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THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden Meets with Cheney; Sarah Palin Holds Press Conference

Aired November 13, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: power moves. Barack Obama gives up Senate power and Joe Biden gets ready to take over power from Dick Cheney. The man Biden once called the most dangerous vice president opens up his home.
Automakers drive for fast cash, but have they slammed into a speed bump, courtesy of Republican lawmakers? One car dealer says saving GM could save jobs like yours.

And Sarah Palin does something she had never done in the national spotlight, but are her fellow Republican governors really standing behind her?

All that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

Barack Obama is giving up power as he gets ready to take hold of even greater power. The president-elect is resigning his U.S. Senate seat. And that will touch off a whirlwind of changes.

Regarding the urgency to replace him and what this means for the Obama administration, let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's in Chicago covering the transition to power.

Ed, what is the latest going on? Because a lot of attention right now on this decision that he has made to give up his Senate seat right away.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this decision, the resignation, will be effective Sunday.

And here's the backstory on that timing. Barack Obama had no intention of attending this lame duck session of Congress next week, so this gives his successor a chance potentially to be sworn in as early as next week once the governor makes a decision on that, and then that successor could be involved in the lame duck session, could be a pivotal vote, even, if the Democrats need one swing vote for example on something like the auto bailout bill, which has controversy attached to it.

And, so, this gives Barack Obama a chance to get Illinois going, let the governor give his situation going forward.

And some of the names include Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. and Tammy Duckworth, various Democrats vying for this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, I want you to stand by, Ed, because I want to go over to the vice presidential residence right now here in Washington, D.C., where there is a fascinating meeting that has been going on involving the vice president and the vice president-elect.

Brian Todd is over there. What are we seeing, Brian? Because it is creating some potentially awkward moments.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure did, Wolf. The vice president-elect and his wife just left the residence here a short time ago. Mr. Biden's visit here, as you mentioned, had a lot of buzz surrounding it because it brought him face to face with the man who he so harshly criticized during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A polite reception at the official residence for Joe Biden, in spite of some criticism he has had for the current vice president during the campaign.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we have had probably in American history.

Dick Cheney has been wrong on everything for the last eight years.

(APPLAUSE)

TODD: Tough words on the stump, but Dick Cheney's office says, campaign rhetoric is nothing new to him. And, to hear Joe Biden tell it, bygones are bygones.

BIDEN: In my discussions with -- with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, there is absolutely, absolutely total, complete, unadulterated cooperation.

TODD: On issues like the Iraq war, fighting terrorism and handling detainees, Cheney played a key role in shaping the policies of the outgoing administration that Joe Biden ran against. Will Biden have a similar influence on President Obama's policies, given his extensive background in foreign policy?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: I think Biden has a very different agenda than Cheney did. He's going to adopt what the president wants. He isn't going to attempt to interject what his agenda may be into the Obama administration.

TODD: Biden has already signaled that he aims to strike a different tone.

BIDEN: For all those people in government who are honoring the pledge to uphold the law and honor the Constitution, no longer will you hear the eight most dreaded language -- words in the English language: The vice president's office is on the phone.

TODD: In the meantime, Biden has been working quietly with the transition team on preparations. For a chief of staff, sources say, Biden has selected Ron Klain, who held that same post for Al Gore during the last Democratic White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Vice President Cheney's office just issued a statement a short time ago, saying, this was a good visit. It lasted just a little less than one hour.

The real substance of what was said here, Wolf, may not come out for quite some time. This was not billed as any airing of grievances or any real policy discussion. We may not know what really was said here for quite some time.

BLITZER: All right, we will watch and we will learn. I'm sure there will be leaks, as there always are.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

One unemployment measure has hit a high not been seen in years. And this comes as President Bush insists his administration's economic actions are bearing fruit.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano.

The president delivered a sort of pep speech on the economy today, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is right, Wolf. Ahead of a global financial summit this weekend, President Bush tried to strike an optimistic tone today, even in the midst of more bad economic news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): As he prepares to host an international financial summit, President Bush said America would continue to lead in the global economy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The world will see the resilience of America once again.

QUIJANO: But his comments come on the heels of more evidence that right now; America's bleak economy is leading in the wrong direction. Last week, more than half a million Americans filed new claims for unemployment insurance, the highest level since the weeks after September 11th. Amid the continued downturn, the President traveled to Federal Hall in the heart of Wall Street to argue that recent government action is slowly making a difference.

