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Uproar Over Limbaugh's NFL Bid; White House Strikes Back at Health Care Critics

Aired October 12, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: It's being called a hatchet job. A report says, if a key reform health bill passes, it will eventually cost you thousands more dollars to manage your health every year.

Rush Limbaugh wants to buy an NFL football team. Now some players worry he could cause -- and I'm quoting now -- "discrimination and hatred in sports." These players are taking an unusual step of protest.

And what if Hillary Clinton or other women in the Obama administration wanted to challenge President Obama to a basketball game? When it comes to women playing in presidential sports outings, the men have all the points, the women, at least so far, zero.

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.

Tomorrow, we could see a pivotal vote on health care reform push the debate to a dramatic climax in the United States Senate. But, today, the actual plan that will be voted on is sliced to shreds by a new report by the health insurance industry, a spokesman for the Senate Finance Committee calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "a hatchet job."

The report says if this Senate health reform plan advanced by the Democrats passes, it will eventually cost you thousands more dollars to manage your health.

Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who has taken a closer look at the report and what it means -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously one of the big objectives of health care reform is to bring down those steeply growing costs of insurance. But this report -- and we should stress it was commissioned by the health insurance industry -- says Democrats' plans would do exactly the opposite.

For instance, right now, on average, a family of four pays about $12,000 per year for their health insurance. This report says that in 10 years, if Congress were to do nothing, no health care reform, that family would pay almost $10,000 more. But this report also says that under Senate Finance Democrats' plan, that family would pay even more than that, $14,000 more, in fact. And it's those numbers that have congressional Democrats and the White House panning this report.


KEILAR (voice-over): Back in March, the CEO of the insurance industry's top lobbying group told the president at the White House:

KAREN IGNAGNI, CEO, AMERICA'S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: We want to work with you. We want to work with the members of Congress on a bipartisan basis here. You have our commitment.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good. Thank you, Karen. That's good news. That's America's Health Insurance Plans.


KEILAR: Now, America's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP for short, says a key overhaul plan scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the Senate Finance Committee would cause health care costs to skyrocket 73 percent by 2016.

The same report commissioned by the lobby says costs would climb only 50 percent if Congress does nothing. White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass called it a "self-serving analysis from the insurance industry, one of the major health components of health insurance reform."

And a spokesman for the Finance Committee said the report "excludes all the provisions that will actually lower the cost of coverage."


KEILAR: So, why now? Why release this report the day before a key vote? Wolf, Democrats obviously feel that it is sabotage. But a spokesman for this insurance lobby says it has nothing to do with that. They say it's not about trying to scuttle efforts to reform health care. They say it's about making sure there are no unintended consequences -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Brianna, very much.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, our CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Tony Blankley, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich when he was in the House.

The gloves, Gloria, are clearly coming off. If there was any hope of detente, a peaceful resolution between the health insurance industry and the White House, it looks like that's over right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. They have been sitting at the table this entire time.

And I spoke with Karen Ignagni today, who runs this health insurance group. And, look, their concern is cost and cost containment. And they feel that the provisions mandating health insurance, mandating people to buy into this insurance pool aren't really strong enough, so that you will wind up with a pool with older and sicker people, rather than forcing the younger people into it, and that they're going to end up footing the bill and therefore we're going to end up footing the bill.

BLITZER: The timing is significant in this particular report, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, but let me be counterintuitive here and say other -- beyond you and I and the rest of the journalists, the more unpopular group is the health insurance industry.

So, I'm not altogether sure that the health industry coming out now going this is a terrible bill, you shouldn't pass it, is going to be all that useful up on Capitol Hill. And it may be too late to move public opinion.


BORGER: There's some talk about Democrats now going on the floor and proposing a cap on insurance premiums just to stick it to the insurance industry as a result of this.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I hope the Democrats are prepared to do that because from 2000 to 2009, premiums increased for a family of four from $6,000 a year to $13,000. That's a 93 percent increase, while family income only rose about 19 percent. So, this is the last lobby that should scream foul at this moment in the debate.

BLITZER: They have a lot of money, though, to buy ads and to try to derail it. They were successful back in '93, '94, as you remember.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, yes. I mean, what's fascinating is that all of the basic interests, that is, the drugs, the hospitals and the insurance company, actually want to be in a universal system, because you get 30, 40, 50 million more customers subsidized perhaps by the taxpayers.

