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War Council Debates Next Move in Afghanistan; Sources Say Biden at Odds with Generals; Women's Group Blasts Letterman

Aired October 7, 2009 - 17:00   ET




President Obama convening his top national security advisers over at THE SITUATION ROOM at the White House -- the second such meeting in two weeks, as he tries to mull over a new strategy what to do in Afghanistan. The country's next moves in the faltering war in Afghanistan at stake right now.

This meeting comes eight years to the day since the U.S. invasion that drove the Taliban from power. And the insurgents once again pose a grave threat to the overall U.S. and NATO mission.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now with more on what's going on -- Barbara, specifically, what do we know about what the U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are telling the president they need?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. -- the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has made no secret of it -- he needs more troops. And within the next 48 hours, the White House is expected to begin discussing that point.


STARR: (voice-over): Suddenly, President Obama is looking at the request to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, even though he has not yet announced a decision about a new strategy for the war, which is exactly what the president said he would not do.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question.

STARR: Last week, just before the president met in Copenhagen with his Afghanistan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal, the president asked for a copy of McChrystal's troop request, which is believed to call for as many as 40,000 additional forces. It's not how the military usually makes plans for war. The president hasn't yet heard troop recommendations from his top military advisers, who would normally be part of such a massive decision.

Are the top officers being shut out now?

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: I think I'm getting from your line of questioning that there's some concern that the chain of command is being cut out of this process. Well, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

STARR: But Morrell readily admitted that while the Pentagon is now working on its ideas for more troops, it may be meaningless.

MORRELL: I think things can work in parallel, in the sense that it can operate through the -- the chain of command for formal vetting and comment and so forth. But, ultimately, it means, frankly, nothing until there is a decision made about the way ahead.

STARR: One reason for all of this -- the Pentagon was worried the highly classified troop request, just like McChrystal's assessment report, would get out in public.

MORRELL: I think we wanted a -- we wanted to avoid any opportunity for leaking of this before the secretary -- before the president had an opportunity to see it himself.


STARR: And, Wolf, we have learned that yesterday, the chief -- the Joint Chiefs met in the tank here in the Pentagon to start discussing their views about how many troops needed to be sent to Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The tank -- that's the Situation Room over at the Pentagon, right?

That's the secure conference meeting -- meeting room?

STARR: Indeed. Indeed, it is, just down the hall from where we are right now.

BLITZER: I'm very familiar with the area.

All right, thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

Meanwhile, a key player in the debate, the vice president, Joe Biden -- he's said to be at odds with some of the president's top commanders in Afghanistan.

We asked CNN's Brian Todd to take a closer look for us and explain -- because there is some confusion -- exactly where the vice president stands.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, administration sources tell us the president's closest advisers all have the same goal -- to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But it's the strategy for getting there that's the subject of increasingly pointed debates inside the White House. And we're told Joe Biden is right in the middle of them.


TODD: (voice-over): Administration sources tell CNN of a forceful direct vice president in White House Situation Room meetings on Afghanistan. The sources say Joe Biden has pointedly challenged America's top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, over McChrystal's proposal to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops there. By all accounts, Biden vehemently opposes that plan.

Publicly, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs downplayed the disputes in describing a recent meeting.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody raised their voice. Nobody -- there was just a sort of calm discussion about where we are.

TODD: But administration sources tell us in those meetings, Biden has intensely pushed his own proposal to keep U.S. troop levels where they are and to focus the mission more on rooting out Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters with Predator drones and Special Forces raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, has also spoken with administration sources about the meetings.

(on camera): Has he changed the dynamics of this decision on Afghanistan?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Before you had the vice president weighing in, you had a lot of folks just assuming that whatever General McChrystal recommended was what the president was going to approve. After all, McChrystal is his guy.

Now, I think the conversation inside that room has really shifted, become a little bit more nuanced -- what do we need for counter-insurgency in different parts of Afghanistan?

TODD: (voice-over): Sources say Biden's gotten his own push back in the meetings from principals who said his ideas are problematic.

As a senator, Biden opposed the surge of troops in Iraq. But in the Balkans and elsewhere, he has favored the use of military force. Sources say with Afghanistan, Biden has become increasingly disillusioned with the government of President Hamid Karzai.


