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President Obama Huddled With War Advisers; Cross on Public Land Enflames Anger; GOP Sees Favorability Increase

Aired October 7, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama huddling right now with his top war advisers exactly eight years to the day that U.S. troops went into Afghanistan.

This hour, when will all the talking end and a new war strategy be announced?

Plus, they turned to CNN when they were gouged by a credit card company. Now Congress is responding to our report and demanding immediate action.

And I'll have a few laughs for the comedian Lewis Black, his funny rant on everything from Sarah Palin, to Hillary Clinton, to the war, to tweeting. All that coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.


Over in the White House Situation Room right now, two numbers are weighing on the minds of the president and his top national security advisers. Eight, the number of years the United States has been at war in Afghanistan as of today, and 865, the number of Americans killed since day one of the war.

We're standing by to get a read on the talks in the Situation Room that are going on right now, and when the president might reveal his battle plan for the months and years to come.

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching the story for us.

Ed, this is a huge meeting because the clock is ticking.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is the third of five urgent meetings the president is convening in the White House Situation Room over a few weeks. Today has a specific focus on Pakistan and special significance because this is the eighth anniversary of the start of the war.

What we've learned today that's new is that top White House aides are saying that the president now has officially the document, the resource request from General Stanley McChrystal. We've been waiting for him to get that. White House aides say that he got it last Thursday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates handed it to him before he flew to Copenhagen for the Olympic bid.

What this means now is the president officially has this document to review the details, not just that General McChrystal wants up to 40,000 troops, but how many of those are actual combat troops, how many are trainers, how much money does he need, weapons, et cetera? But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today was still adamant about saying that the president wants to work out the strategy in these meetings before he starts dealing with the resources.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not prejudging the outcome of the discussion based on some range of resource requests. I think we've done and we've all seen what happens when you prejudge what's going to happen, dedicate a certain number of troops, and then come up with a strategy.


HENRY: So, they clearly want to do it the other way and make sure the strategy comes first. Then the specific troop levels, et cetera, will come next.

Now, the significance of the president getting this document from Stanley McChrystal, the commanding General, though, is that this shows that he is inching closer to a decision -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So when will that decision and that new strategy emerge?

HENRY: Well, White House aides are now saying that as early as Friday, when the president holds his fourth of these five meetings, is when he will start talking with his national security team officially about that resource request.

Then there will be a fifth meeting next week, and I'm hearing from top White House advisers that the president is likely to announce a new strategy in Afghanistan as early as the end of this month, the end of October, or early November. It could slip into early November, and White House aides say that's only because they want to make sure they get it right and that's more important than doing it fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume General McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he's being beamed into the Situation Room via teleconference for this meeting. Is that right?

HENRY: Absolutely. That's the expectation, along with General David Petraeus as well.

And I should point out, my colleague Barbara Starr also pointing out at the Pentagon that we're learning that this troop request from General McChrystal is also still going to go through the chain of command. So, Secretary Gates and others are getting it. It's not just going directly to the president.

And so, the president is going to get another copy of this troop request in the next few days, probably, that will have remarks and suggestions from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, General Petraeus, others in the chain of command. That's important because the president is going to be getting advice, as you say, from these generals, top civilian and military officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stand by to see what time this meeting breaks up. It's going on right now.

Ed Henry is over at White House.

By the way, the Republican senator John McCain, he'll weigh in on eight years of war in Afghanistan later tonight and what President Obama should do about it. Senator McCain will be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE." That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.

President Obama's troubled plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp cleared a hurdle in Congress today. House and Senate negotiators unveiled a compromise that would allow Gitmo detainees to be transferred from Cuba to the United States only to face trial. They could not be released in the United States or serve their sentences in U.S. prisons.

This sets the stage for a clash with Republicans and a potentially difficult vote for dozens of House Democrats. Just last week, the House approved a Republican plan to block any transfer of Gitmo detainees to the United States.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there's been yet another delay when it comes to health care reform. Gee, there's a surprise.

The Senate Finance Committee vote on its bill was expected to happen as early as yesterday. Now we're told it's going to be pushed back possibly into next week.

