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President Obama OKs Buildup in Afghanistan; $787 Billion Rescue Signed Into Law; Roland Burris Fights Perjury Questions
Aired February 17, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. The stimulus bill is signed into law, but can President Obama deliver on his promise that it will help the economy? We're tracking the dollars and a new lifeline for struggling homeowners.
Plus, the postmaster general's astounding salary and perks. Why is he earning as much as some big corporate bigwigs when Americans are being asked to pay more for a stamp?
And the founder of a Muslim TV network arrested for killing his wife in a shockingly brutal way. Her head was cut off.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: But there's breaking news happening right now, a significant development involving U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. She's getting new information on a decision apparently made by the commander in chief.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, breaking as we speak. Pentagon officials telling CNN President Obama has now approved the concept of a significant U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan that will eventually, potentially double the size of the U.S. force there.
What are we talking about? We do expect an announcement here at the Pentagon following whatever President Obama will say later today about all of this. They will announce here two significant deployments.
About 8,000 U.S. Marines expected at this point to be deploying from a headquarters at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and about 4,000 Army troops in a so-called Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, Washington. That unit very significant. They have the types of armored vehicles that they can actually utilize in the rough terrain of Afghanistan.
This is just the first part, however, of what is expected to be more and more troops going to Afghanistan. This has been on the table since the final months of the Bush administration. The Obama White House has been struggling with making this decision because they came into office with Afghanistan suddenly becoming Obama's war. A lot of concern that this will become President Obama's Iraq.
Afghanistan is in very bad shape security-wise. They have to get troops there before springtime. The Taliban have been consolidating their positions, and they need more troops there desperately. We're getting the first decisions now by the Obama administration that they are moving forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's the question, Barbara. We know that General Petraeus, David Petraeus, was the Iraq commander when they had the surge that seems to have had a tremendous impact on what's happening in Iraq. Now he's the head of the U.S. military Central Command, which overseas the entire region, including Afghanistan.
Is this what he sees as an equivalent surge in Afghanistan to try to stabilize the situation there?
STARR: Well, I don't know that he will go down the road of saying this is the equivalent of Iraq for a couple of reasons, Wolf. The real uncertainty here to a great extent revolves around what is happening across the border in Pakistan. Of course, just yesterday, we saw the Pakistan government cut another deal with the Taliban which many people fear will just lead to the Taliban becoming stronger and stronger and make it tougher and tougher for U.S. troops -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, stand by.
We're going to be all over this story, the breaking news at the Pentagon. Thousands of more -- thousands of additional U.S. troops about to move over to Afghanistan.
Stand by for that.
Meanwhile, the ink is still fresh on that $787 billion economic recovery package. President Obama signed the bill in Denver just a short while ago. It's a victory for the new administration after a tough political struggle, but now comes the real test. Will all that taxpayer money, billions and billions of dollars, really wind up making a difference?
Let's go to our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She's traveling with the president in Denver.
So the breaking news is significant on this front as well, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This really is the president's baby, but it's also his burden.
We're talking $787 billion worth of it. And with the president's signature day, it really makes it his signature issue for his presidency. What he's done over the last four weeks could very much shape his legacy.
There are a lot of people who are looking to this president. He has promised 3.5 million jobs created or saved in the next two years. Obviously, this is uncharted territory. But the president also saying that he has hope, he believes that there is -- you cannot do nothing, that this is the best chance. But he is also being quite cautious.
Take a listen, Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we're going to have to do to turn our economy around. But today does mark the beginning of the end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And Wolf, what was interesting, what happened on the way here aboard Air Force One, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, was asked whether or not there would be another, a second stimulus package here. He said there were no plans, but he didn't rule it out either. There are a lot of people who believe that this is really just the tip of the iceberg, that this is going to require a lot more money to turn this economy around.
