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Michelle Obama's Ancestry; Interview With the Dalai Lama; Who Should Take Swine Flu Vaccine?
Aired October 8, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The Dalai Lama tells me why he doesn't feel snubbed by President Obama. Stand by for my exclusive interview with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. He's here in Washington. But he's not welcome, at least not right now, over at the White House. We will tell you his reaction.
And new revelations about Michelle Obama's ancestry. I will talk to a reporter who traced the first lady's roots back to a slave girl and a white man.
And the question many Americans are asking: Should they or their loved ones get a swine flu shot? The warnings, the fears, and the pushback.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Some critics are accusing President Obama of kowtowing to China by refusing to meet with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. Mr. Obama is the first U.S. president in almost two decades who won't meet with the Dalai Lama while he's here in Washington.
I sat down with the religious leader just a little while ago for an exclusive interview. He tells me he understands why the president put off the meeting with him until after the president visits China in November. The Dalai Lama says the president has expressed sympathy for his cause of human rights in Tibet and autonomy for the people of Tibet, and he doesn't want to embarrass the new president of the United States.
DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: So, at this time, firstly, I do not want to create any inconvenience to anybody.
Secondly (INAUDIBLE) Obama, before his election, he telephoned me. And, then, afterwards, I have some correspondence with him. So, he seems very, very sort of not only sympathetic, but he really want something practical level to do something.
BLITZER: Why won't...
DALAI LAMA: So, so, so, therefore, this time, in order to avoid embarrassment to the Chinese president, and also, I received some sort of message through some -- the -- personal channel or private channel, some -- through my -- some -- my Chinese friend also similar.
So, therefore, I think that it is better, some cases, not just to show a picture with meeting. I think -- I think a more serious discussion is better than just a picture. So, I have no disappointment.
BLITZER: You have no disappointment.
DALAI LAMA: No.
BLITZER: But your representatives asked for this meeting at least twice. And they were disappointed when the White House said no.
DALAI LAMA: Yes, at the beginning. You see, my representatives here made some effort. Then I sent a message, don't do that. I do not want to create any embarrassment or any...
BLITZER: What kind of embarrassment would it be if the president of the United States did what every other president has done and meet with you this week? What -- what embarrassment would that be?
DALAI LAMA: Now, the next month, he is going to Beijing.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to have much more of this exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. That's coming up during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got a lot of thoughts on other sensitive issues.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, who is going to be traveling with the president to China next month.
The White House sort of in an awkward position right now. The first President Bush, the second President Bush, President Clinton, they all received the Dalai Lama when he came to Washington at least 10 times going back to 1991. But this president at this time says: Hold off. I don't want to see you before you go to China -- before we go to China.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And I pressed Robert Gibbs this week on that very point. Is this because the president of the United States does not want to offend the communist Chinese government? Robert Gibbs insisted that is not the reason, and he also says that, in fact, the Dalai Lama and the president are expected to meet potentially as early as December, that they are going to do it later this year or early next year, and that that was a better time for all sides. But let's face facts. It -- it was awkward for this administration -- it would have been -- to sit down with the Dalai Lama before the president goes to China next month. They clearly -- they won't say this on camera, but, behind the scenes, clearly felt it was awkward and did not want to sort of upstage the Chinese.
And what Robert Gibbs says on the record is that he -- he believes that it's better for the U.S. government to have this dialogue with China, sitting down and actually talking about issues like Tibet, that that can actually strengthen the Dalai Lama in the long run.
However, critics of this administration are saying they heard the same thing from the Bush administration, that there was this dialogue with China, but they didn't see any results from it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, and one of the questions I will ask him -- you will see it at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Ed -- is what the Dalai Lama specifically wants President Obama to tell President Hu Jintao of China when they meet in Beijing. But stand by for that. He's got a fascinating answer to that question.
But let me pick your brain on Afghanistan right now. Some suggesting we're hearing out there, the administration is thinking of focusing in exclusively on al Qaeda, to a lesser degree, the Taliban. Explain what's going on.
HENRY: I think that it's partially true, from my reporting, from officials inside and outside the Situation Room who are very familiar with what's going on. There definitely is a bit more focus in these conversations about really pushing American power in terms of trying to dismantle al Qaeda, something the president has frankly said publicly less of a focus on the Taliban.
But there are now sort of media reports out there that I think are going too far. And this is from my reporting, top officials here pushing back on it, saying that reports that are suggesting that this means that the U.S. is shifting away from trying to push back on the Taliban, and, if this -- the conclusion is being drawn that the president is going to send a much smaller force to Afghanistan, officials here are pushing back on that.