This is so the Congressional Budget Office can take a look at the numbers. It's a $900 billion piece of legislation. They want to make sure cost and revenue estimates are what they are supposed to be. And here's the reason.

Tax experts say that this Senate bill would impose $29 billion more in taxes on health care industries than originally thought, and, of course, this is just another reason for the Republicans to continue fighting reform. It's also another sign of how far health care reform really has to go before it can become law.

Consider this -- pay attention now -- there are five health care bills in all. Two in the Senate, three in the House. All but this one that we're talking about have passed their respective committees. When and if the Finance Committee passes this bill, it will then be combined with the other Senate bill into one bill, which will then be debated on the floor of the Senate and eventually voted on. Same thing over in the House -- one bill to be created out of the three that exists there now, then debate and an eventual House vote.

If the Senate and the House versions both pass, then those two bills go to a conference committee. They will be reconciled there and put into final form, a single bill, which will then be sent back to both houses of Congress to be debated some more and voted on. And if that bill passes, only then will it go to President Obama for his signature.

Piece of cake.

Here's the question. When do you think we'll see health care reform?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

A long way to go.

BLITZER: We've been waiting, what, about 70 years? So, I guess we'll wait a little bit longer.

CAFFERTY: Could be at least that much longer.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

It sits high atop land owned by the federal government, and it's caused a high legal drama that's now landed in the nation's highest court. A religious symbol in the desert is the subject of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on this day.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has been following this controversy. She's joining us now with the latest.

Kate, you were over at the Supreme Court. How did it go today?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very interesting day in the court, Wolf, I have to tell you.

We went out to the Mojave see this cross ourselves, and it may be in the middle of desert land, but it took front and center here today. And the justices seemed divided.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Henry and Wanda Sandoz are the unofficial caretakers of this cross boarded up by order of a federal judge. It was first erected 75 years ago as a war memorial.

HENRY SANDOZ, MOJAVE CROSS CARETAKER: It was put here by the veterans, for the veterans of all wars, and that's where it should stay. BOLDUAN: The cross stands in the middle of 1.6 million acres, now a federally owned desert preserve. And the Sandozes came to Washington to help defend the cross against efforts to have it removed.

PETER ELIASBERG, ACLU OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Our veterans fight and are honored under one flag. They are not honored under the religious symbol of one religion.

BOLDUAN: The ACLU is representing the former park ranger, a Catholic veteran, who filed the original lawsuit. Jewish and Muslim veterans groups support their argument the cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. But the Obama administration, backed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, says it's a traditional memorial to honor war dead, not a religious symbol.

KELLY SHACKELFORD, DIRECTOR, LIBERTY LEGAL INSTITUTE: This was not put up by the government. It was put up by veterans. This is the symbol they chose.

BOLDUAN: The nine justices seemed split along ideological lines. Justice Antonin Scalia, "It's erected as a war memorial. What would you have them erect?" he asked, "Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and a half moon and star?"

Others conservative justices suggested Congress had come up with a valid solution in 2004 when it tried to transfer the one acre around the cross to private hands. But liberal Justice Stephen Breyer argued that didn't cure the problem. Visibly animated, he said the government ignored a federal order the cross be removed, saying, "You are violating that injunction."


BOLDUAN: Now, supporters of this cross say that they fear a ruling against them could threaten religious symbols -- a range of religious symbols on government land, memorials and beyond. But, Wolf, the court in recent years has taken a case-by-case approach on this issue, and it seemed clear from the questions in court today that they will continue this very narrow approach, this fact-specific approach when it comes to this case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan over at the Supreme Court watching this important case for us.

Thank you, Kate.

One of the most powerful Democrats in Congress under new pressure right now to quit his post. We're going to tell you how Republicans are going after Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.

And credit card holders who say they were gouged may soon get some relief with help from CNN. Members of Congress stand up and take notice of our report. You're going to find out what it could mean for you.

And how far would a TV host go to raise his ratings? Wait until you hear why this on-air personality is now on the run.


BLITZER: Less than a month until Election Day in key races. Which party might fare better? And how do you rate the president and the Congress?

