Return to Transcripts main page


Interviews with John Hannah, Joe Biden, Angela Burt-Murray

Aired April 11, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Joe Biden versus Dick Cheney. The former vice president says President Obama is making America less safe. The current vice president says Cheney is dead wrong. And a former Cheney aide is here. He says Biden is dead wrong. Also is North Korea's missile launch the test of President Obama that Vice President Biden predicted? Or is it Iran's self-proclaimed advancements toward a nuclear weapon and the threat of an Israeli strike? Vice President Biden responds in an exclusive interview.

And the U.S. First Lady and her mother on the cover of "Essence" magazine. The editor-in-chief is here with behind the scenes details of the photo shoot and Michelle Obama's relationship with her mother.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every mission that's been assigned from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections, you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement. And for that, you have the thanks of the American people.


BLITZER: The commander in chief said some difficult missions have in fact been accomplished. He also played the role of cheerleader in chief during a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday rallying the troops. He awarded medals of valor, met with U.S. military leaders and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. And President Obama delivered a message. It's time for Iraqis to stand up so U.S. military can stand down.

Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and I discussed all of this and a lot more during an exclusive interview Vice President Joe Biden.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for doing this.


BLITZER: The president of the United States wrapped up his trip to Europe with a surprise visit to Baghdad. There's been an uptick in violence lately, suicide bombings. How worried are you that the timeline that you've put forward for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces is not going to be able to be materialized?

BIDEN: I'm not worried about that at all. We will draw down along the timeline we suggested. The president went for two reasons. One, to demonstrate to the troops, it shouldn't surprise anybody that when he was in Turkey that he would take the time to go there. But secondly, also to meet with Maliki. And one of the things the president has said from the beginning, is in addition to us drawing down troops, Wolf, it was necessary for there to be further political accommodation between the Sunnis, Shi'ia and the Kurds. And I'm sure that's going to be one of the messages he's going to be delivering and discussing with Prime Minister Maliki.

BLITZER: We'll know the situation in Iraq is really working when a president of the United States won't have to go secretly to Baghdad. We'll be able to announce that he's going on an official visit to Baghdad as if he's going to Istanbul or Paris or London. Now when is that going to happen?

BIDEN: Well, that's not going to happen for I suspect several years. The process is sort of a two step here. We're handing over responsibility to the Iraqis in a timely fashion and drawing down our troops, handing over those responsibilities to the Iraqis, but it's not ultimately going to happen until there's a political accommodation. And that's still - and that's up to the Iraqis. And -- but I hope that happens within several years.

GLORIA BORGER: Mr. Vice President, during the campaign, you said this, "mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy." Was North Korea that test?

BIDEN: Well, look, there's been a number of tests. Just like there was for George Bush and every president gets tested. What I probably should have said was, like every other president. And you know, the test is not so much.

First of all, the good news is the test failed. The test that the North Koreans launching their missile, the third stage failed. So there's not going to be a very reliable seller to anybody that would want to buy their missiles.

But I think that you're going to see more "tests" in the sense that the world's changed. They're not testing Barack Obama per se. The world is just presenting every new president with new circumstances they never anticipated would be on the plate. And for example, during the Bush administration, there were tests. They, you know, the North Koreans detonated a nuclear weapon. They had a nuclear test. So you know, it occurs in every administration.

BLITZER: So is it just talk, the reaction, the response, condemnation?

BIDEN: No...

BLITZER: Or is it going to be something... BIDEN: No, I think it's going to be much more than that, Wolf. Look, the big difference now is that the world knows that we have gone out of our way to set up a circumstance where there could be a real negotiation in the six-party talks with North Korea. Unlike before where the policy was regime change, every time the North Koreans acts erratically, which is their behavior pattern, not only were they condemned, but the United States was condemned because we indirectly got blowback. We'd say if it wasn't for our policy for regime change, this wouldn't have happened, etcetera.

This exposes the fact that we have been so rational and responsible in this regard. This puts pressure on the Chinese, on the Russians, and the Japanese and the rest of the world to be more forceful. North Korea is not only a threat to the United States of America, it's a greater threat to the region.

BORGER: So what go you want to see?

BIDEN: What I'd like to see is a strong condemnation and a united effort on the part of the Chinese, the Russians, at the six-party talks to say enough is enough. There will be greater sanctions. We will squeeze down even harder on North Korea.

