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Rick Warren Defends Inauguration Role; Four Million U.S. Jobs at Risk?

Aired December 22, 2008 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: no holiday from recession. The president-elect and his team responds to dire new warnings about job losses in 2009.
Plus, more Cabinet controversy. The statistics are raising some red flags among some of Obama's strongest supporters.

And Pastor Rick Warren defends his inauguration role and his views on homosexuality. This hour, why Warren thinks his remarks may actually shock you.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Oh, well, in sunny Hawaii right now, Barack Obama is trying to ward off more economic gloom and doom. The president-elect and his transition team, they are confronting worst-case scenarios that could become reality after he takes office less than a month from now.

Well, our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is with Obama in Hawaii.

Ed, I'm quite jealous. I thought I had the Hawaii gig all wrapped up. But, obviously, you get a little piece of the pie here, president-elect as well as you not vacationing, but calling this a working vacation. What is he doing today, Ed?


He's sort of kicking back throughout this trip, played a little golf yesterday, did a workout this morning. But you're absolutely right. He still is focused in on the fact that he's getting daily intelligence briefings on national security, but more importantly on economic security.

He got some dire briefings, we're told, in private last week from his advisers, saying this recession could be much worse. So, the president-elect now is upping his plans for an economic recovery package.


HENRY (voice-over): Some rare time out on the golf course for president-elect Barack Obama, as he begins almost two weeks of relaxation in Hawaii. But there's little rest for his transition team. They have been ordered to craft an even bolder stimulus plan to, in the words of vice president-elect Joe Biden, prevent the economy from absolutely tanking.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: We believe we can do that by investing in, as I said new, technologies, by investing in infrastructure, building roads and bridges, all things, by the way, that add to the productivity of the country, that keep American businesses in America, that -- that -- that generate high-paying jobs that can't be exported.

HENRY: So, transition aides have been huddling with Democratic leaders in Congress to craft a recovery plan of up to $775 billion and try and jolt the economy.

Republicans are wary about the price tag, especially on top of Friday's rescue of automakers.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: I think most American taxpayers now are sort of scratching their head, wondering when all this bailout stuff is going to end, and probably thinking, you know, when is my bailout coming?

HENRY: Now CNN has confirmed the commercial real estate industry, representing shopping centers, hotels and office buildings, is also seeking a bailout to stave off foreclosures and bankruptcies.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, industry leaders say they need billions of dollars in government-backed loans to deal with panic from crushing debt, adding, ominously, "Jobs, small businesses, retirement savings, and local government tax revenues are all at stake."

Team Obama is not commenting on whether the incoming president is in favor of yet another bailout, but they are saying a massive stimulus plan is desperately needed early next year.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If we don't do this, it will cost us even more. This economy is now in the worse shape since the Great Depression. And if we don't respond in a very firm way, it gets worse and worse.


HENRY: And CNN has just learned that, tomorrow, vice president- elect Joe Biden will be leading an economic meeting of various Obama economic advisers to push forward more on these important, critical plans.

It's going to be interesting, because a lot of Democratic officials say that Joe Biden is someone to watch in all of these talks. He's sort of been in the shadows in recent weeks, but he's starting to come out, speak out more. He's going to be on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight.

And he's really going to be a key diplomat for the president- elect on Capitol Hill in reaching out to lawmakers to get this economic recovery package passed -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And, Ed, obviously, there are a lot of questions about the Obama transition team and whether or not they had any discussions with the Illinois governor's office or his top aides regarding how his post is going to be filled, his Senate seat. What are you hearing about that? Is that on top for tomorrow? Or do we have any more information?

HENRY: Yes. Hearing that that report will come out tomorrow. This is the internal investigation of the Obama team. And what's interesting is that they will essentially be saying, what there was some contact between Rahm Emanuel, for example and Blagojevich's chief of staff, that, in the end, there really was no wrongdoing.

The key here, though, to pay attention to is the fact this is an internal investigation. So, it's not surprising that the Obama folks are going to say something like that. Keep in mind, this is not the final word. We still have to hear from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about what if any role -- and I stress any role, because we don't know for sure -- that Obama aides may have had in any wrongdoing, so far no evidence of any wrongdoing -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: I know there are a lot of questions about that, but, obviously, Obama is on vacation with his family. I know he likes to body surf. He likes to play basketball. But I understand that you go an offer -- he's asking you to go for a beer or something. Is that right, Ed? Did I hear that right?