The condition necessary for the insurers to be able to participate -- they only make 2.5 cent profit, so they're not a big profit -- they're a low profit, like Safeways and things. They're a low-profit kind of an industry. So, they have to watch the costs.

The funny thing is that if the president and the Democrats had put in more radical cost-cutting mechanisms that the CBO would score, then they would be happy. The problem is, there aren't enough cost- cutting programs in it because they're sticking with a lot of the paper for fees programming. So, it's a failure of being sufficiently radical that is costing the insurance company. They're looking and saying, we don't know that we can make any money at it this way.

BORGER: They're saying, why are you focusing, for example, only on Medicare or largely on Medicare and cost containment? They are saying if you focus on other areas, they would be happier because in the end they believe they're going to end up footing the bill here.

CROWLEY: One of the things I do think, first of all, in terms of, well, they were just at the table and now they're not, everybody was at the table going we want reform. They just never really actually got down to what reform would be.

And I think you will see other groups, wait a minute, not this provision, not that provision, because now push has come to shove and it's easy to be for reform. And I think the other thing that may have some resonance here is the idea of unintended consequences. I think you will hear that phrase a lot over the next couple of weeks, because you don't know where a bill is going to take...


BLITZER: I want to move on. But it looks like -- the president desperately wanted to have the doctors and the nurses on board. It looks like he succeeded pretty much with the American Medical Association, the hospitals, American Hospital Association, pretty much on board.

BORGER: The drug companies.


BLITZER: The drug companies, they worked out a deal with PhRMA.

BORGER: But they all got deals.


BLITZER: But the health insurance industry, that's been a huge problem for the White House from day one.

BORGER: They didn't get their deal.

BLITZER: Another huge problem for the White House, Afghanistan right now. And I want to play a clip what Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday. Listen to this.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know how you put somebody in who is as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: It's a challenge to the president of the United States. He's the one who said, you know what, they have got to get a new commander in Afghanistan. They got a new commander, the best supposedly dealing with counterinsurgency. He's made his recommendation very clear. He wants 40,000 more troops. What happens if the president says, you're not going to get them?

BLANKLEY: Well, the president apparently was in favor of the strategy until he heard there was going to be 40,000 troops needed more.


BLITZER: Well, early on, he immediately sent another 20,000.

BLANKLEY: He wanted to reconsider.

You cannot consider a strategy without the resources. A strategy is defined by the resources. If you have got X number of troops and X number of helicopters, you can implement certain strategies. If you don't, you can't. So, they have got to be looked at together. And then the strategy for Afghanistan has to be looked at within the context of what the president wants to accomplish in Pakistan, in Central Asia, in the general war against jihad. And it's all a Rubik's Cube that has got to get lined up right.

I don't know how the president is making those individual calculations, but at the end of the process, if they don't all fit together according to his policy objectives, it won't work.

BLITZER: If he comes up with a new strategy, Donna, and General McChrystal walks, says, you know what, I can't be honorable to my military tradition, I made a recommendation, I have got to worry about the men and women under my command, what the president is recommending isn't going to work and he says, I'm retiring, that's a major political development.

BRAZILE: Well, let's first of all agree that President Obama put General McChrystal there because he believed that he was the right person for the job.

And, so, I have every confidence that the president will take his recommendations seriously. But, at the same time, Tony is absolutely right. This is not just about Afghanistan. It's a regional conflict with Pakistan involved. So, the administration needs to take a look at how all this fits into the entire strategic approach.

And the mission should define the strategy. And if the strategy calls for more troops, more civilian aid, more money, that should be determined. But we also have to put on the table how are we going to pay for it?

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: But the other problem here, I think, is that you put 20,000 troops in, 21,000, 22,000 troops in, as he did in the spring, and now come back and say, well, now we have a different strategy, you begin to see with this from Senator Feinstein the political vulnerability here, that you put McChrystal in charge and you say, he's my guy. And now if he comes back and says, but I'm not going to listen to him, you can now hear the critics going, this was pretty much a political decision.


BORGER: But I don't think it's going to be black and white.

CROWLEY: No, I don't think it will be black and white either.


BORGER: And I think Joe Biden's has kind of changed the arc of the conversation here. And I think that's an important discussion to have, because the mission remains the same. It's just the strategy can change.