Republicans may be smiling over some brand-new poll numbers.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Sort of encouraging for Republicans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. The Republicans did get some good news today, Wolf.

Take a look at these new Gallup polls.

You know, this is a preference poll. The question is asked, "If elections for Congress were held today, which party's candidates would you vote for?"

And while Democrats beat Republicans by a couple of points, if you take a look back to where this same poll was right before the election, you see that Democrats were preferred by 15 points. So, you see that the Republicans have gained a lot of ground, Wolf, and that's always an indicator -- this so-called generic ballot is always an indicator of how people are going to vote in upcoming elections. And now we have some experts saying that it's 50/50 whether Democrats actually even keep control of the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: It sounds to me like the Republicans are pretty good at opposition in getting their message out.

BORGER: Yes. You know, they have had this strategy. Lots of folks have made fun of it, the "Just say no" strategy, but it's actually worked for them, because what they are doing is they're gaining the support of those Independent voters. Independent voters now favor Republicans, according to this poll.

And so, at the White House they are taking a look at this, and there's some folks saying in the White House, you know what we ought to do? We ought to just call their bluff.

And if there's another economic package, for example, Wolf, they could put some provisions in that that the Republicans would have to vote for because they would like them, like tax incentives for business, for example, or extending unemployment benefits, which, of course, would be difficult to vote against in an election year.

BLITZER: You write a column at today entitled "So What's a President To Do?" And he's got plenty to do, I know that. He's got a full agenda.

BORGER: But, you know, it is this sort of call their bluff strategy. There were a lot of folks who thought that he still should do that on health care, that he should come up with a smaller compromised version of health care reform and say, what can we all support? What insurance reforms can we all support? And force them to kind of go along with him on certain things.

Liberals wouldn't like it, but it would appeal to those Independent voters.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, thanks very much.


BLITZER: The head of the powerful tax writing committee is now under growing pressure to step down. That would be the New York Congressman Charlie Rangel. He's been under investigation for a year over several issues, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported income that he apparently did not pay taxes on.

Republicans took a new shot today at Charlie Rangel, trying to force him to give up his committee post. He's chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

So, what happened today, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was Republicans' third attempt and third failure to unseat Charlie Rangel from his chairmanship. And this is a hugely important committee, Ways and Means. It deals with a lot of important domestic issues, everything from health care reform, to climate change, as well as other things related to tax issues.

And this resolution, no, it was not successful. No surprise there. Democrats who have the votes in the House were able to kick this resolution over to the Ethics Committee, which has been investigating Charlie Rangel now for more than a year. But what Republicans did manage to do was get what was really a laundry list of admitted and alleged tax and ethics-related violations of Charlie Rangel's read aloud on the House floor.


REP. JOHN CARTER (R), TEXAS: Representative Charles B. Rangel has earned more than $75,000 in rental income from a villa he has owned in the Dominican Republic since 1988 but never reported it on his federal or state tax return.

Whereas, since then, further serious allegations of improper and potentially illegal conduct by Representative Rangel have surfaced. Whereas during the recently completed August district work period, Representative Rangel acknowledged his failure to pay -- failure to publicly disclose at least $500,000 in cash assets, tens of thousands of dollars in investment income, and his ownership of two pieces of property in New Jersey. Whereas corrected financial disclosure statements filed by Representative Rangel on August the 12th, 2009, now reveal his net worth to be nearly twice as much as had been previously revealed.


KEILAR: Chairman Rangel was actually sitting in the front row there on the House floor listening to those allegations read aloud, some of them that he has admitted to. And ahead of this vote, our congressional producer, Deirdre Walsh, caught up with the chairman. He spoke exclusively to CNN, and as he has over the last year, he defended himself.


REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), CHAIRMAN, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: Yes, I can. The way it works in the House is that when allegations are made and referred to the Ethics Committee, what is normally done is members wait until the Ethics Committee completes its investigation and its report. That's what I'm hoping happens with the Republicans.


KEILAR: Now, Democratic leaders in the House are standing by Rangel. We spoke with Speaker Pelosi herself today. She said she stands by him. And Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said it would be premature to take any action against Rangel ahead of the Ethics Committee releasing its finding.

