one of the most powerful vice presidents in American history, how might Joe Biden serve in that role?

It's a decision any parent must make before a big move, where to send the children to school. You're going to find out what Michelle Obama is considering for the two Obama daughters.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A major focus on the changing of the guard in the top White House post. But what about the man who's a heartbeat away from the presidency? There will also be dramatic change in that spot. But following a powerful vice president, how much power might Joe Biden actually have?

CNN's Alina Cho takes a look -- Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. When people talk about the current vice president, Dick Cheney, one of the longest running jokes, as you well know, is that Cheney is running the country, not President Bush. Well, Joe Biden has promised he'll be a different vice president. But exactly how different? What will his role be as VP?


CHO (voice-over): He was chosen for his foreign policy experience, but some who know him best say Joe Biden's greatest asset as vice president will be his candor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One benefit above all others that Joe Biden will bring to the new administration is he will tell President Obama what he thinks, good, bad, or indifferent. Believe me.

CHO: Friends call Biden persuasive, charming, a man who has mastered the art of aisle crossing. But Biden's tendency to speak his mind unfiltered has gotten him into trouble.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy.

BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He tends to talk as he thinks, so there's a little bit of -- what is Forrest Gump's line? "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

CHO: For the past eight years, Dick Cheney has been an influential vice president. Critics argue too much so. The subject of jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president can do nothing without checking with the vice president.

CHO: Biden calls Cheney dangerous and says he'll be different.

BIDEN: The primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment.

CHO: Political expert Larry Sabato says Biden could learn from predecessors like Al Gore, who he says focused too much on pet projects like the environment.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: You didn't see Vice President Cheney taking on a wide variety of extracurricular assignments. That just doesn't work if you want to be in the inner circle of any administration.

CHO: He says Biden, to be effective, must be in the inner circle.

SABATO: The key to a successful vice presidency is proximity to the president. Biden's been around Washington long enough to know that.


CHO: Something else Biden understands, restraint. A former senior adviser told me that Biden is old-school loyal. He understands the pecking order.

So just as he'll give it to Obama with the bark off, as one said, he'll never speak out publicly against him. It's simply not his way. Others say he'll always stay above the fray. Some have said if Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff is the attack dog and the bad cop, Wolf, Biden will be the good cop -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alina, thank you.

Meanwhile, you may know that the Constitution essentially defines the vice president as being president of the U.S. Senate, but the only responsibility the vice president has is to break tie votes on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

But did you know which vice president actually murdered a man and became a fugitive? That would be Aaron Burr in his famous duel with Alexander Hamilton.

And which vice president actually joined the Confederate Army and advanced an invasion on Washington, D.C.? That would be John Breckinridge. Take a look at him. He was President James Buchanan's number two.

And which two vice presidents were never actually elected? That's Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller. Gerald Ford was Richard Nixon's second vice president. Ford became president after Nixon resigned in disgrace, and Nelson Rockefeller became vice president after Ford became president.

You following me?

And which vice president actually became involved in a scandal after a provocative photo? Harry Truman, after this photo showed him playing the piano -- he liked to play the piano. And the actress Lauren Bacall posed seductively on top. A very famous photo involving the piano.

For the first time in decades a president is moving from the suburbs into the White House. And from the moment he was elected, tight security on Barack Obama's quiet street became even tighter.

Jessica Yellin shows us what it's like to be the neighbor of the president-elect.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, folks who live next door to Barack Obama have to go through a security gauntlet just to get home. Still, they say proximity has more pluses than minuses.

(voice-over): This is the president-elect's house. And this is the president-elect's security, barricading his once quiet street 24/7. These days, being Barack Obama's neighbor is a mixed blessing. New rules, more traffic...

AVI STOPPER, HYDE PARK RESIDENT: There are tons of police cars and Secret Service on every street, it seems. You have to kind of navigate through this labyrinth to get to where you want to go.

YELLIN: ... and odd new intrusions.

DREW THOMAS, HYDE PARK RESIDENT: The other day it was three helicopters just hovering. You know, I didn't know they could do that. I guess when they start running out of gas somebody else comes to take their place.