BRAZILE: It's the government of Afghanistan. Who is in charge? Did Karzai win?

BLITZER: Hold that thought, guys. Don't go away. We have more to discuss, including don't ask, don't tell. President Obama tells a gay rights audience he will end the military's ban on gays serving openly in the military. But is that good enough for Lady Gaga?


LADY GAGA, MUSICIAN: Obama, I know you're listening. Are you listening?



Americans also going bankrupt. Has the Obama administration followed through with pledges to help you hold on to your home? We're going to get a reality check.

And Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA basketball star, tries to do a good deed, and he pays a price.


BLITZER: President Obama says he's making a move on the issue of gays serving openly in the United States military. He set the tone over the weekend here in Washington.

But, so far, neither side of the debate seems all that satisfied.

Joining us now is our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, who's watching this story very closely.

All right, tell our viewers, Ed, what the president now has in mind.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're absolutely right. Republicans think he's moving too fast. A lot of liberals think he's not moving quick enough because he promised big change last year.

What he wants to do is to basically get Congress to pass a law because he can't repeal don't ask, don't tell by executive order. But he's trying to move slowly because he realizes this tripped up Bill Clinton. He doesn't want to make the same mistake.



HENRY (voice-over): Let's face it. It's pretty unusual for the president to essentially sever as an opening act for pop star and gay rights activist Lady Gaga.

LADY GAGA, MUSICIAN (singing): It isn't equal if it's sometimes.


HENRY: Saturday was not a typical night, Mr. Obama becoming only the second president to ever address the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner.

OBAMA: I will end don't ask, don't tell. That's my commitment to you.


HENRY (voice-over): The most direct promise, a vow to push Congress to pass legislation repealing the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. But the president disappointed some liberals by still not setting a firm deadline, while conservatives are already lining up in opposition.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, my question back to the president is, why? We've got a program that's working within the military. It's been very effective.

HENRY: Some fellow Democrats are opposing the president's call to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have said in the past I don't think that's the way to go.

HENRY: This is why the president's broader theme was that change comes slowly.

OBAMA: It's not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-American petitioning for equal rights half a century ago. But I will say this: We have made progress, and we will make more. HENRY: But there's impatience on the left, just ask Lady Gaga, who was among thousands at a national equality rally Sunday in Washington.

LADY GAGA: Obama, I know that you're listening. Are you listening? We will continue to push you and your administration to bring your words of promise to a reality.

We need change now.


HENRY: Clearly some pressure on the president there. But other gay activists I spoke to in the last couple of days are basically saying, look, the worst thing the president can do is try to rush it through without getting a consensus, then have the vote fail and lose momentum on Capitol Hill. They want to have the president get it done right this time, get a fix where he can get some consensus.

But this debate is almost a microcosm, Wolf, of what we have seen on a whole range of issues, where the left, they heard the president make some big promises last year, gay rights, other issues like health care as well, and they're looking for that change to be followed through upon, and they're not seeing him move quickly enough in their estimation.

BLITZER: So there's clearly some frustration there.

HENRY: No doubt about it.

BLITZER: Thanks, Ed, very much.

The Obama administration is touting the success of its mortgage modification program designed to help eligible Americans avoid foreclosure. But our viewers are telling us a very different story about their efforts to try to keep their homes.

CNN national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is here with a reality check.

Jessica, what is going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, not long ago, we told you the stories of some very frustrated, sometimes even desperate homeowners who are just getting the runaround from their banks when they apply for the president's new mortgage assistance program. Now the administration is saying this program is on track and doing better. We decided to take a closer look.


YELLIN (voice-over): After CNN first reported on problems with the president's mortgage assistance program...

MARK KOLLAR, HOMEOWNER: Now I feel like we have been -- what's the proper word? Screwed? YELLIN: ... we were flooded with iReports, like this one from Joe and Jill Woods (ph), trying to hang on to their Ohio house. They say the bank kept losing their paperwork, finally approved them for the program, then came back and denied them.

Now Timothy Geithner's Treasury Department says the program has hit a milestone -- 500,000 Americans now have lower-cost trial mortgages through the program. If those homeowners stay current for three months, the offer could be made permanent.

A financial industry lobbyist is optimistic.

SCOTT TALBOTT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE: We're confident that a vast mortgage of these trial mods will turn into permanent modifications and be able to stay in their homes at the end of the three-month program.

