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President Obama Heads West to Sign Stimulus Bill; What Roland Burris Left Out

Aired February 16, 2009 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: President Obama gets ready to leave his new home again to try to help Americans keep their homes. This hour, his latest economic road show and Republican criticism along the way.

Plus, the Obama administration on the brink of a troop buildup in Afghanistan and looking for help from some surprising sources, including Iran.

And the future of train transportation may lie in the stimulus package the president is about to sign into law, but a project that could help Las Vegas has some Republicans saying, you have got to be kidding -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

President Obama is set to cover important new ground in his efforts to revive the devastated economy. He's preparing to travel out West to sign off on one major fix-it plan and to launch yet another.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, standing by with details -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, on Wednesday, the president will be going to Phoenix, where he will be focusing on stemming the foreclosure crisis across the country, but tomorrow he heads to Colorado. The focus, of course, will be signing that stimulus bill.

The president had been saying all along that he wanted to have it in his hands by President's Day. And today, he got it.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): This is the $787 billion stimulus plan on paper, hammered out in a contentious fight on Capitol Hill. But the president isn't planning to sign it in town. He's going to Denver on Tuesday. ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Denver would be as good a place as any to highlight some of the investments, to put people back to work, particularly in clean energy jobs, and to focus people on those long-term investments that will help our long-term economic growth.

LOTHIAN: A senior administration official says it's not about snubbing Washington, but about going to where families are facing hardships. At the same time, key Republicans like Senator John McCain are criticizing the administration for what they say was a lack of bipartisanship as the bill was being crafted.

Political observers say it's a wake-up call for the White House.

EMILY HEIL, "ROLL CALL": I think that President Obama has realized that the really lofty goal of bipartisanship isn't necessarily achievable in the way that he thought.

LOTHIAN: A bump in the road for a president who keeps driving his economic agenda forward, announcing a task force instead of a car czar to help the struggling auto industry recover.

Aboard Air Force One, spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president thought a team approach would be more effective.

GIBBS: A vast amount of expertise that crosses a number of governmental agencies and departments and brings in a vast amount of experience that the administration has to deal with the auto restructuring.

LOTHIAN: This new team will be led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, Mr. Obama's top economic adviser, and will include nationally recognized restructuring expert Ron Bloom.

LAUREN FIX, AUTO INDUSTRY ANALYST: I think it's a pretty big mountain that they're going to have to climb. And what I think is going to have to happen is we have to cut down on some of the products.


LOTHIAN: Tomorrow's the deadline for auto giants GM and Chrysler to submit to the administration a plan on how they will turn things around, how they will pay back those billions of dollars in federal loans, and the White House officials here saying that they're anxious to see those plans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of us are, indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Dan, for that.

As the president considers how to help automakers, he's also considering how to help many of you -- the issue, keeping Americans in their homes.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's working this part of the story for us.

We're on the eve, potentially, of hearing some answers to that question.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of anticipation about this plan. The specifics at this point are scarce, as you just heard Dan say. On Wednesday, the president turns his focus to trying to prevent foreclosures and targeting the housing crisis.


SNOW (voice-over): President Obama will detail his plan to help troubled homeowners in Arizona, where one in 182 homes faced foreclosure last month. Administration officials are keeping tight- lipped about specifics.

JARED BERNSTEIN, CHIEF ECONOMIST TO VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You are going to learn, as that rollout continues, a very aggressive plan to help responsible homeowners stay in their home.

SNOW: The president is expected to commit between $50 billion and $100 billion to helping homeowners.

One idea gaining press attention is a plan to reduce monthly mortgage payments. It's similar to an idea advocated by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair that calls to cut those payments to between 31 percent and 38 percent of a family's gross income.

ANTHONY SANDERS, PROFESSOR OF FINANCE AND REAL ESTATE, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: So, you cut down the ratio to make it affordable. OK, that's good for households that are kind of on the edge.

SNOW: But the help comes as the problem deepens. One group tracking the real estate market says the number of foreclosures could hit three million this year, as unemployment rises and adjustable-rate loans reset.

RICK SHARGA, VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING, REALTYTRAC: It's a really toxic mix of higher-than-anticipated prices on monthly payments, combined with house values that have dropped that makes it impossible for people to refinance or sell their homes.

SNOW: In Phoenix, for example, the median price in Phoenix is $150,000. At its peak, it was roughly $262,000.

