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THE SITUATION ROOM
Poison Pills in Health Care Reform Bill?; Links to Islamic Radicals in Fort Hood Rampage?; No News Cameras in Major Presidential Meeting; 20th Anniversary of Fall of Berlin Wall; Senate Traps for Health Reform
Aired November 9, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The alleged gunman in the Fort Hood rampage now is conscious, and he is talking. And we're investigating whether he has links to Islamic extremists.
Also, poison pills in the health care bill that passed the House of Representatives -- why the legislation could be difficult or even impossible for senators to swallow.
And it now looks as though the three American hikers arrested in Iran will be tried for espionage -- how Iran may use them as bargaining chips in its standoff with the United States.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The alleged gunman in the Fort Hood massacre now in a position to give investigators some of the answers they need. Hospital officials say the major, Nidal Malik Hasan, now is able to talk after being shot and wounded during the rampage last week.
We don't know if authorities have tried to question him yet, but we do know they are taking a very hard look at Hasan's possible links to Islamic extremists.
Our Brian Todd has been digging into that story.
Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one thing that authorities may look at is whether Nidal Hasan had any connection with a man named Anwar al-Awlaki. Now, al-Awlaki is a former imam as a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center. This is a mosque where Nidal Hasan once worshipped.
Now, in his blog, al-Awlaki, who is now believed to be in Yemen, praised Nidal Hasan as a -- quote -- "hero, a man of conscience who could not bear the living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving an army that is fighting against his own people."
Al-Awlaki's former mosque, that Islamic center in Falls Church, denounces those remarks. At the moment, we know of no evidence that Anwar al-Awlaki knows or ever made contact with Nidal Hasan. And we know little about Hasan's religious views eight years ago, when Anwar al-Awlaki was at that particular mosque.
Now, Anwar al-Awlaki, what is his kind of overall contextual connection here? He's mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report as having developed a close relationship with two 9/11 hijackers in 2000 and 2001. But it's not clear if he knew those men were terrorists.
And in an interview with CNN's Special Investigations Unit, the current imam of that Virginia mosque denied any possible connections between al-Awlaki, the hijackers and Nidal Hasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEIKH SHAKER ELSAYED, IMAM, DAR AL HIJRAH ISLAMIC CENTER: To say that he was here when they were here, as if they converged on a place, which is not the case. We know better now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But there is an indication that Hasan had some connection with the Virginia mosque at the same time that al-Awlaki was there.
In May 2001, an obituary in the "Roanoke Times" newspaper for Hasan's mother says her funeral would be held at that mosque. Now, it's not clear who presided over the funeral. And, again, there's no hard connection that we have between Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been of interest to U.S. authorities in the past, and Nidal Hasan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When did he leave, al-Awlaki, the United States?
TODD: He left the United States in 2002. And, again, there were investigations that were opened into his activities in the United States, and those investigations were closed. It's also not clear the circumstances under which he left the United States in 2002, but he had not been charged with any crime by the time he left.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Brian Todd is going to continue investigating.
And we're looking closely later here in THE SITUATION ROOM at some of those Web postings allegedly coming from this Major Hasan. The FBI is closely going through the entire computer file, all of the Web sites that were -- that were addressed by this major, this Major Hasan.
They are getting new information. Stand by for that.
But let's bring in our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's the former national security adviser to President Bush.
Fran, how big of a deal is this, this alleged connection between him and this imam, who -- who left the United States and is now in Yemen?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Awlaki, as you heard from Brian, is a really bad guy. He -- his number was found in Ramzi Binalshibh's, one of the 9/11 hijackers, apartments in Hamburg. So he's a really bad guy. That will -- that's going to cause the investigators to take a really hard look. Now, here's the good news in terms of these communications, assuming they pan out. What we have is a United States citizen who would only have been targeted under legal means with a warrant. If it was -- if it was collected by the United States intelligence community, it was then shared.
They looked at it together, and judgments were made. Now, the basis of those judgments, we are going to have to understand better. We are going to have to find out why more wasn't done.
But, at least -- Wolf, one of the problems pre- 9/11 was they were not -- failing to share information. Now,, at least, it's clear to us, so far, that the intelligence community and the law enforcement community are at least sharing information.
Because there -- there seems to be -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- there seems to have been hints that Major Hasan was ideologically inclined to -- for example, to support suicide bombings, at least hints along those nature.
And the question is, why would they allow him to stay in the United States Army under these circumstances?
TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, and a legitimate question, and I think you're absolutely right. We don't know the precise answer to that.
But in fairness to investigators, I want you to imagine for a moment, here's a psychiatrist who is dealing with people who are the victims of suicide bombing. And you could understand his interest in getting a more in-depth understanding of that area. That's probably about the most innocent explanation you can imagine.
BLITZER: How he would go to the Web sites, you mean?
TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. And so there's at least a plausible innocent explanation prior to knowing all the things we know now.
BLITZER: Because some have suggested that it was political correctness that prevented the FBI and others from really going after him, because they -- they -- that would not be -- quote -- "politically correct."
You were in the government at that time.
TOWNSEND: Well, and I -- I share the concern. I think we have all been very cautious about not rushing to conclusions about this.
On the other hand, I think we do have to be wary of political correctness not allowing us to go where the facts lead us. And I think we have got to be -- we really have to be very cautious that we have got to follow this honestly where it goes.
BLITZER: It's one thing if he just went berserk and he started to randomly kill innocent people. Or -- it's another thing if he was inspired by or influenced by al Qaeda and some of these radical Web sites.
BLITZER: Then -- then, this would be an act of terror.
TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Wolf.
And what -- and what we ought to be looking for next, what investigators ought to be looking for next is whether or not this is an isolated incident, that -- this communication, or were there other communications or contacts he had with individuals overseas who might have been giving him influence -- who might have influenced him or given him directions.
BLITZER: And, if it's an act of terror, then the U.S. government will proceed with the -- with the criminal charges, as opposed to the U.S. Army.
TOWNSEND: Presumably, that's right, Wolf, but they always have the -- the government will always have the choice of whether or not they want to proceed either in a military tribunal, a military court of justice, or a civilian.
And they will make that judgment depending on what the evidence is, where they are likely to get the -- the best sentence, where the process will aid the government the most, assuming he survives.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.
He's talking right now. He's out of a coma, at least, so we assume he's going to survive. He's still in critical condition, though.
And we are going to go to Fort Hood, Texas -- that's come up later in THE SITUATION ROOM -- for the latest on what's going on there.
And stay with CNN for live coverage of the memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood rampage, including -- including the remarks by President Obama. That will take place tomorrow. Our coverage here will begin at 1:30 p.m. Eastern on CNN.
I will be anchoring our coverage of the memorial service from Fort Hood. If you're away from your TV, you could certainly catch it on CNN.com/live.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Don't cancel your existing health insurance just yet.
Health care reform narrowly passed the House late Saturday night, but it's a long, long way from a done deal in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is comparing this legislation, which passed by a scant five votes, to the passage of Social Security and Medicare. And President Obama says he looks forward to signing it into law by the end of the year. Well, not so fast. One top Senate Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is already declaring this bill dead in the water. Here's why.
What happens to the so-called public option? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't have the votes to pass that. And Republicans, along with independent Joe Lieberman, are promising a filibuster if the public option stays.
The House bill costs hundreds of billions of dollars more than the latest Senate version, which means the Senate could wind up cutting expensive parts of the bill, like a requirement for employers to provide insurance coverage.
Another huge difference between the bills is how to pay for so-called reform. What about abortion funding? At the last minute, the House passed an amendment that prohibits federal funds from going to insurance plans that offer abortion coverage. Now, for millions of women, that could mean that the House bill breaks the promise made by the president that -- quote -- "If you like your current health care, you can keep it" -- unquote.
This much, you can count on. Any time the House votes late on a Saturday night, after last-minute changes were made to the legislation, and the promise by Nancy Pelosi is broken to post the bill online for 72 hours before a final vote, it ain't good.
Here's the question. How much does the House health care bill even matter? Here's a hint: not a lot.
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Were you watching that roll call at 11:15 p.m. Eastern Saturday night, Jack?
CAFFERTY: Gee, you know, I -- I wasn't.
BLITZER: You missed it.
BLITZER: Is that what you were saying?
CAFFERTY: Were you watching it?
BLITZER: It was riveting.
BLITZER: Every political news junkie was.
CAFFERTY: What is wrong...
CAFFERTY: What is wrong with you? Saturday night at 11:15.
BLITZER: Jack, it's good political stuff. Thank you.
The divisive issue of abortion, as Jack just mentioned, could tear the president's party apart as the health care reform fight moves to the Senate. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has some new information on that front.
And why President Obama is keeping a low profile when it comes to his meeting with the Israeli prime minister later tonight. What, if anything, is he trying to hide?
And it was a first monumental crack in the communist system, and the world saw it play out live right here on CNN -- ahead, remarkable personal stories of the day the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago.
BLITZER: The chief architect who helped then Senator Barack Obama become President Obama is now telling all of us how he did it. One year since the election, he's not only looking back, but he's also looking at how the president is doing right now.
BLITZER: And joining us now, David Plouffe. He was Barack Obama's campaign manager during the campaign. His new book is entitled "The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory."
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is the president showing that he is tough enough right now to get the job done, because a lot of people out there apparently aren't very scared of him?
PLOUFFE: Oh, I think he's showing toughness every day.
Listen, on health care reform, which we took another big step towards finally achieving this weekend, taking an entrenched interests, we have tried for 100 years to do this. Doing tough things...
BLITZER: But three -- three dozen Democrats said to the president, thanks, but no thanks. And we're talking about Democrats, not Republicans.
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, this is going to be hard. And we have obviously got a process still to go in the Senate, then a conference committee.
But the point is, we have tried to do this for 100 years. It's failed for a number of reasons. But you have got big special interests entrenched who are fighting this with everything they have got. And I think the president ran in large measure because he thought, on health care, on energy, on education, Washington was letting the country down.
If we do not make the proper progress in these areas, our country will not thrive. And so he's bound and determined to do the longer-term thing. And as you know, in the town where you're interviewing me, it's short-term and very political.
PLOUFFE: But he's trying to do the tough long-term things.
BLITZER: But you know what the -- the argument is that, you know, he -- he really hasn't been mean enough. He's so even-tempered. He's so nice, that people don't necessarily take him as they would, let's say, an LBJ, who used to scare people, especially members of his own party on Capitol Hill.
Does he need -- if he wants to get health care done, does he need to start cracking that whip?
PLOUFFE: Listen, I think he has been. And I think his steeliness and his strength is one of the reasons that we are as close as we are right now to passing health insurance reform.
I saw this during the campaign. People criticized him for his even keel. But don't mistake that even-keeledness for a real strong sense of where he thinks the country needs to go and a real ability, I think, to take on these tough fights. And that's what's happening now. He is...
BLITZER: Because -- let me just interrupt, David, because some moderate Democrats, some of those Blue Dogs, they're saying, you know what? They are not going to pay any price, there's not going to be any negative fallout from the president if they reject what he wants.
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, members are going to make their own determination. I -- I would be much more concerned if I were them about what the voters have to say about this than what the White House has to say about it. They will make their own judgment.
But I happen to believe that the best thing for the country is to do the smart things on health care, on energy, on education, coupled with the right things right now to stabilize the economy.
I also happen to believe that this is the best long-term politics for our party, because, if you solve problems, eventually, you're going to, I think, experience some political reward for that.
BLITZER: A year after the election -- and you helped -- helped him orchestrate that election -- he's still popular, about a 54 percent job approval number right now in our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, but, on some of the most sensitive issues, his policies are not popular.
For example, on how is the president handling the economy, 46 percent approve, but 54 percent disapprove of the job he's doing. How is the president handling health care? Forty-two percent approve. Fifty- seven percent disapprove, and similar numbers on Afghanistan.
What happened over the past year that he has allowed this to go forward?
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, one of the big elements in my book is, we did not campaign based on, you know, what the polls had to say day to day or the commentary on shows like this. And I don't think that the president is today.
Listen, we have got a tough economy. It's actually fairly remarkable to me that, with the economy and unemployment where it is, basically, everybody who vote the for him thinks he's doing a good job. I would also on those numbers suggest to you that, you know, politics is a comparative exercise. And the Republicans have no trust right now nationally on these issues.
So, he's trying to do some hard things in a tough environment. He's not focused on the -- the polls or the political chatter of the moment. He ran for president, not to occupy that office, but to do the right things with it, even things that are tough and long-term. And that's what he's focused on.
BLITZER: A fascinating part of your book is the -- the first -- now the first lady, Michelle Obama. Who was tougher on you during the low periods, the president or the first lady?
PLOUFFE: Well, I don't think either was tougher on us. I think that they are both very candid people.
And, so, I think that, you know, we had -- both of them obviously were terrific assets out on the campaign trail. But I think that we had a healthy culture. And we -- we definitely had some rough moments.
One of the -- you know, in the book, this wasn't just a -- a smooth sailing to the White House, as you know, and so I wanted to capture some of the tough moments, some of the mistakes people like I and others made.
And I think that's one of the more interesting parts of the book, that it -- sort of the mythology when you win never is -- is you know, kind of matches up with reality, which is, you know, we were big underdogs, and we had to fight through a lot of tough stuff, but both he and the first lady are terrific during those moments, because, when were at our lowest, they were at their best.
BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Audacity to Win. The author is David Plouffe. David, thanks for coming in.
PLOUFFE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: He was among the most patriotic American soldiers. He was also a Muslim who died while serving the United States. Now one mother echoes what some fear, backlash against Muslim soldiers, after one Muslim's alleged massacre at Fort Hood.
And residents are wondering how to piece their town back together. There's devastation after a massive mudslide. More than 100 have died, and there could be more death.
BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Betty, what's going on?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, unless Virginia's governor unexpectedly agrees to a plea for clemency, John Allen Muhammad, the sniper who terrorized the Washington metro area back in 2002, will be executed tomorrow night.
Governor Tim Kaine has already indicated that he's not likely to grant clemency, and the Supreme Court has denied an appeal. Muhammad's young partner, Lee Boyd Malvo, who was just a teenager during those shootings, he's already serving a life sentence in prison.
In the El Salvador town of Verapaz, a desperate search for dozens of people missing after a massive mudslide just smashed through the town. Check out this video. A weekend of heavy rain brought destruction to much of El Salvador. At least 124 people have died, and more are expected -- or can be expected -- as the digging does continue there.
Well, according to the official Chinese news service, nine Uighurs have been executed for taking part in riots that broke out in July. Those riots, which killed 200 people between the Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese, who have been moving into the region in recent years. Now, Uighur groups outside China protested the executions as politically motivated.
And do have a little bit of good news for you today, especially for those of you who have been watching your 401(k)s just shrink over the past year, by which I mean all of us, the stock markets, they are up, yes, breaking records for the year. The Dow ended at almost 10227, up almost 204 points.
Just look at that. It's a beauty, isn't it? Analysts say investors were encouraged by news that developed countries would keep stimulus measures in place.
So, we all made a little bit of money today, I guess -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All of us who invest in the stock market.
BLITZER: And some people just keep their money in cash, because they are worried, you know what, what goes up sometimes goes right back down.
NGUYEN: That is true, yes.
BLITZER: So, we're watching it very closely.
Thanks very much, Betty, for that.
When President Obama hosts a world leader, he usually lets reporters take a few pictures, ask a few questions, but not this time -- why he's keeping his meeting with the Israeli prime minister low-key. We will explain. Ed Henry is at the White House.
And children honor Ronald Reagan's role in getting communist leaders to tear down that wall 20 years ago today.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Even if most of the Islamic world has condemned the massacre at Fort Hood, some Muslims are praising Major Nidal Malik Hasan. We're going to tell who they are and why. Stand by.
Children facing a life in prison without the possibility of parole, is this the proper sentence for horrific crimes, or is it cruel and unusual punishment? Kate Bolduan will break it all down for us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Two-and-a-half-hours from now, over at the White House, the president of the United States will meet with a very important visitor to discuss very important issues. But you won't see pictures courtesy of the news media. The president will sit down with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the agenda, Middle East peace talks, among other things.
But this important session is happening at a relatively odd hour and under odd circumstances.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now with more.
Ed, normally, when the prime minister of Israel comes to Washington, he gets a big-time meeting over at the White House -- not necessarily this time.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
You know, next month, this president will be in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, but, so far, his efforts at Mideast peace have really hit a brick wall. And that may explain why he's bringing so little attention to tonight's meeting with the Israeli prime minister.
HENRY (voice-over): Even before he was officially sworn in, President Obama raised expectations about quick progress on Mideast peace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 6, 2009)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: But it has stalled so badly that a visit to Washington this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed a huge dilemma. Schedule a high-profile presidential meeting, and it may only highlight the failure of the peace process, but refuse to meet and it becomes a snub.
AARON DAVID MILLER, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: They have got themselves into a box. This meeting is not substantive. No one is expecting much out of it. But they can't use it in an effort to dis the Israelis. Otherwise, they will find themselves -- and it's hard to imagine -- in a worse situation than the one they have already created.
