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Obama's Top Priority; Huge Demand For Obama Inauguration Tickets

Aired November 17, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And a quarter-million of you are supposed to get free tickets to the inauguration. Will scalpers and counterfeiters raise the odds and the prices for everyone? The best political team on television is standing by.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

We begin with new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now on the presidential transition, word that Barack Obama's team is looking at the finances of the former President Bill Clinton. It's part of the vetting process for his wife, Hillary Clinton, as a possible pick for secretary of state.

Let's get the latest from our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's in Chicago.

Ed, what are you learning?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, two Obama transition officials are confirming to CNN that they have at least begun the process of going through those records you're talking about, in terms of the finances of the former president, how it relates to his charitable foundation, but also his presidential library, in terms of donations coming in, whether they have come in from foreign governments, whether they have come in from international businessmen, to try to get an idea on how and whether there may be any potential conflicts of interest if Hillary Clinton is tapped to be secretary of state.

What's significant about this, it shows how serious of an option the Obama transition team here in Chicago is treating the possibility of Hillary Clinton being nominated by the president-elect to be secretary of state. There are other potential nominees as well.

But for them to go through this many layers of records and whatnot shows how serious they are, number one. And, number two, Obama officials are trying to push back on a report that was on earlier today suggesting that they're exasperated was the word that was used with the slow pace from the former president. Obama officials insist that, at least for now, they are getting the information as quickly as they think they should be and they're not exasperated at all -- Wolf. BLITZER: In the midst of all of this, Ed, the president-elect met today with John McCain. They had, what, about a one-hour meeting. How did that go?

HENRY: Well, after the cameras were turned off, they went and they met privately. And we're told they talked about several controversial issues they're going to try to work on next here, including trying to revive the immigration reform bill that fell apart last year, also trying to find a why to deal with that thorny issue of closing down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, very difficult issues to try to iron out, especially when you take a look at the body language between these two men that suggests there are a lot of divisions yet to be healed.



HENRY (voice-over): This moment had awkward written all over it. So Barack Obama and John McCain did what guys do, talked football.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I noticed that yesterday's football...

OBAMA: Oh. See there.

MCCAIN: ... game was not greeted with...

OBAMA: They brought up the Bears.

HENRY: The loser relishing the chance to tweak the winner about how his Chicago Bears lost by 34 points on Sunday, though the president-elect deflected it with a compliment about the quarterback on McCain's favorite team.

OBAMA: Arizona's, they have got a real -- Warner has turned out to be unbelievable.

MCCAIN: Turned out to be quite a performer.

HENRY: If this performance seems forced, let's not forget it was their first face to face since that final debate in New York when McCain got aggressive about Obama's ties to Bill Ayers.

MCCAIN: And you launched your political campaign in Mr. Ayers' living room.

OBAMA: That's absolutely not true.

HENRY: What is true? Both need to bury the hatchet. McCain can't return to the Senate a sore loser. Obama wants to show his talk about bipartisanship is for real.

OBAMA: Just going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country, and also to offer thanks to Senator McCain for the outstanding service he's already rendered.

HENRY: Asked if he's willing to help the incoming president, McCain said obviously, though people close to both men insist that will not include an actual cabinet post. There are limits apparently to the concept of a team of rivals, just as there are limits to the incoming president's patience when the reporters shouted questions about auto bailouts and such.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, guys. Thank you.

OBAMA: You're incorrigible.


HENRY: Now, an Obama transition official said that most of this meeting was very cooperative, that they were trying to find common ground on issues like glow, ethics reform as well, to try and turn the page on a sometimes bitter campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry working the story in Chicago.

The transition continues.

Meanwhile, with America mired in an economic meltdown, Congress is back this week for a special session. Democrats have a bailout for automakers on the agenda, but that may be more than lame duck lawmakers can manage right now.

Let's go up to the Hill. Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is working this story.

I guess the bottom-line question, in this lame duck weeklong session right now, Dana, do the Democrats have the muscle to get the job done?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you're talking specifically about the job to bail out the auto industry, it's looking like it's very unlikely. But you know that President Bush, president-elect Obama, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, they all are saying that they believe a collapse in Detroit would have disastrous ripple affects across the country. But they're simply not agreeing at this point on how to help.


BASH (voice-over): On the steps of the Capitol, some 50 newly elected lawmakers pose for a class photo...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ready? One, two, three.

