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Health Care Reform Endgame; Swine Flu Deaths Continue

Aired October 23, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the best political team on television on television on these stories.

President Obama is showing up George W. Bush big-time as a fund- raiser in chief. We're going to compare their statistics, as Mr. Obama rakes in more campaign cash.

Also, a new crunch time for the health care reform initiative and new hope for a government run option. What's behind the apparent change of heart on Capitol Hill?

And a frightening milestone in the swine flu epidemic -- the death toll here in the United States climbing above 1,000 and health officials are frustrated by vaccine delays.

We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, a V.P. smackdown, the vice president, Joe Biden, firing back at his predecessor, the former V.P., Dick Cheney. At issue, Cheney's charges that President Obama is afraid to make a decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan. Here's what Dick Cheney said.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America's forces are in danger.


CHENEY: Make no mistake. Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our Brian Todd.

The vice president, current vice president, Joe Biden, is responding directly to his predecessor. Brian, what is he saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the vice president certainly not shying away from this war of words with his predecessor.

First on that dithering charge from Dick Cheney, Joe Biden flatly rejects it. In that off-camera interview you mentioned in Prague, Biden said -- quote -- "I think that is absolutely wrong. I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do."

He says they're making what he calls an informed judgment based on circumstances in Afghanistan that have changed since the Obama team took office.

Now, a lot of news has been generated from these meetings in the White House Situation Room on Afghanistan, where the president is gathering intelligence before deciding on troop levels. We have reported that Vice President Biden has been very forceful in these meetings, favoring more surgical strikes on al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Now, on his role in advising President Obama on Afghanistan, he said -- quote -- "I would be surprised if he publicly dismissed anything I had to say, number one. Number two, look, I knew when I signed on as vice president that he is the president. The only thing, the guarantee I got and that he has kept is that I get the opportunity on every important decision to be in on the deal to give him the benefit or lack thereof of my opinion."

Wolf, he said that as a condition when he signed on with Mr. Obama in the campaign. And he says that Mr. Obama has kept that.

BLITZER: And there was -- in this little interview we had with reporters in Prague, we saw some of the old Joe Biden, didn't we?

TODD: We sure did. According to reporters who were there on the plane, he said -- he started to react to Dick Cheney by looking a little bit piqued, a little angry, and saying -- quote -- "Who cares what" -- and then he thought the better of it, pulled back, joked a little bit, and saying, "I'm getting better, guys."

So, he's not quite the unadulterated Joe Biden that we have come to know in the campaign and early in his presidency.

BLITZER: All right, a little raw nerve there, but controlling himself.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

This hour the president is in Connecticut at a fund-raising dinner for Senator Chris Dodd. He's been working overtime raising campaign cash in a year with only a handful of races.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is traveling with the president -- Dan.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is pushing hard with fund-raisers as it tries to maintain Democratic control of Congress. And while Wall Street bigwigs may not be happy with pay cuts and while most Americans are struggling through a recession, President Obama is finding plenty of people willing to give to the party and its candidates as he campaigns for cash. (voice-over): President Obama in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pushing his clean energy policy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Recovery Act provides the largest single boost in scientific research in history.

LOTHIAN: It's the appetizer in a day of big fund-raising meals. First, a reception for friend and Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick. Then off to a Connecticut dinner to raise cash for Senator Chris Dodd.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He's trying to help the people that are helping him up on Capitol Hill. Secondly, the president is the one that's drawing all the star power right now. He is the fund-raiser-in-chief as much as he is the commander-in-chief.

LOTHIAN: Even as he debates the way forward in Afghanistan and fights for health care reform, Mr. Obama has been doing a flurry of fund-raisers all across the country. Since taking office, more than 20 events, compared to just six during former President Bush's entire first year. However, that's also when 9/11 happened.

Mr. Obama is a presidential ATM machine fighting for his party's future, so far helping to raise more than $25 million.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The Democrats are aware of significant vulnerabilities in next year's midterm elections. They want things to go well now. There's a special in New York and governor elections in Virginia and New Jersey. They don't want to start a ball rolling against them.

LOTHIAN: But some warn there's a danger to the administration's ambitious fund-raising effort.

MADDEN: When you're engaged in this type of travel and you're engaged in nonstop fund-raising, what happens is the White House begins to look very hyper-partisan, hyper-political, and that could then hurt the Obama brand. LOTHIAN: But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested this level of fund-raising is necessary because of the president's strict contribution rules.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This president doesn't accept money from PACs -- doesn't accept money from PACs or lobbyists and doesn't allow lobbyists to give fund-raisers that he's at as well.