BUSH: Credit markets are beginning to thaw. Businesses are gaining access to essential short-term financing. A measure of stability is returning to financial systems here at home and around the world.

QUIJANO: But some say investors are looking beyond the current President, who has roughly two months left in office. On CNN's AMERICAN MORNING, economist Jeffrey Sachs told John Roberts the markets want reassurance from President Bush's successor.

JEFFREY SACHS, ECONOMIST: People want clarity. They want a vision. They want a direction. But an outgoing administration that has failed can't provide it anymore. That's the true fact of life.

QUIJANO: But with President-elect Barack Obama steering clear of the summit, and some European leaders pushing for global financial regulation, the outgoing President is defending western capitalism and free market principles, even as he acknowledges parts of the system are broken.

BUSH: And the answer is not to try to reinvent that system. It is to fix the problems we face.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: And critics charge the Bush administration itself has violated free market principles with a massive $700 billion bailout plan, a plan they note has so far failed to get credit flowing freely once again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Let's go New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "The New York Times" reports that congressional Democrats are planning to move forward with investigations of the Bush administration even after the president leaves office in January. That could prove to be quite a task.

Where do you start? Abuse of the power of the executive branch? Torture of detainees? Going to war under false pretenses? The role of former White House aides Harriet Miers and Karl Rove in the firing of those federal prosecutors? Eavesdropping without a warrant? It is a very long list.

The rub is that President Bush may be able to block subpoenas long after he leaves the White House. Way back in 1953, Harry Truman blocked a congressional subpoena almost a year after he left office. Truman told the Congress that the Constitution still empowered him to do that, and the Congress backed off.

If the last eight years are any example, you could bet the Bush administration will do anything it can not to cooperate in any investigation.

Here is the question: Is it a good idea for the Democrats to begin investigation of the Bush administration? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

So, here is a question: Is the push for an auto bailout grinding to a halt right now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I, one, would like to see us do something. Right now, I don't think the votes -- I don't know of a single Republican who is willing to support...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Senate Banking Committee chairman, Chris Dodd, may have to wait until next year, but will that be too late for this big three U.S. automakers? And does General Motors deserve a bailout? We are taking a closer look at the pros and cons for all of us taxpayers.

And the Republican governors, they are gathering behind their new star, but there are awkward moments, as Governor Sarah Palin does something she never did during the election campaign. We will explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are some new signs right now that Democrats may have to bail out on efforts to pass a bailout quickly for the auto industry. A top Democratic senator on the Banking Committee says that legislation may have to wait until next year.

Let's go to Capitol Hill. Kate Bolduan is looking at the story for us.

The urgency, at least for the auto manufacturers, is, they say they need action right now. Otherwise, they -- they fear could will go down.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are saying that, Wolf.

Well, here on Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats have been pushing to vote on an auto industry bailout by the end of next week's lame duck session, but one key Democrat now is pulling back that goal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DODD: The committee will come to order.

BOLDUAN: The top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd, a key negotiator of the Wall Street bailout, says there is virtually no Republican support for an auto industry bailout.

DODD: I, one, would like to see us do something. Right now, I don't think the votes -- I don't know of a single Republican who is willing to support...

BOLDUAN: Dodd now suggests Democrats should reconsider plans to push a Detroit aid package next week. DODD: I would want to be careful about bringing up a proposition that might fail in light of the fact the authority exists and under an Obama administration, there seems to be a greater willingness to deal with the issue.

BOLDUAN: Dodd's comments follow a blunt statement by the top Republican on the Banking Committee, Senator Richard Shelby: "The financial situation facing the Big Three is not a national problem, but their own problem," Shelby said, "brought on by their own mistakes."

Republican Senator Mel Martinez is also against the Democrats' proposal to carve out money for automakers from the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: I think we ought to focus on that first and that the auto industry ought to rise on its own merit. And the funding for that ought to come not out of this.

BOLDUAN: A spokesman for Republican leader Mitch McConnell insists Republicans are not against helping the auto industry, but they do oppose the Democrats' plan.

But at least Republican, Ohio Senator George Voinovich, has pledged his support for the proposal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Now, a House Democratic aide tells CNN that they are still pushing forward, but admits there is no reason for the House to vote next week if the bill can't get through the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is up on Capitol Hill.

