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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn; White House Touts Economic Growth
Aired October 29, 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: But is his administration overstating its role in creating jobs? Stand by.
Also this hour, the House speaker unveils a new health care compromise. Some fellow Democrats aren't impressed. I will speak live with her chief vote-counter, the majority whip, Congressman James Clyburn. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will ask him how he's going to get this bill passed.
And Hillary Clinton walks into the lion's den in Pakistan and bluntly asks the Pakistanis why al Qaeda fugitives are not being caught in their country. Is she borrowing a tested tactic from her husband?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But up first this hour, some of the strongest evidence yet that America's long economic nightmare is easing up. Experts are warning, though, it's not over with yet. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of this year. It's the first increase in over a year and it's the biggest spurt since 2007.
As you would expect, the president is welcoming the rebound and claiming a good chunk of the credit for it.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
Ed, they were very happy when this number came out this morning.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They were, Wolf, and the president is starting to make his case that his economic policies are beginning to work. But that's still a difficult case to make with unemployment sky-high.
HENRY (voice-over): It was the best economic news the president has gotten since he took office.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 3.5 percent growth in the third quarter is the largest three-month gain we have seen in two years. This is obviously welcome news and affirmation that this recession is abating and the steps we have taken have made a difference. HENRY: But unemployment is still at 9.8 percent, the worst since 1983. So, the president was careful to say the recovery still has a long way to go.
OBAMA: While this report today represents real progress, the benchmark I use to measure the strength of our economy is not just whether our GDP is growing, but whether we're creating jobs, whether families are having an easier time paying their bills, whether our businesses are hiring and doing well.
HENRY: That's why, Friday, the White House will unveil a report making its case the stimulus package has saved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Republicans insist Mr. Obama is having a hard time backing up his claims.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The president said when he signed the bill into law that unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. It's now nearly 10 percent. And so I'm pleased that the GDP numbers this morning were up, but the question is, where are the jobs?
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: The Republicans have been playing the role of the old East German judge at the Olympics, that it doesn't matter what any report says, how many private forecasters look and say the stimulus had a big impact, that we could hit the triple lutz, and they're still going to give the administration a two.
HENRY: But the problem is that many people around the country are still not feeling this good economic news in their pocketbooks yet, and with an off-year election coming next Tuesday. This is why the White House is being cautious, one top aide here telling me they're not going to make the mistake of putting up a "Mission Accomplished" banner any time soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much -- Ed Henry at the White House
Wall Street investors apparently were reassured about the new GDP report. The Dow Jones industrials closed up almost 200 points. It was the Dow's biggest one-day percentage gain since July 15. And it came exactly 80 years after so-called Black Tuesday, the market crash of 1929 that triggered the Great Depression.
Democratic leaders are applauding another big milestone in their drive for health care reform. The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, today unveiled a compromise bill combining three versions of legislation passed by House committees. The bill includes a controversial government-run insurance option.
And, among other key provisions, Pelosi says the House Bill would guarantee that 96 percent of all Americans have health care coverage and it would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is working the story and has some more -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a milestone, both for House Democratic leaders and his president on his top priority, but there is still a long and treacherous road ahead.
BASH (voice-over): A march to music down the Capitol steps, a ceremony staged to unveil a health care bill and signal momentum.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable, quality health care available for all Americans.
BASH: After months of intense work with a divided caucus, the House Democrats say their proposal would cost $894 billion, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, reduce the deficit by $30 billion.
It would require all Americans to get health coverage, expand Medicaid to help those who can't afford it, and provide subsidies to small businesses to cover employees.
PELOSI: The bill will expand coverage, including a public option to boost choice and competition.
BASH: But the government-run insurance option is not what the speaker wanted. It allows doctors and hospitals to negotiate what the government pays. That pleases moderate Democrats, but may cost votes with liberals who prefer a public option that mandates lower rates.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: I'm personally leaning no. Others are as well.
BASH: But other progressives are more pragmatic.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: They couldn't get 218 votes for that. There's no point crying over spilt milk.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: We have a weaker public option. There's no disputing that. It's not what I would have liked. But I can tell you now we're going to have a sliver of competition.
BASH: How would all this be paid for? In part with cuts in Medicare spending and a 5.4 percent tax of all individuals making $500,000 a year and couples making $1 million. That income level was raised, a change aimed at calming concerns of vulnerable Democrats like Gerry Connolly.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: It will affect a lot fewer folks in my direct than the -- than the previous version.
BASH: We spent time with Connolly this summer as town hall anger raged. Then, he was undecided. Now?