TODD: Now, what we're told by administration sources is that none of this is personal. It's not a personal feud between Biden and General McChrystal. It's not personal between Biden and President Karzai. They said Biden simply had growing concerns about committing so many additional troops to Afghanistan to support a government there that has not adequately addressed issues of corruption and mismanagement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does the vice president also have a problem with how resources are allocated between Afghanistan and Pakistan, for that matter?

TODD: He does. And he has said repeatedly the U.S. spends something like $30 in Afghanistan for every $1 they spend on Pakistan, even though, in his view, the threat to U.S. national security is much greater in Pakistan. He's kind of hit home the point, those resources have got to be divided more evenly.

BLITZER: The debate will continue.

It's underway at THE SITUATION ROOM at the White House right now. And I'm sure the vice president is making his views very, very clear.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thank you, Brian, for that.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the Democrats may be in some trouble come next year's mid-term elections. There's a new Gallup Poll out showing that 46 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their Congressional district if the election was held today. But 44 percent say they would support the Republican. And that is a toss- up, statistically speaking.

The Democrats held a much larger lead over Republicans from 2006 right through the end of last year. What's interesting about this is that the stronger showing by the Republicans comes from the support of Independents, who now favor Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 45 percent to 36 percent. As recently as July, those numbers were dead even.

Another potential sign of trouble for Democrats is Congress' job approval rating, which now stands at 21 percent.

How bad is that?

Democrats are in charge of both houses.

Historically, in the mid-term elections, the party that wins the White House loses seats in Congress. The average loss -- 16 House seats. But some election experts think the Democrats could lose a lot more than that come next year. One analyst says the Democrats have 25 to 30 seats that are truly vulnerable, plus another 40 where there's a chance of a competitive race. He says the Republicans only have 10 to 15 vulnerable seats.

Even though President Obama's approval ratings are ticking back up a little here and the Democrats are hoping for results on health care and an improving economy, those Independents, along with seniors, are moving toward the Republican column. And seniors are the group most likely to turn out an masse and vote in the mid-term elections.

So here's the question -- how bad will the 2010 mid-term elections be for the Democrats?

Go to and weigh in on this here question.

BLITZER: We love politics and we'll be watching.

Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: The best political team on television -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I've heard that before and I believe it, actually.

Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you do.

BLITZER: Thank you.

By the way, we have another way for you to follow what's going on in here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm now on Twitter and you can get my Tweets at -- wolfblitzercnn all one word. You might find it interesting.

The comedian, Lewis Black, he sets his sights on politicians, including Sarah Palin.


LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN: The death panel -- you can't make stuff up that isn't there and -- and say it's a fact. Her problem is she says things and she believes they're real. And that's got to stop.


BLITZER: So what does he really think of Sarah Palin?

What about Nancy Pelosi, Hilary Clinton, President Obama?

Lewis Black -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America stripped by the U.S. government of the authority to go after illegal immigrants -- and he says it's all part of a conspiracy.


SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY: If I can get help from the Feds, I'll do it. Evidently, they don't like what I'm doing so they took away my authority on the law enforcement part of our operation. But that's OK. It doesn't bother me.

I'm still going to lock them all up.



BLITZER: Welcome back.

The organization -- the National Organization for Women now has just released a statement involving the "Late Night" TV host, David Letterman, and his admitted affairs with female employees. The group is calling for CBS to take action.

Terry O'Neill is the president of NOW.

And Terry is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What do you want CBS to do?

TERRY O'NEILL, PRESIDENT, NOW: Well, I -- I would like to meet with them. I -- I want them to look at their decision-making structures. I want them -- if I don't think that their -- if, I know their board is not 50 percent women and it needs to be 50 percent women and here's why.

The kinds of behaviors that David Letterman appears to have admitted to -- and we don't really know a lot of details. But this -- this -- this the boss -- the big boss who is having serial sexual relationships with subordinate staffers, this creates a toxic workplace environment for all of the women.

I myself have experienced that, where young women were coming to me and saying, can't you make this change?

This guy, every year, is picking out a different woman that he's going to have sex with. And we all know it and it's just making us all crazy.

BLITZER: Even if it was consensual?

O'NEILL: That's not the point. The point is that what the boss is doing is, is he is separating the -- the women from the men. And the women are for sex and the men are there for their talents and skills. It's wrong and it creates a toxic environment for the men, as well as the women.

