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John Boehner on Health Care; Interview with Melody Barnes; Brain Injuries Common in Soldiers; Interview with Bill Maher

Aired August 1, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Urgent care for health care reform. President Obama applauds a new in the House as an important step forward, but angry Republicans still refuse to be rushed. And a gift to comedians that keeps in giving. That's what Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin. The funny man vents about the ex Alaska governor and his fears that voters will do something stupid.

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: Nothing burns me up more than hearing some of these scare tactics directed at seniors. You know, because seniors, they're vulnerable. And they get worried about some of this stuff. And they get some, you know, crazy flyer in the mail. And you know, they get scared that they might lose their care.


BLITZER: The president's push to overhaul the nation's health care system overcame a major hurdle this week. Some key members of the blue dogs, those fiscally conservative House Democrats reached a deal with the Democratic leadership on a reform bill. If the blue dogs are getting on board, could Republicans soon follow?


BLITZER: And joining us now, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner.

Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: Wolf, it's good to be with you.

BLITZER: It looks like, at this point, the House and Senate committees are probably going to get something done before -- before the recess. The president is reaching out, though, to everyone, saying spend the recess, read the bills and then we can talk.

Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will have all of August to review the various legislative proposals. When we come back, in September, I will be available to answer any questions that members of the Congress ask. If they want to come over to the White House and go over line by line what's going on, I will be happy to do that.


BLITZER: Are you still open to coming up with a bipartisan bill with the president?

BOEHNER: Absolutely. I think the American people expect us to work together to deal with the issue of reforming our health care system. But they've got some real big doubts about this big government-run plan that eventually will take over our entire health care system.


BOEHNER: It's going to drive up costs...

BLITZER: Because let me interrupt you far moment there, because the president is flatly, once again, insisting this is not going to happen.

Just listen to this little clip.


OBAMA: Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care. I'm tired of hearing that.


OBAMA: I have been as clear as I can be.


BLITZER: All right. He's flatly denying that this is going to be a government takeover.

BOEHNER: Well, listen, the facts just aren't there. It's clear in the legislation that after five years, you can't go out and buy a private health insurance policy. You have to go to one of the government exchanges.

BLITZER: Where does that say that...

BOEHNER: And that government exchange...

BLITZER: Where does it say that?

BOEHNER: It's in the bill. One of the government -- the government exchanges, their products are going to be designed by the government. It also says that after five years, all employer-provided health care, provided under ERISA, would have to have an approval from the Department of Labor and the health care choices czar, to make sure that the employer-provided plan meets appropriate federal standards. You can go through this one after another after another. And if you look at the public option, it's there. It's going to compete with the private sector.

But it's pretty clear to most of us that it will undercut the private sector, not provide more competition, driving the private sector out of the market and leaving people with only one option -- and that's the government plan.

BLITZER: Because Mike Ross, the Democratic Congressman from Arkansas, who's a moderate conservative, what they call a Blue Dog, he now says that is flatly wrong.

Listen to him.


REP. MIKE ROSS (D), ARKANSAS: It protects small businesses and it saves our rural hospitals and ensures that if there is a public option, it will be just that -- it will be an option providing consumers more choices. It will not be mandated on anyone. And it now will clearly be on a -- on a level playing field.


BLITZER: All right.

What do you want to say to Congressman Ross?

BOEHNER: Listen, Wolf, there's an employer mandate in this bill. And while they raise that -- the exemption level from companies that pay $250,000 a year in payroll to $500,000, small businesses are the engine of economic growth in America. There's a mandate in this bill that requires those that have a payroll of up to -- now over $500,000 -- to provide health insurance and pay at least 72 percent of it. And if you don't, there's an 8 percent tax on that payroll.

What this is going to do is raise the cost of employment. It's going to cause an awful lot of employers to get rid of their company- sponsored plans and leave their employees but no choice but to go with the government option.

BLITZER: Here -- here -- let me ask you this question, because it's -- it's -- it gets to the core of what's called this private or this public option, this government option -- a government run- insurance company, if you will, to compete with the private insurance companies.

Are you afraid that these private insurance companies -- whether Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare or whatever -- can't compete with a government run-insurance company?

BOEHNER: Wolf, nobody in the private sector can compete with the government. And that's because there's no cost of capital. The government sets the rules. The government sets the prices. And so you can't compete. You can't win.

BLITZER: But there...

BOEHNER: And if you step back...

BLITZER: There are...