HENRY: Well, not me personally. Not me personally. But he offered the traveling pool of reporters yesterday, on the golf course -- he was getting a little frustrated that we were taking so many pictures of him out on the golf course, maybe not the greatest P.R. right now, with the economy down.

And so he offered some reporters to go into the clubhouse and drink some beer. And one of the reporters shouted out, well, will you pick up the tab? And the president-elect said he would.

Now, I'm told -- because I wasn't there -- I'm told that the reporters didn't take him up. They didn't drink any beer on the job. And so obviously he didn't pick up the tab. Nobody wants to show any favoritism -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And you're just working hard on the beach there. OK, Ed. All right.

HENRY: Yes, I'm here. Yes, I'm on the beach, but yes.


MALVEAUX: All right, thanks again, Ed.

Obama's transition is being judged in large part by the biggest decisions that he has made to date. That, of course, is Cabinet choices. And, as the scrutiny continues, even some of his strongest supporters are really not satisfied about this.

Here's our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Barack Obama's Cabinet is now all but complete, but not everyone is happy. A key part of his base feels left out.

(voice-over): What includes five women, four African-Americans, three Latinos, two Asians, two Republicans, and a Nobel Prize winner? Barack Obama's Cabinet. The president-elect is taking the big-tent approach to governing. He wanted a Cabinet that stretches the tent wide.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think people will feel that we followed through on our commitment to make sure that this is not only an administration that is diverse ethnically, but it's also diverse politically, and it's diverse in terms of people's life experience.

YELLIN: Well, it might be diverse, but not everyone is happy. Some women's groups are disappointed. Among Obama's strongest backers during the election, now they say they don't have enough seats at the table. That's because, of Obama's 20 announced Cabinet-level posts, just five went to women.

KIM GANDY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: When you're looking at a Cabinet, and you have such a small number of women in the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more women's voices in this administration.

YELLIN: Bill Clinton and George Bush each had a comparable number of women in their first Cabinets. Women's groups say they hoped they would make progress by now.

In fact, some are so angry that The New Agenda accuses Obama of taking "shocking steps backward" and says, "This constituency does not matter to the president-elect."

Obama says he's picking people for their skills, not pandering to special interests.

ANNE KORNBLUT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In this case, we have seen Obama emphasize credentials. I think they obviously knew they would get a lot of bang for their buck, so to speak, in appointing Clinton, but, at the end of the day, the numbers aren't really any more impressive than any previous president.

YELLIN: In the election, women put Obama over the top. Add to this disappointed constituency a number of others. Many of Obama's gay and lesbian supporters are irate over the Rick Warren controversy. And some progressives are disappointed he's tapped moderates for key positions.

So, the question is, has Obama made the tent too big? Does he risk alienating his core supporters before he's even taken office?

This supporter says, no way.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He has a team of heavyweights, a team of rivals who will help him set a new course and a new tone here in the nation's capital.

YELLIN (on camera): Privately, Barack Obama's team says, wait and see. They feel it's too early to start criticizing Obama's picks, before they have even had a chance to be sworn in -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jessica.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Right now, we are standing by for new information about the Continental plane accident in Denver that happened this weekend. A National Transportation Safety Board news conference is just ahead.

And the Bush administration fires back at "The New York Times" over a story suggesting that the White House helped fuel the mortgage crisis.

And singer Melissa Etheridge speaks out about Pastor Rick Warren's inauguration role, an issue close to her heart, gay rights.


MELISSA ETHERIDGE, MUSICIAN: We can no longer be divided the way we have been before, into us and them. We are part of a bigger picture of America. And America is moving forward. And Pastor Warren is part of that.



MALVEAUX: Many Americans have lost their homes, or could do so soon, but could you also lose the malls where you shop or even the office space where you work? Well, there are other equally disturbing signs of how the real estate crisis could hit all of us quite hard.

CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff joining me.

And this is really all about commercial real estate, isn't it, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Most definitely is. And there is dangerous of a collapse in commercial real estate that could dwarf the problems of the residential market.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Commercial real estate investors say more than $400 billion of mortgages on office towers, shopping malls and other properties will come due by the end of next year, most of which needs to be refinanced. The problem is, banks are not lending. The credit crunch is about to squeeze the nation's biggest real estate investors.

