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THE SITUATION ROOM
"A .38 Right between My Eyes;" Awaiting President Obama; Battle Over Health Price Tag
Aired October 13, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We will do that, Jack.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news -- we're awaiting President Obama this hour. He's about to mark a key milestone in his push for health care reform, as a key Senate committee passes a massive plan to extend coverage to millions of Americans. But there's new opposition on both sides of this debate. We'll go live to the White House shortly.
A U.S. citizen appears in court on hijacking charges and a crew member relives the terror in the cockpit four decades after an airliner was forced to fly to Cuba.
And you know her as the star of "Desperate Housewives," but she wants you to know about a push for a Latino landmark right here in Washington. I'll speak with Eva Longoria Parker. She's my guest.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The breaking news this hour -- a key Senate panel has passed an $829 billion measure aimed at extending health care coverage to an additional 29 million Americans. That's a huge step forward for President Obama, but his reform efforts face a tough road ahead.
The president is due to come out into the Rose Garden and speak on this in just a few minutes. We're going to go there live as soon as he does. Stand by for that.
But first, a U.S. citizen was in a New York courtroom today, accused of hijacking a plane and forcing it to land in Cuba. Luis Armando Pena pleaded not guilty. He arrived on a flight from Cuba Sunday four decades after the hijacking.
But the memories are still fresh for one of the crew members.
CNN's Mary Snow gained extraordinary access.
She's joining us now live with more -- Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we tracked down a flight engineer who was on that flight and spoke to him doubt in South Carolina. It was only his third flight for PanAm at the time. The plane had left New York, was heading to Puerto Rico, when he says about halfway through the flight, it was hijacked. He says he hasn't talked about it for years -- until now.
GEORGE HOPKINS, FORMER PANAM FLIGHT ENGINEER: It was just like a bomb going off with a big flash, like hello. And I can still remember it very vividly. It was a very horrible experience.
SNOW: (voice-over): And that experience from 41 years ago came rushing back to retired flight engineer George Hopkins when Luis Armando Pena Soltren recently surrendered to U.S. authorities. Soltren, who had been living in Cuba, is accused of being one of three men who hijacked and diverted a PanAm flight to Cuba in November of 1968. Hopkins was on that flight and says he doesn't know who entered the cockpit, just that there were three hijackers.
HOPKINS: And a guy comes into the cockpit and he's got a knife at the base of a stewardess' skull and he sticks A.38 right in my nose. So -- right between my eyes. And I could tell it was loaded, because I could see the bullets around the cylinder. So it was -- it was for real. And he says, "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba." And so we figured out that he wanted to go to Cuba right off the bat. So, actually, the pilot and the copilot and said hey, this guy wants to go to Cuba, so I think we'd better appease him because he's got a gun and a knife. And I looked in back and the cockpit door was open and I could see two other guys back there kind of holding the passengers at bay with guns.
SNOW: Hopkins says the hijacker eventually lowered the gun when a second hijacker entered the cockpit, seemingly calmer.
HOPKINS: And we were talking there. And he says, mind if I bring my wife up to first class? I says, hey, it's your plane now. And so he came and brought his wife up.
SNOW: Not only was there a wife, but Hopkins says there was also a child. He says when they landed in Cuba, the hijackers got out the passengers were deboarded and after being interrogated, the crew flew back the plane to Miami.
HOPKINS: I never thought I would repeat this story again. I repeated it a lot for the first several years, because it was very traumatic to us. But this is the first time I've even said anything about it for maybe five, 10 years. And it's been kind of nice that, you know, your mind just goes ahead and is able to flush things once in a while until something happens and then you recall it.
SNOW: And, Wolf, Hopkins says if he were asked to testify at a trial, he would -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow working the story for us.
Thank you. We have some more now on some other long sought fugitives from the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Victor Manuel Gerena, who also thought to have lived in Cuba. He's on the list. He's being sought in connection with the 1983 armed robbery of approximately $7 million from a security company in Connecticut.
South Boston crime boss James Bulger, more commonly known as Whitey -- he's seen here in police surveillance video. He's believed to be linked to more than 20 murders that occurred during the '70s and '80s.
And right above Bulger on the list, look at this, Osama bin Laden. Among the many charges against him, murder of U.S. nationals outside of the United States and an attack on a federal facility resulting in death. The State Department is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Jack Cafferty is back with us once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as expected, the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of health care reform this afternoon. Right ahead of today's vote, though, the insurance industry was playing hardball. The group America's Health Insurance Plans came out with a critical analysis of the Senate Finance Committee's reform plan that claims health insurance premiums for the average family will increase by $4,000 a year over the next decade; premiums for individuals would go up by about $1,500 a year.