And Wolf, it's a pretty secretive process. We don't know when that's going to happen.

BLITZER: But as you say, that vote was lopsided in favor of Charlie Rangel. The Republican effort failed.

KEILAR: That's right. The Republican effort failed. There were a few who voted with Democrats, but, by and large, it was along party lines.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much. We'll continue to follow this story, Brianna.

He's the former military commander who was responsible for Afghanistan, indeed the entire region. We're talking about retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He used to head the Central Command. He's here to explain why he thinks President Obama should make a decision over more troops to the war, and he should make that decision right now.

And among the details in the scandal, a female astronaut who allegedly drove cross country to stalk a romantic rival, all supposedly while wearing a diaper. You might not believe what has just happened in this rather...



BLITZER: It's not exactly a book club like Oprah's, but two selections on President Obama's reading list are getting a lot of attention right now, and the president may have a lot riding on those books.

Stand by.

A voice of experience weighs in on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. I'll speak to the former commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni.


GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FMR. COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: You can't win hearts and minds, convince the people they are safe, do all the non-military things you have to do without security. And I think that's the point of General McChrystal's request, and I believe he's right.

BLITZER: To send another -- as many as 40,000 more troops?



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

Happening now, the man who calls himself the toughest sheriff in America says he's been stripped of power. He's been going after illegal immigrants. Now he says the federal government has tried to stop him. But Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls it a conspiracy.

He's here to explain what's going on.

Will he be thought of as the new Bob Hope? The comedian Lewis Black entertaining U.S. troops? He's here and he's pulling few punches or punch lines.

And an emotional unveiling over at the U.S. Capitol. There's a new statue of Helen Keller, who overcame blindness and deafness, and there was an emotional ceremony featuring a visually impaired young girl.

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

Afghanistan used to be his responsibility. We're talking about the retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He's a former commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, and he's taking a very keen interest right now in what's happening in Afghanistan.

He's the author of the book "Leading the Charge," and the general is urging President Obama to make a decision about troop levels right now.


BLITZER: General Zinni, thanks very much for coming in. ZINNI: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Eighth anniversary of Afghanistan, the war. Let's walk over to Tom Foreman and our Magic Map, and get through some of the issues that the president right now, even as we speak, is considering in his own Situation Room.

Sixty-eight thousand troops. The U.S. has committed 68,000 already in Afghanistan. Now a debate of the 30,000, 40,000.

Where do you stand on this?

And Tom, help us better appreciate what's going on.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is where the troops are right now, General. Tell us about this.

ZINNI: Well, I think obviously can you see a large part of the country that's not covered. And if you intend to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, you need security. I mean, that's -- that's important. You can't win hearts and minds, convince the people they are safe, do all the non-military things you have to do, without security.

And I think that's the point of General McChrystal's request. And I believe he's right.

BLITZER: To send another -- as many as 40,000 more troops?

ZINNI: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Can you guarantee, if you do that, that the mission will be accomplished?

ZINNI: I don't think you can guarantee anything, but I think you need the space, the security space, for the ability to do the non- military things.

And you need the time, the time to develop the Afghan forces, get the government on its feet, convince certainly reconcilable so-called Taliban that -- that maybe will want to be weaned away from the Taliban themselves.

FOREMAN: General, these have been the areas, the darkest red in here, where we had the most casualties in this country.

When you look at this map, you see where the most conflict has been, and you talk about more people going in, where would you put them?

ZINNI: I -- I think it's important to put them where General McChrystal wants to begin the emphasis on, on building through a counterinsurgency strategy, a relationship with the people, extend the reach of the Kabul government.

He may have to do it in the beginning as sort of almost like an oil stain, moving out. He may want to reach out into certain provinces, where the threats are greatest, where maybe the -- the best possibility of success is, where there are people that can be won over, and he has indications of that.

BLITZER: The president says -- and all of us agree -- this is clearly a momentous decision he has to make, and he needs some more time to make sure the strategy is right. Is there anything wrong with taking as much time as necessary before deciding on what that strategy should be and how you implement it?