YELLIN: So, how are the banks that got big taxpayer bailouts doing? Citibank, 33 percent of their eligible customers have the trial mortgage payments. J.P. Morgan Chase, 27 percent, not bad. But Bank of America, they have struck the deal with only 11 percent of their eligible customers. And Wachovia, which is owned by Wells Fargo, also a huge bailout recipient, only 3 percent.

DIANE THOMPSON, NATIONAL CONSUMER LAW CENTER: I think so far the program has been a disappointment.

YELLIN: Attorney Diane Thompson has given congressional testimony about the program. She says plenty is still going wrong.

THOMPSON: Some people are still being asked to sign waivers of all their legal rights. We have lots of examples of people being put out of their homes while they're waiting to hear back on the status of their modification, lots and lots of cases of people being wrongly denied without any explanation.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, we reached out to the two banks I mentioned that have the lower participation rates. Bank of America says, look, they're taking the problem seriously. They have increased staffing. They're even going door to door in some instances reaching out to customers who have not responded to offers.

Wells Fargo says in just the last month, the company overall has dramatically increased the number of homeowners in the program. They say they're making it easier to submit documents. Bottom line, banks insist they're working overtime to help folks keep their homes, but we will stay on top of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good reality check from Jessica. Thanks very much for that.

Northern Ireland's former enemies win praise and a promise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Plus, the two top Democratic leaders in Congress, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, they are facing some serious political problems, the Republicans going after both. The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: What would the president do without the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, in the Senate? The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, they are under a lot of political attacks right now from Republicans. We will update you on what's going on.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answers a question on the minds of so many people out there. Will she ever run once again for president?


BLITZER: Poll numbers right now not looking very good for the two top Democrats in Congress, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.

We're back with our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Tony Blankley. He's a former spokesman for the then House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Look at those polls as far as Nancy Pelosi -- as far as Nancy Pelosi is concerned. Do you have a somewhat very negative -- somewhat or very negative attitude? Forty-four percent say they do. Somewhat very positive, 27 percent say they do.

She is very secure in her district.

BORGER: Oh, yes, yes.

And she's not going to have any trouble getting reelected. But the Republicans have a strategy to use her and her unpopularity, they say, to go after other Democrats.

BORGER: Yes, and to go after those -- those independent voters and put them in the Republican column. You saw in that poll you just showed up that 53 percent of Independents are negative on Nancy Pelosi. And those are the voters who Republicans are -- are going after.

And she's an easy target for them, so why not?

BLITZER: Congress is not very popular right now to begin with.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not, except for incumbents almost always get re-elected. So we have to look at it they way. And we also have to look at that it's one thing to say, do you like Nancy Pelosi and it's another thing to say, well, your Congressman does, therefore vote against him. I mean we've seen this -- we've seen the Democrats use this with Newt Gingrich, where everyone sort of morphed into Newt Gingrich. You take the most unpopular figure in the opposition party and you make the case that this or that Congressman is just like that person. And it's -- it's pretty standard political stuff and (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: In contrast to Nancy Pelosi, who doesn't have any trouble getting re-elected, she's got a very liberal San Francisco district, Harry Reid, who's the Senate majority leader from Nevada, he does have the prospect of a tough re-election campaign.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Harry Reid is accustomed to having these tight races and I think, at the end of the day, he will overcome the challenges that he faces in Nevada. After all, he's a former boxer and this is the kind of race he likes to be in, one where he can get himself back into -- to top shape.

But, you know, in terms of Speaker Pelosi, right after the Democrats took control of the Congress, we had several special elections, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi. And they used Speaker Pelosi as a -- as an image to say that those districts would be liberal. And voters said no, we like the Congressperson.

BLITZER: So here's the guy who used to work with Newt Gingrich.


BLITZER: The Democrats loved to use Newt Gingrich to try to go after other Republicans.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The key is that the person has got to have a very high name I.D. So Newt was known by like 99, 98 percent, so you didn't have to explain who he was.

Now, my guess is that Pelosi's numbers have been going up in the last couple of years, so she's more known, so she's more vulnerable. She's probably not as well-known as Newt was then, but -- but well- known. So she'll be somewhat useful.