BOEHNER: ...and look at this, Wolf, it's 1,018 pages. That ought to be enough to tell you that this is a giant government bureaucracy that's going to drive up the cost of health care, drive up the cost of -- of health insurance, deny millions of Americans their choice of doctor and eventually lead to rationing health care in America.

This is not the kind of plan that Americans want.

BLITZER: There -- there are some private companies that compete very well against the government. I'll give you an example -- FedEx. They compete with the U.S. government's post office service.

BOEHNER: Well, there's no surprise there and that's because there's an independent board that oversees the post office and keeps it within the law.

But when you look at the fact in this bill -- a 1,018 page bill -- the word "shall" is referred to 1,082 times. There are 53 new boards, agencies and commissions and agencies set up in this bill.

Why do we need all of this if we're trying to drive down the cost of health care in America and trying to improve...

BLITZER: Would...

BOEHNER: ...access...

BLITZER: Would...

BOEHNER: ...for more Americans?

BLITZER: Would you be open to a board that oversees the private insurance companies -- excuse me -- that oversees the public option the way the boards oversee the...


BLITZER: office?

BOEHNER: No. No. Absolutely not. What I'm for are things that were going to reduce the cost of health care in America. There's no medical malpractice reform here. There's nothing here that protects doctors. And so they're going to continue to practice defensive medicine, so they're not being sued. There's nothing in here that will streamline the paperwork that we have in our health care system today. Those two things alone will save $150 billion to $200 billion a year in our current system. That money can be used to increase access for those that have pre-existing conditions or those that may be switching jobs or the working poor, who don't qualify for federal programs and who need health care and need an insurance.

BLITZER: So it looks like there's not going to be a bipartisan deal, is that right?

BOEHNER: Listen, I don't know what's going to happen over the next three or four months. But I believe that it's time to hit the reset button. Let's scrap this plan. Let's sit down in a bipartisan way and let's build on the current system, which is the envy of the world.

You know, 93 percent of the American people have access to high quality, affordable health insurance. Let's help them be able to hold onto that, reduce the cost of it and expand access to those Americans who don't have good access.

BLITZER: Mr. Leader, we've got to leave it there. Thanks very much.

BOEHNER: Thank you.


BLITZER: A broken health care system is like an emergency room patient needing critical care. How far will President Obama go to keep his plans alive? I'll ask a key White House point person. And when asked if Sarah Palin could be the next Republican presidential candidate, Bill Maher is here to explain what he means by this controversial answer.


BILL MAHER: I would never put anything past this stupid country.



BLITZER: Critics of the president's health care reform proposals voice fears that private insurers won't be able to compete with a government-run plan. But the president still seems to be digging in his heels on that one.


And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, Melody Barnes.

She's the president's domestic policy adviser.

Melody, thanks for coming n.

MELODY BARNES, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: It's always a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Is the president ready to compromise on the so-called public option -- a government-sponsored health insurance program -- in order to win over those conservative or moderate Democrats and some Republicans?

BARNES: Well, that's great question. Thanks for asking me, Wolf.

The president has been a long time advocate for a public health care option. And that's because he believes in several key principles.

One, that we have to increase competition because, two, that will drive down costs; that that kind of option will also increase choice -- the kind of choices that consumers will have.

Those are the principles that he brings to this health care reform debate. And that's what he takes to the table as he talks to Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate side.

BLITZER: If there are other ways to increase competition, for example, allowing these health -- these private health insurance companies to go national -- to compete nationally, not just within a state -- would that be something he's open to?

BARNES: Well, as I said, the president believes in those key principles -- driving down costs, increasing competition, increasing choice. And that's what he believes the public health care option will do.

But, again, those -- those principles are what are key to him. At the same time, that's also why he supported that option for so long.

BLITZER: Well, let me rephrase the question then.

If there were no public option in this final bill, would he sign it?

BARNES: Wolf, you've asked the question a lot of different ways and my answer is still the same. He's been a long time advocate for that option because of those reasons. We're going to continue to talk to the House and Senate and make sure that he gets a bill on his desk this fall. And he believes that those principles are key to getting health care done and done right.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to another sensitive issue -- how to pay for health care for all Americans. It's not going to be cheap. Some say $1 trillion. He's got cuts that he wants to put forward that will bring in some of that money.

But is it going to require, when all the dust settles, an additional tax increase on rich Americans?

BARNES: Well, the president has long said he believes -- and he's put on the table savings to get this done. And he's advocated for that in several different ways. And he's put that on the table since he put his budget blueprint out back in February.