BLITZER: There are cases, though, where men and women work in the same environment, one is a boss, one is not necessarily.

O'NEILL: Sure.

BLITZER: They fall in love, they get married and they live happily ever after.


BLITZER: Sometimes that does happen.

O'NEILL: Sure. That's not this case. This case is serial sexual relationships between the boss and the woman. Now, if that's not happening on "The Letterman Show," fine. It seems to be what he -- it seems to be what he admitted to. But I will tell you, I've talked to women all over the country and we know that that kind of toxic environment does exist all over the country. And it's no surprise. Workplaces, for one thing, are severely sex segregated in our country. A lot of people don't realize that.

Do you believe he was engaged in sexual harassment?

O'NEILL: That is a question of employment law. I'm not an employment lawyer. Don't know, don't care. Don't care because whatever the law is, the law is. If anybody wants to sue him, that's fine.

My point is that this is a moment when we, as a country, can step back a moment and look at workplaces all over the country. And if the boss, in fact, is singling out the young women -- I'm going to have sex with you and then you and then you -- this -- this creates a pervasive atmosphere where the women know what they're there for.

BLITZER: He has come...

O'NEILL: And it's not for their job.

BLITZER: He has come forward with a very public apology to his staff, to the women, to his wife.

That's not good enough for you?

O'NEILL: No, not even close. A good first step, not -- not -- not even close to being enough, because the reason that he's able to do this, by the way, is because of the pervasive inequality in the workplace between men and women. And what he needs to do, if he really wants to make this right, is he needs to actively participate in creating real equality in the workplace between men and women. And -- and at -- at the very least, at every level of decision-making where there's real authority being exercised in every workplace, it ought to be the same number of men and the same number of women making those decisions.

BLITZER: Did the National Organization for Women criticize Bill Clinton back in the '90s when he had his affair with Monica Lewinsky, who was an intern at the White House?

O'NEILL: Absolutely, condemned it. Not just criticized, condemned that behavior.

BLITZER: I don't remember.


BLITZER: But I'm -- I'm taking your word for it...

O'NEILL: No, she did.

BLITZER: ...that they did.

O'NEILL: No. Patricia Ireland was the president at the time and that -- and behavior was condemned...

BLITZER: So you...

O'NEILL: ...clearly.

BLITZER: So you see that this is -- whenever this kind of situation happens, NOW would step forward and -- and say what you're saying now?

O'NEILL: Oh, sure. And, look, as I said, I'm not talking about here whether it constituted a legal infraction of the sexual harassment laws. That's not -- that's not my issue, really. That's his issue. My issue and I think the National Organization for Women's issue is what kind of environment do we have for women all around the country. And let's recognize that the behavior that, again, it seems like he's admitted to that kind of behavior, does create a toxic environment for everybody in the workplace.

BLITZER: So even though the women -- at least no one has come forward and said they were coerced but -- at least we haven't heard any evidence along those lines.

O'NEILL: Right. Right.

BLITZER: That is irrelevant as far as you're concerned?

O'NEILL: Of course. That's not the point. It's not the point. The point is whether the women have come to understand have been -- have -- whether it has been indicated by the boss' behavior that they're there for a very different reason from why the men are there.

BLITZER: So -- so you want to meet with Les Moonves, the head of CBS, is that what you're saying?

O'NEILL: Absolutely. I want to meet with him. I want to talk about his decision-making structure. I want to talk about his power structure. I think it's time for women to achieve full equality.

BLITZER: And you want to meet with David Letterman, as well?

O'NEILL: Absolutely, and talk about his decision-making structure in his company.

BLITZER: And so far, you have no response from either CBS or Worldwide Pants, which is his organization, right?

O'NEILL: No, they can't respond yet, because we -- we -- I've -- I've just been talking to -- to my vice presidents about how to approach them and say we want to meet with them. But I'll tell you right now, we do want to meet with them.

BLITZER: I -- I hear you.


BLITZER: And the National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill.

Thanks for coming in.

O'NEILL: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: I'm sure they were hearing you just now, as well.

O'NEILL: Good. I hope so.

BLITZER: What should President Obama's next moves in Afghanistan be?


BLACK: I would like to see him cut the losses and pull out. To be honest, yes.