The situation may be especially grim for the nation's largest automaker, General Motors. It warns it could simply run out of cash by year's end.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, has been following the auto industry's troubles.

How desperate, Allan, is GM right now?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the company is very, very desperate. In fact, GM has been burning through cash and may be unable to pay its bills without some help soon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): New Jersey Caddy dealer Craig Ploetner believes Americans have to lend money to General Motors, because millions of jobs are at stake.

CRAIG PLOETNER, TOWNE CADILLAC: It's a temporary loan to get ourselves back on our feet, so we can get this market motivated, sell more vehicles. CHERNOFF: But a few miles away, Congressman Scott Garrett argues a taxpayer bailout would be simply throw good money after bad.

REP. SCOTT GARRETT (R), NEW JERSEY: They are simply going to simply burn through this money at a rapid pace. And very likely they will be coming back to Congress once again.

CHERNOFF: Opponents of a bailout say GM is a bloated company that failed to change with the times, relying too much on selling gas- guzzlers, paying autoworkers more than foreign carmakers paid, and granting generous retirement packages when it could ill afford them. So, they question, why should taxpayers have to pay for management's mistakes?

GARRETT: The taxpayer is asking, where does it end?

CHERNOFF (on camera): You don't see an end?

GARRETT: I don't see an end.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The fact is, GM is restructuring to save billions in expenses. It's cutting manufacturing capacity, reducing inventories of raw materials, and plans to have an independent trust fund retiree health benefits. But the full cost savings won't be in place until the end of next year.

KENNETH ELIAS, KELLER & ASSOCIATES: The problem at General Motors has been that it has always been day late, dollar short.

CHERNOFF: Can GM survive? Auto experts say yes, but not without federal loans, billions this year and probably billions more next year.

And they say GM still needs radical restructuring to shrink the company.

ELIAS: They need to cut brands and refocus on a couple core brands, like, for example, Chevrolet and Cadillac, and cut a lot of fluff out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: The sooner the economy turns around, the better chance GM has of recovering. The problem is, the economic slump has been far more severe than GM anticipated, making a turnaround, even with a federal bailout, that much more difficult -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff with that story -- thank you, Allan.

Sarah Palin, the governor, is looking ahead, but not that far ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: We are focused on the future, and the future for us is not that 2012 presidential race. It is next year and our next budgets and the next reforms in our states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But is Governor Palin's star power starting to dim among some of her fellow governors? We are all over this story. Stand by.

President Bush says he has something that helped him take on challenges and will sustain him for the rest of the days.

And all across California right now, people are ducking. They are practicing ducking for cover. They are getting ready for the big one.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain back on the campaign trail, joking about life after the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I slept like a baby, sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now he is working to help a fellow Republican senator locked in a tight runoff. We're going to take you to Senator McCain's first campaign appearance since his loss last week.

Also, Barack Obama's daunting task, meeting the very high expectations many Americans have of him. The best political team on television will discuss.

Plus, the chilling warning that foretold a horrifying act, the mass suicide at Jonestown -- now survivors are speaking out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At some point, you will sacrifice your children. You have the make that commitment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: all eyes on Sarah Palin, as Republican governors gather in Miami, some of them clearly not very happy about her stealing the spotlight. How much jealousy is going on right now among these Republican governors? We're going to show you the very awkward news conference. Stand by.

Also, John McCain returning to the campaign trail for the first time since his election defeat, this time helping a fellow Republican senator.

Plus, Americans have very high expectations of Barack Obama, but can he meet them? All of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

Which Republican governors really stand behind Sarah Palin? Many of them stood on stage with her today at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami, but their show of unity featured some rather awkward moments.

Dana Bash is in Miami for us. And she is ready to report on some of those awkward moments.

Dana, what happened?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Sarah Palin came to this meeting to make abundantly clear that she intends to be a force for the Republican Party in the future, but this is a gathering full of Republican governor who want to do the same.

And, today, that made for some palpable tension.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Sarah Palin entered a ballroom at the Republican Governors Conference to do something she never did in her 68 days as vice presidential candidate, hold a formal press conference.

(on camera): Given that, what message are you trying to convey here?

PALIN: I'm trying to convey the message that Republican governors are a unique team, a unique group. They are here, we are here together, united. Ready to reach out to the new administration, to offer solutions that we know will work.