The report suggests that premium costs will rise faster under the government plan, partly because it doesn't do enough to force people to buy insurance from the insurance companies. That means not enough young and healthy people will pay into the system, which, in turn, will drive up rates for everyone.
It also says the proposed tax on employers' higher cost insurance programs, those so-called Cadillac plans, could mean higher premiums for many consumers.
The White House blasted this thing, called it inaccurate, said it was self-serving. The Senate Finance Committee called it a health insurance company hatchet job.
But the Insurance Group is standing by its report, saying it was conducted by a world class firm with a stellar reputation, which is partially true. The report was done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is a reputable national accounting firm. But -- but the company acknowledged late yesterday it didn't look at the whole legislation, only the four provisions that the insurance industry asked it to look at.
So here's the question: When it comes to health care reform, how damaging is an insurance industry report that suggests it could lead to higher premiums?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: This debate intensifying.
Jack, thank you very much.
We also have a new way, by the way, for you to follow what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And as a lot of you know, I'm already on Twitter. And you can you get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn all one word.
We're going to take Jack's question directly to the source, the head of America's Health Insurance Plans is in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain why her group opposes the health care reform bill that just passed the Senate Finance Committee. That's coming up this hour.
And we're also standing by to hear from President Obama live in the White House Rose Garden. He's going to speak about that historic vote before the Senate Finance Committee and what he wants to see happen next.
And it's National Hispanic Heritage Month and the actress Eva Longorio Parker, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to push for something that she says America needs and needs soon. She joins us.
That and more coming up.
BLITZER: Our breaking news this hour -- a sweeping overhaul of America's health care system makes it out of a key committee in the Senate, but still faces a very tough debate on the Senate floor and then when the Senate and the House have to come up with some sort of joint plan. It's a big step forward, though, for President Obama's reform effort, even as the opposition intensifies.
Within the next minute or two, the president of the United States will come out, go into the Rose Garden and we'll get his reaction to what's going on.
Let's go to the Rose Garden, though, right now.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by.
The president will walk out from the Oval Office, Ed, and go right to you.
I see him walking out, so Ed's going to sit down and he's going to move away.
The president of the United States will address the nation.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon. Today we reached a critical milestone in our effort to reform our health care system. After many months of thoughtful deliberation, the fifth and final committee responsible for health care reform has passed a proposal that has both Democratic and Republican support. This effort was made possible by the tireless efforts of Chairman Max Baucus and the other members of the Senate Finance Committee. It's a product of vigorous debate and difficult negotiations.
After the consideration of hundreds of amendments, it includes ideas from both Democrats and Republicans, which is why it enjoys the support of people from both parties.
And I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she's demonstrated throughout this process.
Now, this bill is not perfect and we have a lot of difficult work ahead of us. There still are significant details and disagreements to be worked out over the next several weeks, as the five separate bills from the Senate and the House are merged into one proposal. But I do believe the work of the Senate Finance Committee has brought us significantly closer to achieving the core objectives that I laid out early in September.
Most importantly, this bill goes a long way toward offering security to those who have insurance and affordable options for those who don't. It reins in some of the worst practices of the insurance industry -- the denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions. It also sets up an insurance exchange that will make coverage affordable for those who don't currently have it. And as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has certified, it will slow the growth of health care costs in the long-term and it will not add a penny to our deficit.
The Committee's progress over the past several weeks is the culmination of work by all five committees and numerous members of Congress over the better part of this year. We've reached out to stakeholders across the spectrum -- doctors and nurses, businesses and workers, hospitals and even drug companies. And we've considered a wide variety of ideas and proposals in an effort to find common ground.
As a result of these efforts, we are now closer than ever before to passing health reform. But we're not there yet. Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now is not the time to offer ourselves congratulations. Now is the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done.
And in this final phase, I hope that we will continue to engage each other with the spirit of civility and seriousness that has brought us this far and that this subject deserves.
I commend the chairman and the Committee's members for their achievement and the example that they've set and I look forward to continuing to work with Congress in the weeks ahead.
We are going to get this done.
Thank you very much, everybody.
QUESTION: Can you (INAUDIBLE) about this?
Are you upset with the insurance companies?
BLITZER: All right, the president is not taking any questions from reporters. They shouted a couple, as we just heard. He's going back into the Oval Office right now, but insisting that he's pleased by what the Senate Finance Committee did today. The process, he says, is closer than ever before. But he says he's not there yet.