BASH: ... one the first signs of big change coming to Washington. But inside the halls of Congress, business as usual, gridlock...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will come to order.

BASH: ... as the old Congress gathers for a post-election session.

Calls for emergency assistance to the struggling U.S. auto industry are colliding with a partisan divide over where the money should come from.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: The Federal Reserve, Chairman Bernanke has authority to provide funds to the automobile industry. Now, thus far, neither the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve has done so.

BASH: Democrats are pushing a measure to give auto companies $25 billion taken from the $700 billion bailout Congress approved for the financial industry. But most Republicans and the Bush White House still oppose helping the big three automakers in Detroit with funds intended for a rescue of Wall Street.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's not an appetite in Congress or in the administration to open up the TARP funding for individual industries, because once you start down that road, it's a slippery slope.

BASH: The White House and Republicans insist they want to help the troubled auto industry, but instead use money from a previously approved fund for developing fuel-efficient vehicles, which most Democrats call non-negotiable. The result? Stalemate and palpable frustration among some rank and file veterans.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: This session of the Senate should not be called a lame duck. We should neither be lame nor should we duck the big issue facing our country.

BASH: And newly elected senators like Oregon's Jeff Merkley here for orientation.

JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON SENATOR-ELECT: I hope that we will have the ability to end the paralysis that has afflicted the Senate.


BASH: Now, Senate Democrats are trying to lure votes for the legislation which they formally introduced today by making clear that auto executives would not get bonuses and also saying that these companies would have to present a plan for their long-term viability to the government in order to get any money.

But, you know, Wolf, not all Democrats are even on board with this. And talk to Republicans and Democrats, they will say doing this in this lame duck session, bailing out those auto companies, is very dim. The likelihood is very dim.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much -- Dana on the Hill for us.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oil prices continue to slide, closed below $55 a barrel today, which is a pretty far fall from the July record high of $147 a barrel.

Iran is calling for OPEC to cut production by at least a million barrels a day, try to shore up prices. That's on top of the 1.5 million-barrel OPEC cut last month. But the head of OPEC says it's not going to happen, not this month, anyway. They're still trying to gauge the impact of the cut from last month.

OPEC produces about 40 percent of the crude oil in the world. They had hoped that the move in October would slow the fall in prices. It hasn't. And that's made drivers here pretty happy. Gasoline prices have fallen for the last 61 days in a row to a national average now of about $2.09 a gallon. I saw a station in New Jersey where I live $1.81 for unleaded regular.

According to AAA, the last time the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline dropped below the current price was March 31 of 2005. Now, this is good news for cash-strapped Americans, but it's not so great news for the whole alternative energy, let's wean ourselves off foreign oil movement.

But Americans will take what they can get for the time being. And, right now, filling up is like getting a mini tax break. Here's the question. How have plunging gas prices changed your driving habits? Go to, and post a comment on my blog -- $1.81, it's like an acid flashback or something.

BLITZER: I remember that. Why is gas always cheaper in New Jersey than in New York or Pennsylvania?

CAFFERTY: I don't have any idea, Wolf. Get our investigative unit right on that, will you?


BLITZER: I am going to get the -- yes, I'm going to get the team working on that story.

CAFFERTY: I don't have a clue.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to find out and break that news right here.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Barack Obama makes it clear he's not president yet.


OBAMA: The United States has only one government and one president at a time. And, until January 20 of next year, that government is the current administration. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But the president-elect says his transition team is giving the Treasury Department suggestions. Are they jumping the gun? We're looking into this story.

Also, if Barack Obama does ask Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state, would he be getting two Clintons for the price of one? Would that be a good thing?

And could counterfeiters and scalpers spoil the inauguration for many Americans on January 20?


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: These tickets are supposed to be free for the people. No one should have to pay for them. Once more, these tickets are not yet even available.



BLITZER: Among all the problems plaguing the country right now, Americans are most concerned about the economic meltdown. So, it seems, is president-elect Barack Obama.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We understand he's opened up a direct line right to the highest levels of the Treasury Department.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He has, Wolf. And you know how fast things are moving with this bailout. The president-elect needs to know what's going on with the bailout. It appears now he's got someone right at Henry Paulson's side.