ZINNI: I don't think there's anything wrong with reviewing the strategy. I think that the things that are wrong have been that it's become too public. We're sort of airing it out, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Whose fault is that?

ZINNI: Well, I think whoever leaked the -- the first McChrystal request for troops started the ball rolling, and then after that it's become too public a debate.

I do think there's a problem with taking too much time. I think, if you if you wait -- if you take too much time, it looks like you're dithering and you're indecisive. And our allies, as well as our enemies and our friends in the region, will all begin to wonder if we're really committed to this.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you a little bit about the strategy in this area.

One of the ideas that's been proposed is the idea of saying, let's move back from the really remote regions, focus more in the urban areas and focus more on protecting the Afghan people.

I guess the key question I have here, is an awful lot of soldiers have said to me over the years, when you do that, you feel like you're a sitting target, because you're taking the fight to them never, and letting them bring it to you whenever they want.

ZINNI: I don't think you -- it's an either/or. You obviously have to put people -- troops where the people are. That's this whole business of hearts and minds, but you have to conduct operations into the areas outside that to interdict and keep off balance the enemy.

You don't want the enemy to gain the high ground, for example, have the freedom to maneuver. And, so, I think you conduct offensive operations in those areas. But where the people are is where you try to control the population, so that you can build on the programs that relate to what the people's needs are.

BLITZER: For -- for centuries, General, outsiders have tried to come into Afghanistan and control the situation. The British failed. The Soviets, as you well know, failed.

What makes you think the U.S. and its NATO allies can succeed in Afghanistan, where no outside power has ever succeeded?

ZINNI: Well, there's one big difference. We're not here to stay. We want to work ourselves out of a job.

I think that it's important to convince the people that we're different in that respect. We're not some conquering empire coming there to hold this terrain and exploit it. We want to give it back to the people. They have seen what the Taliban have done, so -- and they can -- they can make a choice, but they have to see what we can provide, too, and what benefit can come from that relationship. But it will take security to convince them.

BLITZER: And -- and you differentiate between the Taliban and al Qaeda. You think these are two separate operations? Because we sort of tend to lump them all in.

ZINNI: I would -- I would not even lump all the Taliban together. I think there are tribal leaders and tribal militias that aren't ideologically based or -- or founded, and are working with the Taliban maybe for money, maybe just because they don't want you in the village, and you haven't been able to get in there to convince them otherwise.

And then al Qaeda, obviously, referred to as the foreigners out there are something different, so I do think you have to think about each piece of the enemy.

BLITZER: So, quickly, should the U.S. be negotiating with elements of the Taliban?

ZINNI: I think absolutely, just like we did in Anbar Province in Iraq, where we found that there were reconcilable elements in those that we were fighting.

And my time out here with Pakistanis and Afghanis, they believe honestly there are reconcilables. But I think we have to have one set of conditions for anybody that is negotiating, and not separate deals that are done locally.

FOREMAN: Can this be an Afghan solution, or must this be an Afghan-Pakistan solution?

ZINNI: It has to be a regional solution, and not just Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban are beginning to stretch their reach up into Central Asia, into Uzbekistan and into Tajikistan, maybe even in Turkmenistan. And, obviously, the Indians play a big role in this. And...

FOREMAN: You have two nuclear powers right there.

ZINNI: Two nuclear powers, one that had the Taliban 65 miles from their capital. You saw the bad guys strike in Mumbai and elsewhere, trying to provoke maybe another incident. They have been at war with each other three times. And this would be devastating.

BLITZER: There's -- there's no doubt, unless you have -- you have better information, the Pakistanis recently have been much more assertive and aggressive in trying to help the U.S. deal with that threat along their border with Afghanistan. ZINNI: And that -- and what's key now is, they have a long memory about the first Afghan war, where it was felt we deserted them, left 500,000 refugees there, left in their back door -- they are very shallow in terms of strategic depth -- an unstable country.

And now they have committed themselves into the federally controlled tribal areas, and now into Waziristan, which is going to be a tough fight right along the border.

FOREMAN: Off in this area.