LOTHIAN (on camera): A spokesman for Governor Patrick says the events today raised $600,000. Now, this stepped up fund-raising effort doesn't end tonight. President Obama will appear at events in Florida and Virginia early next week -- Wolf.


BLITZER: And it will further intensify next year.

Dan Lothian, thank you. A new shot of adrenaline today for health care reform. Democrats now are pushing to hold votes in a matter of only a few weeks, perhaps as soon as November 10 in the House of Representatives. Leaders in both chambers are scrambling to gauge support, particularly for the so-called public option.

That would give Americans the choice of buying government-run health insurance, or they could stick with coverage from private insurers. Supporters say the competition would reduce competition costs. Critics fear it would drive some of those private insurers out of business.

So, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, now is talking of a plan to let states opt out of the government-run program.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is working the story for us.

Dana, the Senate, there's a huge debate going on. What's the latest as far as the Senate is concerned?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right and it's going on right now inside Harry Reid, the senator majority leader's office. He spent all day in his office, Wolf, having meetings, one-on-one with senators on the phone, in person trying to get support for this idea that he's now pushing, a public option allowing the states to opt out.

One of the senators he met with was Mary Landrieu. Mary Landrieu is one of the senators he needs, a conservative who has said even today again very clearly she does not think a public option is the right way to go.

However, we did speak to her after her meeting with Senator Reid, and she said something interesting. She said -- quote -- "There is some light here because as we explore the different ways of crafting and providing more choice to Americans, which is the goal, there are promising discussions going on about a potential compromise on a version of public option."

Now, Landrieu has her own ideas, but as you heard there, she certainly sounds persuadable. And on that note, Wolf, I spoke with a source in Senator Reid's office who said after the day's meetings, he feels pretty good. He does not have the 60 votes necessary to break any filibuster on this particular issue, a public option, letting the states opt out, but he feels pretty good.

BLITZER: It was only a few weeks ago this summer, Dana, when so many people were writing off the public option. What has changed?

BASH: Well, writing off the public option especially in the Senate because there are so many conservative Democrats. It was always a gamble to figure out what kind of bill to put on the Senate floor.

But right now I'm told that the Senate majority leader decided to -- quote -- "set a bar" and show support for this public option. And it was pushed in large part because of public opinion polls, including CNN's this week, that shows that Americans' support for this idea is actually growing.

That has given a lot of ammunition to the very vocal liberal base who want this very badly. They want the Senate majority leader to start out from what they call a show of strength on this. And he decided I will give it a try. He spent the day making calls.

And at least I'm told that he can say he tried. Even if it doesn't work in the end, he tried early.

BLITZER: These next couple weeks will be critical. All right, Dana, thank you.

A special appeal to pregnant women. Health authorities want them to get the H1N1 vaccine. Why are so many of them so nervous? And some very loud voices insisting the vaccine is not safe for anyone. Do Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, among others, know what they're talking about?

I will ask the nation's chief germ great, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is standing by live.


BLITZER: Troubling news today about swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the H1N1 virus is more widespread than ever. All but four states, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey and South Carolina, report widespread flu activity.

The number of swine flu deaths now exceeds 1,000, including at least 95 children since April. One high-risk group being strongly urged to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus are pregnant women.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's working the story for us.

Lots of warnings about the dangers to pregnant women, Mary. Are they listening, pregnant women, to all the warnings?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're finding that many pregnant women are reluctant to heed those warnings. We have found some women who say they have no problem with the seasonal flu shot, but need convincing when it comes to getting vaccinated for swine flu.


SNOW (voice-over): For Laura Sinton, deciding whether or not to get the H1N1 vaccine before her first child is due hasn't been easy.

LAURA SINTON, EXPECTANT MOTHER: I'm leaning towards getting it, but I definitely am nervous just for my new baby and for me.

SNOW (on camera): What are your reservations? SINTON: Main reservations are that from what research I have done, there's not a lot of study done on the effect of the vaccine on the baby. So, that definitely just worries me.

SNOW: And it worries Colleen Cruz, who says she's been advised to get the H1N1 vaccine, but isn't sold.

COLLEEN CRUZ, EXPECTANT MOTHER: I want to wait at least until a few people, like hundreds of people, have gotten the shot to see if there's any reaction. And then at that point I will make a decision.

SNOW (voice-over): And it's that kind of hesitancy that health officials are trying to overcome.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control stresses the vaccine is manufactured just as the seasonal flu shot would be.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It's the same factories, the same safeguards as the seasonal flu vaccine that has been used for more than 100 million doses each year for many years and which has an excellent safety record.

