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Promising Reports from Pakistand and Afghanistan; Specter Stripped of Senate Seniority; Interview with Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid

Aired May 6, 2009 - 18:00   ET



President Obama says he's received new promises of cooperation from both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight their common and very dangerous enemy. That would be the Taliban and al Qaeda. Extremist forces making a grab for land and power and vowing death to Americans.

Mr. Obama stood side by side with the Afghan and Pakistani leaders over at the White House just a short while ago.

Let's get the details from our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's covering this for us from the White House.

Jill, how did it go?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, concrete action is yet to come, but President Obama says both of these presidents understand the seriousness of the threat, and they're committed to confronting it.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A picture of unity. President Barack Obama, the presidents of two uneasy neighbors, Pakistan and Afghanistan, at his side.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We meet today as three sovereign nations, joined by a common goal. To disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future.

DOUGHERTY: The full-court press begins at the State Department. Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, at the table, not just with military officers, but with top civilian officials from all three countries. Part of what the Obama administration now sees as the only way to win.

But in Pakistan, thousands of civilians are fleeing the fighting between government troops and the Taliban. And U.S. officials still question whether President Zardari's government is capable of subduing the militants.

PRES. ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTAN: I'm here to assure you that we shall share this burden with yours. For no matter how long it takes and what it takes, democracies will deliver. My democracy will deliver.

DOUGHERTY: Secretary Clinton says there are promising early signs. But it's not just talk.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I told each that coming out of this trilateral meeting, we will basically have work planned. We're going to be very specific. We don't want any misunderstanding. We don't want any mixed signals.


DOUGHERTY: Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton expressed regret for the deaths of civilians killed in an attack in Afghanistan. Now both countries are launching a joint investigation. But officials say President Karzai did not request President Obama to stop U.S. air strikes. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty, over at the White House.

This note to our viewers, I'll have an interview with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. This Friday, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On Capitol Hill right now, Senator Arlen Specter may be feeling stunned by the party he just joined. The Pennsylvania Republican turned Democrat was stripped of his seniority on those committees earlier in the day. And he suggests a promise made to him was actually broken.

Let's turn to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She had a chance to catch up with Senator Specter earlier in the day. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we staked out his office this morning to find out his response to the fact that this Democratic Party he says welcomed him with open arms, effectively stripped him of his 29 years of clout he's built up.


BASH (voice-over): Arlen Specter didn't show up for this Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but his chair was moved from the head of the dais to the very end, a stark illustration of his new junior ranking since Democrats stripped his seniority on all committees.

We caught up with Specter, who insisted that's not what the Democratic leader promised.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Senator Reid said that I would maintain my committee assignments, and that my seniority would be established as if I had been elected in 1980 as a Democrat.

BASH: The Senate majority leader disputes that.

REID: Senator Specter and his chief of staff always were told that we couldn't interrupt any of the subcommittee chairs or the chairs until the next Congress. And his seniority will be determined next Congress.

BASH: But losing his clout now and uncertainty about the future is a blow to Specter, because it undermines the central argument we heard him give this week to Pennsylvania voters. That he became a Democrat to stay in the Senate because his seniority helped them.

SPECTER: My senior position on appropriations has enabled me to bring a lot of jobs, a lot of federal funding to this state.

BASH: Specter told us, some Democrats complained he would take their spots on powerful committees.

SPECTER: The caucus has some concerns. Some people who would be passed over.

BASH: But another factor may be loyalty. Since becoming a Democrat, Specter voted against the president's budget, and suggests that he wants Republican, Norm Coleman, to win in Minnesota. Democrat Debbie Stabenow told CNN Specter has to prove he's a Democrat before he gets the benefits.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: People are looking for a sign that he really wants to be part of the caucus, be a full member of the caucus.


BASH: Now Specter told us that he is confident he'll get back his seniority and the very critical power that comes with it after the next election, but, Wolf, there's no guarantee for a lot of reasons that that's going to happen. One thing that we do know is that this awkward beginning for Specter as a Democrat, certainly not what he hoped for.

BLITZER: And as you know, Dana, he's got to get himself re- elected which is not going to be necessarily all that easy either. But he says he's in it to win it. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Americans will have to cut back on their consumerism because it's hurting the environment. So says Oregon's governor, Ted Kulongoski.