YELLIN: The neighborhood is home to the University of Chicago, architectural landmarks, and a diverse mix of people, including Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, whose synagogue is across the street from the Obama home.

RABBI ARNOLD JACOB WOLF, CONGREGATION KAM ISAIAH ISRAEL: Prices went up. They may go down now because of all the security that prevents you from going to your own house or your own synagogue.

YELLIN: His congregants have to show ID every time they come, all 1,000 of them.

So how do they feel about their famous neighbor?

WOLF: Mostly a little excited, you know. Like this is the center of the world.

YELLIN: Most residents we spoke with say Obama's security is making the community safer. And they're hopeful his fame will bring tourists and money, perhaps to the city of Chicago as well. This city has had its share of trouble. As the murder capital of the U.S., its reputation could use some burnishing.

(on camera): Chicago has come to be known for its deep dish pizza, Al Capone, and "Saturday Night Live" send-ups of its die-hard sports fans. Oprah brought glamour, and now Barack Obama is bringing Chicago global prestige.

(voice-over): The eyes of the world were on the celebration at Grant Park last week. Chicago's Mayor Daley believes Obama will continue to draw attention this way. MAYOR RICHARD DALEY (D), CHICAGO: His roots are here, you know, in the sense that his children were born here and his wife is from here. And he has many of his friends right from Chicago that are here.

YELLIN: He also believes Obama's Chicago roots could serve him as he develops policy in Washington.

DALEY: Just think, it's the first time since John F. Kennedy we've had a president from an urban community like ours. And so you don't have to educate himself and his staff all about urban issues.

YELLIN: The big question is, where will Obama make the western or Midwestern White House? Maybe right here in the Windy City?


YELLIN (on camera): We've been hoping he might make the summer White House here in Chicago and the winter White House in Hawaii -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jessica Yellin.

I just want to correct one thing I said, that he was moving from the suburbs. Hyde Park is right in the city of Chicago. He's not moving from the suburbs into the White House, he's moving from the city of Chicago right into the White House. I want to stand corrected and be precise when we're talking about the Windy City.

Illinois, by the way, has now provided the country with four presidents. Ronald Reagan is the only one who was born there. He was governor of California when he came -- before coming to the White House, but he was actually born in Tampico, Illinois, and he went to school in nearby Dixon, where he was active in football, basketball, track and drama.

Three other presidents were living in Illinois when they were elected: Ulysses Grant, Abraham Lincoln, and, of course, now Barack Obama. Illinois and the presidency.

Back in the public eye. For the first time since admitting an affair, the former presidential candidate John Edwards will speak out about last week's election.

And a bruising political fight echoes the presidential race. The battle lines are drawn in Georgia's Senate race.

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



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the former president Jimmy Carter has some recommendations for Barack Obama. And President Bush tells us a little about his meeting with the president-elect.

Stand by for those interviews.

Obama's victory is providing a boost to gun store owners. People worried about possible anti-gun legislation, they're racing to buy firearms right now.

And it could be the nation's nastiest political battle. The Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is going into extra innings, and it's getting uglier.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The changing face of power in Washington is decidedly Democratic. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the President-elect Barack Obama will set the legislative agenda. And that's just what John McCain warned against in the final days of his campaign.

How do voters feel about handing so much power over to the Democrats?

Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider is looking at some brand-new poll numbers -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, are the voters happy to see Democrats control everything? They ought to be. It was the voters who gave them all that power.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Democrats now have a solid majority in both houses of Congress. Barack Obama got the largest majority for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson.

Do the voters think it's good for the country or bad for the country for the Democrats to have so much power? Good, actually. It was the voters who did it, after all, despite Republican warnings.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes. But that's exactly what's going to happen when the Democrats have total control in Washington.

SCHNEIDER: Obama promised change. And now the voters expect him to deliver.

OBAMA: Change has come to America.


