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Al Qaeda Moved to Yemen from Saudi Arabia; Iraqi Election Results; D.C., Recession-Proof?; N.Y. School Renamed for Obama; Pets Good for the Health

Aired February 5, 2009 - 09:00   ET


OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you.

Good morning.


OBAMA: I want to thank the co-chairs of this breakfast, Representative Keith Schuller and Vernon Nellers. And I also want to thank my good friend, Tony Blair, for coming today. Somebody who did it first and perhaps did it better than I will do. He has been an example for so many people around the world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish. And we are very grateful to him.


OBAMA: I want to thank my outstanding vice president, Joe Biden.


OBAMA: My wonderful members of the Cabinet, members of Congress.


OBAMA: Clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in this prayer breakfast. I know this prayer breakfast has a long history in Washington and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this traditional life during our time here.

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was at the height of the Great Depression and most people found themselves out of work. And many fell into poverty and some lost everything. The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst.

And then they decided to do something more. They prayed. It didn't matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged, they simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God. And these breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked a group of senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still bring much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we've seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another, as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. It's a theme that we heard from Tony. Wars have been waged, innocence have been slaughtered.

For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we are going next. And some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenant is hate. There's no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much, we know. We know...


OBAMA: We know as well that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together and Tony and I did not coordinate here. There is a little serendipity.

Jesus told us to love thy neighbor as thyself. The Torah commands that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. In Islam, there is the Hadith that reads, "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." The same is true for Buddhists and Hindus, for followers of Confucius and for humanists.

It is, of course, the Golden Rule, the call to love one another, to understand one another, to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this earth. It is an ancient rule. A simple rule. But, also, perhaps, the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue or any issue.

Sometimes it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do. To give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our very beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted. To make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken. To lift up those who have fallen on hard times.

This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America and our duty as citizens of the world. And it will be the purpose of the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships that I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not to be -- be to favor one religious group over another, or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.

This work is important because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations.

People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them. We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith.

I'm not naive. I don't expect the visions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. A work of Prime Minister Blair, the work of so many here, underscores how difficult it can be to overcome our differences. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, and if perhaps we allow God's grace to enter into that space that lies between us, then the old rifts will start to mend. New partnerships will begin to emerge.

In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of excessive zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer. I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible. But I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

Prime Minister Blair shared a story of his awakening to his faith. Perhaps like him, I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist and grandparents who were non-practicing Methodist and Baptists, and mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even though she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known.

She was the one who taught me, as a child, to love and to understand and to do unto others as I would want done. I didn't become a Christian until many years later when I moved to the south side of Chicago after college. And it happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck, no matter what they looked like or where they came from or who they prayed to. It was on those streets in those neighborhoods that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt a call to a higher purpose -- His purpose. In different ways and in different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle, all those years ago during another trying time for our nation.

It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and to give thanks, but, most of all, to seek guidance and to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity.

St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depends on God. Then work as though everything depended on you." So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead.

For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort. And I also ask that you pray for myself, for Michelle, for my family and for the continued perfection of our nation.

Thank you so much. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington, D.C. this morning, President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast there talking about how various beliefs can simply bring people together, particularly in these hard times. Perhaps as it pertains to hunger, he says, even the loss of jobs and even foreclosures.

He also talked about his own family's relationship with religion and how he received his own personal calling when he was in Chicago doing community based work.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House also listening in on the prayer breakfast there. Just preceding President Obama, we also heard from prime minister -- former prime minister, Tony Blair, as well.

There you see in these live pictures here him thanking a number of people. He also passed his wife, the first lady, Michelle Obama as well.

And we also understand that President Obama will be making a few faith-based announcements later on today. It's our understanding that he'll also be naming Joshua DuBois to head a renamed office for faith- based and neighborhood partnership.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House also listening in on what the president had to say, and he has a full plate today beginning with this National Prayer Breakfast. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it's a very busy schedule, a busy day. He started this day with the National Prayer Breakfast. He's going to come here to the White House. He's going to announce, obviously, his faith-based initiatives team, a council of advisers, if you will, about 25 or so from various faiths who will act to advise him on policy matters dealing with religion. Obviously, a very important community.