And with more homeowners drowning in debt, their mortgages worth more than their homes, this economist says the president's plan will just make a dent.

SANDERS: Fifty billion dollars is a good place to start. I'm just saying right here and now it's not enough. It will be enough to save Kansas, where they don't really have big negative equity problems.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Now, Arizona State professor Anthony Sanders says many questions remain about just how to handle those homes that have dropped far below their mortgage prices. And that's a problem, especially felt, Wolf, not only in Arizona, in Nevada, in California, and Florida.

BLITZER: All over the country, I think it's fair to say.

All right, Mary, thanks very much.

And as Mary just mentioned, many people in Arizona specifically are being forced out of their homes or at least they fear being forced out of their homes. Last month, Arizona had the third highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Nearly 14,700 people received foreclosure filings.

Last year, Arizona saw a 203 percent increase in foreclosure filings. And, in Phoenix alone -- get this -- one in every 17 homes got notice of foreclosure.

President Obama is sure to get an earful about all of this and other issues from the people of Arizona.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really need to see the president and talk to him, let him know what's going on our mind and what's going in the valley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be amazing. I mean, it's history, and it's just so cool that I'm going to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's it like to hold that in your hand?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It means a lot, yes. This is totally worth it, totally worth not sleeping at all.


BLITZER: The tickets they were holding allow access to the president's event. And many people braved some cold temperatures, long lines, camping outside to get their hands on one of those tickets.

Let's go to Zain Verjee. She's got the latest on that investigation into that deadly commuter plane crash near Buffalo that killed 50 people.

What's the latest, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's not just the wings that can get covered with ice and endanger a plane. In winter weather, the tail is also at risk.


VERJEE (voice-over): As Afghanistan plunges into more violence, the Obama administration may be...


BLITZER: That was the wrong piece, unfortunately. We are going to get the right piece. It was about the plane crash in Buffalo. But we will fix that technical problem. Apologize to our viewers. We will get back to Zain and her story in a moment.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is praising his wife's decision to make her first trip as secretary of state to Asia.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a good deal. The whole thing, it is the right place to start.


BLITZER: But the former president also talking to CNN about the tough work his wife faces on this trip.

As Afghanistan explodes with hellish violence, guess who might -- who the U.S. might be asking for some help? A nation that often antagonizes the U.S.

And, in this economic misery, should the government cut corners on the president's safety?

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


BLITZER: There has been an unexpected twist in U.S. foreign policy that could be at work right now as the Obama administration takes on the conflict in Afghanistan.

Let's go back to Zain Verjee. She's working this story for us.

All right, Zain, what do you know?

VERJEE: Wolf, the U.S. may extend its hand to an old foe.


VERJEE (voice-over): As Afghanistan plunges into more violence, the Obama administration may be looking for a little help from Iran -- yes, Iran.

In an interview with Tolo TV, a private Afghan channel, U.S. Envoy Richard Holbrooke says: "It's absolutely clear that Iran plays an important role in Afghanistan. They have a legitimate role to play in this region, as do all of Afghanistan's neighbors."

Holbrooke's comments may signal the administration is considering direct talks with Iran about Afghanistan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face, diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.

VERJEE: Afghanistan could be one opening. President Obama may double U.S. troops in that country to 60,000 as the Taliban gets stronger.

General David Petraeus has said there is evidence Iranian officials are helping the Taliban. During the Tolo TV interview, Holbrooke didn't criticize Iran, saying only: "I heard those reports. I talked to the military command about them. I did not have enough time to get into the details yet, but I will get into it on future trips."

The Obama administration has criticized Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons program, for arming Shia militias that kill U.S. troops, and for supporting groups like Hamas that the U.S. views as terrorists.


VERJEE: Right now, the U.S. is reviewing its Iran policy. And, Wolf, as you know, President Obama has said there's been just so much mistrust between the U.S. and Iran that it's really hard to see anything changing overnight. But any development in reaching out would be quite significant -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, here's the question, Zain. You have been speaking to a lot of experts out there. Would Iran really be willing to help the United States in Afghanistan?

VERJEE: Well, you know, they did so right after 9/11, so there is a precedent for that. U.S. officials said at the time that they were actually really helpful.

But even if the U.S. does reach out to Iran now and have those direct talks, it's really unclear how the Iranian leaders would respond to an overture like that. They're facing an election year. And how to deal with the U.S. is always a hot issue. So, that's questionable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much.

One hundred and eighty-nine people were killed by those wildfires that scorched Southeastern Australia earlier this month. Now Facebook users want retribution, naming an accused arsonist online.

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

Abbi, what's going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there had been a court order in Australia suppressing the name of this arson suspect, but that didn't stop dozens of Facebook users in Australia discovering it and posting it online on groups like this one, essentially naming and shaming the man, Brendan Sokaluk, who is accused.

These groups grew over the weekend, thousands of people joining them, many with hate-filled comments, many people wanting retribution. The reason people are so angry, scenes like this from last week, the fires that killed 189 people in Victoria in the southeastern part of Australia.

Sokaluk is charged with arson causing death, amongst other things. The specific fire that he's accused of setting killed at least 21 people. A court ruled today that his name can be released -- that's why we're reporting it right now -- but not his address, not his photo. That's because people fear for his safety -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.

Just when you thought the controversy surrounding the Illinois Senate seat was over, now there's word that Roland Burris may not necessarily have disclosed everything.


SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: There was no change in any of our -- from our testimony. We followed up as we promised the impeachment committee. We have done everything here that we said that we were going to do.


BLITZER: What Senator Burris left out of his testimony that has some of his former colleagues now calling for him to step down.

Plus, the president's pricey dilemma -- is now the best time to be buying new helicopters for the Marine One fleet?

And on the eve of the stimulus bill signing, the lessons Democrats learned in this fight.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now, there are new calls for the resignation of President Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate, Senator Roland Burris. Some Illinois state lawmakers are pushing for an investigation into whether Senator Burris committed perjury.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She has the latest for us -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Burris is on the defensive, facing criticism from Republican lawmakers in Illinois, who say that he lied about his contacts with the office of then Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois.

Of course, who is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat, the very Senate seat that Burris now occupies.


KEILAR (voice-over): Under oath, just days before taking a seat in the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris told Illinois lawmakers he had spoken to various people in then Governor Rod Blagojevich's office, including Blagojevich's indicted chief of staff. What he left out, conversations he had had with the governor's brother, Rob.

BURRIS: Rod Blagojevich reached out to me in three separate phone calls to ask for assistance raising money for his brother, then Governor Blagojevich. I made it very clear to him that I would not contribute, that it would be inappropriate, and a major conflict, because I had expressed an interest in the Senate seat.

KEILAR: That was Burris on Sunday, lawyer by his side, explaining what he had revealed in an affidavit he later submitted to lawmakers. Monday, he was back at the mikes defending himself again.

BURRIS: There was no change in any of our -- from our testimony. We followed up as we promised the impeachment committee. We have done everything here that we said that we were going to do.

KEILAR: Still, Illinois Republicans are calling for a perjury investigation.

JIM DURKIN (R), ILLINOIS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: At some point in state government, we're going to have to tell people that, when you get before a committee, and that you are sworn in to tell the truth, we're going to take it serious.

KEILAR: And for the new junior senator from Illinois, about to embark on a five-day listening tour across his state, the persistent shadow of Rod Blagojevich could make his stint in the Senate a short one.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: This could hurt him. This could draw a primary challenge from the Democratic Party. Democrats don't necessarily want to see a primary, because that could in fact weaken their nominee against a Republican.


KEILAR: Back here in Washington, Senator Burris continues to be an unwanted distraction for Senate Democratic leaders.

Majority Leader Harry Reid is reviewing Burris' affidavit and awaiting any action the Illinois legislature might take, according to his spokesman, who also said, clearly, it would have been better if Senator Burris had provided this information when he first testified -- Wolf. BLITZER: Brianna, thank you.

So, what do his constituents think of Senator Burris? A "Chicago Tribune" poll shows when people were asked if Roland Burris should run again in 2010, 37 percent said he should; 33 percent said he should not run again; 29 percent said they were unsure.

Let's go back to Zain Verjee right now. She has got the latest on that investigation into the deadly commuter plane crash near Buffalo -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, there has been a lot of talk, as you know, about whether it was ice on the wings that caused the crash, but, in winter weather, the tail is also at risk.


VERJEE (voice-over): In this test by NASA several years ago, scientists put foam on a small plane's tail shaped like ice buildup to simulate the condition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very hard to control speed and even altitude in the airplane.