SCHNEIDER: But do voters really have that much confidence in the Democratic Party? Actually, they sent a partisan message in last week's election: up with Democrats, down with Republicans. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The American people spoke out loudly and clearly that they wanted a new direction for America.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty-two percent of the public now has a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. That's the highest opinion of the Democrats in at least 16 years, since before Bill Clinton got elected. Only 38 percent have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party.

When has the Republican Party image ever been that bad? Answer: when the Republican Congress impeached President Clinton at the end of 1998.

Do Americans really have a lot of confidence in the Democratic leaders of Congress? Well, more than they used to. Right now, the public is divided over whether Democratic leaders of Congress are doing a good job or not. Believe it or not, that's a big improvement.

But it's not the leaders of Congress that voters think of when they think about the new face of Democratic Party. It's Barack Obama. Asked whether they are more likely to trust Obama or the Democratic leaders in Congress when they disagree on an issue, Obama wins hands down.

(on camera): There's an opening here for new Democratic majority. But it's just that, an opening. It all depends on how President Obama does and whether he can overcome the red/blue divide in the country, something neither of the baby boomer presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, could do -- Wolf.


SCHNEIDER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

One of three contested Senate races in the country is being billed as a rematch of the McCain/Obama battle. Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is expected to be in a runoff with his Democratic challenger, Jim Martin.

CNN's Rusty Dornin is working the story for us.

Rusty, lots at stake here. What's the latest?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is at stake could be a filibuster-proof majority for the Democrats in the Senate. Both Senate candidates hit the ground running this week. One is using big names to sway voters. The other is bringing in the ground troops.


DORNIN (voice-over): Locked in a hotly contested race, U.S. senatorial candidates in Georgia are pleading for some big-name help. In his first post-election appearance, Senator John McCain will stump for Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss. There are also promises from Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney and a request for Sarah Palin. SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: The purpose of getting those folks in, though, is just to let them come in and show excitement and enthusiasm on their part, which translates into excitement and enthusiasm on the part of the voters here.

DORNIN: Both sides are in full campaign mode for the runoff, even though the November election won't be certified until later this week.

Chambliss holds a slim lead over Democrat Jim Martin, but he needs one vote over 50 percent to win. Martin won in many urban areas where the vote for Obama was the strongest. The candidate is looking for links to the big winner.


NARRATOR: Now Jim Martin will work with Barack Obama to get our economy moving again.

Jim Martin for Senate. America is back.


DORNIN: No word yet whether Obama will campaign here, but at least 100 field officers from other states will pitch in behind the scenes.

Martin can also count on workers from 25 of Obama's Georgia campaign offices.

JIM MARTIN (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We were working with the Obama campaign all along. So, we benefit from that, because we have been reaching out to voters in a grassroots way.

DORNIN: In his first runoff campaign ad, Chambliss darkly alludes to the gathering momentum by Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Martin wins, that gets the Democrats that much closer to 60 in the Senate. And, at 60, they can do just about anything they want.


DORNIN: Georgia's a must-win for Republicans, who want to prevent Democrats from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.


DORNIN: And the Democrats need three more seats to get that majority. The other two runoff elections of course are in Minnesota and Alaska. And in all three of these runoff races, the three Republican incumbents are fighting for their political lives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're watching all this with Rusty. Thank you, Rusty.

As the Republican Party tries to regroup after the election, it's asking for feedback online. Today, the GOP is launching a new active -- interactive Web site, asking for input about the direction of the party.

Let's go to our Internet -- Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what do they have in mind here?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for the last few days, conservatives online have been urging the Republican National Committee to do more on the Internet, to reach out more.

But it sounds like the party's been listening. This is a new site that has just launched today, Republican For a Reason, inviting people to give their input right here on what's been going right and what's been going wrong. And it looks like people are weighing in already. One of the earliest submissions is this popular YouTube video from a self-described Christian conservative.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of conservatives may not like what I have to say. John McCain, you know we got mad respect for you. And you know you got mad respect coming from even the other side of the aisle.

But I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that John McCain was not my first pick. And I backed John McCain, against my better judgment. My feelings for Sarah Palin haven't changed, though.