He told "The New York Times" in an interview that when it comes to some environmental regulations it's a lifestyle issue because we Americans have a love affair with consumerism and consumption.

The governor says that other than taxes, the hardest thing for him to talk to his constituents about is changing their lifestyles. As an example he points to the car companies that are still pumping out those SUVs.

This guy is ahead of the curve out there in Oregon. He strongly supported renewable energy development, both by lowering foreign solar manufacturers and wind companies to Oregon and by supporting emergent technologies like wave power.

Governor Kulongoski acknowledges some of these changes, like transitioning away from the fossil fuels, will cost some people money, but he says politicians have to tell their constituents they, quote, "cannot continue to consume 25 to 30 percent of the world's world resources. It isn't possible," unquote.

He says whatever issue he raises about energy whether it's nuclear, coal, ANWR, offshore drilling, whatever, he said people are resistant. But it's impossible to make progress if everything's taken off the table.

Oregon's governor says the U.S. has wasted about ten years in not engaging our citizens and that's why, he says, Europe is so far ahead of us. He absolutely gets it.

Here's the question -- do Americans need to cut back on consumerism? Go to and you can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack.

You have thoughts about alleged torture in the Bush administration, so what does the top Senate Democrat think about that?


BLITZER: Do you believe that was legal?

REID: Legal, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.


BLITZER: The majority leader, Harry Reid, says the former administration did, in fact, use torture. Does he think Bush officials should now be criminally prosecuted? He answers that question, right here, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Battle of the strategist. On the one side, George W. Bush's architect, on the other, the man who helped President Obama, Karl Rove and David Plouffe, they went at it.

And she's the unmarried mother, who is Sarah Palin's daughter. Bristol Palin has a special message for teenagers about sex and children.


BLITZER: It's the subject stirring up intense, intense debate. The alleged use of torture during the Bush administration, as President Obama leaves open the possibility that Bush administration officials could be held accountable.

What do lawmakers think about that right now? I sat down with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the Justice Department. Apparently there's a recommendation that these memos authorizing the enhanced interrogation, what some would call torture, the waterboarding, the slamming of prisoners up against the wall, that they're going to recommend against any criminal prosecution, although there could be some ethical issues with disbarment and stuff like that.

Is that adequate? Is that acceptable to you?

REID: First of all, Senator Feinstein is chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I have said now for several weeks that we should let her complete her work. It's a bipartisan committee, and she should be able to complete her work to find out what really went on.

And I think we should wait until the Justice Department comes out with what they've actually said, rather than some leaks that have come out. And then we make a decision at that time. I don't think it's appropriate to make it at this time.

BLITZER: When is Senator Feinstein, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, going to come up with her conclusions, her investigations?

REID: Some time this fall.

BLITZER: So, between now and later this year, in the fall?

REID: Yes...


BLITZER: So, between now and then, you would just recommend to everybody, cool it?

REID: Well, I know that's how I feel, and I think there's a general feeling in my caucus the same. Let's get the facts before we rush into what we should do. After that, everything's on the table as to what we should do. But let's get the facts first.

BLITZER: Do you believe torture was used by the Bush administration against these detainees?

REID: Yes.

BLITZER: Do you believe that was legal?

REID: Legal, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. We've got people who have made these decisions, one of whom is now a federal judge. He said he thought he did the right thing. I think it would be hard for me to arrive at that conclusion myself, but he did.

BLITZER: Should that federal judge be impeached?

REID: That's something that we're going to hear from at a later time. He claims that it was opinion that he wrote, and he's certain someone shouldn't be criticized for legal opinions they give.

BLITZER: Are you ready right now to authorize additional funding for Pakistan?

REID: Yes, I think it's very important. We have a supplemental -- I'm meeting with Senator Inouye tomorrow. I've spoken to Chairman Obey today. And the answer is yes.

The president's asked for this. I think that we have a bipartisan approach to this. This has been studied for months as to how we should approach Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think there's a bipartisan agreement that's headed in the right direction.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in these two presidents, President Zardari of Pakistan, President Karzai of Afghanistan?

REID: I have confidence in the approach. They're -- both of these men are in town today. Right in this room while we're doing this interview, I spent quite a bit of time yesterday with Karzai.

They've got a lot of troubles in their countries. We are there to help. This is not -- we're not trying to put our brand of government there. What we're trying to do is get rid of the terrorists that are there.