BASH (voice-over): But despite the 26 cameras and 100-plus reporters there, the press conference lasted only 11 minutes and abruptly ended after just four questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all for coming and participating.

BASH: Cut off, no doubt, because of the awkward staging, a dozen of Palin's fellow governors brought in to stand behind her. A last- minute decision designed to show unity, but resulted in Palin's colleagues and possible future presidential competitors looking like silent supporters, which several governors told CNN made them uncomfortable.

One unhappy GOP governor eying a 2012 run who asked not to be named called it odd and said it ... unfortunately sent a message she was the de facto leader of the party. Another governor shrugged off concerns Palin was sucking up all the oxygen.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: That's just somebody running down a rabbit trail. There are plenty of options here.

BASH: As for Palin, she told reporters it's time to put the failed McCain campaign behind them, but then delivered a speech about the future of the GOP and largely talked about the past.

PALIN: I'm going to remember all the young girls who came up to me at rallies to see the first woman having the privilege of carrying our party's V.P. nomination, and they inspired me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Palin did urge her fellow Republicans to keep Barack Obama in check. She did call on the GOP to try to shrink the government and continue to fight corruption.

But, Wolf, I talked to several of her supporters privately. They said that they were disappointed, because this is a speech that was slated as a way to talk about the way forward for the Republican Party and she didn't give a lot of detailed prescriptions on how to do that. At least what some of her supporters privately told me after the speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's not going away by any means, though. She's going to be in the public eye for a while. Thanks very much for that, Dana.

Senator John McCain making his first political appearance since his defeat in the presidential election last week. He's been down in Georgia today, trying to help fellow Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss hold onto his seat.

Let's go straight to CNN's Rusty Dornin on the scene -- Rusty?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hundreds turned out here to see the man who came up short on the presidency, but could be key in putting a Republican in the winner's column.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DORNIN (voice-over): Republicans hope Senator John McCain's success in Georgia will rub off on incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss is locked in a hotly contested runoff against Democratic contender Jim Martin.

MCCAIN: There's a lot of stake at here. The eyes of the world and the country will be on Georgia on December 2nd.

DORNIN (on camera): Aside from an appearance on "Jay Leno," this is McCain's first time in front of an audience since the election. The Republicans want this seat to help prevent Democrats from gaining a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: I look forward to the great turnout we're going to have on December the 2nd, because I know, with your help and your commitment, we're going to be successful and we're going to have a great election night December the 2nd.

DORNIN: Democrat Jim Martin would also like some star power of his own in the form of the president-elect. But no word yet on whether Obama will make a campaign appearance. Regardless, 100 Obama campaign workers will be sent in from other states and 25 campaign offices will be made available. That, according to Martin, is better than any VIP visit.

JIM MARTIN (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: You can bring in all the political leaders of the past, like Saxby Chambliss did, to shore up his position. But it's -- truthfully, it's the old politics. It's the old economic theory. And we're moving forward and we're going to take our message to the voters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DORNIN: McCain's appearance with Chambliss has raised eyebrows. In the 2002 campaign, Chambliss ran a commercial slamming his opponent -- a former Vietnam vet and triple amputee, and questioning his support of homeland security. McCain rebuked Chambliss publicly for that ad, calling it "reprehensible."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DORNIN: But it's a Republican fight to hold the line in the Senate. The Democrats need 60 seats for that filibuster-proof majority that could block legislation by the opposition. There are two other seats that are still in limbo -- Minnesota and Alaska. Both are still counting votes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Rusty. Thanks very much.

He's about to assume the most powerful position in the world at one of the most difficult times in recent history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead. It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But Americans have very, very high expectations of Barack Obama. Here's the question -- can he live up to those expectations? I'll ask the best political team on television.

Plus, an unspeakable horror about to unfold -- the mass suicide of almost a thousand people. And survivors recall the final days of Jonestown. We have new information coming up for you. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President-Elect Barack Obama rode to victory with very hopeful themes. And it appears many of you are confident. You expect he can deliver. We have some fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers right now.

In terms of helping America improve its race relations, the great majority say Obama will help. Many of you say the same thing when it comes to improving economic conditions.

Will Obama bring stability to financial markets? Seventy-three percent of you say yes.