CONNOLLY: And I'm pretty close to that yes.
BASH (on camera): You're there?
CONNOLLY: But I want to absolutely reserve the right to look at the bill carefully.
BASH: Now, other moderate Democrats are more undecided than that and they say that they won't say yes or no until they read the bill, too.
And, Wolf, that's going to take a while, because it is nearly 2,000 pages. Now, House Democratic leaders promise that lawmakers will get 72 hours to read the final bill with any changes before they vote. And they do hope to start debate next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The House Republicans, Dana, where do they fit into all of this?
BASH: Well, they are very loud, but I don't think they have much of a voice when it comes to the final vote, because Democrats have such a huge majority. But they certainly are trying. They had a press conference today right after the House unveiled their -- the House Democrats unveiled their bill.
And they had a prop. They had the nearly 2,000 pages right there on the podium. And Republican after Republican pounded on it, saying it's nothing more than government-run health care. We have heard that before. One question is, where is the Republicans' alternative? They insist that they will have a formal health care alternative ready when it is time to vote -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana is up on Capitol Hill.
Thanks very much.
Let's check in Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."
I know, Jack, you're rushing out there to get those 2,000 pages. You want to go line by line and start reading, right?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. You know how many pages the Civil Rights Act was?
BLITZER: The Civil Rights Act back in the '60s?
BLITZER: I don't know.
CAFFERTY: Eight pages.
As Sarah Palin -- we're going to have more on this nonsense tomorrow -- 2,000 pages, what a joke.
Sarah Palin getting ready to release her memoir next month. It seems like so much of her life is already an open book, a bit of a trashy one at that. Palin, who quit as governor of Alaska in the middle of her first term, has been having a nasty public spat with the father of her grandson.
Levi Johnston, the former boyfriend of Palin's unmarried daughter Bristol says that Sarah Palin describes her son Trig who has Down syndrome as "retarded." Johnston also claims to know a lot more about what went on in the Palin household. So, presumably, there's more tabloid trash ahead.
Sarah Palin's pushing back, calling Johnson's claim inflammatory and saying that Trig, that child, is their -- quote -- "blessed little angel who knows it and is lovingly called that every day of his life" -- unquote.
Palin also suggests that Johnston, who's getting ready for a photo shoot with "Playgirl" magazine -- How weird is this stuff? -- is desperate for publicity -- sort of like Sarah Palin is.
Meanwhile, a new poll suggests Palin may have run her course with the American public. Just 29 percent -- this is a CNN poll -- 29 percent of Americans think she's qualified to be president. What are they thinking? Seventy-one percent, including nearly half of all Republicans, say she's not. And 51 percent of Americans have a negative view of her.
So, here's the question: What are Sarah Palin's chances in 2012 to be president? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
You can't make this stuff up, Wolf.
BLITZER: No. I don't know what her chances are in 2012. I do know, Jack, she's making a lot of money right now.
CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. She was paid a huge advance for this book, and it's already I guess number one on the bestseller list, right?
BLITZER: Yes, Amazon.com. The book hasn't even come out.
CAFFERTY: It's doing a lot better than the books I wrote, I will tell you that.
BLITZER: You didn't do that bad. Yours were good. (LAUGHTER)
BLITZER: Yours were excellent books, Jack. Thanks very much.
CAFFERTY: OK. All right.
BLITZER: Fuzzy math? Guess how many jobs have been created by the economic stimulus plan? A potentially embarrassing report by the AP is out. We're going to tell you what it says. What you're being told, they say, is far more jobs than actually are being created. Far more aren't being created. Stand by. We will have the numbers for you.
BLITZER: You have heard about the number of jobs being created by the economic stimulus plan, either being created or saved. But how many jobs can that package really claim credit for?
Let's discuss this in our panel, joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political analyst Roland Martin, our CNN political contributor Paul Begala -- he's a Democratic strategist -- and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, also with the NewMajority.com.
Guys, stop it. You're having way too much fun over here.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I get it. OK.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Go slowly. There's an Aggie at the table.
BLITZER: We understand.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the economy right now.
BORGER: The economy, stupid, right? Yes.
BLITZER: ... pretty impressive, 3.5 percent growth in the third quarter of this year.
BLITZER: As I said, the White House is very happy about that, and they're claiming some credit.
BORGER: It's very good news. They're claiming some credit. And I think they should get some credit. The problem is, it is tied to these government programs, cash for clunkers, the tax credits for first-time homebuyers.
And I think the real question here is whether it's sustainable. We all know that unemployment is a lagging indicator. It's bound to go up. So, I guarantee you we're going to have some extension of unemployment benefits and maybe some other jobs programs down the road.
