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Bill Reveals Hillary's Reactions; Richardson Tapped for Commerce; Reaction to Obama's Cabinet Picks; New Developments in Automakers' Struggle

Aired December 3, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, nominated by Barack Obama to be Commerce secretary. But the nomination could face some challenges. Stand by for that, as well.
And the United Auto Union Workers agreeing to work toward major contract changes. Will they be enough, though, to keep U.S. carmakers rolling?

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

She came closer to winning a major party presidential nomination than any woman in American history and her loss to Barack Obama was, no doubt, heartbreaking.

But now for the first time, we're learning Hillary Clinton's thoughts after deciding to drop out of the race for the White House. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spoke exclusively to CNN International's Anjali Rao about Hong -- in Kong about his wife's defeat and the surprise of being picked for secretary of State.


ANJALI RAO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How did you and Hillary deal with her losing the nomination for president?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took a long walk right after she withdrew. And we talked about how fortunate we had been in our lives and how much people had given us and the opportunities we had to serve. And she said, you know, I'm going to really work hard in this election because I want the American people to know I ran to change the country and not just to get a job.

And so she made it easy for us to deal with it well, because she dealt with it so well. And if you look back, at least in modern American history, as far as I know, there's no precedent for the amount of effort she put out. And, I must say, she didn't do it with any thought of becoming secretary of State. I think she was shocked. She first read about it in the newspaper -- the speculation.

RAO: Really?

B. CLINTON: Yes. And she -- it was, I think, a very wise decision by the president-elect. And I think she made the right decision. But for her, it was hard. She adored being in the Senate. I don't know -- you know, she -- I think she loved it more than any job she ever had. And she was incredibly good at it. She found out how to be very effective in spite of the fact that she had no seniority.

So, you know, I'm very pleased by it. But we dealt with it basically by being grateful for the lives we've had and realizing that it was an enormous opportunity to change the country.


BLITZER: All right. There's much more ahead on CNN International's exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton. Coming up, we'll hear what he says his role might be in the new Obama administration, what he regrets about his presidency and when he thinks the U.S. economy might recover. The interview with Bill Clinton -- an exclusive interview -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, the next president is putting another piece of his cabinet puzzle into place with another former rival. Barack Obama is tapping New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to be his Commerce secretary. But the nomination could face some challenges.

We've asked Brian Todd to look into this story for us -- are there some serious potential problems, Brian, out there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Richardson could face some challenging questions during confirmation about his handling of an espionage case while he was Energy secretary and over the jobs he got after holding that post.


TODD (voice-over): Most observers agree Bill Richardson brings real gravitas to the job of Commerce secretary, as governor of New Mexico, former presidential candidate and Energy secretary under President Clinton.

But his affiliations after he left that Energy post may provoke some tough questions during Richardson's confirmation. In the two years between that job and the governorship, Richardson joined the boards of energy companies and other firms -- positions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was first reported by the Politico Web site.

KEN VOGEL, SENIOR REPORTER, POLITICO.COM: What these affiliations show is Bill Richardson's willingness and enthusiasm about cashing in on his government service. He took a number of jobs on corporate boards and with consulting firms that were directly related to what he did in the Clinton administration. And Barack Obama has railed against this very kind of revolving door.

TODD: Aides to Obama and Richardson now say there's nothing wrong with what Richardson did. There's also nothing illegal about it.

But Richardson may also face scrutiny over his handling of the Wen Ho Lee case. Lee was a scientist at the Los Alamos National Lab accused in 1999 of espionage. The accusation was later dropped. Lee pleaded guilty to mishandling data. Now, an online group called is protesting Richardson's nomination, saying that as Energy secretary, he violated Lee's due process rights by publicly firing him and pushing for charges. Richardson's actions drew this blistering rebuke in the Senate.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You would never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed. It's gone.

TODD: Could the ghost of Wen Ho Lee haunt Richardson now in the Senate?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's an old and obscure scandal. And it's very unlikely to stop his nomination from being confirmed.