SNOW: Health officials are appealing to doctors to urge their pregnant patients to get vaccinated against H1N1, something Dr. Jacques Moritz, the director of gynecology at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, is trying to do.

DR. JACQUES MORITZ, DIRECTOR OF GYNECOLOGY, ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: For some reason, this strain of the flu seems to be very deadly -- and I can use that word -- in pregnant women.

SNOW: The CDC reports the risk of dying from H1N1 is six times higher if you're pregnant, with 28 pregnant women dying from H1N1 up to the last week of August. And while Dr. Moritz is convincing his pregnant patients to get the H1N1 vaccine...

MORITZ: The problem is I don't have any. And the government, the CDC, the Department of Health here in New York, has been telling me any day. But any day has been going on for a long time now, so the level of frustration is starting to rise.


SNOW: And, Wolf, we asked New York State's health commissioner about the supply. Dr. Richard Daines said by Wednesday there were 1.4 million requests in the state for H1N1 vaccines, with only 140,000 doses to distribute.

He says that low supply is the reason he rescinded that controversial order in New York mandating that health care workers get vaccinated for swine flu. The focus now is on risk groups, with pregnant women at the top of the list -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

So, if doctors can get the H1N1 vaccine, is it really safe for pregnant women to get the vaccine?

Let's assess with somebody who knows this business as well as anyone. Dr. Anthony Fauci is here from the National Institutes of Health. He's one of the nation's leading experts on infectious diseases. Gloria Borger is with us for the questioning.

Dr. Fauci, pregnant women, a lot of them are very worried about this vaccine. How worried should they be?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, whenever you have an intervention, like a vaccine, what you have got to do is balance the risk vs. the benefit.

And as you heard from Dr. Frieden, this H1N1 vaccine is made in exactly the same way as seasonal flu has been made for decades and given to hundreds of millions of people. And the track record for that type of vaccine is very good with regard to safety.

You can never guarantee out 100 percent safety, but the track record is really very good. If you look at the risk to a pregnant woman of getting infected with influenza, we're seeing with this particular flu that pregnant women are at a much greater risk than the general population of getting the complications, pneumonia, serious pneumonia, hospitalization and even death, than people who are non- pregnant.

And in fact they're six times more likely to get a serious complication from influenza, H1N1 influenza, than the normal population of non-pregnant women. So, that's what they have to consider when they balance the risk of a vaccine that has a very good track record. Nothing is perfect, but the track record is very good.

BLITZER: So many of these pregnant women I have spoken to -- and it's just anecdotally, Dr. Fauci -- they say they're not worried about themselves at all. They're worried about the child and they wonder if this vaccine could have a negative effect on the baby.

FAUCI: Right.

There's no evidence whatsoever, Wolf, in again, hundreds of millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccine, which is strikingly similar to this in so many ways, made in the same way. There's no evidence in a lot of good follow-up that we have seen a vaccine having any deleterious effect at all on the fetus, on the child, or on the mother.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Dr. Fauci, some others are actually saying that this vaccine is not safe for anyone.

I want you to listen to what Rush Limbaugh told his listeners about the vaccine and then I will get you to respond.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And now you have got Kathleen Sebelius saying you must take the pig flu vaccine. You must take it.

Screw you, Ms. Sebelius. I'm not going to take it precisely because you're now telling me I must.

You have some idiot government official demanding, telling me I must take this vaccine. I will never take it.


BORGER: Dr. Fauci, what is your response to that?

FAUCI: Well, to use the word must, it's recommended, particularly for people who are at risk for the higher complications. And there are higher priority groups.

I think that that's a misguided statement. If you look at the fact that particularly among young people, people who have underlying conditions, and, as both of you just mentioned, pregnant women, the chances are that, although it's a very small percentage of people, that, when there are serious complications, they're weighted much more towards the younger people and people with underlying conditions that would give complications.

So, the risk of a vaccine, we know from experience, is very, very little. Again, I repeat, nothing is 100 percent, but the risk is very low. But the risk of getting a complication, if you fall into one of those groups, is there. It's a real risk.

BORGER: But this speaks to kinds of a larger question from people who really don't trust the government and...

FAUCI: Right.

BORGER: ... say, you know, why should I trust you to tell me that you're going to make me safer?

FAUCI: Well, you know, it's a question of trust.

If you look at what influenza can do, the reality, take a look at what influenza is doing. If you look, not only here in the United States, what we're experiencing, but look at what the Southern Hemisphere, what they experienced in South America and Argentina and in Australia, it was a lot of disease and some serious disease with death.