BLITZER: Even though they won't call it another economic stimulus package.
BORGER: ... stimulus, no.
BLITZER: The White House does, David, deserve some credit for this number.
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it could be worse. You're not going to reduce unemployment until you get the growth rate above the long-term trend.
But here are the numbers that I think we all need to pay attention to, and they are private sector investment, especially private sector investment in areas outside of real estate. And until those numbers recover, you're not going to begin to see real growth.
And the question for the White House is, they -- they were supposed to deliver two pieces of economic legislation. One was their stimulus, which was big, but slow. And the second was the reform of the financial sector, because the banks are still unable to lend because they are ladened up with these bad assets. The government was supposed to do something about that, and the Obama people, they have been in office for a while, still no plan.
And now nobody even remembers or cares that they had no plan.
BLITZER: Where's the financial regulations, the new legislation, the oversight that was promised?
FRUM: And the TARP
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Moving slowly. It's moving through the Congress.
(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: The House banking committee chairman, Barney Frank, holding hearings, trying to work through this. This is really, really difficult stuff.
But the number -- here's the number I'm looking at. It's two, jobs and income. And they're terrible still. Everybody's happy to see the GDP number move, but nobody back home can eat a GDP. They have got to have jobs. If they don't move the needle on jobs and on income -- we have had the worst year for family income in the last 19 years. It's just been devastating. So, even people who have jobs, not only do they feel threatened. They know they have gotten a big pay cut.
BLITZER: And the AP is saying, suggesting, Roland, that the jobs that the White House says were either created or saved by the economic stimulus package, that may be inflated, the White House number, the AP reporting this. Even in its limited review, the AP found job cuts that were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of paid positions, jobs credited to the stimulus program that were counted two and sometimes more than four times and other jobs that were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.
MARTIN: I have never heard of a White House inflating numbers. That is a shock to me, Wolf.
MARTIN: No, look, we see this all the time, in terms of when there's good economic news, you will see the White House, whether Republican or Democrat, take credit for what's going on. Then, all of a sudden, there's bad news. They will say, you know what? It's still really not our fault. We're trying to get -- things are trying to get better.
Paul is absolutely right. For the average person sitting at home, they don't care about GDP. They don't care about real estate numbers. All they care about is, first and foremost, do I still have my job? Will I be able to get a job if I don't have one? And can I afford to do the basic things in life?
That's what they care about.
BLITZER: Here's what the Democrats and a lot of people should really be worried about, Gloria. I interviewed Christina Romer, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a very intelligent, smart economist. She knows this stuff.
She was suggesting the economic growth throughout next year will be about between 2 percent and 3 percent. But the unemployment rate will still remain throughout all of next year maybe 9.5 percent, just about where it is right now. So, you're talking about jobs being a lagging indicator. It would be a disaster politically for the Democrats if that turns out to be the case, potentially, the election campaign of 2010.
BORGER: Right. Well, Right. Remember, this happened with Ronald Reagan in 1982, when unemployment was above 10 percent, and he lost 26 seats in the House of Representatives alone.
People want, as you were saying, Paul, to see that their jobs are coming back. And the economy has to find its own balance, without the government programs, without the tax credits, without the cash for clunkers. And we're not there yet. We're a long way from that.
BLITZER: Because, at some point, it's not going to be Bush's economy; it's Obama's economy. And jobs, jobs, jobs, priority number one.
BEGALA: Which is why I think you're going to see a new Democratic jobs plan, jobs bill.
And that's the debate they're going to have and I think frankly they want in 2010, Democrats pushing for more legislation to create more jobs, Republicans saying, no, we don't want it. That's the kind of matchup they want.
If I could commend you one thing to read, John Judis in "The New Republic" wrote an article where he -- it's really good analysis, where he took the unemployment rate and the presidential disapproval rate for the whole Reagan term, the whole Clinton term, the whole Bush, and they track really closely.
FRUM: But the question -- the question we have to worry about is, are we heading toward a situation like Japan had in the 1990s, where we have a banking sector that does not recover, where we have repeated government attempts to stimulate the economy through tax- and borrowing-funded public works, but no private sector job creation? That is a formula for a lost decade for the country.
BLITZER: Let's hope the answer to that is no.
BLITZER: We don't want to see that.
FRUM: They don't have the policy answer to make it...
BLITZER: Don't go away, guys. We have much more to discuss, including Republican infighting exposed in Upstate New York. We're going to tell you about a special congressional election that is not so much Democrat vs. Republican, as it is about divisions within the GOP itself.