BLITZER: What else is there to do?

BIDEN: Well...

BLITZER: They're isolated already.

BIDEN: Well, China could deal a great deal more.

BLITZER: Do you think China will?

BIDEN: Well, that's a different question. That's a different question. I think this puts the onus on China and Russia and South Korea and Japan, etcetera, along with us to be bolder in our condemnation.

BORGER: Let's talk about your predecessor for a moment, if I might. Former Vice President Cheney took a big swipe at your foreign policies, this administration's foreign policies. And he told John King of CNN recently that President Obama's actions, all over the world, have made us less safe.

Was Dick Cheney out of line?

BIDEN: I don't know if he's out of line, but he was dead wrong. This administration -- the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we have been any time since World War II, less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever had been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.

And so we've been about the business of repairing and strengthening us. I guarantee you, we are safer today, our interests are more secure today, than they were any time during the eight years...

BORGER: So, we're more safe?

BIDEN: We are more safe. We're more secure. Our interests are more secure, not just at home, but around the world. We are rebuilding America's ability to lead.

I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office -- and he was a great guy. I enjoyed being with him. And he said to me, he said, well, Joe, he said, I'm a leader. And I said, Mr. President, turn around and look behind you. No one's following.

People are beginning to follow the United States again as a consequence of our administration.

BLITZER: What are you doing differently as vice president as compared to Dick Cheney?

BIDEN: Well, I think the biggest thing we're doing is, I'm operating in concert with the president.

There are not -- there are -- look, everybody talks about how powerful Cheney was. His power weakened America, in my view. Here's what I mean by that. What I mean by that was, there was a divided government. There was Cheney as his own sort of separate national security agency, and then there was the National Security Agency.

There was Powell, who didn't agree with Cheney, and Cheney off with Rumsfeld. I mean, there was a divided government, a divided administration. The strength of this administration is that the president and I work in concert.

We -- I am very straightforward in my views. I'm as strong -- I hold them as I strongly as I ever had, but they're done in the context of one National Security Agency, a united national security team.

BORGER: Well, let me ask you about that, because there was a report in "The New York Times" last week about some disagreements within this administration. Let me just quote you what "The Times" wrote, which is that "President Obama's plan to widen the United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joe Biden warned against into a political and military quagmire while military advisers argued that the Afghan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops."

BIDEN: Look, without commenting specifically on who took what position, there was a healthy debate. There is a healthy debate within our administration. But you may remember, I remember you asking me, Wolf, when I went to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while I was still senator prior to being sworn in as vice president, why - I mean, what an unusual thing to do.

The reason I went is because suggested to the president elect at the time that I should go and come back with a baseline. Tell him exactly where I thought we were relative to our position in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Iraq. And that we needed a clear precise strategy. What came out of that debate that took place, and there was a debate inside. BORGER: Well, were you? I mean...

BIDEN: There always is. I'm not going to comment...

BORGER: Transparency?

BIDEN: ...on...

BLITZER: Were you concerned as "The New York Times" said that there could be a quagmire?

BIDEN: No, no. Here's what I was concerned about. And we settled it. And that is that we have a clear, coherent objective. The president for the first time stated that our objective is to root out al Qaeda and to prevent the growth of radical extremist organizations using either Afghanistan or Pakistan as a base from which to attack the United States of America.

That is our objective. Now we put in place a policy that backed that up with troops and/or civilians as to how to accomplish that purpose. And so, there is total agreement on the present policy. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So what might Dick Cheney think about being called dead wrong? Cheney's former national security advisor John Hanna, he's here to defend his former boss against what the Vice President Joe Biden is saying.

Also, the vice president calls him outrageous, a law in Afghanistan that essentially says a husband can rape his wife. Is that what U.S. troops are fighting for in Afghanistan? Wait until you hear the vice president's answer. More of our exclusive interview with Joe Biden coming up.

And how worried is the Obama administration that Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities? Vice President Biden has a special message for the new Israeli government.



OBAMA: The world has come too far to let this region backslide, and to let al Qaeda terrorists plot further attacks. That's why we are committed to a more focused effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.


BLITZER: From Turkey, President Obama says terrorists should watch their backs, but how might the language and the tactics his administration is using in the fight against terrorism be similar to what happened before? More now of our exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Is Afghanistan now President Obama's war?