BLITZER: The comedian, Lewis Black, he's weighing in on the war, he's weighing in on Sarah Palin, Hilary Clinton and a whole lot more. We go one-on-one with Lewis Black. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.

This rare footage of this Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released today by the government of Myanmar. Take a look. The opposition leader is still under house arrest, but was allowed to meet with a government minister. Details of the meeting were unknown, but it is at least believed to be the case that it's a part of a move by Su Kyi to cooperate with the ruling military junta in getting sanctions lifted in return for increased freedom for her pro-democracy movement.

And masked young men in Istanbul, Turkey threw Molotov cocktails at a bank ATM machine and smashed windows at fast food restaurants in a second day of protests against meetings for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Some 20 protesters were actually arrested and the meetings continued without incident.

And at least one retailer isn't even waiting for Thanksgiving to start slashing prices on favorite Christmas toys. Target announced that popular toys, even icons like Barbie and G.I. Joe, are now selling at half price. This move follows price cuts at Wal-Mart, as retailers brace for the effects of recession on Christmas sales.

And NASA astronomers have discovered an enormous ring around Saturn, big enough to fit a billion planets the size of our Earth. It should have been easy to find -- well, not really, apparently. It's made of a thin mist of ice and dust and is virtually invisible. Astronomers found it with a Spitzer space telescope that picked up the slight heat it puts out in the infrared spectrum. But quite a sight to see, no matter what kind of technology you're able to use, right?

BLITZER: Love that Spitzer space telescope.


BLITZER: Thanks, Fred.

I didn't know about the Spitzer...

WHITFIELD: That was tricky to say.

BLITZER: telescope, but I'm sure we will learn more about it.

WHITFIELD: Now we know.

BLITZER: Thank you, Fred.

A showdown over illegal immigration underway right now. At the center of the dispute, an Arizona sheriff who says he's arresting illegal immigrants whether the Obama administration wants him to do it or not. The sheriff, Joe Arpaio, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Washington is a city of statues, but none like these -- we're going to tell you why this art piece broke new ground.

And Brazil's successful Olympic bid isn't getting everyone all that down here in the United States. The comedian, Lewis Black, he says this.


BLACK: You know why you don't need it here?

Because you get to see it on TV. And the only reason we want it here is so we don't have to kind of stay up late.

BLITZER: Although it's going to be in Rio, which is the same time zone.

BLACK: Is it the time...


BLACK: Oh, that...

BLITZER: Basically the...

BLACK: Yes, oh. Oh, then -- well, then we won.



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

Happening now, Iran's new uranium enrichment site is no longer a secret, but what should the U.S. do about it?

We asked the former head of the U.S. Military Central Command if that nuclear facility should be bombed and should be bombed soon.

A fight over ethics hits the House floor. In the crossfire, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress. Republicans taking aim at Congressman Charlie Rangel and Democrats jump to his defense.

And Wall Street's two day rally ends today. The Dow fell 6 points, closing at 9725.

But gold pushed into record high territory, climbing to more than $1,044 an ounce.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Sounding off about the politicians and the day's top stories -- a lot of people do it, but not many do it with as much humor as the comedian, Lewis Black. He has a new motion picture that's just coming out tomorrow entitled "Stark Raving Black."

And he's here in Washington, D.C. To headline a USO event later tonight. He loves the troops, has been to Iraq and Afghanistan to promote -- to help the troops and to show some comedy. He could be called today's version of Bob Hope.

I spoke with Lewis Black earlier today and asked him about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.


BLITZER: What do you think about what's happening in Afghanistan right now?

BLACK: I think -- I think it's -- why would you put -- it's -- you -- you can't -- you can't -- how many other countries -- what -- the Germans didn't invade there. That's all you need to know for all the -- you don't even need to know history. All you need to know is the Germans, who like to invade everyone and have during their lifetime as a country, didn't go in there. I just -- I -- I don't know if -- I don't know how you win on -- on a place that that's -- that's that insane.

BLITZER: Because this -- this week is eight years -- the eighth anniversary.

BLACK: Eighth anniversary.

BLITZER: After 9/11, a month later, President Bush went into Afghanistan. U.S. troops are still there. And the president right now, he's weighing a decision, a recommendation from his general, maybe dispatching another 40,000 troops.