That is the reality. The risk of a vaccine is a hypothetical risk that could be real, but it's very small. And we know it's small because we have years of experience with administering vaccine. And we know it's effective. So, you have a vaccine that you know it's effective that has a very small risk of a deleterious effect, and you have a real pandemic that's killing people.

You put those three things up and you make up your mind whether you want to do it or not. It's not really a question of trusting the government. It's a question of just looking at the reality and looking at the facts. BLITZER: Why are we so far behind, Dr. Fauci, in actually getting the vaccine? Because there are millions of people out there who want it. they can't get it.

FAUCI: Well, that's really unfortunate, Wolf.

And the fact is, is that, when you make a vaccine for influenza, it's made in a way where it's grown, the virus is grown in eggs, and it's grown up. And then you purify it, kill the virus, and you use it as a vaccine after you purify it.

The problem is, is that the growth of this virus in eggs has been slower than anticipated. So, the very, very fact of the mechanism whereby you make the vaccine has been slowed down. So, we had hoped that we would have a lot more doses than we have right now. But the unfortunate reality is that we don't.

We expect that over the coming weeks, we will be getting accelerated amounts, so that over the ensuing weeks, we will get maybe 10 million or so, 8 million or 10 million doses per week to add up to enough that we will be able to meet the demand.

But right now the demand outweighs the supply. That's unfortunate, but it's the reality.

BORGER: Dr. Fauci, so far, we have had an unusually large number of flu cases, so what does this mean for people for the rest of the flu season? Should we expect the worst?

FAUCI: Well, it's very difficult, Gloria, to predict what flu is going to do.

It's certainly going up now on an upscale. It could peak earlier. Certainly, we're seeing it very much earlier than a seasonal flu. We could have this sustained activity throughout the fall, late fall and winter, or it could peak and come down. It's very unpredictable.

But you have to assume that it's going to hang around and as we get colder weather and people stay indoors more that it in fact will get worse. That's the assumption that you have to make. Hopefully, that won't happen, but we must assume that that will happen.

BLITZER: Dr. Fauci, thanks for all the important work you and your colleagues are doing on our behalf of all of us. We appreciate your coming in.

FAUCI: Thank you.

BLITZER: New numbers on the state of the housing market are outdriven by first-timers taking advantage of government incentives. Are they a fresh flicker of hope, or could they -- could the new momentum peter out?

And a new poll takes the pulse of public discontent with Congress. It's growing stronger and it's bipartisan. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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


BLITZER: Jesse Ventura set the stage, but did the wrestler- turned-governor break the mold? Could 2009 be the year that another third-party candidate comes from behind and wins?


BLITZER: The defense secretary, Robert Gates, is trying to reassure the allies that the United States is not pulling its forces out of Afghanistan. Gates met today with his counterparts in NATO to discuss the war and their role in it.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Afghanistan -- Chris?


Wolf, some nations seem ready to send more troops and others are adamant about waiting.


LAWRENCE: (voice-over): The meeting -- NATO's top defense ministers. The issue -- Afghanistan. And with the U.S. wrestling with the decision to send more American troops, new signals emerge that allies may be ready to up the ante on their end.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There were a number of allies who have indicated they were thinking about or were moving toward increasing either their military or their civilian contributions or both.

LAWRENCE: But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says no exact numbers were asked for or given and both the Dutch and Danish defense ministers say they won't send anymore troops unless the runoff election in two weeks creates a legitimate Afghan government and President Obama makes his discuss on overall strategy. Gates signaled both events could coincide.

GATES: I think that the analytical phase is beginning to -- is coming to an end and that probably over the next two or three weeks, we're going to be considering specific options and -- and teeing them up for a decision by the president.

LAWRENCE: Americans make up two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan today. General Stanley McChrystal says he needs more and explained his assessment to the defense ministers. He mapped out a plan to one day let Afghans handle their own security.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We have not agreed to start handing over the leads. The conditions are not yet right. The Afghan security forces are not yet strong enough.

LAWRENCE: But they will take the lead on November 7, election day. Afghan forces will be closest to the polling stations, with NATO forces farther back.


LAWRENCE: The candidates can start campaigning Saturday at noon, but only for 12 days. Military officials tell us that securing that election is now the highest mission priority for American troops and their allies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Kabul.

Right now, Iran is snubbing a U.N. deadline and leaving the world hanging. It's now unclear whether the Tehran government will sign onto a draft United Nations agreement designed to help end a global dispute over his its nuclear program. The U.S., Russia and France gave a thumbs up by today's deadline. But Iran now says it won't announce its decision until next week.