Candy Crowley is our senior political correspondent.
When he says he's not there yet, there's an enormous amount of work that still has to be done reconciling the different versions not only in the Senate -- two different versions -- but then trying to reconcile that with a very different outlook in the House of Representatives.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And we still haven't seen the total House package, because there were three versions over there, two versions in the House. They then have to get each one version passed and go to a conference committee and go back. We are a long way away. And in some ways, Wolf, this is like 52 card pickup now, because all of those elements that were put in or put out in this particular version of the bill, or any of the other versions, are now still open for discussion.
So what goes on next, at least on the Senate side, is those four people -- Senator Reid, the head of the Democrats; Senator Baucus; and Senator Chris...
BLITZER: The chairman of the Finance Committee.
CROWLEY: -- the chairman of the Finance; and Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Health Committee and then White House. And this is where the president comes in. It's not going to be enough now for the president to come out and say this is a great day, we're moving forward, it's really urgent. Now, they need to know -- and, in fact, Senator Reid has said I've got to know what the White House has to have, because he has two very different bills. One is more liberal, one is more moderate. And, you know, you do the law of physics for legislation and. You're going to see it -- see the moderate bill become more liberal, the liberal bill become more moderate, trying to find that sweet spot so it can get passed.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent.
He's still in the Rose Garden watching all of this -- is it fair to assume, Ed, we're going to see more assertive, not only White House, but a president get more personally involved in trying to get this done?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what we're hearing from White House aides. But we should caution, we've heard that before. I mean certainly when the president made that address to a joint session of Congress several weeks ago, before that speech, we had been assured the president was going to be much more specific than before, really lay out a plan. He never quite did that.
But Candy is right, that we are now at a much different juncture in this debate, that it certainly seems like we finally do have to hear more specifics from this president. And the biggest question, I think, frankly, is whether or not he's going to push very hard for a public option. He did not mention that in those comments. I shouted to him, "Can you live without a public option?"
As you noted, he was not taking questions. But I will note that tomorrow, as Candy laid out, when all those key senators get together, there's another important player that's going to be at the table -- Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. So for the first time, this White House will be more assertive, at least in that way, that behind closed doors, this is no longer just a legislative Congressional process. The White House will have its fingerprints -- its collective fingerprints -- on what they're doing.
And I asked Robert Gibbs earlier, will Rahm Emanuel, in that room, push hard for a public option?
It's not in that Finance bill. That's what liberals want. And Robert Gibbs said he's going to push for choice and competition. It doesn't quite answer the question of whether he'll push for a public option -- maybe something short of a public option that still, they believe, pushes choice and competition -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. The president says this bill is not perfect, I assume...
BLITZER: ...and I believe he's going to accept pretty good, too, even if it's not perfect. He'll be happy to sign something into law.
All right. Ed Henry, we'll get back to you.
Candy, we'll, of course, get back to you, as well.
It's one of the most powerful forces fighting against the health care reform bill that just passed the Senate Finance Committee right now -- the head of America's Health Insurance Plans is here to explain why they oppose this specific bill.
Also, the actress, Eva Longorio Parker, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM talking about immigration and what she's pushing for during this Hispanic Heritage Month.
BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.
A 19-year-old cold case may finally be solved. Police in Little Rock, Arkansas today arrested a 40-year-old man in the 1980 abduction and rape, as well as attempted murder, of Jennifer Schuett, then just eight years old. Now, Miss Schuett spoke with CNN about the case two weeks ago. And today, she described to reporters what kept her going through the years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KPRC)
JENNIFER SCHUETT, ALLEGED RAPE VICTIM: Throughout this journey, I've had two main goals. And they were to find the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and attempted to murder me 19 years ago so that he could not hurt anyone else and to use my voice in telling my story to as many people as I possibly could over the years, in hopes that I may encourage other victims of violent crime to stand up and speak out against criminals.
Today, I can say very proudly that I have accomplished both of these goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Now, police say advanced DNA testing led to today's arrest of Dennis Earl Bradford.
Well, a former Enron executive convicted in the collapse of the Texas energy giant will get a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Jeff Skilling is currently serving 24 years in federal prison. He was convicted of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading in the Enron case. Skilling's attorney says pervasive media coverage prevented his client from receiving a fair trial.