One of the things that the administration is doing today, they have just fired up a Web site, recovery.gov. That essentially for people like you and me and everybody, taxpayers, to take a look and see where this money is going. There is a big challenge now, Wolf, with the states, whether or not they're going to be able to submit these so-called shovel-ready projects, whether or not they're going to be able to get certification and actually create those kind of jobs that this president has been talking about -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the president heads off to Phoenix later for a major announcement tomorrow designed to try to keep millions and millions of people in their homes. We'll have more on that coming up, Suzanne. Stand by.
Suzanne is in Denver.
But let's go to other breaking news we're following right now. It's a busy news day.
Growing questions unfolding about whether President Obama's successor in the United States Senate, Roland Burris, may have committed perjury. It all goes back to Burris' controversial appointment by the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to make a profit off of that Senate seat.
Susan Roesgen is watching this story for us in Chicago.
Significant developments, it looks like today, Susan.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, Wolf, ever since the Burris camp filed this amendment, this affidavit to his earlier testimony. So whether Senator Burris was just forgetful or incomplete or vague, in any case, his original story is falling apart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to...
ROESGEN (voice-over): It all comes back to this. Last month, when Roland Burris testified under oath in the Illinois impeachment proceedings against Governor Rod Blagojevich, state lawmakers wanted to know if Burris had been asked to give the governor money in exchange for his appointment. And Burris was asked specifically if he had had any dealings with some of the people in Governor Blagojevich's inner circle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me throw out some names: John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenlee, Lon Monk, John Wyma. Did you talk to anybody who was associated with the governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the governor's arrest?
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.
ROESGEN: That's it right there, the crux of the controversy. Burris says he answered all questions truthfully, but what he did not say is that, in fact, he had been asked three times by the governor's brother to give money to the governor's campaign funds.
Burris did not reveal that until last week, when he filed an amendment to his testimony, an affidavit he sent to the Illinois Impeachment Committee. And Burris now says the FBI has been talking to his lawyers, leading several state lawmakers to theorize that the feds have Burris on tape talking to the governor's brother as part of the wiretapped conversations in the Blagojevich corruption probe. Senator Burris still maintains that he never gave any money to get his seat.
ROESGEN: Now, Wolf, some state senators here are saying that Senator Burris should actually be charged with perjury. Others are saying he should resign immediately. And still others are saying that if he had revealed those conversations with the governor's brother at the impeachment committee hearing back in January, he probably would not have gotten the Senate approval.
BLITZER: So we're waiting to see what happens on this front as well.
Susan, thanks very much.
A busy day, as I said. Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama may have signed that big stimulus bill into law today. The scary part though is it's not clear yet if this almost $790 billion in government spending is going to be enough to do the trick.
The stock market tanked this morning, dropped 230 points in 90 minutes. And it closed down eventually 297. Wall Street, the stock market, now close to its lowest level in 10 years. Investors are nervous that the stimulus plan won't have's the kind of impact necessary to begin to turn the economy around. Wall Street also gave a thumbs down, you'll recall, to Treasury Secretary Geithner's banking plan last week.
Then there's Detroit. GM and Chrysler set to tell the government today how they plan to stay afloat. They have already been given $17 billion in government loans and, if they can't prove how they'll survive in the future, they may not get anymore.
And some states are treading water even before the stimulus plan has a chance to trickle down to them. If California lawmakers don't pass a budget soon, 20,000 state workers could lose their jobs.
The state faces a $42 billion deficit. Lawmakers cannot seem to agree on a budget, especially on $14 billion in tax increases. California may also halt nearly 300 state-funded public works projects. That would mean more layoffs.
In Kansas, the state government is out of money to pay its bills. They have suspended income tax refunds and may not be able to pay employees on time. Officials say the state might also have to delay payments to public schools and to doctors who provide medical care to the needy under Medicaid.
It's a beautiful thing; isn't it?
Here's the question. Is the stimulus bill too little too late?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Let's hope not, Jack. Thank you.
It turns out the postmaster general has been getting some very big checks in the mail. New outrage right now over his pay and perks in the league of corporate executives, not federal employees.
Also ahead, why Dick Cheney's final days as vice president reportedly left him fuming at President Bush. A pardon sought; loyalty strained. Stand by for details.