And I'm being told that, in fact, the possibility of the president sending up to 40,000 more troops is still on the table, and that General McChrystal's request is being treated very seriously by this president.
So, reports suggesting that he might only send 20,000, that's possible in the end, but they're insisting here the president has not made a final decision, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up, including some reaction from Senator Russ Feingold in our next hour. He's not very happy with this potential decision.
Ed Henry at the White House, thanks very much. HENRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. There's a breaking news story we're following. It involves Charlie Rangel, the longtime congressman from New York.
What's going on, Brianna Keilar?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the House Ethics Committee has just announced that it's going to expand its invest into this powerful chairman's financial activities. He is the chairman of the House tax-writing committee. So, this investigation will be expanded to basically include this.
Here's how it works on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress have to file financial disclosure statements. They basically put out detailed information about their assets. And this will be an expanded investigation into changes that -- that Chairman Rangel recently made to his financial disclosure statements, omissions that he had made about assets, assets worth hundred of thousands of dollars that he had left off of his financial disclosure statements in the past.
Now, we knew that he recently added these changes, that he corrected these omissions. But the news here is that the House Ethics Committee is now expanding its investigation to include those changes.
We knew already, Wolf, that they were -- that they were looking into his failure not only to report income in the tune of $75,000, income from renting out a beach house that he owns in the Dominican Republic, but also that he had failed to pay taxes on that $75,000 in earnings.
They have also been investigating a number of other alleged activities that Chairman Rangel has -- has gone through in the past. But this, of course, Wolf, comes a day after Republicans tried to put a resolution on the House floor that would have bumped Chairman Rangel from his powerful post on the Ways and Means Committee.
They were unsuccessful in that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Brianna, quickly, any reaction so far? I know the report just came out that they're expanding this ethics investigation. Any reaction yet from Charlie Rangel's office?
KEILAR: Wolf, we're trying to get that as we speak. I spoke with Chairman Rangel shortly before this came out. He said that he didn't know anything about an announcement of an expanded investigation.
And, at this point, this -- this announcement, no coincidence, came out after the last vote in the House, promptly after it. And, so, at this point, members of the House are really leaving town at this point.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We will stay on top of this story, Brianna Keilar, our congressional correspondent. Gloria Borger is our senior political analyst.
This has got to be, Gloria, pretty embarrassing for Democrats right now, given the fact that he's the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee...
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BLITZER: ... which is in charge of writing tax law.
BORGER: You know, and hypocrisy and the corruption of power are always issues that get you when you're members of Congress, particularly when you're in a powerful position.
As of now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, has always said, that she would stand by her chairman, pending the outcome of the investigation of the Ethics Committee. But it is not good news for Charlie Rangel that this already extensive investigation, in which they say today that they have already issued close to 150 subpoenas, that they're now going to expand it because of his -- of his revised financial disclosure forms.
BLITZER: He's -- he's a very popular congressman...
BORGER: Very popular.
BLITZER: ... in his district in Harlem in New York City. There's no doubt about that.
BORGER: Very popular congressman, not only in his district, Wolf, but, also, he's a popular guy on Capitol Hill. People like Charlie Rangel on both sides of the aisle.
They know he's liberal politically, but he's been there 40 years. He gets along with folks on both sides of the aisle. But this is pretty tough politics right now. And he's going to have to defend himself, not only to Republicans, but to the leadership of his own party, particularly if they think that he is really becoming a drag on their efforts to get things done.
BLITZER: All right, good -- good analysis. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.
Let's go right to Jack Cafferty. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The thing to remember in all of this is that the House Ethics Committee or the Senate Ethics Committee are oxymorons, meaningless. We will have more about Mr. Rangel later.
In an attempt to make sure health care reform doesn't get rammed through Congress with little debate, a group of Senate Republicans has introduced a resolution that would require all bills be made public online for at least 72 hours before a vote. Not a bad idea, right?
Since many in Congress don't bother to read the bills before they vote, maybe somebody should. Over in the House, a group of more than 180, mostly Republicans, circulating a petition also requiring all bills to be posted online for three days. They're demanding the Democratic leadership schedule a vote on this. No vote so far. Probably won't be one. Don't know that yet, although Speaker Nancy Pelosi did pledge at one point to post the final health care bill online for 72 hours before the final vote is taken.
It's not just the Republicans, though, pushing for more transparency. A group of centrist Senate Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid this week saying -- quote -- "Every step of this process needs to be transparent" -- unquote. They asked for three days for the public to look at this stuff on the Internet.
And there's an online campaign called Read the Bill, along with a group called Read to Vote, that has collected more than 80,000 signatures asking lawmakers to promise to read every page of every bill before they vote on it.
Yes, that will happen.
Democrat Congressman Brian Baird of Washington put it this way -- quote -- "There's a pattern here. The more important the bill, the more complicated it is, the less time we have to read it" -- unquote.
Some Democrats point out the same thing happened under Republican control. Maybe so, but it was Obama, not Bush, who promised more transparency once he was running things. Remember that? The campaign? The promise? Transparency?
Here's the question. Should health care legislation be posted online for 72 hours before Congress votes on it? CNN.com/caffertyfile, and you can post a comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It sort of makes sense, though, Jack, doesn't it?
CAFFERTY: Eleven-hundred-page bill. I -- could you even read that thing in 72 hours?
BLITZER: I tried to -- I tried to -- I tried to read the House Health Committee's.
CAFFERTY: Did you?
BLITZER: You know, it's -- it was not easy, not easy reading.
CAFFERTY: It's -- and it's legalese, too, right?
BLITZER: Oh, yes.
CAFFERTY: The language they use is very convoluted.
CAFFERTY: And some of those words specifically written to help one specific group. It's -- can get pretty ugly if you understand what's going on.
CAFFERTY: It's not like when you tweet.
BLITZER: No. Tweeting is two sentences. And I'm tweeting now on Twitter.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.
We know a lot about the president's family -- the president's family history, but Michelle Obama's ancestry hasn't been as clear, at least until now. There's new information about her family's roots and the link to a slave girl.
And a verdict in the case against the son of a wealthy philanthropist -- the Brooke Astor case. Did he actually steal money from his own mother?
And, later, the surprises tucked into a just-passed defense spending bill -- our Dana Bash investigates the link between some pet projects and campaign donations.
BLITZER: After months of pitching, planning, bickering and town hall protesting, the war over health reform is about to hit a potentially decisive climax.
On Tuesday, the Senate panel that wrote the -- the proposal, at least one of two proposals in the Senate, will actually vote on it. The majority leader, Harry Reid, announced the Senate Finance Committee vote will take place. This has been long awaited.
Meanwhile, you may be surprised who's taking a stance in this debate, the company behind one of the most respected names you can trust.
CNN's Mary Snow has more.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to rating things like cars and washing machines, "Consumer Reports" is considered the go-to guy. Now its publisher, Consumers Union, is wading into the health care reform debate with its first TV ad in its 73-year history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CONSUMERS UNION AD)
JAMES GUEST, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CONSUMERS UNION: Washington, the time for health care reform is now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: The ad is not policy-specific, but directs people to a Web site that spells out measures, such as support for the public option. Consumers Union also released a recent survey showing how Americans are being affected by health care costs.
James Guest, president and CEO of Consumers Union, says the group has always been engaged in public policy, but decided it was time to do more.
GUEST: I think people trust us as a credible source, that we -- that we call it like we see it, that we don't pull our punches. We say what needs to happen.
SNOW: The outspokenness comes, though, with a price. Messages on "Consumer Reports"' blog read: "You are not supposed to have an agenda. You betrayed my trust."
Some say they won't renew their subscriptions. But Guest doesn't see a big backlash.
GUEST: I think people recognize that we have made a determination about what's best for consumers, and -- and respect that, even if they may disagree.
SNOW: And Guest is making a personal pitch on Capitol Hill. The one-time staffer to Senator Edward Kennedy is lobbying both Democrats and Republicans. His TV ad, meantime, is targeting leaders inside Washington's beltway. Those who track political ads say it's symbolism, not size, getting attention.
EVAN TRACEY, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CAMPAIGN MEDIA ANALYSIS GROUP: This is a lot like that Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. In other words, it's -- it's someone you trust that has -- that has essentially kicked the tires on this issue and made a determination.
SNOW: But even with the nearly eight million subscriptions overall that Consumers Union touts, those who study campaigns don't see the group turning the tide.
DARRELL WEST, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think the group wants to be able to say, we fought for consumers on health care reform. We put our dollars where our mouth is. And they will feel good in the process. But the ability of this ad to really affect the legislation and shape how Americans feel about health care reform is going to be very limited.
SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Consumers Union spent $200,000 on the ad buy. Overall, it's estimated that groups for and against health care reform have spent roughly -- get this -- $117 million. And that's only so far.
You may not necessarily know his name, but you probably have heard he inspired some hot dogs so good and famous, even President Obama stopped by. Now sad news to report about the owner of Ben's Chili Bowl. And she made headlines for packing a pistol at her daughter's soccer game. Now this Pennsylvania woman is dead. Wait until you hear what police are saying about her killing.
BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Fred, what is going on?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf.
Well, we have some sad news for people who love the real Washington, D.C., and people who love a good chili dog. Ben Ali, the owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, has died. His small restaurant, where even President Obama stopped in for a snack, has been selling half-smokes, cheese fries, and, of course, chili since 1958. Ali was 82 years old.
And a jury in New York City has found the son of wealthy philanthropist Brooke Astor guilty of stealing from his mother's $200 million estate. Anthony Marshall was accused of take advantage of his failing mother's mind before she died back in 2007, at the age of 105. The 85-year-old Marshall now faces a mandatory year in jail.
A new study shows that gay women are much more likely to be discharged from the military under the don't ask/don't tell rule than gay men. Researchers at the University of California used Pentagon statistics to show that, even though only 15 percent of the armed forces are women, they make up one-third of those discharged for being openly gay.
And Meleanie Hain, a Pennsylvania woman who made headlines last year when she showed up at her daughter's soccer game with a pistol on her hip, has been found shot dead in her home, along with her husband. Police, while not officially terming this a murder-suicide, did confirm that neither of the children, nor anyone from outside the house is a suspect -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a sad story that is.
WHITFIELD: It is, indeed.
BLITZER: All right, Fred, thank you.
From slave quarters to the White House -- there's new information about Michelle Obama's family history. A reporter who traced the first lady's roots shares this fascinating story. She has uncovered all the details. Stand by.
And, later, David Letterman had a field day with Governor Mark Sanford's extramarital affair. Is the governor turning the tables now that Letterman is in the midst of a scandal himself?
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a major new development in the debate concerning the fleet of helicopters that fly around the president. Wait until you hear what the U.S. Navy now says about the program. Stand by.
And comedian Lewis Black is here. Regarding the David Letterman scandal, why would he say that the nation is like 9-year-olds when it comes to talking about sex? Part two of my interview with him coming up.
And grab your seats to watch a massive crash. Spacecraft are set to crash on the moon. It's an important reason why they're doing this. And you're likely to be able to see it from your backyard if you have the right equipment.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
She lives in the White House partly built by slaves. Now research shows the first lady, Michelle Obama, is the direct descendant of a slave and a white ancestor. The research and reporting is courtesy of "The New York Times."
This family tree begins with a 6-year-old slave girl named Melvinia in South Carolina. Upon her master's death, she was shipped to her -- his relatives in Georgia. Her value? Four-hundred seventy- five dollars.
When she was about 15 years old, an unknown white man impregnated her. Her first son was named Dolphus Shields, the last name for the plantation master. Dolphus later married and became a successful carpenter and businessman in Birmingham, Alabama.
Among his children, Robert Shields. That son married and fathered Purnell Shields. Later, the family moved to Chicago. Once Purnell came of age, he married and fathered Marian Shields. Marian Shields, she now lives in the White House, along with the child she gave birth. That would -- with Fraser Robinson back in 1964. That would be Michelle Robinson.
Of course, Michelle later became Mrs. Barack -- Mrs. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. She became the first African-American first lady of the United States.
Wow. Did you copy all that? Were you watching.
Rachel Swarns co-wrote the piece on the first lady's family tree in today's "New York Times." It's a fascinating read. And Rachel is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Rachel, thanks for coming in.
RACHEL SWARNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.
BLITZER: Why did you decide to do this?
SWARNS: Well, you know, we had worked with a genealogist in January who did a little research on Mrs. Obama's family. And, unbeknownst to us, she spent the next six months digging and digging and digging, and gave us a call in September and said, "You won't believe what I found."
And we all got to work.
BLITZER: What did she find?
SWARNS: The most interesting thing that she found was the first link to a white ancestor in Mrs. Obama's family.
BLITZER: And -- and we don't know who that ancestor is?
SWARNS: We don't know who that is. We...
BLITZER: There are some hints.
SWARNS: We -- there are some ideas. We can speculate.
Melvinia, the slave girl, lived on a farm that was owned by Henry Shields. He was in his 40s when her son was born. He had four sons who might have been of age. But, you know, we don't know who was passing through, who was visiting.
All we know is that in 1870, after emancipation, Melvinia is listed with a 9-year-old boy, Dolphus, who is described as mulatto in the census.
BLITZER: And that's the - the great, great grandfather of Michelle Obama?
SWARNS: That's right.
BLITZER: Did the first family, did Mrs. Obama know you were doing all of this over these past several months?
SWARNS: She did know that we were working on this. We updated her office frequently. We were very hopeful that we might get an interview, and we didn't in the end.
BLITZER: Was there any cooperation from her or other relatives about her family background?
SWARNS: No. They decided it was a subject that was too personal, though we did get word today from the president's spokesman that she read the piece and she did not know this information. She said - at least Gibbs (ph) said that she enjoyed reading the piece.
BLITZER: She knew there were some slaves in her ancestry because the president publicly has spoken about that.
SWARNS: That's right. And she also knew that there were long- standing rumors of a white ancestor, but they didn't know who or when or where.
BLITZER: So the information that you and your colleagues at "The New York Times" put together, some of that information was new to the - the First Lady and her family?
SWARNS: That's right. The details. The details.
BLITZER: Did anybody on her staff give you a reaction? Was she happy to know this? Was she unhappy to know it? Did you get any sense of how she felt when she read "The New York Times"?
SWARNS: As I said, the president's spokesman today said that she enjoyed reading the piece and that she learned some things that she didn't know about her family.
BLITZER: Because we know a great deal about the president's family because he's written two books, basically, about all of that, less about the First Lady of the United States, and now, thanks to you and your colleagues, we're beginning to know more. It's by no means an unusual story, her background, given the nature of our country.
SWARNS: That's right, and, in fact, there's a lot of attention paid to the president's background. He's biracial and there's been a lot of focus on that. But Mrs. Obama's background, this kind of racial intermingling is very, very common in many African-American families.
BLITZER: It's true. Now I want you to turn around that way.
BLITZER: And take a look at this picture that you see up on the screen. Tell us who these people are. This is a - a photo courtesy of the Barack Obama campaign, but - from the - the adults and then the kids.
SWARNS: OK. So you have Michelle's mother here.
BLITZER: That's Marian.
SWARNS: That's Marian there, and her father here.
BLITZER: Who passed away a few years ago.
SWARNS: That's right. Frasier Robinson. You have heir first born son, Craig Robinson.
BLITZER: Who's a basketball coach.
SWARNS: That's right. And young Michelle Robinson, now Michelle Obama.
BLITZER: And that's her, that sweet little baby down in the corner there?
SWARNS: That's her.
BLITZER: And that's a - that's a great little picture.
SWARNS: Yes. BLITZER: It's - it's a really warm, loving family - based on everything I've read about the Robinson family.
BLITZER: And the fact that - that Mrs. Robinson is now living in the White House and helping raise Sasha and Malia, the two little - little girls, that's really been a benefit to the president and the First Lady.
SWARNS: Yes. A very close-knit family, and Michelle Obama's mother has always been very involved with those girls, and it meant a lot to her and to the family that she came and moved in with them in the White House.
BLITZER: I don't know this, but I think they're going to be grateful to you for helping them better appreciate their family tree and the genealogy. I'm sure they will.
SWARNS: Well, thank you.
BLITZER: And you know what? They might even give you an interview at some point.
SWARNS: Oh, we can only hope.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
SWARNS: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're going to continue our coverage of what's happening on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress routinely add special projects in bills, pet projects we like to call them, in part to try to please the constituents back home, but are they profiting in another way? Our Dana Bash investigates a link to campaign donations.
And coming up in our "Strategy Session," one senator's puzzling way of explaining the health care mess. And the pentagon shot down plans for a new fleet of presidential helicopters. The president didn't like the idea either. The price tag was out of this world, but is there a chance the program could still get off the ground despite what the president wants?
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Senators approved a huge defense spending bill this week, and like so many pieces of legislation here in Washington, it contained some lawmakers' pet projects. We decided to dig deeper with the help of a watchdog group to give you a better sense of the way your tax dollars are being spent.
Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash has been looking into this story. Dana, what did you find out? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're looking into, Wolf, is a practice that is perfectly legal, but to some it is a troubling practice in Washington. And we're shining the light at one of the intersections of taxpayer money and politics.
BASH (voice-over): A promotional video for Infinia Corporation, developing a solar-powered engine to produce hot water and electricity for troops in the field. Infinia is headquartered in Washington State. Washington Senator, Democrat Patty Murray, got a $3 million earmark to fund Infinia's project. It turns out Infinia executives have given more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to Murray in the last two years.
BASH (on Camera): People looking at this might say, "Quid pro quo?"
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Absolutely not. I work hard for my state, for everyone who comes to me. We work hard to make sure that the appropriations requests we ask for create jobs and are good for the people in - in our community.
BASH (voice-over): But the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says it's a problem.
RYAN ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: And when we see big contracts, big earmarks going to private companies that have also happened to have made large campaign contributions, it raises real question in the mind of the public.
BASH: Ryan Alexander's group looked at senators on the powerful committee in charge of defense spending and compiled a lengthy list linking hundreds of millions of dollars in pet projects to campaign contributions.
Republican Richard Shelby topped that list. For example, $3.2 million for Radiance Technologies in his state of Alabama to develop new sensors for unmanned aerial vehicles. That company's employees donated $38,500 in campaign cash to Shelby since 2007. The senator refused an on-camera interview, and when CNN caught up with him in a Capitol hallway, he said this.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R) ALABAMA: I don't even know who I get earmarks for, and I don't know who gives me money.
BASH: But Shelby's spokesman did give us a statement saying he does know and defends it, saying he secures appropriations based on merit, not contributions, and provides a full justification for his request on his senate website. Shelby's office also said his projects contribute to national security.
That's what Maine Republican Susan Collins said when we asked about $10 million she got for Maine's General Dynamics to make lightweight machine guns and grenade launchers. She says the Pentagon needs it. SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R) MAINE: My motivation is to help fill the gaps, the gaps in weapons and equipment that our troops need.
BASH: Collins got nearly $60,000 in campaign contributions from General Dynamics' employees. No quid pro quo, she insists, and no apologies.
COLLINS: The workers and executives who have contributed to my campaign have done so because they feel that I represent the State of Maine well. They have never, ever implied any kind of condition.
BASH (on camera): Now, a spokesman for General Dynamics told us that they support - with campaign contributions - they support Senator Collins because she is a strong backer of national defense and that's all.
And, Wolf, I also spoke with an executive at Infinia - that is the company in Washington State. He contributed the maximum amount to Senator Murray's campaign coffers, but he also told me that he did it because he believed in her commitment to green jobs. It had nothing to do with an earmark - Wolf.
BLITZER: And, as you say, this is all legal?
BASH: All legal. Completely legal.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.
What happened today in Afghanistan could have a dramatic impact in the war - the suicide bombing by the Taliban that's left at least 17 people dead, many, many more injured. This strike could send waves far away from where the attack happened. Our Atia Abawi is in Afghanistan. She'll be joining us to explain.
And could it be true? A suit that protects you against swine flu. Wait until you hear this story.
BLITZER: A special "Strategy Session" today, two special guests. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, she's chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressman Tom Price, Republican of Georgia. Thanks to both of you for coming in.
Let's talk about Afghanistan right now. Is it time for the president to effectively double down and send another 40,000 troops beyond the 68,000 who are already there?
REP. BARBARA LEE (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, let me just say, first of all, I think the president is conducting a very detailed and thorough review, as he should. He's being very deliberative and he's listening to a - a wide range of experts and opinions.
I of course voted against the initial authorization to use force, which I believe then was a blank check, as I still do now.
BLITZER: So you don't want anymore troops to go in?
LEE: No. I believe, and I think history has shown, is that there's no military solution in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: You want the 68,000 over there to get out?
LEE: I tell you, we passed - we didn't pass it, but we voted on a resolution asking for an exit strategy. We had about 138 votes. But I've also introduced a resolution saying that no more funds should be appropriated for an increase in troop levels.
BLITZER: And, just to be clear, you're speaking for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, not for the Congressional Black Caucus on this issue?
LEE: I'm speaking on my behalf.
BLITZER: On your behalf. What do you think, Congressman Price?
REP. TOM PRICE (R) GEORGIA: Well, I think the commander in chief needs to be the commander in chief and decide whether or not he wants to win this. If he wants to win it, then we need to utilize the resources and the troops that the - that the commanders on the ground have asked for and requested. There's no halfway to do this. If we do it halfway, then we do - that would be reckless and irresponsible on the part of the...
BLITZER: So if he accepts what General McChrystal is recommending, another 30,000 or 40,000 troops, you are with the president on this issue?
PRICE: If that's what it takes to win this war, then, in fact, that's what we ought to do. But what I - what we're hearing out of the White House is that they want to do it in - in a halfway or even less than halfway...
BLITZER: But if he goes all the way and accepts the whole deal, you're with him?
PRICE: That - if that's what it takes to make sure that the American people are safe, which I believe, then that's what we ought to do.
BLITZER: If he accepts that, it's going to be an extraordinary political situation, Congressman. He'll have the Republicans supporting him but a lot of Democrats like you will be critical of him.
LEE: Well, let me just say, if - if, in fact, there is an increase in troop level, we're looking at, and all experts have said, a possible 10-year presence, a 10-year war, a commitment of over $800 billion. I don't think...
BLITZER: Potentially maybe even more than that. LEE: Even more, and I don't think the American public and the American people want...
BLITZER: Well, (INAUDIBLE) is interesting, it leads me to the next subject I want to talk about, health care. If you're talking about a 10-year commitment to Afghanistan, more than 100,000 troops, $200 billion a year, maybe - could be well over a trillion dollars, that's more than enough according to the Congressional Budget Office to pay for massive health care reform.
So, the question is this - what's more important if you have a limited amount of money: keep the troops in Afghanistan, fight al Qaeda and the Taliban there, or - or use the money back here at home to get health care for all Americans?
PRICE: Well, the priority for our nation clearly is our national security, and - and if the commander in chief believes that our national security is threatened by what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan right now, then that's where we ought to concentrate our resources and our - and our troops and our effort.
But the fact of the matter is if we want to stay in Afghanistan for over 20 years, the thing to do is not do the right thing right now, which is we make certain that we have the - the troops and the resources to be able to - to do the job that the commanders on the ground have offered.
BLITZER: Are you with the president if, in fact, the final piece of legislation comes out, what a lot of people in the senate want, no public option, no government-run health insurance option that would compete with the private sector? Would you vote for that kind of health care reform?
LEE: Let me just say, 60 of us have - have written a letter and have indicated our position in terms of us being unwavering in terms of our support for a robust public option.
BLITZER: What if there - there isn't - there isn't a public option?
LEE: But let me tell you why it has to be there.
BLITZER: But what if there isn't?
LEE: Well, that's hypothetical. I want to talk about why it must be there. We really are serious about a robust health care plan. We want to reduce the cost of insurance premium. People are suffering.
BLITZER: But - but I guess the question is, what the president and some of his advisers and others have suggested - isn't something better than nothing? In other words, if you get something that deals with a lot of these issues but there's no public option, would that be better or worse than nothing?
LEE: The president has said that he supports a public option, and that is the assumption upon which we are working. We believe that the president - and we're in sync with the president. He wants to reduce the cost of health care for those who have insurance. He wants to make sure that there's choice, people have a choice of doctors. Also he wants to, as he says, to make sure that the insurance companies are competitive and are honest in their dealings. We have to have that in any reform bill.
BLITZER: We've been hearing from some Republicans - not in Congress, Governor Schwarzenegger of California, for example, some former senate leaders like Bob Dole, for example, Bill Frist, saying, you know what? - Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the current governor of Louisiana - to their fellow Republicans like you, work with the president, come up with some sort of reasonable compromise that won't necessarily do the whole job but will do something. But so far we don't see a lot of Republicans - maybe Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins of Maine - we - we don't see a lot of Republicans actively working with the Democrats.
PRICE: Wolf, what we've doing is asking just that. In fact, here's a compilation of over 40 pieces of health care legislation that members of the Republican Study Committee, the committee that I chair, over 110 members of the House of Representatives have put forward on the issue of health care.
We believe that the status quo is unacceptable, but there's a positive way to reform the system without putting the government in charge, a way that gets people insurance, a way that makes certain that we solve the insurance challenges, portability and pre-existing illnesses and injuries, a way that makes certain that patients and families and doctors are making medical decisions, not bureaucrats and that addresses the lawsuit abuse issue which is not addressed in any single Democrat bill.
LEE: No one has suggested we put the government in charge. I support single payer, and that's not putting the government in charge. What we're talking about is having a public option, a robust public option that is one...
BLITZER: But if you're a single payer, that would be a government-run insurance company.
LEE: Let me just say, we're not talking about a single payer. We're talking about...
BLITZER: Even though that's what you would like (ph)?
LEE: I would like single payer. Many of us would. But, in fact, we have worked with our colleagues to come up with what we think is a very fair approach to this having a robust public option as one option for those who'd want to select that option, because it will, in fact, bring down the costs of insurance premiums.
BLITZER: We're not - we're not going to resolve it at this discussion, but we'll continue the discussion. Congressmen, thank you very much for - for coming in. Congressman, happy birthday!
PRICE: Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Many, many more. Good discussion. Thanks. Thanks to both of you.
We've been hearing a lot about mists and vaccines to fight swine flu, but you probably haven't heard about a suit. Yes, a suit that you can really wear that potentially could protect you from the virus. Is that true?
And later, why a lawmaker is trying once again to get a very expensive presidential helicopter project off the ground, even though the president says he doesn't need it.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, some politicians who were the butt of David Letterman's jokes are refusing to return in kind now that he's the one - the one embroiled in a sex scandal. The South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford, says his thoughts and prayers are with David Letterman. He says the late show host has a lot of soul searching ahead after confessing to affairs with female staffers. Sanford speaks from experience, as you know, after his widely publicized affair with a woman from Argentina.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out cnnpolitics.com. And you can also, by the way, find out what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM, some more behind the scenes information, by going to Twitter. I'm now on twitter. I'm tweeting there. Go to twitter.com - twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -all one word, and I'll share some thoughts with you from time to time.