BLACK: Yes, which I can't just comprehend. And I -- and I think -- I mean what makes it even -- the toughest part of this, to me, is, is that we have worn the troops out. I mean we've not worn them out in the sense -- I mean I don't mean that that in that kind of a way, that people will write letters and don't (INAUDIBLE). I mean that -- that, you know, these guys have gone back again and again and again. And they -- you're not -- you know, the -- they broke the rules in terms of the way in which you -- the military should be dispensed. We don't have that kind of manpower we had when we had a volunteer draft -- when we had a draft. And I -- I don't know if we...

BLITZER: So you want the president to cut his losses and pull out or -- or what?

BLACK: I would like -- I would like to -- I would like to see him cut the losses and pull out, to be honest, yes. Because I think -- I don't understand why, if -- if you're worried about where these keep kind of run amok and get trained, that if you're going to -- if you're going to still be, you know, blowing people up and, you know, shooting at people and having -- on a regular basis and being shot at -- why you don't do -- you've got -- what have we got, satellites and drones and all of that stuff that's out there just to keep an eye on them, you know.

And if they're -- you know, I mean and you go behind a mountain and there they are. And then you go, oh, there they are. And that's that.

BLITZER: All right...

BLACK: It's like what we did with Iraq. Do you want to know -- you want to kill Saddam Hussein.

So why don't you do what we used to do.

What they should have done is gone into one guy, a blow gun -- gone. These are simple things. And Afghanistan, they're not even electing -- you don't even know -- they can't even -- they can't even run the elections. So, I mean -- well, neither can we, but that's (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: It's not that easy running elections, as you know.

All right. Let's talk about some people in the news right now. I'm going to put up behind you and I want you to turn around. Look at that picture and give me the first thought that comes to your mind when you see the speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi.

BLACK: Not happy enough. You know what comes to mind? If you're going -- if the Democrats say they are going to reach out and we're going to do this and then they come up with her and Reid, I mean, really?

BLACK: Harry Reid, really, Reid who is almost incomprehensible when he speaks.

BLITZER: He's the senate majority leader.

BLACK: Yeah.

BLITZER: You don't like him?

BLACK: I think they are awful. I think it's unbelievable. I've reached the point with both the sides, there are tons of people who communicate, who can communicate well. She has done three or four times, you know, these kind of things come out of her mouth and the next day we've got to deal with it. You hire someone who is kind of affable and, you know, and trustworthy. I mean, she just -- you can't hire people who irritate people.

BLITZER: I've got another one. I've got top Republican in the House of Representatives; check him out, John Boehner of Ohio.

BLACK: Could anybody be meaner than this man? He is -- I rarely use -- this is the nicest way I can put it, full of, it and by full of it I mean full of himself. The level of arrogance this guy lives at is beyond comprehension.

BLITZER: You're an equal opportunity, Democrats, Republicans.

BLACK: We can't -- we can't come up with a third party? We really can't?

BLITZER: They have tried but it hasn't always --

BLACK: It's hard. It's really hard. It's a Coke or Pepsi country. Three and it's like, oh, no, Royal Crown Cola couldn't even survive

BLITZER: I remember Royal Crown Cola, is it still around?

BLACK: I don't think it is.

BLITZER: I don't think it is either. All right.

BLACK: If it was, I'd probably get some ad off it.

BLITZER: Here's another leader, the leader of the free world, there he is, the president, of the United States.

BLACK: I've always said -- this is a man who is full of hope and he really is. I mean, and that's what was so attractive. I've been around and done a lot of touring of Europe, performing over the summer. The kids in this country, the Europeans, they all gravitate towards him and it's because he is full of hope. He actually, Wolf, his nipples are bursting with hope. He's the first man and the first president in my life who is lactating hope. He continues to lactate hope.

BLITZER: It been tough the first nine months and didn't get the Olympics in Chicago.

BLACK: What did he -- you're going to go out there and --

BLITZER: Went to Copenhagen. BLACK: Why would he go there? Why?

BLITZER: The Olympics are important.

BLACK: For what? I mean, it's important to whoever the channel that's got it on.

BLITZER: NBC, they televise it.

BLACK: NBC who desperately needs something so good for them, they have it, but you don't need it here, and you know why you don't need it here because you get to see it on TV, and the only reason we want it here is so we don't have to kind of stay up late.

BLITZER: Although it's going to be in Rio which is the same time slot, basically.