STEPHEN WECHSLER: If refinancing cannot be successfully accessed, it may well be that we will see properties foreclosed upon, even though the properties are performing well.

CHERNOFF: When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson recently changed course on the government bailout, deciding not to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities, commercial real estate lost a potential source of funding. Real estate investors responded by writing to the treasury secretary, asking him to include them in a bailout plan meant to help loans for credit card and student loans.

"Jobs, small business, retirement savings, and local government tax revenues are all at stake it," the letter reads.

WECHSLER: We do not want to see this as the next shoe to drop. But if constructive government action is not taken in the coming weeks, we are concerned this could be the next shoe to drop.

CHERNOFF: The real estate shoe that has already dropped keeps falling. Experts predict home prices in Los Angeles will fall 25 percent next year, 23 percent in Miami, and 20 percent in Washington, D.C.


CHERNOFF: Real estate is a business that depends upon lending. Just like struggling homeowners, if millionaire real estate investors can't borrow, they too may have to go into foreclosure -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Allan.

Also, regarding the issue of families being put out of homes in this mortgage mess, one major newspaper is laying part of the blame at the White House door. But the Bush administration is beating back that criticism.

Our own White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, has more -- Elaine.


ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, in the waning days of the Bush presidency, the White House is pushing back hard against a "New York Times" article questioning President Bush's housing policies and his response to the housing crisis.

(voice-over): The headline on the front-page story read, "The Reckoning: White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire," the premise, that the Bush administration helped fuel the mortgage meltdown with a hands-off approach to regulation..

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right here, in America, if you are owning your own home, you're realizing the American dream.

QUIJANO: ... and an overzealous push for homeownership, especially for minorities.

The White House fired back.

TONY FRATTO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: That's about as myopic as you can get and unsophisticated as you can get a -- an understanding of the housing crisis and the financial crisis.

QUIJANO: In a written statement Sunday, Press Secretary Dana Perino blasted "The New York Times," saying its story 'relies on hindsight with blinders on and one eye closed."

BUSH: Our entire economy is in danger.

QUIJANO: Perino charged "The Times" ignored the president's prime-time explanation in September of the reasons for the housing and financial crisis. And, she argued, the president's calls to reform mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went unheeded.

FRATTO: We have acted very aggressively. And we're proud of the work that we have done and the creativity here and at the Treasury Department, and the actions that the -- the Fed has taken to deal with an -- an unprecedented crisis.

QUIJANO (on camera): The forceful rebuttal comes with 29 days left in the Bush presidency, at a time when the financial fallout from the housing crisis is heating the broader economy, with no clear end in sight -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Well, this just into THE SITUATION ROOM: President Bush has an MRI done on his left shoulder. That is according to the White House. The president has apparently been having some pain in that shoulder.

We can see the results of that MRI sometime later today, we are told.

Now, vice president-elect Joe Biden says that he expects all the members of Obama's inner circle, they are going to work well together -- that's what he says -- including those who were rivals during the primary season.

Biden talked to CNN's Larry King and addressed the concerns about those possible conflicts within the Cabinet.


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: You have, on your team, an impressive team -- I think even rivals would admit that -- but you have four presidential rivals Obama has. He has you, Hillary Clinton, Richardson, and Tom Vilsack. That sounds like Lincoln.


KING: Is that going to work?


BIDEN: Well, it will work, because, if you take a look again, you know, if you -- I know you have read the "Team of Rivals," Doris Kearns Goodwin book.


KING: Yes. Great book.

BIDEN: You know -- you know, the difference between Seward and Lincoln were profound. The difference between Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and -- and Barack Obama, to take three, were not profound differences.

We all were on the same basic page, with -- with difference -- different points of you emphasis, and the arguments among us all was about leadership. And that's been settled. That's been undisputedly settled. The leader is Barack Obama.

So, I don't think you're going to find it as difficult to -- I don't think you will find any difficulty in us all signing on to the objectives of the Obama/Biden administration.


MALVEAUX: You can see the full Biden interview tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." That's at 9:00 Eastern -- right here on CNN.

Well, with automakers getting loans from your tax dollars, how many of you think that the money is actually going to be paid back? Well, that answer actually may surprise you.

And, as American auto companies hurt, well, the foreign automakers are feeling the pain. One top foreign automaker expects to lose more than $1 billion. The question is, are you driving one of its cars?