Well, not even a thick fog could stop people from waving farewell to the USS New York. Look at that. The newly built ship left the Port of New Orleans en route to its home port of New York. The naval assault vessel was constructed using steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Towers. And the USS New York will be commissioned early next month.
And you've got to check this out -- a massive solar eruption. There's the video right there, captured on tape by a pair of NASA spacecraft. Now, the twin space units, called Behind and Ahead, shot this footage of the eruption over a 30 hour period from September 26th to the 27th. NASA says the eruption was a "prominence," which are clouds of cooler gas spinning above the sun's surface by magnetic forces.
Pretty cool looking, though, huh Wolf?
BLITZER: It's amazing when you think about how far away all of that is, too.
BLITZER: All right, Betty, thank you. If health care reform fails, many may lay blame on the health insurance industry itself.
But is that a fair accusation?
We'll speak about that and more with the head of America's Health Insurance Plans.
Plus, the actress Eva Longorio Parker -- she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM today to talk about Hispanic Heritage Month and what she's desperately pushing for while in the nation's capital.
And the governor of California taking on the paparazzi -- can even The Terminator defeat these determined celebrity photographers?
CNN entertainment correspondent, Kareen Wynter, will give us the inside story.
All that coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the U.S. and Russia reset their relations, but there's one trouble spot that will take some of the best diplomacy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can muster.
Can Washington and Moscow work together to press Iran on its nuclear program?
Also, details of the efforts to millions -- have millions of Latinos to boycott next year's census.
What's behind this and the message they're trying to send the president?
And on Wall Street, stocks simmered as investors await the first quarterly results this week. The Dow lost 14 points. The Nasdaq gained .75 point. The S&P was down 3.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get back to our top story. An industry trade group has now pushed a study that says health care costs could increase dramatically for typical American families under a Senate reform plan -- the plan that passed the Senate Finance Committee today.
But is the report all it's cracked up to be?
Joining us now is Karen Ignagni. She's president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents the health insurance industry here in Washington.
Karen, thanks very much for coming in.
KAREN IGNAGNI, AMERICA'S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The plan that was -- we all talked about yesterday was put out by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that the average American family could pay, what, $4,000 more within the next 10 years. But now they're saying you know what, this study they did was not complete.
IGNAGNI: Well, we asked them to look -- we asked PWC to look at four issues. One, what happens if you don't get everyone in, so people have an incentive to leave the pool. That's been the objective from the beginning, to get everybody in, so we can have a complete overhaul of insurance market reform. And this is what we support. We strongly support the president. We strongly support the Senate Finance Committee and every other committee that's proposed market reform.
But to make that work, based on what happens in the states, you have to have everybody participating.
BLITZER: Because they're now saying that -- PricewaterhouseCoopers, they're saying: "We have not estimated the impact of the new subsidies on the net insurance cost to households"...
IGNAGNI: Well, and that...
BLITZER: Let me just finish reading what they say.
BLITZER: "Also, if other provisions in health care reform are successful in lowering costs over the long-term, those improvements would offset some of the impacts we have estimated."
IGNAGNI: Well, the -- the issue of subsidies, we asked them to look at mandates and whether everyone was in on the impact of that; cost shifting, if you don't have comprehensive cost controls -- which we do not in the system; and then tax provisions, which will add to the cost of care.
That's what we asked them to assess. That's what they've done.
The issue of subsidies is the following, and this is why it is not relevant to this particular issue because we're talking about cost drivers. For subsidies, for 42 percent of the people the individual market will never get any subsidies because their incomes are too high so any increases in cost will affect them directly.
Secondly, the size of the subsidies. If you have underlying cost increases because of financial provisions, then that means those subsidies will be even higher.
BLITZER: But is the report though based on their clarification today, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, basically null and void?
IGNAGNI: No, no.
BLITZER: You still...
IGNAGNI: In fact...
BLITZER: Even though they didn't take a look at the positive side, they only looked at the negative side.
IGNAGNI: No, that's not true. We asked the PWC to assess the package of provisions that we know to be cost drivers, that a number of policy leaders have opined on over the last few years. We know this will increase cost.
Subsidies merely cover the costs of the care for individuals who are under a certain income level. If the costs are being driven up, that means those subsidies are going to be have to be even higher, so if PWC is even half right -- half right -- that means those subsidies are going to be much higher than the CBO projects.
BLITZER: So you think those numbers are still accurate. How much did you pay PWC to do this report?
IGNAGNI: I don't think PWC -- we have a contractual obligation with PWC that doesn't allow us to talk about how much we paid. We paid for the report. We asked for the report and this is relevant 12 days ago and the reason we asked for it 12 days ago because the Senate Finance Committee in its markup made a material change that affected the structure of the bill.