TODD (voice-over): The liaison with Paulson, this official says, has a constant line of communication with the treasury secretary, but is not giving policy advice. Who this is person? Dan Tarullo, former economic adviser to President Clinton, former member of the National Security Council.

Our efforts to reach Tarullo were unsuccessful and the Obama team says he's not doing interviews. But in a signal of how serious the economic crisis is, an Obama aide says Tarullo is their only high- level adviser now in direct contact with a cabinet secretary, a different arrangement from the standard procedure they have at the State Department, Pentagon, and elsewhere, with lower-level agency review teams.

PETER MORICI, ECONOMIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: It's a good idea to send one individual to interact with Secretary Paulson to ensure that policy has a smooth transition over the next 60 days, so that there isn't a disruption in the way the economy is managed.


TODD: Now, one historian said this is unusual, but appropriate. He says other top priorities, even the Iraq war, can wait until Mr. Obama takes office in January.

But, with the bailout, he says, so many decisions are being made almost hour by hour that Mr. Obama needs to be privy to what's going on at all times -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it seems to me they're sort of -- they're not sure what they're doing. They're trying to see what works. They're not sure that, if it works, they have to move very, very quickly. I'm assume that is going to result in the Obama team weighing in.

TODD: That's right. And this is unusual for this transition period.

Most of the other teams in place now are lower-level people. They have 17 people who came to the Pentagon today. Very unusual for one very high-level emissary, but that's the priority that they're placing on this economic bailout right now.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. It is issue number one, and there is an economic crisis in the country right now.

If you're to get a ringside seat to the presidential inauguration, all we can say is, good luck. They might be the most in-demand tickets in the world right now. And you can bet the demand far outpaces the supply.

Our Brianna Keilar is up on Capitol Hill.

Brianna, how difficult is it to get one of those tickets?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I won't sugarcoat it. It's nearly impossible.


KEILAR (voice-over): If you're trying to get a ticket to the presidential inauguration, prepare to be disappointed.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We have gotten requests for over 100,000 tickets.

KEILAR (on camera): And how many do you have to give out?

SCHUMER: Three hundred and ninety-93.

KEILAR (voice-over): That's how many tickets each senator will get come January. House members will receive fewer than 200. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer says he is trying to dole them out fairly to constituents. SCHUMER: Well, I thought the best way to do it given so many requests -- and many of them are very heartfelt stories as well -- was to do a lottery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon. Senator Schumer's office.

KEILAR: Four of Schumer's interns are still staffing the phones and taking names. But each office is different. Washington, D.C.'s only member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has stopped taking phone requests.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: It became clear that taking names only raised people's expectations.

KEILAR: Call her office...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If your call is not related to the inauguration, please press zero.

KEILAR: ... and you will be redirected to her Web site. Showing up in person won't improve your chances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The congresswoman's office will not be able to accommodate all of those requests.

KEILAR: The minute possibility of scoring a ticket has some people looking online to expand their odds by opening their wallets. Some brokers have offered tickets for sky-high prices.

Senator Dianne Feinstein is trying to put a stop to it, introducing legislation that would punish those who sell tickets with a fine of up to $100,000 and as much as a year in jail.

FEINSTEIN: These tickets are supposed to be free for the people. No one should have to pay for them.


KEILAR: Even if you do not have a ticket, though, you can still come down to the National Mall here in Washington and at least try to see Barack Obama sworn in. In fact, members of Congress are telling their constituents this. Some of them are anyways. Now, you may be standing farther away from the action, Wolf, watching the ceremony on Jumbotrons put up on the Mall by organizers, but, as one Democratic House aide put it to me, you can still be part of history.

BLITZER: A lot of people want to be part of that history. Brianna, thank you for that.

Barack Obama has made it clear he wants a relatively quick exit of U.S. troops from Iraq. All combat forces, he says, should be out within 16 months. But the nation's top military officer says that mission may take longer than the incoming commander in chief may want.

And Hillary Clinton may have a chance to become the next secretary of state. We have new information on what's going on, on that front. Stand by for that.

And Democrats and auto manufacturers are warning that if the carmakers are allowed to collapse, the shockwaves will slam the entire economy.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We're seeing a potential downturn in the auto industry with consequences that can -- could impact on millions of American workers.



BLITZER: October was the worst month for auto sales since the 1950s, sales for the big three, GM, Chrysler and Ford, all down by double digits. Even foreign companies are having trouble selling cars, so much so that for the first time, Toyota now shipping trucks built in its U.S. factories outside the North American continent. Wow.