BLITZER: The best political team on television is standing by.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton may taking a page out of her husband's playbook. What is going on? Just ahead, why the secretary of state challenged Pakistani officials and their hunt for al Qaeda in their own backyard.
BLITZER: You may not live there, you may never have been there, but there are some major reasons why you should care about a remote area of Upstate New York not far from Canada.
Three candidates are battling for a congressional seat right now, but this is no ordinary race. What happens there potentially could dramatically impact what kind of Republican candidates you see in the near and long-term future.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's just back from a visit to that district.
Explain what's going on, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this race is viewed as sort of a litmus test for Republicans, exposing divisions between the party faithful and more conservative members. It's a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by John McHugh, who left to become secretary of the Army.
And at the center of the drama is a third-party candidate who calls this race a fight for the soul of the Republican Party.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling on behalf of Doug Hoffman.
SNOW (voice-over): Armed with a conservative message and cash, supporters of businessman Doug Hoffman are hoping to jolt the Republican Party far beyond northern New York State. Hoffman is making his first foray into politics running on the conservative party ticket. He says he's motivated by the two other candidates who he says are too liberal.
DOUG HOFFMAN, NEW YORK CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I came to the point that somebody has to stand up and fight for less taxes, less government regulations, and less spending.
SNOW: Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava says she stands for those Republican principles, but she also supports abortion and gay rights. That's led to a split by some GOP big names who put conservative orthodoxy in front of party loyalty.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has weighed in, along with former GOP House majority leader Dick Armey and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, to endorse Hoffman.
Republican National Party Chairman Michael Steele and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich support Scozzafava.
(on camera): It's really a litmus test for 2010 for Republicans.
DEDE SCOZZAFAVA (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The sad thing about all the outside attention is it's taking away from the most important issues that are here in the district. And those are the issues that are important to the voters.
SNOW (voice-over): Those issues were front and center in a debate where Hoffman was a no-show, blaming a scheduling conflict, leaving Scozzafava to debate Democrat Bill Owens, who stands to benefit from the GOP rift.
BILL OWENS (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think that this is a race which I'm focused on in terms of the people of this district. As I said, my primary concern and the way I will vote in Congress will be based upon the best interest of the folks in this district.
SNOW: Both the Democrat and Republican are stressing local issues because Hoffman is not. He also doesn't live in the district. He says redistricting edged him out seven years ago.
(on camera): What do you see as being the biggest local issue here in this district? HOFFMAN: The biggest local issue is who we vote for, for Congress this year.
SNOW (voice-over): Karolyn Micheels, a Democrat, finds all the outside attention problematic.
KAROLYN MICHEELS, PLATTSBURGH RESIDENT: It bothers me a lot, because, you know, living in this area, I want the congressman, the person who's going to represent us, to know about the issues of this area.
SNOW: But restaurant owner Mike Farrell, who supports Doug Hoffman, sees the race differently.
MIKE FARRELL, RESTAURANT OWNER: I love my country. I love our motto, "In God we trust." And it's not a government that we trust in. And I think that that's where the real battleground is.
SNOW: And another twist -- while that battleground focuses on divisions among Republicans, there's another big reason this race is being closely watched. There is the possibility that votes could be split enough that Democrat Bill Owens could win. And, if that happens, he would be the first Democrat to win this district since the 1800s -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a very Republican district, obviously, Mary.
Not all the potential GOP presidential candidates in 2012 are picking sides.
SNOW: Yes. Noticeably absent is Mitt Romney, whose name has been mentioned time and time again as a possible presidential contender in 2012. He has stayed out of this, not indicating which way he -- or which candidate he would support.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, just back from the district. Thanks very much.
The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is raising a very, very touchy subject in Pakistan today. She bluntly questioned why officials in that country haven't been able to find al Qaeda fugitives hiding there.
Let's bring back the best political team on television and I'll read you guys the quote from what Secretary Clinton had to say. "Al Qaeda has had safe havens in Pakistan since 2002. I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that's the case, maybe they're not gettable, I don't know."
But, David Frum, those are pretty strong words. You're in Pakistan. The Pakistanis finally are beginning to do what the U.S. has urged them to do, get tough militarily on the Taliban and al Qaeda, along the border with Afghanistan and the secretary of state blasts them with these tough words.
FRUM: Well, that can give you a sense of only how frustrated they are. I mean altering -- this has been true since the beginning. I mean after 9/11 there were stories of Pakistanis air lifting out some of the Taliban fighters, many of them had been trained in the camps. The Pakistanis maintained to (INAUDIBLE) in Kashmir.