The other thing that people don't recognize in this is that the more that the other party goes after the leader, the less effective the leader can lead their own people, because they become a drag on the team and the team is less loyal. Now, she's -- and Pelosi's got tremendous management of her caucus right now. No question there. But the -- the more she's vulnerable out there, the more the members feel like they're protecting her instead of she's protecting them and that weakens her ability to continue to manage.

BORGER: Tony, you must remember this, when the Republicans went after Tip O'Neill. And remember, they said he was fat and out of control and they had ads of a guy who -- a big heavyset guy who looked like Tip O'Neill and he's on the ropes. I mean, that didn't have any effect. The -- the Democrats ended up winning 26 seats that year. BLANKLEY: Well, that was because of Social Security...


BORGER: And unemployment...


BORGER: ...unemployment being high.

BLANKLEY: ...on Social Security.


BLANKLEY: You never know whether it's because of or in spite of. But, look, I think any -- any leader of a party who is unpopular and well-known can be used, to some extent, to undermine the other party. It's not a -- it's not a silver bullet, but it does some damage.

BRAZILE: I believe the referendum in 2010 will be on unemployment and whether or not the American people feel that...


BRAZILE: ...their own economic situation has improved under the Democrats.

BLANKLEY: Now, Reid -- Reid has another problem, because not only...

BLITZER: Harry Reid.

BLANKLEY: Harry Reid. He has -- not only does he have bad numbers, he may overcome it. A veteran very often beats the amateur when it comes down to the final, you know, 60 days.

But he's got a problem on his left, because you've got Schumer and -- and...

BLITZER: Menendez.

BLANKLEY: And -- and Durbin...

BORGER: Durbin.

BLANKLEY: ...who would be his replacement -- one of them would be his replacement -- much more liberal. Liberals like them more than him.

So will he get the vigorous liberal support that he's going to need, because he's being sucked to the left by the president's agenda?

So he's going to have to buck -- he's into the president's agenda, but...

(CROSSTALK) BLANKLEY: And -- and then the left is going to start saying, why do we want him, lose him and we can get a real liberal to lead the Senate.

BORGER: You know, it's a...


BLITZER: ...some good conspiratorial theories.


BLITZER: But I don't know if they're that sophisticated (INAUDIBLE)...


BLANKLEY: It's already -- it's already starting.

CROWLEY: No, no, no.

BLANKLEY: No, I've got a -- I've got a printout of -- of a Web site of a union organizer out of Philadelphia...


BLANKLEY: ...who's already making this...


BORGER: But, you know, leaders have to make tough choices, because lots of times, the party pulls them in one direction. Their constituents may pull them in another. I mean, Nevada is not liberal, right?

BLITZER: All right. Donna, I've got a sound bite I'm going to play for you.


BLITZER: The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, you remember, she once ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.


BORGER: I remember her.

BLITZER: Listen to this exchange she had on "The Today Show" today.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you ever run for U.S. president again, yes or no? HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: No.


CLINTON: No. No. I mean, this is -- this is a great job. It is a 24-7 job and I'm looking forward to retirement at some point.


BLITZER: I believe she said no three times there, but go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well, look, she's focused on -- on doing a very important job at the State Department. And she's a trail blazer. She's gone farther than any woman in American politics in cracking that glass ceiling. So I -- I wish her the best. She's -- she's a fantastic person.

CROWLEY: Do you know what I thought was interesting about that?

Not the no, I'm not going to run for president again, because I -- she certainly has sent out those signals. I didn't see this, if you're assuming -- you know, she's certainly not going to run in four years, so this would be eight years.


CROWLEY: She would be coming into 70, which is fine, except for I don't see her doing that. If -- if people thought she looked like old news this time, in eight years, it might be even worse.

What interested me in that bite was talk of retirement.


CROWLEY: You know, that's what I thought was so interesting.

BLITZER: She says, I'm looking forward to retirement at some point.

CROWLEY: I'm looking forward to retirement. And I'm going whoa...


BORGER: There is no retirement with the Clintons.


BLANKLEY: When it comes to any politician, any party, you cannot believe a denial. I mean the current president said he absolutely wasn't going to run because he hadn't been in the Senate long enough. Well, he changed his mind, he's president. You know, president -- people change their minds.

(CROSSTALK) BLANKLEY: That doesn't matter. Plus -- and nobody believes it. I mean, if people believed it, she'd lose her stick around town, because it's the threat that she could come back. But you say 2016, if Obama ended up being sort of like President Carter and not popular, she could play Ted Kennedy's role and challenge him.