The plan calls for Iran to send much of its uranium to Russia for further enrichment, to ensure it's being used for energy production, not for nuclear weapons.

A new CNN poll shows Congress is highly unpopular and leaders from both sides get low marks.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has more now on the numbers and what they mean -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if the economy is in the dumper and there's still no health care plan and you're on the outside looking in, who are you going to blame?

You know who.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Efforts to incur...

CROWLEY: (voice-over): Maybe it's the partisan bickering.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Gentlemen, it's courteous if you interrupt somebody right in the middle of the sentence of an important point they're trying to make.

CROWLEY: Or maybe it's the seemingly endless repetition of questions or the glacial pace. Whatever it is, there's something about the way the legislative branch works -- or doesn't -- that people don't like. Just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job. And if you're running the place, as Democrats are, that's troublesome.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Clearly, there are some Democrats who are dissatisfied. That's the only way you can get these -- teethes numbers that low. And you don't want to go into a midterm election, if you're the Democrats, with Republicans against you and your own party lukewarm.

CROWLEY: A big thumbs down, too, for party leaders. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found the Republican leadership approval number is in the low 30s. That's a figure that suggests to get the majority position back, the GOP will need a Democratic political implosion.

Still, at 38 percent, Democratic Congressional leaders do fare little better than Republicans. And that is way down from a brief shining 60 percent approval moment in their February afterglow of inauguration. Nonetheless, there is an electoral hint in the numbers that Democrats could use -- party approval is much higher than Congressional approval. More than half of Americans, 53 percent, think favorably of the Democratic Party.

ROTHENBERG: When people think of the Democratic Party as Barack Obama, they like the Democrats. When they think of the Democratic Party as the Congressional leadership or Democrats in Congress, they don't.

CROWLEY: which means, if the numbers should hold into next year, Congressional Democrats would do well to limit their references to Congress and see if the president might be available for a drop-by in the district.


CROWLEY: And whether they be Republican or Democratic, there is one more thing on the side of lawmakers -- the power of incumbency. The truth is that history shows the people most likely to be elected next year are those already holding the seats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

Some third party candidates are playing pivotal roles in next month's elections. We're only about 10 days away, In the New York 23rd Congressional District, for example, the Conservative Party's Doug Hoffman is raking in a lot of cash and gaining significant endorsements. He's got the backing of two key Republicans, the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and the former House majority leader, Dick Armey.

In New Jersey, the latest survey shows the independent candidate, Chris Daggett, making gains in the gubernatorial race. He could play the role of spoiler, peeling support away from the Republican challenger, Chris Christie.

The best political team on television is standing by for analysis. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Paul Begala; former Republican Congressman Tom Davis. He's president of Main Street Advocacy. CNN political analyst, Roland Martin; and our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. Let's go to this race -- Congressman, let me go to you first in New York State. A lot of Republicans say the support for this third party candidate will ensure that the Democratic incumbent Bill Owens is re-elected.

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, PRESIDENT, MAIN STREET ADVOCACY: Well, it hurts. This has been a Republican seat since 1868. You've got to remember that. It's rare for the party in power to actually pick up seats in the midterm. But more money has been spent for the conservative candidate than for the Republican candidate, up until this election. There's still a few days to close this. They've got 10 days to close this race. I think it will be close, but there's no question that the factioning in the Republicans there are hurting our chances.

BLITZER: Does the third party candidate, based on what you know, Paul -- and I know you've been studying this district -- have a shot at actually winning?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Yes. We can get to New Jersey in a minute, where I don't think the third party candidate has a shot.

BLITZER: You're shaking your head, Congressman.

BEGALA: I mean, Tom knows this better than I do.


BEGALA: I'm sure his party...


DAVIS: Absolutely not.

BEGALA: But I believe that there -- there is a real chance here. You know, New York voters, for one thing, are kind of quirky. They sometimes do go for Independents. James Buckley -- it was a long time ago, but James Buckley was elected a United States senator on the conservative line, not the Republican line. And this guy's got a lot of -- you mentioned Sarah Palin, Steve Forbes, Dick Armey. He's got a lot of heat behind him on the Republican right.


DAVIS: But this is a district that does -- this is not a liberal -- a conservative district.

BORGER: Right.

DAVIS: This is an Upstate New York district President Obama carried.

BORGER: You know, Tom, I'm -- I don't know if you'd agree with this or not, but this is a fight inside the Republican Party -- the establishment versus the non-establishment, the folks that believe that George W. Bush spent too much money, that the government is out of control, the Sarah Palin wing of the party, if you will, starting to say, OK, we're going to -- we're going to assert ourselves here.