VERJEE: The pilot has the flaps down like he's on approach. He's increasing power, but still can't compensate for the ice on the tail. The plane stalls.


VERJEE: Tail ice is yet one more possibility in a long list of possible causes for the Buffalo crash. Investigators say, when there's ice on the wings, there's ice on the tail, but:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Dash 8 Q400 is not susceptible to tail stall. That comes from Bombardier and a lot of engineering data, that it's not susceptible to tail stall.

VERJEE: And the plane had on its de-icers rubber boots on the wings and tail that pop the ice off by inflating. But the pilot's report of some icing and the NTSB's report that the autopilot was on when the trouble broke out has also sparked a debate on whether to use autopilot in icy weather.

JOHN LUCICH, COMMERCIAL PILOT: I think what happens is, when an airplane's on autopilot, the -- the pilot sometimes gets a sense that the airplane is more stable than that, OK? The problem is, though, the pilot does not get to feel what's going on with the airplane.


VERJEE: The plane's maker, Bombardier, only instructs pilots to stop using autopilot if icing becomes severe, which at this point hasn't been reported in this case, Wolf. It could, of course, well be that the cause of the crash could be something else entirely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're not going to know for a long time. These investigations take months and months and months, as you know.

Zain, thank you.

Some Republicans are raising red flags right now about a high- speed train project tucked inside the economic stimulus package.


REP. CANDICE MILLER (R), MICHIGAN: Apparently, the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles? You have got to be kidding. You have to be kidding.


BLITZER: Is it a joke or is it a boon for the transportation industry and for the U.S. economy and the creation of jobs?

Plus, President Obama has to decide if he should spend billions to upgrade his own helicopter fleet. Questions of big money and presidential safety, that's coming up.

And the possible backlash if -- if President Obama lifts the ban on new embryonic stem cell research. The best political team on television is standing by.


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

Happening now: The Olympic Michael Phelps says he made a mistake and has learned valuable lessons about bad judgment. The South Carolina sheriff today said he's dropping the marijuana case at Phelps. The case came to light after a photo of the swimming champion circulated showing him smoking from a bong.

The Associated Press reports, Kansas has now suspended income tax refunds because the state simply doesn't have enough money in its main account. The AP also says the state may not be able to pay its employees on time. The governor, Kathleen Sebelius, wants to transfer funds from other accounts, but needs legislative approval.

And sizing up the new president. Now that he's in office, what do his detractors think? We went to the U.S. -- outside the beltway, outside the nation's capital, to find out what folks are thinking in some areas of the country, views you don't often hear. We will have that for you.

Also coming up, the best political team on television.

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

But, first, safety vs. economic sacrifice, those two issues now colliding and creating this question: In this time of economic misery, should the federal government cut corners when it comes to the president's security? Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is working the problem.

Chris, it involves Marine One.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They have been adding capabilities, trying to replace an old fleet, but the more capabilities they add, the price just keeps getting higher.

Now even some Democrats in Congress are howling about this project. And President Obama may be forced to put a price tag on his own safety.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Marine One is one of the most expensive aircraft in the world. The price tag to replace the current fleet? More than $11 billion, nearly double the original estimate.

And President Obama has to decide whether to order more of them.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA, VICE PRESIDENT OF ANALYSIS, TEAL GROUP: Justifying that in a time of financial austerity, a time when executives are being criticized for high-priced business jets, that is going to be a tough one.

LAWRENCE: Defense analyst Richard Aboulafia says, the current helicopters are old. These would be safer, fly faster, and farther.

But the original contract signed during the Bush administration has ballooned. Now these helicopters would cost $400 million each.

ABOULAFIA: This helicopter assumes that money is no object in ensuring the safety of the president.

LAWRENCE: Last year, during the campaign, candidate Obama said -- quote -- "We should be spending a lot more money trying to figure out how to get our energy policy right than we should on helicopters for the president."

Well, now they're his helicopters, and they don't just land on the White House lawn. They're often sent overseas. Each one has to jam seeking devices and deflect missiles. It's got to have phones, faxes, video screens, Internet. And they all have to hold up after the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear blast.


LAWRENCE: White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN that any time a project starts out at one cost and then doubles, that is a concern to them. And they will be looking at this project very, very carefully not only for itself, but as part of a larger review of the Pentagon's procurement process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As well they should. All right. Thanks, Chris, very much.