BORGER: What part of no don't you understand?

I mean I've got to believe this woman.


BLANKLEY: I understand the part of no that comes out of any politician's mouth.


BORGER: We'll have to listen to Newt Gingrich next time he tells us (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: This is a free country. It's a great country. People can change their minds.

BLANKLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. Don't go away. We have more to discuss.

They hold powerful positions in the Obama administration, but guess what, almost none of them are out there on the playing field when it comes to playing presidential sports.

Where are the women?


BLITZER: When it comes to the president playing sports, the men got game. The women, they have, so far, nothing. CNN has learned something very interesting about the Obama administration -- sports, that is, and what you might call no battle of the sexes.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, has more -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yesterday, the president hit the golf course again, like he does most weekends. It's his way to decompress. In a town where access equals influence, some say who he plays with sends a powerful message.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama surrounds himself with powerful women -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; top adviser Valerie Jarrett; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. But on the golf course, on the basketball court, or ankle deep in a Montana river, Mr. Obama surrounds himself with men.

Where are the women?

AMY SISKIND, PRESIDENT, THE NEW AGENDA: Well, they're missing out on not only the ability to mentor but to relationship-build with the president, to relationship-build with others who he surrounds himself with.

LOTHIAN: Based on CNN's review, no woman has been listed as participating in his presidential sports outings, including a recent White House basketball game for cabinet secretaries and members of Congress. Fifteen names on the list -- all men.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did the president invite any women?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think your appearance on the list appears to be accurate. I would say that the point is well taken.

LOTHIAN: Especially since some of the administration's top women, to borrow a popular slang, got game. Ambassador Rice played high school ball. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius played in college. And on Jay Leno's show, she seemed eager to join all the president's men.


JAY LENO, HOST: Who would win in a game of horse, you or President Obama?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: You know, I actually made my college basketball team.

LENO: Whoa!

SEBELIUS: So, you know, bring it on.


LOTHIAN: To put all this in perspective, we're not talking about winning a war, insuring Americans or fixing the economy. But what some see as a boys' club mentality, complete with heavy sports images and overused metaphors...

GIBBS: He's still got a lot of heat on the fastball.

LOTHIAN: ... Gives a perception that women, who voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama, don't always have the all access pass.

PROF. SETH KAPLAN, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: These kind of gender lines are not created intentionally, but they emerge more naturally. And so I think it's important for everyone at work to be aware of these issues.


LOTHIAN: While some women's groups say the president has also been tone deaf to some of their issues, the administration will argue that the very first piece of legislation Mr. Obama signed dealt with equal pay for women, and that the White House established the Council on Women and Girls, aimed at knocking down barriers -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

Let's continue our conversation with the best political team on television. You know, people will laugh, this is not necessarily serious. But there is one argument going on. You've heard this, I'm sure all of you have heard it, that there is sort of a double standard in the White House, that the boys, if you will, they get more access to the president than the girls.

BORGER: Yes. Well, I think the president has a lot of powerful women in the administration, Valerie Jarrett is perhaps his closest friend and senior adviser at the White House. Personally, though, Wolf, I don't really care what goes on on the basketball court. I think the important thing is not to bring the locker room into the White House and to make sure that the women have the access to the president of the United States. And that -- you know, that's something that -- that I think is an ongoing conversation over there.

CROWLEY: Yes, it's one thing, however, to go and play a round of golf with the body guy who, you know, (INAUDIBLE)...


CROWLEY: -- and lower aides. It's another thing, I would argue, to go -- look, I don't know, you know, if they don't want to play basketball with him, that's great, but a lot of work gets done in that kind of environment. And access in the White House is everything, whether it's on the basketball court or whether it's in the Oval Office.

So -- and there is a bonding that take place. I'm not necessarily arguing you ought to go, you know, play basketball with, you know, whoever's female. But I do think that if you went and looked at the president's roster of close advisers, it's still pretty predominantly male. Yes, there are some women in there. I would put Michelle way up there in terms of who he listens to.

BORGER: Valerie Jarrett, Anita Dunn.

CROWLEY: Well, but, yes, but, you know, you have them -- but then can go down the list of the male advisers who he's listening to...


CROWLEY: -- on Afghanistan or on health care. So I do that think there is validity in the complaint -- if there is any -- that bonding does take place that helps later on in business...