DAVIS: Yes, because (INAUDIBLE) doesn't even live in the district.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This also speaks to the problem where you have moderate Republicans that have no place in this party. You have this purist mentality. We see it right now even in Florida with Crist and Rubio. The head of the Florida Republican Party made it perfectly clear, look, if we're going to be purists, we're going to be sitting at home on election day...


MARTIN: ...losing every time.

Democrats figured out in 2006 it can't be all about liberals and progressives. You'd better go to some (INAUDIBLE) Democrats to have a larger party (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: All right, let me bring Suzanne Malveaux in -- Suzanne, I know the White House, the political guys, they're watching this district in New York State very closely.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One of the things that they believe is that the Republican Party is in danger of becoming a regionalized Southern party, that that is what's going to happen here, when you have people like Sarah Palin and Santorum jump -- jumping in here and trying to -- essentially what they're going to do is remove the moderates and -- and some of those Democrats who might be leaning toward the race -- that that is not going to happen. They're going to lose that kind of support if -- they're going strictly for their base and that that, ultimately, is going to work for the Democrats' benefit.


BEGALA: And what Democrat there has credibility in the district?

The biggest employer in the District is Fort Drum, a big Army base. Bill Owens is a retired Air Force captain. He's got a military background. He's got good small business credentials. He's the kind of Democrat, if any Democrat can win in that very Republican district, Owens is someone who can.

BLITZER: All right. Hold -- hold your thought for a second. I want to move on to New Jersey right now. There's a three man race underway right now -- the incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine; Chris Christie is the Republican challenger; a third party challenger named Chris Daggett.

Look at this latest poll, Rutgers-Eagleton Corzine poll. It shows Corzine, 39 percent; Christi, 36 percent; Chris Daggett, 20 percent; plus or minus margin of error 4.1 percent. As I saw those numbers, I thought of another three man race in Minnesota a few years ago. And 10 days or two weeks before the election in Minnesota, look at this, back in 1998, Hubert Humphrey III, Skip Humphrey, he had 35 percent. Norm Coleman, the Republican, he was the mayor of St. Paul, 34 percent. But there was a guy named Jesse Ventura, who was a wrestler, who had, in that poll, 21 percent. The plus or minus margin of error 3.5 percent.

And guess, Tom Davis, who won that election?

DAVIS: We know who won that election. The Independent won it. I think the difference in New Jersey is, number one, Minnesota had same day registration. You don't have that in New Jersey this time. So the polling didn't capture people who might come to the poll that weren't registered.

Secondly, Daggett's operating under state spending limits. And I think that hampers his ability to come back.

But there's no question that the voters are dissatisfied with both parties up there...


DAVIS: ...and Daggett's run a very principled campaign.

MARTIN: I (INAUDIBLE). I disagree. But I see the race in New Jersey like the race in 1992. Ross Perot, he flat out affected George W. -- George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton able to win the presidency.

And if you're Corzine, you're saying thank you, God, for this Independent candidate...

BORGER: Yes, you are.


MARTIN: ...because he would be dead in the water without that Independent running.

BEGALA: Right. In fact, all the scholarship about 1992 was that Perot took votes equally from Clinton and Bush. But the larger point about this race is right. Third party candidates are like cockroaches -- it's not what they carry off out of the kitchen, it's what they fall into and foul up, OK?


MARTIN: You can't (INAUDIBLE) about cockroaches.

BEGALA: (INAUDIBLE) Paul Dewey. And so that's the reason...


BLITZER: Sometimes...


BLITZER: Sometimes they do...


BLITZER: Sometimes they do win. Guys, stand by.

By the way, Jon Corzine is going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Monday. Chris Christie was here the other day. We'll invite the third party candidate, Chris Daggett, to come in, as well.

Meanwhile, a vice presidential war of words brewing over Afghanistan. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, accusing the current vice president -- the Obama administration, I should say, of dithering on troop expansion. Now, his successor is firing right back. Vintage Joe Biden. We're going to tell you what the vice president is saying.

And a stunning admission on the ongoing balloon boy saga. Stand by.

Just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's been a significant development in the balloon boy case.

Don Lemon is watching it.

What are we learning -- Don?

LEMON: Wolf, you know, you did the interview and we are hearing -- this is an official affidavit from the court and it is saying that the whole thing was a hoax. The mother, Mayumi Heene, has admitted in an affidavit that it was all a hoax. And I'll read straight from the affidavit for you.

