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Missing Boy Found Alive After Balloon Floats Off; President Obama Visits New Orleans
Aired October 15, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A 6-year-old boy is missing after possibly climbing into a runaway helium balloon. This hour, the balloon has landed. But what happened to the child? We're following the search under way right now. Also, President Obama faces disaster. He's wrapped up his controversial trip to New Orleans. Did he convince Katrina survivors that he feels their pain?
And you might think Democrats would be embracing the only Republican to vote for health care reform. But, instead, some are complaining about Senator Olympia Snowe. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, searchers are zeroing in on an area north of Denver in hopes of finding some sign of a missing 6-year-old boy. Authorities fear he may have been in a box or a basket that fell off of a runaway helium balloon.
The sheriff's deputy reports seeing something drop off the bottom of that homemade balloon east of Platteville, Colorado. The balloon raced through the air for well over an hour before finally landing intact. It was a smooth landing, but there was no basket and no boy.
Let's walk over to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's helping us understand what's going on.
Tom, we're getting some new information on what happened.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting new information.
Police have now told the affiliate out there, the TV affiliate KUSA, that there was no basket attached to this balloon. So, Wolf, you know how it is in stories like this. There's a lot of conflicting information. So, now here's what we know.
We know that sometime around 11:30 today, there was a balloon that took off from here.
BLITZER: Eleven-thirty Rocky Mountain Time, 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.
FOREMAN: Exactly, just south of Fort Collins up here in Larimer County, Colorado.
We know at that point this balloon took off. We also know that the earlier reports were that a 6-year-old boy had climbed on board this. We also know from talking our experts and from balloon calculations that this balloon, which is 20 feet across and five feet deep, probably had very limited capacity to lift a 50-pound child into the air.
So, the question has been, where did this child go? Now, as you know, Wolf, we have been looking for quite some time at the question of whether or not, somewhere in this process of flying -- we're not sure of the exact flight path, whether it went this way, this way or this way -- if the boy was on board, did he go somewhere?
We have a report from around Platteville here that somebody saw something fall off the balloon. We know that it wound up somewhere out in here, however it got there. And we know right now, Wolf, that this is now a great big search area out in here, seems to be mostly focused right up in here, but nonetheless another element to this mystery, Wolf.
You know how it is with stories like this, just a tremendous amount of confusion. Now we're being told that maybe there wasn't a basket at all. What we do know is this. The balloon took off. The 6-year-old boy is still missing. That's really what we know for sure.
BLITZER: Let's go to Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent. She's working the story as well.
Jeanne, what are you picking up?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking on the ground, they're looking in the air, they're looking in that neighborhood where that balloon took off on the off chance that this boy never got on board this balloon and that he's hiding somewhere.
There are a number of deputies on the ground there. There are people driving around looking for this kid to try and find him. But they aren't leaving it there. They also have aircraft up in the air. The Colorado Army National Guard has a UH-60 up in the air now. An OH-58 Kiowa is going to be going up. That Kiowa has what they call forward-looking infrared radar. That's essentially night-vision.
It's going to allow them to look for this boy after the sun goes down. As you just heard Tom Foreman mention, the problem is trying to figure out exactly what the flight path was and exactly where to look, and it's going to be a very difficult job because of the terrain, because of other wildlife and other things on the ground. They have got a big task ahead of them as they look for this boy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly do.
Chad Myers the working the story with us as well, our meteorologist.
Chad, what are you picking up?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just growing up in Nebraska, Wolf, I know 500 miles away, but the area that we're talking about is expansive. It really is not needle in a haystack, because that's just a really bad cliche, but really the size of a 50 -- literally a 50- mile track from where the balloon actually launched to where it landed, where it came down, and then think about that, two miles wide.
You're talking about at least 100 square miles. Now, they're reviewing the tapes and reviewing the tapes to figure out at this point where the balloon launched, there was no basket. So, maybe there never was a basket. But if something did fall off, when the helicopters picked this up, it wasn't too far away from the launch site. The helicopters were already in the air.
They know it's nowhere near. They're not searching anywhere near where the balloon landed because basically for literally 30 to 40 miles of this trip, helicopters followed it, just spot by spot by spot. And when we found it, when we followed it all the way through here, not on the delayed feed, but on a real-live feed, nothing ever fell out of that balloon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we don't know, Chad, what happened. The only thing we do know for sure is that a little 6-year-old boy whose name is Falcon is missing still right now.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is working this story as well.
And, Abbi, you're getting more information on this family.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's hard to remember what the Heene family of Fort Collins, Colorado, are going through right now. Husband Richard, wife Mayumi, and their three children, three sons, all under the age of 10, that's Bradford, Ryo, and Falcon there in the middle, the 6-year-old, who the search is now on for this 6-year-old still missing right now.
This is a family that is adventurous, well-known to local and national media because of the father and the mother are both avid storm chasers, amateur scientists. Take a look at this. This is a local news report from KUSA in Colorado from last year, who followed father Richard as he chased storms in Colorado.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD HEENE, FATHER: Outflow here.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Richard Heene loves to chase storms.