And he founded a TV station to counter violent stereotypes of Muslims. Now he's under arrest, accused of beheading his own wife.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This is a story that may shock you. The chief who's responsible for delivering your mail reportedly is paid like some of the wealthiest corporate executives.
Let's go straight to CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's looking into the story for us.
What do we know, Elaine? ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, it's interesting. The Postal Service just announced the need for a 2-cent price increase in the cost of mailing a letter. But now there are some new questions about whether top postal officials are feeling the economic pinch as well.
QUIJANO (voice-over): Last month, Postmaster General John Potter told a Senate panel -- and later CNN -- that business was so bad, the Postal Service might have to cut mail delivery to just five days a week.
JOHN POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL: We hope not to have to reduce six-day delivery. We hope that our aggressive plans to reduce our costs are effective.
QUIJANO: But "The Washington Times" reports that even as he warned of dire economic straits, Potter watched his own compensation and perks climb to more than $800,000 last year.
PETE SEPP, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: This is the equivalent of Detroit auto executives flying to Washington in a fancy jet to ask for tax dollars.
QUIJANO: According to a regulatory filing from December, Potter was paid $263,000 in salary last year and was paid $381,000 in retirement benefits as well. Sixty-nine thousand dollars went for a security detail required by the Secret Service, and $8,000 more for perks, including life insurance premiums. He's also due to receive a $135,000 bonus when he leaves the postal service, an independent government agency that's not funded by taxpayers, but is subject to congressional oversight.
A spokesman for the Postal Service defends Potter, saying that under his leadership, the Postal Service reduced costs by $1 billion a year for the last six years. CNN could not independently verify that claim. The spokesman also noted that the compensation in question was agreed to in the early part of 2007 before the full effects of the economic crisis were known.
Still, that doesn't assuage critics.
SEPP: I would not be surprised to see the Postal Service asking for a bailout just like Wall Street firms.
QUIJANO: Now, through his spokesman, John Potter declined to comment on this story. And right now, Wolf, we are still awaiting a statement from the board of governors which helps to oversee the U.S. Postal Service -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elaine, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, we're hearing that in President Bush's last days in office, the vice president, Dick Cheney, repeatedly -- at least this has been reported -- repeatedly pressed the president to do something the president refused to do, and that caused some bitter feelings between both men.
Let's go straight to our Brian Todd. He's been looking into this part of the story for us.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is over a case you know very well. This was the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former Cheney aide. This trial, that stirred controversy when it began about two years ago, grew worse with time and reportedly left the vice president furious at the very end.
TODD (voice-over): Their storied partnership, forged with a strong belief in loyalty, reportedly frayed in the final days of the presidency over that very same principle. "The New York Daily News" says former Vice President Dick Cheney was left fuming when his efforts to get President Bush to pardon former Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby were rebuffed. The paper's Washington bureau chief, Tom DeFrank, who's covered Mr. Cheney for more than 30 years, writes of Cheney's efforts as the Bush administration wound down.
TOM DEFRANK, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": As most senior officials in the Bush White House were worrying about their resumes and packing bags, the vice president went at President Bush time and time and time again, I'm told from Cheney sources.
TODD: DeFrank reports that after repeatedly telling the vice president he'd made up his mind, "... Bush became so exasperated with Cheney's persistence, he told aides he didn't want to discuss the matter any further..." A Bush spokesman wouldn't comment on the report. CNN could not get a response from Mr. Cheney's office.
Libby was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction in the federal probe of the leak of a former CIA officer's identity. President Bush later commuted his 30-month sentence, saying he thought it was severe, but indicated even then that a pardon for Libby was not likely.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand. And I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand.
TODD: In a recent interview with writer Stephen Hayes of the conservative "Weekly Standard," Cheney publicly disagreed with the president's decision, and Hayes quoted one Libby sympathizer as calling Bush dishonorable. Observers say that's emblematic of an alliance that became strained over Libby's case.
CRAIG GORDON, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, POLITICO: For some conservatives, Scooter Libby was sort of, you know, robbed right, you know, beginning, middle and end. And I think Dick Cheney and some of his loyal supporters feel that way.