At the same time, again, he's also said, I'm going to bring people to the table. I want to hear what everyone has to say so we can get the rest of the way to paying for these this health care reform bill. So he's in a posture of listening and being intrigued by things that he's hearing. But, again, he believes savings is the key way to get this done.

BLITZER: Well, he's certainly open to a tax surcharge, as it's called, for people earning more than, let's say, $300,000 or $350,000 a year.

BARNES: Well, he said that he's intrigued by that proposal, but he wants to hear more. There are a lot of proposals that are going back and forth in the various committees as the Finance Committee and as the House works through this. But there hasn't been a consensus reached on that.

He wants to hear what the consensus is. And he's intrigued by the fact that they want to get this done along with him.

BLITZER: If there is legislation that gets passed in the House and Senate and he signs it into law, when will these reforms actually start to take shape?

BARNES: Well, we think there are -- there are a lot of reforms that will take -- begin to -- people will see their benefit almost immediately. We know that over the long-term, people will see their costs start to go down and that's been his primary concern, that middle class people who are seeing their incomes drop, but their health care premiums go up, be able to pay for health care reform.

At the same time, there are things that we'll be able to see immediately. People will be able to get the preventive care that they need. That will also drive down health care costs. And they will be able to do that without additional out of pocket expenses.


BARNES: We'll also begin to...

BLITZER: Well, I was going to...

BARNES: ...see a cap...

BLITZER: I was going to interrupt because some of the legislation says it's really not going to take effect until 2013.

BARNES: Well, there are other things that we'll be able to see almost immediately. We'll be able to see the fact that health care providers will have to provide -- think about the quality of care that they're providing, and not necessarily the most expensive care, as being the best care that's being provided. The kids will be able to stay on their -- on plans until they reach the age of 26, so that we know a broader population that parents and their guardians are concerned about, will be covered. We also know that gender discrimination -- if you're a woman and your health care costs right now are higher simply because you're a woman, that that's no longer going to be allowed.

BLITZER: And all of that will take effect right away, as soon as the president signs it into law?

BARNES: Well, no. The -- things will be phased in based on the implementation data of the bill. But we know that we'll start to see those things phased in as soon as Congress allows for that deadline or the deadline to kick in.

BLITZER: Is the first lady ready to use her enormous political popularity right now to be more assertive in helping the president get health care reform passed?

BARNES: Well, I think the first lady is going to stay the course. I mean she's always been actively engaged in this conversation, starting with the garden and issues of child nutrition and childhood obesity -- those kind of preventive and wellness issues that we know help drive down health care costs. And she's going to continue to talk to American families about those issues because she knows they're as concerned about them as she is concerned about them for her own family.

BLITZER: Melody Barnes is the president's domestic policy adviser.

Melody, thanks for joining us.

BARNES: Great. Thanks so much, Wolf. I appreciate it.


BLITZER: He survived a series of bomb attacks and was sent back repeatedly to the combat zone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't choose to get blown up before I made sure and had 20 years of active duty.


BLITZER: Only later did it become clear what a terrible, terrible price he had paid. Barbara Starr has our look at broken government.


BLITZER: In our look at broken government, he served his country, but did his country serve him? Why would an American soldier be sent back to the battlefield with an injured brain? It happened not once, not twice, but several times. We're bringing you this story because he may not be the only one who received this kind of treatment. And for him it had the worst of consequences. Once again, here's CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Heartbroken family and friends gather for the funeral of Lieutenant Colonel Ray Rivas, a soldier whose invisible wounds finally became too much for him to bear. The 53-year-old soldier had dedicated his career to rebuilding war-torn countries, but war tore his own life apart. Earlier this year, Ray made a difficult journey to Capitol Hill.

LT. COL. RAY RIVAS, DIAGNOSED WITH BRAIN INJURY: I didn't choose to get blown up.

STARR: Remember those words. Ray had served several tours of duty, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been in repeated bomb attacks. The blast waves of each incident causing injury to his brain. Yet he kept getting sent back to war over and over. Doctors finally realized his brain was being slowly destroyed.

The final blast? Iraq, October 2006. Ray was MedEvac-ed to Germany, but then convinced doctors he was OK. Once again, he was sent back to the combat zone. A week later, ill and confused, he was finally diagnosed with an initial traumatic brain injury and shipped home for good.

He was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where the full extent of his injuries still seemed to allude doctors. Some thought he was just experiencing combat stress, one of his colleagues tells CNN. But it finally became clear, Ray was a soldier with a serious traumatic brain injury.

ADRIAN ATIZABO, DIABALED VETERANS OF AMERICA: This happens when a soldier is exposed to multiple blasts and their brain physically changes.

STARR: At that Senate hearing, his wife, Colleen, did most of the talking, explaining the devastation of Ray's brain injury.

COLLEEN RIVAS, RAY RIVAS' WIFE: He couldn't do simple things. And just getting dressed, just feeding himself, and he stuttered terribly.

STARR: In his written testimony to Congress, Ray said even when he was finally sent to Brook Army Medical Center in Texas, quote, "I was pretty much on my own for two, three months." Ray said the only help he got with his personal needs was from other soldiers.

C. RIVAS: When he first arrived at BMC, he just sat there in a room.

STARR: Finally, the military assigned a caseworker and Ray got the massive amounts of therapy. He seemed to improve.

But on July 15, he lost his battle. He died alone in his car here at Brook, an apparent suicide. There were prescription pills and notes he wrote to his family, according to colleagues.

(on camera): Ray's family declined an interview request. The military would not discuss Rivas' medical condition due to privacy issues. But CNN was given an internal military message written by those directly familiar with his case. It says at the time of his death, quote, "Ray was severely debilitated from his repetitive brain injuries. He showed signs of a patient with rapidly progressing Alzheimer's." (voice-over): According to the Army, perhaps as many as a third of wounded troops experience some level of traumatic brain injury from being in bomb attacks.

ATIZABO: If a soldier falls through the cracks and is doesn't get the care they need, they're not diagnosed, they're not treated for traumatic brain injury, their outlook on life is going to be -- it's going to be terrible.

STARR: Ray was also upset that after everything he had been through, three decades of military service in both the active duty and reserve, he still didn't qualify for a full military and VA pension.

R. RIVAS: I didn't choose to get -- to get blown up before I made sure and had 20 years of active duty.

STARR: Friends say Ray knew his condition would only worsen over time.

(on camera): It's not certain what happened in his final hours or how Ray Rivas got so many prescription pills. But Rivas's war ended here, steps from the front door of the hospital where he had been treated. A colleague says his friends believe Ray simply was in pain and tired of fighting those wounds that so many thought were invisible.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonial Rivas and his family certainly are not alone. As of May, the Defense Department says more than 48,000 military men and women have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. If you're a veteran or you have a loved one dealing with traumatic brain injury, here's one place you can turn to. The defense and veterans brain injury center. You can call the center or find it on the web at

The comedian Bill Maher says Sarah Palin is missing something deep in her DNA. Maher is dead serious about Palin's exit as Alaska's governor and his fear that she still has a political future.

And Governor Bobby Jindal's state is getting more than $3 billion in stimulus money, but the Republican isn't willing to give President Obama any credit. Standby for my interview with Governor Jindal.


BLITZER: Among Republican critics of President Obama, one who gets a lot of attention is the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Some say he could challenge the president in 2012 in the presidential race. So what does the governor think about the president on health care and the economy? I posed that and other questions to the Louisiana governor.


BLITZER: Are you ready to give the president of the United States some credit for turning -- helping to turn this economy around?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Look, I love what he says. And I -- I do have a lot of skepticism about, in D.C., the fact they think that we can spend our way into prosperity, borrow our way into prosperity. Now they want to tax our way into prosperity.

It was auto bailouts. It was TARP. It was the stimulus. Now it's the health care plan. But -- but, Wolf, let's give credit where credit is due. When he talks about health care reform, when he talked to the national...


BLITZER: I want to get to health care in a moment, Governor.

JINDAL: Sure. Sure.

BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting.

Let's stay on the stimulus for a second. Louisiana -- we just checked -- they were getting, your state, $3.3 billion, part of the economic recovery, the stimulus money. Already, they have made, what, they say, $2.2 billion available. They have paid out almost a half-a- million -- a half-a-billion dollars, $480 million.

I assume, even though you -- you hated the stimulus package, you're taking the money, and it's helping.

JINDAL: Well, a couple of things.

One, we -- we looked at it line by line. We said, we're not taking some of the unemployment money. We're not taking some of the dish (ph) money. We're not taking some of the TMA money, because we thought they would have increased obligations on our state.

BLITZER: Of the $3.3 billion, how much aren't you taking?

JINDAL: I think the unemployment was over $100 million. I don't have the other numbers off the top of my head.

But the bottom line is this. I think they could have done more to stimulate the economy if they had been aggressive, if it had truly been temporary and targeted, as the president said, if it had been more aggressive on the tax cut side, if it had been more aggressive in speeding up infrastructure spending that was going to happen another way, like the investment in our roads. I think...

BLITZER: But the $3.2 billion that you're taking, you're -- you're happy with? You're happy? That money is going to help your state and the people of Louisiana?

JINDAL: Well, I think they could have done more to help our state to get the economy growing.

Here's what I worry about, Wolf. That added to the deficit. That's a deficit my children and grandchildren are going to have to pay back. It's not free money. That means interest rates, inflation rates will eventually go up, the currency will go down. And, so, what I worry about is, in the short term, for the sake of short-term spending, are we creating longer-term problems for our people?

I think it would have been better if had been more focused, more targeted, temporary, as the president described his original intent behind the stimulus.

BLITZER: Let's talk about health care reform, a subject close to everyone's heart.

Listen to what President Obama says.


OBAMA: Because the truth is, we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn't always work well for you.



BLITZER: All right, he was referring to the fact that there are millions of Americans who do have health insurance right now who are very scared, if they ever need it, it won't be there for them.

How worried are you about this point the president is making?

JINDAL: Oh, I think he's right.

I think several things he says on health care is right. Look, we need to reform the insurance market, so it's truly portable, so it's required to cover people when they get sick, so that you can take it across state lines, across jobs. It doesn't make sense to have insurance if it's not there when you truly need it.

It needs to cover preexisting conditions. I like what the president has to say when he talks about choice and competition, a plan that is fully paid for, doesn't add to the deficit, that uses electronic patient records, that you don't have to give up your insurance if you like it. You won't be forced into a government-run plan.

My concern is, that's not what the House bill does. Again, I agree with a lot of what he says. I thought he did a great job talking to the country last week. but you look at the House Democratic plan, you look at a plan that adds to the deficit nearly a quarter-of-a- trillion dollars, increases taxes during one of the worst recessions we have seen -- I don't know why anybody would want to raise taxes now -- but, third, and most importantly, introduces this concept of a government-run plan.

Studies indicate as many as 100 million Americans may leave their private insurance for this government-run plan. And let's be clear.

BLITZER: Which studies are you talking about?

JINDAL: Well, the Lewin estimates -- the Lewin study estimates it could be as many as 100 million. The Urban Institute has done their own study, tens of millions. There are a range of studies.

But it really comes down to this fundamental point. Why do we think we need a government-run plan to make the insurance market...

BLITZER: Well...

JINDAL: ... to fix the insurance market? Yes, we need to fix the insurance market. I'm not saying -- I'm not defending the status quo. But we don't argue for government-run factories, or government- run stores, or government-run TV stations, for other marketplaces.

Why do we believe we need a government-run plan to make health care work? I think that it is very, very doable to get a bipartisan reform agreement on fixing the problems in health care.


JINDAL: But the Democrats have to decide, do they want a government-run plan...

BLITZER: All right.

JINDAL: Do you want take a step towards a single-payer system, or do they really want to focus on reducing costs and making health care more accessible and more affordable?

BLITZER: On the -- on the Lewin -- on the Lewin study, that's part of a group owned by you United Healthcare, so, a lot of folks are thinking that's not necessarily an objective observer of the scene, since United Healthcare has a huge stake in trying to avoid some sort of government competition for the private insurance industry.

JINDAL: Well, Wolf, whether you look at the Urban study or you look at the Lewin Institute, the bottom line, though, is, we have seen what happens when the government tries to run health care. We have seen what happens when the government tries to run banks or car companies.

The bottom line is, look at in Medicare and Medicaid. The government routinely underpays providers, shifts costs to the private sector. You're going to have a taxpayer-subsidized system that has government subsidies.

And the problem with that is, they will be able to underprice the private sector, shift those costs temporarily, drive out that competition. There are things we can do, like allowing people to pool their purchasing power, so they can actually avoid health care coverage.

There are things we can do, like going after the cost of defensive medicine. One study says it could add up to $100 billion to the cost of health care. Let's go after those frivolous lawsuits. We don't hear any mention of that in this plan.

Really, you know, I want to...

BLITZER: All right.

JINDAL: ... give Senator Kennedy credit. He, at least, a couple of weeks ago, in "Newsweek," said his ultimate goal originally had been a single-payer government-run health care system.

I think the Democrats can get a bipartisan deal, as long as they're willing -- they have a fundamental choice. Do they want to drive down costs or do they want a government-run health care plan?

BLITZER: Well, we will see what happens.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JINDAL: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: You can always count on the comedian Bill Maher to be provocative.


BILL MAHER: I would never put anything past this stupid country.


BLITZER: Just ahead, Bill Maher let's loose on Sarah Palin's political future. And he explains why he's not a Communist.


BLITZER: Critics have been slamming the health care reform effort as socialized medicine. Now the comedian and an HBO talk show host Bill Maher is bashing the health care business, calling for profit hospital chains and I'm quoting him now "jiffy lubes with bed pans."

The host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" is joining us now.

Bill, thanks very much for coming in.

BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO'S "REAL TIME": Hey, Wolf, you see if I wrote for you, you see how funny you'd be?

BLITZER: You'd be very -- you would be funny, too. I'm not a very funny guy like you.

Let -- let's get to health care in a moment, because you had a strong commentary on it the other night. But let's talk about Sarah Palin first, now the former governor of Alaska. And among other things, in her departing comments, she said this.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: You're going to see anti-hunting, anti- Second Amendment circuses from Hollywood. And here's how they do it. They use these delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets. They -- they use Alaska as a fundraising tool for their anti-Second Amendment causes.


BLITZER: All right. She made some references to Hollywood. And since you're out there in L.A. You know something about Hollywood. I want to give you a chance to respond.

Did you have a chance to watch her comments in announcing that -- you know, in her formal final remarks as governor?

MAHER: Of course, Wolf. I would never miss a Sarah Palin speech, even though there seems to be a new one every week.

I mean how many times does this woman get to quit?

But, I -- first of all, I want to know who is this tiny starlet she's talking about?

Miley Cyrus...

BLITZER: Well, somebody...

MAHER: ...or Ash...

BLITZER: Somebody who went up to...

MAHER: Ash...

BLITZER: Somebody who did some sort of PSA in Alaska, I guess.

MAHER: But, you know, I mean when you think of tiny starlets, I think of Ashleigh Olsen. I just want to know who she's talking about.

Second of all, I think it's a little ungrateful.

Who has been better to guns than Hollywood?

Hollywood does nothing but make movies with a million guns killing people and blowing everything up. So she should reconsider her remarks.

BLITZER: Do you think she has a future nationally as a presidential candidate?

MAHER: I don't know about a presidential candidate, but I would never put anything past this stupid country. Possibly. I think she certainly could get the nomination, considering what the Republican Party has become and where they are right now. I think she still has a high favorability rating, but it's always going down. The more people see her, the less they usually like her. I think she's probably too much of a loose cannon, which is something she also shoots wolves with, by the way, to run for president. You have to be pretty disciplined to run a national campaign over months and months and months. And she just didn't seem to have that in her DNA, as she would say.

You know, this speech she just gave was another rambling sort of no address. You'd think after the last one and all the criticism it got she would have said to whatever handlers or people she has around her, OK, let's do this speech now like a laser. Let's just get it right down and focus, this is my last shot. But no, it's another rambling attack on tiny starlets. I mean, she's the gift that keeps on giving to comedians. I'll tell you that.

BLITZER: All right, I know you've got some good material that you've used from her over this past year.


BLITZER: Let's talk about something you said the other night on "Real Time with Bill Maher." And I want to play this clip, this is you.


MAHER: As conservatives get to call universal healthcare, socialized medicine, I get to call private for-profit healthcare, soulless vampire bastards making money off human pain.

The more people who get sick and stay sick, the higher their profit margins, which is why they're always pushing the Jell-o.


BLITZER: All right. It was very funny stuff, your commentary. I know you had a very serious element in there, as well. But what's the point? What would you want to see emerge from this whole health care debate in Washington?

MAHER: Well, something. First of all, obviously, I think everybody in Washington and most people in the country agree that at least a starting point. Maybe this won't be the most perfect bill, but obviously, this is something that presidents going back to FDR have been trying to accomplish in America. And as the president says every time he broaches the subject, to do nothing is a disaster. We can't do nothing. Doing nothing is actually worse.

So, you know, hopefully he'll get the Blue Dog Democrats on board and they'll have something.

But if I just may address the bigger topic, you played the clips about health care. What that editorial was really about was the idea that there used to be some things in America that were not for profit, health care was one of them. Not that doctors didn't make money, but certainly insurance companies weren't in the mix like they used to be.

I also mentioned prisons. Prisons were not something that we ever farmed out to private corporations, but now the correction -- I forget the name of the company, but is a correctional institution, company, rather, that's on the New York Stock Exchange. There's a reason why the number of prisons and prisoners in this country has skyrocketed and that we have more prisoners per capita than anywhere else in the world -- because it helps the bottom line of corporations.

Also, I mentioned war contractors. We have more private contractors in Iraq than we do soldiers. They're paid a lot more than the soldiers -- they do things soldiers used to do for themselves like laundry and cooking meals.

And the fourth one I mentioned was television news, something you're very familiar with. That used to be a loss leader, that used to be nonprofit. You know, a generation or two ago, not everything in this country had to be for profit. Some areas were roped off and we said that's just too important to put the profit motive in because the profit motive always poisons everything to a degree, but we've changed, we've become a different society. Everything has to be for profit now and some things shouldn't be.

BLITZER: And I know you feel strongly about that, as well, although you're not saying that there should be no room for capitalism in our country. Capitalism has been good.

MAHER: No. Of course, capitalism is good. I am not a communist. No. I am a capitalist, absolutely. But as a society, we used to understand that it didn't have to go everywhere. You know, when capitalism becomes this religion -- and it's ironic, because usually it's the people who are most religious in this country who believe or at least treat capitalism like it is truly their God, unfettered. I would say capitalism is the correct economic system. Communism was trying to make the river flow the wrong way.

No. You have to use human selfishness, that is what capitalism is. But there have to be some dams and locks on the river.

BLITZER: That's a point that you made in your commentary, your editorial, the other night. I'm going to have you standby for a moment. I want to take a quick break, but we want to continue this conversation with Bill Maher. We're going to get his take on how the president is handling the controversy over Professor Henry Louis Gates and that arrest.



BLITZER: Let me get back to Bill Maher, the host of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO, our sister network.

Bill, a couple little clarifications, because we're getting flooded with e-mail ,already. Earlier, Sarah Palin, I asked does she have a future ahead and you said something to the effect, I don't put anything past this stupid country. So, people are already complaining that you're calling the United States a stupid country. I'm giving you a chance to clarify.

MAHER: I don't need to clarify. It is.

BLITZER: Well, tell me why you think the United States is a stupid country.

MAHER: Because Sarah Palin could be president. Please, do I need to expand on that anymore? Yeah, I do, in general, I mean, it's a big country, that's the great thing about it, there's 300 million people here. So, within this large country, there are tens of millions of very bright, intelligent people, you know, the ones who are watching us, not the ones who are writing the e-mails. But, you know, in general, gosh, you know, this country just gets dumber and dumber by the day and I don't think I have time on your show to list all the reasons.

BLITZER: But, you -- this country did elect Barack Obama president of the United States.

MAHER: Look who he was running against. Yes. I mean, look at the situation. I mean, this was after eight years of Bush, which was, you know, a -- pretty much a disastrous presidency. John McCain was not a very attractive candidate, and of course he picked Sarah Palin to run beside him. And, you know, given that choice, I think Americans, you know, came to the fore on that one, but just because they elected a bright guy doesn't mean they're bright.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Professor Gates, this controversy. How do you think the president's handling this uproar?

MAHER: Well, I'm sure he wished he picked his words differently, but I don't think he was wrong. You know? There's a guy who used the word "stupid." and look what happened to him.

BLITZER: You don't think it was wrong for him to say the police acted stupidly?

MAHER: Absolutely not, I think they did. You know, I'm not even sure if this is really a racial situation, because -- you know, I don't know if this cop is racist, but I have to say, you know, it seems to me more like a police situation. I mean, I think Henry Louis Gates was arrested for the crime of not kissing the behind of the police officer. And I think that's too often the problem we have in this country with the police.

You know, Michael Moore, when he made his brilliant movie about health care, he said something interesting, he said what he found out is in America the people are afraid of the government and in France the government is afraid of the people.

Well, in a similar way in this country, I think the people are afraid of the police and it shouldn't be that way. I asked this question on the show Friday night, I still don't have an answer -- why was this man arrested? I can see why the police came. I can see why they went into his home. I can see why they asked him to step out. But, at that point they knew everything they needed to know about the situation. He wasn't a burglar, it was his home. Who was being threatened?

If you arrest somebody, I assume it means because they are in some way a threat. What was the threat? Why couldn't that policeman just walk away at that point?

BLITZER: Well, I one there, you weren't there, we don't know the extent of the disorderly conduct, if there was, in fact, disorderly conduct.

MAHER: Disorder -- come on, Wolf. Wait a second, disorderly conduct?