Look at this, even though Republicans warned that Democrats would not do well protecting America, 67 percent of those surveyed say Obama will make the U.S. safer from terrorism.

Most of you apparently believe Obama will reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, will implement a plan to reduce global warming and will remove U.S. troops from Iraq without causing major problems there. And 55 percent of you say Obama will win the war in Afghanistan.

Let's go to the best political team on television. Joining us right now, the three of them Gloria Borger, Dana Milbank and Steve Hayes. Where's Steve Hayes? I don't see Steve Hayes up there, but I'm sure he -- there he is. Steve Hayes right there.

What do you think, Gloria? These are really high expectations. Can he go forward and meet these expectations?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The expectations are huge. And that's a bit of a problem for the Obama team because they've set up these high expectations, because he has promised so much. He's very well liked by the American public. There's a real sense he has a mandate out there. And he's got to perform at a very, very high level. Some folks say, well, the bar is low because George W. Bush is at 26 percent popularity. I disagree. I think the bar is really high for them and they know it.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, what do you think? This is a huge challenge, because the expectations game, as you know, in politics, is enormous.

DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR "WASHINGTON POST": Exactly. You know, during the campaign, Obama joked that he was born on the planet Krypton and sent by his father, Jorel, to save the planet Earth. But now it seems the joke is on him, because people actually do believe that he's superman.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: And the truth is, he could be an exceptional president and still not meet up with these expectations that you just laid out from the poll there. You definitely want to have a sense of momentum and expectations in a campaign. He was very successful at that. You're going to see them really rushing to tamp down the expectations to more human levels now.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Because, you know -- there's no doubt, Steve, for example, some of his very ambitious agenda items, especially, for example, health care reform, where is the money going to come from in the midst of an economic crisis the country is going through right now?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, that's exactly right. I mean, I think we have -- whether it's health care reform or all of his domestic spending priorities, whether you're talking about closing Guantanamo Bay down, you have this basically 21 months of campaign rhetoric, which was all very hopeful, full of change, full of promise. And now you're going to see that governing gets really, really complicated.

BORGER: And, you know, the worst thing is, Wolf, that campaigns spend the last two years trying to lower expectations. And they will try and do this. But now they're elected, it's very, very difficult to say, gee, the sitting president isn't going to do what he said he was going to do. You can't do that.

BLITZER: And, you know, Dana, we're now beginning to hear from Barack Obama -- he's starting to give interviews as president-elect of the United States. "Ebony" magazine has just released a press release in which they sat down with him and spoke to him about what's going on.

I'll put one quote that he says. "I'm very humbled by the fact that I stand on the shoulders of all of the people who have made these incredible contributions to lift this country up," Obama told "Ebony" magazine today. You know, he said -- and he's going to be on "60 Minutes" Sunday night. So he's beginning to -- he's beginning to go out there and talk to the American public in a personal way.

MILBANK: He is. And that's expected of him. It's a very delicate time here. He wants to go out and sort of have maximum leverage, maximum influence in the debate over the next 65 days or so, but sort of have minimum culpability, because he can't actually put everything in place.

So it's a sort of a dance he's got to do and get -- assert where he wants things to be taken in terms of a lame duck session in the Congress, in terms of tamping down expectation for what he's going to be able to do and try, at the same time, not to get saddled with everything.

BLITZER: And we'll be watching and weighing every single word.

Steve, you're down in Miami at the Republican Governors Association. I don't know if you were there at that awkward news conference where Governor Palin -- she was sort of -- she was stealing the spotlight from all of her fellow Republicans. You saw Dana Bash's piece.

So, take us behind the scenes. What's going on there in terms of Governor Palin?

HAYES: Well, it was a strange news conference. I mean it was sort of odd to have these other governors standing up there with her, when I think the expectation was that nobody was going to get a question other than Governor Palin. And reporters had been, in some cases, waiting two, three months just for an opportunity to ask her a question. And to have all of these other governors up there on stage with her, you know, they looked and felt, I think, like props. And then I think compounding the problem was that she only took four questions in a news conference that lasted only 10 minutes. It was a little strange. It didn't seem to work.

Now, I talked to her shortly after that and had a brief interview with her in which I went back to her actually and re-asked her one of the questions that you had asked her yesterday about the automakers. And I thought she gave a much more straightforward answer.

BLITZER: Does she support it...

HAYES: She seems much more skeptical...

BLITZER: Does she support the bailout?