TODD: And Mr. Bush clearly didn't have the relationship with Scooter Libby that Dick Cheney did, but there are other clues as to why the former president didn't pardon Libby. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Mr. Bush told her he was proud of the fact that, unlike previous presidents, he didn't grant pardons to people who had special access to the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looking ahead to this Bush/Cheney relationship, what do we suspect is going to happen?
TODD: Well, most observers say that it's likely that they'll stay on the same page when it comes to publicly defending their administration. Clearly, the relationship appears to be strained. But as Tom DeFrank says, they don't have to talk to one another for a while. You know, you get the sense that with the passage of time, things will probably get a little better.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.
Brian Todd reporting for us.
Want to know how the economic plan may help you? President Obama offers this explanation...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And what makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, including 60,000-plus here in Colorado. It's that we're putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But here's the question. Can President Obama convince you his plan might work? Listen to the president in his own words, then decide. That's coming up.
And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns North Korea. She's in Asia delivering a firm message about a North Korean threat.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: An Israeli tennis star barred from playing in Dubai tells me she's skeptical about the official explanation about why she was snubbed. The Middle East tensions playing out in the sports world right now. We'll speak to her. That's coming up.
And the clock is ticking for President Obama. Now that he signed the stimulus bill, how long are Americans willing to wait to get relief?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Bristol Palin speaking out. She kept to herself during her mother's vice presidential campaign. Now this young parent clashes with her own mom about how to prevent teen pregnancy.
A woman fights for her life after being mauled by a 200-pound pet chimpanzee in Connecticut.
And more to learn about last week's devastating commuter plane crash in New York State near Buffalo. Did the flight crew's experience in the aircraft play a fatal role?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Now that the $787 billion rescue package is a reality, many of you may be wondering, how soon will you see your jobs, money and other positive effects come into play?
Listen to what the president said just a little while ago as he signed the plan into law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What I'm signing there is a balanced plan with a mix of tax cuts and investments. It's a plan that's been put together without earmarks or the usual pork barrel spending. It's a plan that will be implemented with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability.
With a recovery package of this size comes a responsibility to assure every taxpayer that we are being careful with the money they worked so hard to earn. And that's why I am assigning a team of managers to ensure that the precious dollars we've invested are being spent wisely and well.
Governor Ritter, Mayor Hickenlooper, we're going to hold governors and local officials who receive the money to the same high standard. And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results. And that's why we've created recovery.gov, a Web site so that every American can go online and see how this money is being spent and what kind of jobs that's being created, where those jobs are being created. We want transparency and accountability throughout this process.
(APPLAUSE) Now, as important as the step we take today is, this legislation represents only the first part of the broad strategy we need to address our economic crisis. In the coming days and weeks, I'll be launching other aspects of the plan.
We will need to stabilize, repair and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses. We will need to end the culture where we ignore problems until they become full- blown crises instead of recognizing that the only way to build a thriving economy to set and enforce firm rules of the road.
We must stem the spread of foreclosures and falling home values for all Americans and do everything we can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes, something I will talk about more tomorrow.
And we will need to do everything in the short term to get our economy moving again, while at the same time recognizing that we have inherited a trillion-dollar deficit, and we need to begin restoring fiscal discipline and taming our exploding deficits over the long term.
None of this will be easy. The road to recovery will not be straight. We will make progress, and there may be some slippage along the way.
It will demand courage and discipline. It will demand a new sense of responsibility that's been missing from Wall Street all the way to Washington.
There will be hazards and reverses. But I have every confidence that if we are willing to continue doing the critical work that must be done, by each of us, by all of us, then we will leave this struggling economy behind us and come out on the other side more prosperous as a people.
For our American story is not, and never has been, about things coming easy. It's about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, and converting crisis into opportunity, and seeing to it that we emerge from whatever trials we face stronger than we were before.
It's about rejecting the notion that our fate is somehow written for us and instead laying claim to a destiny of our own making.
That's what earlier generations of Americans have done. That's what we owe our children. That's what we are doing here today.