And he's also going to be signing an executive order essentially telling those religious groups that use federal funds that they have to take a close look here and make sure that there are no discriminatory practices when it comes to hiring, that the White House council's office, as well as the attorney general, will be at their disposal to try to determine whether or not there are any loopholes or any circumstances in which they are hiring on a discriminatory basis, Fred.

So that is something, perhaps putting a little bit more teeth, legal teeth in his faith-based initiatives that's different than President Bush. That's something he's going to be working on. Obviously, he is also going to be talking about energy, making remarks later today.

He's going to be going visiting with House Democrats and retreat later in the evening and that brings us to the real focus here, Fred, which is all about that economic stimulus package, whether or not he is going to get the approval he needs from Democrats, as well as Republicans from the Senate.

The president has expressed confidence over the last couple of days that he believes he will get that kind of support, the votes. And he's been trying to win over Republicans. He had private meetings yesterday.

I got a chance to talk with Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, who was here at the White House. She met with the president and she said that he was very receptive to a list of ideas of things that perhaps they can pull out of that economic stimulus package to make it smaller, because that's what the Republicans are looking at.

The huge expense of what it means to actually pass that legislation. She believes that he is going to take a real close look at that and put more pressure on the Democrats to take away some of that spending.

So, Fred, the president is confident that this is going to happen but it's still quite a ways away.

WHITFIELD: And one of the bits in that proposal is this $15,000 incentive for home buyers. That's something that these senators have worked into this proposal.

Any inkling about whether President Obama likes that addition?

MALVEAUX: He certainly does like that. It was something that was originally proposed by the Republicans. A lot of Democrats also looked at it and thought it was a good idea. He has been talking about ways of really helping homeowners in this next stimulus package.

So if you take, you know, 7500 credit for buying a house and you double that to 15,000 the president thinks that's a good idea. He backs that plan and it's one of the things that now we are seeing in that package that's making a lot of folks happy.

WHITFIELD: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, at the White House, thanks so much.

A little bit more on this very busy schedule that Suzanne was talking about that the president had. A very long day ahead. Here's a look at some of what's on tap.

Later this hour, he receives his presidential daily briefing. At noon, Eastern, the president is due to visit the Energy Department. A day he's expected to call for higher efficiency standards for everyday products, as Suzanne was talking about, like dishwashers and microwaves.

And tonight, he'll deliver remarks to House Democrats as they take part in an annual retreat in Virginia. House Republicans had a similar getaway just last weekend. Just a little bit more on what Suzanne was talking about there.

Let's go live now to Capitol Hill and our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

So, Brianna, how realistic is it that this stimulus package will actually be able to pass this week?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it is possible. Democratic leaders saying they're hopeful that this will be passed by the end of the week. But what we're really keeping our eye on to gauge if this is going to happen is the behind-the-scenes negotiations of a key amendment that would basically strip 50 to 100 billion in spending that centrist Republicans and Democrats think really just will not create jobs.

So -- now that isn't finalized. What's -- it is, though, being worked out at this point between Democrats and Republicans, moderate Democrats and Republicans. And this is what three moderate Republicans and Democrats went to the White House yesterday to speak with President Obama about. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, as well as the two Republicans from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who said this after meeting with President Obama.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: We are working with a group of Democrats that isn't just one or two. I've been impressed by the number of Democratic senators who have expressed unease about some of the provisions in the bill. So I am hopeful that we can put together a package that will pass later this week or this weekend.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: So exactly what kind of provision is Senator Collins talking about? Well, just a couple of examples, $6 billion for federal building renovations, $1 billion for the Census Bureau. These are the kinds of cuts that some centrist Republicans and Democrats say they need to see before they can go ahead with this, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brianna Keilar, on Capitol Hill, thanks so much for that update.

All right, meantime, a new jobless numbers are out and it, too, is pretty grim. Another new record.


WHITFIELD: All right, while lawmakers debate the details, the recession appears to be deepening.