And we don't want the terrorists working their way in to Pakistan. And that's what we see and what we're concerned about. And that's what the direction of this country, working with those two countries, must be.

BLITZER: Now, you support President Obama's decision to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He now is seeking money from Congress to move some of those detainees to the United States, to the continental United States.

Congressman Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House, says, you know what? Until I see a plan, I'm not authorizing appropriating any money for such a transfer.

Where do you stand on this?

REID: First of all, I agree with John McCain. It should be closed, and it is being closed. The question is, when it's closed, what we do with the prisoners, what we do with the facility generally.

It's a great facility. There's -- we're not going to maintain prisoners there. As I said, I agree with John McCain.

Now I -- as I indicated earlier in this interview, I'm going to meet with Senator Inouye tomorrow. We're going to make a decision at that time whether the mark that we have from the Senate should agree with that of the House.

And at this stage, it appears that until the detainee commission -- they come back sometime late in July to make a decision for the president as to what should be done with those prisoners.

It should be to everyone's interest to wait until that comes out. This is a high-class study that's being done to determine what should be done with the prisoners. We'd all be better off if we waited until then.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is you basically agree with Congressman Obey, wait until there's an actual plan, and then the Congress will appropriate the money, but don't authorize the money that the president wants now in advance of that plan.

REID: Yes. I don't want to prejudge what Senator Inouye, as chairman of the committee, is going to do. But I think at this stage, until there's a plan and until the detainee commission report comes out, we're probably better off waiting and maybe try to take care of this funding in one of our regular appropriation bills later this year.

BLITZER: Here's what Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, the Republican presidential candidate, said on Sunday.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRES. CANDIDATE: I think he's making some very serious errors. I think, if you will, abrogating his responsibility for the stimulus and passing it along to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid was a mistake, and that that's going to come back to haunt him.


REID: I know he wants to start his presidential campaign early, but it's a little too early.

The Constitution says that we have three separate and equal branches of government. And when you pass legislation, the legislation has to start here in the Congress. And that's where it started, where it started.

Obama can't pass legislation as it comes to us. Of course, the economic recovery package, which by the way is doing great things already in Nevada and other states, around the country, because that money is now coming in to the marketplace, so to speak, was the right thing to do.

The legislation was important. It was important we pass it to save or create 3.5 million jobs. So I think Mr. Romney should understand what, first of all, constitutional duties are. And secondly, what this package has done to help the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Then senator Barack Obama once told Senator Harry Reid that he has a, quote, "gift." Did Reid think that was a conceited thing for the then senator to say? We're going to talk about that. The Senate majority leader and me, our interview will continue.

And as a candidate Barack Obama tried to show that Democrats also embrace God. So why is he not holding a White House ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer?

Plus, is bipartisanship dead? A smack-down between the mastermind of George W. Bush's presidential win and the architect of the Barack Obama win. That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama will not hold a public event for tomorrow's National Day of prayer. Is he missing an opportunity?

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, has been looking into this story.

What's going on, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is president who's been very comfortable talking about his faith, which is why people are wondering why he's keeping this event private.


HENRY (voice-over): From the campaign through the early days of his administration, President Obama has tried to erase old stereotypes about Democrats failing to embrace God.

OBAMA: So let us pray together on this February morning. But let us also work together in all the days and months ahead.

HENRY: Which is why the president has raised some eyebrows by deciding there will not be a White House ceremony marking the National Day of Prayer Thursday.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think I want to answer a few things about a National Day of Prayer...

HENRY: A sharp departure from former President Bush's approach.

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: It could be a missed opportunity because, you know, you're trying to reach out to folks of faith, if you will, and then he has this situation where this would be kind of a softball to hit out of the park and he may have missed it to a degree.

HENRY: But White House aides note many past presidents marked the occasion by just signing a proclamation.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's the way the president will publicly observe National Prayer Day, but as I said, privately, he'll pray as he does every day.

HENRY: David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network believes the White House is still a little gun-shy, after the campaign controversy over the president's former pastor. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

BRODY: They had to deal with that, and so they're reticent to a certain degree to kind of delve into some of the faith issues as it relates to the political environment, if you will, because they know that he can get a lot of backlash.

HENRY: The first family has also been cautious about its search for a new church in Washington, and White House aides are careful about answering whether the president will soon pray in a church he calls his own.

GIBBS: He may.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us a little more on...