ZINNI: And they -- we cannot let them be faced with a situation where we withdraw from Afghanistan or lower our troops, and that becomes a safe haven.


BLITZER: We're going to continue our conversation with General Zinni in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. He's got all sorts of thoughts on what's going on in Iran right now -- it used to be his area of responsibility -- especially the nuclear facilities there, the military option, if in fact there is a military option. Remember, he's the author of "Leading the Charge." Here's the book jacket, Tony Zinni's new book, "Leading the Charge."

Want to go right up to Capitol Hill right now. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is getting some important numbers that could move this health care debate forward, or maybe not.

Dana, explain what's going on.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is, we just got word from the Congressional Budget Office. This is the very important organization here on Capitol Hill that tells senators and lawmakers what the cost of their legislation is.

And they just gave information that the cost of the very important proposal in the Senate Finance Committee is $829 billion over 10 years.

Now, this committee, we have all been paying attention to it for weeks, because it's so important in terms of what it does, because it could be the outlines for what could be the president's health care proposal. They have been in a holding pattern, waiting for these numbers, because they can't vote until they get the cost.

So, this is the cost, $829 billion over 10 years. Not just that. It apparently reduces the deficit, Wolf, by $81 billion.

BLITZER: They -- because they say the tax increases that are included in this proposal that the Senate Finance Committee put forward would help pay for all of these -- all of these expenses; is that right?

BASH: exactly. And that is really a key, key point, and that is that the president has said time and time again -- and these key senators have said time and time again -- they won't do anything that is not paid for. Well, this is not only paid for, but it actually -- according to the Congressional Budget Office -- this proposal reduces the deficit.

So this means that the committee will go forward. They will have a vote. We're not sure exactly when, potentially as early as tomorrow. But politically I think it's important to note that, you know, we have been listening to so many senators, moderate Republicans, but also, importantly, conservative Democrats, who are incredibly worried about the cost of this health care proposal, because they are hearing about it big-time back home.

This is a lower cost certainly than the House, which is -- which is about $1 trillion, and it is probably in the ballpark of what many of these conservative Democrats can stomach.

And, also, I got to tell you, I just happened to be interviewing a moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, when we got this news. I was interviewing her on a different subject. And I told her the number. And she said, oh, it's below the magic $900 billion number.

So, that just kind of gives you a sense of why, in the Finance Committee, among Democrats, and inside Senator Baucus' staff, they are very happy, because they think that this number is good news for them moving forward.

We still have to know the details of what it really means for people, what it really means for people who many senators are worried about, in terms of middle-class Americans, whether or not they could afford health care with this proposal. We're still looking through the details.

BLITZER: And I have just been noticing this new CBO estimate includes an estimate that 94 percent of legal residents in the United States would be covered...

BASH: That's right.

BLITZER: ... if the Senate Finance Committee report were to go through, that one proposal.

All right. We will see if it does the job in terms of convincing some of those moderate Democrats on the fence and one or two moderate Republicans to come on board. We will see if it has that kind of impact, which I'm sure a lot of Democrats would like to see.

All right, Dana, thanks very much for bringing us that information.

Congress is making new demands of credit card companies right now, and it's all because of a CNN report -- you saw it here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday -- profiling a couple forced to pay through the nose.

Stand by. Jessica Yellin, she broke this story. She's got more.

And an Arizona sheriff is stripped of his power to arrest illegal immigrants out there in the field or the streets of Phoenix or elsewhere. He's fighting back right now against the federal government. He will explain what is going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now, an example of CNN getting results.

We profiled a couple for you yesterday, victims of what one watchdog group called the worst abuse by a credit card company he had ever seen. Members of Congress certainly saw our report right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And now they are demanding action.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here. She broke this story for us.

Remind our viewers, Jessica, what this is all about.


We reported on the Lanes. They are a couple, one of millions of families like them across the country, whose credit card payments have suddenly and dramatically risen, as credit card companies try to change their rates and practices before new regulations go into effect.

Well, members of Congress saw the story. They were enraged by the facts and say many of their own constituents are going through the same thing. Now they are demanding the banks take action.