Point 12 here, it says: "On October 17, 2009, Mayumi Heene told Urifiant (ph) that she and Richard Heene had lied to authorities on October 15, 2009 that the release of the flying saucer was intentional, as a hoax; that she and Richard Heene knew all along that Falcon was hiding in the residence. The motive for the fabricated story was to make the Heene family more marketable for future media interest."

And, Wolf, they say that they had concocted this about two weeks earlier and that they made that flying saucer specifically for this hoax.

BLITZER: So she, in this affidavit, is confirming it was a hoax.

But we don't know if her husband Richard has confirmed it yet, is that right?

LEMON: No. And we're still looking over the affidavit. But Richard has not, according to this affidavit -- affidavit -- confirmed it. But the wife has confirmed it through the affidavit -- affidavits from the court -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

We'll continue to watch this story, no doubt.

Don Lemon reporting.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney is accusing the Obama administration of dithering over the war in Afghanistan. Now, the vice president, Joe Biden, is firing right back.

Let's get back to the best political team on television.

One thing that Biden is saying -- and let me, in responding to the dithering charge: "I think it's absolutely wrong. I think what the administration is doing exactly what we said it would do and I think it warrants doing, and that is making an informed judgment based upon circumstances that have changed to come up with a sustainable policy that has more than one dimension."

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne, as you know, the vice president -- he rarely minutes words, although he held himself back a bit during this interview with the reporters in Prague.

MALVEAUX: Yes, he did, actually, Wolf. But one thing that was really interesting to note is that President Obama, just moments ago, out of Stanford, Connecticut, said grab a broom, grab a mop and make yourself useful. Clean up this mess. He's been parried for it. He's been panned in some ways. But the White House calculation here is no matter what kind of divisions you have between Vice President Biden, the president himself, the generals, that overall, the American people are going to take a look at the situation in Afghanistan and believe the line that they are saying here at the White House, that they dropped the ball for the last eight years -- that it was a good endeavor initially, a noble endeavor, but that they didn't provide the resources to make this thing happen.

I was in the Oval Office with the president and the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri Al-Maliki, earlier in the week, Wolf. And he went and turned the corner from once again pledging, look, we're taking our troops out of Iraq by 2011. We are thanking our troops in Afghanistan and we're committed to this Afghan government, no matter what it looks like, to provide prosperity and peace in that country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Davis, you're a former Republican Congressman from Virginia.

Who -- who wins a fight between these two V.P.s?

DAVIS: Well, I think you've got to look over the long-term what is the ultimate decision and how does it turn out? Right now, it's just a lot of rhetoric. I think the administration gets a bit of a reprieve with this election coming up and voters say, look, let's wait and see how this goes.

BLITZER: The election in Afghanistan?

DAVIS: Exactly. That they want to see how this comes out, what happens there, before we make those kind of commitments. So I think that helps the administration.

BLITZER: Though a lot will depend, as you know, Paul, on what happens in Afghanistan on the ground.

BEGALA: Right. And Tom is right, that's ultimately is what's going to determine this. But in terms of political optics, I mean, can you imagine if you're the Republicans, who would you rather have speaking for your party on foreign and defense matters, Colin Powell, four star general, one of the most respected men in -- in America?

Or Dick Cheney who, you know, they wheeled him out once in a while. He's got the hairless cap, you know...


BEGALA: ...and the Darth Vader voice. And I mean he's just absurd. And -- and he knows something about dithering because that's what he did, of course, before 9/11, when they warned him about al Qaeda's attacks. That's what he did when the generals in Afghanistan asked for more troops in the Bush-Cheney administration.

So this is what they want, if you're in the Obama White House.

BORGER: Well, he...

BEGALA: You want Dick Cheney out there, not someone like Colin Powell.

BLITZER: And if anyone know what the Obama White House wants, it's Paul Be...


BLITZER: ...Paul Begala.

BORGER: Right. Exactly.

But, you know, it's also very clear that they're kind of tired of it. And you could hear it or -- or at least I read it -- in the pool report that came from this -- this interchange with reporters where, at first, Joe Biden -- and he had to stop himself said, "Who cares what...." And then he kind of turned to his press aid and said, "Well, let me put it maybe...and I'm getting better at, you know, keeping my mouth shut."

So, you know, it -- it's clear that this is really starting to annoy the vice president. MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) in Cincinnati giving a speech on Thursday and I talked to a gentleman who spent two tours of duty in Iraq. He said when we hit the ground, we didn't know what we were doing. He said there was no game plan. We sat there and it was kind of like, OK, let's figure it out.