The bottom line for us, Wolf, is that we believe in reform. We've worked very hard to come to the table with the market reforms that everyone wants. We support that, but the problem is we've said from the beginning, and the experience of the state demonstrates, if you don't have anybody in, they are got going to work.
BLITZER: What specific guidelines did you give PWC in asking for this report?
IGNAGNI: We didn't give them any guidelines in terms of what to tell us the effects were. We said look at the mandate that isn't a mandate anymore so we won't have everyone in. We said look at cost shifting and the impact on premiums for small business and large business. We said look at the tax effect.
We know in the states that have adopted these excise taxes it's just added to the cost of care, and we know that a number of groups have already -- have strong issues with the Cadillac tax.
BLITZER: I asked the questions and I wonder if you could, you know, share with us and share with our viewers the specific guidelines, what your instructions were to PricewaterhouseCoopers?
IGNAGNI: The only instruction we had was to get an answer.
BLITZER: If you wrote out here's what we want you to do, if you could share that with us that would be useful. IGNAGNI: I would be delighted to if we had done anything like that. PricewaterhouseCoopers is a world class firm. It's independent. It has a very good, stellar reputation. What we asked them to do was assess these specific provisions.
BLITZER: Because yesterday Linda Douglass who works at the White House on health care reform, she was here and she said the timing of this report in their minds was suspicious. Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA DOUGLASS, WHITE HOUSE HEALTH REFORM OFFICE: Now obviously they are, you know, on the eve of a vote that might have some effect on their profits in the future. They are producing a report that almost everyone has looked at that says appears to be fairly flawed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Was this designed to try to undermine the vote in the Senate Finance Committee?
IGNAGNI: No. We knew we weren't going to change the vote in the Senate Finance Committee, but last weekend, on Saturday, several days ago, when this report was finished, we had believed and everyone in Washington was saying the Senate, the entire Senate, the full Senate was going to go the week after this week. So we needed to make sure that we got this out in the public domain so these issues can be addressed.
That's our point, Wolf. We're not talking about not passing health reform. We're strongly supportive of that. We need to have health reform in this country, but these issues need to be addressed...
IGNAGNI: ... so that we can make sure we have affordability. If we don't end up with affordability, we haven't achieved the objectives that I think everyone shares.
BLITZER: Here's the exchange you had with the president at the White House back in March. I'll play it...
IGNAGNI: And I remember it well.
BLITZER: I'll play it for our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IGNAGNI: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now someone who used to work in the health insurance industry, a man by the name of Wendell Potter, he was on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" early today, and he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDELL POTTER, FORMER HEALTH INSURANCE EXECUTIVE: I think the industry has been disingenuous from the beginning of this debate. They have never had any intention of being good-faith partners with the president and the Congress, and I know this from having been a part of many, many efforts over the past 20 years almost to defeat reform or to help shape reform to the industry's benefit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he right?
IGNAGNI: He's wrong. Every proposal that's pending in Congress for insurance market reform comports with exactly what we proposed more than a year ago. Before this session started we were for guarantee issue, no preexisting condition limitations, everybody gets coverage, nobody falls out. That's what the American people want. We are committed to that.
We also said from the beginning of the year that what goes together with the guarantee issue and no pre-existing in insurance market reforms is having everybody in so we can have affordability to make sure the younger and the healthier people are part of the pool.
There's been quite a lot of research but even more than research, Wolf, there's experience at the state level where they went forward with market reforms without having everyone in and the systems blew up. And we don't want that.
BLITZER: So, very quickly, if the final version that emerges from the House and Senate is similar to what the Senate Finance Committee passed today you will fight to try to beat that with all your might?
IGNAGNI: We are saying something very different than what you've just suggested. We issued a statement just a few minutes ago saying directionally the Senate Finance proposal is correct. We have issues with workability of specific sections. We have said this consistently from the beginning.
We have workability issues in terms of raising costs associated with new taxes. I think working families don't want that. We think there needs to be more cost containment, and there needs to be everybody part of the pool.
There is time to address these issues. We understand that people are concerned about penalties. We think there are other ways to do it, so we stand by our commitment for health reform, and we want to work towards that. We need as a country to have health care reform.
BLITZER: Karen, thanks for coming in.
IGNAGNI: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: We'll have you back.
IGNAGNI: Thank you.