BLACK: Well, then we won. Then we won. I don't know why the people -- the good people of Chicago would want millions of people running amuck in their city for two weeks.

BLITZER: Check out this secretary of state, and let me know how you think she's doing. What do you think?

BLACK: I think she's been great because I think -- I don't have to watch her much so that helps, and she pops in and says, you know, we're trying to get this done and then she disappears. It's good. It's a lot better than seeing her all the time. As a matter of fact, a lot of the other people you'd be better off if you didn't see them all the time. You know what? She at least seems to be doing her job. She goes and does her job. The others seem to like wander about the hallway, not working but looking for a camera.

BLITZER: When she was senator she focused in on New York State and now she's secretary of state, she's secretary of state.

BLACK: She's solid, one of the things I always thought about her, I mean, when it comes to -- what I always thought about al gore. There's certain people who really shouldn't be president and should be, you know, doing -- doing things like, you know, working in an office and working, you know, as a senator or doing, you know, or stuff where they can really -- where their skills really come to bear, and there are not a lot of people born to be president.

BLITZER: How about the forthcoming best selling author, the governor, former governor.

BLACK: It's not even right, Wolf. It's not even right, it's just not right.

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

BLACK: "Going Rogue," is that a color?

BLITZER: No, that's rouge.

BLACK: "Going Rogue," 1.5 million hard copies first printing.

BLITZER: No, come on.

BLACK: Yeah, yeah.

BLACK: Why? The saddest thing is to think that in my lifetime this could come to pass. Seriously, but I was born and raised around Washington, D.C. I look at the capitol and when I think, you know, Sam Rayburn, you know, Everett Dirksen, the -- the Fulbrights, statesmen in the sense, you know and coming to the plate, the ability to use language, work together and maybe that's the problem. Maybe -- in those days they would get drunk, maybe that's it. Now these idiots don't drink, and as a result they can't -- there's no camaraderie but this one, this one's got a problem. You can't -- there has to be a point where -- when someone makes stuff up that you have to say now you can't -- we can't -- you have to take a week off, like detention. There's a week that you don't get coverage. You don't get to blog. You don't get to do anything. You can't -- the death panel? You can't make stuff up that isn't there and say it's a fact because her problem is she says things and she believes they are real, and that's got to stop. There are facts and then -- and then there are half truths. The death panel -- here's what I thought when she started pontificating about that. I said they will kill my grandmother. My grandmother is dead. What do I care? Are you going to dig her up and kill her again? She's -- my father though, when I called him to ask --

BLITZER: He's 90, right?

BLACK: He was -- he's 91. I called him when she was -- during the debate to see what he thought and he said did you see her winking? How did she know I was watching?

BLITZER: Sending him a message.

BLACK: Sending him a message.

BLITZER: Good for your dad.

BLACK: Well, you know, I mean, for that's the only reason I like her because I think that give him another six years.

BLITZER: Lewis Black, he's a very funny guy. Tomorrow, part two of this interview. Guess what? He's only getting started. I think you'll enjoy what he has to say on former president Bush and a whole lot more. Part two of the interview tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He calls himself the toughest sheriff in America. Now he's in a fierce face-off with the federal government over illegal immigrants, and he's joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. plus, she beat all odds to become a pioneering advocate for the disabled. Now a one of a kind honor for Helen Keller under the capitol dome.


BLITZER: An Arizona sheriff known for cracking down on illegal immigrants is in a power struggle right now with the Obama administration. Joe Arpaio is outraged that federal officials have taken away his deputy's powers to make immigration arrests out in the field and on the streets. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us with more on this story.

We're going to speak to the sheriff shortly, Thelma, but give us some background. What's going on here?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona who now heads the Department of Homeland Security, says Sheriff Arpaio is reacting prematurely that no decisions have yet been made, but he says he is furious that the federal government is now meddling in his ability to enforce immigration laws in his state. Immigrants rights organizations say this is a big win for their side.


GUTIERREZ: He called himself the toughest sheriff in America, tough on crime, tough on prisoners, tough on illegal immigrants in Maricopa County, Arizona. Now he says the feds are trying to clip his wings. For two and a half years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies have had the authority to act as federal immigration agents under what's called a 287G agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate, apprehend, transport and detain people who are living and working in the country without authorization. Yesterday, Arpaio says, that power was stripped away by the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security told us that's premature. A decision has not been made.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: This is all a conspiracy. It started two years ago.