GIBBS: Amen.


HENRY: Now the so-called culture wars have been overshadowed so far by the financial crisis in the early days of this new administration, but those wars could get reignited very quickly, depending on whom the president nominates to the Supreme Court, Wolf.

BLITZER: Always a sensitive subject, religion and politics. No doubt about that. All right, thanks very much for that, Ed.

In California right now, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have opened the door to legalizing marijuana. We'll take a closer look at what he's saying and whether public sentiment is shifting.

Plus, we're on board the CNN Election Express, covering Latinos, hard hit by the recession and without a roof over their heads.

And Sarah Palin's daughter, a teenage mother herself, as a new spokeswoman for abstinence.


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

Happening now, the historic Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas engulfed in flames. A huge fire ripped through the vacant building today. The Moulin Rouge opened back in 1955 as Nevada's first racially integrated casino.

The government says for the first time ever U.S. homes with cell phones but no landlines outnumber homes with only landlines. It's a huge shift from six years ago where just a fraction of homes had only cell phones. And an American journalist imprisoned in Iran stops her hunger strike. Roxana Saberi's father says his daughter agreed to start eating again after he and his wife expressed concern for her health. Saberi was convicted of espionage last month and sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is known for making some provocative statements but his latest is really raising eyebrows.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's working this story for us.

What did he say this time, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a little bit of background first. You remember Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously shown smoking pot in the film "Pumping Iron," he has in recent years come down on the more conservative side on the issue of legalizing marijuana, so his recent comments have some observers wondering if there may be a change in his thinking.


TODD (voice-over): He makes clear he's still against legalizing marijuana. But prompted by a reporter's question, California's famous governor leaves an opening.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA: I think it's time for a debate, and I think that we ought to study very carefully on what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana.

TODD: An aide to Arnold Schwarzenegger tells us the governor himself spoke with a policeman in his homeland of Austria who told him legalization didn't work as well as they thought it would.

In California, much of the debate is over money. The state is desperate for revenue. And one assemblyman is pushing a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use, heavily taxing retailers.

The agency that collects taxes on alcohol and tobacco in California projects how much that would bring in every year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The revenue impact of this proposal we believe will generate over $1.3 billion.

TODD: But the same agency also found that if it's legalized, consumption of marijuana would rise dramatically. And that fuels debate over the social costs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My brother's addicted to it. So I know what it can do that's not great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to get it anyway, regardless if it's legal or not and why shouldn't the state jump in and get a little money from it?

TODD: Across the U.S., a seeming political shift on this issue over the past decade. An ABC News/"Washington Post" poll from last month showed 46 percent favor legalization of small amounts for personal use. More than double those who favored it 12 years ago.


TODD: Some poll in California showed more than half favored legalization, but that would not necessarily be an instant cash cow for the state. Advocates for legalization tell us even if that one bill in California is passed, the state could not tax the sale of pot unless a federal law is passed, legalizing it for personal use, and at this point, President Obama is clearly on record as opposing legalization for personal use, Wolf.

You have to specify here, 13 states have already passed this legally for medicinal use but not for personal use.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Let's stay in California right now. Hispanic residents in that state are in deep trouble, in fact, a lot of people in California are in deep trouble right now. We -- we want to go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Los Angeles with the CNN Express.

John, you've been doing some talking to folks out there. They're really waiting for the president's economic stimulus package to kick in and help Hispanics and everyone else in that state.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's exactly right. And you have many organizations that help people in these tough economic times wondering if they can get any money from the stimulus program and if the answer to that question is yes, just how fast they can get it.

Let me give you a sense of what we saw today. We're here today. And if you travel in the inner city here in Los Angeles, the unemployment rate statewide is more than 11 percent. Some say it's about double that now in the city. It is especially high among Latinos and among African-Americans.

And what is the result of that?

You see long food lines outside of soup kitchens. And you see some of the people in those lines not the people you might expect. They're dressed to go to work. Some of them are people who actually have jobs, but they have -- either face foreclosure issues here or because of family circumstances, even though they're still working, can't afford their rent.

So they're going for these services. Some, it's for food. Some, it's for shelter. Another place we went is the shelter that allows people to come and take a shower, gives them a meal. They can make some phone calls. There's a job placement center there, where they can go online and look for jobs. The center itself -- one of the centers we visited says it wants to apply for some stimulus money. It's just getting the grant proposal together. But it says it doesn't know if it will be eligible, because the director told us there's a lot of confusion. And, also, they don't know how long it will take.