BLITZER: She's the star of "Desperate Housewives" but she's also an activist and Eva Longoria Parker is here to tell us about a cause very close to her heart -- her heart.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You know her as the star of "Desperate Housewives," but this actress and activist wants you to know also about her push for a Latino landmark right here in the nation's capital.
And joining us now, Eva Longoria Parker. She needs no introduction. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Eva, thanks very much for coming in.
EVA LONGORIA PARKER, ACTRESS, ACTIVIST: Thank you. I'm nervous being in this room.
BLITZER: Don't be nervous. This is just THE SITUATION ROOM.
PARKER: I've watched many things go down in this room.
BLITZER: It's a big show.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit why you've come to Washington. Two reasons. First of all, a new museum that you would like to see get off the ground.
PARKER: Yes, I would love to. I've just been appointed to the commission for the National Museum of American Latinos, and it's a commission that's going to research a site, funding, content and legislation toward including art and culture and our contributions to this country.
BLITZER: And you'd like it to be on the National Mall or some place or...
PARKER: Yes, yes. Well, you know, that's -- the commission is going to do this.
BLITZER: This is still several years down the road.
PARKER: Yes. Yes. I mean...
BLITZER: It's a big project. PARKER: It took the Native American Museum 20 years. It took the African-American museum still...
BLITZER: But those are like models, something that you'd like to see?
PARKER: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. And that's...
BLITZER: And you're confident that this is going to happen?
PARKER: I'm very confident. I mean, you know, that's what the commission is going to do. It's our job to report to Congress whether or not this is doable, feasible, fundable and -- so that's kind of my responsibility with the commission, but it's important.
I think it's important because Latinos have been present in every phase of history in this country, and this museum is going to celebrate that and let the rest of the country know all of the contributions that we've made.
BLITZER: And we have a two-day special, our Soledad O'Brien has done "LATINO IN AMERICA" and I know you're a major part of that special documentary as well. We're looking forward to seeing that.
The other big reason you're in Washington today is why?
PARKER: I'm hosting with George Lopez and Jimmy Smiths tonight, "Fiesta Latina" at the White House which is in conjunction with Spanish Heritage Month, and we're celebrating the heritage of music in our culture.
BLITZER: So you'll meet the president and the first lady.
BLITZER: Have you met them?
PARKER: I have not. I have not.
PARKER: I was at the correspondents'...
BLITZER: You supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
PARKER: I did. I did.
BLITZER: You worked hard to try to get her the nomination.
PARKER: I worked hard. I mean I helped her win Texas. You know, I'm a big fan of Hillary. I -- I was a huge supporter of Hillary and a huge supporter obviously of President Clinton, you know, and then we -- you know, it was to choose between two great people and so...
BLITZER: So what do you think about this president?
PARKER: You know, I'm completely behind him. I completely support him.
BLITZER: On all the key issues?
PARKER: Yes, I mean, obviously, there's some key issues that...
BLITZER: Health care reform?
PARKER: ... still haven't been addressed. I would love to see health care reform. Absolutely.
BLITZER: The way he envisions it?
PARKER: I agree with the way he envisions it. Absolutely.
BLITZER: What about -- because, you know, he got into a controversy...
BLITZER: ... as you remember when he addressed the Joint Session of Congress and he said not a penny is going to go for illegal immigrants as far as health care initiative. One congressman got up and sort of shouted out, "You lie," caused a big stir. What do you think about that?
PARKER: Well, other than, you know, that was totally inappropriate because there should be an amount of respect for the president. I think that people are confusing immigration reform and health care reform and to assume that every Latino in America is an immigrant or wasn't born here is...
BLITZER: Or is illegal.
PARKER: Or is illegal is not true. I think obviously an issue close to my heart is immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform.
BLITZER: He's delayed on that. Did you know?
PARKER: Well, there's a lot of stuff he's tackling right now. I think he's done more in the 10 months than, you know, a lot of people have done in the past administrations. He has a lot on his plate. I would I like to see this settled with a time line that's a little more aggressive.
Because you can't address giving illegal aliens or undocumented people health care reform if you don't -- we don't know their status. They're in the shadows. If we have comprehensive immigration reform then we can identify their status and then we can address what kind of services and support we can give.
BLITZER: So this is a huge issue not only for the Hispanic Latino community in the United States but a huge issue for a lot of people. If you had your way and if you see the president later tonight and he said what do you think, Eva, what should I do about this, what brief piece of advice would you give him?
PARKER: What's the elevator spiel? Well, I think -- are we talking about health care reform or immigration?