HAYES: No. She seems -- she seems much more skeptical of the bailout of the automakers, and, in fact, told me she wants no more surprises -- that's a quote -- from Henry Paulson. And she blamed the Bush administration, actually, for spreading what she called "distrust" among the voters by sort of changing things halfway through the game.

BLITZER: Interesting, Gloria, because, as you know, yesterday she said to me she needs more information before she can make a final decision...

BORGER: Well, maybe she got it...

BLITZER: ...on whether to support the bailout.

BORGER: Maybe she got the information in between your interview and Steve's interview. Look, this is about Sarah Palin, saying to those Independent voters -- only 35 percent of whom thought she's qualified to be president of the United States -- saying to Independent voters, you know what, I can be president. And the rest of the governors, by the way, they were props. Sorry to say, they were props and they don't like it.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on the note. I know Dana wants to weigh in, but you know what, hold your thought, because you'll be back. Guys, thanks very much.

The CIA director giving new details on the search for the world's most wanted man -- Osama bin Laden -- why he remains at large. Stand by. We'll share what we know.

Also, this hour's question -- is it a good idea for the Democrats to begin investigations of the Bush administration? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

And the final days of Jonestown -- descending into madness that culminated with the mass suicide of almost a thousand people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY PARKS, SURVIVOR: You'd have to say something in Russian before you could get anything to eat. Little old ladies coming out there -- older people, elderly people, you know, couldn't do it. They couldn't memorize anything. And he'd turn them away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

Tonight, we're reporting on President Bush's strong defense of the free market today. Even as this economic crisis worsens, President Bush apparently ignoring the fact that unfettered markets have never worked in this country and our democracy has never represented the will of the majority, over at least the past few years.

Also tonight, new evidence there's a complete lack of oversight of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's massive bailout of Wall Street. One estimate saying the bailout is costing us $5 trillion -- almost twice the entire federal budget. We'll have complete coverage.

And a major disappointment for one of the two former Border Patrols at the center of an outrageous miscarriage of justice. That special report on an important legal ruling is next.

Join us at the top of the hour all of that, all the day's news and much more, from an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Thank you. See you at the top of the hour.

In a rare event, the CIA director, Michael Hayden, talked openly today about the status of Osama bin Laden and even sounded some upbeat notes about the battle against Al Qaeda. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: He is putting a lot of energy into his own survival and a lot of energy into his own security. In fact, he appears to be largely isolated from the day to day operations of the organization he normally heads.

I can assure you, although there has been press speculation to the contrary, I can assure you that the hunt for bin Laden is very much at the top of CIA's priority list. Because of his iconic stature, his death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers -- both core Al Qaeda and these affiliated extremists -- unaffiliated extremists throughout the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The CIA director, Michael Hayden, speaking earlier.

Meanwhile tonight, there's new insight on a mass murder/suicide that shocked the entire world. It's been 30 years since the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. More than 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones perished after drinking cyanide. Only 33 people survived.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien has been investigating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jonestown was failing. Not much grew in the fields. Most food had to be shipped in. Jim Jones had begun to talk about another move -- to communist Russia. Church members were told to learn a new language.

PARKS: You had to say something in Russian before you could get anything to eat. Little old ladies coming up there, older people, elderly people, you know, couldn't do it. They couldn't memorize anything. And he'd turn them away.

O'BRIEN: Yet unknown to Parks, unknown to almost anyone outside the inner circle, Jones was already preparing for their deaths. This is a memo written to Jones by the People's Temple doctor six months before the mass suicide. It reads, in part...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cyanide is one of the most rapidly acting poisons. I'd like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is.

O'BRIEN: The test apparently was never carried out. But that's not the point.

(on camera): While in Guyana, we made a startling discovery. The church had been buying cyanide long before most of the members arrived here in Jonestown.

CNN has learned that for at least two years, the church was buying a quarter pound of the deadly poison each month. By the time Congressman Ryan first began raising questions about Jonestown, six pounds or more of cyanide had already been shipped here -- strong evidence that the Reverend Jim Jones had been plotting the death of his followers long before that fateful day.

(voice-over): We're told Jonestown had attained a jeweler's license to buy the cyanide, which can be used to clean gold. But there was no jewelry operation in Jonestown.