If we were completely honest about these things, we would have long ago designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism for what it does against India. So it's good to hear some tough words being spoken.
MARTIN: And she should be saying, look, a couple of week ago Musharraf was in Dallas giving a speech...
BLITZER: Pervez Musharaff. The former president.
MARTIN: Yes. Former president . What he basically said give us your aid, but don't tell us -- don't give us any advice. I'm -- I'm sorry, if we're giving you $5, $10 billion, trust me, we're going to have some advice for you. It's not...
BLITZER: And there will be some string attached.
MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) continue to give aid, there's an expectation in giving $10 billion.
BEGALA: That's right. The Pakistanis shouldn't think that they're Wall Street bankers entitled to federal money without any...
BEGALA: But it is...
MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) the Obamas, right?
BEGALA: Isn't it wonderful to have a headline that says government official speaks the truth?
BEGALA: A painful truth but a powerful one. And I'm glad she said it and she said in Pakistan and now they're going to have to deal with it and they're going to have to perform better on the terrorist front.
BORGER: Paul, you might remember when her husband, then candidate Clinton went to the rainbow coalition and had what we all call the Sister Souljah moment when he took on a rap artist?
MARTIN: I remember that very well.
BORGER: Paul, you remember that very well?
BORGER: And it was good for him, she's taking a page from his book and saying to these people right on, OK, where is Osama bin Laden? I think you probably know where he is.
BEGALA: Hillary's never been accused of being shy or weak. I suspect that's what one of the reasons the president chose her to be his secretary of state despite that really tough primary they had. I think this is exactly what Barack Obama was looking for, someone who could be tough in the tougher part of the world.
MARTIN: You also have to see in that particular message because you're also trying to get your other allies to be involved in whatever future actions we have. I think this comment also sets the stage for whatever the president decides to do in Afghanistan.
FRUM: It's a refreshing lock-back from the bad position the president took during the campaign where perhaps in reaction to George Bush's strong relationship with India that he was suggesting that Pakistan should be conciliated, perhaps there should be concessions with Pakistan on Kashmir. So it's good to see that perhaps Secretary Clinton is correct in some of these...
MARTIN: This is also the same candidate, though, who made it clear, if we have actual intelligence, we're going to fire at them even if -- and not inform them beforehand, that ticked off Pakistan so.
BORGER: But the thing that's great, and I'm not a diplomatic correspondent, but if I were a diplomatic correspondent, I would be saying, you know, she's not sounding like a diplomat. She's not saying we're having frank and productive discussions, as they usually say.
MARTIN: She wants results.
BORGER: She is saying we want results, we're giving you money and by the way, we're not your enemy, but you've got to be our friends. And...
BLITZER: You know about it as well as anyone, Paul, is this consistent with her character over the years?
BEGALA: It absolutely is. She's a fearless person and it has a very strong -- I'm trying to get this sense on TV -- BS detector. And my suspicion is she didn't hear what she wanted to hear in that meeting. And so she was willing to say that out loud.
FRUM: During the campaign, I knew a lot of conservatives who said they hoped -- if there had to be a Democratic president it would be her because they trusted her to hate America's enemies almost as much as she's hated around.
BORGER: All right.
MARTIN: But no, you had a president beforehand, frankly, who they were so buddy-buddy with Pakistan and did not want to be as aggressive and assertive, and so for the United States to make it clear this is what we expect is a good thing for us.
BORGER: You know, during the campaign, Hillary Clinton told a pro-choice audience that you have to seek common ground with people who were pro-life. And she got criticized...
BEGALA: She's booed.
BORGER: She was booed, she got criticized for doing it then. I think her words today are very strong...
BLITZER: All right.
BORGER: ... and we're going to hear more from her.
BLITZER: We'll watch her trip...
BORGER: Like this.
BLITZER: If she thinks Pakistan and Afghanistan is tough business, wait until she gets to Israel and Palestine over the weekend. She's got a lot...
BORGER: Or THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.
And now that the House Democrats have presented a plan for health reform, they need someone to whip up the votes for it. Enter the majority whip, James Clyburn, he's walking right into a huge challenge, he's also coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
There he is. The whip from South Carolina. Mr. Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: We're going to talk in a minute right after this.
BLITZER: The House speaker Nancy Pelosi says 96 percent of all Americans will have health insurance if the plan Democrats presented today passes. But how many House Democrats will actually vote for the plan? Will any Republican support it?
Joining us now the man whose job it is to whip up the votes, the number three Democrat in the House, the majority whip, James Clyburn of South Carolina. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst is here joining me in the questioning.
Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
CLYBURN: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Right now do you have the 218 votes you need to get this -- this 2,000 page piece of legislation passed?
CLYBURN: Wolf, you know, my standard answer to that is we're getting there.
BLITZER: You don't have it yet?
CLYBURN: Well, I have not taken a whip count. We rolled it out today and we have not really done a whip count yet. I will start doing that on Monday morning.
BLITZER: When will the vote take place?
CLYBURN: I don't expect a vote before Thursday of next week and I expect for us to stay in until it gets done.
BLITZER: So you'll have one week now -- between now and next week to get 218 votes. CLYBURN: Yes, as we promised it went up on the Internet today for 72 hours so that everybody can take a look at it. As I understand it, we've have already had eight million hits on this and we'll do a managers amendment probably on Monday or Tuesday and that then will stay up for 72 hours and then we'll vote.
BORGER: So what's the cost of this, the House version?
CLYBURN: The House version is $896 billion.
BORGER: And the question everyone has is how are you going to pay for it? And your bill includes a tax increase on a so-called millionaire's tax. The Senate bill does not have that kind of a tax increase. So what do you do? Are you willing to give it up?
CLYBURN: Well, the Senate has got another tax increase and that tax increase is on insurance plans.
BORGER: On insurance plans.
CLYBURN: And whether you got a Cadillac plan or a Ford Taurus plan, it doesn't matter. I do not believe that we ought to be taxing that kind of benefit because that would in fact be a tax against...
BORGER: So where's the middle ground?
CLYBURN: ... the middle income American.
BORGER: Where's the middle ground on how you pay for it between the Democrats and the House and the Senate?
CLYBURN: I don't know there's a middle ground, I think the way we're doing it, it's the best way to do. And that is a tax if you make over $1 million a couple.
BLITZER: As a married couple.
BORGER: That's nonnegotiable?
CLYBURN: Married couple over $1 million.
BLITZER: Half a billion if you're single.
BORGER: That's nonnegotiable to you point of view?
CLYBURN: No, everything is negotiable. It's just my position going into the...
BLITZER: But you're going in with a tough stance from the House side. The Senate will pass, if they pass something, they'll pass yours. Then you guys have to come together in on a conference and try to work out the details.
Do you believe there will be any Republican support in the House, even one Republican voting for your plan?
CLYBURN: Well, I don't think so. We are...
BLITZER: So you're just assuming the Democrats will have to carry...
CLYBURN: I'm assuming...
BLITZER: Now you have a large majority in -- so you shouldn't have any problem, except the fact -- for the fact you have some Democrats who are moderate, the so-called blue dogs who are very nervous about the public option, even the compromised public option if you have. And you have other Democrats who are very liberal on the left who don't think you're going far enough and they may be reluctant to support.
CLYBURN: No. But the interesting thing about the so-called public option is that the plan that was most preferred by the progressives, that is the so-called Medicare-plus-five reimbursement rate, and the plan that was most preferred by the blue dogs, the negotiated rates, want the public option with the 15 -- or the Medicare-plus-five saved the most amount of money.
$120 billion as opposed only $25 billion with the other. So I do believe if you look at this, it's very hard to say what's the liberal plan and what's the conservative plan.
BLITZER: So you give some of those blue dogs, those moderate and conservative Democratic members, a pass and say, you know what? We know you're in a tough conservative district. You've got a reelection coming up in a year. You don't have to vote for it.
CLYBURN: Well, a lot of people will not be able to vote for this for various reasons. I think that we've been focusing so much on the so-called public option that we have not looked at other things. And there are a lot of other things in this bill that we've got to get reconciled and that's why we will be doing a managers amendment.
Not to worry about how to pay for it. Not to worry about the exchange, but to look at other things in this, immigration, abortion, all these things.
CLYBURN: Other things that we are -- are going to be working with.
BORGER: And let me ask you about abortion, because that's a great deal of concern to some members of Congress that no federal money go to fund abortions.
CLYBURN: That's correct.
BORGER: Let's listen to Congressman Stupak and what he says about that.
BLITZER: He's a Democrat.
BORGER: He is a Democrat.
CLYBURN: And a very good friend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: We feel we have enough votes, 218, to block the rule, to block the bill from coming to the floor. We should not use public funds to pay for abortion. If you want that service, you should pay for it out of your own money and not ask the government to pay for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: So are you going to listen to him?
CLYBURN: Absolutely. That's current law. That is current law.
BORGER: Are you going to specify it though?