TATTON: One of the earliest submissions coming in there, Wolf. It sounds like they're about to get an earful.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Coming up: a CNN exclusive. The president of the United States, George W. Bush, he gives his first interview since the election to our own Heidi Collins. And he's talking about his meeting yesterday in the Oval Office with Barack Obama.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a good conversation. I was very pleased.


BLITZER: All right, you're going to hear what else the president had to say about the president-elect, the election, those negative polls about him. Also, you will hear what he's saying about the troops on this Veterans Day. And what's next for Sarah Palin? Just one week after the election, and she's talking about 2012.

Plus, he caucuses with the Democrats, but supported John McCain. So, what's next in the U.S. Senate for Joe Lieberman?

Stay with us. We have news.


BLITZER: President Bush opening up, speaking today about Barack Obama, what's going on, advice he has for the president-elect, patriotism and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Governor Sarah Palin calls U.S. politics a brutal beast, and likens herself to a survivor.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's working this story.

She has no intention, Brian, of fading away.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. She seems, actually, intent, Wolf, on getting the last word on campaign '08. And she may also be laying the groundwork for another run as well.


TODD (voice-over): A media blitz for the former vice presidential candidate -- on CNN, Alaskan media, FOX, and NBC, Sarah Palin is giving her view on why Republicans lost last week and whether she will run again for president or vice president.

She tells FOX News Channel this.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere -- this is what I always pray -- I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. And even if it's cracked up a little bit, maybe I will plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it, but don't let me miss an open door.

And, if there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it's something that's going to be good, for my family, my state, my nation, an opportunity for me, then I will plow through that door. But I can't predict what's going to happen.


TODD: Palin says she was disappointed on election night when she came prepared with her own victory speech and concession speech, but was barred by McCain campaign aides from taking a turn at the podium. Two McCain sources have told CNN that Palin was not familiar with the protocol of a concession speech. In light of reports questioning everything from her clothing to her competence, she was asked by NBC how she feels about the rough-and-tumble of campaigning.


PALIN: If your skin isn't thick enough to take it as a candidate, really, you have got no business running for public office, because it is pretty brutal, you know, and you take the good with the bad. And it is, like Todd says, all a part of this -- this beast called politics in America.



TODD: After this impromptu media tour, if she is planning another run, one admirer has this recommendation.

MATT LEWIS, TOWNHALL.COM: I think that I would advise Sarah Palin to really go to school. I mean, there's no doubt that she has the charisma and the talent and the intelligence. But she does lack some knowledge. And -- but that can be corrected.


TODD: Now, tomorrow, Sarah Palin arrives at the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami, where she has scheduled both a speech and a press conference.

On Thursday, Wolf, another chance for her to kind of launch herself back into the limelight.

BLITZER: And we will be down in Miami tomorrow speaking with her. She will be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will interview the Alaska governor.

You can be part of the interview. If you have questions for John McCain's former running mate, send them to us. To upload your video questions for Governor Palin, go to She's here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are flags and flowers, prayers and praise. On this Veterans Day, many people are honoring those who served, fought and died for America. President Bush is among them.

He rededicated the museum on the USS Intrepid in New York. And he spoke to CNN's Heidi Collins exclusively about what Veterans Day means.


BUSH: Being the commander in chief is as high an honor as you could possibly imagine. And I have -- I have given it my all to support our military and support our veterans. What does that mean? Well, it means go to the Congress and say, let's make sure our military families have good housing, good health care, good educational benefits. It means helping work with the Congress to get money for our veterans.

But it really means saying to our troops, I will make decisions based upon what is best for our country, not best for me politically. And I don't want our troops to think the decisions I have made were about politics or about my standing. The decisions were made how to secure this country, how to protect ourselves in the long run.

And that was important for those troops to know their commander in chief not only supported them, but, you know, stood with them in their mission.


BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more of this interview coming up -- President Bush also speaking to Heidi about what he told his successor, president-elect Barack Obama, during their meeting in the Oval Office yesterday, also offering up some thoughts on the election. You're going to hear much more of this exclusive interview in the next hour right here on CNN.