BLITZER: Donna, you've been around...


BLITZER: You know all these players.

What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, I'm not going to object to anything Candy or -- or Gloria have said because it's true. There's a lot of business that takes place, we all know, outside, you know, the Oval Office. And -- but I also know something about this president. He's inclusive, that women may not be involved in his pick-up game, but they're clearly on his agenda. He listens to women. They're in -- they're part of every loop inside the White House. And the most important thing is that he gets it. And that's -- that you cannot (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: By the way, he did have a pick-up game today after receiving the University of Connecticut Women's National Championship basketball team. He took some of them over to the basketball court and he did shoot some hoops with them.


BLITZER: I suspect...


BLITZER: We suspect all of those women were better players than...

BRAZILE: And I'm sure they...


BLITZER: ...than him.


BLANKLEY: I'm going to disagree with everybody. Look, I've played golf and I've tried to do business in town for 30 years and there's no relationship between the two.

If you -- if you have a relationship with somebody based on your professional work, you -- and the two of you happen to be going golfing, you might resolve something on the course. But if you don't have the relationship, you're just -- you're just golfing.

On the other hand, getting access to the president, it is -- it's the toughest game in town. And everybody fights it, whether they're men, women, Republicans or Democrats. And if you're smart enough to get that by whatever assets you can bring to that game, you win.

BORGER: Well, and...

BLANKLEY: And the idea that you're going to say every -- women or men or certain people have to get -- have to have a certain amount of face time with the president, it's -- it's ludicrous. People -- smart people, whether it's Maggie Thatcher in Britain, the smart people figure out how to make the system work. You can't order that kind of intelligence.

BORGER: You know, Valerie Jarrett doesn't have to play golf with the president to be close to the president. She can go upstairs to the private residence, I'm sure, and see the first lady...


BORGER: ...and the president, you know, anytime she wants. But you just don't want to create an atmosphere where women feel excluded.

BRAZILE: That's right.

BORGER: You know, that's the key.

BRAZILE: And for too long in our history, we've been excluded.

CROWLEY: And imagine Kathleen Sebelius sitting here going bring it on, right?

So I would suggest that...


CROWLEY: -- that they call her and Donna...


BLANKLEY: I can't imagine that she's made any points to be closer to the president by taking a shot at him on national television (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: That was cute.

BORGER: Oh, that was...


Katrina We think it's cute because the joke wasn't on us.


BLANKLEY: If the joke was on us, we might not think it was.

BORGER: Do you want to bet that was...

BLITZER: But I suspect he...

BORGER: ...cleared?

BLITZER: I suspect the president thinks it was cute, too.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: I don't think he took it personally.

CROWLEY: No. No. BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much -- a good, excellent discussion.

He wants to own a piece of the St. Louis Rams, but will the players union try to stop Rush Limbaugh at the line of scrimmage?

Plus, Senator Barbara Boxer caught in a sticky situation. Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, the radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, is interested in buying the St. Louis Rams -- at least part of the St. Louis Rams. It's a deal that's meeting with some stiff opposition.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's got a report -- Brian, who has a problem with Rush Limbaugh's buying part of the St. Louis Rams?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some players have said they would not be comfortable about playing on a team with Rush Limbaugh as a part owner. And now, the head of the NFL players' union has come out against him.

At its core, this is all about Limbaugh's past comments about race.


TODD (voice-over): A shot across the bow for the idea of Rush Limbaugh becoming part owner of an NFL team. In an e-mail, the new director of the football players union, DeMaurice Smith, encouraged players to speak up about the conservative talk show host's bid for the St. Louis Rams: "We will not risk going in America is at its best when it unifies, overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."

Some players have said they would be uncomfortable playing for an ownership group that includes Limbaugh because of comments he's made about race. One of them: "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."

And in 2003, an implication on ESPN that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, Limbaugh's producer declined to comment about DeMaurice Smith's statement. Limbaugh himself has said he's not racist.

Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith say players may be posturing about Limbaugh, but in the end, they'll go where the money is. And he says that's how Limbaugh's bid should be judged.


STEPHEN A. SMITH, COMMENTATOR: If he has the dollars, he should be allowed to do it. He's definitely an NFL fan. I've listened to him talk about football. It's not like he's ignorant to the game of football.


TODD: But could this controversy actually sink Limbaugh's bid?