MALVEAUX: New information that is coming in on what may have caused an airline accident this weekend during takeoff from Denver. We're standing by for a news conference from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Plus, the eye-popping number of applications to work for Barack Obama, it is roughly the equivalent of the entire nation of Iceland.


MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: It's your money. So, where is it? Taxpayer dollars to bail out big banks, but some are refusing to say exactly how they're using the money. We're doing some digging.

In Illinois, battle lines are hardening -- on one side, the governor who will fight what he is calling a political lynch mob -- on the other, a team that could help kick him out of office. Both sides advanced their fights today.

And Dick Cheney and Joe Biden's war of words. After Biden called Cheney the most dangerous vice president in history, well, just wait until you hear what they're saying about each other now.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some gays are angry with Barack Obama because of one famous pastor's speaking slot at the inauguration. But is any of that anger going to subside, now that the pastor in question is sending out a message of acceptance to those who are angry?

CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Los Angeles.

Pastor Rick Warren talked about this over the weekend. Ted, what did he have to say?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Rick Warren did not say much at all. But these were his first public comments about this controversy. He said them when he took the stage at an event on Saturday night here in Southern California.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Critics of Reverend Rick Warren claim he's homophobic and he should not have been chosen to take part in the presidential inauguration ceremony.

When Warren took the stage at a weekend event, the first thing he did was defend himself.

PASTOR RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, "THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE": This one will shock you. I happen to love Democrats and Republicans.


WARREN: And, for the media's purpose, I happen to love gays and straights.


WARREN: Also at the event, lesbian singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge. She said this after meeting Rick Warren.

ETHERIDGE: Our country's changing. And we can no longer be divided the way we have been before, into us and them. We are part of a bigger picture of America. And America is moving forward. And Pastor Warren is part of that.

ROWLANDS: That's essentially what president-elect Obama said last week when he addressed his choice of Warren.

OBAMA: During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of view points that are presented, and that's how it should be, because that's what America's about.

ROWLANDS: Congressman Barney Frank, who is gay, disagrees with the president-elect.

FRANK: If he was inviting the Reverend Warren to participate in a forum and to make a speech, that would be a good thing. We should have these. But being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor.

CARY DAVIDSON, PRESIDENT, EQUALITY FOR CALIFORNIA: His comments, though, about gay people are just so hurtful.

ROWLANDS: Cary Davidson, president of Equality For California, says the guy and lesbian community felt blindsided by the choice, after supporting Obama overwhelmingly.

DAVIDSON: The notion that one of the first actions that he takes is to have someone like Reverend Warren appear at his inauguration just makes us feel like second-class citizens.


ROWLANDS: And, Suzanne, the executive director of Equality for California is actually declining an invitation to go to the inauguration because of Pastor Rick Warren's role in that ceremony.

MALVEAUX: And, Ted, I know, speaking with Obama officials, they were surprised by the -- kind of the outrage of all this. They're certainly hoping that the dustup kind of diminishes after the inauguration.

Thanks, Ted.

Meanwhile, regarding the bailout for American automakers, there are fresh indicators of how much you agree with it.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joining me now.

And, Bill, you have all the polls, the figures. How does the public see this?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they approve of the bailout, even though it has very little to do with public confidence in the automobile companies.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Does the American public support $13 billion in government loans to major auto companies? They do, 63 percent. President Bush proposed the loans last week after a rescue plan failed to make it through Congress.

BUSH: So today I'm announcing that the federal government will grant loans to auto companies under conditions similar to those Congress considered last week.

SCHNEIDER: But Republicans are divided over the rescue plan. Democrats strongly favor it.

What's driving public support? Not sympathy for the auto companies or the union. Most Americans have a negative opinion of auto executives and union leaders, though not of autoworkers.

BUSH: If a company fails to come up with a viable plan by March 31st, it will be required to repay its federal loans.

SCHNEIDER: Do people believe that will happen? They're skeptical. Only 28 percent think the auto companies will be able to pay back all or most of the money. And if the auto companies ask for more money next year, 70 percent say let them go bankrupt.

If confidence in the auto companies is so low, why does the public support the rescue plan? One word: fear.

OBAMA: I'd like to say a few words about the necessary steps taken today to help avoid a collapse of our auto industry that would have had devastating consequences for our economy and our workers.

SCHNEIDER: Two-thirds of the public believes that if U.S. auto companies go into bankruptcy, it would cause a crisis or major problems for the nation's economy. But do people think it would harm them personally? Eighty-two percent say no.