President Obama signs the economic stimulus bill tomorrow in Colorado. He'll inject some new money into the future of train transportation in the process.

But some critics are not impressed.

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, high-speed rail is an idea that's been around for a long time. But it's now getting some renewed attention.



QUIJANO (voice-over): High-speed rail has long been the butt of jokes -- mocked on "The Simpsons," for instance, as futuristic and unwieldy.


JULIE KAVNER, ACTRESS: How fast are they going?


QUIJANO: But in reality, high-speed rail is getting some high profile attention these days.

OBAMA: You go to Shanghai, China right now and they've got high- speed rail that puts our railroads to shame.

QUIJANO: President Obama sang its praises as part of his vision for the future of transportation.

OBAMA: I'd like to see high-speed rail where it can be constructed.

QUIJANO: The new stimulus plans sets aside $8 billion for unspecified high-speed and inter-city passenger rail projects.

But Republicans are crying foul over one proposal -- a high-speed magnetic levitation train, similar to this one in China, to be built in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's home state of Nevada, connecting Las Vegas and Anaheim, California.

REP. CANDICE MILLER (R), MICHIGAN: Apparently, the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles?

You've got to be kidding. You've got to be kidding.

QUIJANO: A spokesman for Senator Reid insists the money would be for competitive grants nationwide, not just the Vegas to L.A. Rail project.

Still, Representative Candice Miller of Michigan believes that money could be better spent helping U.S. automakers.

MILLER: They might be riding a high rail out in Las Vegas, but in Michigan, we are getting railroaded. And that is why I voted no.

QUIJANO: Yet supporters of the high-speed train argue it would not only generate jobs, it would also create badly need infrastructure.

TOM SKANCKE, LAS VEGAS CONVENTION & VISITORS AUTHORITY: We really need to provide the American public another way of getting around from city to city.

BRUCE AGUILERA, CALIFORNIA-NEVADA SUPER SPEED TRAIN COMMISSION: The best part about this project is we pay all the money back we get from Congress. We aren't looking out for a free handout here.


QUIJANO: A spokesman for Senator Reid notes that the final decisions on which projects get that stimulus money rests with the secretary of Transportation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Elaine.

Now, lessons to be learned from the stimulus battle...


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Just because it didn't work as well as we would have liked this time, despite our efforts and despite our trying, we're going to keep at it.


BLITZER: What can Democrats learn from the stimulus fight?

The best political team on television is standing by to weigh in live.

Plus, new pictures of President Obama just released by the White House.

Are they taking some subtle digs at the GOP?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Let's get right to it.

Joining us now, our political analysts. Roland Martin is joining us; Gloria Borger; Stephen Hayes of the "Weekly Standard."

I want to play a little clip of what the former president, Bill Clinton said, looking ahead, whether bipartisanship can come back to Washington.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that as we go along, if the American people stick with him and if he begins to have good results, then I think more and more Republicans will cooperate with him, because they will see that he's right or because he carried their states or for any number of reasons.


BLITZER: Is that a fair assessment from the former president, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think it is. I mean he makes a very true political point, Wolf, which is that you can't go against your constituents in vote after vote after vote. And if the president remains popular and these plans continue to be popular, I think you're going to see Republicans peeling off. At least that's the gamble the White House is taking.

BLITZER: Yes. If it works and we begin to see, in the coming months, improvement in the economy, it's probably going to bode very well for the president. And Republicans may begin to rethink their strategy, don't you think -- Steve?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think they could, to a certain extent. And I expect -- and I think most Republicans expect that we will see some sort of a -- at least a short-term surge in the economy because of the stimulus bill.

The question is how long it will last and whether Republicans see political advantage to being with President Obama at that point.

BLITZER: Because at some point, Roland, we're going to be getting closer and closer to the midterm elections in November of next year. And politicians are always thinking about that.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course, Wolf. But it boils down to ideological issues. That's what is most important here. That is, Republicans want to establish their fiscal conservative credentials. And, look, we've seen bipartisan bills in Congress in the past, where you had a significant number of Democrats and Republicans vote for it. But this was a major pillar for the GOP. That's why they held so strong on both the Senate and the House side.