The cost of supporting the opposition.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Joe Lieberman has done something that I think was improper, wrong, and I would like -- if we weren't on television, I would use a stronger word describing what he did.


BLITZER: Wow. Democrats are arguing, though, over whether Joe Lieberman should pay a price for his McCain campaigning.

And guiding the GOP -- voters rejected the party at the polls. We're taking a closer look at who's being considered as a new leader to try to chart a new course for the GOP.

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


BLITZER: So, what's going on inside the GOP right now? How disappointed, how angry are the Republicans?

Let's bring in the former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. He's a very powerful Republican in his own right.

You know these players. What's going on? How do the Republicans regroup right now?

DICK ARMEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think the -- the regrouping is really a matter of reaffirming their standing before the American people. And I think that will be done by an assertive show of good policy incentives -- initiatives.

BLITZER: But does the party move to try to solidify the conservative base, and focus in on issues like abortion and gay rights, or move to the center and focus in on the economy?


ARMEY: I think they need to build with the economy. Issues like abortion and gay rights only work for you politically if you're on the defensive side of the ball.

You should never get on the offensive side of that ball. It makes the voters uncomfortable, and they will reject you, and they will do it every time.

BLITZER: So, there seems to be a battle for the leadership of the Republican National Committee right now. Mike Duncan is the chairman right now. Should he stay? Should he be replaced? Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, is said to be interested.

Newt Gingrich, your friend and colleague when he was the speaker, he's supposedly interested -- interested. What do you think? What does the RNC need right now?

ARMEY: I think they need to take their time and go through the orderly process of letting this position emerge, as it did in the case years ago with Haley Barbour, somebody within the Republican National Committee working with their colleagues to demonstrate the leadership, and emerge.

I don't think we have yet seen that person emerge from the process. I think there are some folks out there testing the waters. I don't think Newt Gingrich is serious about it. And I think Michael Steele, while I understand he's a very brilliant man and a very likable person, I don't think he's inside the club enough to make this run.

BLITZER: So, who is the leader of the Republican Party right now?

ARMEY: I think that is emergent. But, right now, I would say...


BLITZER: Is there a leader right now?

ARMEY: I think, right now, the intellectual leadership of the Republican Party is emerging in the United States House, as it did in '93.

BLITZER: John Boehner?

ARMEY: John Boehner, with his new leadership team. And then look at the governors. We have got some exciting governors, particularly Governor Jindal in...


BLITZER: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

ARMEY: ... Louisiana, and the governor of South Carolina. We have got some emerging governors. And the...


BLITZER: Is Sarah Palin one of them?

ARMEY: I think she can certainly be one of them, if she asserts herself. She has to recover from the shock of this past campaign. I -- I think the campaign did her no favors. I think she's a better person than we were able to see. And I think she will reemerge from that.

BLITZER: Dick Armey, thanks for coming in.

ARMEY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: We will watch the GOP with you.

Hilary Rosen is standing by. We're going to speak with her and get a sense of what the Democrats should do about Joe Lieberman. That's coming up.

Also, Barack Obama won the election, and the sale of guns now skyrocketing. Gun owners are afraid tough new gun laws are on the way -- that story and more coming up.

And a former president's priority -- Jimmy Carter offering to CNN his agenda to the president-elect.

And one among many decisions, the personal choices the Obamas must make as their family gets ready to move to the White House.

Lots going on this busy day, historic days -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: One important personal decision the Obamas will have to make when they move to the White House is where their two daughters should go to school.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is following this part of the story for us.

Lots of factors that have to be weighed very seriously, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an important decision. And it's a big decision many parents have to make, public or private school, especially when tuition for private school here can cost close to $30,000 a year.

And that decision becomes even bigger when you're talking about the young daughters of the president-elect.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Michelle Obama checked out two of the most prestigious private schools in Washington while on her trip to visit the White House, leading many to wonder, what schools will the first daughters attend after the big move?

Chelsea Clinton attended the private school Sidwell Friends, but President Carter made a point of sending his daughter, Amy, to D.C. public school. The issue has sparked debate. Some, including journalist and D.C. public school parents Stephanie Mencimer, are pushing for public. Mencimer even posted a letter online pleading with the first family to stand by public school education.