YELLIN (voice-over): This week, CNN told you about Chuck and Jeanne Lane, a couple that's played by the rules, but their credit card company, like so many others, has jacked up their payments ahead of new regulations that go into effect next year.

CHUCK LANE, CREDIT CARD CUSTOMER: I'm calling to find out why my payment jumped from $370 to $911 this month.

YELLIN: Through no fault of their own, the Lanes' monthly minimum payment more than doubled. Now they will have to decide whether to pay the card or get surgery Jeanne needs and support Chuck's son in college.

(on camera): Do you have a message you would want to give to Congress?

LANE: I would like Congress to take a stand for the American people and stop credit card companies from making these kind of changes that do have major impacts in people's lives.

YELLIN (voice-over): Guess what? Congress is listening. Freshman Congresswoman Betsy Markey saw the story on CNN.

REP. BETSY MARKEY (D), COLORADO: It gave awareness to people like me, other members of Congress who saw that and were just outraged by the fact that credit card companies are just blatantly increasing rates solely because they know that, once the law takes effect, they are not going to be able to do this anymore.

YELLIN: She and 17 other members have since written the banks, calling on them to stop raising rates and changing policies ahead of the new credit card bill.

Bank of America had already announced it's freezing its rates for now, but Chase, the company that holds the Lanes' credit card, tells CNN they have no plans to do the same. And Wells Fargo, they are raising their interest rate 3 percent.

An industry representative says the card companies are just trying to protect themselves in a rocky economy.

SCOTT TALBOTT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE: The industry is not making changes to interest rates or lines of credit in anticipation of the new law. It's simply a reflection of the changing economic times.


YELLIN: Now, members of Congress have already introduced a bill to move up the date at which all these new rules would go into effect for the credit cards. They are holding a hearing on it tomorrow.

But guess what, Wolf? The banks say they can't move up the date, because they need much more time to get their computer systems up and running for all the new limits on them.

BLITZER: Of course they do.

YELLIN: It's all about the computer.

BLITZER: I'm sure it is.


BLITZER: All right, thanks. Good work. Thanks for that. And a lot of folks out there are thanking Jessica Yellin as well. Appreciate it.

Could it really be easy to buy a gun illegally?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private collection, no tax, no paperwork.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, no background check?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, good. I probably couldn't pass one.



BLITZER: Undercover video said to expose illegal gun sales, wait until you see the footage. We have it, and you're going to hear about the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's involvement in all of this.

And back in Black -- the comedian Lewis Black says exactly what's on his mind. He does it all the time. So how is he entertaining American troops? And how does -- how political does he really get? Lewis Black, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and he's pulling no -- no punches.


BLITZER: There have been so many senseless killings of children in Chicago. The city is in shock, and the nation is taking notice.

In the past school year, 34 public school students died in violence. Just recently, we saw the shocking beating death of a 16- year-old honor student, Derrion Albert. His final moments alive were captured on cell phone video.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, he went to Chicago, along with the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, to discuss ways to battle violent youth crime. Holder calls what's happening in Chicago a wakeup call to the entire nation.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Youth violence is not a Chicago problem, any more than it is a black problem, a white problem, or a Hispanic problem. It is something that affects communities big and small and people of all races and all colors. It is an American problem.


BLITZER: Later tonight, by the way, Anderson Cooper is going to be "Keeping Them Honest" in Chicago. He has a special report. Why are so many children being shot and killed in Chicago? He will be on the scene for us in Chicago, "A.C. 360" live from Chicago later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made it his mission to expose illegal gun sales. After conducting an undercover investigation at gun shows in three states, he now has released hidden camera footage of what he says are private vendors making illegal sales.

Let's bring in our Internet correspondent, Abbi Tatton. She is looking at story for us.

Abbi, how did he do it? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's with cameras concealed in baseball caps. Mayor Bloomberg sent private investigators to gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee, and Nevada, where they told vendors, I want to buy a gun, but I couldn't pass a background check. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private collection, no tax, no paperwork.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, no background check?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, good. I probably couldn't pass one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of those things, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear you, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Let's do it.



TATTON: That seller wasn't alone. Nineteen of 30 private sellers approached were willing to make the sale.