BLITZER: We've just gotten, from the White House -- they've released a bunch of photos the official White House photographer took, showing the president in action. And he's dealing not only with Democrats, but with Republicans. And there's a not so subtle message included in these pictures, including this one at the -- in the movie theater at the White House during the Super Bowl, when he invited a bunch of Republicans and Democrats in to not only watch the game, but also to talk about the stimulus package. The subtle -- the not so subtle message, Gloria, is, you know, he did his best to work with Republicans, he met with them and they weren't really interested.

BORGER: You know, it's sort of keep reaching out. And I think you're going to see that continue to happen, because while he didn't have success this time in getting Republicans, Wolf, the American public gave him credit for reaching out. And Republican popularity remains at 31 percent. And Barack Obama's popularity remains over 60 percent.

So even though he may fail again and again and again, the bet at the White House is that he's going to continue to get credit for it, which is why these pictures sort of reinforce that image.

MARTIN: That's right. Wolf...

BLITZER: That...

MARTIN: I talked to several White House officials and they said, look, just exactly what Gloria said. This points to the American people saying he is making the effort. And so we can sit here and talk about the inside politics in terms of only three people on the Senate side, they voted with the stimulus package. But the bottom line, if the public gives him credit for it, he looks great. He looks wonderful. They look obstinate.

BLITZER: And I like the picture, Steve, of him at the Alfalfa Club dinner with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. It's one of those dinners -- those insider dinners in Washington. There they are. You see John Roberts, the Supreme Court chief justice, right near them.

It shows them sort of talking to each other. I'm not sure much negotiation is going on at those kind of dinners.

HAYES: Yes. You could say that it's symbolic because Obama is doing the talking and McConnell is doing the listening.


HAYES: I think, you know, Roland...

MARTIN: Well, he is the president.


HAYES: ...Roland is right and Gloria is right, to a certain extent. But, you know, image matters in politics. And I think these, you know, these photos, depending on how widespread they are, they may help on the image question. But ultimately, he's going to have to start listening to Republicans and incorporating some of their ideas if he hopes to have Republicans supporting him -- and supporting him in a meaningful way beyond, you know, getting three liberal Republicans in the Senate. He's going to have to actually listen to some Republican ideas, which he did not do, frankly, with the stimulus package.

BLITZER: It looks, Gloria, like the president is considering lifting the ban on additional embryonic stem cell research right now.

He had this exchange yesterday. Listen to this. This is -- excuse me. This is the -- David Axelrod, the president's top political adviser, had this exchange with Chris Wallace.

Listen to this.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: When are you going to issue an executive order on stem cell research?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That -- we'll be doing something on that soon, I think.

WALLACE: An executive order lifting the ban on federal funding?

GIBBS: The president is considering that right now.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, you know, there's going to be plenty of Republicans who are going to support this as well...


BLITZER: ...not just Democrats. And there will be some Democrats who will oppose it.

BORGER: You know, I think it's one of those areas where Republicans and Democrats, Wolf, are actually going to agree. Don't forget, this was George W. Bush's first veto. But stem cell research had a large majority in both Houses of Congress.

And so I think this is kind of an easy -- an easy message for the president to send, because it's very, very popular in the country.

BLITZER: Is it...

MARTIN: Don't be surprised if he invokes Nancy Reagan, as well, because she's a major supporter of this issue. That also helps with Republican base if you're able to incorporate the wife of a former president.

BLITZER: That's a fair point.

Steve, how is this going to play out?

HAYES: Well, I think it can play out exactly the way that Roland says. Interestingly, when he gave John King an interview about three weeks ago, he said he wanted to be sure to have Congress on board rather than just issue an executive order. I think he signaled that he wants to work with Congress, in part, to get some political cover from Republicans who are likely to support him on some of these things.

BLITZER: And the other theory behind that, if Congress passes legislation and he signs it into law, then the next president coming in wouldn't simply be able to reverse an executive order.

HAYES: Right.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: It has a much greater impact. That was the theory when he discussed it the other day.

All right, guys.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Kitty Pilgrim -- she's sitting in for Lou -- to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Kitty, what are you working on?


Coming up at 7:00 Eastern, President Obama is leaving Washington to sell his so-called stimulus plan. And he'll travel west to sign the bill and reveal his plans to fight the foreclosure crisis.

Also, time is up for G.M. and Chrysler to unveil their survival plans after taking billions of dollars of taxpayer bailouts.

Can they save themselves and millions of American jobs?

We'll have that story.

Also, why your income tax refund check may not be in the mail. States facing desperate economic times take drastic steps. We'll have a special report.