BIDEN: President Obama and I inherited a war in Afghanistan that was very badly handled. And so in the sense that we're trying to in a sense repair it and be able to lead by leaving behind a country that is not controlled and/or occupied by al Qaeda, it is our responsibility we inherited it. So in that sense, we inherited a responsibility we have to deal with.

BORGER: But let me ask you, it's sort of a question of semantics here, because Secretary of State Clinton said last week that the administration has officially stopped using the phrase "global war on terror." Why is that? Aren't we still in a global war on terror?

BIDEN: No, no. We are. And I -- I didn't hear her say that. And I don't doubt you. I'm sure she said that.

BORGER: Right.

BIDEN: And it reflects our policy.

Look, under the rubric of a global war on terror, we ended up in a series of policies that made no sense and made us weaker, in my view -- and in the view of the president of the United States.

And so what we have decided to do is look at things in their discreet -- as discreet problems.

Here you have a situation, it is not a global war on terror in Iraq. Iraq -- the problem we have in Iraq right now is leaving behind a government where Sunnis, Kurds and Shia get along, where they can share power and be stable, not a threat to their neighbors and secure in their own boundaries.

Conversely, in the Fatah -- the eastern part -- or the western part of Pakistan, in the mountains on the Afghan border -- that is a war on terror. That's where Al Qaeda lives. That's where bin Laden is. That's where the most radicalized part of the Taliban is.

The situation we have, as it relates to problems that exist in other parts of the world, they aren't all related to terror.

BLITZER: So is there still a global war on terror?

BIDEN: There is a war on terror. Terror is a legitimate threat. It is a threat that comes from Al Qaeda and those organizations that have morphed off of Al Qaeda. But there are other interests we have beyond merely -- for example, the situation in the Middle East is not a global war on terror. But it matters to us mightily whether or not we end up with an accommodation between the Israelis and the Palestinians and...

BLITZER: I want to get to that. But I want to -- I want to press you on this point, because in Afghanistan right now, the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has signed into law an edict, in effect, allowing men to rape their wives if they don't want to have sex on that day. And a lot of people are outraged that a U.S. ally like Hamid Karzai -- who now says he's looking at this law -- could go forward.

Is this what U.S. troops are fighting and dying for in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: It is an outrageous -- an outrageous, outrageous law, number one. Number two, we are not in Afghanistan to make the point, to see to it that we make everything right in Afghanistan.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

This is the difference between us and the last administration. We're there to defeat Al Qaeda...

BLITZER: And the Taliban.

BORGER: But...

BIDEN: And the Taliban.

BLITZER: But the Taliban looks like it's making a comeback.


BIDEN: No. Let's get it straight. The Taliban, that presents an international threat to the United States of America. The bulk of the Taliban -- the phrase that Richard Holbrooke and I have been using separately, but similarly -- 5 percent of the Taliban are radicalized Islamists that are no different than Al Qaeda.

BORGER: But wouldn't you use your leverage that you have on an issue like this, which -- which you call outrageous

BIDEN: Yes. But that's not...

BORGER: ...the president himself has said is abhorrent?

BIDEN: I'm not prepared to send American troops to die for that.


BIDEN: I am prepared to send American troops to protect the United States of America, to kill Al Qaeda, to root out extremists and to prevent them being able to use Afghanistan once again as a platform to attack the United States of America.

Do we find it abhorrent that that law exists or that it is being considered?

Absolutely, positively. But we also find abhorrent what's going on in China in some places. We find abhorrent a lot of things. But the question is, if that were the only thing that existed, would we send my son and other sons there to risk their lives to die?

I don't think that is a legitimate use of...

BLITZER: Now that you have access to the presidential daily brief...


BLITZER: ...the most sensitive classified information about threats facing the United States...


BLITZER: ...are you more or less concerned about a terror threat facing the United States?

BIDEN: I am no more concerned than I was when I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and had access to a similar brief, not as much in detail.

What I am concerned about is that Al Qaeda, under the last administration, was able to reconstitute itself, in large part, in those mountains that exist between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- actually, in Pakistan. And that there has been no -- up until now -- no targeted policy that has as its goal the elimination of that element of extremism in the world directed at the United States of America.