The problem with Cheney's comments, you have a president who is saying, no, let's think through the entire strategy. Cheney is saying, no, just send them and then figure it out later. When you send American troops into battle, you do not figure it out later -- 4,300 dead in Iraq, 800 dead in Afghanistan...

BLITZER: Because he makes a valid point, Tom Davis...

MARTIN: You figure it out.

BLITZER:, because when, in Iraq, getting rid of Saddam Hussein and destroying the Iraqi military, that was the easy part.

What to do afterwards, it didn't seem they had a great game plan.

DAVIS: They're the dog that caught the car in these situations. And I think the problem in Afghanistan is whatever decision the president makes, it's going to be his war after this.



MARTIN: And he should take all the time he needs...

BORGER: Well, I would argue...

MARTIN: think it through.

BORGER: I would argue it was his war when he decided to spend the 20,000 plus troops in March.

BEGALA: Right. In March.

BORGER: Back in March.

DAVIS: This is (INAUDIBLE) points. I mean, this is...

BORGER: Well, the war of necessity is...

DAVIS: ...this is a war of necessity and that was a war of (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: ...what he said.

MARTIN: But, Bill, also, we've spent seven years there already and so the decision now here is, look, if we're going to spend a prolonged period of time there, you'd better have a clear cut game plan, otherwise, it's going to be (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Let me just go to Suzanne for a second.

Suzanne, is Paul Begala right that the White House relishes a war with Dick Cheney?

MALVEAUX: You know, they -- I -- I really think that they are enjoying this. I think that they love to see the vice -- the former vice president be the representative for going up against what they think is their deliberate policy when it comes to Afghanistan.

And I would also make the point, as well, is that it became Barack Obama's war during the campaign, when he said that he was going to pull out of Iraq and that the focus was going to be on Afghanistan. That was something from the very beginning he's been talking about, before he ever even took office. And so that is something that they feel very strongly about. But we expect this decision within the next couple of weeks or so.

BEGALA: Where is critical health care (ph) when we need it?


BLITZER: Guys, have a great weekend.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: The first official picture of the first family -- it's standard for any occupants of the White House. You might be surprised who the photographer is. We're going to tell you.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, a leading Democrat is warning his fellow party members of a tough midterm election to come. Congressman Chris van Holland of Maryland says they facing challenging conditions, although they're "aggressively preparing and studying the last two successful elections for the Democrats." He writes in a memo to House Democrats -- and I'm quoting now -- "Our best defense this cycle is a strong offense -- the best defense this cycle is a strong offense." Van Holland is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Senator John McCain's 97-year-old mother is hospitalized in Portugal after fainting and injuring her head. McCain's office says the senator has spoken to his mother and doctors report she's recovering well. According to the hospital, she's stable and is being held for observation. The feisty Roberta McCain, who was touring Lisbon, often made hurdles speaking her mind when her son was running for president. We wish her a speedy recovery.

The first family is all smiles on this official portrait released by the White House. The celebrity photographer, Annie Leibovitz, took the casual picture of the Obamas last month. Eight-year-old Sasha has her arm around the shoulder of her dad, while 11-year-old Malia embraces the first lady. The Obamas posed for the portrait in The Green Room of the White House. Missing, however, from the family shot is the first dog, Bo.

Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out And we have a new way for you to follow what's going on behind-the-scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm now on Twitter. I've been there for about a month. You can get my Tweets at -- wolfblitzercnn all one word.

It happens every week -- we get to report the news, but the hosts of the late night news get all the jokes. Friday funnies, straight ahead.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

In Thailand, a man walks across hot coals during a festival.

In Russia, figure skaters perform their short program at a Cup of Russia competition.

In Las Vegas, a man from Norway cheers after winning the 2009 Monopoly World Championship. He won more than $20,000 in prize money.


And in England, check it out -- a 5-month-old baby gorilla clings to his mother's leg as she walks around an enclosure.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

It was a good week to make some fun of politics and politicians. The late night comedians, of course, took full advantage.

Jay Leno was inspired by the pay cuts suggested for Wall Street executives.


JAY LENO, HOST: The White House is calling for bailed out executives -- you know, these guys we gave all the money to in the banking industry -- to get a 90 percent pay cut. Yes. Yes. Yes.


LENO: Yes, they want...


LENO: They want their pay cut 90 percent so it's more in line with the job they're doing.

Here's my question, why can't we get this for Congress?

OK, why can't we get this in Congress? (APPLAUSE)



BLITZER: All right, remember, THE SITUATION ROOM Saturday edition, tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern -- is the Secret Service stretched too thin?

The best-selling author, Ron Kessler, among my guests.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Kitty Pilgrim in for Lou -- Kitty.