In the end, it will come down to a vote among NFL owners.

DAMON HACK, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": I think that will be the big question mark, how -- how much will the owners listen to their players?

How much, you know, will there be communication and contact between the players and the ownerships of the respective franchises to say, you know what, Rush Limbaugh will be a part of this league or not a part of this league?


TODD: Now, Limbaugh's got some competition in this bid. There are half a dozen groups trying to buy the Rams. And the winning investors need the votes of 24 of the 32 owners of the other teams -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It comes in a -- at a rather sensitive moment, some problems already between the owners and the players' representatives.

TODD: That's right. The players and owners, they're on the verge of playing next year without a salary cap. Their collective bargaining agreement, their labor deal, runs out after next season and they could have a lockout after that. So this could be another very contentious issue in negotiations if the owners end up accepting Limbaugh's bid.

BLITZER: We'll watch the story with you, Brian.

Thank you very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Health insurance companies on the offensive, blasting the Senate health care legislation. The predictions -- it will cost your family thousand of dollars each year for coverage. Democrats are calling the report self-serving and a hatchet job. Now some are saying the same of those folks.

Also, don't ask/don't tell -- President Obama promises to overturn that policy. But he's promised to do that before.

Why hasn't he already done it?

What other campaign promises has he failed to deliver on?

The list, unfortunately, is growing.

And Al Gore's inconvenient truth -- he won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. Critics say global warming is one-sided, the movie is riddled with mistakes and Mr. Gore is being confronted now, face-to- face. We'll show you that testy exchange and why somebody decided to shut off a microphone.

Also, questions and confusion about the swine flu -- who is really at risk?

We're going to answer questions here tonight that no one else is.

Join us for all of that and more, all the day's news, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Thank you.

We'll see you then.

A sticky situation, as Senator Barbara Boxer tries to get rid of her chewing gum. It's all Moost Unusual.


BLITZER: No one ever intends to gum up the works when engaged in sensitive international negotiations. But even senators sometimes slip up and have to spit it out.

CNN's Jeanne Moos follows up on a Moost Unusual faux pas.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It was one of those sticky situations. Senator Barbara Boxer was meeting with the U.N. secretary general.


MOOS: Senator Boxer doubled her embarrassment.



MOOS: Getting caught whipping out her gum.

But, hey, who hasn't?

When Tom Brokaw moderated a presidential debate, he deposited his gum on the desk next to him.

When Rosie O'Donnell announced she was leaving "The View," we got this view of her gum leaving her mouth. When President Obama said that the president has to be able to...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Walk and chew gum at the same time.

MOOS: ...he didn't mention ability to talk and get rid of Nicorette at the same time. But the real trick is sleep and chew gum.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me have it, because you're falling asleep.


MOOS: You wouldn't want him to choke, though he probably will die of embarrassment.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's spit your gum out, OK?


MOOS: When he sees himself sleeping, chewing gum and sucking his thumb years from now.

And when driving, make sure your window is all the way open before you spit out your gum -- even before you go on TV.


ANN COULTER: I'm putting my Nicorette back in. It's like smoking before I go on.


MOOS: Gum chewing isn't safe from prying eyes. Ann Coulter was offered another piece of Nicorette.


COULTER: If you can chop it up so I can snort it.


MOOS (on camera): It could have been worse -- much worse. At least no one did this.

(voice-over): Actor Joaquin Phoenix came closest during his bizarre appearance on "Letterman."


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: I'll come to your house and chew gum.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX, ACTOR: OK. I don't have to chew it.

LETTERMAN: No. Just relax.


MOOS: Though a minute later, he peeled the gum off. It's not safe to leave it. Britney Spears had a wad of her gum auctioned off. Maybe the best thing to do is just say no. Russia's president said yes to a piece of gum, but Vladimir Putin had the sense to say nyet. Even "Pretty Woman" wasn't that pretty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop fidgeting. Get rid of your gum. I don't believe you did that.


MOOS: And did Toby Keith hit anyone?

Sometimes you just wish you could take it back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I spit it out and I suck it back in.

LETTERMAN: How do you do that?


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

We just want to clarify. The president did shoot some hoops with the University of Connecticut basketball team -- the women's basketball team. That's the championship team. You see them there. But that was back in April at the White House. He took them over to the White House basketball court and shot a few hoops with them.

That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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