That's why, if you look at the defense budget, we spend a lot more money on intelligence services. We spend a lot more money on things relating to technical weapons to deal with the real enemy.

BORGER: Okay, and Mr. Vice President, we're going to move on to...

BLITZER: I have one more question, though.

BIDEN: Sure.

BLITZER: On national security before we move to the economy.

BIDEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of concern right now. And I'm sure you're concerned. How worried are you that the new government of Israel, under Prime Netanyahu will launch a strike to take out Iran's facilities?

BIDEN: I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. I think it would be ill-advised to do that. And so my level of concern is no different than it was a year ago.


BLITZER: So what does Dick Cheney's former national security advisor think about Joe Biden's blunt criticisms? John Hanna is here to respond.

Plus, more blunt talk from Joe Biden on jobs. When will they bounce back? Where will they be? Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's much more of our exclusive interview with the Vice President Joe Biden ahead, including a sobering forecast on unemployment. And he answers questions from our i-reporters as well. Stay tuned for that.

But first, more on the war of words between the former vice president and the current vice president, each accusing the other's administration of putting the U.S. at risk. We heard from Joe Biden. Now a former top advisor to Dick Cheney responds.


BLITZER: And joining us now, John Hannah. He was the national security advisor for then Vice President Dick Cheney. He's now senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

John, thanks for coming back.


BLITZER: The current vice president of the United States Joe Biden says that the Bush-Cheney team made America less safe than at any time since World War II, those eight years and you served for the vice president during those eight years.

HANNAH: It won't surprise you, Wolf, I disagree and I disagree strongly. I think it's unfair. It's a bit of hyperbole. I think you can criticize any administration. And I think the Bush-Cheney administration can be criticized on certain points, but I think you also have to recognize that there were several significant major accomplishments during these past eight years.

BLITZER: I think what he was referring to was the isolation of the U.S. that increasingly, so many allies, countries around the world were losing their confidence in the U.S.

HANNAH: Well, I never saw that, Wolf, in my own dealings with my counterparts from different countries. I think there was a lot of cooperation particularly on the war on terror. We got rid of Saddam, we got rid of the al Qaeda-Taliban regime in Afghanistan, liberated 50 million people, Libya surrendered all of its weapons of mass destruction capability, including its nuclear capability. We wrapped up and rolled up the worst nuclear proliferation network in history.

BLITZER: So there were accomplishments, but I guess the argument is that Iran continued to develop some sort of nuclear capability. North Korea continued to move forward, among other things, we don't have to go through the history. But let me ask you the converse of what the vice president was saying. He also says that under President Obama, the U.S. now by reaching out to the rest of the world, the U.S. is safer?

HANNAH: My own view to be fair to the new administration, the jury's still very much out, Wolf. I think the president is no doubt popular, but the question is what is that popularity going to get us in terms of advancing real hard core American national interests? If you look at the cases of North Korea and the challenge of the North Korean missile test, the president threatened consequences, and then what happened? Nothing happened.

BLITZER: So far.

HANNAH: So far. I think that's right. So far. We've got to watch and see. But I think that that does hurt American credibility.

BLITZER: If you had been still in office, what would you have done differently? Because the North Koreans did have missile tests going back several years.

HANNAH: We had a missile test. We had a nuclear test. We went to the United Nations and got some very important resolutions passed, got important sanctions imposed, got the North Koreans back to the table to the six-party talks. And those negotiations continue and got the Chinese much more actively engaged.

BLITZER: But you're not saying the Obama administration should have launched some sort of pre-emptive strike against the...

HANNAH: I'm not saying that at all, Wolf. I'm saying that the president went out publicly, threatened serious consequences against North Korea if they took particular action and then nothing happened. No one followed him even after...

BLITZER: Well, they're at the U.N. Security Council.

HANNAH: They're at the U.N. Security Council now. It's taken an awful long time. And a lot of the signals from the Russians and Chinese, whose leadership the president had met just days before this launch, the signals are that not much if anything is going to happen.

BLITZER: Biden says that Cheney, and you for him for a long time, effectively ran his own national security operation irrespective of what the president, George W. Bush was up to.

HANNAH: That charge is just completely false, Wolf. It's wrong, it's not true. He's even dead wrong. The Bush administration had some very very strong personalities in it, including the vice president of the United States who had very strong views on important issues of national security. Those were thrashed out in great detail, often heated debate in front of the president.