These numbers are why American auto companies are hoping for a massive federal bailout. And GM is now turning to YouTube to try to make its case. Its new online video is warning that the collapse of the auto industry in this country would impact people well beyond Detroit.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's working the story for us.

Abbi, what's going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a dire warning from GM in the form of an online video about the potential ripple effect of a collapse of the U.S. auto industry.

Get ready, it says, for three million job losses in the first year, between automakers, suppliers, and spinoff industries, an economic situation so severe, it says, as to threaten national security. This video has been placed on GM's YouTube channels. It was once a place where they would show off their vehicles. But in the last month, it's been used increasingly for executives of the company to make their case for GM.

CEO Rick Wagoner here.


RICK WAGONER, CHAIRMAN & CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: A huge amount on whether it's improving the fuel economy, the cars that we're offering today and tomorrow, where GM has a much better performance than a lot of people think.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TATTON: Viewers of the video are urged to write their members of Congress to urge government support for the auto industry. But look at the comments on the channel, and you will see there's a lot of skepticism from people here, one writing last night, "Please let the car companies go out of business, instead of allowing them to be an albatross for my children" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.


BLITZER: A deal reached calling for U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by 2011, what does the Pentagon's top general think about that?


ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm hopeful that conditions will continue to improve, so we can continue to do that. But I do think it's important that it be conditions-based.


BLITZER: Does that does put him at odds with the next commander in chief? Jamie McIntyre is standing by at the Pentagon with new details.

Also, how Bill Clinton could cripple his wife's chances to become secretary of state -- that's what his critics are saying. But there are a lot of other developments happening right now. It looks like Hillary Clinton poised, potentially, to become the next secretary of state. We have got the latest information.

Plus, one Republican congressman says his party is now irrelevant, and it's to blame. Is it true? And, if so, what can the GOP do about that? The best political team on television will weigh in.


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

Happening now: Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife, but is he a problem right now in her becoming the next secretary of state? We're watching what is going on. We have new information for you. That's coming up.

Also, when will U.S. troops come home from Iraq? It could be later, rather than sooner, depending on what the incoming commander in chief wants. Stand by for that.

And they butted heads during a contentious campaign, but today they're face to face. Barack Obama and John McCain, they're reaching out to each other and reaching across the aisle -- all of this plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. All that coming up, but we begin with some developments that are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. More than 100 retired members of the U.S. military, retired generals and admirals, they're calling for a repeal of the don't ask/don't tell policy on gays serving in the military. They want gays to be able to serve openly in the United States military.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, a very, very sensitive subject for the U.S. military. What's going on right now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Barack Obama has indicated he's going to move slowly toward any lifting of the don't ask/don't tell ban that prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.

But this group, retired admirals and generals, is trying to give the president-elect a little nudge. Top of the list, by the way, is the former Four-Star Admiral Chuck Larson, who was the superintendent at the Naval Academy, who, by the way, has a gay daughter. He told the Associated Press he thinks that the time has come to lift the ban on gays in the military and he hopes that Obama will make it a top priority.

As you well recall, Wolf, this became a real problem for President Clinton back in 1993, when he promised to lift the ban on gays and it immediately became a situation where Congress intervened and took away from him the authority to do that -- making the don't ask/don't tell compromise part of the law, no longer just a Pentagon policy.

So one of the issues facing Barack Obama is how to move on this situation. If he wants to change it, it's going to have to be something that's going to have to start in Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember Bill Clinton wanted to remove that -- that ban on gays serving openly in the military, but under pressure as he took office as the president-elect and later as president, he found a lot of resistance from General Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others at the Pentagon. That's when they came up with that so-called compromise, don't ask/don't tell.

All right, Jamie, we'll watch this story and see what happens on this front.

There's news, though, involving Barack Obama and Iraq today, as well.

What's going on on that front?

MCINTYRE: Well, another gut check for the president-elect. He's going to have to decide whether his withdrawal plan is going to match with the realities in Iraq. And that reality now includes a new agreement with Iraq that would have U.S. troops stay in the country for three more years. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The newly signed agreement calls for U.S. troops to stop patrolling Iraqi cities by mid-2009 and get out of Iraq entirely by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama promises as soon as he takes office, he will order a drawdown -- after consultations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his national security team.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs is already on record opposing a rigid timetable, such as the 16-month withdrawal plan Obama laid out during his campaign.

(on camera): Has your view change that any withdrawal of troops from Iraq needs to be based on the conditions on the ground?

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: No, I'm -- I'm in a position that -- that is still conditions-based. And I think it needs to be measured. And -- and it needs to be -- and, again, conditions continue to improve in a way where we are allowed to withdraw forces. I certainly understand there are other options. And it's something that we look at all the time.

MCINTYRE: If -- if you have one of those other options, as you call it, can you carry that out?

MULLEN: Sure. Sure.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Admiral Mullen says the logistics of pulling 150,000 American troops out over three years are, in his words, "more than doable." How risky it is depends on how well the Iraqis can provide for their own security.

A big test will come in Baghdad and Mosul -- two violent cities the Iraqis say they will be able to control in another year.


MCINTYRE: This agreement essentially buys the U.S. three more years. And it now presents a situation to Barack Obama where he'll have to decide whether or not his ambitious withdrawal plan is still something he wants to stick with.

One thing that's clear is while Admiral Mullen, among others, will be advising caution on the withdrawal of troops too fast, the top officer in the U.S. military is also ready to salute smartly and carry out the new commander's orders.

BLITZER: As they always do.

All right. Thanks very much, Jamie, for that.

CNN has learned at the Obama transition team is putting former President Bill Clinton and his business dealings under the microscope right now. They're getting ready for the possibility that his wife, the senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, could become the next secretary of State.

Zain Verjee, our State Department correspondent, is working the story for us -- Zain, what are we learning?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sometimes we think of the Clintons together -- Billary. Now there are new questions over whether the connections and the fundraising of the former president could hurt Senator Clinton's chances of becoming secretary of State.



VERJEE (voice-over)

We've been down this road before.


We need to be together, but we do more good, sometimes, when we're apart.


Yes, understand.


It's like two for the price of one.


That was in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president.

But now, will a package deal help or hurt Hillary Clinton become the next secretary of State?

The president-elect on CBS' "60 Minutes."



She is somebody who I've needed advice and counsel from. She is one of the most thoughtful public officials that we have.



Word that the New York senator may be tapped as America's top diplomat has put Bill Clinton under scrutiny. Barack Obama's strict ethics rules could conflict with President Clinton's globetrotting, high-priced speeches abroad in places like China and Saudi Arabia, and his undisclosed overseas fundraising for both his global charitable foundation and presidential library.



He's very active abroad and that's something that has to be looked at and it has to be dealt with.




And it's certainly a legitimate concern. And I think that they're working hard to try to get that done.



The former president's business dealings could undermine his wife's ability to conduct foreign policy. "The New York Times" suggested that Clinton was involved in helping a Canadian donor to his foundation secure a mining deal with the authoritarian government of Kazakhstan. A Clinton spokesman said: "Presidential Clinton has no supply financial interest in the work of his foundation, nor has he received any personal compensation from this donor or his business dealings."

Former presidents have conflicted with U.S. policy. Take Jimmy Carter, who angered the Bush administration by meeting with the Palestinian militant group, Hamas.


I find it hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace.


The up side of both Clintons on the world stage -- President Clinton's foundation efforts are admired and both Clintons are hugely popular around the world.

PETER BEINART, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Hillary Clinton would bring a lot to the table and she would be probably more powerful than most secretaries of State.


VERJEE: And just a short while ago, Ed Henry reported two Obama transition officials didn't say how fast this financial information is being turned over, but they shut down a report by Politico suggesting that transition officials are annoyed by the slow cooperation from the Clintons. One official said that that's just not true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This train seems to be leaving the station pretty quickly.


BLITZER: We'll see what happens, Zain.

Thank you for that.

Former rivals meeting face-to-face for the first time since the election -- so what's on the agenda?


OBAMA: We're just going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country.


BLITZER: We're getting new information about what was discussed in that meeting between Barack Obama and John McCain. Stand by.

And one influential Republican Congressman now openly blaming John McCain for the party's woes. The best political team on television is standing by to discuss this and more.


BLITZER: President-Elect Obama meeting face-to-face for the first time with the man he defeated, John McCain.

Let's discuss this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Dana Milbank, of "The Washington Post"; and our political contributor, Steve Hayes, the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard." Need I say, they're part of the best political team on television.

Let's talk about the Obama/McCain meeting today. Just a symbolic moment or will something substantive come out of it?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, they looked really uncomfortable in that -- in that picture, Wolf. They looked like two heads of state who had never met with each other before and -- but, however, when they went behind closed doors, I was told by the Obama side of the equation that it was a very cooperative meeting. They talked about how they had to work together to change Washington. And they talked about the things that they agree on and can work together on, like the closing of Guantanamo, earmark reform, immigration reform.

BLITZER: Big issues. Very important issues where they could work together. DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR "WASHINGTON POST": I think so. I think John McCain is about to prove again that he is perhaps the world's greatest loser. And I mean that in a good way. Like it happened in 2000, when he became the deal maker in the Senate. You can see it happening again. Obama is going to need just a few Republican votes to get his agenda through. And McCain can be the king maker who can deliver that.

BLITZER: He's worked with a lot of Democrats over the years -- Kennedy on immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform; Lieberman, who is still a Democrat, at least an independent Democrat, on global warming; and campaign finance reform, Russ Feingold.

Is he going to be able to deal with the president-elect, for example, on campaign finance reform?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think he will. I think John McCain could be Barack Obama's favorite Republican and very soon. I mean I think when you talk about Guantanamo Bay and the potential closing of Guantanamo Bay, John McCain would give Barack Obama tremendous protection...

BORGER: Cover.

HAYES: ...and cover on that politically. And there are all these other issues -- global warming, immigration. I mean, we can talk about a lot of them where I think he could be a very important voice.

And I think if conservatives continue to criticize him the way that he does, he sort of gets his back up and he's more likely, then, to be working with Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Having said all of that, his Republican colleague from South Carolina -- I'm not talking about Lindsey Graham. I'm talking about Jim DeMint, the other senator from South Carolina...

BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: ...he says this -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- referring to McCain: "His proposal for amnesty for illegals; his support of global warming; capping trade programs that will put another burden on our economy; and, of course, his embrace of the bailout right before the election was probably the nail in our coffin this last election."

He's pinning a big chunk of the blame on John McCain himself.

BORGER: Well, I think Jim DeMint is wrong. I think he's got to look inside at the Republican Party, now that they're all going to go on the couch and sort of try to figure out who they are and what they stand for.

And I think those issues were where John McCain was actually trying to reach out beyond the Republican base. And if the Republican Party does not do that, they're going to continue to shrink in size.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MILBANK: I think Jim DeMint is living under some delusion if he actually believes that, or perhaps that South Carolina is some sort of a bellwether for the nation. And all the evidence said the opposite.

What he's trying to do now is sort of plant a flag out there and try to define the narrative of why McCain lost, whereas we all know McCain lost for the obvious connections to a very unpopular president.

BLITZER: In hindsight, probably no Republican, in this environment, with the economy being as it was, could have done a whole lot better than John McCain. Some people think he did about as well as any of them. I don't know if you agree or disagree, but that's just a thought.

Eric Cantor, he's a rising star among House Republicans, Republican from Virginia. This is what he's quoted as saying in "The Washington Times" today: "Where we have really fallen down is we have lacked the ability to be relevant to people's lives. It's the roads. It's going to be the gas station that's still there when the price will bump back up. It's education. It's health care. These are the issues, frankly, that we have not been on the offense with."

And now, he's a pretty smart guy, Eric Cantor.

HAYES: He's an extraordinarily smart guy. I guess I'd make two points. One, one could argue that, in fact, the Republican Party has been too relevant and that's one of the reasons that voters didn't pick them. They have such bad branding right now that the fact that people were Republicans, I think, hurt them.

But the second point I think he's right, in a broad sense, in that Republicans weren't on the offensive on health care, on those kinds of issues. And one of the debates I think we're going to see unfold over the next six, eight, 12 months will be how exactly the Republicans can make policy arguments that are consistent with their free market principles.

BORGER: And the Cantor versus DeMint argument is we -- is how it's going to play out among Republicans, because that's why Eric Cantor is a leader and will, I think, continue to be a leader among House Republicans, because he wants to reach out.

BLITZER: And in that spirit of Eric Cantor, if you read the speech that Tim Pawlenty gave when he was down at the Republican Governors Association...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: was a very, very thoughtful speech. And he lamented that Republicans, they're losing in the Northeast, they're losing out on the West Coast, in the Atlan -- in the Great Lakes area. You know, he was pretty thoughtful about that.