TODD: Aides to Richardson and Obama won't comment on his handling of the Wen Ho Lee case. One transition team official only saying they don't think there's much basis for the accusations leveled by that online group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that. Brian Todd working the story.

Meanwhile, the vice president-elect, Joe Biden, has just left a briefing for members of a government panel on weapons of mass destruction. A report from the panel warning that terrorists are likely to launch an attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons on the United States in the next five years. Biden says the government must do more to make sure that doesn't happen.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: The answer that jumps out very starkly is no. We're not doing all we can or should. And we're not doing all we can to prevent the world's most lethal weapons from winding up in the hands of a terrorist. But this report is, in my view, more than a warning about what we're doing wrong. It's a pragmatic blueprint how to get it right. And that's the good news about this report.


BLITZER: Just noting that the Homeland Security secretary- designate, Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, she was at that briefing, as well. Pretty scary stuff. There's no doubt about that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe -- maybe they should secure the nation's borders. What do you think about that idea?

BLITZER: They should -- they probably should have done that a long time ago.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Seven years after 9/11 and nothing's been done -- I mean virtually nothing. The borders still leak like a sieve. The ports aren't protected. I mean, if they get a hold of this stuff, it won't be tough to get it into the country. Auto sales hitting new lows since November of last year. General Motors down 41 percent. Ford off 31 percent. It's not just the American car companies that are suffering, either. Toyota sales down 34 percent. Honda down 32 percent. This recession has got teeth.

This news comes as the big three make another plea to Congress tomorrow for $34 billion in bailout money -- up from 25 just two weeks ago. Ford, which is asking for $9 billion, seems to be getting it. Yesterday, Ford said they would sell five of their corporate jets and cut their CEO's salary to a dollar. That's symbolic stuff, though, and it really has nothing to do with the legacy costs of the cars that are made in Detroit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says auto industry bankruptcy is not an option and if the cash doesn't come from a new loan, the industry will get the money from the $700 billion already approved to rescue banks. I must have missed the part where they put Nancy Pelosi in charge of all of this.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll out today finds that a majority of Americans -- 61 percent, almost two-thirds -- oppose bailing out the auto industry. And 70 percent say it's just not fair to taxpayers. They also don't think it will help the economy.

So here's the question: When it comes to the auto industry, what's the right answer? Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. A lot of people do that.

They're the ultimate power couple -- so what do the Clintons do with their downtime? Do they even have any downtime?


B. CLINTON: We like to take hikes, go to movies, read books and hang out. That's what we really like. So the only thing I hate is that we don't have that time now, because she's got a new job to prepare for.


BLITZER: Much more of our exclusive one-on-one interview with the former president, Bill Clinton, including his advice for Barack Obama. Stand by.

Also, Americans speaking out about Barack Obama's cabinet picks. What do they make of so many old faces in the new administration?

And we just heard Jack talk about the ailing U.S. carmakers -- how they're seeking billions of government dollars. We're going to go live to Detroit, where the Autoworkers Union has some ideas of its own.

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


BLITZER: President-Elect Barack Obama is making headlines daily with a series of high profile picks for his administration. And people are watching.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now -- Bill, is the public impressed so far with the president-elect's picks for the cabinet and other important jobs?


Do they see problems? No.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): How about those Obama cabinet appointments? Impressive?

You bet. Three quarters of Americans approve of the new cabinet. That's noticeably higher than opinion of President Bush's cabinet picks just before he took office in 2001.

Let's name some names. How about Hillary Clinton for secretary of State?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I was always interested, after the primary was over, in finding ways in which we could collaborate.

SCHNEIDER: Great idea, say 71 percent of Americans. Yes, but what do Republicans think of the Clinton comeback? They're kind of split.

How about keeping on President Bush's Defense secretary, Robert Gates?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And I will be honored to serve President-Elect Obama.

SCHNEIDER: Big hurrah -- 83 percent. Yes, but what do Democrats think of Gates? No problem. Clinton, Gates, Bill Richardson, Paul Volcker -- are those the faces of change?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I know people are saying where's the change, Barack Obama is appointing familiar people to his cabinet. Barack Obama is the change.