So, Wolf, as we track the stimulus money and how it is being spent, how quickly it is getting to the cities, Los Angeles is one of the many cities where you see a great need. And the city says it will get millions of dollars and will spend them on infrastructure, will spend it on education, will spend it on housing and other public support programs. But if you go to the very ground level, where people need the help the most, you do sense some frustration in those homeless centers and in the shelters, saying we wish the money would come and come sooner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know you've got a lot more on this important story coming up Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION."

KING: Right.

BLITZER: But, John, let me shift gears and pick your brain for a second, because there's a story circulating now that the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, is actually moving from Massachusetts. He's about to establish permanent residence in neighboring New Hampshire.

What are you hearing?

KING: The governor, Romney, talked to me about this over the weekend. We sat down with him over the weekend. And he was on "STATE OF THE UNION" discussing -- he's part of this new Republican Party outreach effort.

But he said that he is spending most of his time right now here in California. And he's about to go back to New Hampshire to open his house up on Lake Winnipesaukee. And that will become his primary residence.

The governor has sold his home in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was even joking, Wolf, that when he stays now in the Boston area, he is staying in a guest room at his son's house. He says his son owes him, that he took a bit from the family over the years and so he gets to stay with his son when he is in Massachusetts.

But as Governor Romney assesses his further political options -- and already moving around the country, using a political action committee to raise money for Republicans, now part of an outreach effort to try to figure out how to get the party back on track. He's spending more time here in California and New Hampshire, where he has long had a vacation home. It will become his primary residence.

He said he was going to go up there in just a few weeks and open the house up. He was waiting for it to warm up a little bit in the lake country in New Hampshire -- Wolf. BLITZER: A lot of people from Massachusetts move to New Hampshire. That's almost a suburb of Boston. So I guess he's one of them.

Thanks very much, John, for that.

KING: See you, Wolf.

BLITZER: John King is out in California.

Political masterminds in a political smack-down -- they helped win hard-fought presidential campaigns for their candidates, now they're fighting a war of words.

And the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, tells me what happened when he complimented then his colleague on the Senate floor, Barack Obama, on a terrific speech.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: And he looked at me without an ounce of conceit or braggadocio and said to me, "I have a gift."


BLITZER: A smackdown between the mastermind of George W. Bush's presidential wins and the architect of the Barack Obama win. It happened over at the Leon Panetta Institute in California when Republican Karl Rove and Democrat David Plouffe were talking about the economic stimulus plan.

Rove said the White House did not take seriously a GOP alternative.

Listen to this.


KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: What did the president do?

He went and held a nationally televised news conference in which he said the people who don't agree with my proposal don't want to do anything.

Now, if you want to bring the country together, you start by treating the proposals offered by your opposition with a certain amount of respect. You don't dismiss the motivations of those who labored hard to come up with a constructive alternative as people who don't want to do anything.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY PANETTA INSTITUTE) DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: This is like getting interview lessons from Sarah Palin -- a lecture on bipartisanship. And right now, the vast majority of the American people believe that the president is trying to reach out to the other side, trying to involve them in their government and trying to reach out honestly. And about a quarter of the American people -- a quarter -- so that's, again, no Independents. And you're even losing some -- some Republicans, potentially, believe the Republicans are trying to reach out.


BLITZER: All right. That political smackdown over at the Panetta Institute in California.

Let's talk about that and more here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin; and Brian DeBose. He's a contributing writer for and a freelance writer for "The Washington Examiner."

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

You know, normally, these postmortems between the political strategists, they're sort of very polite and nice and academic -- Gloria, this one got a little tough.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think it got a little tough because, in part, the campaign that David Plouffe was running was not so much against John McCain as it was against George W. Bush, who happened to be Karl Rove's boss, right?

So I think there might be a little animosity there. And look, you know, I think Plouffe's point is well taken. I mean I remember being told by some Democrats that the president went in to address the House Republican Caucus to try and get them to vote on that stimulus package they were talking about. And only minutes before, their leadership had told them to vote no.

Is that in good faith?

BLITZER: A fair question.

And, Roland, let me pick your brain on Arlen Specter effectively being stripped of any seniority on these committees, including the Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee. He's going to be low man -- low person there as a result of his becoming a Democrat.