Thank you, Colorado. Let's get to work. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Good job, guys.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. He's -- there, you see the videotape. He's signing the bill, almost $800 billion, into law.
Let's assess what has happened on this important day.
Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.
Obviously, a big victory for the president in Congress, not a whole lot of Republican support. But he sounds a bit cautious.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's got to be cautious, Wolf. And folks at the White House understand that, because they understand that the stimulus is -- is not going to play out overnight, that they are not going to see success over night.
And they have a lot riding on this, Wolf, because, of course, they only got three Republican senators to support them in this plan. So, they understand they have to remind voters to have patience. And one of the reasons you see the president out in Denver, for example, is that he believes that, if he can keep the public trust and the public support, he will also gain their patience.
So, his strategy is, like Ronald Reagan's was in the '80, to go outside of Washington, and, therefore, put the pressure on folks inside Washington to stay with him.
BLITZER: And, usually, it's a pretty good -- if the president is popular, that's a pretty good...
BORGER: Exactly. Very important.
BLITZER: ... a pretty good strategy.
I want you to listen to what a really astute political observer, the former President Bill Clinton, told our John Roberts about this very subject. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that, first, he's got the -- the public, I believe, will support him at least for a year in trying to work these things out. And he has been very straightforward in saying, it might take as much as two years for the economy to really get in gear again.
My instinct is, it will happen a little quicker than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A year or two years, though can he keep the public in his corner, President Obama? Does the American public have that kind of patience?
BORGER: Well, you know, right now, in January, we polled the American public, and we found out that about 50 percent of them say it will be one to three years, OK? And, so, they say right now that they have got the patience.
But, of course, the public wants to see the credit markets ease up. They want to see unemployment go down. And the -- there's the poll right there. And Obama folks under -- understand that.
But, in the end, they also understand, Wolf, that this is a very personal sell for this president. He owns this stimulus package. He's going to own the mortgage plan. And, even though there is bailout fatigue in this country, he's going to own that part of the -- of the bank bailout.
And, so, if he can keep his popularity up, and the public trusts him to do the right things, and they believe -- if they believe Republicans are obstructionists, rather than doing what they believe in, then he can win this. But, if Republicans succeed in convincing the American public that they are right, he's got some problems.
BLITZER: Yes, he inherited all these problems, but, at some point, they become his problems. And...
BORGER: They do.
BLITZER: And we will see how the public responds.
BORGER: They're on his plate.
BLITZER: Gloria, stand by. You're coming back.
The United Arab Emirates is trying to become a showcase for world-class sports. But its ban of an Israeli tennis player is causing an international incident. There are new developments today. Stand by for my interview with the tennis star about the snub and why she thinks it happened.
Plus, we're following a developing story out of New York State: a woman beheaded -- her alleged killer, her husband.
And the investigation of that commuter plane crash near Buffalo -- the flight crew's experience is now being reviewed.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In Upstate New York, police say a television executive accused of beheading his wife killed her after she filed for divorce. We're getting new details -- new details of this truly shocking case.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She's in New York working the story.
What do we know today, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Such a horrific case, Wolf.
The Erie County district attorney says, on a scale of one to 10 of worst cases he's ever seen, this ranks as an 11.
SNOW (voice-over): Muzzammil and Aasiya Hassan in happier times. Now the 44-year-old Hassan stands accused of beheading his wife.
Police in Orchard Park, New York, say Hassan went to the police station last Thursday and reported his wife was dead. Her body, according to police, was found at Bridges TV, a cable station the couple founded in 2004 targeting Muslim Americans.
When Bridges was launched, Hassan said the attention was to counter stereotypes of violence in Muslim culture. He said it was his wife who came up with the idea after September 11 while listening to a radio show.
MUZZAMMIL HASSAN, FOUNDER, BRIDGES TV: There were some derogatory comments were being made towards Muslims. And Aasiya at the time was seven months pregnant, and felt that, you know, that would not be a good environment for her -- for our children to grow up in terms of good, strong self-esteem.