GUTIERREZ: Arpaio says he's now become the poster boy of the emotionally charged immigration debate, and he lost his federal authority to go after illegal immigrants for political reasons, but his critics say it's the other way around.

DAN POCHODA, ACLU ARIZONA: He has been going out solely to fuel his immigration base, anti-immigration base.

GUTIERREZ: The ACLU of Arizona says Arpaio lost his 287-G status because of his abuse of power.

POCHODA: He's unconstitutionally acted to racially profile many persons in the community, persons who appear or are Latino.

GUTIERREZ: ACLU attorney Dan Pochoda says Arpaio's high-profile suppression sweeps target all Latinos, legal and illegal. The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against him. The sheriff and his department are currently at the center of an investigation by the Department of Justice into allegations of civil rights abuses.

ARPAIO: I got news for all of these critics, all of these politicians, is I'm going to continue to do everything that I've been doing.


GUTIERREZ: And that sheriff says he will continue to enforce immigration laws in his state while immigrants' rights groups say they will continue to fight him. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thelma Gutierrez, thanks very much.

And joining us now from Phoenix, the sheriff who's right at the center of all of this, Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff, thanks very much for coming in.

ARPAIO: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: All of us know you're pretty tough on illegal immigration, yet you signed this agreement. Why?

ARPAIO: Well, anything I can do to help fight illegal immigration. We have state laws that I'm enforcing. I'm an ex-federal official with the Justice Department, 25 years. So if I can get help from the Feds, I'll do it. Evidently, they don't like what I'm doing so they took away my authority on the law enforcement part of our operation. But that's OK. It doesn't bother me. I'm still going to lock them all up.

BLITZER: So what -- what exactly does this prevent you from doing now that you used to do?

ARPAIO: Really, nothing. They think it is, but I do have state laws. I don't need the Feds. But I was a good partner. I'm the poster boy emanating from the White House on this 287G federal authority they give to local law enforcement. We've arrested and detained 33,000 illegal aliens, 25 percent of the whole country. And now they took that authority away.

But it doesn't mean nothing, because I will still do the same thing I've been doing the last two-and-a-half years.

BLITZER: Because, you know, your critics say you've been racially profiling individuals and they say that's illegal.

ARPAIO: I'm an equal opportunity cop. I lock everybody up. That's just the open border people and certain politicians in Washington and locally that do not want me enforcing the illegal immigration laws.

BLITZER: Secretary Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, she used to be the governor of Arizona, as you well know.

How would you describe your relationship with her now?

ARPAIO: Well, I -- I haven't talked to her since she left.

But you know what?

We may disagree. But once again, I don't report to the Feds or governors. I report to the four million people. So if she doesn't like what I'm doing, that's OK. But I'm still the elected sheriff and I will do what I feel is right for the people.

BLITZER: Do you like what she's doing?

ARPAIO: Well, I have some issues with -- with her. But I don't...

BLITZER: Like what?

Like what?

ARPAIO: Well, first of all, I know amnesty is coming. I know she takes her orders from the president. And I know what they want in the future. But don't take it out on me. Don't let me be the poster boy. But they are. But that's OK. And...

BLITZER: When you say amnesty, you're talking about a comprehensive immigration reform which would allow millions of illegal immigrants under certain conditions to stay here in the United States.

ARPAIO: Yes, I call that amnesty. You can call it anything you want. But that's the game plan. And slowly chip away, take away my authority, use me as an example. But I'm going to fool them all because I'm still going to do the same thing that I've been doing. And now I won't have to worry about the Feds with all their policies looking over my shoulder under their contract.

BLITZER: When you say you don't have to worry about them, you signed this agreement with them in which they restrict what -- what you can do, at least on paper.

ARPAIO: No, I signed and they -- they didn't think I was going to sign it. I fooled them. The minute I signed it, they ripped it up and came just with the jail part of it. So, but, you know, if they don't want me to -- help them out, which we've been doing for two-and- a-half years, doing all the work for them, that's OK.

BLITZER: But maybe I'm confused. But explain how you fooled them.

ARPAIO: Because they thought I was not going to sign the new agreement to continue working on the streets and running the jails with their program. But I did sign it. So that's why they sent their number two guy all the way down to Phoenix and ripped up that first part and only allowed the second part, which is the jail operations.