You heard our interview earlier with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

What do you make of what's going on here?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is an idiotic decision by the Democrats. It makes no sense whatsoever. You can't sit here and hail this guy now being in your caucus and you actually pull this particular move.

You know, I understand this whole notion of jumping over someone. But the reality is, they can change their rules. You do not have to always base it upon seniority.

But for somebody to sit here and spend this level of time in Congress and then you say we're going to treat you like a freshman, it makes no sense at all.

And it shows to me, sometimes, where the Democrats are so out of touch where they don't get it. They're going to need this guy's vote. And to sit here and say, oh, we'll see how he votes on health care and then we'll reconsider in 2010, it makes no sense whatsoever.

BLITZER: Because, Brian, presumably, the Democrats want to see their now Democratic colleague re-elected next year in Pennsylvania. They might want to try to help him by showing he has that seniority.

BRIAN DEBOSE, THEROOT.COM: I think that's absolutely right. And the other problem is, you know, they're risking a lot. If Specter ends up being disgruntled about this and sort of backs away from voting with them, then they don't have this filibuster-proof majority that they were looking for.

I think, you know, on the one hand, Specter went out there and made a promise. We don't know if he was authorized to go out there and start making promises for himself or making promises for Harry Reid. Then he goes out and makes some very unfortunate comments.

I think Harry Reid was forced into it because his caucus was upset about what happened. Now it becomes a situation where they -- they really can't back out of it. Specter is going to have to eat...

BORGER: Well...

DEBOSE: his lunch here.

BORGER: Well, Reid's office says it wasn't the timing of Specter's remarks, in which he said that he'd like to see Norm Coleman be elected into the Senate rather than Al Franken, that, in fact, this actually happened in the caucus before that.

But, you know, they are acting like a bunch of little boys, I hate to say it, guys. They ought to get...

MARTIN: Little boys and girls.

BORGER: Little boys and girls.


BORGER: And, you know, this is a new guy, but he's been around for a while. And it's in their interests to make him happy...

BLITZER: All right...

BORGER: ...just like it was in their interests, by the way, to keep Joe Lieberman the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, Wolf...

DEBOSE: Exactly.

MARTIN: in the world do you let this guy, Lieberman, who campaigned against your president...

BORGER: Right.

MARTIN: ...retain his chairmanship but you strip this guy?

That is just dumb.

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: But, again, I keep saying Democrats sometimes get stuck on stupid.


BLITZER: What do you think the real -- the decision -- the White House made a decision a little while ago, Brian. They released this photograph of the vice president of the United States and Al Franken, who's the Democratic candidate in Minnesota. He hasn't been elected yet, although he's slightly -- very slightly, by a couple or 300 votes, ahead of Norm Coleman, the Republican. That count is still continuing in Minnesota.

But the White House goes ahead and releases the photo.

What's the thinking, do you think?

DEBOSE: Well, I'm not sure what the thinking is. I mean this White House has made some very troubling decisions when it comes to P.R.. There was the incident in New York with the flyover of the mock Air Force One. And then you have Al Franken, who is not the senator. We don't know when he's going to be the senator. Norm Coleman can take this to the Supreme Court, which could take forever. And they're having meetings with -- I'm sorry, not Norm Coleman, but Al Franken.

They're having meetings with him and they're showing pictures.

And what is -- what are they talking to Al Franken about?

He may not even be the guy.

I think this is a very freshman class in the White House. We've seen it several times early on in terms of the announcements they made about people they wanted to come on, with Tom Daschle, Timothy Geithner. And it's continuing. At some point...

MARTIN: OK, wait...

DEBOSE: ...they're going to have to get a little better. MARTIN: I'm sorry. The last I checked, Norm Coleman has been losing and losing and losing. Al Franken has got a better shot of getting that seat than Norm Coleman does. This is the White House simply saying, look, this guy is more than likely going to get the seat. We're going to slowly look at him as being the senator. They also want to allow the people of Minnesota to put pressure Norm Coleman and say, look, dude, you've been losing. We need representation in the Senate...

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: It's time for you to sit your butt down and get out of the way.

BORGER: Maybe Al Franken has just given Joe Biden some new jokes.