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

BLITZER: All right, kitty.

Thank you.

It's the most anti-Obama county in the country.


JAMES SWEENEY, VOTED FOR MCCAIN: I don't think he'll do any -- Bill and Hillary Clinton will tell him what to do all the way. He'll never make a move without talking to those people.

TUCHMAN: What do you think of the Clintons?

SWEENEY: I don't.


BLITZER: Voters, most of them registered Democrats, explain why they voted for John McCain instead of their own party's candidate and what it means down the road to them.

And don't drink and give a news conference -- Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

Plus, a new survey ranking all of the U.S. presidents. We're going to tell you how the recent ones rate and who is number one.


BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Asia right now to begin her first official diplomatic mission overseas. This as Japan reports its worst economic crisis since World War II. Secretary Clinton is on a week long tour.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The U.S.-Japanese alliance is vitally important to both of our countries, to the Asia Pacific region and to the world. And our partnership stretches back half a century. Its foundation has been and always will be a commitment to our shared security and prosperity.

But we also know that we have to work together to address the global financial crisis which is affecting all of us.


BLITZER: She is expected to tackle a range of issues, including the U.S. economic stimulus package, climate change, human rights. She's also visiting Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.

Meanwhile, her husband, the former president, spoke to CNN about her decision to go to Asia as her first official trip in her new role.


B. CLINTON: I know how they think economically and I think she'll do quite well there. And I think she made a really good decision -- obviously, she had to go to Japan and South Korea. But going to Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim country, sends out a loud signal, because Indonesia has a part of it, Bali, which is predominantly Hindu, which has been the subject of terrorist attacks.

So it's a good deal. I mean the whole thing -- it's the right place to start.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, the newest former president right now getting some low marks from historians. A new survey conducted by C-SPAN shows former President George W. Bush ranks 36th out of the 42 men who have been commander-in-chief. Checking other recent presidents, Bill Clinton is ranked 15th. George Herbert Walker Bush ranks 18th. Ronald Reagan, by the way, is number ten.

Historians polled say the best president of all was Abraham Lincoln.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, right now.

He went to a very heavily Democratic county in Texas that voted overwhelmingly -- and that's putting it mildly -- for John McCain.

You went back there right now, in recent days -- Gary, you found some fascinating insight to what's going on outside, shall we say, the Beltway.


Barack Obama received 53 percent of the vote nationally and had a solid electoral victory on November 4th. But in many of the nation's counties, particularly rural ones, John McCain demolished Obama. We decided to find out which county in the U.S. gave Obama the lowest percentage of votes and ask the people there how they see the future.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): In all the United States, out of all the nation's 3,100 plus counties, tiny King County, Texas stands alone.

(on camera): Did you vote on election day?


TUCHMAN: And who did you vote for?

MCCAULEY: John McCain.

TUCHMAN: Who did you vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for McCain.

TUCHMAN: How many of you voted -- a show of hands -- voted for Barack Obama?

(voice-over): Percentage wise, no county in America rejected Barack Obama to a greater extent than this county near the Texas Panhandle. And what makes it more interesting is that most of the voters here are registered as Democrats.

(on camera): John McCain almost won King County by acclimation. The Republican received 93.2 percent of the vote here. Barack Obama, 4.9 percent. If you get everyone in this entire County who voted for Obama and put them all together, they would fit in a minivan. The new president received eight votes.

(voice-over): At the K through 12 school in the town of Guthrie, the only school in the county, the basketball coach and principal is Roddy Shipman.

(on camera): Do you know anybody who voted for Barack Obama in this county?

RODDY SHIPMAN, KING COUNTY RESIDENT: Not personally, no. It's kind of huge deal, I think.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This snowplow driver also doesn't know anyone who voted for Obama, but he has some advice for the new president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help out the small person. Help us -- help us out a little bit.

TUCHMAN: Charlotte McCauley also has advice for Obama -- listen to the lord.

MCCAULEY: I just asked God that he would -- that he would help him, truly connect with him, so that he would know what God's heart was for the United States of America.

TUCHMAN: Many here are relying on prayer to counter their disappointment. Not every congregant at King County's Living Church of Jesus Christ is from this county, but these people say they voted for McCain.

JAYNA BRUTON, VOTED FOR MCCAIN: Ultimately, God is in control. So he has a plan with Obama to be in there. And I'll just support God's plan and we'll see what happens.