HEENE: Hey, oh, wow, look at that up there. That looks nice.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Oh, yes, he is a Colorado severe storm spotter.
HEENE: What is that on the ground? That looks like a tornado. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: Now, in this case, Richard Heene is on his own in the car. But in other videos we have seen, videos that we have had actually submitted to CNN's iReport in the last year, Heene is there with his wife and three children, three sons, all in the car together, wife Mayumi telling CNN last year that this is very much a family affair, that they like taking the children along, that the children are very adventurous and she feels it's good for them as well.
So, now this family obviously very distraught as the search is on for their 6-year-old -- Wolf.
BROWN: Yes, our heart go out to the Heene family. We hope they find Falcon and that he's OK.
The moment where this -- this balloon landed not far from Denver International Airport was dramatic.
Our affiliate KUSA put together this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a mushroom just floating there. And it was circling as it was coming down, kind of like a parachutist would be as you see him landing on a field or something during a ball game.
When it was getting close to landing, I just took off about a half-mile run to get to the scene, because I wanted to be there when this little boy was found. It was just this really eerie feeling when you got on scene because all these rescue vehicles had shown up. And it was real dusty because they had driven into this field.
And they start pitchforking and using a shovel to deflate this balloon. And once they deflate, they're yelling into the balloon. Hey, it's -- we're here to help you, we're here to help you. And they use a pocketknife and they cut open this bottom of this balloon. And they open it up and it's like this cardboard round circular thing and there was no one in there.
And everybody just kind of stood there. All these rescue personnel, about 20 rescue personnel were just standing there with a look of bewilderment. They really had no idea what had just happened.
It was one of the hardest things for me to see, that we had followed this for such a long ways from Larimer County, Weld County, into Adams County, thinking that there was a 6-year-old boy that was in this and then when it lands, there's no boy here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: He's alive and at home right now. That little 6-year- old boy, Falcon, we are now being told by Larimer County Sheriff's Office he has been found and he is OK. Great, great news to report.
We don't know how this happened, whether he ever in fact was aboard that runaway balloon, whether he was simply hiding out in the neighborhood or at home. But the Larimer County sheriff's office is now telling us that little 6-year-old Falcon is alive and at home.
Wow, really, really exciting news.
Tom Foreman, I'm thrilled to be able to report this to our viewers in the United States and around the world because I think all of us were totally fearing the worst.
FOREMAN: Oh, yes, I'm rather speechless by this, because to have this whole drama play out today, unbelievable, Wolf. I think the real question...
BLITZER: All right, let's listen to the news conference now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... attic in the garage in....
QUESTION: Was he sleeping or crying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. You know, that's all the information I have.
QUESTION: ... brothers said about them seeing him in this (INAUDIBLE) box attached to the balloon beforehand, do you believe that they were telling the truth when they gave those statements that the brother...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, again, that was a 7- or 9-year-old boy that told us that, but that's what he said is that he saw his brother climb into that apparatus. And he was very adamant. They interviewed him multiple times, and that was his consistent story.
QUESTION: So we're not part of a reality TV show?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will leave you -- that conjecture on your part. But I understand what you're saying.
QUESTION: Will you be interviewing Falcon separately from his parents?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure that the investigators will be interviewing him and finding out what...
QUESTION: What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to -- listen, I don't want to make a conjecture, but this is not the first time when we have been involved in searching for some child, and once the child realizes people are looking for them, they hide because they're afraid they're going to get in trouble. I can't tell you how many times this has happened over the course of my career.
And, you know, I think the thing that was confusing here is that we had the eyewitness that said that he climbed into this apparatus, which clearly was not the case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you talked to the parents since he's been found? Do you know, outside of relief, what their reaction was?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, we just had a 30-second conversation with the investigator on scene just to confirm that he was there and he was alive and he was OK. So, yes, we will be getting that information, but I didn't have anymore right now.
QUESTION: Sheriff, where was the box? In the attic? Or was...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I'm told. It was an attic in the garage.
QUESTION: Attic in the garage?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Yes.
QUESTION: How did he get up there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: How did he get up there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I have told you everything I know, folks. I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until the next storm comes through.
BLITZER: All right, so there you have the great, great news. Little 6-year-old Falcon is alive and well at the family home in Fort Collins, Colorado. According to the sheriff, and you just heard it here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- the sheriff said he was hiding out in a box in the attic of the garage at the home, and he says it's not all that unusual.
When a little 6-year-old boy says -- does something he thinks he's going to be punished for, he goes ahead and hides out, one of his other brothers suggesting that he had been in a box or a basket that had been attached to this runaway balloon. It seems that was not the case, because little Falcon is alive and well.
You saw the happiness, the smile that that sheriff had in reporting that information to all of us, because, for the last several hours, I can't tell you, I'm sure all of you, all of us here at CNN were deeply concerned about the fate of this little 6-year-old boy, but the great, great news, Tom Foreman, who's covering this for us, you know what? This is what we were praying for, that he was just a little boy, he was scared, he thought he would be punished, so he decided to hide out.