SCHNEIDER: Not a problem, says the public. People with Washington experience can deliver change. But will a "team of rivals" create a clash of egos?

OBAMA: I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made.

SCHNEIDER: It makes sense, Americans say. No reason past competitors can't work together now -- as long as they know who's boss.

OBAMA: I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out and I expect them to implement that vision once the decisions are made.


SCHNEIDER: Now, was joining the Obama cabinet a good career move for Hillary Clinton?

Apparently. Two-thirds of the public say they have a favorable opinion of her. That is the most popular she's been since, oh my goodness, 10 years ago, when her husband got impeached. Yikes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yikes, indeed. All right, Bill. Thanks very much. The public clearly impressed by President-Elect Obama's picks.

Detroit auto executives will be back here in Washington on Capitol Hill tomorrow trying, once again, to convince lawmakers to sign off on billions of dollars in loans to try to keep this industry alive. And now the United Auto Workers union is agreeing to work on contract changes with the carmakers.

Let's go to CNN's Brooke Baldwin. She's joining us now live from the headquarters of G.M. -- Brooke, all right, what's the latest on this life and death struggle for G.M. and the other big three -- the other big two, should I say?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I think part of the life and death struggle, Wolf, is the word concessions. Now, that is a word that UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said he used to shy away from. But today he said that is exactly what union members did hear at the G.M. headquarters, as you mentioned, all in an effort to help the big three survive.


CINDY ADAMS, PRESIDENT, UAW LOCAL 1413: Anything that happens to General Motors, Chrysler or Ford is going to happen to us, too.

BALDWIN (voice-over): A show of solidarity that is why 525 UAW delegates, including Cindy Adams, traveled to Detroit. Their mission? Discuss concessions that the union could make to help car companies get government loans.

ADAMS: One in 10 jobs belongs to somebody in the auto industry. So we've got to do whatever we have to do to make General Motors and Ford and Chrysler survive.

BALDWIN: According to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, the union discussed two major concessions in a closed-door meeting. One, suspend the Jobs Bank -- a jobs guarantee program that pays laid off workers up to 95 percent of their regular pay. Two, allow the big three to delay make billions in payments to retiree health care trusts in 2010.


BALDWIN: But this G.M. retiree says America needs to take wider action. Frank Hammer says to level the playing field with other nations, the U.S. should pay for universal health care.

HAMMER: And it's long overdue. President-Elect Obama has talked about nationalizing health care so that not only autoworkers have health care, but all the other workers that are working without health care have health care, as well.

BALDWIN: While the U.S. auto industry is fighting for survival, many Americans worry about a domino effect this federal intervention could create among other ailing industries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where do we draw the line from getting federal funding from the government?

RON GETTELFINGER, UAW PRESIDENT: We help the economy -- help keep it going.


GETTELFINGER: This industry is so important to our country and to our economy, that I think -- I think this is an exception to the rule.

BALDWIN: A necessary exception, according to this Alabama autoworker, for the economy and the big three.

ADAMS: When they don't have work, we don't have work. So we all have to be here together.


BALDWIN: Next, Ron Gettelfinger leaves Detroit, heads to Washington to join the big three CEOs on Capitol Hill for those hearings tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge day here in Washington. Brooke, thank you.

The union, by the way, is itself feeling the pinch of a contracting industry. The United Auto Workers' membership hit an all- time high of one-and-a-half million back in the 1970s. Today, it's under 600,000. A union worker makes $73 an hour, on average, when you factor in all the benefits, compared to $48 an hour for non-union autoworkers here in the United States.

Two top auto executives will be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Do you have questions for the CEOs of General Motors and Chrysler? You can put them on video. Send us your video questions to We're going to pick some of your questions and get them to the CEOs of G.M. and Chrysler tomorrow, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Bill Clinton -- he's opening up to CNN in an exclusive, sometimes emotional, interview.