TUCHMAN: The pastor has a similar sentiment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The election is over. We need to get behind him and support him...



-- pray for him. And I'm big on -- I love this nation. And I'm big on -- I don't think we should badmouth him, you know what I'm saying?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's our president.

TUCHMAN: But 88-year-old James Sweeney isn't quite as charitable about Obama.

SWEENEY: And I don't think that he'll do anything -- Bill and Hillary Clinton will tell him what to do, all the way. He will never make a move without talking to those two people.

TUCHMAN: And what do you think of the Clintons?

SWEENEY: I don't. TUCHMAN (voice-over): This county is almost all white. But county leaders reject that racism has anything to do with the minuscule Obama numbers. Instead, many people here say they just saw McCain and Palin as more moral and trustworthy.

MCCAULEY: I believe trust has to be earned. And since he's just become our new president, I'd have to say I don't trust him right now. But I hope that as we pray for him and -- you know, that we can come to trust him.

TUCHMAN: Before we leave this remote county, we find Ann Rocha (ph).

(on camera): Did you vote in the presidential election?


TUCHMAN: Who did you vote for?

ROCHA: Barack Obama.

TUCHMAN: You voted for Obama?

(voice-over): But Ann moved to King County just after the election day, so the identities of the Obama 8 are still a mystery to us.


TUCHMAN: There is obviously not a lot of enthusiasm for Barack Obama in King County. But like everywhere, there's clear acknowledgment America has a lot of problems that to be solved. That's why there are quite a few more than eight people there who are now rooting for him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating stuff.

All right. Gary, thank you.

Sometimes when a leader comes to the podium, the mike and the cameras catch more than you'd expect. A Japanese official is caught in a Moost Unusual moment.

Plus, putting the face on the global economic crisis -- pictures worth 1,000 words.

All that coming up next.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press.

In Romania, a Chinese construction worker takes shelter as the economic crisis hinders construction efforts.

In California, a fan walks away after rain cancels the last round of a golf tournament.

In Austria, the Dutch princess and her daughter take to the slopes.

And in Germany, a red lemur stays warm in front of a space heater at the zoo. Look at that lemur.

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

I wonder if they have a lemur at my zoo in Buffalo.

A word to the wise, if you ever step in front of a microphone, make sure you're sober. Otherwise, you might wind up in a TV piece someday.

CNN's Jeanne Moss has a Moost Unusual look at some people who must not necessarily received the memo.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Falling asleep at your own press conference is bad. But maybe it's worse to wake up and slur your speech.


MOOS: Drunk, cried critics of Japan's finance minister. They want him fired or censured. But he says it was just too much cold medicine.

(on camera): When it comes to examples of people apparently drunk at the mike, our cup runneth over.

(voice-over): With former Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin...


MOOS: could never be quite sure whether he was soused or just jolly.


MOOS: But sometimes there's no denying...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to kiss you. I couldn't care less about the team struggling.


MOOS: From Joe Namath to Anna Nicole Smith...


ANNA NICOLE SMITH: And if I ever record an album...


MOOS: She made French president Nicolas Sarkozy seem sober -- and maybe he was.


MOOS: President Sarkozy later explained: "I was not drunk, just out of breath from racing up stairs."

There's something mesmerizing about watching another human being in an altered state. Take the latest kid sensation -- David, after the dentist. His dad taped him as the anesthesia wore off.




MOOS: One viewer admitted to watching this 36 times.


D. DEVORE: I feel funny.

Why is this happening to me?

MR. DEVORE: It's OK, bud.

It's just from the medicine, OK?

D. DEVORE: Is this going to be forever?




MOOS: Oh, it's going to be forever, all right -- captured forever on YouTube. But before you say how could his dad exploit the poor kid that way, the poor kid seems thrilled with his fame and expresses gratitude.


D. DEVORE: Thank you for watching David at the dentist.


MOOS: But don't believe every slur you hear.


CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST: There are rumors in this country that President Bush is drinking again.


MOOS: An altered state might just be an altered tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thanked the leaders...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, when I call them on the phone, we're strategizing.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: Jeanne Moos, thanks very much.

We did check the Web site. There is a lemur at the Buffalo Zoo.

We want you to check out our political podcast, by the way. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Sitting in for Lou, Kitty Pilgrim -- Kitty.