He found himself a box, indeed. It was not the box attached to that balloon. It was a box in the attic of the garage.
FOREMAN: Yes. This is one of those things that searchers always hope for, of course. That whole big -- we were talking about that whole big search area being from here to here, as Chad pointed out, 100 square miles. This is where he turned out to be, right back home in his own neighborhood where the balloon took off.
So, boy, Wolf, that's a nice finish to an awful story at one point.
BLITZER: Yes, we were so scared. And I'm just so thrilled to be able to tell all of our viewers it's over with. The little boy is just, just fine. And we're thrilled to report that. And I know Jack Cafferty is thrilled as well.
Jack, you and I and Tom Foreman, we have been covering these stories for a long time. And so often, there's not a happy ending, but you know what? We're just thrilled that this little boy is just fine.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, absolutely. I have got four daughters and you can certainly relate as a parent to having one of your kids turn up missing.
I'm curious, and I suppose we will find out at some point, what that object was in that still photograph below the balloon. We still don't know what that is, do we?
BLITZER: Yes. Could have been a speck on the lens. It could have been some birds. It could have been anything. But thank God it wasn't little Falcon. He in fact was hiding out in the attic of the garage. And he's just fine -- 6-year-old boys will be 6-year-old boys.
CAFFERTY: I wonder who's going to be more relieved in that household, the little boy when he finds out he's not in trouble after all or his parents who found out he was hiding in the attic all along. Should be a pretty happy time in that household tonight, I would expect.
BLITZER: Yes. We want to meet this family and just celebrate together with them. I'm sure all of our viewers will do as well.
Yes, great story. All right, there's other news. Remember the health insurance debate? Well, Democrats are pushing back hard against the health insurance companies. It's about time. Part of the health care reform bill, the Democrats are now threatening to strip the industry of its antitrust exemptions. Where you been?
The industry got a special deal from the antitrust laws way back in 1945. Back then, they argued that they did not participate in interstate commerce. The exemption means that, unlike other industries, the health insurance companies can discuss pricing, territories and other things that would otherwise be considered collusion.
Translation: They make more money. You pay higher premiums. It's a great deal -- for them. Senator Chuck Schumer is now calling for more competition, points to statistics that show that in almost 40 states, two insurance companies control more than half the market. Schumer says the top 10 companies went from $2 billion to $12 billion in profits -- that's with a B -- in the last 10 years.
Where's this little factoid been during this whole protracted health care debate? And what is Congress waiting for? Why haven't they done something already? Pardon me. I lost my head there for a moment.
The insurance companies insist that they're one of the most regulated industries. Blah, blah, blah. They say this is nothing more than a political ploy. Well, whatever it is, it's long overdue. And I hope Congress follows through.
Congress' wrath was finally triggered by that potentially flawed industry report earlier this week suggesting premiums would rise significantly under the Senate's health care reform bill. They're also running television ads now that say seniors will suffer under the Senate plan.
The deal is this. We all suffer under the health insurance companies' plans. Time to contact your senator or representative, or both, over and over again, until they do something.
The question is this. Should Congress do away with the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by the health insurance companies? Here's a hint. Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and write, yes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're not going to be invited to the American Health Insurance Plans' annual big event here in Washington. That's the lobby for the health insurance industry, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Part of this is kind of what the Republicans have been saying all along, that if you allow these people to do business across state lines, that will bring costs down, that will increase competition. And any time you do that in a capitalistic situation, prices come down. My question is, where the hell have the Democrats been on this particular of this whole issue for four or five months while all of this other stuff's being debated? It seems to me if they repeal these antitrust laws, game, set and match. Taxpayer wins.
BLITZER: And they have had this exemption, what, since 1945, yes.
CAFFERTY: Yes. Sixty years ago, it was a different ball game. Things change.
BLITZER: Right. Good point.
Jack Cafferty, thank you.
President Obama makes his first trip to New Orleans since becoming president. While some praise the visit, why is one lawmaker calling it a drive-through daiquiri summit? Stand by.
Also, do you really know if your health insurance will fully cover you should something happen? We're hearing horror stories from people who didn't have as much insurance as they thought they did.
And is there any such thing as a moderate terrorist? Should the U.S. go after perceived bad members of the Taliban, but talk with perceived good guy members of the Taliban?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President Obama's promising Hurricane Katrina survivor he will never forget them or what they lost. He's now on his way to California after his first trip to New Orleans since becoming president. He faced critics who say he didn't visit soon enough and hurricane recovery hasn't happened fast enough.
Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian traveled to the Gulf Coast with the president. And he's there now.
How did it go, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the president was touting progress. He was pointing out how his administration has really cut through the red tape, freeing up a billion dollars for New Orleans and billions more not only for this city, but also for this state.
Now, at today's town hall meeting, there were questions on health care, education and domestic violence. But one man in particular was concerned that the federal government has not done enough to help the victims here.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN (voice-over): On the long road to recovery, the victims of Hurricane Katrina told President Obama about the challenging potholes and speed bumps that remain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it four years after Katrina, we're still fighting with the federal government for money to repair our devastated city?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are working as hard as we can, as quickly as we can to process through many of these issues.
LOTHIAN: But even before Mr. Obama paid a visit to this Lower Ninth Ward public charter school, criticism that his trip was too short and too shortsighted, ignoring other hard-hit areas like the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise held a press conference to call out the president.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: The people of New Orleans deserve more than this drive-through daiquiri summit that he's giving us.
LOTHIAN: But other lawmakers were more measured, praising the visit while encouraging a return to the region in the future.
REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY (R), LOUISIANA: The entire Gulf Coast was affected by this, and I think due attention should be made to all those areas.
LOTHIAN: A White House aide says Mr. Obama surveyed the landscape extensively during his five previous visits, and that since taking office, more than 20 senior administration officials have made 35 trips to the Gulf Coast.
LOTHIAN: Four years after Katrina, life and music have returned to New Orleans, but big challenges remain. A 100-year flood protection project is only a third of the way complete. And 1,500 people in Louisiana are still in temporary housing.
New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow says what happens after the president's visit is what everyone should be focused on.
ARNIE FIELKOW, NEW ORLEANS COUNCILMAN-AT-LARGE: To me, the more important point is, how can the federal government and the president and Congress help us as opposed to just the visits? The visits are wonderful, but it's really action that takes place after the visits that's more important to the citizens.
LOTHIAN: President Obama says that he has asked his homeland security and HUD secretaries to lead a working group focus on long- term disaster recovery, essentially putting a solid emergency plan in place, so some of the problems that we saw during and after Katrina won't be repeated -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian with the president. The president has already left, but Dan is still down there in New Orleans.
Let's bring in the best political team on television. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN contributor the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Clarence Page of "The Chicago Tribune," and our CNN contributor the Republican strategist Mary Matalin. She's joining us from New Orleans, where she and her husband, James Carville, and their family moved over the past year.
Well, you're there on the scene, Mary. How did it go?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: On the scene, well, everybody was very excited. It's always wonderful to have a presidential visit.
And I say this really respectfully, as someone who worked in a White House and who lives here now. It's really more important to have the focus of Cabinet members, agency heads and to have well- placed people in the president's inner circle, which we do with our own Donna Brazile. And there's the (INAUDIBLE) girl, old family from here.
So, he has made -- there has been some contributions here, but there was a sense -- and it's true -- I didn't share it -- but people who are still traumatized from four years ago really did feel there was an insensitivity not coming on the anniversary, making it a priority on the campaign. They're not political rubes here, but -- and they also want to show off their recovery.
So, I'm with Arnie Fielkow, though. Let's just keep pushing on, pushing on. And the larger issue is the whole Gulf Coast, coastal restoration affects the entire United States on security issues and economic issues. And if they can get focused on that, everybody down here will rejoice.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly will.
Paul, Michael Scherer from our sister publication "TIME" magazine writes this: "The Institute for Southern Studies polled over 50 community groups in the Gulf Coast to find out how well Obama was doing in addressing the Katrina delivery. He got mostly D grades, which is what Bush got from the same group, though Obama got more D- plus grades, Bush got D-minus grades, nothing either president should be very proud of."
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And Mary is right and Mr. Fielkow is right, the man from the city council, that the follow- through matters most.
But the showing up matters, too. Mary also used to work for another president named Bush, President Bush Sr., who said 90 percent of life is just showing up. Frankly, the president should have come earlier. He should have stayed longer.
But the follow-through will matter more. I have to say, this network has actually followed the story relentlessly for five years. And I'm quite sure we will continue to do so. Look at what some of the private folks have done. Brad Pitt, the actor, moved to New Orleans, and started a foundation, Make It Right, where he's building affordable housing in the Lower Ninth Ward for poor people that is the most green, cutting-edge housing in the country.
That's five years later. OK, the cameras have largely gone, except, occasionally, our CNN cameras. But guys like Pitt are the model here, frankly, for our president. That follow-through is what we need.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But, as Mary was saying, it's important not just that the president go, but it is important that his Cabinet officers go and senior officials, and there have been 22 trips from Cabinet officers, senior officials, $2.3 billion in the Stimulus Act, a billion dollars that they got through the pipeline cutting through the red tape, which I think is all good for New Orleans.
And everybody will always believe that not enough is being done, because that's our nature. People in New Orleans want to see the recovery quicker, faster, but I think the fact that he hasn't shown up, the optics of it are not great, but it's not like they have been sitting on their hands.
BLITZER: Because, Clarence, as you know, a lot of symbolic -- and even a symbolic visit to New Orleans could have been significant, not necessarily right now, but a few months ago.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it was significant that at the school gathering today, President Obama was confronted directly by a local resident about the slowness of reimbursement moneys coming in and the failure of one hospital in particular to reopen.
President Obama was careful to say that by the end of his first term, people -- he expects people to look back and celebrate how the money flowed. Well, that gives him three more years now, I guess.
BORGER: Well, they should hold him to it.
PAGE: Oh, I'm sure they will.
BLITZER: But the real story in New Orleans -- Mary, you're living there now, and you know this a lot better than I do -- it's been a tremendous -- I was there, what, a year-and-a-half ago for the NBA All-Star Game. It was a fabulous, fabulous experience. But while certain areas have been rebuilt, making a comeback, so many parts of New Orleans remain deserted and so many people who had lived in New Orleans aren't coming back and may never come back.
MATALIN: That is true, and there continues to be a lot of focus and concern about that. But there's not enough focus on what's gone right.
Our schools here have made dramatic, the best advances in the entire country in New Orleans proper, going to -- and it's not a Democratic or Republican thing, but they have turned over to charters. And that is a great success story.
It's Brad -- it's people like Brad Pitt. It's also the citizens themselves that are weeding out corruption. They're to have this -- we do have a new DA who is hard on crime. People -- it was -- the silver lining is that it was a wakeup call. And there was such devastation, it was the breadth of seven Manhattans. People don't get this. There was 34 years worth of garbage and debris.
So, to climb out of that, people are proud of what they have done and they want to show that. And they really did want to share that with the president. This is a very friendly, unique place. And it wasn't just come look, come cry with us, feel our pain. It was look what we have done.
That was a big part of the symbolism of having the president there to embrace and tell them they have done a great job here.
BLITZER: The symbolism, I want to reemphasize, it's really important, Paul. You once worked in the White House. You know that symbolic acts, even if there is not substance, even if all the work is done by lower-level officials, for the president to show up is significant.
BEGALA: Absolutely. And he is the chief executive.
I'm so glad that Secretary Napolitano has been there from Homeland Security, Secretary Duncan, from Housing and Urban Development. But terrorist's nothing like the president coming.
Now how about we up the ante? The NBA brought the All-Star Game there. Why doesn't the Democratic Party announce that we're going to bring our convention there? Why doesn't the president say we will have another big summit there. Pittsburgh did a great job with the G20.
MATALIN: There you go.
BEGALA: Why don't we start making commitments?
My grandpa used to say, when you come to a wall and you're not sure if you can climb get over it, throw your hat over it.
BEGALA: Throw your hat over the wall and commit that we have got to go to New Orleans.
BLITZER: I guess...
PAGE: Well, you remember how the Republicans went to Detroit in 1980. It was -- it was an important...
PAGE: ...a symbolic gesture.
BLITZER: Because if they can do a Super Bowl...
BLITZER: ...in New Orleans, they could do a Democratic or a Republican Convention.
BORGER: Well, how -- how about starting with getting the president to spend more than three-and-a-half hours?
BLITZER: All right, guys, I want everybody to stand by for a moment because there's obviously another important story we're following -- health care reform. And there's new heat underway right now on the only Republican senator to vote for a health care reform bill. And it's not coming from angry members of her own party, it's coming from some anxious Democrats.
Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here to take us behind scenes -- Dana, what's going on here?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what went on behind-the-scenes was a meeting with Senate Democrats that we are told from Democratic sources was spirited and, at times, tense about how to proceed on health care.
Now, CNN is told that there were about a half a dozen liberal senators who stood up in a private meeting and made a passionate plea for a public option. But the problem and the struggle for Democratic leaders is that, for conservative Democrats, that won't fly, and, also, for one very influential Republican senator.
BASH: (voice-over): The way Republican Olympia Snowe sees it, she's just using the power any senator has.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: The brilliance of our founding fathers was this -- that they gave power equally to every member of the United States Senate, whether you represent a large state or a small state.
BASH: But some Democrats think Snowe has too much power over health care. She's the only Republican so far to back a Democratic plan. That carries a lot of weight with the White House and Senate Democratic leaders. Yet she also opposes what most Democrats want -- a government run-insurance option for health care.
(on camera): Does she have more influence than you do, ultimately, on health care bill and what it will look like?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, if I may say, that's a strange question. Senator Snowe -- I respect Senator Snowe and the role that she has -- the constructive role that she has played in the deliberations for the Senate Finance Committee.
BASH: A diplomatic answer from the House speaker. But we came down here to the basement of the Capitol, where House Democrats met behind these doors. We heard some frustration from rank and file Democrats about the influence of Maine's Republican senator.
REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D), CALIFORNIA: This is the United States of America. This is not the United States of Maine.
BASH: What do you mean by that?
WOOLSEY: Well, I mean that one senator cannot hold the entire nation's health care plan hostage.
BASH: (voice-over): Snowe's belief is that a public option would only be triggered down the road if health care costs don't come down.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: The idea that we're going to succumb to the insurance industry's fears and then do a trigger, which means that our constituency, the American people, will delay in getting a public option, that's like the house of cards just collapsing on top of us.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, the really is that Senator Snowe would haven't the clout she does if there weren't a fair number of conservative Democrats in the Senate who agree with her, that a public option is the wrong way to go. And that's why Democratic leaders, along with the White House, are having a hard time figuring out exactly how to craft this bill that they do want to put on the Senate floor, according to the Democratic sources, still, by the end of this month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash working the story.
And she's going to be busy over these next several weeks and perhaps months.
You may have medical insurance and still go broke if you get it -- if you get sick, that is. New horror stories coming in from people who thought they were covered. They were wrong. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighs in on whether there's such a thing if there's a "good member of the Taliban."
BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?
WHITFIELD: Hello to you, Wolf.
Well, in Pakistan, a remote controlled bomb exploded outside an apartment house, killing an 8-year-old boy and injuring eight others. This bomb in Peshawar was only one part of a wave of violence that swept through Pakistan today. In Lahore, teams of armed militants attacked three law enforcement installations and then later, two car bombs exploded in the Kohat District. In the end, at least 30 civilians and police were dead, along with the 10 attackers. The Taliban were reported to have claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
And a legislative victory today in President Obama's drive to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by January. House Democrats defeated an amendment to the Homeland Security Funding Bill that would have blocked any transfer of the men held in Guantanamo Bay. Today's vote would only have allowed prisoners to face trial here. It does not allow detainees to be imprisoned or actually released onto U.S. soil.
And the U.S. spent $787 billion to stimulate the economy, but did it really create any jobs?
Now we have the first hard data. An independent government watchdog board reports that 30,000 private sector jobs were created or saved by new federal contracts. This is only a tiny fraction of the stimulus. A much broader report will be coming out later on in the month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.
And you're going to be happy to know, we're getting the first pictures in from that family out in Fort Collins, Colorado. That 6- year-old boy, Falcon Heene, who had been missing for several hours -- he was found alive and well, hiding out in the attic of the family garage in a box. He thought he had done something bad and didn't want to be punished, apparently, and, as a result, he was hiding out. We all thought that perhaps he had been aboard that balloon that took off from the family home and flew around for a couple hours from Fort Collins, landing eventually near Denver International Airport.
We're going to turn around the tape and we're going to get it for you. We'll hear from the family. They are joyous, to put it mildly. The little boy, Falcon Heene, six years old, is just fine. We'll get to that shortly.
Meanwhile, you've heard a lot about covering people who don't have health insurance.
But what if you have health insurance?
Are you sure it will cover all your medical bills should something drastic happen?
Right now, we're hearing truly remarkable horror stories in Washington about people just like you who didn't learn about the limits to their insurance until it was way, way too late.
Let's bring in CNN's Kate Bolduan.
She's been looking into this story.
And some really shocking stories out there -- Kate.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shocking stories -- compelling and just tough to listen, as you can hear, Wolf.
The underinsured are essentially people who can't afford to cover the gap between what their insurance covers and what their medical bills demand, leaving -- leading many of them to what they call medical bankruptcy. And a House committee today heard from three such people. You can see them all right here.
All of them thought they had good insurance, but all faced devastating decisions because of unexpected medical costs and insufficient insurance. Catharine Howard -- cancer; Nathan Wilkes, his son has -- had a blood disorder. And then there's David Null. His daughter -- he thought he had very good insurance -- catastrophic insurance, as they called it, for the big oh, no events of life. He had a 7-year-old daughter who had a rare, life-threatening illness. And then she needed a liver transplant. The bills adding up to nearly $600,000. The insurance policy would only cover a fraction of it.
Well, a cap on hospital expenses he didn't know about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID NULL, UNDERINSURED: I honestly couldn't believe this was happening.
Could this be true?
Surely it's a mistake because this is the big oh, no that I was buying protection from. Suddenly not only were we facing the possible death of our child, but now the financial death of our family.
How could this be happening to us?
We have insurance for this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Now, according to the Commonwealth Fund -- it's a group whose research supports a public option -- they estimate as of 2007, Wolf, 25 million adults -- adults just like these people -- they were underinsured. They fit into this category.
BLITZER: Yes, they thought they had health insurance, but clearly not enough...
BLITZER: ...for whatever reason.
So what are members of Congress doing about this?
BOLDUAN: Such a good question and a question these people wanted to know. Well, as you know, there are many plans, many proposals bouncing around Capitol Hill right now. And Democratic lawmakers say that one way to fix this problem is through these insurance exchanges. They say will make it easier for small groups and individuals to buy what they call reliable insurance that these people will be able to trust.
But some Republican lawmakers, they argue a one size fits all approach will not help Americans bring down costs and better or maintain the quality of care. Republicans say a fix here to this problem is more transparency on the part of insurance companies so people really know what they're getting.
And also, there are more insurance reform proposals and provisions, Wolf, like insurance barring the practice of having annual caps or lifetime caps on coverage -- something that really hit these three people and their families.
BLITZER: Yes. Heartbreaking stories, indeed.
BOLDUAN: Amazing (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: They thought they had insurance, but they -- in effect, they didn't.
BOLDUAN: When Catharine said I had a master's degree and I couldn't figure out what my coverage plan was.
All right. Thanks very much for that, Kate Bolduan.
A short-term surge or a long-term commitment to build a modern nation from the ground up -- we're looking at the future of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. And remember, we're also awaiting the first pictures of that family in Colorado, whose little boy was missing for several hours. He's alive, he's well. We'll hear what they had to say about that runaway balloon and what all of us went through watching this story. It does have a happy ending.
BLITZER: Are there good members of the Taliban?
Only bad members of the Taliban?
What about a short-term surge versus a long-term commitment to nation building in Afghanistan?
We're back with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN contributor, Democratic strategist, Paul Begala; Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune;" and our CNN contributor, Republican strategist Mary Matalin.
Are there good and bad members of the Taliban?
BORGER: I'd like to hear what Hillary Clinton says about that. No, I don't think there are. I think that we have to decide what our mission is in Afghanistan. And we have to decide whether we stick with the mission to get rid of Al Qaeda and whether it's fine with us that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
But given the treatment of women in Afghanistan, I don't think that there are good Taliban. Sorry.
BLITZER: All right. Mary -- let me bring in Mary, because the notion is maybe the US, the NATO allies can do in Afghanistan what was done in Iraq, sort of buy off the former insurgents, for example, the Iraqi Sunnis in the Al-Anbar Province.
Are there good and bad members of the Taliban or are they all just bad?
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are no good militant extremists Islamists, which is different from Taliban. A lot of people there are affiliated with the Taliban because they will get slaughtered otherwise. They will have their fingers cut off if they vote.
But Gloria's right, over the long haul, the Taliban, who wants to put the country under Sharia, keeps their children in ignorance. The boys only study the Koran. The girls don't leave the house. They learn nothing. They're completely illiterate.
One of the problems with training the police right now is nobody can read. So it sounds like it's nation building, but it's really a security effort, to get them to be able to fend off the capacity for reconstitution of terrorists in their own country.
BEGALA: What the secretary of State said was...
BLITZER: The secretary of State meaning Hillary Clinton?
BEGALA: Yeas, Secretary Clinton. What she said was if by that you mean are there some people affiliated with the Taliban today who are amenable to trying to come into a process and a system where they turn away from terrorism, then, yes. There's others, hard core, frankly, that we have to confront militarily. That's what she said.
But this is, I think, very important. It's a clear eyed analysis. It's not a vaguery saying we will roam the world to rid the world of evil, like -- you know, like, you know, Captain Marvel did in our last president. She's being very clear eyed about American's interests. It's -- it's not America's job, frankly, to rid the Taliban -- rid Afghanistan of every person who wants children to grow up ignorant. We've got a lot of people in America whose children are growing up ignorant, you know?
So it's not our job to save the world -- rid the world from evil...
BEGALA: It is to protect American interests. And if they ally with al Qaeda, which can project power globally, which has attacked America, then we have to confront that.
BORGER: Right. I'm not saying our job is nation building, though, in Afghanistan, but if you -- if you
PAGE: General McChrystal does.
BORGER: Right. Well...
PAGE: That's what he's talking about.
BLITZER: Because he's suggesting it could be five, 10, 20 years...
PAGE: And he's right.
BLITZER: ...billions and billions of dollars and...
BLITZER: ...tens of thousands of U.S. troops for a long time to come.
PAGE: Well, if you follow the strategy of it's up to the United States to stabilize Afghanistan, of course. Afghanistan does not -- it has a very weak central government. We're talking about tens of thousands of villages scattered around, many of which have, essentially, a de facto law and order system that's run by the Taliban. There's a great diversity among Taliban. That's what -- what Hillary Clinton was saying.
BLITZER: Because, Mary, no outside power has ever succeeded in doing that -- taking charge of Afghanistan over the centuries. MATLIN: Well, they are a tough people. But they're very -- but yes, they were the great games. They're in a strategic location. But they -- they do know how to govern themselves. They're different from Iraq. We don't see the same kind of psychological degradation in Afghanistan. They do have villages and tribal hierarchies. They do know how to govern in a decentralized way.
Look, there aren't any good options and there are dire consequences to either one. But so this is why the president has to make this decision. There's no continuum. It's all in or it's all out. And if it's all out, you -- there's have a capacity for reconstitution, which would really be devastating to our security interests and, of course, Afghanistan -- Afghanis being slaughtered. I would hope there'd be some humanitarian concern about that.
And if we go all in, we don't -- I don't read McChrystal's as nation building. I read that as giving these guys a different strategy and different tools to reconstitute a kind of security that they can handle going forward. And they can help us, as the Iraqis did, wipe out those who would take over their country with whom they don't agree. There's only 7 percent of the people that like the Taliban in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, we'll leave it there. Gloria and Paul and Clarence, thanks, guys, very much.