SCHNEIDER: Now, several major airlines have gone bankrupt, but travelers continued to fly them. Would people purchase a car from a bankrupt auto company? Nearly two-thirds say no, they wouldn't -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Bill, thank you.

Bill Schneider.

Inauguration planners, well, they're now doing some new math. Crowd estimates for Obama's big day are now being revised. Do officials really have any clue as to what to expect?

In our "Strategy Session," the Obama cabinet debate. Is it a big tent or a step backwards when it comes to women?

And later, Joe Biden says he feels sorry for President Bush. James Carville and Alex Castellanos are eager to weigh in on that.


BLITZER: Passengers aboard a Continental jet that crashed on takeoff this weekend are telling horror stories about a raging fireball melting overhead bins, panic, pushing and shoving. We're standing by now for a news conference from the National transportation Safety Board.

Right now, let's go to our Susan Roesgen in Denver.

What do we know how this crash happened? Who's to blame for this? What kind of information do we have initially, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an early right now, Suzanne, as you said, initially to know really what happened. But we understand from an aviation source who spoke to our correspondent Kathleen Koch earlier today that there does seem to have been some sort of problem either with the braking or the landing gear, something that resulted in this aborted takeoff.

We also have this new video, Suzanne. For the first time today, the lead investigator of the National Transportation Safety Board team that is here let us get very close to that Continental Flight 1404, that Boeing 737 that aborted the takeoff, skidded off the runway, lost its wheels as it went, and landed belly down in the snow. And that's when the passengers, as you mentioned, Suzanne, had a really rough time, a scary time getting off of that plane.

We understand that the firefighters, when they actually got there, had to crawl on their hands and knees. The firefighters were covered in the flame-retardant foam going through that plane, trying to make sure that nobody was still on board. And in fact, everybody had gotten out all right.

They got out of the left side of the plane, because the right side, the burned side, was impassable. And in fact, one of the engines, we believe, on that side was on fire, and the fire was so intense the heat had begun to melt the overhead luggage bins and pieces of those melting luggage bins were dripping down onto the passenger seats. So we expect to hear a little bit more, Suzanne, from this conference coming up in just a few minutes.

MALVEAUX: And Susan, we're seeing the dramatic pictures of that plane, and really those burned out pieces there. It really is amazing that people were able to survive this.

There are even some reports that perhaps they heard overhead that there was some engine trouble before they even took off. Is anybody talking about that, or is that something we anticipate that the NTSB is going to address?

ROESGEN: That's something that we're trying to find out from Continental, because we have heard from passengers who said that when they were in the gate, waiting to get on the plane, they heard over the intercom that this plane had some sort of engine trouble and that the flight would be delayed. And then a few minutes later the word came that no, the engines were fine, the plane was fine, and it would be an on-time departure. So that's something I think that Continental will have to tell us. What the investigators have done is they've made the first assessment of the voice recorder, the pilot's voice recorder and the data recorder. They have those two black boxes, as they're called, there in Washington, D.C., analyzing those there. They may be able to tell us a little bit of that at the news conference, but they do say, Suzanne, that the entire investigation could take as long as a year.

MALVEAUX: OK, Susan. We'll be looking out for that news conference. Thank you so much.


MALVEAUX: Want to take you to that news conference in Denver. The NTSB giving some information about the Denver plane crash. Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... basically is in charge of our air traffic control and our air space. So they are a party to our investigation.

The company, the airline in this case, when we need information about the crew training, the maintenance records, anything like that, we need to be able to have quick access to them. And so in this case, Continental Airlines is a party to the investigation, as is the Airline Pilots Association, the Machinists Union, the Denver International Airport, the Air Traffic Controllers Union.

We've used the party system for many, many years. And indeed, it does help us to form our investigation in a very transparent manner, and also provides us with the technical expertise that we need.

So we have our NTSB group chairman chairing up each of these disciplines. And under that, we have the party members.

Each day the parties will go out and collect information. And the on-scene portion began at first light this morning, and it will continue until the end of light today. But there's a lot of the investigative work that goes on not actually on the actual aircraft site.

For example, the maintenance records group would convene in -- probably in Houston, where they could go over the maintenance records. The recorders group will convene in Washington, D.C., in the NTSB's recorders laboratory. The interviews with the crewmembers and things like that would not obviously be conducted at the wreckage.

So there is a lot of work that is done not physically on the site of the wreckage. Typically, what happens is everybody comes together at the end of the day and we have a progress meeting, and we will then come out after the progress meeting and tell you everything that we know at that time.

Again, in consideration for the news cycles, I like to try and talk to the investigator in charge and find out whatever I can, as late in the afternoon as I can, that he's got some information that he can tell me, but yet still hopefully still early enough in the day that it is helping you to meet your deadlines. But we will have, I'm confident, more detailed information after the progress meeting tonight, and we are planning a conference, a press conference, in this room at 9:00 tonight.

The progress meetings are where everybody comes in and talks about what they've done during the day, the progress that they've made, the challenges that they faced, and the work plan for the next day. So it's a good exchange of information. But I didn't want you to have to wait until 9:00 tonight if we could find out information now.

As a result of that, we don't have a lot of information, but I'll tell you what we know. Here's what we know so far.

The recorders, the black boxes, if you will, as you know, these have been taken to Washington. And my understanding is that there is good data on those recorders. And when I mean good data, as it relates to a cockpit voice recorder, we have -- the crew conversations are audible. We will be convening -- the cockpit voice recorder group will convene tomorrow.

People are flying in to Washington, but as you know, the weather has been not cooperative throughout the country. And so, people are flying in from all over to convene the recorder group, the CVR group, Cockpit Voice Recorder Group.

Typically -- and I've done this as a party member, typically, to do -- when I was not working for the safety board, usually to do a cockpit voice recorder readout and transcript and make sure that it's just right -- it takes about three days. And so that process will begin.

Tonight, I understand from talking to Bill English (ph), the investigator in charge, that we should have some overall characterization of what was said in that cockpit. We will not have exact phrases and all, but I think we can be able to characterize for you in general terms what may have been said in the cockpit of that airplane.

As far as the actual on-scene portion, that is proceeding as planned, as it should for an accident like this. Our investigators are very methodically proceeding with measuring and documenting the surface markings on the runway, the ground scars, the scrapes, trying to document that very carefully. And I believe tonight we should have some facts and figures about where the first witness marks began. That's what I'm hoping, that tonight we will be able to have that.

Our investigators are documenting the configuration of the aircraft -- how are the flaps and slats set, as the aircraft sits there now? What is the setting of various cockpit switches and controls? These are the types of things that our investigators are very carefully and methodically documenting.

Our survival factors group today has gone out and interviewed the airport rescue and firefighting personnel, those involved with the first response, to see how that went. And so we should have some information later on that this evening after we find out exactly what was said there.

That survival factors team, I talked to the investigators in charge about 45 minutes ago. The survival factors group is -- the team is actually inside the cabin of the airplane right now going through and looking at damage, documenting the interior condition.

The operations group is -- as we speak, they were in the middle of conducting interviews. We were not able to get in touch with them because they are doing their jobs. They're out interviewing people, so they're not available to be talked to over the cell phone right now. But their plan for the day was to try to conduct an interview with the first officer.

We do know that there were some off-duty Continental employees on the airplane. So we want to be interviewing them. And so that's what the work plan was for today. Again, tonight after the progress meeting, I hope to have a lot more information regarding those.

The captain has not been interviewed at this time, to my understanding. But I want you to know that that is something that we're very interested in doing. We want to do it as soon as we possibly can, but we want to be respectful of the captain's mental condition, psyche.

We do want that information as quickly as possible, but we want to make sure that he or she is mentally ready to be interviewed, and physically ready, as well. So that will be a high priority, to make sure that gets done as soon as possible. And hopefully tonight, I should be able to let you know when that will be conducted.

Our weather group has been busy documenting the equipment on the airplane. Denver International Airport has some technologically advanced equipment for measuring things -- wind speed, wind direction, things like enhanced low-level wind sheer alert systems, and terminal Doppler weather radar, and has long had that equipment even since the Stapleton (ph) days. And so it is sort of a test bed for looking at new technology. So our weather group is going out to inventory what equipment is out there to help us to determine what the wind would have been doing at the time that the takeoff roll was initiated.

Our goal is to be very methodical, to do it right. Once the airplane is moved, we can't go back and say, well, how was this switch set or something? So we want to make sure that we carefully document things.

And as we said yesterday, we want to document that perishable evidence, the information that will -- that may go away with the passage of time either through weather or people's memories fading or through the airplane being moved or somebody trampling over a part or something like that. So that's what our goal is.

Again, I'm optimistic that after the progress meeting tonight at 9:00, that we should be able to put a little bit more meat on the bone for you. But I did want to give you the latest information that we knew as we stand right here in mid-afternoon to help you with your news cycle.

I'd be slighted to try and take any questions that we can.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Have any potential causes been ruled out, including the braking system?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have any potential causes been ruled out, including the braking system was the question.

And our purpose right now is not to rule anything out. It's to go out and capture the information, document the information, so that at some point, we can go and start ruling things out. But everything is on the table now. We're just in the documenting stage.

There's a question back here.

QUESTION: How much of your investigation will focus on landing gear, tires and brakes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of the investigation will focus on the landing gear, the brakes and the tires?

MALVEAUX: I want to go back to our own Susan Roesgen, who's there at that press conference.

You've been listening to an official from the NTSB. And obviously, there is some good news out of this, the fact that he said those black boxes have information, that they're audible, those conversations from those in the cockpit, would be able to determine when did they know there was a problem, what was happening?

What else did you hear, Susan, that stood out in this?

ROESGEN: Well, like you, Suzanne, I think it's very good news they said as early as tonight, they'll be able to at least give us a rough transcription of what was being said in the cockpit. But I found it very interesting, Suzanne, that they have not yet interviewed the pilot.

You heard there that they did not even know whether it was a man or woman. We don't know whether the pilot was perhaps injured in some way. Is there some reason why they haven't talked to this person yet, or is this person being kept back from speaking yet by Continental Airlines? Don't know why they haven't spoken to this person yet.

And also what you heard, Suzanne, was this bit about perishable evidence. They do want to measure the skid marks, they do want to find out things about acceleration and deceleration. And they want to talk to those passengers and the crewmembers on board before they start to forget what happened. You know, after a dramatic experience like that, they don't want people to lose information and to not be able to give a clear picture, as clear as they can of what was happening in a very chaotic, stressful environment inside that plane -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And Susan, obviously, he mentioned that they want to try to get that information as quickly as possible, because obviously conditions can change with that evidence.

Thank you so much. We'll get back to you if there's anything else to learn from that.

Thank you so much, Susan.

Now, there are women, men, blacks, whites and at least one prominent gay person. But still, many people are wondering if Barack Obama's cabinet is diverse enough.

Here for today's "Strategy Session," CNN political contributor Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Thanks for joining us here.

Obviously, there's a lot of controversy, there's a lot of discussion about this. One person who's not so happy about this is the president of NOW. She does not believe that they've done a good job.

Let's take a listen to what she said very recently about this.


KIM GANDY, PRESIDENT, NOW: When you're looking at a cabinet and you have such a small number of women in the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more women's voices in this administration.


MALVEAUX: That was Kim Gandy of NOW.

Obviously there's a lot of talk about this. And she makes the case here that he didn't do any better than Bill Clinton or President Bush when it comes to the numbers, the diversity among women.

What does he need to do to satisfy his base?

Kevin, I'll start with you.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that there are a number of qualified women that have been included in his cabinet. And I think that ultimately, it's up to -- I think a lot of voters are going to judge Barack Obama and his base is going to judge Barack Obama based on the quality of the individuals that he has chosen for his cabinet.

And I think that there's been a lot of people that have looked at the choices that he's made, whether they're a man or whether they're a woman, and said that these people are qualified to serve. And I think that -- I think it's a little bit of a manufactured controversy when you look at people as prominent as Hillary Clinton and others being included in very important jobs in the cabinet.

MALVEAUX: Paul, does he need to make a gesture immediately? There are some gay activists who said, well, maybe you should repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, gays not allowed to discuss their homosexuality in the military, within his first 100 days. That perhaps he can do something to satisfy women, gay actives who are upset right now.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think these are two very different things. I'm looking for substance on advancing gay rights, not symbolism or just a gesture. And yes, that means letting gays and lesbians serve honorably. It also means supporting, as Senator Obama does -- President-elect Obama -- the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

But look at these women he's put at that table. Kim Gandy talked about who would be in the room. Hillary Clinton at State; Susan Rice at United Nations, Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security; Hilda Solis at Labor; Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency; Melody Barnes as domestic policy adviser. Christina Romer is the Council of Economic Advisers chair. Carol Browner is the environmental czar; Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser; Mona Sutphen, with whom I worked in the Clinton administration, is the deputy chief of staff.

That's 10 powerful women in powerhouse jobs. None of that is a gesture. They're there because they are the most qualified people for the job. So I think Senator Obama has a lot to brag about on this.

MADDEN: And can I make a point on the base idea? I mean, look, Barack Obama essentially has two bases -- the left and the middle. And the middle is what really got him elected.

And if you look at these appointments that he's made, it's been geared towards that middle. It's been geared towards pragmatists. It's been geared towards people who are qualified. And ultimately, women voters went in large numbers for Barack Obama not because he was going to appoint women, but it's because he was where they were on a lot of these issues.

MALVEAUX: I want to turn to another subject. Obviously when you talk about qualifications and women, Caroline Kennedy obviously hoping for that spot, the Senate spot occupied by Hillary Clinton. A lot of controversy whether over or not she really has what it takes for that job.

One person who spoke out, Congressman Gary Ackerman, he is from New York. He's not up for the post, but here's what he has to say.


REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: They've basically Sarah Palinized her, if I can coin a phrase. They're answering questions that you have to submit in writing. She's not talking to reporters as she makes this grand tour. They're kind of building a mystique and an industry around her when we need somebody to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: So I want you to take a look at this map. It shows that a majority of the states give the governors the power to fill those empty seats.

Among the exceptions, you've got Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin and Alaska. In Alaska, interesting story when Frank Murkowski was elected from the senator to governor in 2002. He appointed his daughter, Lisa, to a seat as the governor.

It caused an outcry. The legislature passed a law stripping the governor of the power to appoint.

You know, obviously, people are looking at this and thinking perhaps this isn't a good idea.

BEGALA: Oh, just in a couple of places. The fact that Kevin's old boss, Mitt Romney, was the governor of Massachusetts, the Democrats in the legislature, hoping John Kerry would become president, took that power away from him. I'm going to leave that to the good judgment of the states.

I have to say, David Paterson has been an extraordinarily good governor of New York. He came into that office when Eliot Spitzer resigned. He didn't run for it.


BEGALA: And yet, I think all Democrats and most Republicans, even would say he's done quite a good job in a very tough time. So I have a high degree of confidence in him.

I do think Congressman Ackerman may be trying to attack Caroline Kennedy, but it's actually good advice. The worst thing you can call somebody in the Democratic Party is Sarah Palin. She should just go out and state her views. Rather than have some spokesperson...

MALVEAUX: He said she's being Sarah Palinized.

BEGALA: Right.

MALVEAUX: He used that new term.


BEGALA: She's a brilliant woman and needs to take -- but she should just stand up and take questions from the press and the public and state her positions on issues. She's a gifted writer, a great constitutional scholar. I think she should state her positions and she'll do well.

MALVEAUX: But does she not stand the risk though here of looking like she's really campaigning for this? Where people are looking at her qualifications saying, it's not about the campaign, it's about what's on your resume. What have you done?

MADDEN: Well, I think Paul's right, first, that this ought to be left up to the states. But ultimately on that question, voters really like to feel the merchandise, especially in places like New York.

I mean, you know, if you look back when Hillary Clinton was running for office in the state, I mean, she went around and did a listening tour. She went out and talked about health care. She talked about job creation in places like Upstate New York that were losing a manufacturing base.

Ultimately, you know, is she qualified? Well, technically, we don't know. Is she smart? Yes, but there are a lot of people who fit that designation. That's why ultimately she's going to go out and have to prove herself to a lot of these voters all around the state like the way people like Gary Ackerman, Carolyn Maloney and others have.

MALVEAUX: Does it look like and is it working for her to use that questionnaire that was submitted to her and have a spokesman respond in the third person? Was that a mistake?

BEGALA: Yes, big mistake. People want to see a horse run on the track, so put her on the track and let her run, rather than say, here's the horse in the stable next to me, let's go watch it run.

You know, she should go -- Kevin's right, go to the American Legion Hall in Buffalo. Right? Go to the firehouse in Andes, New York. You know, go up to Schenectady. Go all around that beautiful state.

Hillary did that. Of course, she wasn't even from this state, and Caroline is from New York. And they fell in love with Hillary. And they may well fall in love with Caroline, but she's going to have to go out there and campaign for it.

MALVEAUX: Paul, Kevin, thank you so much for joining us for the "Strategy Session." Thanks again.