Jones would summon his people to mass meetings they called white nights and rant about suicide if under attack by the CIA or the Guyanese Army or other unknown forces.

REV. JIM JONES, "PEOPLE'S TEMPLE" LEADER: And at some point, you will sacrifice your children. You have to make that commitment.

O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks said he knew he had to get his family out.

PARKS: I knew those white nights he was having was fake at the time. But I also knew that one day, one of them would not be fake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you can catch the CNN special prime time broadcast "Escape from Jonestown" with Soledad O'Brien later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Pretty amazing stuff Soledad has come up with.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, is it a good idea for Democrats -- and some of them say they want to do this -- to begin an investigation of the Bush administration?

Ralph writes from Yakima, Washington: "In all sincerity, I think it's necessary for the future welfare of the country. It ought to be low key and handled by a special prosecutor appointed by Congress. It should not be done in Congressional hearings for the purpose of playing politics."

Kay in West Virginia: "If once he's inaugurated, President Obama wishes to appoint a special investigator to go back and look at illegalities during the Bush presidency, I would support that. If, on the other hand, he wishes to use agencies that should be doing other things, I would oppose that. We need all parts of the government to be looking forward, not backward."

Pat in Michigan: :No, not now. There's real work to get done, no time to waste. These types of investigations seem to drive a wedge between the parties and this is not the time for that."

Dan echoes that, to a degree: "Such an investigation would be great for the Republicans. The Democrats would come off petty and vindictive, rather than bipartisan and statesman like. By torpedoing bipartisanship during a national crisis, they would have less chance of a success with their proposals. The Republicans would be in a stronger mid-term election position as a result."

Tim writes: "Why would we ever want to investigate George, Dick and the gang? I mean it's not like they stole an election or started a bogus war or two or three or wiped out a nation's vast surplus or sent a country into an economic disaster. And they're definitely not guilty of paying back their political backers in some insanely lucrative way at the taxpayers' expense. Let's, instead, recognize them for their huge contributions to the needy -- like Halliburton, the struggling oil cartels and impoverished Wall Street."

And Tony says: "That's what they do best, Jack. They investigate, hold hearings, point fingers -- anything to avoid actually doing something that helps the American people, who pay their salaries." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and check it out. Yours might be there. There are hundreds of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people do that every single day. Jack, thank you.

So who will become the nation's top dog? From Yorkies to Terriers, canines competing right now for the prize -- a new home at the White House with the Obama family. And our Jeanne Moos finds out it's a dog eat dog world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's every dog for him or herself in this canine campaign. After all, the grand prize is living at the White House with the Obama girls. Our Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just when you thought the campaign was over...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The canine candidates for first dog are barking. And the lame duck, Barney, is surly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?

MOOS: Owners are practically auditioning their dogs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a Border Collie. He watches the border real good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Even pointing out similarities between the president-elect.

OBAMA: A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.

MOOS: And Shadow, the Border Collie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's black, white and brown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: They're making videos showcasing doggie skills. (VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: They're sending photos captioned, "Please pick me." Did you say White House?

Bullies for Obama all lobbying for their breed, from the Bison Frise in high heels to the Irish Wolfhound gigantic enough for Sasha and Malia to ride. There's even a nominee for secretary of Da Fence. Everybody is making suggestions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Hey, President Clinton told him the Oval Office is a great place for a husky female. He said that's a...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: While Bill Maher joked about accusations Barack Obama's enemies might make.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HOST "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER,": How do we know this isn't a dog that pals around with Terriers?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: As in any campaign, there are dirty tricks being played with dogs on both sides lifting their legs. And there are countless polls -- what breed, should the Obamas get a purebred or a rescue? Obama already had a strong doggie base.

There's even a dog with the unfortunate name Herpe, trained to supposedly speak Obama's name.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Folks are suggesting names for the first dog. And there's a clear favorite.

(on camera): Here, Maverick. Come here, Maverick. Here, boy.

(voice-over): The John McCain and Barack Obama doggie chew toys -- perfect for the White House pet. From as far as way as Peru came the suggestion of a hypoallergenic breed called the Peruvian Hairless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't (INAUDIBLE)?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But why insist on a first dog? Why not a first llama, the Obama llama? "Wouldn't she look cute on the White House lawn," asks her owner? And for a less labor intensive pet, may we suggest the one making the rounds on the Internet?

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The White House must have a piano and popcorn.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.