But at the end of the day, when President Bush made a decision, the vice president's instructions to everybody on his staff was that the president's decided. We've had our say, but now our job is to go out there and try and implement this policy as successfully as possible.

BLITZER: You say that Biden was dead wrong. He says that Cheney was dead wrong when Cheney suggests that the U.S. is weaker now as a result of Obama's strategies.

HANNAH: Yeah, well I think we -- as I said, the jury is still out on that. I think in terms of getting American leadership re-established, the case of the North Korean crisis, in terms of the president's highest priority in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think on both of those we haven't seen much following being done by our key international partners.

Was the vice president right when he said that Israel would be ill advised to go forward with some sort of military strike against Iran's nuclear capabilities?

HANNAH: Wolf, with all due respect, the vice president who I know is a great supporter of Israel, I am - I'm really puzzled by his remarks. And frankly, I think they were ill advised to coin another phrase.

In the first place, of course, Israel is a democratic ally. It genuinely feels itself under existential threat from this Iranian nuclear danger. I think rather than public chastisement or warning, they deserve our understanding and our cooperation and our support.

But second and perhaps more importantly from a tactical perspective, it is just beyond me why the vice president of the United States would take this very important piece of military leverage off the table or attempt to take it off the table publicly, basically signaling to the Iranians that you have nothing to fear militarily if you continue with your nuclear program and perhaps more importantly to the president's own articulated strategy with regard to Iran. It signals to the French, the Russians, the Germans, that they don't need to get tougher in terms of their diplomatic and economic responses because they have nothing to fear from an Israeli-Iranian conflict.

That's a real incentive for those countries to act. And so I'm really baffled on why the vice president would take that off the table. It's crucial leverage to the United States in these negotiations.

BLITZER: John Hannah, thanks for coming in.

HANNAH: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: The Obama administration has already forced the CEO of General Motors to step aside. Are other CEOs now on notice? The Vice President Joe Biden answers that question as we continue our exclusive interview.

And Michelle Obama and her mother on the cover of "Essence." The magazine's editor-in-chief takes us behind the scenes of the photo shoot and reveals new details of the First Lady's relationship with her mom. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



OBAMA: What you're starting to see is glimmers of hope across the economy. Now, we have always been very cautious about prognosticating. And that's not going to change just because it's Easter. The economy is still under severe stress. And obviously during these holidays, we have to keep in mind that whatever we do ultimately has to translate into economic growth and jobs and rising incomes for the American people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama saying it looks like the troubled U.S. economy slowly, slowly beginning to turn around. Still in our exclusive interview, the vice president makes a disturbing prediction.


BORGER: We'll move on to the economy now.

Mr. Vice President, "The New York Times" had a poll recently, today, in fact, which says that 70 percent of the people in this country -- 70 percent -- now believe that somebody in their household is going to be out of work by next year.

You're head of the middle-class task force. We've lost two million job in first three months of this year. When are we going to start seeing jobs being created in this country on a large scale?

BIDEN: First of all, I think the poll reflects how smart the American people are.

People, 20 percent more people -- 20 percent of the people now think we have laid the foundation for strong economic recovery. That's up from 5 percent. Seventy percent realistically are still worried about someone in their household may lose a job in the next year.

This president has been the most straightforward and honest about the state of our affairs. He's indicated that unemployment will continue to rise this year, in all probability. You look at the figures, in every major recession, this is how it has worked.

Now, unemployment and reemployment lags behind economic growth. So, it's a legitimate concern on the part of people. The question is, we went out there and we came up with a major recovery package of over $700 billion, which we are spending now, to prevent another 3.5 million to four million jobs from being lost in the meantime.

We think we can stabilize the economy, but it's going to take...

BLITZER: When? When?

BIDEN: It will take at least another year before you start to see employment.

BLITZER: But during this year, are jobs going to continue to go away?

BIDEN: Yes, there will be additional...

BLITZER: During the next 12 months?

BIDEN: There will be an additional job loss.

The idea -- you're not going to see reports this calendar year saying there was no job loss this month. That is not going to happen.


BLITZER: I want to just follow up on this, because, so far, as you know, the first three months, two million jobs, five million plus jobs lost over the past -- since January of last year. BIDEN: Right.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is that, throughout 2009, every single month, it might not be 600,000 jobs lost, but there's going to be a loss of jobs every month?

BIDEN: There will continue to be job losses the remainder of this year.

The question is, will they continually go down before they begin to rebound and employment -- we go down to zero job loss and back to employment?

Look, every major economist -- when -- the last major recession in '82, job gain lagged 18 months to two years behind unemployment, the so-called GDP, when we officially say we're growing and we're no longer in a recession. The measure for this administration will be whether or not at the end of our term middle-class people's standard of living have risen and not fallen, not merely whether the GDP rises.

BORGER: Would you rule out a second stimulus package?

BIDEN: I wouldn't rule anything in or not. But, look, Gloria, we haven't even totally laid out...

BORGER: Likely? Not likely?

BIDEN: No, I think it's much too premature.

Look, we had the most incredibly robust stimulus package, of which there's over $500 billion hasn't been spent out yet. It's in the process of doing what we have to do, not only to create jobs, but also to lay a foundation for a strong economic growth in energy, education, health care. And that's what we're doing now. We're putting those blocks in place.

BLITZER: The president says he's either going to save or create, what, three million, 3.5 million...

BIDEN: Three-point-five million to four million jobs. And, yes, we will.

BLITZER: Over what period of time, if we're going to just be losing jobs throughout this year?

BIDEN: No, no, no, over the -- look, every economist, as you know, you have had on your program have indicated that had we done nothing we would have lost an additional four million jobs this year, an additional, on top of what we already lost.

BLITZER: So, that's how you're doing the math?

BIDEN: And, so, no, it's not just doing that. We're going to actually create jobs.

But you're creating jobs in sectors that are new sectors. You're going to see a lot more jobs in energy. You are going to see a lot more green jobs created. You're going to see the beginning of a platform for solid economic growth not based on a bubble.

BORGER: Well, let's talk about jobs on Wall Street, because President Obama essentially fired G.M.'s CEO, Rick Wagoner.

I guess the question is, now that we're giving all these money to the banks, are the bank CEOs next?

Do they have to watch out?

BIDEN: Look, there's two different things here. As repugnant as it is to me and everyone else in America to bail out the very financial institutions that got us in this trouble, if we don't, no one is going to have a penny to buy a car. Forget whether G.M. is healthy or not -- and Chrysler. Assume they were booming. The problem here is that there is no credit throwing -- flowing through sort of the economic veins of this country.

Therefore, people can't borrow money to send their kids back to college. They can't borrow money to buy a house. They can't borrow money to buy a car. And so we have to get credit flowing.

The model that we're talking about with regard to the automobile industry is, are we going to put money -- which we have and in the republic -- and the recovery package money, as well -- into an industry that, in fact, is not sustainable? We think that, like everyone else in and out of government thinks, that the automobile industry has to demonstrate they have a sustainable package for growth, that the money we're going to lend them through the taxpayers' money is likely to provide for a model that they will be able to be healthy in the out years.

BLITZER: So what's the answer to the question?

Do you see a day where the president of the United States might tell the CEO of Citigroup or Bank of America you're out?

BIDEN: No, I don't see that as a precise method. And what I do see is that there is a -- as the federal taxpayers, like in the case of some of the larger banks -- and some of them are healthy and some are not as healthy. That's why we're doing this whole test here -- going out and deciding which banks, what assets they have are real and what aren't real -- that we, in fact, may end up where we own -- the federal government owns a -- a majority share of their stock, basically.

BORGER: So why not be able to fire the CEO of a bank...

BIDEN: Well, no...

BORGER: ...the same way you'd fire Rick Wagoner? BIDEN: No, no. No, we could. But that's already happened. But we haven't had to tell anybody to fire anybody in the banks. There's already been a significant change in management in some of the banks.

The issue is not so much, in my view, fire or not fire. The issue is what is going to put the automobile industry into position that, with the help they're going to get, they're going to be able to survive and grow?

What business model is it?

And it's clear to everybody from the automotive industry on, that the business model that was underway and continued to be promoted by the last CEO was one that was not going to be survivable.


BLITZER: The Vice President Joe Biden answering not only our questions, but yours as well.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you feel about the increase in violence that's happening all across America? And do you believe that our law enforcement is really prepared to protect our country?


BLITZER: A wave of violence, including massacres in police killings. The vice president of the United States reveals what the Obama administration intends to do.

Plus, what does Michelle Obama's mother think of her son-in-law, the president? A revealing look at Marion Robinson, the First grandma, and her role inside the family and the White House.


BLITZER: It was your turn to question the vice president. In our exclusive interview with Joe Biden, Gloria Borger and I asked him some tough questions, but some of you had your own questions.


BLITZER: We are out of time, but we have two iReport questions who -- people who have just sent us some questions for you, the vice president of the United States.

Let me read one. Let me -- let me tell you who this first one is. It's Jimmy Deol of Toronto, who said this.

JIMMY DEOL, CNN IREPORTER: Vice President Biden, your selection on the number two spot, among other things, was much touted on your extensive foreign policy experience. To what extent would you say that President Obama is capitalizing on your foreign policy experience now to drive the foreign policy agenda? JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any answer would have to be either self-serving or self-deprecating. The bottom line is I meet with the president every single day when we're both in the country to discuss foreign policy. He seeks my counsel and that's -- and, hopefully, it's been value-added.

BLITZER: The other one is from Robin Savage of California.

ROBIN SAVAGE: How do you feel about the increase in violence that's happening all across America.

And do you believe that our law enforcement is really prepared to protect our country?

BIDEN: I think the last administration so far undercut our law enforcement. They eliminated the Biden Crime Bill. They eliminated the C.O.P.S. Bill. They eliminated -- we have reinstated that.

That's why we, both in our budget and in the money that we had for recovery, put money into hiring more cops, give them better equipment, give them better intelligence.

And so we are back building up local law enforcement, which is an essential component to deal with this violence.

BORGER: Can I just in?

We were trying to get in a few little...

BLITZER: We're done.


BORGER: ...quick questions here. We're done. But I just wanted to ask you very quickly, what has surprised you the most about this job?

BIDEN: The Secret Service.


BIDEN: What surprised me the most is the degree of security that surrounds the vice president. I never anticipated that. I've been around a long, long time and I always kid them. I say, well, nobody cares very much about a vice president. There's not much to worry about.

But that's -- that's the thing that surprised me the most about it. I was very familiar, after all these years in Washington, with the way that the White House functions. But I never realized that I wouldn't be able to drive an automobile.

BORGER: Living in the bubble. You're this working class kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania in...

BIDEN: Well, as you notice, I -- I get out of the bubble. I insist that I take the train home, but there's a lot of Secret Service that ride with me. I insist when I'm home I still go to the grocery store. I still do the things I used to do, but it's a lot more cumbersome. That's the part that surprised me.

BLITZER: The pitch was a little high.

BIDEN: But it was over the plate.

Have you tried to throw from that mound lately?

I tell you, my arm's sore. I worked on it for two days with my brother-in-law. I -- I used to be -- I used to think I was a pretty good athlete. I was very delighted that as I was walking out and one of the Orioles' employees said, hey, Mr. Vice President, great Orioles pitch, high and outside -- high and inside.


BLITZER: On that note we'll leave it, Mr. Vice President. I know you're busy.

Thanks so much for taking the time.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Appreciate it.

I was worried about that pitch more than I was the debate.



BLITZER: The First Lady and the First Grandmother, the editor of "Essence" magazine takes us behind the scenes at the White House.

Plus, we'll take you to Israel for a very unusual prayer ceremony that happens only once every 28 years. That and more in this week's "hot shots." Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



MICHELLE OBAMA: Nothing in my life's path would have predicted that I'd be standing here as the first African-American First Lady of the United States of America. There was nothing in my story that would land me here.


BLITZER: The First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama speaking at a girls' school in London as she accompanied her husband to the G- 20 summit. Mrs. Obama consistently credits her mother for her success. And now the two are gracing the cover of "Essence" magazine. We have an inside take on the photo shoot, the relationship between mother and daughter and more. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Angela Burt-Murray. She's the editor in chief of "Essence" magazine. The cover story in the new issue of "Essence," "Michelle Obama and Mom: On raising smart, confident, kids, strong marriages, and future plans."

Angela, thanks very much for coming in.

ANGELA BURT-MURRAY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ESSENCE MAGAZINE: Thank you so much, Wolf. Happy to be here.

BLITZER: Take us a little bit behind the scenes. The interview, the photo shoot. What was it like doing this with Michelle Obama, and her mom, Mrs. Robinson?

BURT-MURRAY: Well, it was really exciting. We had first interviewed Michelle Obama in her home in Chicago last summer, so it was wonderful to come back and see her in the White House.

And when they first entered the room for our photo shoot, you could tell there was a little bit of hesitation on Mrs. Robinson's part. After all, this is the first time she's really stepping into her daughter's world.

So Mrs. Obama took great care to make sure that her mother was comfortable and you know, put her arm around her and was trying to tell her, you know, little private jokes and told her how wonderful she looked. And you know, just trying to ease her into her life now...


BURT-MURRAY: ... which is in front of the cameras.

BLITZER: You did this interview yourself.


BLITZER: You were there, you sat down with the two of them.


BLITZER: Obviously, you had to prepare for this. Talk a little bit about the relationship between mother and daughter. BURT-MURRAY: Well, it is just wonderful to have an opportunity to talk to two women who clearly mean so much to each other. And you could tell that Mrs. Obama has gotten a lot of her own parenting skills from her mother, Mrs. Robinson.

And they talk about that in the interview in "Essence" about how they were raised and Mrs. Robinson talked about how she treated her children as little people and not children. So she made sure to talk to them about, you know, a lot of topics that many parents may wait until later on to explore, to teach them lessons about accountability and responsibility. Those things are very important. And you can tell that these are things that the Obamas are doing with their girls, Sasha and Malia, as well.

BLITZER: Well, what about the role that Mrs. Robinson, the grandmother, plays in the raising of these two sweet little girls?

BURT-MURRAY: Right. Well, she has said quite clearly that she is going to be there as long as the Obamas want her to be there. Her sole focus is making sure that the girls are comfortable and achieve Mrs. Obama's goal which is to make sure that their whole family comes out of this experience whole.

So she is dedicated to making sure that those two little girls come out of this OK. But, you know, it will be interesting to see as the years progress, will she step out and have her own role within the White House?

BLITZER: What kind of relationship does the president have with his mother-in-law?

BURT-MURRAY: Well, it seemed from what we can get from Mrs. Robinson that she's very proud of her son-in-law, and that, you know, the thing that makes her most proud is that her daughter and her son- in-law are good parents, because that's what she said makes her job so easy as a grandmother that they're great parents.

So they seem to be very close and very proud of each other at this time.

BLITZER: I know they also spoke movingly of Michelle Obama's father and Mrs. Robinson's husband who died a few years ago.

BURT-MURRAY: Yes. That's right.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about that.

BURT-MURRAY: Well, it was the first opportunity that we had to ask Mrs. Robinson, you know, what would her father, who played such a big role in her life and her brother's life, what would he have to say about this historic moment. And Mrs. Robinson said, you would not be able to shut him up.

He would have been so excited because he used to brag about them before they had accomplished anything as major as becoming the first lady of the United States. So she felt like he would be bursting with pride and joy.

BLITZER: Do they feel a special responsibility, mother and daughter, as role models for African-American women out there?

BURT-MURRAY: Well, you know, it's interesting, one of the things that we've been hearing from the readers of "Essence" magazine is they do feel like seeing three generations of African-American women in the White House sends a very important message not only to African- American girls, but also the wider world. And while they did not say that they believed that they have a certain responsibility, they do understand that the image that they project can have some influence and hopefully can counter some negative stereotypes about African-American women that are perpetuated in music videos and reality shows and things like that.

BLITZER: Angela Burt-Murray is the editor in chief of "Essence" magazine. Angela, thanks very much.

BURT-MURRAY: Thank you so much, Wolf.


BLITZER: Hot shots, a comforting survivors of a deadly earthquake. That and a whole lot more. Pictures worth 1,00 words.


Here's a look at some hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. A picture is worth 1,000 words. In Italy, the Prime Minister Silvia Berlusconi comforted an elderly earthquake survivor. In Vatican City, Pope Benedict exchanged greetings with a boy at St. Peters Square. In Israel, an ultraorthodox worshipper used special glasses during the blessing of the sun prayer, which happens once every 28 years. And in Greece, a bear took its cubs for a walk over at the zoo. Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next right here on CNN.