Christine Romans with the CNN money team is in New York with the very latest, very humbling numbers.

Good morning to you, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Fredricka. You're right. 626,000 people lined up last week at the unemployment office for the very first time. That's 626,000 people trying to get a jobless check for the first time. People who are already on the unemployment rolls, almost 4.8 million people continue to collect benefits.

These are the highest numbers and even when you, when you figure it in proportion to the whole labor force the highest since 1982. That was a deep and painful recession.

What we know, Fredricka, is that the situation is worsening, quite frankly. You know, they are revising some of the other numbers up. That was the prior week, it was even worse than we thought. We just know that -- employers are laying off a whole lot of people right now and that's just continuing here in the month of January.

A couple of things. We've been talking to employment attorneys about what you can do. If you, if you lose your job it's incredibly important to make sure that you are -- you lose your job without -- it's a without cause termination. Remember that. Without cause termination. That's a legalese but employment attorney, Robin Bond, says it's incredibly important because you can't collect unemployment benefits if you've been fired with cause.

So you also can ask to stay on the books for another month or something, you know, say, you're trying to wrap up an important project, can you keep me on the books for four more weeks? Just to kind of try to stay in the labor market as long as possible, because we know from these continuing claims numbers, the number of people who are continuing to get unemployment checks every week, that number is growing so rapidly that it's telling us that people are having a very hard time finding a new job. So you want to try to hold on as long as you can. We also know, Fredricka, on the stimulus bill, both in the House version and in the Senate version, an extension of unemployment benefits and also $25 extra a week in a jobless check, that would, that would come up with this. And usually it's like six months you get unemployment check but Congress has already extended those benefits last year.

Washington very aware that there are a lot of people being added to the rolls here and there are some, there are some moves (INAUDIBLE) to try to ease the pain a little bit but when you get an unemployment check it's not as much as your old check was, that's for sure.

WHITFIELD: Right. And...

ROMANS: So it's a difficult situation.

WHITFIELD: And you do have to wonder whether this new jobless numbers, it only seems to worsen with each week with each month. You wonder how this might influence what lawmakers are trying to do with the stimulus bill, if, perhaps, even at the last minute they'll make some modifications to reflect these new numbers.

ROMANS: Well, and it's very clear. I mean this almost puts a punctuation mark on the debate that they're having right now. And tomorrow, we're going to get the monthly number for January and economists are just looking for a very ugly number there, too.

Some possible detail, Frederica. If this is just the guts of it and then this is, this is the worst of it and then we're going to get through it, it's just impossible to tell where we are in -- in the trough, I guess, of the, of the labor situation, so we just kind of hold on and watch these numbers and try to, try to figure out what they're going to mean for policymakers and what they're going to mean for your own paycheck.

So, you know, all we can say now is that 626,000 folks lining up for jobless benefits for the first time. It's a whole lot of people. And anecdotally, you're hearing in different states people having trouble filing for benefits because state budget cuts mean there are fewer people working at some of these offices and, frankly, they're just overwhelmed in some cases.

So be patient and realize that there are an awful lot of folks out there in the very same boat.

WHITFIELD: All right, Christine Romans, thanks so much in New York.

All right, I know the focus has been the stimulus package but let's also now talk about that $700 billion bailout. Remember that money? Well, it is your money. And it's Congress' job to see how it is spent.

Critics say lawmakers were so quick to approve the plan last year that few safeguards were actually put into place. In fact, with half the money already spent, there are few details on how the bailed out companies actually spent that money.

So next hour, the Senate Banking Committee talks about tighter oversight of the program. Trying to follow those dollars.

All right, a 9/11 call with a very different twist. Calling the cops on a cop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, I'm not even fighting you. I'm not even fighting you.


WHITFIELD: We'll show you exactly what happened next.


WHITFIELD: All right, adding insult to injury. Victims of the Kentucky ice storm may have something else to be on the lookout for now. Acting FEMA director Nancy Ward toured the area yesterday. FEMA says some of the emergency food kits sent to Kentucky may include peanut butter products that have been recalled as a result of the salmonella outbreak.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now from New York with more on this.

So, Susan, how in the world could something like this happen?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know, Fredricka. But I just got back from there as you might know, and you know, you have to stop and think. First of all, you've got no heat, you've got no electricity. You find yourself possibly living in a shelter.


CANDIOTTI: Only to find out that the food you have might be now contaminated with salmonella? I mean you have to ask what next? So how did we get there?

Well, those are the questions we're trying to find out. And one of those questions is when the government first found out about the salmonella outbreak, did FEMA immediately start checking into its meal kits to find out whether any of them might have been contaminated with this questionable peanut butter or peanut butter paste. Did they contact the companies that were responsible for this?

We know that at least 7,000 people in Kentucky alone are still living in these shelters and might possibly have come into contact with this food. We know that those meal kits were made by a company called Red Cloud out of Illinois. That company, in turn, got its product, the peanut product, from the company in Georgia.

That Georgia company is the one that has produced this questionable product that, as we know, has been linked to eighth deaths and has sickened more than 550 people.

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness. So now, how is Kentucky handling all this? Clearly a lot of folks needed these MREs, needed this kind of emergency food. What are they doing and how are they doing it?

CANDIOTTI: Well, you can just imagine. So the National Guard now, on order from the governor of Kentucky, is starting to get the word out to all of the shelters to try to recover those meal kits and they are trying to find other ways for them to get food.

Jay Blanton, who is the spokesman for the Kentucky governor, Steve Beshear, told me, quote, "We are in the process of finding alternative sources of food for people in shelters." You know, he said, "We're pretty resilient. We've had a lot thrown in our way and we're coming through it, so FEMA has been working closely with us to make sure that this is only a precautionary measure." Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Susan Candiotti, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And we'll bring that FEMA news conference to you live from Louisville, Kentucky. That's coming up at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time.

All right. Well, the market is open now. You see the applause there. If only they were excited right there. Yes. Excited about the number of yesterday the Dow closing down 121 points.

And then we're talking about today getting off to a rocky start with the new jobless numbers coming out. 626,000 people filed for unemployment benefits last week for the first time. Very grim numbers adding to the 4.8 million people who are currently without work.

Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Boy, folks need some good news, but I don't know if there is any to share. Do you have any?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, I think that, you know, what we are seeing is we're in the eye of the storm. You know? We've been through terrible crises and we're starting to see the ramifications of this. And you know, the best news I can say is that a lot of smart people are saying that we're probably in the worst of it now for the next few months, though. It's not going to just change suddenly. We're bearing the brunt of a terrible economic crisis. We're going to get through it. It's going to take some time, but, right now, it is ugly and you can really see it in these weekly jobless claims.

As you just mentioned, surge last week to 626,000, which is a 26- year high. You know, a lot of people are saying that maybe we wouldn't see a particularly high number because of the ice storms in Kentucky and the Midwest, but the numbers might be skewed. So you can see that even with this adverse weather, that people really felt they needed to get into the office so that they could file for their initial jobless claims. In all, nearly 4.8 million people continue to draw unemployment benefits. That is a new record high and many economists say that jobless numbers will get worse in the weeks and the months to come as we bear the brunt of this recession. A direct result, of course, of the growing unemployment line is slower spending so no surprise. Most retailers are reporting weak January sales. The lone winner continues to be Wal-Mart. Its sales rose more than 2 percent.

Largely because people are buying essentials like groceries and health care products. Also doing well, more surprisingly, this recession is VISA. Its quarterly earnings jumped 35 percent, even though consumers aren't spending much these days, what they are buying, they are buying on plastic, which translates into fees for VISA.

But earnings from CISCO show businesses are cutting back on tax spending. The leading maker of networking equipment posted a 27 percent drop in quarterly earnings and warned that its orders are declining. CISCO is one of the first to post results that include January. So could be a sign of what to expect from other tech companies.

And so what we're seeing as a result of all this information is no surprise. A sell-off in the first two minutes of trading, Fredericka. Once we got those weekly jobless numbers, yes, we saw the futures pressured a little bit more. The Dow is off 36 points or 50 percent. The Nasdaq is down one percent. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. We're just not seeing it yet, Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Got our fingers crossed. Thanks so much, Susan. Appreciate it.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right. We're also following some breaking news this morning on al Qaeda. Sources tell CNN, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr that al Qaeda operatives have moved into Yemen over the fast few weeks.

Barbara, give us some more details on what you're learning.


Indeed, U.S. officials tell CNN that over the last several weeks it has been noticed and confirmed that a number of al Qaeda operatives have moved across the border from Saudi Arabia into Yemen. This is a very remote border, not very well-controlled. As a result, the Yemenis have put their security forces on high alert, mobilizing about a thousand of their border guards, trying to get a handle on the situation.

What U.S. officials are saying is they believe al Qaeda now, looking at Yemen as a renewed safe haven, if you will. It's always been a place for a good deal of al Qaeda activity, but what is going on now, they say, is somewhat different. Operatives coming in from Saudi Arabia. There have been gatherings, planning. Senior U.S. officials saying, quote, "There are strong indications of heightened al Qaeda activity in Yemen." What could al Qaeda be planning? Nobody knows for sure, but, obviously, there's a good deal of concern that these people could be planning attacks. Back across the border against Saudi oil infrastructure or against the very significant amount of cargo shipping that goes through that area of the world. Any such attack, of course, could be devastating to an already shaky world economy.


WHITFIELD: All right, sobering details. Thanks so much. Barbara Starr there at the Pentagon. Keep us posted.

We're also watching critical election results coming in this morning from Iraq. The voting took place just over the weekend. CNN's Arwa Damon joins us live from Baghdad now with some of those results.

What are you learning, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, as you mentioned, they are just coming in. They read out the results for Baghdad province to begin with, where the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party made a very, very strong showing. Then they read out a number of results from the countries predominantly Shia provinces. There the prime minister's party doing very well.

These elections were actually largely being viewed as something of a referendum on his popularity. He was running on a platform of law and order trying to capitalize on the recent security gains, the recent relative stability that we have been seeing throughout the entire country. These elections are being viewed as historic and critical for a number of reasons.

Remember, it's the first time that Iraqis have taken to the polls since 2005. Many of them saying that they were going to this election with a greater sense of awareness. We have also seen Iraqis able to vote for individual candidates rather than entire political blocks, meaning that they will have individuals whom they can hold accountable. This is where Iraq is truly going to be put to test, though. As these results are being announced, there will be winners and there will, of course, be losers. What is going to be critical is that in a nation where most political battles are literally fought at gunpoint, how are the losers going to handle handing over power?


WHITFIELD: All right. Arwa Damon, thanks so much, joining us from Baghdad.

All right, back to this country. A city where businesses is booming. Well, much of the country struggled to stay afloat. A look at what some see as the D.C. disconnect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. More Obama nominees on The Hill and under fire. Later this hour, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a confirmation hearing for the number two position at the Justice Department. Christian conservatives are challenging the choice of David Ogden as Deputy Attorney General. They say his past clients like Playboy taint his resume.

Also facing scrutiny today is the surprising pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA. Critics point out that Panetta has no experience working within the intelligence community. Supporters say the veteran of the Clinton White House is the right person to reform the agency and its policies. The Senate Intelligence Committee takes up the matter this afternoon.

And out of work? Well, head for D.C. There are jobs to be found in the nation's capital if you know where to look. CNN's Jessica Yellin with that.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Good Stuff is a brand-new restaurant that just opened around the corner from the U.S. Capitol.

(on camera): And have you been hurt by the recession?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not one bit.

YELLIN (voice-over): His mother and co-owner can tell you why.

CATHERINE MENDELSOHN, GOOD STUFF EATERY: We are recession-proof here in D.C. to a certain extent, because this is where everything is happening.

YELLIN: Because when times are bad in the rest of the nation, Washington D.C. is booming. Billions and bailouts on Capitol Hill require staffers to write laws, lobbyists and consultants to fight for a piece of that pie, and endless federal workers to dole it all out.

(on camera): Worried about losing your job?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fortunately not, because I work for Uncle Sam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are actually still hiring people.

YELLIN: Say it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still hiring people. So...

YELLIN (voice-over): True. The federal government has job openings. In fact, while the national unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, here in Washington it's only 4.7 percent. And the District of Columbia's real estate prices were actually up one percent last year.

So when it comes to the recession --

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, they can read about it and they can watch it on television, but they don't really feel it. There is not 10,000 people on Capitol Hill being laid off.

YELLIN: And there is big money to be made here, too. Top recruitment firms say lobbying and consulting shops are hiring. A lowly congressional staffer can earn four or five times more money working as a lobbyist. Ironically with so much angst over high-paid CEOs and executives here in Washington the greatest demand is for the people who actually earn the most. Which brings us to Tom Daschle. His image has morph from the modest Midwest politician --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Daschle still drive his old car to work.

YELLIN: To the chauffeured influence peddler waking in millions. To the rest of the nation it looks awful, but in D.C. it's perfectly routine. Maybe one reason a congressman at the center of the Wall Street bailout believes --

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: There has never in my experience been a greater division in opinion between the people who are kind of at the top of the pyramid of decision-making economically and politically and the average citizen.

YELLIN (on camera): Members of Congress might see and feel the economic crisis when they go home to their districts or hear from their constituents. But for the staffers, policy makers, and influencers who live and work in the district, this town is a bubble.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: And another day, another dispute in the Minnesota Senate race. Next hour, attorneys for Democrat Al Franken will ask the state Supreme Court to give him a certificate so that he can head to the Senate. State officials have refused to do that. Franken currently holds a 225-vote lead over Republican Norm Coleman, but Coleman is challenging the recount. Judges have begun considering thousands of rejected absentee ballots one at a time. That process could take weeks.

And sleet and snow and bitter cold. Any hint of a warm-up?

Rob Marciano, the pressure is on!

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, eventually -- I mean, spring is right around the corner, right? So, we're OK. A lot of blues on the map, but zero in Detroit right now, minus one in Cincinnati. But the cold was all the way down to Florida. We're breaking records across the board, but it will warm up. We'll talk about when when the CNN NEWSROOM comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. Well, he only wanted a drink of water, then Pencil, the horse, fell through the ice of this Kentucky pond. Right there. It was man to the rescue. And after a lot of pulling, Pencil was back on dry land. Apparently no worse for the wear.


WHITFIELD: Oh, I know. In Hagerstown, Maryland now, this little fellow also wandered on to a frozen pond right there and became stuck into the ice. A Good Samaritan pulled him off the ice. But he lost a bit of fur. But other than that he seems to be OK. People at the Humane Society named him Duncan. And you know it's cold in South Florida when the manatees head for warm water around a power plant and just kind of huddled together.

Rob Marciano you've become the expert on this topic, haven't you?

MARCIANO: All animals, all the time.

WHITFIELD: I know, I love that.

MARCIANO: So who do you think is smarter there? Who is the smartest animal of the bunch? I mean, the manatees.

WHITFIELD: Of the bunch that we saw -- yes, the manatees.

MARCIANO: Yes. Obviously, huddling towards the warm water.

WHITFIELD: They are very smart.

MARCIANO: Everybody in the hot tub having a good time. Sure, why not?

WHITFIELD: And they look like they are having fun.

MARCIANO: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: Good to see you, too. Nobody else is having any fun in the cold weather, though.

MARCIANO: Well, you know, we can dress for it at least.

WHITFIELD: Can I complain a little?

MARCIANO: That's what you do, right?

WHITFIELD: Yes. That's not what I do!

MARCIANO: No, you don't. No, you don't. Heidi off. And Fredericka, the always charming and lovely back in the seat here.


WHITFIELD: I know. I just want the back story behind Pencil.

MARCIANO: Yes, you know there's a back story. WHITFIELD: That's not a very horsey kind of name, but you know? Pencil is die-hard. We were happy Pencil got out of that pond. And I'm glad you brought us a silver lining. You said one more day of cold for Atlanta, so I'm OK, no more complaints for me. All right, thanks a lot, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK, see you.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, here is a dilemma for you. When we get in trouble, usually we call police, right? But who do you think people call if you think the police are actually the ones causing the problem? One man actually called the police on the police.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm being dragged out of my car. This is ridiculous. I'm being assaulted. He's yelling at me and grabbing me, and he has maced me once. OK? This is not cool.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. Kevin Allen called 911 after a Florida state trooper stopped him for speeding. Police say he refused to hand over his license and registration. Allen says the officer started beating him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not even fighting you! I'm not even fighting you!


WHITFIELD: Allen was charged with resisting arrest and battery on an officer.

All right. President Barack Obama gets a school. We hear it's the first in the nation to be named for the 44th president. And it was the students' idea, actually. We'll tell you where


WHITFIELD: All right. President Barack Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes, we can" takes on new meaning today for some elementary school children on New York's Long Island. The school board said yes to their proposal to rename their Barack Obama Elementary School. And it's just day 17, right?

In the Obama administration, school officials believe the former Ludlum Elementary is the nation's first to be named for the 44th president. Students closely followed the presidential campaign, including the final debate at nearby Hofstra University. The school got its official Obama title yesterday.

All right. Your pet may be good for your health after all. Experts say pets can be therapeutic, help you lose weight and reduce stress. CNN's Fortin reports.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Roscoe, 130 pounds of love and devotion. When Jennifer Eckerson rescued him from a shelter a few years ago, she was looking for some protection. She got a whole lot more.

JENNIFER ECKERSON, ROSCOE OWNER: It can be difficult and he does need to get his exercise, but once you have him figured out, it's not hard. And it forces me to get up and go out."

FORTIN: Studies show pets are good for our health. And as we age, doctors say their companionship can help ward off mental illness and other diseases.

In our thirties, exercise should be an important part of our everyday routine. And some pets are better than a treadmill. University of Missouri-Columbia researchers found when obese and sedentary people were given a dog, they lost an average of 14 pounds a year, without dieting.

DR. EDWARD CREAGAN, ONCOLOGIST, MAYO CLINIC: That dog or a cat, has to be walked, has to be groomed, and it gives us enormous cardiovascular advantages, but it's also a balm for our soul.

FORTIN: With age, blood pressure numbers start to rise. Owning a cat, a dog, even a hamster can calm those nerves. Researchers at the SUNY Buffalo, New York followed stockbrokers already taking medication for hypertension. And noted those who got a pet reduced by half the increase in their blood pressure numbers brought on by stress.

CREAGAN: They have a decrease in a stress hormone which is called Cortisol. And they have a higher level in their blood stream of feel-good hormones like prolactin and oxytocin. So when you groom that cat, when you stroke that horse, something magical happens and that something can be measured. It is clearly biological, not science fiction.

FORTIN: As we get older, pets can help us cope. Scientists have found that older patients who have pets are less likely to be depressed. And they're more heart healthy.

Recent studies showed those who were hospitalized with heart failure had better cardiac function when a dog visited them. In fact, anxiety levels dropped more if a pet was present than if a human volunteer came alone.

Dr. Creagan, an oncologist with the Mayo Clinic, actually recommends pets for patients.

CREAGAN: Many times I will put on a prescription pad, one cat, one dog indefinite refills.

FORTIN: It's no surprise to Jennifer Eckerson that Roscoe is good for her health. He makes her happy. And although he seems like a handful, she says his companionship and love will be priceless for years to come.

Judy Fortin, CNN, ATLANTA.


WHITFIELD: An Arkansas doctor remains in critical condition this hour after a bomb exploded in the driveway of his home. The latest details and a live report. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM


WHITFIELD: All right. Happening this hour on The Hill, watchdogs of your money sound alerts on the bank bailout fund, their plans for improvement.

And the stimulus package still taking shape in the Senate. Ahead, your e-mails about what should and should not be in the final bill.

It's Thursday, February 5th, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Heidi Collins, and you're in the CNN NEWSROOM.