BLITZER: No. We're talking about comprehensive immigration reform. Health care reform he's got his initiative.
PARKER: I think one main thing about immigration reform that I feel is very important it needs to be taken out of the local and the state authorities. To have different states enforcing different laws -- Arizona just passed this punitive law about renting and you have to show proof of this -- and that and then, you know, other areas that are a little more welcoming to this community because they provide such an economic contribution.
BLITZER: You want to see a uniform standard?
PARKER: It needs to be. It's a national issue. It's -- you know, our constitution clearly states...
BLITZER: And the 10 or 15, whatever number of illegal immigrants in the country right now, you'd like to see them have an opportunity to get some sort of legal status?
PARKER: Yes, because there's no family in this country -- there's not a lot of families in this country, I don't want to generalize, that are not multi-national. There's a mother that's from Mexico but the kids are born in America. There's fathers who are from Colombia whose children are attending school so, you know, yes, I think this is a national issue because it's -- it's clearly stated in our constitution that immigration is a security issue but it's one issue. You can't have all the states doing their own things.
BLITZER: Your own personal attitudes on these Hispanic issues, Latino issues, they have evolved over the past year.
BLITZER: Is that right? Because you told me when Soledad interviewed you for this special you had a stance but it's sort of changed or modified, especially now that you're getting a masters degree in this area. Briefly give me one area, one example of how your views, Eva, Eva's views, have evolved.
PARKER: Well, I think obviously studying the history of where we come from and knowing that there are way more nativists in our community than we give credit for. I personally am a ninth generation American and I've never crossed a border. The border crossed us.
My family has been under five different flags and has never moved from the land that we currently still have. And I think there's a lot of people like me and there's a lot of people within our community that represent different cultures, different identities, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and it's -- what's changed for me is just knowing that I feel like history is repeating itself.
After World War I there was a push-pull effect for immigrants to come and tend to the farms, and then everybody came back and they said, OK, get out and we pushed them identity. Then World War II came and then we said, OK, everybody come back. We need you to work the farms again and then, you know, that war ended and they said go away.
And that's happening again now that there's a strain obviously economically in our country. You know, we're the scapegoats again or these immigrants are the scapegoats. OK, get out. We can't have that push-pull effect and we can't welcome these people as laborers but deny them as citizens.
BLITZER: But you're upbeat and looking ahead?
PARKER: I am upbeat and looking ahead. I think there's a lot of obviously issues. I'm a big advocate for the United Farm Workers and for (INAUDIBLE) and trying to advocate for farm worker rights and it's not -- it's not a citizenship. It's not an immigration for them. It's a human rights issue.
There are people -- the people who feed our nation, the well -- the most well-fed nation in the world often go to bed hungry and so there's a lot of reform that needs to happen.
BLITZER: Tony Parker, the great basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs, they're going to have a good season, but I've got to tell you. The Washington Wizards, my team, we're coming back big time. I'm looking forward to that.
PARKER: Let tell you...
BLITZER: I've seen you...
PARKER: Send Gilbert Arenas a message that he better play this year.
BLITZER: Gilbert Arenas. He'll be playing this year. So will Antawn Jamison, the entire team.
PARKER: We have Timmy and Manu and Tony and Richard Jefferson and we have McDyess.
BLITZER: Are you coming to Washington when San Antonio is going to be at the Verizon Center?
PARKER: I would like to be.
BLITZER: I saw you last season.
PARKER: I was here last...
BLITZER: You were here.
PARKER: It always depends on my schedule but...
BLITZER: I'll find you.
BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.
PARKER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck with the museum.
PARKER: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're only days away from "LATINO IN AMERICA," our comprehensive look at how Latinos are changing America. "LATINO IN AMERICA." It airs next Wednesday and Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It will also be simulcast in Spanish on CNN in Espanol.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger puts a crackdown in place on paparazzi. What impact will the bill he just signed into law have on Hollywood?
And a surprise behind Michael Jackson's new single. It sounds and looks and feels a lot like a song that was released almost 20 years ago and for a good reason. We'll play them both for you.
BLITZER: As a former movie star, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger knows firsthand how intrusive the paparazzi can be. Now he's signed a law cracking down on some of their most controversial methods.
Our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter is joining us now from Los Angeles with more.
All right, what's the governor up to, Kareen?
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, let's talk about the paparazzi. They will often stop at nothing to get that money shot, even if it's illegal. But now they're not the only ones, Wolf, under the microscope.
WYNTER (voice-over): Flashing lights, invasive cameras. Peering lens of the paparazzi as celebrity photographers jockey for that perfect shot. That one picture tabloid magazines, Web sites and TV show will pay big bucks for. But now, those who earn a living trailing the famous are on an even tighter leash.
MATTHEW BELLONI, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: The paparazzi underworld is a shady, shady business.
WYNTER: An amended law just signed by California's governor broadening the scope of who is liable.
BELLONI: The media organizations that are in business with some of these paparazzi essentially saying that if you do business with someone who is acting illegally in getting you these images, you as the media organization could be liable.
WYNTER: This is not the first paparazzi crackdown by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Three years ago he tripled the damages in suits alleging assaults against the paparazzi. Now stars can go after the media for publishing photographs or videos improperly obtained by the paparazzi.
ADAM LAMBERT, SINGER: Just like anybody out there, you should have the right to your privacy.
PAUL ABDUL, ENTERTAINER: Every little step makes you feel safer.
PETE WENTZ, SINGER: If it's actually a deterrent, I think that's awesome.
JESSICA BIEL, ACTRESS: It sounds like it's probably a positive thing for a lot of people.
WYNTER: For some the amended law poses a threat to the First Amendment. The California Newspaper's Publishers Association released this statement. "Even meritless lawsuits have a chilling impact on the right to gather and publish the news and the public's right to know."
And therein lies the debate, the line between the public's right to know and the stars' right to privacy.
WYNTER: And, Wolf, that really is what it boils down to here. We also reached out to several well-known tabloid media outlets but they declined to comment on how this might impact their business. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Kareen, thank you.
There's a surprise twist to Michael Jackson's just released single, but first, since his death almost four months ago, it turns out the new song "This is It" isn't so new after all.
BLITZER: The singer Paul Anka did the song as a duet with Michael Jackson back in 1983 as part of a collaboration. Anka wrote the song which was then called "I Never Heard." It was recorded and released in 1991 by the Puerto Rican artist Safire.
BLITZER: Paul Anka says he only learned yesterday that it was the same music and vocals as Jackson's new single. Anka has reached a deal with Jackson's estate to get half the royalties and both sides now call the situation an honest mistake. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, can she get Russia on board to pressure Iran over its nuclear program? We're with the secretary in Moscow.
And we're following the breaking news, the Senate finance committee passing a health care reform bill. What's next in the battle?
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is when it comes to health care reform, how damaging is an insurance industry's report suggesting reform could lead to higher premiums?
Patrick writes, "Of course the insurance industry is against health care reform and has a report to prove it. Just like the tobacco industry had scientific evidence tobacco was not harmful or addictive and the asbestos manufacturers had proof asbestos was safe. Business is only interested in protecting its profits. The industry could care less how many American could get hurt as long as they make money, protect the status quo and get their bonuses. Oh yes, and have enough leftover to buy some congressional votes."
Joe in Missouri writes, "I took what they said seriously. They said it would raise premiums by $4,000 a year if the bill passes. The report may be junk, but the blackmail threat is real. The solution is to pass a strong public option plan now."
Mark in Worcester, Massachusetts, "It's not damaging enough it seems. This is getting the same backlash as any other legitimate concern leveled by anyone associated with the right or even the center, and it's a damn shame. Forget the rhetoric and party lines and ask yourself this, who's the better accountant? Greedy capitalists or the government? And for anyone so indoctrinated to even consider the latter, a follow-up. What's the current deficit?"
Tim writes, "Jack, I read the news every morning and evening in papers and on the Web, I didn't hear that the insurance research on the health care bill only looked into four parts of that bill. Of course it's very easy to come out with the answers wanted on any research if you ask the right questions. Every pollster knows this. Thanks for informing us on this important point."
And Deborah in Los Angeles says, "The health insurance industry's report on higher premiums is not worth the paper it's written on. This is the industry's 11th hour, Hail Mary pass to kill health care. While we're at it, let's accept Liz Cheney's report on her daddy's legal torture program or Senator Ensign's report on his parents' $96,000 humanitarian gift to the family of his mistress. Gees."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Wolf?
BLITZER: Lots of people do exactly that, Jack. Thank you.
And happening now, breaking news. President Obama makes his first comments about a Senate panel passing what he calls a critical milestone toward health care reform. The nation is now one step closer to tens of millions more Americans having health insurance.
Meanwhile, a dramatic twist. Some groups that typically support the president and the Democrats won't necessarily support the bill passed by the Senate finance committee today.