BLITZER: Right. Maybe he needs some jokes for the White House Correspondents Association dinner this weekend.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching that, as well.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's get some more of my interview now with the top Democratic in the U.S. Senate. Harry Reid recently raised some eyebrows over something he wrote about the president when he was a senator.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the paperback edition of your book, "The Good Fight," specifically, the new afterward that you wrote about the election last year. And there's been some controversy over an exchange you had with then Senator Barack Obama after he delivered a speech on the war in Iraq back in 2005.

You remember that exchange?

REID: Sure.

BLITZER: Tell us about it.

REID: Barack Obama had given a speech on the Senate floor. And it would be a gross understatement to say it was pretty good. It was very, very good.

And I walked the floor. We were alone on the floor. And I said, "Barack, that was really good."

And he looked at me without an ounce of conceit, of braggadocio and said to me, "I have a gift."

You know, Wolf, I had a -- I have a son. My youngest boy was a gifted athlete. His teammate -- they played ball in high school and college -- he could stand and jump 40 inches in the air. He was born with that.

We're taught biblically that people have certain talents. Some people are musically inclined. Some people can run high, jump fast. Some people are great mathematicians.

In Barack Obama's case, the talent that he was born with is the ability to communicate. Read one of his books. No wonder he made $2.4 million last year selling his books, because they're so easy to read.

He has the ability to communicate. And I hope I didn't offend him or anyone else by conveying what I thought was a very sincere statement.

And as -- the more we look at it, the more truthful it is.

BLITZER: Because you write in the book -- you quote him as saying, "I have a gift, Harry."

And it does sort of -- if you just read that out of context, it makes it sound like, you know, he's bragging or whatever, or that he's conceited, that he has a gift when it comes to speaking.

REID: But I covered myself pretty well by saying he didn't have an ounce of -- it was all humility. I mean, he just looked at me so sincerely. It was just like, "Harry, I can -- I can play that musical instrument. I was born to be able to do that." That's all it is.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

REID: My pleasure.


BLITZER: She's the daughter of the governor, Sarah Palin, and a new teen mom. And now Bristol Palin is going public with a message to other teenagers about sex and pregnancy out of wedlock.


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on the president's efforts to convince the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan to support American strategy in the war against radical Islamist terrorists. Pakistan's future as a nation threatened by what is quickly turning into an all-out war. The safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons may be in doubt.

Also in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's open to a controversial idea to save his state from financial disaster -- legalize marijuana to raise tax revenue. This, as Governor Schwarzenegger faces the lowest approval ratings ever. And ratings on the economy are rising. New indications the rate of job cuts is declining and the stock market moving higher. Three of the country's best economic thinkers join me to discuss today's good news and the chances of recovery.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM continues in just a moment.


BLITZER: Governor Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter is now on a news media tour delivering a message to other unwed teens. But her message is apparently at odds with that from her -- from the father of her child.

Let's turn to CNN's Deborah Feyerick.

She's got the details for us -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bristol Palin says her newborn son is the love of her life, but if she knew then what she knows now -- that being a mom is not just hard, it's really, really hard -- well, she says she definitely would have waited until she was older to have this child.




FEYERICK (voice-over): Swarmed by photographers, 18-year-old Bristol Palin walked the receiving line in her new role -- the ambassador of abstinence -- saying her message to teens is...


FEYERICK: Wait to have sex. The Alaska governor's daughter, who gave birth to a son in December, is taking part in a national campaign to prevent teen pregnancy.

PALIN: I think girls now, they think that having a baby is like having an accessory on their hip. And they don't realize that it's such a huge responsibility and it's such just hard work.

FEYERICK: Palin said comments she made earlier that abstinence was unrealistic were taken out of context and she believes it's the only way to prevent pregnancy.

Her ex-fiance, with whom she now has a strained relationship, had a different take, speaking on "The CBS Early Show."


LEVI JOHNSTON, FATHER OF BRISTOL PALIN'S SON I don't think just telling young kids you can't have sex is just -- it's not going to work. It's not realistic.


FEYERICK: In 2006, a total of 435,000 children were born to mothers 15 to 19 years old, slightly higher than the previous year.

The campaign, sponsored by shoemaker Candie's, debuted on what is being billed as National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day.

ANN SHOKET, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "SEVENTEEN": Bristol gives a very public face to a real private struggle that 750,000 teenage girls go through every year. It is -- it is a tremendous turmoil in young lives.

FEYERICK: Candie's says Palin is not a paid spokesperson, but her expenses are covered and she's being compensated to take part in the campaign.