STEPHANIE MENCIMER, "MOTHER JONES": I think it really says, we're all in this together. It's one thing to say, I'm in favor of school reform, but I don't really want to be part of that with my own family.

BOLDUAN: The whole school question has returned D.C. public schools to the national spotlight. Mayor Adrian Fenty, an Obama supporter, has made it his big issue, improving a system that's received a failing report card for decades, plagued by underperformance and poor student achievement.

Obama even talked about it during the final presidential debate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The D.C. school system is in terrible shape, and it has been for a very long time.

BOLDUAN: And public school may be out of the question anyway. Both fifth-grader Malia and second-grader Sasha now attend a private school in Chicago. And, along with concerns over privacy and security, some say private school, where many children of politicians and the famous attend, is the best option.

SALLY QUINN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": ... will understand the whole idea of the celebrity and the media and the Secret Service in a way that most other schools wouldn't.


BOLDUAN: And while many people are wondering, I'm told from an Obama spokesperson, there would be no confirms nor denying the schools that Michelle or the family is -- is considering here in D.C. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume they have been consulting also with the Clintons and others with this, other people who have actually been in their -- in their -- in their shoes, shall we say, about this important decision.

BOLDUAN: You know, Wolf, it's such a big decision, because everyone is watching. It can make a statement. But many people say, as well as the campaign, this is a very private decision. And it's going to remain private, they say, until it's time to announce what schools the girls are going to.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks very much for that.

Let's take a look at some of the Veterans Day "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Florida, a man reaches out to touch the name of a family member who died in the Vietnam War.

In New Hampshire, a woman places fresh flowers at the grave of her husband, who was a World War II veteran.

In Philadelphia, a Vietnam War veteran gets emotional at a veterans memorial.

And, in New Mexico, elementary school students shake hands with troops after a Veterans Day assembly -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

All right, let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

I want to salute all those veterans. I know you do as well, Jack, on Veterans Day today.


The question this hour is: Why is there still so much interest in Sarah Palin?

Tim in Hot Springs, Arkansas: "Because the Republican operatives, on the condition of anonymity, are throwing her under the bus. They built her up as a means of reviving the campaign, only to tear her down upon their defeat. The operatives will be around again in four years if they aren't blamed as the fall guys for the Republicans' failures. She won't be. At this point, she's expendable."

Bamidele writes from Almaty, Kazakhstan: "I think it has something to do with the 57 million and counting who voted for this Republican ticket. That's scary."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "She is beautiful, articulate and a great people person, regardless of what Matt Lauer tries to do to her on 'The Today Show.'"

I missed that episode.

Elizabeth writes: "National rubbernecking. It is like driving by an accident. You don't want to look, but, somehow, you just can't help it."

Diane in Barneveld, New York: "She's Bush in skirts." Andrew writes: "There are two reasons. One, she's attractive. For better or for worse, people listen when pretty girls talk, no matter what nonsense may come out of their mouths. Two, incompetence, by itself, is not entertaining. However, when the incompetent are supremely self-confident, full of certitude, and absent of insight, it's absolutely compelling."

And Tom in Florida says: "Jack, they should leave this woman alone. Nobody cares how many countries there are in Ohio."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking with her tomorrow. She will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jack. Getting ready to fly down to Miami, where she will be at the Republican Governors Association meeting. And we're getting flooded with e-mail, video, and regular questions, because our viewers can participate in this interview tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

Thanks, Jack.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

And happening now: a new push to give urgent help to the auto industry, new details emerging right now about Barack Obama's meeting with President Bush. We will have the latest on the transition to power, as the president-elect starts laying the groundwork for the next administration.

A CNN exclusive: one on one with President Bush. He tells CNN's Heidi Collins about his meeting with president-elect Obama, his thoughts on the election, his proudest moments, and his deepest regrets. Stand by for that.

And Michelle Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer and a former public servant. She's also the mother of two young girls. What kind of first lady will she be? I will speak about that and more with a former White House social secretary.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.