BLITZER: So you can go ahead and do what you want once they're in jail, but you can't necessarily pick these individuals up randomly on the street, is that what you're saying?

ARPAIO: I never picked them up randomly pursuant to our duties. But I will continue to do the same thing. There is a federal law that they have on their -- I'm sure they're going to look at that law now -- that states local (INAUDIBLE) can do what I've been doing anyway under that 287G. So I will implement that plus I will continue our state law operations. We have state laws here, too, that I am enforcing.

So I can get by with the state laws and get the job done the same way we've been doing.

BLITZER: Sheriff Arpaio, thanks for coming in.

ARPAIO: Thank you. .

Helen Keller, an inspirational figure now a permanent part of the United States capitol. We'll tell you why her new statue is so unique, and we'll show you the moving, singing performance at today's unveiling ceremony.

And Iran's new uranium enrichment site, what should the U.S. do about it? A former commander of the U.S. central command will give us his advice on what path President Obama should take.


BLITZER: Emotions ran high in the U.S. capitol today as congressional leaders gathered to commemorate the moment that a blind and deaf Helen Keller learned to communicate. The statue of then 7- year-old Helen Keller was unveiled showing her holding her hand under a water pump as her teacher spelled the word water into the other hand. The Alabama Governor Bob Riley described the significance of that moment.


GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: W-a-t-e-r. Five simple letters that helped rescue seven-year-old Helen Keller from a world of darkness, a world of silence. It is this defining moment that we will celebrate today. And in time, this moment so vividly depicted by this statue, helped the world to understand that all of us regardless of any disability, have a mind that can be educated, a hand that can be trained, a life that will have meaning.


BLITZER: One of the most touching moments in the ceremony came when a visually impaired 4-year-old joined 18-year-old Tamar Woods in a rendition of God Bless America.

Wow, that was really fabulous, thank you to Tamara and Malia; very, very nice.

A performance, by the way, like that would not have been accomplished without the accomplishments of Helen Keller who lost her sight and hearing when she was just a little more than a year old. And despite that she went on to graduate from Radcliff College which was then part of Harvard University, became an author and a speaker. Keller received a number of awards including the presidential Medal of Freedom. Helen Keller died in 1968. You ought to go up to the capitol to take a look at that statute.

Iran's newly revealed uranium enrichment facility, the former commander of the U.S. central command says it might be safe from U.S. bonds. General Tony Zinni is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll go over to the magic map.

And a powerful Democratic congressman under the microscope now for possible ethics violations as Republicans try to topple them.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is how bad will the 2010 midterm elections be for the Democrats? There's a new Gallup poll that's out suggesting they may have some serious trouble in those elections next November.

A.C. in Los Angeles, "It will probably be bad, they already are an endangered species where I live. We ought to send them all packing: Democrats, for not taking advantage of the opportunity to get something done and Republicans for being spiteful obstructionists."

Jerry in California, "Pretty bad, but whatever happens it couldn't be bad enough. The Democratic Party's been taken over by socialists and in some cases out right Marxists. They have over mortgaged America's future, there's more long-term damage to come before they get heaved out in 2010."

Dorothy in Kentucky, "Won't be bad at all Jack, Democrats may lose a few seats but do you honestly think there are enough idiots out there to put the Republicans back in the majority in not even if they wanted to, we will see to that."

Chris in California writes, "What does it matter if Republicans gain back seats next year? There is very little substantive difference between the two parties anymore. No matter which party's in charge, the centralized state wins and liberty loses."

Randy in Sierra Vista writes, "Can you say lame duck president?"

Ed writes, "If a viable third party were an option, than I think the Democrats would be in even worse shape. In any case, my wife and I are independents. At this point I can't imagine voting for any Democrat who isn't conservative, middle of the road and willing to stand up for their beliefs. The biggest thing helping the Democrats are the far right GOP candidates."

And Francois writes, "A year in politics is a lifetime. I barely caught my breath from the presidential election, was hoping to bask in the victory for a little longer. By 2010, the economy could be better, health care reform passed, almost out of Iraq and whatever else could come our way. It could be OK for the Democrats. Please spare me the anguish right now."

If you don't see it here, you might see it on my blog,

BLITZER: I'm sure they will Jack. Thank you.