FEYERICK: Now, while Bristol Palin was top choice, she was not the only choice. The head of the Candie's Foundation says they also reached out to teen star Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger sister of Britney Spears, who appears in Candie's ads. No answer yet as to why Jamie Lynn passed or whether, in fact, she considered it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Deb.

Thanks very much.

Deb Feyerick reporting.

Jack Cafferty is with us once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do Americans need to cut back on consumerism?

Matt in Washington writes: "Of course we need to cut back. The better question is can we? I'd like to be optimistic, but unfortunately, I think Americans would prefer to go down with the ship rather than change course."

Jerry in West Virginia says: "Jack, they already have. Consumer spending is down. Savings are up. People are beginning to learn how to live within their means, sort of like our parents did. Isn't it refreshing?"

Tony says: "Yes and no. Consumerism won't be as bad if everything wasn't disposable. Making things that last -- i.e. not replacing a cell phone every year. We have taken planned obsolescence to an extreme over the last 30 years."

Roeland writes from Alkmaar, the Netherlands: "As a European, it's easy for me to say, but, yes, I think Americans should cut back on consumerism. I was brought up on the idea you can spend what you earn, but not what you can borrow, because the latter has to be paid back with interest."

Richard writes: "We Americans, if we're serious about confronting climate change, need to give up many things, including consumerism. We'll have to travel a lot less, be a lot hotter in the summer, a lot colder in the winter and turn off a lot of things that use electricity, including your lights at night. We'll to build huge numbers of nuclear power plants to replace the coal burning plants we use now. Face it -- no politician is going to say any of that and almost no citizen will support one who does."

And Melanie writes: "Hmmm, I'll get back to you right after I open this clamshell package of disposable pens, take a swig of my bottled water, read the 80 pages of store flyers in today's newspaper and wipe down my kitchen with throwaway antibacterial wipes."

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

BLITZER: Will do, Jack.

See you tomorrow.

Thank you.

A cat in a shirt on a keyboard all over the Internet -- it's the latest YouTube sensation -- a must-see moment straight ahead.


BLITZER: The latest fan favorite on YouTube.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with this "Moost Unusual" Internet fad.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This kind of keyboard meet this kind of keyboard...


MOOS: produce the latest Web sensation. The keyboard cat has become a recurring theme...


MOOS: ...tagged onto the end of some of the web's classic videos.


MOOS: Be it Bill O'Reilly's rant or a break dancer who kicks a kid... (VIDEO CLIP OF CAT PLAYING PIANO)

MOOS: ...or the TV salesman whose ladder collapses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So really, do you think...


Harold, are you OK?


MOOS: The videos tend to be captioned "play 'em off, keyboard cat."

(on camera): How's the cat?

CHARLIE SCHMIDT, OWNER, "KEYBOARD CAT": The cat, actually, unfortunately, is dead.

MOOS (voice-over): Charlie Schmidt is an artist and inventor from Spokane, Washington. He videotaped his cat, Fatso, 20 years ago. Suddenly, people are taking his cat video and adding it to other videos.



MOOS: Tagging videos with the keyboard cat somehow highlights their absurdity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to sit down?


MOOS: For instance, a guest fainting on the air.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll be back. We'll be back in just a second.


MOOS: Charlie thinks keyboard cat works especially well with news video.

SCHMIDT: That's what the news is. It's sort of a frame for weird behavior.

MOOS: Like a car chase.


MOOS: Keyboard cat could replace news anchors.

SCHMIDT: We don't need these guys, necessarily. Don't tell Wolf I said that, though.



MOOS: We added the cat to this one ourselves.

(on camera): In case you're wondering how he did it, Charlie dressed his cat Fatso in an infant t-shirt and manipulated the cat's paws with his own hands under the t-shirt.

(voice-over): Actually, there's a cat that really does play the piano -- sort of.


MOOS: But the keyboard cat isn't really playing.

Who says cats and dogs don't get along?


MOOS: It's easy to make CNN keyboard cat moments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, nice melons behind you there.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. You were in -- oh, my God.


MOOS: We asked Charlie for his favorite keyboard cat video.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: South Africa and the Iraq -- everywhere like such as.


MOOS: Sometimes the cat should get your tongue.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Jeanne Moos -- she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM every day. Thank you, Jeanne.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.