BLITZER: The Catholic Church, you know, the Catholic bishops wrote you a letter saying they're not happy with the way this -- any one of these bills, the five bills, the two in the Senate, the three in the House, phrase the language that would make it absolutely positively clear that not a penny of any of this money would go to fund abortions?
BORGER: And can you restate it then in the legislation?
CLYBURN: Wolf, this is the thing you have to be careful of. You could very well say that anybody who participates in this exchange, if they have an insurance company, even outside of the exchange, where the insurance company may pay or reimburse for abortions, then that insurance company participating in the exchange may not be allowed to participate in the exchange for offering these kind of policies outside of the exchange.
That's what we're being very careful about here. We cannot superimpose these things on the private sector in such a way that it may be interpreted as for bidding them from participating.
BLITZER: Is Congressman Stupak satisfied with the language in there right now?
CLYBURN: Well, I don't think he's quite satisfied with the language.
BLITZER: Are you ready to change it so he will be satisfied?
CLYBURN: I'm ready to work with Bart who's one of my best friends. I spent more (INAUDIBLE) with him than with anybody else I suspect up here. And I believe that we're going to get there.
BORGER: Now Congressman Grayson, also a Democrat who's been quite outspoken during this health care debate. BLITZER: The Democratic congressman from Florida.
BORGER: Florida. And he apologized, he called a member of the Federal Reserve, and this is a quote, "a K Street whore."
BLITZER: He apologized.
BORGER: He also -- yes, he did, but he also accused Republicans of wanting people to die. Have you as a member of the leadership spoken with him about his incendiary rhetoric and asked him to tone it down?
CLYBURN: Yes, I have spoken and of course before I ever spoke to him, he came to me and talked to me about his language. And Allan is a good buddy, he's from Orlando, Florida. I campaigned with him and he is remorseful for the language.
BORGER: But he's raising a lot of money off of it, you know that?
CLYBURN: Well, I have a colleague that's -- a few congressmen that's raising a lot of money, too.
BLITZER: That would the Republican congressman Wilson from South Carolina who uttered those words, "You lie" to the president.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman. Thanks very much for coming in. And please come back and visit.
CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me. It's good to be back.
BLITZER: Thank you.
President Obama's letter to Virginia voters urging support for the trailing Democratic candidate for governor. Why he says they should vote for Creigh Deeds.
BLITZER: On our political ticker, a special message from President Obama to a special group of Virginia voters, the state Democratic Party sent the message to 330,000 Democrats who voted for the first time last year, helping the president carry Virginia and the White House.
The letter urges them to vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds next Tuesday. He's trailing Bob McDonnell in the polls.
Republican Party chairman Michael Steele says there's much more to do in Virginia and New Jersey where the GOP gubernatorial candidate is also leading. Steele says, and I'm quoting now, "You don't win until the last vote is counted." But he says those two races may provide a blueprint for GOP success in next year's midterm election.
In New Jersey, Jon Corzine's Republican rival says the governor should man up and just call him, quote, "fat." Chris Christie says a Corzine ad that seems to subtlety refer to Christie's weight as silly. In a national radio interview today, Christie accused Corzine of wussing out by claiming he didn't mean anything by the ad.
He seemed to be referring to my interview with Corzine earlier this week. The governor told me, in retrospect, this ad should not have accused Christie of, quote, "throwing his weight around."
Check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tonight, we've got a very special show. We're going to turn over three-fourths of the next hour to four leading doctors. The Democratic health care plan, meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi's massive 2,000-page bill, a price tag of at least $1 trillion. No one knows what's in that.
We know from the legislators no one will -- even read this legislation. $700 billion of new taxes revenue, a public option, an opt-out public option. This is one of the squirreliest ambition plans put forward and no one, no one is reading it.
But we'll be talking with four of the country's leading doctors about what should really be happening with health care and health care insurance in this country. The people none of us hear from, the physicians who are the absolutely stalwart and the backbone of health care in this country and any other.
So we hope you'll join us for that and all of the days news. Thank you very much. And join us at the top of the hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lou, changing subjects. I was shocked to read today that there was a gunshot fired at your house in New Jersey? Your wife was home. Thank God everything is all right. But what can you tell us about that?
DOBBS: Well, three weeks ago, Monday morning at 10:30 in the morning, a shot was fired, perhaps two shots, but one bullet hit very near by wife and driver, hit our house. The state patrol, I want to give great credit to the New Jersey State Patrol. They were there almost instantly.
It was an amazing response in the part of the New Jersey State Patrol. They are conducting what is now about a three week long investigation. They've recovered the bullet. They know the ballistics.