B. CLINTON: Since my heart surgery, because I survived that, 90 percent of the time, I'm much more mellow and happy.


BLITZER: The former president also talking about his future and his plans for the coming years. Stand by for that exclusive interview.

And guns in the cockpit -- possibly on your next flight. New danger revealed in a new report involving something made to keep the guns safer.

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


BLITZER: Our exclusive interview with Bill Clinton -- you're going to want to hear what he's saying. That's coming up.

But let's go to Fredricka Whitfield right now. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Fred.


Well, today, Indian authorities defused a bomb at a train station in Mumbai, India. The station was one of the first sites to be targeted in last week's terrorist attacks. Officials say the only gunman to survive told police where the bomb was. A lead investigator says the 21-year-old suspect also told police that he and the other nine attackers spent the past three months in Pakistan carefully planning out the strike.

Wall Street finished the day in positive territory. After an erratic session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 172 points, closing at 8591. Analysts speculate that stocks could lose ground later in the week, when November retail sales and employment numbers are released.

And up, up and away -- for a second straight day, South Korean activists sent balloons carrying about 100,000 leaflets into North Korea. The leaflets blasted Kim Jung Il's harsh rule and urged North Koreans to rise up against his regime.

And Hawaii wants to become the first state with electric car stations statewide. The plan is to install up to 100,000 charge spots in parking lots, streets and residential neighborhoods by 2012. The auto alliance of Nissan and Renault have agreed to make cars for the program that won't cost any more than gas-powered cars. Governor Linda Lingle says the goal is to reduce the state's use of fossil fuel by 70 percent.

That will be a real interesting scene -- almost as popular as surfboards on cars -- there in Hawaii. BLITZER: Let's see how they do in Hawaii and maybe it will eventually come to the mainland, if it works out there.

WHITFIELD: We'll see.

BLITZER: We'll see what's going on. Thanks very much, Fred, for that.

The former president, Bill Clinton, he's reflecting on his presidency.


RAO: When you look back at your time as president, are there things that you wish you could just un-happen?


BLITZER: He goes on and names three specific things and he talks about his own future. Much more of our exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton. Stand by for that.

And a potentially deadly problem on commercial airliners. A new report on armed pilots and a safeguard that may be causing dangerous problems.


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

Happening now, Bill Clinton on the economy -- he says if Barack Obama does the right things, it will "turn around quickly." But how quick is quick? In more of our exclusive CNN interview, the former president explains exactly how long he thinks it will take.

Also, Barack Obama in his own words -- he officially announces New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, as his choice for Commerce secretary. We're going to show you what the president-elect had to say about his cabinet, the economy and much more at today's news conference in Chicago.

And the Democrats' quest for a filibuster-proof Senate majority hits a wall. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss wins re-election in a runoff in Georgia.

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

But let's get right to it. More now of our exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton. He sat down today with CNN International anchor Anjali Rao in Hong Kong. Listen to what he says about the country's financial meltdown and what Barack Obama can do about it.


RAO: At this conference here in Hong Kong, you asked Liu Khonyu (ph) how long he thought the economic downturn would last. How long do you think it will last?

B. CLINTON: First, it's impossible for anyone to know, because this is somewhat unprecedented. It bears some relationship to the Depression that began in 1929, but not yet as severe and probably won't be.

I think he gave you the right answer, though. He gave -- when he said that if you don't want it to last 10 years, as it did in Japan -- the slowdown -- then you have to do something about asset values.

In other words, I strongly support the president-elect's plan for a big stimulus program in America. And I think it's a great opportunity for us to do what we need to do in energy and health care and to create jobs and really do things that will help ease the burden of this slowdown.

But to get out of it, we've got to deal with what got us into it, which was a total collapse of the housing market leading to terrible crunches in credit. And I think that had we done this a year ago -- had we done something on housing a year ago, most of this could have been avoided.

So not very long ago, the president-elect said that he wanted a housing component to the recovery program, to rework the mortgages. And then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that buy the secondary -- our secondary mortgage market -- the Bush administration has now allowed them to put a moratorium on foreclosures and start working their mortgages.

The first person in government in the executive branch to do anything about it was Sheila Bair, the head of our Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She's been great on this. She's been right all along to try to do something on housing.

So I think if he goes in there and does what he says he's going to do in the housing market, I think it will turn around more quickly. And I don't think we can turn it around in less than a year, because too much wealth has already disappeared.

The stock market might come back in less than a year, but the shrinkage that's already occurred in investment wealth is going to play itself out in the real economy. I don't think it will take longer than three years. So I would say if they make really, really good decisions and I think they will, probably somewhere between 15 months and two years we'll be back humming again.

RAO: When you're doing CGI, trotting all over the world, you are surrounded by strangers all the time. Doesn't this job ever get lonely?

B. CLINTON: No. I'm fascinated by different kinds of people in different circumstances. I always have been. I was raised to be. I grew up in a pre-television age. I was 10 years old before my family got a television, almost 10, about a month away from my tenth birthday. I remember it very well. And I was raised and my people had very modest circumstances. So we never took vacations or anything. And I was raised to take in entertainment as meeting different kinds of people and learning about them and listening to their stories.

So for me, this is like a vacation every day, being able to go out and you know, working on tsunami program and all the countries in Southeast Asia, do the work we do in Africa and all over the continent on HIV and AIDS and the climate change work we do. I was just in Rotterdam talking about that. It's a gift. So I don't get lonely meeting strangers. I like it when I get to go home and Hillary said last night when we talked, she said you know the worst thing about this, the only really bad thing is I wish we just had a few months to just enjoy our home and read books and take walks in all the parks.

We live in a county in New York that has a lot of parks and green space. And we are methodically going through every single one of them. We want to take hikes in every place that we can. And we like to take hikes, go to movies, read books and hang out. So the only thing I hate is that we don't have that time now because she's got a new job to prepare for.

RAO: When you look back at your time as president, are there things that you wish you could just unhappen?

B. CLINTON: Well, there are things that I wish more than anything else there are things I wish had I done. I was not able to do.

At first, it was a good time for America and the world. We managed the economy well. Poverty went down. Income and equality went down. The number of people with health care went up and America was a force for peace all over the world. We had seven good years in the Middle East. We had a resolution in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Kosovo and restored democracy in Haiti and basically established a whole different relationship with India and countries all over Africa. It was a good time. We were moving in the right direction.

I think that we'll resume that movement. But I very much regret that we didn't pass health care. I think we'll get a health care reform. I think America will finally clean up our health care system. We have a new Democratic Party in Congress. They now see that everything we said was going to happen happened because we didn't deal with it and America's economy can't really recover over the long run when we keep spending 50 percent more on health care and we don't do more for it. So I wish we'd done that but I think we're going to get it now.

I wish had I intervened in Rwanda. And I have spent the rest of my life and will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to them. I have health care and economic projects in Rwanda. I helped them to build their holocaust memorial. I wish I'd done that.

And those are two things that I really, really wish that if I had to do over again, I could do. Of course, I wish that Yasser Arafat hadn't walked away from the best peace deal that the Palestinians could possibly get. Now, the current leadership of the Palestinians has basically said they would take that deal. And I still believe almost no matter what happens in the Israeli election, there's a broad understanding in Israel that demographics are not the friend of an ultimate resolution of this. So I wish we had been able to make peace in the Middle East.

I suppose those are the three things that would most affect the lives of my fellow Americans and the world that I wish I could have accomplished that I didn't.

RAO: You've been on global stage for such a long time now in such a visible way and you're not showing any signs whatsoever of slowing down. But can you ever picture yourself just sitting back with your pipe and your slippers looking out into the middle distance and thinking of absolutely nothing?

B. CLINTON: Well, actually I do that as much as I can although I don't smoke a pipe anymore. I did 40 years ago. But I -- as I get older, what I notice is particularly since my heart surgery, because I survived that, 90 percent of the time, I'm much more mellow and happy just with whatever's happened. But I don't -- I don't deal with stress as well when I'm tired as I used to when I was young. That is, I have to be more careful about my rest. That's the only thing I've noticed. But I hope that I'll be able to work until I die because I think I should and because it gives me great joy. I mean it's what makes me happy. I'm a Calvinist I suppose in that sense I expense but I like the work. I like doing what I do now. I've enjoyed every stage ever my life from the time I was a little boy. I loved being president. It's a good thing we had two-term limits or they would have had to cart me out of there.

But as soon as -- I knew all the time our system only permitted you to serve two terms. I think on balance, it's a wise system. And for all kinds of reasons. And when I left, I just went to work creating another life. I think it's good for all of us.

You know, and there's some scientific basis for that. There's a lot of research just in the last year showing that people into their 60s and 70s can form new neural networks in their brains and can continue to stay vital and alive and learn new things. In order to do that, you have to keep thinking about different things. You have to keep going. And so, no, I can't ever -- I don't think I'll ever just quit, as long as my body will tote me around.


BLITZER: The former president, Bill Clinton in, an exclusive interview with our own Anjali Rao. That interview in Hong Kong and guess what? You haven't heard it all yet. There's more coming up. The former president speaking rather candidly about the concessions he had to make to help his wife secure the nomination to become the next secretary of state. How much he got involved and how involved will he be in her new job? He also offers some advice to Barack Obama. More of the interview, the exclusive interview with the former president coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. Stand by for that.

And new polling shows Barack Obama getting really high approval ratings for his transition. But with the high marks come very high expectations. Jennifer Palmieri and Alex Castellanos, they are standing by to talk politics and more.

And guns in the cockpit, pilots armed to boost security. But a federal investigation now concludes those guns could actually pose a risk to passengers. We'll have a live report. That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



JIMMY KIMMEL, TALK SHOW HOST: While there has been some speculation as to whether or not someone like Hillary who's been a rival during the campaign is going to be able to follow his directives, Obama put that question to rest during their press conference in Chicago.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made.


BLITZER: All right. Comedians, late night comedians are having a field day. She didn't really laugh. That was a joke on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. The idea of Hillary Clinton working for Barack Obama though is inspiring a lot of comedians. But what about her husband, the former president, what would be a good role for him in the Obama administration?

Let's talk about that and more with Jennifer Palmieri from the Center for American Progress. She was also a press secretary to John Edwards, worked in the Clinton White House for eight years, as I recall; and CNN political contributor and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos.

What do you think, your former boss Bill Clinton, what do you think would be a good job for him, if he wanted to take a job in an Obama administration?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I don't expect he will get a job per se. I know that he does feel a personal obligation that every president needs to serve future presidents however they best can. Sometimes that means not at all. I think he will continue to do CGI work.

BLITZER: The Clinton global initiatives.

PALMIERI: The Clinton global initiatives, there will be some limitations on that because of secretary designate Clinton's role. But I also think you there's a lot of great domestic work he could do. He's always cared a lot about domestic poverty. I think if he wanted to appoint him to a kind of task force there. He was called in by current President Bush to work on Katrina.

BLITZER: They'll be plenty of opportunities.

PALMIERI: I think it's more of a special envoy kind of.

BLITZER: Which normally is what a sitting president does with former presidents.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There are some opportunities here. I mean, the late night material does write itself. We won't go there. There were two great successes I think in the Clinton administration. One was welfare reform and the other was free trade. Here we are with new markets to open. If Bill Clinton might have an opportunity as an envoy to open markets, a new global economic frontier is out there and he is the best most talented political salesman. I had dinner with Anthony Hopkins one night and he said the best performer he's ever seen was Lawrence Olivier. Matching him was Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: Wow. He is unique. Whether you love him or hate him. You see our exclusive interview with him today in Hong Kong, he is pretty amazing when you think about it.

PALMIERI: Amazing guy and a very candid interview.

BLITZER: Very candid.

CASTELLANOS: I think the danger though, there's already one Clinton on the stage. She is going to be speaking for this administration. You don't want to conflicted voice. It's almost many I think -- you don't want anyone to go rogue.

PALMIERI: The irony is Hillary was not going to be at state. I think the opportunities for him to be special envoy to the Mideast at times.

BLITZER: He's had his moment. Let her have her moment now.

PALMIERI: That's certainly.

BLITZER: I think that's the way they see it. All right. Let's talk a little bit about the cabinet appointments he's made so far. Our brand new poll, Alex, we asked, what do you think of them? Seventy-five percent of the American public approved, 22 percent disapprove. That's pretty good numbers.

CASTELLANOS: Stunning stuff. And even Republicans now, yours truly among them, I think, one, we're all rooting for this president's success because we need him to be successful now because of the challenges we're facing. Actually, he's done a heck of a job. Right now, he said he's going to put ideology aside and pick folks who can solve some of the problems, very capable and centrist cabinet. When you hear some in the Democratic Party say gees, he's gone too far toward the center, that's a nice problem to have. One of the things we're seeing is that the Democratic left is trying to remain relevant in saying this is just cover for Barack Obama to do some left leaning things later. I don't think he's ordering Italian food because he likes Chinese. I think we're finding out who this guy is. He didn't scare perk for two years in this campaign. He was very -- he made great pains and I think he's not going to start scaring America by lurching left now.

PALMIERI: I don't know that when the Republican administration is nationalizing banks to some degree, I'm not sure where the political center is anymore. What the -- what his economic team is proposing is politically centrist or moved to the right. I know people are concerned about watching that. I don't think there's evidence of that. The things they've done.

CASTELLANOS: Tax increases and --

BLITZER: He's laying out the possibility that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest might laps in 2011 instead of removing to remove them earlier which had been some of the suggestion during the campaign. That's music to a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats' ears as well.

PALMIERI: I think what has been particularly effective and how they've laid this out, we learned a lot of lessons from the Clinton administration. My current boss John Podesta is a transition co- chair. He picked the White House chief of staff first because that person needs to be involved in picking the rest of the cabinet. Did the entire economic team together on foreign policy.

BLITZER: You know what.

PALMIERI: Not dribbling them out one by one.

BLITZER: John Podesta was there at the beginning of the Clinton administration. They've learned a lot of mistakes that were made them.

PALMIERI: This is a competent group.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there unfortunately. We'll continue. Thank you.

A federal program to arm pilots is designed to make air travel safer but a simple safeguard to protect passengers could be making it even more dangerous.

And the government is helping to bail out big businesses and even cities. What about schools? Stand by. A lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Could holsters issued to armed pilots the chances that their guns will go off unintentionally. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been working this story for us. Jeanne, how big of a risk is there?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, a gunfire inside of an airplane is a terrifying scenario and one part of a program intended to keep aircrafts safe may actually increase the risk that could happen according to the inspector general of homeland security.


MESERVE (voice-over): Thousands of pilots have been trained to carry guns in the cockpit to defend their aircraft against hijackers. But many pilots have been unhappy with the holster which the Transportation Security Administration requires them to use. When pilots leave the cockpit, they have to insert a padlock as this video produced by a pilot's group shows if the gun is not placed correctly into the holster, the padlock can end up in front of the trigger rather than behind it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have a padlock that is much like a finger on the trigger of a loaded and ready firearm. When the pilot goes to unlock the weapon, simply moving the padlock can cause it to depress the trigger.

MESERVE: Because a cockpit can be darkened and stressful, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general concludes that the design of the holster renders the weapon vulnerable to accidental discharges and recommends the TSA discontinue the holster's use, but the TSA hasn't done so. The agency says when handles correctly, the locking holster system meets program safety and security and tactical security requirements, but the TSA says it is working with outside experts to review holster design.

Last March a U.S. Airways pilot accidentally discharged the gun putting a hole through the fuselage. The plane landed safely but the pilot lost his job. Until the holster one group claims is redesigned some pilots are not going to participate in the armed pilot program.

DAVID MACKETT, AIRLINE PILOTS SECURITY ALLIANCE: They are concerned about playing I bet my job and bet the safety of the airplane on a design that is not safe.


MESERVE: Fewer pilots with guns means less protection on airplanes and that impacts airplane safety for everyone who flies -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve is our homeland security correspondent, thank you.

Let's go back to Jack with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: When it comes to the auto industry, what is the right answer?

Pinky writes: "American taxpayers should not bail out the auto companies. The union and top management knew this was going on for years. The ride is over for them and I'm in no mood to pay for their bad judgment and greed. I, too, wonder when Nancy Pelosi was put in charge of the bailout. She should go and sit in her seat."

Dave writes: "How is it fair for me to bailout AIG and the other financial institutions who made stupid loans to half wits who thought they could have the $300,000 house on $30,000 annual salary? The auto workers are being hit by a credit crunch not of their making. GM, Ford and Chrysler are asking for a loan America. Don't treat them as the whipping boy for your frustration."

Glenn writes: "GM had something like 75 percent of the market roughly 30 years ago. Today they have about a third of that. GM, Chrysler and Ford have all been stupid for decades. Honda, Toyota and others have seized the momentum, built quality cars that people want and Detroit continues to turn out junk. Let them go through bankruptcy court and let some other company buy up their factories and start over. They screwed up just deserts."

Kathy says: "I don't really see why we should bail them out, the way that the economy is now, most normal people would have to be crazy to try to borrow money to buy a new car. So if they get the bailout to stay in business, who is going to buy their product?"

Jim writes: "If it hits the fan, can AIG or any of the faux money industries build a tank or military cargo truck? I didn't think so. Let's bail out the companies that are there already."

And Jan writes: "The answer is a resounding no bailout. What would happen if all three disappeared? We'd have Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Kia and not a single Hummer. Now this is what I call change."

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

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. We'll get back to Jack soon.

Barack Obama taps Bill Richardson to become the next commerce secretary, but some are calling it a consolation prize for Latinos. The president-elect was asked specifically about that today. You will hear the response.

And the Bush dynasty may not, repeat not be over. Another member of the Bush family may potentially head to Washington. We will tell you who is thinking about heading for office.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The shrine getting longer for those wanting a piece of the $700 billion bailout package. Now a school district in Ohio has its hand out for a handout. Let's go the Lou Dobbs. He has been looking into the story. Lou, what is this one all about?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you have to give credit to the superintendent of schools in Homestead, Ohio. He has put the schools straight forwardly into the line of all of Hank Paulson's buddies on wall street and commercial banks and the car companies, he wants a bailout for his school. He says that the school and he has interesting points. He said that the school obviously has a very important product, young minds, young citizens of this country, who he is educating. It is not a failing school and as a matter of fact they are performing extraordinarily well, and the school has been around for more than 40 years and in that time grown 50 percent beyond the student body it was designed for. He says that he is entitled and he thinks it is a great investment for America.

And you know what, Wolf, a number of people in Congress are starting to take notice and some of them agree with him. By the way, I agree with him. If you are going to bail -- think about it, $8.5 trillion we are putting forward here, and I mean, we can't afford health care, we can't afford public education, we can't afford new roads? We are giving the money to a bunch of bankers and Hank Paulson's buddies and they won't tell us what they are doing with the money. I think this is a lot better idea, don't you?

BLITZER: Nothing is more important than the education. I know you spend a lot of time worrying about the nation's education on your show, and by the way, we are waiting for a education secretary and there was one thought that Colin Powell might be involved, because he is deeply involved in changing the nation's schools. What do you think?

DOBBS: Well, he would be an outstanding choice for that post or any other. General Powell commits a lot of his time, and money and energy and efforts to education. He has done remarkable work. I think that it would be terrific, as you know, there was some discussion over the course of the past year that he would be looking for exactly that post. Whether he would be willing to do so, you know, is anyone's guess, but certainly, he would be an outstanding candidate for the job or as I say, just about any other.

BLITZER: He rose through the ranks of the public school system and did rather well for himself. We'll see you in one hour, Lou. Thank you.