SNOW: Aasiya Hassan was listed as the general manager of the station. Police said there had been several domestic violence calls to the couple's home, and that Aasiya had received an order of protection.
The South African newspaper "Die Burger" quotes a woman identified as the sister of the victim, who says she was on the phone right before she was killed. She says she heard her sister tell her husband to calm down, and then heard a noise that sounded as if her sister was struggling to breathe.
An attorney for the victim would only say she had filed for divorce within the last month. A professor of Islam and family law says the horrific case should raise awareness about the difficulties of Muslim women getting divorces.
NADIA SHAHRAM, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LAW AND GOVERNMENT, UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO LAW SCHOOL: If a woman wants to get a divorce among Muslim families right here in 21st century, in Buffalo, New York, you have to convince your family that this is really a better choice for you.
SNOW: Now, the district attorney says Hassan is scheduled to be in court tomorrow to attend a preliminary hearing. He's charged with second-degree murder.
We contacted a Buffalo-area attorney who says he expects to represent Hassan. He's in the process of doing that. But, because it isn't final just yet, he declined comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, we will stay on top of this story, truly shocking, indeed. Organizers of a woman's tennis tournament in Dubai now say there were other factors behind the decision to bar an Israeli tennis player.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Tel Aviv is Shahar Peer. She is ranked right now 45th in women's tennis.
Shahar, based on what you know, what happened? Why were you told at the last minute that Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, were not going to give you a visa to compete?
SHAHAR PEER, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: So, first of all, hello.
Second of all, you know, a few months ago, like two months ago, the WTA and me, we asked for a visa to go to Dubai. And they said the whole time they were very positive about it.
And only 12 hours before the tournament started, my dad got a phone call in Israel during my match in Pattaya in another WTA tournament that I'm not allowed to get into the country. So, unfortunately, that's what happened.
But that's what I got from the government, that I -- I cannot arrive to the country.
BLITZER: Because, right now, organizers for that tournament are saying it was for security concerns. They are saying that you were -- weren't given a visa because of fears for your security.
Have you been told that?
PEER: Actually, no. This is the first time we hear about it.
And the WTA did hire a private company two months ago to check for all the players, not only me, if it's safe for us to get to Dubai. And the company did the search, and they found that this is very safe for all of us.
And that's why -- I mean, I'm sure none of you think that I would go to a country which is dangerous physically for me. So, I knew before it's very safe for me. So, it's first time I'm hearing about this security situation.
BLITZER: Because you were allowed to play in Qatar, in Doha, Qatar, last year, is that right, which is another Arab country.
PEER: I was allowed last year. And, actually, I had a really good time there.
I had very warm welcome. And I really enjoyed it. And I thought it would be the same with Dubai, and I will be able to get there, because it's a big tournament. It's a $2 million tournament, and all the big players are playing there. And I really wanted to play there. And it's another country to my list that I haven't been.
And I'm really disappointed that I couldn't get into the tournament, because it really hurt me, professionally and personally.
BLITZER: You know that the -- The Tennis Channel decided not to broadcast this tournament in Dubai. But it's going forward.
What do you think of the reaction from the Women's Tennis Association?
I mean, I get a lot of response, actually, from the media around the world, and a lot of support, a lot of support through my fans, through my Web site, phone calls from the WTA players. They respond really nice.
So, this is -- it's really nice to hear that the people support me. And, you know, for me, it's a big thing, because I don't think they should involve any politics and -- and sport together. And I don't think it's good for our sport.
Also, tennis is somebody that -- it's something that everybody loves. And we do so much for it. And, unfortunately, they involve so things instead only sports. And I think I really didn't want that any of the other players or other athletes in the world will -- will have the same situation. So, I hope, for the next time, it will be different.
BLITZER: And if they agree -- if they don't agree to give you a visa again next year, would you -- would you want this whole tournament to be canceled in Dubai?
PEER: You know, it's still a year to go.
But, you know, this time, I didn't want it to be canceled, because, you know, the whole time I had positive answers that I'm going to go. And only 12 hours before the tournament started, I heard that I cannot go. And all the girls were there. The qualifying already started.
And I think it was not fair for all the other players to cancel the tournament. But I really hope, for next time, it's not going to happen, because I don't think that any of the athletes in the world should get this response.
And I hope, you know, the WTA will not hurt me the second time, because I couldn't get to this tournament, and I will not get hurt by the points. At least that they will not take off my points, and what I am supposed to defend for this week, because I think it's not fair. But I really hope that the WTA will take care of it good.
BLITZER: All right. Shahar Peer, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck.
PEER: Thank you very much. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: And we have repeatedly, over the past few days, asked the government of the United Arab Emirates for comment on their decision to deny this visa -- so far, no statement coming from the UAE.
No one told Donald Trump, "You're fired." He quit. Donald Trump turned his back on the casino group bearing his name as it files for bankruptcy. Will this affect Donald Trump's bank account? I will ask him. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And Sarah Palin's daughter now talking about being a mother. Wait until you hear what Bristol Palin has to say. Do she and her mother agree on abstinence-only education?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, the Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Republican strategist John Feehery. He's the founder and CEO of The Feehery Group.
I want to get back to our top story right now. President Obama has now signed an order sending two more brigades into Afghanistan, nearly doubling, at least, some of the U.S. -- the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or about to be sent to Afghanistan, a Marine expeditionary brigade and an Army Stryker brigade.
He says, "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating -- deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires."
Sounds like a slap at the previous administration.
MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it's consistent with what the president said all throughout the campaign, that we really needed to redouble our efforts in Afghanistan. That's where the -- the battle really was. And we were stretched too thin there.
So, I think he's -- he's following up on -- on a campaign promise.
BLITZER: He said throughout the campaign -- he did say he was going to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, even as he withdraws U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, part of the reason he's able to do that so quickly is because the situation in Iraq has stabilized because of the surge, first of all. Second of all, this is not going to be an easy decision. And it's certainly not going to be an easy victory for President Obama. Look at what is going on in Pakistan. They just cut a deal with the Taliban there. This is a very unstable situation. And sending more troops in, hopefully, it will work. Let's hope it does.
BLITZER: Because there are plenty of analysts out there who say it's almost a lost cause in Afghanistan right now; no matter how many troops you send in there, it's going to wind out not good for the United States.
I don't know if either of you want to give that assessment. But that's what some analysts, longtime Afghan viewers, are -- are fearing.
ELLEITHEE: Well, again, I think the president clearly worked in conjunction with -- with his military advisers to put together a -- a good plan to bolster our troops there.
But it's something that we needed to do. It's something that he promised to do. And...
Let's talk about the economic stimulus package.
BLITZER: He seems, the president, to be getting a warmer reception from Republican governors out there, including the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California -- and there are some others -- than he receives from Republicans in Washington. Why?
FEEHERY: Well, because they have balance-budget amendments in the states, and they -- they need -- need the -- need the money, first of all, just to keep basic services going. They also need the money to help their popularity ratings back there.
I think Charlie Crist has a higher popularity rating than President Obama. So, this is good politics for him to get the money back to where he needs it. You know, and this shows a little problem with the Republican Party itself. They need to all get on the same message together. And I think, hopefully, in the next battle, they -- we will all be in the same...
BLITZER: There's some speculation Charlie Crist, for example, is thinking of running for the Senate next year in -- in the state of Florida. Presumably, if this works out, that could help him.
ELLEITHEE: Well, look, I think this is a huge repudiation of the Republican leadership in the Congress.
The Republican -- the governors are on the front line of dealing with our economic crisis. They are the ones that are dealing with these programs. They're the ones dealing with what's going on out in the states.
By working with the president, they are basically sending a strong message that, hey, we need this stimulus. We need this help. I think it's a good sign of bipartisanship. I hope that the Republicans in the Congress take a lesson from their colleagues out in the states.
BLITZER: I suspect they will, if -- if -- over the next several months, we see some dramatic improvement in the case -- in the case of the economy.
FEEHERY: Well, I think, if you look at the Republicans in the Congress, they did offer alternatives that would probably have been less costly and they say created more jobs. They didn't particularly like some of the -- the giveaways to the states.
And I think that this is part of the discussion that the Congress needs to have when the RGA and NGA meets this -- this weekend.
BLITZER: I know you used to work for the speaker -- the former speaker, Dennis Hastert. There's some controversy happening over Nancy Pelosi going to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.
Should there be any controversy when it comes to a speaker of the House going to Rome and meeting with the pontiff?
FEEHERY: Well, when I worked for Speaker Hastert, that was one of the highlights of my tenure with the speaker, when we met with Pope John Paul II.
I think, for Nancy Pelosi, she's probably going there to learn the finer points of Saint Augustine. She tried to delve into some Catholic theology and got into a real problem with the Catholic Church. And I think that that's part of the -- the pro-life activists look at Nancy Pelosi and they say, wait a minute, why is she getting this opportunity?
I think, for the pope, it's very important to meet with the speaker if you get a chance.
BLITZER: It's important. She's the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government.
ELLEITHEE: Look, I think the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the speaker, my old boss, Secretary of State Clinton, they are all out there now aggressively reestablishing Americans' -- America's footing on the global stage.
They are meeting with heads of state. I mean, after all, the pope is a head of state at the Vatican. They are meeting with them and sending a message that the United States is here again to work with you.
And I think that's a -- only a good thing. BLITZER: I suspect a lot of people agree with you.
Guys, thanks, very much.
If you have a few million or more to spend, you can own the home of a former presidential candidate -- or maybe two homes.
And even Donald Trump isn't immune to the recession. His casinos are now filing for bankruptcy. Is the rest of his fortune at risk? You know what? We are going to ask Donald Trump. He's standing by to join us live.
And a beloved pet chimpanzee goes on the attack. The story only gets more bizarre and bloody.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: After failing to make it to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney is downsizing right now. He and his wife have put their 9,500-square-foot Utah ski lodge on the market for a mere $5.2 million.
And they are selling their 6,400-square-foot suburban Boston home for about $3 million. A spokesman says the Romneys aren't shedding real estate because they have been hurt by the economy. He says they had too much space, now that all of their kids are grown up.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, is the stimulus bill too little too late?
Rick in Medina, Ohio, writes: "It is clear that lousy mortgage practices are one of the root causes of this economic mess. Why has that not been one of the starting points in solving the problem? If we used this kind of money to buy down or rewrite mortgages, no one would lose their homes, and the home market just might return to normalcy."
Jason writes from Hawaii: "Not to me, one of the little guys. This is a stimulus that is geared toward poor, lower- and working- class people. It helps unemployed people, uninsured people, and cuts taxes for people in the middle class. The problem with the last stimulus was that it tried to fix things from the top down. You cannot have a sound economy unless you shore up the foundation from the bottom up."
Allie in San Diego: "I think your question is too little too late. What else can the Obama administration do? We have already seen the crime rate rise in our community, because desperate people sometimes do desperate things in order to survive. Can you imagine what might happen to our society if unemployment rises to the levels experienced during the Great Depression?"
Ron writes: "Actually, Jack, it isn't too little too late. It's too much of the wrong stuff in the wrong bill. Pelosi and Reid need to go."
Tom in Boston: "What amazes me about this is, we have just passed the largest stimulus package in U.S. history in record time led by a president who barely spent a month in office, and the naysayers are already out in droves saying it is too little too late -- not to mention the other idiots who are saying it is too much too fast. This is not a perfect bill, but you have to give our new president credit for moving decisively and quickly."
And, finally, Judie in Saint Augustine, Florida, writes: "I am afraid that the economy is long past the point of no return. It's like a house fully engulfed in flames with not enough water coming out of the hose to put out the fire. The only thing to do now is let it burn to the ground, clear away the debris and then rebuild."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there.
Or you can go to Wolf's house, and he will be glad to read them to you.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Won't you?
BLITZER: See you in a few moments.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There are questions being raised whether Senator Roland Burris committed perjury.>