HENRY: In the end, the president will meet with Netanyahu, but at 7:00 p.m., with no cameras allowed in, though White House aides insist they're not downgrading the process.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's pretty safe to assume that the president thinks no less of the importance of the Middle East peace process simply by subtracting one television camera.
HENRY: But talks are stalled over the controversial issue of Israeli settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed frustration that the Obama administration has eased pressure on Israel after initially demanding a total freeze of settlements.
Before his meeting at the White House, Netanyahu delivered a conciliatory speech saying his government has restrained settlements and is ready for substantive peace talks.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I cannot be more emphatic on this point, but to get to a peace agreement we have to start negotiating the peace agreement. And it's high time that we stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's get on with it. Let's move.
(END VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: But it's hard to get moving when the lead Palestinian negotiator, President Abbas, is suggesting he will not run for re- election in January. That uncertainty is adding yet another negative factor that's making it difficult for the president's earlier optimism from actually bearing any fruit -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He was supposed to, the president of the United States, deliver a major speech on the Middle East tomorrow before the same group that Netanyahu addressed today, these Jewish Community Federation leaders who have gathered here in Washington, but he's obviously going to go to Fort Hood, Texas, for the memorial service.
They couldn't reschedule that speech today? Was there a problem there? How come he's not able to reschedule it?
HENRY: Robert Gibbs, the spokesman, is saying that so many things had to be moved around and compressed because let's not forget, the president, in addition to going to Fort Hood tomorrow, which was the new development, is heading to Asia later in the week. That's been moved around as well. There's another meeting Wednesday in the Situation Room here at the White House on Afghanistan and Pakistan, on that troop decision, so they say there's so much going on, it was hard to reschedule.
Instead, tomorrow, they're going to send the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. And also important to note that at this hour, the president is planning to drop by a reception that's going on with Jewish leaders that are here in town, or here at the White House right now. He's going to drop in and talk to leaders there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry, thanks very much for that.
You may not be allowed inside the meeting between President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but you'll still find out Israel's current take on what's going on in the peace negotiations, especially what's going on with Iran and its nuclear program.
In our next hour, I'll be speaking with the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak. He's here in Washington, been meeting with officials over at the Pentagon. And we're going to be talking about what's going on all those fronts.
Stand by. You'll hear what he has to say.
On this day 20 years ago, the world watched a climatic moment in the fall of communism in Europe. The Berlin Wall became a bridge with thousands of people from the repressive East Berlin streaming into the capitalist enclave of West Berlin.
As the wall and communism across Europe fell, CNN's Jim Clancy was there to cover every step of the process. We sent Jim back to Berlin to watch what's happened and how it's changed over these 20 years.
Jim is joining us now live from Berlin.
So what are you seeing, Jim, on this historic day 20 years later?
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What I have seen is another outpouring by Germans, by people right around the world who recognize this day for what it was, a day that turned history upside down and affected all of our lives, whether we realize it or not. It was the beginning of the collapse of communism. There was absolutely no turning back, Wolf.
But, you know, it's been a time for personal reflection as well. When I go out and look at the old interviews that have been done, and even my own standups, I remember a day that we were out watching the East Germans pour in. They were getting a stipend of money from West German banks to go shopping.
I'll just let you take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLANCY: The vast majority of East Germans don't want to leave homes, jobs and families to go live in the West, but since the relaxation of the travel laws, one thing is clear -- they want to visit with a vengeance.
Jim Clancy, CNN, East Berlin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLANCY: The first thing I thought when I saw that was, who was that guy?
Anyway, when you look back at something, sometimes it looks a little bit different from that perspective, but you really realize how things have changed so much. So many Germans from the East have moved over to the West. There is some depopulated areas there. There are still differences among Germans. It's obviously still going to take much more time to raise employment there and productivity there, and to lower the tax burden in the West.
As a result of all of that, today you would find some bitterness between the East and the West over how difficult these past 20 years have been. But there at the wall today, Wolf, there's no bitterness at all. There's just exuberance just like there was 20 years ago.
Back to you.
BLITZER: Nice moustache, Jim. Very nice moustache 20 years ago. You ever think of getting that mustache back?
CLANCY: I miss that mustache.
BLITZER: I know you do. I remember that moustache, because I used to watch you all the time.
Ronald Reagan, talk about the role that he played in setting the stage for this event 20 years ago. CLANCY: Well, you know, I was with Reagan a couple years earlier in Reykjavik when Gorbachev put everything on the table and said, look, I'll get rid of my nukes if you'll give up this Star Wars thing. And Ronald Reagan, very clearly, as he was living Iceland, said, no, not going to do it, not going to leave the U.S. in that position.
The Russians discovered it was going to cost more money than they had in order to keep up with the Americans. They had to look for another way.
I talked with Vernon Walters, the esteemed diplomat, U.S. ambassador to West Germany at the time, and Walters once told me, "Look out on the streets there. You see all those people? You see that wall crumbling." He said, "That's the other way."
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right.
Jim Clancy on the scene for us 20 years later.
Thank you, Jim.
With President Reagan's iconic opposition to the Berlin Wall, it's fitting that there's actually a piece of the wall in his presidential library. In Simi Valley, California, today, the wall came tumbling down again.
In a symbol of this historic moment, children pull and chip away at Styrofoam, a replica of the wall. Ronald Reagan was only a few months out of office as president of the United States when the wall began to fall 20 years ago today.
So where exactly was the Berlin Wall, and what did it look like? A computer animation video from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the Berlin Wall Foundation attempts to recreate the wall and answer these questions.
Our Abbi Tatton is here with a closer look at this animation.
It's pretty dramatic.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It really is, created from thousands of historical photographs. And it gives you an idea of the wall that we just never would have seen in the West.
Let me talk you through it.
This is the view from the East Berlin side, what people would have seen approaching it on this side -- a concrete wall, but as you go over it, you can see that this is in fact layers and layers of fortifications. There are observation towers. There are anti-tank fortifications there as well. And this is a view that we've just not seen before.
If we focus in on some of the ways that they were trying to deal with the 100,000 people who tried to escape at one point through this wall, anti-tank measures there. If you got through those, there was a layer of steel spikes that people would become impaled upon if they actually got that far.
Now let me take you to the other side of the wall.
The view that we're so much more used to seeing, this would be the West Berlin side, a concrete wall over 11 feet high at many, many points. And if you can see this side, there's graffiti on this side. On the other side, on the East Berlin side, it was absolutely pristine.
The creators of this animation, Deutsche Welle and the Berlin Wall Foundation, they made it because they point out, Wolf, that so many young people -- this was 20 years ago -- they don't recollect this, and they want to put this together to preserve what it was as a teaching tool around the world.
BLITZER: Yes. It's an amazing replica, and I recommend people take a look so they remember and learn from this historic moment.
Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Senate Democrats are taking a close look at health care reform approved by the House of Representatives, and some of them don't like what they are seeing. We're looking at the obstacles ahead, including a big split over abortion.
And he gave his life for his country. He was an American. He was also a Muslim. Just ahead, one family's heartbreak and their fears now after the Fort Hood massacre.
BLITZER: President Obama and Democrats may have made it through one obstacle course to get health care reform approved by the House over the weekend, but they may have set some traps for themselves as they try to navigate through the U.S. Senate.
Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is looking at the challenges ahead.
And there are enormous challenges, Dana. This is, by no means, a done deal yet.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. I mean, the Senate doesn't even have a health care bill yet. The Democratic leader, Harry Reid, he's waiting to hear back from the Congressional Budget Office about how much his proposal will cost, but at the White House, the president is pushing very hard for Congress to pass his top priority fast.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The bill is passed.
(CHEERING & APPLAUSE)
BASH (voice-over): Hours after House Democrats narrowly passed health care, presidential pressure for the next thorny step.
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people.
BASH: And an unabashedly clear White House deadline.
GIBBS: The president wants to sign health care before the end of the year.
BASH: That deadline demand is risky since the earliest Senate Democrats would start to debate is the week before Thanksgiving, and it could continue three to four weeks. House and Senate Democrats would then only have a couple of weeks to iron out big differences to pass both chambers again by year's end, and huge issues still divide Democrats.
First, the public option. It passed the House, but Senate Democrats still don't have 60 votes needed to pass it.
Next, taxes. House Democrats paid for much of their health care overhaul by taxing the wealthiest Americans, a nonstarter in the Senate, which instead taxes high-cost insurance plans.
Then, there's the wrenching issue of abortion.
REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: No federal funds authorized under this act may be used to pay for any abortion or cover any part of the cost of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.
BASH: To secure the votes of anti-abortion Democrats, House Democratic leaders passed a health care bill that prohibits abortion coverage in a government-run plan and in private plans that accept anyone using government subsidies to buy insurance coverage.
In the Senate, anti-abortion Democrat Ben Nelson tells CNN he cannot support health care without those restrictions.
SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: It would be a problem. That ought to be included in the Senate version as well.
BASH: But abortion rights Democrats, including many of the 17 Senate women, may object.
PENNY LEE, FMR. SENATE DEMOCRATIC AIDE: Some of them just to rubberstamp that and say, OK, because the House dictated it, we're going to accept it. I think it's going to tough for some of them to swallow that.
BLITZER: Dana, I understand you just had a conversation with Senator Barbara Boxer of California. What did she tell you? BASH: Right on that point. I just spoke with her by phone just a few minutes ago, and she called the House language on abortion "radical." She said it is unfair to women, it singles them out as a group. And she said that she and other abortion rights Democrats, particularly the women, are going to get together tomorrow and they're going to try to figure out another way to deal with this abortion issue.
She wouldn't draw a bright line and say she would vote against any Senate bill that has those strict restrictions on abortion that passed in the House, but she made very clear she and many other Democrats in the Senate are probably not going to stand for that.
BLITZER: Are you hearing already that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is thinking of keeping the Senate in session the week of Thanksgiving, the two weeks of Christmas and New Years, in order to try to get this done, or will they go on their recess or their vacation as scheduled?
BASH: So far we have not heard that vacation is off, so to speak, that holidays are going to be working days. Not yet, but the Senate majority leader is under incredible pressure.
He met with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, last week because, as you heard from the White House again today, they want this at the president's desk by the end of the year. And as you saw in the piece, looking at the calendar, that is going to be very hard to do without working some of those days. Not yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened.
BLITZER: Dana Bash is up on the Hill. She's going to be busy over these next several weeks.
Gloria Borger is our senior political analyst.
This is a huge, huge problem for Harry Reid and the Democrats. They need 60 votes right now, and I don't know if they have it.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't think they do right now. "Herculean" is the word that comes to mind when you think of Harry Reid.
Right now the Democrats have to prove that they can govern, and one of the ways that they can prove that they can govern as a majority is to get health care reform passed through the House and the Senate. But he's got moderates on one side, he's got liberals on the other side. You just heard Dana Bash talk about the incredible cultural issues that are involved in this health care debate. It's not only one-sixth of the American economy, Wolf, it's also things like abortion, immigration, and those personal decisions you have to make for yourself and your family.
BLITZER: Because even if Harry Reid and the Democrats do pass something in the Senate, it will look very different than what narrowly passed the House. Then they've got to try to reconcile or come up with some common language.
BORGER: Right. On those two big issues that Dana was talking about, the question of whether there is a public option that emerges from the Senate, you know, you've heard senators say they are not going to vote for any measure with a public option. And also, very important question, how do you pay for this? What kind of money do you raise? Do you tax millionaires, or do you tax Cadillac insurance plans?
These are dig decisions that have yet to be made, and it's very hard to see how they get ironed out in a conference in a week or two.
BLITZER: Yes. And especially when they have all those recess days coming up as well.
BORGER: I wouldn't bet on it. We could be here New Year's Eve, Wolf.
BLITZER: Happy New Year.
BORGER: Happy New Year.
BLITZER: Patriotic and proud, and a Muslim. He, like so many other Muslim-Americans, have served in the United States military. Now after his death on the front lines, his mother is deeply worried if what happened at Fort Hood could cause backlash against Muslim- American troops.
And it was already a nightmare and now an even deeper despair. Those three American hikers detained in Iran are now being accused of being spies. So what can the U.S. do?
BLITZER: His is the face of thousands of Muslims currently serving in the U.S. military -- patriotic and proud. Now after what happened at Fort Hood in Texas, some fear the heroic sacrifices of Muslim-American troops fighting and dying for the United States could be easily forgotten.
CNN's Carol Costello has more.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Elsheba Khan visits Arlington National Cemetery every Sunday without fail. Her son, Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, is buried here.
ELSHEBA KHAN, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: He's a Muslim and he would stand for his county. It doesn't matter what.
COSTELLO: Khan is worried there will be a backlash against Muslim- American soldiers. She knows some are already reaching conclusions as to why Major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire on his fellow soldiers. The write wind Web site Pajamas Media is an example.
Phyllis Chesler writing, "I knew in my bones that the shooter or shooters were Muslim. We must connect the dots before it's too late." The suspicion about Muslims, even those born in the United States, intensified after 9/11. It's the reason Khan's American-born son joined the Army as soon as he turned 18, telling his parents...
KHAN: "I'm a citizen. I protect my country, whoever is there in the country. It doesn't matter race, whatever."
COSTELLO: And Kareem Khan did that, awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and an honored place at Arlington National Cemetery. A picture of Khan's tombstone with symbols of his religion and patriotism so touched General Colin Powell, he used the image to open minds about Islam when he endorsed Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential run.
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no, that's not America.
COSTELLO: Powell's acknowledgement of her son's service profoundly touched Khan.
KHAN: When he mentioned my son, and he mentioned his full name, and he pronounced it correctly, I was, like, the proudest mom that day.
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Elsheba Khan's son Kareem...
COSTELLO: President Obama also honored Kareem Khan, and Khan's fellow soldiers have written her glowing accounts of Khan's outstanding service to country.
KHAN: I don't like nobody touching anything.
COSTELLO: Of course the public outpouring has quieted now. Still, Khan keeps her son's medals and his pictures on display in her home. And every Sunday, she visits him, now praying her fellow Americans will not pass judgment at all Muslims because of the actions of one man.
(on camera): Some 3,500 American servicemen and women are Muslim. And if you ask the U.S. Marine Corps if it's concerned about that, First Lieutenant Josh Dittums (ph) told us bluntly, the Corps has not seen any trends that indicate individuals are any more likely to be involved in an incident based upon their religion.
Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Much of the Muslim world reacting with some mixed emotions right now to the Fort Hood shooting spree. Are most criticizing the alleged gunman or are some embracing him? We're sampling views around the globe.
Plus, Iran now seems ready to try three American hikers on charges of spying. What, if anything, can the Obama administration do to help them? And the marijuana bust that hit a powerful congressman way too close to home.
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," Sarah Palin apparently is trying to re-launch a controversy she started over the so-called death panels. The former Alaska governor had claimed the Democrats' health care reform bill called for those panels that would decide who lived and who died.
President Obama said it simply wasn't true. But guess what? Palin revisited the idea in a Facebook entry over the weekend. She complained that the just-passed House reform bill included, in her words, "bureaucratic panels that would like life-and-death decisions." The nonpartisan group FactCheck.org says Palin got her facts wrong again.
We now know that Congressman Barney Frank's efforts to ease marijuana laws apparently hit close to home. A police report shows the Massachusetts Democrat was on hand when his partner was arrested for pot possession back in 2007.
"The Boston Globe" reports Frank was on the front porch of James Ready's home in Maine when police found marijuana plants in the back yard. Frank says he never saw the plants and wouldn't have recognized them anyway because, Frank says, he's not a great outdoorsman.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com, or you can read my tweets at Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN. WolfBlitzerCNN on Twitter, all one word. WolfBlitzerCNN.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's on CNN as well -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: How many twits do you have now?
BLITZER: I've got, I don't know, 145,000 followers.
CAFFERTY: They're not called twits, are they?
BLITZER: They're called followers.
CAFFERTY: Barney Frank and -- Sarah Palin say these things about bureaucratic panels that will determine who lives or dies, and Frank says he wouldn't recognize a marijuana plant because he's not an outdoorsman. They say this stuff with a straight face. How do they do that?
BLITZER: With a straight face.
CAFFERTY: Yes, they do.
The question this hour: How much does the House health care bill even matter? Lynne writes, "As one of the uninsured, it matters a lot that they have at least gotten something done, but it doesn't matter unless the Senate gets its head screwed on straight and passes something as well."
Claudia writes in Florida, "It only matters if you have a sense of history. We haven't gotten this far in over 100 years. Yes, it matters, and senators better think about their constituents instead of the insurance companies when they vote on health care reform."
David in Las Vegas, "Your question should have been: How much did it cost the taxpayers in time, printing, et cetera, to barely pass a bill in the House that has no chance of becoming law?"
Don says, "I'll say this: they've gotten a lot farther than they did back in 1984. Back then in didn't even get out of committee. Most in my family got notices their health premiums are going up at least 10 percent. Something's got to be done about cost, and something is better than nothing."
Larry in Texas writes, "It means nothing. These people are so proud of themselves and for what? If the vote was 400 in favor and 35 against, it would be something that's for the people, not just to pass something that won't ever get through the Senate."
And Ron writes, "It matters a great deal. It's hard enough to survive on unemployment benefits. Try paying a COBRA payment on top of everything else. It can't be done. Of course, all that matters to the politicians is that they get re-elected."