Unlike licensed dealers, private or occasional sellers at gun shows don't have to carry out background checks, but they are barred by federal law from selling laws to people they believe are prohibited.

Mayor Bloomberg wants tougher laws. He is calling on Congress to close what's called the gun show loophole to pass a federal law to require background checks on all sales at gun shows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How is Mayor Bloomberg specifically involved in all of this?

TATTON: Well, he's saying that he just wants to pitch in. Mayor Bloomberg has long campaigned for stronger gun laws and has carried out undercover stings before. This one comes as he's campaigning for reelection.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association did question what the mayor of New York City was doing so far from home, saying he should leave law enforcement to law enforcement. But the NRA said of the videos, anyone who knowingly violates the law is not getting one ounce of sympathy from us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that. Art appreciation now on display over at the White House -- what do Michelle Obama's new choices tell us about her taste? Stand by for that.

And a sheriff known for cracking down on illegal immigrants has his hands tied by the federal government. What's going on? The sheriff, he's here with his side of the story.

And, later, the comedian Lewis Black describes President Obama's message of change in a way you have probably never heard before.


LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN: It's not even right. It's just not right.

BLITZER: "Going Rogue," that's the name of her new book.



BLITZER: All right, here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Indonesia, a father carries his son over trees downed by a landslide.

In New York, traders consider the next move on the floor of the stock exchange.

In Turkey, British and Italian athletes compete in the Fencing World Championships.

And, in Afghanistan, two girls play on a swing -- "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our "Political Ticker" today, we get a glimpse into the first lady's taste in art. Check out some of the works she's chosen to adorn the White House residence and the East and West Wing offices.

Take a look at this. With the help of curators, Mrs. Obama seemed to gravitate towards a good deal of abstract art, like that red oil painting by Ed Ruscha. Seven of the approximately 45 paintings are by African-American artists, including William Johnson's this portrait of Booker T. Washington.

Four works are by Native American artists, and 12 depict Native Americans, including George Catlin's "Buffalo Chase, With Accidents." All the art works are on loan from Washington-area museums.

Very impressive.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: Something much more mundane.

The question this hour, when do you think we will see health care reform?

Tom says: "We won't see real health reform with the current system. Insurance companies try to maximize profits, while health care institutions do the same thing, two different and conflicting goals. In this system, profits can grow when consumers suffer, because the measures of company profits vs. consumer satisfaction do not depend on each other. When we have a system where the goals of health care providers and the payment providers, whatever form they take, are the same, then we will have reform, not before."

J. writes: "The politics of postponement alive and well in Washington. Even if health care reform is passed this year, we won't see the first wave enacted for at least four more years. It will probably be phased in over six to 10 years. Only legislation backed by lobbyists is enacted in a few months."

Alice in Alexander, Arkansas: "Next year. I don't understand why we can't get this done. Other nations have been able to come up with a plan that works for their people, but, for some reason, we can't. If senior citizens and the poor are entitled to basic health care, so should the rest of the American people."

John in Cleveland: "When the Democrats get the courage to do what all the polls say their constituents want, instead of doing what the insurance companies and their lobbyists want," which may be never."

C.K. in Honolulu: "It may be a watered-down bill or one that is slammed through with narrow Democratic majorities. However, given President Obama's absolute political need for a health care reform bill to pass, something will come through."

And Anthony writes: "Not until next year, or ever. And the final bill will be so watered-down that no real reform will happen. The fact is, the Democrats and President Obama have dropped the ball on this totally. What the hell is the point of a majority if you don't use it?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check my blog at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: CNN sources are revealing new details of President Obama's top secret war council meetings and the strong push by the vice president, Joe Biden. He is at odds, apparently, with some of the president's top commanders on the field in Afghanistan about what to do next in this war. We will go in-depth on Joe Biden's stance, where he is right now.

Also, a sheriff who made his reputation cracking down on illegal immigrants suddenly has his authority revoked by the federal government. Now he's alleging a conspiracy. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

And I will also go one-on-one with the comedian Lewis Black. He has got a lot to say about Sarah Palin, President Obama, the war in Afghanistan, and much, much more.

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