And he was very concerned that even North Carolina and Virginia went for Obama. MILBANK: Right. And Eric Cantor is talking about those same Sam's Club Republicans. Now, he has self-interest here in that saying well, we sort of screwed this one up, but give me a chance.

BLITZER: Is he going to be...

MILBANK: And, in fact, Wednesday morning...

BLITZER: Is he going to be the...

MILBANK: It is widely expected he will be the...


BLITZER: To take over for...

MILBANK: ...number two Republican in the House.

BLITZER: ...Roy Blount.

Do you think?

MILBANK: That's what it looks like.

BLITZER: And Boehner stays on as the Republican leader in the House?

MILBANK: As a champion of change.

BLITZER: Eric...


BLITZER: Eric Cantor stays -- becomes the number two, is that what you think, Steve?

HAYES: I think that's exactly right, although, I would say there's one risk. I mean Republicans can't be, I think, with Eric Cantor's comments, looking like they're the team of, you know, Democratic also-rans or wannabes. I mean they can't just say we're going to give you the same...

BLITZER: Well, how much cooperation can they...

HAYES: ...stuff (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: ...give Barack Obama in the first year?

HAYES: Oh, I think they can give him cooperation and, most importantly, respect. But they also need contrast. I mean I do think -- and this is to Jim DeMint's point. One of the points that he makes is that there was a muddling of the messages. So John McCain, at the end of the campaign, looked like sort of Barack Obama not quite as much -- not giving out as much, but a lot of the same kinds of plans. Republicans can't win that way.

BORGER: Right. But they have to come up with ideas, which is key. And so far, they don't have a lot.

BLITZER: That's right.

BORGER: And that's the...

BLITZER: And Newt Gingrich is waiting on the sidelines, remember.

BORGER: Well, that's the problem. And...

BLITZER: He's got a lot of ideas.

BORGER: Let's be fair to Newt Gingrich...


BORGER: Because when he took over the House in the '90s, he had ideas. He had a Contract with America. He had a plan. And it was -- you could post it on your refrigerator door. And he sent it out in postcards to voters. And it made a difference because they thought he stood for something.

BLITZER: Do you remember those days?

I know you were still in elementary school at the time, right?


BORGER: You were in elementary school.

MILBANK: Not quite. But, I mean, it's true, Newt has -- forgets more ideas than many of us have had in our entire lifetimes.

BORGER: Well, but at least he has them.

BLITZER: Good point.

Guys, thanks very much.

Almost two weeks after the election and three Senate races still have not been decided. Two of them are closer than close. We're updating you on the numbers. I think you'll be interested.

Plus, Obama's doodles -- scribbles by the president-elect and what they're worth and what they reveal. Only Jeanne Moos has this information that you need to know.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The answer to your question from earlier about why gasoline is cheaper in New Jersey than it is New York is taxes. The taxes in New York are more than twice as high on a gallon of gas as they are in the Garden State. BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: So there.

The other question is how have plunging gas prices, which have gone down 61 days in a row, changed your driving habits? Louise in Massachusetts: "I'm still using my car as little at possible. Being a skeptic, I'm putting the extra money in a jar to pay for the gas when the prices soar again -- most likely, the week after the Christmas shopping season is over."

Len in Long Island, New York: "Great gas prices for hardworking Americans, but that's really bad news for the alternative energy industry and global warming. Couple that with an upcoming taxpayer- funded bailout for the American automobile industry, and I suppose we can be expecting a new model Hummer soon."

Andy in Virginia writes: "Well, the gas prices give me more money to put aside for the coming economic collapse."

Jeff in Michigan: "I drive 200 miles every weekend to visit my girlfriend, regardless of gas prices. The only difference is now I'll be able to save enough money to buy her an engagement ring."


Adena in Texas: "Even with gas prices lower, I'm using the public transit system here in Dallas. It's less expensive than driving and paying parking. It just makes sense to continue to cut back where I can, with the economy as it is. And fewer vehicles on the road helps with the environment."

B.D. Saugerties, New York: "Last spring, when my tank was half empty, I used to fill up because I knew the price would going higher in a day or two. Now when my tank is half empty, I wait because I know the price will go down in a day or two."

And Matt in Virginia says: "My driving habits have changed exactly zero. Sure, prices may be down, but I enjoy that warm fuzzy feeling I get not having to break the bank in order to get to the bank. And, hey, when the prices go back up, the transition will be easy."

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, is there anything else I can help you with?

BLITZER: I'm going to work on some more questions.

We'll get back to you, Jack.


BLITZER: Thank you.


BLITZER: See you tomorrow.

On our Political Ticker today, almost two weeks after election day, three Senate remain undecided.

In Alaska, Republican incumbent Ted Stevens pressed ahead with his re-election campaign, even after his felony convictions. But he's fallen behind Democrat Mark Begich by 7/10 of a percent.

In Minnesota right now, Republican incumbent Senator Norm Coleman finished 1/100th of a percent ahead of Democrat Al Franken. They face a recount.

And finally in Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss finished 3 full percentage points ahead of the Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. But that's not enough to avoid a runoff election because he didn't get more than 50 percent of the votes, which is required in Georgia.

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out The Ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. Go there --

CNN's Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual but Barack Obama's doodling means different things to different folks.


SHEILA KURTZ, GRAPHOLOGY CONSULTING GROUP: It looks intellectual and deliberate.


BLITZER: And an astronaut getting ready for a spacewalk -- just one of today's Hot Shots, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at our Hot Shots.

At the White House, President Bush presents two songwriters with the 2008 national Medals of Arts.

And down the road, Virginia's senior senator, John Warner, walks with his successor, Mark Warner, to his office on Capitol Hill.

In California, firefighters sift through the rubble of a burned out home.

And at the International Space Station, astronauts prepare for their spacewalk, scheduled for tomorrow.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Do you ever think you're doodles could be worth more than the paper they're scratched on?

They are if you're the president-elect.

Our Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot of people can say...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I got his autograph.

MOOS: But this guy can say I've got Obama's doodle -- and he's not selling.

WAYNE BERZON, PURCHASED OBAMA'S DOODLE: And then he said, well, what if the offer was six figures?

MOOS: Nope. Financial consultant Wayne Berzon is not selling the doodle he bought for about $2,000 at a charity auction a year-and-a- half ago.

(on camera): There's Senator Feinstein, Senator Kennedy, Senator Harry Reid and this is Senator Chuck Schumer, only it doesn't look like him.

(voice-over): Compare this to another famous doodle that made the rounds recently.

(on camera): Here's Sarah Palin's.

(voice-over): "The New Republic" uncovered it in a box of odds and ends kept by the woman who ran Palin's campaign for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's fantasizing about her win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's me. Check this box.

MOOS: Palin jotted down possible slogans like, "time for a change," telling citizens, "you would be my boss."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks confused and talky.

MOOS (on camera): Talky?


MOOS: What's talky?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like she's talking too much.

MOOS (voice-over): As for opinion on President-Elect Obama's doodle...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy is intelligent. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This actually looks done well, except for the hair. I don't like the hair.

MOOS: What's wrong?

Not yellow enough?

We had graphologist Sheila Kurtz put the two sets of doodles under her magnifying glass.

KURTZ: He is economical and clear and to the point.

MOOS: Ronald Reagan used to like to doodle faces. The book "Presidential Doodles" features LBJ's devil cap, FDR's fish and JFK's sailboats. As for Sarah Palin's doodles from back before she was famous, our graphologist notes the circle dot over the I, the hook on the P and the words scrawled over words.

KURTZ: She's smart, but she's very scattered and all over the place and wants everyone to recognize her and to know who she is. It's almost like a teenager's writing.

MOOS: Yes, well, tell that to the guy who wanted his cell phone signed. The collector who bought the Obama doodle is putting it in a safe deposit box for now.

BERZON: It's kind of a neat idea to own something that could end up in a presidential museum.

MOOS: In a museum or on some blog?

It makes you want to hide your doodles lest they be criticized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really. It's like somebody who was in prison who would write on, like, their wall.

MOOS: Or, as someone posted after eying Sarah Palin's doodles: "I think the O in Mayor just winked at me."

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jeanne Moos, for that.

We want you to check out our political pod cast. And you can do that and get the best political team to go. This is what you need to do. You can subscribe at You get the pod cast. You can also go to for all the latest political news. A good idea.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'll see you back here tomorrow.


Kitty Pilgrim is sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.