I can't say too much about the investigation, but it is the culmination of what had been months of threatening phone calls, those threatening phone calls, tied to the position that I have taken on illegal immigration. But that's what happened.
The onset of body guards and security and I can't say thank you enough to CNN security and Time Warner security who have been, if you will, baby sitting me over the course of that time.
BLITZER: Well, thank God you're OK. The family is OK. And I hope they find out who is responsible for this. So appreciate it. Lou, good luck.
DOBBS: Wolf, I want to say, again, thanks for that. My wife is a very strong woman. She's handling it very well. Like you, I hope we find the people soon that are responsible for this.
I want to say something nice about Brent Wilks who runs the League of the United Latin American Citizens, who called up to express his concern and -- which I am delighted to say occurred as soon as he heard about it. It's nice to hear the response from our colleagues, my listeners and viewers and the radio and television industry. It's been heart warming. Thank you very much Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good luck. Thanks very much. Lou Dobbs coming up in a few moment.
Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Pretty shocking stuff there, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Indeed. The question this hour: What are Sarah Palin's chances in 2012?
Jeff in Hawaii says this: "As someone who has worked all across this nation, I'd say her chances are pretty good. It never ceases to amaze me what Americans will believe or who they will vote for, whether it's in Monterey, California, Des Moines, Iowa or Waterford, Connecticut. We're not a nation of thinkers, we are knee-jerk reactionists who will follow anyone who has the ability to push our buttons. If the job situation doesn't improve by 2012, this nutcase may well be the GOP nominee."
Guy in Hawaii says: "Chances of what? You said it best, Jack. When McCain first picked her, you said she comes from a state with 13 people and some caribou." Did I say that? "She followed that up with blunder after blunder. She just ain't got any smarts. The only things she's got going for is enough of the voting public ain't that smart either. Just elect Tina Faye. She's got Palin down path. At least we'd have some laughs."
Buck in Maine says: "Sarah Palin is at least as qualified to be president as the current office holder. Her chances in 2012 are not good mainly because of mudslingers like you, Jack. Stick to intelligent discussion of the issues instead of taking cheap shots."
Aaron writes: "I'm a registered Republican. If Sarah Palin is the nominee, I will vote for whoever the Democrats have running against her, no matter who it is." Ben writes, "Well, we had George Bush, two terms." Eric in Michigan says, "Sarah Palin has a better chance of winning the bronze medal in men's weightlifting at the Pan- Am games than winning the presidency. Still, I hope they run her, it will be a landslide. The third party will actually have a chance of becoming the second party." John in Atlanta writes: "The same chance you'll have one day of seeing Russia from the windows of your CNN office." And Amber in Texas says: "About as good as the Redskins winning this year's Super Bowl, slim to none."
Speaking of that, Wolf, what's up with the Redskins?
CAFFERTY: They really do suck, you know.
BLITZER: Thanks a lot, Jack. Appreciate it. We'll discuss tomorrow. Thanks.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty. We'll continue our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Musician versus airline. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One thing we're all united on, when baggage handlers mess up a guy's guitar, and he writes a song about it, the airline should try not to lose his luggage the next time.
Dave Caroll got famous for putting his complaint about United on YouTube this summer. Though he never got his $1200 repair bill reimbursed, he did get offers to speak on improving customer service. And on his way to just such a speaking engagement...
DAVID CARROLL, MUSICIAN: United was the only way to get here and they lost my bag.
MOOS: Lost his bag, took almost three days to return it.
(On camera): Dave couldn't wear the dress shoes he wanted to wear to the presentation and he couldn't hand out CDs of "United Breaks Guitar" because they were all in the suitcase United lost.
(Voice-over): When Dave mentioned the "Guitar" video, United reps said they knew it and suggested that in his next song.
CARROLL: I write about how nice the customer service reps were -- who were trying to check my back in Denver.
MOOS: He's already written two songs giving his version of events.
CARROLL: (Singing) While on the ground the passenger said from the seat behind me, my god they're throwing guitars out there.
MOOS: A third song is on the way. The "Guitar" saga has been great for the Canadian's performing career. He's even endorsed a line of hard shell instrument cases. He testified and sang at a congressional hearing in passengers' rights.
(On camera): Boy, they really picked the wrong guy's luggage to lose, huh?
(Voice-over): United says, "We apologized to Mr. Carroll for this inconvenience. It's unfortunate but also an anomaly. 99.6 percent of bags we carry arrive without incident." Unfortunately for United this .4 percent sings.
But at least Dave's guitar was repairable. United didn't pull a John Belushi. A parody has even popped up suggesting Dave unite with United.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Up next: "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou?