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Another Obama Cabinet Nominee Facing Tax Questions; Cancer Surgery For U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Aired February 5, 2009 - 18:00   ET



President Obama now set to deliver his call for action on the economy in prime time. He is scheduled to give his first major news conference Monday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern over at the White House. Of course, CNN will carry it live.

Today, the president is suggesting faith could play a roll in helping Americans pull themselves out of this economic crisis.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got the latest on this part the story -- Dan.


And, you know, the president has always talked about the importance of faith. And today again he reiterated how faith was so important, especially with different, diverse groups working in communities, helping these communities who are going through a difficult time. But also today he was using stronger language as he pushes for support for the stimulus bill.



LOTHIAN (voice-over): On a day that began at the National Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Obama rolled out his version of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. OBAMA: The goal of this office will not 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.

LOTHIAN: The president signed an executive order and appointed 26- year-old Pentecostal minister Joshua DuBois to lead the new Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. DuBois headed religious outreach in Mr. Obama's campaign. Now he'll lead an advisory board of 25 religious and secular members.

But the ailing economy continues to grip much of the president's attention. While visiting the Energy Department, Mr. Obama talked about making appliances more efficient and creating green jobs, what he sees as a key part of the stimulus bill. And his appeal to Congress to approve the plan appeared more urgent, more combative. OBAMA: We end up bickering at a time when the economy urgently needs action.

LOTHIAN: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn't deny that the president's more forceful language was intentional.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY : I think when he said that the time to talk is over, I think it's fair to read impatience into that.

LOTHIAN: The president also took his argument to the pages of "The Washington Post." In an op-ed piece, he warned that, "Each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings, and their homes."


LOTHIAN: ... talked about how the president will be having that press conference at 8:00 next Monday and how critical it will be for the president to really get his message out there to the American people, really using sort of his bully pulpit. We see that he will be having a meeting before the joint Congress on the 24th this month.

This is just more of the big picture here as the president trying to get his message to the American people unfiltered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's trying to do the best he can. All right, thanks very much for that, Dan Lothian.

President Obama's faith-based initiative, by the way, has a broader mission than the one created by President Bush. The new office will reach out to nonprofit organizations that are both secular and religious. The goal in part is to ensure that groups that receive government money do not discriminate.

The Bush administration's faith-based initiative sparked some constitutional questions about whether it violated the separation of church and state.

I want to go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, right now, because she is closely watching the latest on this economic recovery plan.

And this is a do-or-die moment that we are watching. Right now, Dana Bash, what's the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that we reported about closed-door meetings with a big group of bipartisan senators. Check out the Senate floor.

Because there are a series of votes, those discussions have now become informal discussions, but really negotiations right there out in the open on the Senate floor. And the reason is because this group has been working all day, but they hit a rough patch trying to find what senators called a sweet spot, the right combination of spending to actually get enough votes to pass this massive stimulus bill. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Seventeen senators, Democrats and Republicans, trying to hammer out a compromise, going program by program, dollar by dollar, debating what to cut from the $900 stimulus bill, excess spending they say won't jump-start the economy.

(on camera): And that's literally what you all have been doing there, this -- you're, as senators, going through each spending program, saying, do we think this is appropriate; do we think this will create jobs or not?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I know it's unusual to think of senators actually doing that kind of painstaking, thorough work, but that's exactly what we're doing.

BASH (voice-over): Senators even kicked their aides out of the room.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: In this situation, that we needed to work with one another to put together something that we, as members, really can feel comfortable with.

BASH: Republican Susan Collins originally wanted to spend no more than $650 billion, but says, in a one-on-one meeting President Obama, he convinced her the economy needs more.

COLLINS: The president made a strong case for a proposal that would be in the neighborhood of $800 billion.

BASH: To do that, senators are working on cutting some $100 billion in spending, including $870 million to fight a flu pandemic and $150 million for the Smithsonian museums.

Word spread fast about this meeting, and not everyone was happy. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has led bipartisan talks on other issues in the past.


BASH: But he ripped into this one.

GRAHAM: If you believe this is a good process to spend $800 billion, we're on different planets. We're literally making this up as we go, Senator. If this is such a good process, why are 16 senators meeting in a corner, trying to figure out how to keep this thing from stinking up with the public?


BASH: Well, that group of senators has been meeting with the blessing of President Obama, trying to cut that spending, but I want you to look on the screen at what the Democratic leader, the majority leader, Harry Reid, said, really gave them a warning.

He said today: "They cannot hold the president of the United States hostage. If they think they are going to rewrite this bill and Barack Obama is going to walk away from what he has been trying to do for the American people, they have got another thought coming" -- a pretty strong statement there from Harry Reid and one that Susan Collins, the Republican you just saw there who has been working on this, didn't like very much. She was quite annoyed.

She responded saying that the majority leader should know his success depends on the success of this bipartisan group meeting and probably having informal talks on the Senate talks as we speak -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you get more information, you will share it with us. Dana, thanks very much.

President Obama's choice to head the CIA appeared before the Senate today and emphasized a break with Bush administration policies. In this confirmation hearing, Leon Panetta underscored Mr. Obama's opposition to harsh interrogation practices, including water-boarding.

But he says CIA official who used the technique with the approval of the Bush White House should not be prosecuted.


LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I believe that water- boarding is torture and that it's wrong. More importantly, the president has expressed the same opinion.

Having said that, I also believe as the president has indicated that those individuals who operated pursuant to a legal opinion that indicated that that was proper and legal ought not to be prosecuted or investigated and that they acted pursuant to the law as it was presented to them by the attorney general.


BLITZER: Panetta also said the Obama administration will not allow prisoners to be secretly moved between countries where they could be subject to torture. The hearing, by the way, for Panetta's confirmation continues tomorrow.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Suspects in Washington State arrested for crimes like shoplifting or driving with a suspended license might soon be forced to give a DNA sample.

Washington State considering a bill that would require these samples before the suspects is even charged with a crime. More than a dozen states already allow this. Two others are considering similar proposals.

Under Washington's bill being discussed in the legislature, anyone arrested for a gross misdemeanor or felony would be forced to give a DNA sample. It would be stored at the state crime lab and destroyed if no charges were filed or if the person was eventually found not guilty.

Supporters say collecting DNA helps to solve crimes. It would make it easier for law enforcement to close cases and also to free those who may have been falsely accused or convicted. One murder victim's mother praised the bill, saying DNA -- quote -- "helps us protect the innocent and catch the bad guys" -- unquote.

But critics say the proposal enables unwarranted searches and would elevate those arrested for less serious crimes into the same category as violent convicts. Criminal defense groups and the ACLU are calling the bill unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

It's estimated the program in Washington State if it's implemented will cost a million dollars over two years. One lawmaker says, although he likes the bill, he doesn't think now is the right time to pass it because of state's money problems.

Here's the question: Should states be allowed to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for shoplifting? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Great question. Jack, thank you.

President Obama says there many religions and they all agree on at least one thing.


OBAMA: There's no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much, we know.


BLITZER: Wait until you hear the president explain how faith can divide, but also unite.

Also, as a candidate, Barack Obama talked about change, but as president, he has seen change is hard to do, at least when it comes to getting his wishes.

And they are people probably just like you, undecided about the economic plan, but sure their city needs more money to ease the economic pain. Our John King standing by live to join us.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama certainly ran on the issue of change. Now I suspect he's beginning to realize it's a lot harder than advertised.

Let's bring in Jessica Yellin, our national political correspondent.

Not so easy when all is said and done.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is not easy, as Barack Obama is learning. The president, Wolf, had a rough week and his White House is having a hard slog getting this stimulus passed. It's clear governing can be a lot less exciting than campaigning.


YELLIN (voice-over): A hard sell from the president.

OBAMA: If we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families.

YELLIN: And a photo-op from his number two.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is in trouble and the need is urgent.

YELLIN: This team is on a belated campaign to sell the stimulus and answer charges it's just a whole lot of pork.

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: There is so much wasteful Washington spending in this bill, it's hard to know where to start.

GRAHAM: We are on different planets. We're literally making this up as we go.

YELLIN: With headlines like this, official Washington has decided Obama is losing the P.R. war on the stimulus.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The Republicans have successfully defined the stimulus bill as too much pork.

YELLIN: It has been a rough week, dominated by stories about Cabinet-level tax flaps. When the president fanned out across the TV networks to combat attacks on the stimulus, the interviews were dominated by the Daschle news.

OBAMA: I think this was a mistake. I think I screwed up.

YELLIN: And even on the topic of the stimulus, the president was on the defensive.

OBAMA: No, no, I don't think we've lost the message.

YELLIN: Funny. That doesn't sound a whole lot like this man.

OBAMA: We change this country. In three days, you can turn the page. Tomorrow, at this defining moment in history, you, each and every one of you, can give this country the change that we need.

YELLIN: Change takes time. That's what President Obama says these days, certainly more than two weeks. But how patient are the American people? ROTHENBERG: I don't think Americans are very patient on this. They want action. They want something.


YELLIN: Now, the chattering classes are certainly quicker to judge President Obama than everyone in the general public, but the real thing to look for on the horizon is the economy. For now, Wolf, the economy is something President Obama inherited. The question is, when is it a problem of his own that he has to own? And right now, he is being judged by very high expectations he set himself.

BLITZER: Extremely high, way -- unrealistic, presumably. We will see how he does. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is out in Indiana right now, in Carmel, Indiana.

John, what are you seeing? Because we hear a lot about what's happening inside the beltway here, but you are out there in a state like Indiana talking to some folks who are hurting.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the debate in Washington is how many jobs will this bill create? If you spend $800 billion, $900 billion in Washington, how many jobs will it create on Main Street?

Well, we are literally on Main Street in Carmel, Indiana. It's a small city just north of Indianapolis and we spent some time today with the mayor, Jim Brainard. He has given Washington through the U.S. Conference of Mayors a long list of projects, some $438 million in projects just in this town alone, roads, bridges, other infrastructure work.

We spent some time with the mayor at his office today. He was telling us, if got all the money he would like in the stimulus plan, again, $428 million-plus, he thinks he could create nearly 13,000 jobs in this community.

One point he made, in Washington, it's a debate between Democrats and Republicans. The mayor said if you really want to create jobs fast, don't give the money to governors. Give it directly to the mayors.


JIM BRAINARD (R), MAYOR OF CARMEL, INDIANA: I want to make this point. This is why it's important the stimulus bill come directly to the cities and not sit at the state for a few months while the states figure out what to do with it. Mayors know how to get things done. They have to deal with constituents every day of the year. And if the money were to come directly to the cities, we will shovels in the ground within weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And in this state, Wolf, this state had weathered the recession in large part. Late last year, the unemployment rate in Indiana was still -- in fact, late in 2007, I should say, the unemployment rate was still only 4.5 percent, but now it's almost double that, more than 8 percent, in the state of Indiana.

So, the mayor told us -- we saw some autoworkers here today. We met with some design firms that do the design plans for roads and bridges. They say they desperately need jobs. And they are making the case that, especially when it comes to infrastructure, they could create those jobs pretty quickly if they get that money from Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He sounds very much like his colleague, the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. He said, give us, the mayors, the money. Don't give it to the governors. Don't give it to the states. We can do better than they can.

John, thanks very much.

And this important programming note for our viewers: You can certainly see much more of John King. He is speaking to folks all over the country about this economic plan. That will air on CNN's STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING." It airs Sunday morning between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

A U.S. Supreme Court justice undergoes cancer surgery. And now the future makeup of the high court in question. Just ahead, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health and what it could mean for President Obama.

Plus, a brand-new interview with the Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, how he is doing after being caught on camera smoking pot.

And President Obama opening up personally about the power of faith.


OBAMA: 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.



BLITZER: New uncertainty right now for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgery today for pancreatic cancer. The court says the cancer appeared to be in an early stage and Ginsburg's doctors are cautiously optimistic. The 75- year-old justice is expected to remain hospitalized in New York for another week to 10 days. There's no word on when she might return to work. Let's bring in our senior legal another, Jeffrey Toobin, the author of "The Nine," really a great book on the U.S. Supreme Court.

There had been rumors, but we didn't know today that she underwent this surgery.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And we didn't know how serious it was.

Pancreatic cancer, as we all know, is one of the most serious kinds of cancer. Ruth Ginsburg is 75 years old. She had colon cancer about 10 years ago. Obviously, we all hope for her speedy recovery, but it does raise the question of whether Barack Obama will have a vacancy to fill on the court.

BLITZER: And if you look at the makeup of the court right now, there potentially, in this first term, if there's only one term -- maybe there will be -- he could really reshape the court and its decisions for a generation or more.

TOOBIN: Wolf, this is one of the oldest courts in Supreme Court history. Look at this, Anthony Kennedy, 72 years old. John Paul Stevens, he is about to turn 89, Stephen Breyer 70, Antonin Scalia 72. David Souter, 69, doesn't really want to be on the court much longer.

Look at how many potential vacancies there are. Now, the Supreme Court, 70 is not very old, but it does suggest that there could be more vacancies for a President Obama to fill.

BLITZER: And we're going to have more on our roundtable coming up. But there's no doubt that if he replaces somebody in the 70s or 80s with somebody in the 40s or 50s, that person presumably could be around for 30 or maybe even 40 years, having a dramatic impact on all of us.

TOOBIN: This is a big part of a president's legacy, Supreme Court appointments.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, stand by. I think you are absolutely right.

President Obama is trying to embrace faith without crossing the line between church and state.


OBAMA: The goal of this office will not to be to favor one religious group over another or even religious groups over secular groups.


BLITZER: Mr. Obama talked at length about his new initiative and his own personal journey. You will hear his comments. Stand by.

Plus, the president's rescue economic rescue plan under revision in the Senate right now. Shouldn't he be able to get more of what he wants? That's the question we will pose to the best political team on television.

And why a very popular image of President Obama may be illegal.


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

Happening now: The labor secretary nominee, Hilda Solis, is the latest Cabinet pick to face some questions about unpaid taxes. Today, a Senate panel abruptly postponed a confirmation vote. That followed revelations that her husband settled tax liens on his business this week.

IBM workers in the U.S. and Canada who are laid off have a new option, a chance to take an IBM job in another country, perhaps India, Nigeria or Russia.

And the Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps speaking out about smoking pot. In his first TV interview since the scandal broke, he admits he is not perfect. You're going to hear part of that interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- all of that, plus the best political team on television.

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

President Obama mixing religion and politics, announcing he is strengthening the legal grounding of the Office of the Faith-Based Initiative that was started by President Bush.

Listen to the president this morning at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.


OBAMA: 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're 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 tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. 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 a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And 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 one of 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. 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 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, fewer 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 divisions to disappear overnight nor do I believe that long held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. The work of Prime Minister Blair and 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 openly and honestly, and if perhaps we allow God's grace to enter into the 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 was born a Muslim, but became an atheist and grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists and a 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 called to a higher purpose -- his purpose.

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. 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.


BLITZER: Many liberals that cried foul over President Bush's faith-based initiative. And now President Obama appears to be doing much the same thing. The best political team on television here to discuss that.

And the discussion over the president's economic stimulus continues. Now being sliced up in the Senate -- can President Obama get what he wants?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: All right. There it is -- Air Force One, carrying the new commander-in-chief, touching down for the first time with the new president at Newport News. Patrick Henry Air Force not very far away. It's only a few miles away from Williamsburg, Virginia, where the president is going to be attending a Democratic retreat over the next day or so.

There he is. He's flown from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington over to Newport News and then he'll drive over to Williamsburg.

Now, it's a great shot, but let's talk about it a little bit with Gloria Borger, Jeff Toobin, Tara Wall -- the best political team on television.

I just did a tour not that long ago, of Air Force One. I had been a reporter aboard that plane on many occasions. But every time you're on, it's a unique opportunity.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. I've been a reporter on that plane, too. And it kind of spoils you, Wolf, to go back to commercial flying. And, luckily, President Obama is not going to have to do that for quite some time.

BLITZER: It's one of the great...

BORGER: It's a remarkable plane.

BLITZER: It's one of the great perk of being president of the United States.

TOOBIN: Even better than the private planes that the bank presidents are buying.


TOOBIN: It's a great plane. And you know the thing that always strikes me is when you see Air Force in a foreign country. There's something very American and very -- pride...

BLITZER: Yes. Patriotic.

TOOBIN: fills you with...

BLITZER: Patriotic.

TOOBIN: It fills you with pride to see Air Force One. I mean it's nice to see it in Williamsburg, but it's even better to see it abroad.

BLITZER: Yes. There it is. There's the live pictures of Air Force One. A great shot.

All right, as we continue to show you these some of these pictures -- and we're going to show you the president walking down those stairs as he gets out.

But in the meantime, let me play the clips about this huge debate that's unfolding with enormous ramifications for an economic recovery here in the United States.

Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So let's be honest with the American people. Let's fess up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we're destroying the one thing I hoped we could regain -- credibility, confidence and trust.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I find it really rather amazing that the senator is holding up a bill. Holding up a bill -- theatrical.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: A few Republicans are bound and determined to throw a monkey wrench into Obama's recovery plan.


BLITZER: All right. He actually said a few Republicans are bound and determined to throw a monkey wrench into Obama's recovery plan.

As we watch this picture, it's taxiing to a halt.

Let's talk a little bit about the stimulus package, the recovery plan, as it's called -- Gloria, he wants it done within the next day or two.

BORGER: He does. He wants it done. He's going to speak to -- to Democrats right now, because some Democrats are a little worried that President Obama is leaning a little too much to the Republicans.

What you've got going on now is a lot of closed door conferences where Republicans and Democrats are trying to figure out exactly what programs they can keep and not keep in the Senate. And he may use the Senate as a way to bludgeon House Democrats, if you will, into coming together on some kind of a package.

BLITZER: But you know this, Jeff. He needs -- he will need 60 votes in the Senate to get this thing passed. There's no guarantee all the Democrats are on board, at least not yet. And he's going to need some Republicans to get this thing passed.

TOOBIN: You know, Ben Nelson, the Democrat from Nebraska, has been the toughest sell among the Democrats. But, look, the legislative process is not attractive. We -- this kind of horse trading and the clips you showed, it is part of what people don't like about Washington.

But you know what?

It's part of democracy. I don't think it matters a great deal to people that senators are yelling at each other. The fact is there will be a stimulus bill out of -- out of the Senate and out of the House. And it will work or it won't. And Obama is going to be the one who's responsible.

BLITZER: What do you think, Tara, of his faith-based initiative, as he unveiled it today, the president of the United States?

And, as you speak, we -- we're about to see the president get off of Air Force One and walk down those stairs.

But go ahead. Tell us what you thought about his initiative...


BLITZER: at this prayer breakfast.

WALL: Yes, as noble as it is, it's good to know that he is extending and expanding and continuing what the Bush administration started. There was talk early on during his campaign that he may not do that, he may gut the program.

I think, though, at the same time, you have to look at the fact that there isn't a lot of new new there. There's nothing really new there, than the fact that he said that, you know, he wanted to reduce abortions.

And so, you know, I think that the test will be to see what happens.

I think the other test is putting someone who is not -- who is essentially a political professional in the position that Bush himself was criticized for politicizing. And now you have a gentlemen who -- a very young gentlemen who is essentially a political strategist. That's all he's done is campaign.

And is this going to be a holding place, if you will, for these folks come reelection time?

Is he going to be able to run a department in an effective way that's going to bring these organizations together and be able to issue grants in a way that -- that's going to be able to benefit the greater good, as opposed to just the political good?

BLITZER: He's a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister -- the person that President Obama has selected to lead his faith-based initiative -- giving federal money, in effect, to various religious charities for social services.

Gloria, you can see the president -- you can't see him yet, but he'll be walking down those stairs from Air Force One. The first time he's flown Air Force One. It's only called Air Force One when the commander-in-chief is on board. He was actually on that plane flying from Chicago to Washington. But at that time, he was still the president-elect, so it wasn't Air Force One.

But he will be walking down those stairs -- an historic moment. And we're going to let our viewers see that once he walks down those stairs.

But what do you make, Gloria, of this new faith-based initiative?

BORGER: Well, I think President Obama gave you a hint during the campaign that he was going to continue with it. I think, however, Wolf, he hasn't resolved the Constitutional questions about whether you can use tax dollars to hire someone for religious purposes. And I think that is still something that he has said now is going to have to be determined by the Justice Department. He didn't come down hard on one side or the other on that.

TOOBIN: And it's no wonder, because on those issues -- church- state issues -- the Supreme Court almost consistently splits 5-4. These are very hard Constitutional questions involving government aid to religious organizations for secular purposes.

But I thought his statement today was very much a compromise.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: He extended the life of faith-based initiatives, endorsed the idea, but he also said -- responding to Democratic interest groups -- look, I want to be extra especially sure not to have a violation of the separation between church and state.

WALL: And there's no real proof there that that's actually happened in a large scale.


BORGER: No, there isn't.

TOOBIN: There has not been any.

BORGER: There isn't. But he said it's going to be decided on a case by case basis.

WALL: Right.

BLITZER: You know, we just got the report -- the full report from the reporters aboard Air Force One on that short flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Newport News -- Patrick Henry Airport, where Air Force One is right now -- a little exchange that President Obama had with the reporters.

"Hey, guys," he said, "What do you think of my -- this spiffy ride? It's not bad."

Question: "The first ride on Air Force One?"

The president: "I had been a guest on Air Force One with the president, President Bush. But I don't know whether it was exactly this plane."

"A 747?"

"Yes. It was one of the 747s."

And then he was asked about his Marine One helicopter flight -- the brief one -- about 10 minutes from the South Lawn of the White House, bringing him to Andrews Air Force Base. He was asked about that.

"The helicopter was very smooth," he said, "very impressive. A spectacular view. You go right over the Washington Monument and then you kind of go in curves by the Capitol. It was spectacular."

WALL: And that's quite a view. I mean that Marine One, too, people -- I mean, people who live in Washington, D.C. , you know, we don't see Air Force that often. But just to see -- each time you see that Marine One swooping down, it's just -- it's always breathtaking, at least for me, every time I see it.

BORGER: And we never get that view, by the way, because we're not on Marine One...


BLITZER: It's restricted...


BLITZER: It's restricted airspace.

BORGER: It's restricted airspace.


TOOBIN: But the thing about...

BORGER: So he's the only one who can fly there.

TOOBIN: ...I always find a little chilling about Marine One is that there are always several of them flying over Washington.

WALL: Yes, right.

TOOBIN: They never just have one helicopter.

WALL: One.

TOOBIN: So they are leaving it somewhat mysterious which one the president is actually on -- a reminder that the president is many things, but he's also a potential target.

BLITZER: And we're waiting for the president of the United States to walk off Air Force One. We'll keep this shot up for our viewers.

He was also asked on board the plane about the economic stimulus package.

And the pool report that's just been released quotes President Obama saying this: "I think it's important to make sure that the recovery package is of a significant size to do what's needed to create jobs. We lost half a million jobs each month for two consecutive months and things could continue to decline. We'll get the number tomorrow. Every economist, even those who quibble with the details and the makeup of the package, will agree if you've got a trillion dollars lost in demand this year and a trillion dollars in lost demand next year, then you've got to have a big enough recovery package to actually make up for the lost jobs and the lost demand."

The president goes on to say: "Our original figure was roughly in the $800 billion range. There have been changes in our framework both in the House and the Senate. That's the scale we need to deliver for the American people."

All right, Gloria, you hear him saying, once again, the range. Basically, what the House of Representatives approved -- $800 or so billion. It's gone up to $900 billion in the Senate.

BORGER: Right. And I think the question is going to be what are those specific programs?

How quickly do you think those programs can take effect and what's the balance between the taxes...

BLITZER: Here he comes. The president is walking down the stairs right now. This is the first time he's descended from Air Force One as commander-in-chief.

All right, Gloria, finish your thought.

BORGER: No, I was saying, Wolf, I think it really depends on the balance between the tax -- the amount of tax cuts and the amount of spending.

I think conservative economists and liberal economists agree that the economy needs a jolt. You just have to make sure that the money is spent quickly and efficiently.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

The president is now in his new limousine. I guess they call it "the beast."

WALL: The beast.

BLITZER: It's been updated with all sorts of gadgets. He goes from...

BORGER: Good gadgets.

BLITZER: ...Marine One to Air Force to that new presidential limo.

We'll continue to watch his trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Lisa Sylvester is sitting in for Lou tonight.

She's getting ready for "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

That begins right at the top of the hour -- Lisa, what are you working on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a pretty good looking ride for the president. Thanks, Wolf.

Coming up at 7:00 Eastern, much more on President Obama's demand for urgent action to save the so-called stimulus legislation. The president again using the politics of fear to try to ram the bill through Congress. We'll have complete coverage.

Also, the Senate backs down in the face of foreign threats on "buy American" provisions.

Is anyone standing up for working men and women and their families in this country?

And we'll have an exclusive report on the massive recall of peanut products and fumbling bureaucrats putting your family's safety at risk. You don't want to miss it.

And days before the Treasury Department unveils a plan to overhaul the huge bailout program, we'll be asking best-selling author and his story -- Neil Ferguson, what he believes should be done. He has some very provocative ideas.

Please join us at the top of the hour for all of that and much more -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

See you in a few moments.

One diva takes on another -- and President Obama, too over a song at the inaugural. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look, when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Should states be allowed to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for shoplifting?

Jim in North Carolina: "I don't believe DNA samples should be collected from any citizen unless they've been convicted of a felony offense. Americans have a right to privacy and I believe DNA is a privacy issue."

Helen in Clearwater, Florida: "Everyone arrested for a crime, no matter how big or small, should submit their DNA. My hope is that DNA will be collected some day just like fingerprints. It's a much better method of identification."

Theresa in Atlanta: "What happened to the Fourth Amendment, as well as the right to be innocent until proven guilty? Anybody who thinks law enforcement will destroy the samples of the innocent is an idiot."

Biz in Quarryville, Pennsylvania: "We live in a free society, Jack. And it's very important we keep it that way. Starting to swab everyone's mouth for DNA, from a kid stealing a candy bar to a charge of reckless driving, is no way for a democracy to keep its freedom. I feel anybody convicted of a felony, including a felony shoplifting charge, in a court of law, should then have their DNA on record, just like fingerprints. We need to use all the tools we have available to catch criminals, but we have to be very careful that we don't walk all over the Bill of Rights in the process."

Eric writes: "Please say it ain't so. The ACLU will oppose it, of course, because these criminals' rights are being taken away. Heaven forbid we protect the public and actually do something that makes 100 percent sense. We don't want to offend anybody -- the criminals, terrorists rapists and pedophiles."

And Judie in St. Augustine, Florida: "Jack, why not just collect DNA samples from our entire population as part of the stimulus bill? Look at all the jobs it would create. And then Big Brother would have a lot more information on all of us. Seriously, this has to be a joke, right? I can see taking DNA on sex offenders, killers and people who commit violent crimes, but shoplifters? Please."

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

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

See you tomorrow.

It's the picture that shocked a lot of the world. Now Olympic champion Michael Phelps is speaking out about the revelations he smoked pot. In his first TV interview since the scandal broke, the multi-gold medalist says he's not perfect, but he hopes to learn from his mistakes.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What were you thinking?

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC CHAMPION: Obviously, not much. And, you know, it's -- I mean, like I said, a bad judgment. And, you know, I can learn from it and try to make my life better than it has been in the past, right?

Like I said, I've made mistakes and, you know, I've to live with every minute -- or I have to live with every mistake that I've learned.


BLITZER: Up next, Jeanne Moos takes on Beyonce and Etta James and more.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: With a "Moost Unusual" warning, here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last things first...




MOOS: When Beyonce sang Etta James' signature song for the Obama's inaugural dance...


BEYONCE (SINGING): And here we are in heaven.


MOOS: ...she ended up getting hell from Etta. It figures it would be one of Beyonce's most admired features that Etta threatened, though whether it was to whoop her or whip her seemed up for debate.

ETTA JAMES, SINGER: But I'll tell you, that woman he had singing for him taking my song, she's going to get her (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) whipped.

NICOLE FREHSEE, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": I think she might be just really crotchety. I mean, she's 71 years old and she's been replaced by this beautiful, energetic, youthful singer.

MOOS: Who even played Etta in the recent move "Cadillac Records."

To think that just a few months ago...




MOOS: Beyonce was paying homage to Etta at the Fashion Rock's concert.

BEYONCE (SINGING): If it wasn't for you, Etta James, artists like me would not have this opportunity. I love you. MOOS: But those days of love and hugs are over.

JAMES: And I can't stand Beyonce.

MOOS (on camera): The funny thing is that Etta James' son told the "New York Daily News" that he was on the phone with his mother, both of them watching TV as Beyonce sang for the president and that his mother was honored and got emotional to hear her song sung.

(voice-over): Now she's even dissing President Obama.

JAMES: And he ain't my president. He might be your president.

MOOS: It was quite the week for rants. Earlier, there was actor Christian Bale going off on his director of photography.


Are you professional or not?


MOOS: The next thing you know, someone's posted a mash-up of Bale's rant mixed with an old Bill O'Reilly rant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I can't read it. There's no -- there's no words on it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do it live. I can -- I'll write it and we'll do it live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, good for you.


MOOS: Soon other classic rants were resurfacing. For instance, Lily Tomlin's director screaming at her.


MOOS: He exited -- only to come rampaging back through another door.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) grownup, act like a grownup.

MOOS: You know you've made it into the ranters Hall of Fame when your rant ends up on a t-shirt. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously, man, you and me (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) done professionally.



MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

BALE: What don't you (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) understand?

MOOS: New York.





See you tomorrow.


Lisa Sylvester is sitting in for Lou -- Lisa?