BLITZER: I don't know if there was.

MAHER: He's a 58-year-old -- he's a 58-year-old crippled professor. Are you telling me he was a threat to the people in his neighborhood? He was going to go on a rampage with his cane?

BLITZER: Well, no.

MAHER: I mean, come on.

BLITZER: Some of his colleagues, Sergeant Crowley's colleagues, including African-American cops who were there, they backed him up. They back up Sergeant Crowley in saying he did absolutely the right thing.

MAHER: Yes, because they're policemen and they stick together. But, I'm telling you that's the wrong attitude. I'm not saying there aren't good cops, of course there are, probably most of them. But, I just think there is a bad attitude also that you find too often in the ranks of the police. You know? And that attitude is if you don't kiss my behind I'm going to arrest you.

BLITZER: All right, I want you to give me a grade for the following individuals, a quick grade in the six-month mark of the Obama presidency and tell me how they're doing, "A" being the best, "F" being failure. Barack Obama.

MAHER: I would give him, at this point, an A-minus, B-plus. I mean, it's only been six months. Obviously, he inherited a huge mess, but it looks like the economy is, you know, fingers crossed, turning around to a degree. It certainly could have been a lot worse. We were facing a sort of a meltdown. It could have gone the other way. I don't think we're out of the woods.

There's a lot of areas I've been critical of. I've had a lot of criticism of my show recently from the left who say you're being too hard on Barack Obama, to which I say, that's my job, to be hard on the president, to hold his feet to the fire. But given what he has inherited and where we are now and what's possible, you know, working with a Congress that he gets no help from the Republicans and his own party are very often not a lot of help, you know, I think he's doing pretty good.

BLITZER: What about Joe Biden?


MAHER: Well, you know, I love Joe, but even my patience is wearing a little thin with Joe.

BLITZER: What grade...

MAHER: This whole idea of -- I guess I'd give Joe a C-plus. You know, I'm not sure all the things he's doing, because some of the things you don't hear about that the vice president is doing. You just mostly hear about the comments that he makes.

And, you know, this idea that I'm not going to change, I'm just going to be Joe, I'm always going to be -- change a little, Joe. You don't always have to say everything that comes into your head, you know? Have that mechanism that edits. Don't always be voicing your entire interior monologue.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Maher, I can honestly say, as always, you are still very politically incorrect, but that's bill Maher. His show airs Friday nights on our sister network HBO, "Real Time with Bill Maher." Thanks for joining us.

MAHER: OK, Wolf.


BLITZER: In South Korea, high school students pull tires for exercise in a survival camp. It's one of our hot shots pictures, worth a thousand words.


BLITZER: Let's look at some of this week's hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. In South Korea, high school students pulled tires for exercise as part of survival camp. And in Washington, two kids felt the wind from President Obama's helicopter as it took off from the White House. Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

From the X files to Austin Powers, a massive auction is now underway, after a warehouse of Hollywood props closes down shop. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abby Tatton. What can I buy?

ABBY TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Well, you've got 90,000 pieces to choose from basically. This is a warehouse called 20th Century Props. It's in North Hollywood. And it's absolutely jam packed with stuff that is now all up for auction. All of these, and I think some of them you're going to recognize. Remember Austin Powers, when Austin Powers was cryogenically frozen? Well, that's the cryogenic chamber if you need one for your living room.

We also found Dr. Evil's escape pod in there somewhere. If that's not your cup of tea, there's a nuclear warhead from the film "Broken Arrow," nuclear warhead that was activated by John Travolta and then later killed him. And then we've got one for you, Wolf. It's not just Hollywood movies. We've got music videos, as well. That is the champagne glass that Beyonce danced in. I thought you might be interested in bidding on that one.

BLITZER: How much do you think that could go for?

TATTON: Well, they really don't have any estimates right now, but the whole lot is insured for about $8 million.

BLITZER: Why are they doing this?

TATTON: It's part of the economic downturn. But also in Hollywood there's been a lot of production that's been moving out of Los Angeles. Harvey Shorts is the owner of 20th Century Props and he says he's just not able to rent all this stuff out as much, anymore. There's a slide show of the stuff at So you can take your pick.

BLITZER: This stuff - they'll make money on this.

TATTON: They'll make a lot of money.

BLITZER: I want some of that.

TATTON: You got to go,

BLITZER: I don't have $1 million for Austin Powers.

TATTON: You didn't just do that.

BLITZER: No, thank you.


BLITZER: 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. Eastern on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.