Americans should be just days away from getting their first swine flu shots, but if you can't wait that long, you could consider a far less reliable alternative. It comes from, of all places, a Japanese suit maker.
Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.
KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not even an approaching typhoon could dampen the excitement in a block- long line outside the Haruyama suit store. Today's sensation: a new business suit called the anti-swine flu suit. It's coated with titanium dioxide. Wear it, and the suit maker claims lab tests show your chances of contracting the H1N1 flu drops by 40 percent.
SHINTO HIRATA, HARUYAMA TRADING COMPANY: (Speaking Japanese).
LAH: "The suit kills the virus when exposed to light," says Haruyama spokesman. "This is the first of its kind in this industry."
YOSHIAKI SAHARA, SHOPPER: (Speaking Japanese).
LAH: "I'm not sure how effective it is," says Yoshiaki Sahara, "but I have a 4-month-old baby at home, so I hope the suit will help protect him."
While the US is doling out the first round of the vaccine this week, in Japan, the staggered release begins later this month, so Japan copes. Airports continue to monitor body temperatures of international travelers. At nearly every office building in Tokyo, alcohol is doled out with visitor passes. At drugstores, masks, a favorite of Tokyoites during flu season, are in high demand. You can't travel anywhere without seeing legions of masked commuters protecting themselves from the flu, though doctors say most masks don't work. And because every man in Japan wears a black suit, it was only a matter of time before Japanese engineering eventually gave birth to this.
The company says that the anti-swine flu suit is its contribution to society, but that they're also in it to make money. Doctors say when it comes to anything like this, you're better off saving your cash.
So should people just calm down?
DR. GABRIEL SYMONDS, TOKYO BRITISH CLINIC: Yes. They should calm down. It's a good idea in general, yes.
LAH: Dr. Gabriel Symonds of the Tokyo British Clinic says while government should take the virus seriously, for the average person, practicing good hygiene and avoiding crowds when you're ill will go much further to stemming the global spread of the H1N1 virus than a mask or a suit, which may only spread fear.
SYMONDS: Possibly they increase people's anxiety. I mean, most people don't need to be worried because it's not a serious illness for the majority of people.
LAH: But at Haruyama, the sale is on, only today you get free masks and alcohol with your swine flu suit purchase. Protection, at least here they claim, that's all buttoned up.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo
BLITZER: Now let's go to Jack Cafferty once again. He's got the "Cafferty File." Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, as we head into the flu season here, should you and I start wearing those masks?
BLITZER: No, but we should get the flu shot.
CAFFERTY: Maybe. You know, you ought to put that to the viewers. Maybe they'd rather have us wear the masks.
BLITZER: You mean, like - sort of like this. Yes.
CAFFERTY: Like this.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour: Should - put that on your Twitter -- Should health care legislation be posted online for 72 hours before Congress votes on it?
Sylvia in California: "Let me see: President Obama promised his administration would be one of transparency. 'You lie' is appropriate. It never seems to amaze me how gullible the American people are and how desperate they are to believe Washington will be forthright and honest."
Alejandro writes: "If Republican senators wanted the bill posted for people to read, there wouldn't be a problem. The reason they want the bill posted for 72 hours online is to allow the private insurance companies to read it and then tell them whether or not to vote for it. It's the sad part of American politics. It's what's best for the lobbyists, not the American public."
Sandra in North Carolina: "I don't know, Jack. It sounds like a good idea but I'm worried it'll be just like advertising prescription drugs. Too much information can create more confusion and misunderstandings...maybe that's what the Republicans have in mind."
Tom in North Carolina: "The only reason I can see not to put the bills online for three days is there must be something to hide."
Dan in Kentucky: "Seriously, have you ever really tried to read actual legislation and understand it? A thousand pages of it? I'll read it if some nonpartisan entity like the CBO" - Congressional Budget Office - "reads it and then writes a 20 page "Executive Summary" of the bill. Most legislation, like insurance policies, are designed to prevent the average person from understanding what it means."
Ed writes: "Be careful how you word this. They may instead vote on the bills before they're written. Then they could argue it wasn't available for posting online."
And Ray writes: "If these guys are so into transparency, don't you think they ought to all wear shirts showing where their money comes from? You know, like the drivers for NASCAR? Then we'll know who they're speaking for."
It's not a bad idea. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile. Or you can go to the corner drugstore. Or you can go to Wolf's house -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Could be some colorful outfits if they did that, Jack.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.