PAGE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": All right. Thank you very much, Wolf.
Democrats -- they're split on major issues facing the nation, including health care. Lawmakers meeting in secret. House Speaker Pelosi insisting there will be a government-run health care plan. Despite strong opposition from within her own party, will the so- called public option ruin any chance to pass health care this year?
And in Afghanistan, an administration also divided. President Obama's war council debating a troop surge. The top general asking for a large scale escalation. Not everyone agrees, including the vice president. The secretary of State giving the impression she hasn't even been asked what she thinks. And how about simply withdrawing all of our troops, an option the president says he won't consider.
Also tonight, home foreclosures hitting record highs -- nearly a million in the third quarter alone.
Where is the president's promised relief?
Who can struggling homeowners turn to now?
What does the economy hold in store?
Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Lou.
Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has Tweeted her way into an Internet uproar.
What was so revealing about her Moost Unusual Tweet?
Also, we're standing by for the pictures of that family from Fort Collins, Colorado. That little 6-year-old boy is alive and well and the family is very happy. Stand by for that.
BLITZER: We'll get some videotape of that family in Colorado in a moment.
But let's check in with Jack Cafferty, though, right now, for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is should Congress do away with the anti-trust exemption that's been enjoyed by the health insurance industry since 1945?
Yes, they should.
Nick in Colorado: "Definitely yes. The reason why anti-trust laws exist in the first place is to prevent greedy companies from controlling the market. And for years, we've been watching the health insurance industry sticking it to employers and employees alike. Ending this exemption will create the competition required to lower premiums. That, plus a strong public option."
Cliff in New York writes: "Of course. Health insurance companies ought to be stripped of anti-trust protection. The health of our citizens is a public good and a right, not a privilege. If utility companies have to justify rate increases, why don't insurance companies?"
Keith in Kentucky writes: "How funny these people are. Now they're threatening to do what the Republicans have been saying would bring real competition to the insurance companies and save American people billions. So I would say these are empty threats. After all, the Democrats' main focus is more control over the people. The ability to buy insurance across state lines is the answer, not a Rube Goldberg project from a bunch of liberals."
Chris in California: "Absolutely. It's about time someone has the guts to fight back against the insurance companies. I've been waiting and waiting to see somebody -- anybody -- stand up for the American people instead of the lobbyists and insurance companies. Could this finally be it? I hope so."
Paul writes: "Jack, yes, I bet many folks didn't know about this insurance company situation, with their anti-trust exemption. Your program makes my day."
And we get this from a viewer with the initial on the missing boy and the balloon: "I've been stuck at the Denver airport due to this kid's stupidity. I'd recommend a good spanking for him and a fine for the parents. I am not happy."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can check the blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the rest of us, we're all happy the kid is OK. Thank God for that.
BLITZER: OK, Jack, thank you very much.
We'll take a quick break,
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Last night, Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain, posted a photo of herself online. Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Normally, John McCain's 24-year-old daughter Megan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
MEGHAN MCCAIN: That's what I feel like right now. I'm like kiss my fat ass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: ...is known for getting things off her chest. But now her chest itself is making news thanks to this Twitpic she posted.
(on camera): Meghan McCain was spending a quiet night in reading when she decided to let her Twitter followers in on what she was doing.
(voice-over): It wasn't the biography of Andy Warhol that caught everyone's eye, it was the picture she took of herself in a mirror.
Holy boobs pretty much sums it up. In addition to inspiring pithy puns, McCain's twitpic promoted some downright mean responses.
Now, this is a woman who is no prude, who talks about being pro- sex.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE COLBERT REPORT," COURTESY COMEDY CENTRAL)
MCCAIN: My father's going to watch that. God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Now, she found herself defending her revealing outfit: "When I am alone in my apartment, I wear tank tops and sweat pants. I had no idea that makes me a slut. I can't even tell you how hurt I am."
(on camera): McCain got so upset that before her night in was over, she was threatening to drop out of Twitter: "Considering deleting my Twitter account."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)
MILEY CYRUS: Yes, the rumors are true, I deleted my Twitter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Pop star Miley Cyrus rapped her explanation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)
CYRUS: And the reasons are simple. I started to Tweeting about pimples. I stopped living for moments and started living for people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: People were split on McCain's twitpic. Comments ranged from: "All I know is that I suddenly want to vote for Meghan McCain" to: "Oh, please, girl. Those puppies are pushed up. Love the porn smirk, too."
The photo was so racy that one Web advertiser paired it up with an ad for Pamela Anderson's extreme sex video. Not since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger waved a knife to illustrate budget cutting has a Twitter image caused such a stir.
Meghan McCain apologized, saying she'd made a huge mistake. She decided not to delete her Twitter account, but said she'd be more careful in the future.
(on camera): And while we hate to nitpick, it's easy to look like a nitwit when you post a twitpic.
(voice-over): For some celebs, the glitter is off Twitter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: ...New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.