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President Obama Honors Fort Hood Victims; Bill Clinton Pushes Health Reform

Aired November 10, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The pain and the bloodstains still are fresh after the deadliest massacre at a U.S. military base, prayers for the dead and for the troops who must carry on, and a solemn promise from the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice in this world and the next.


BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's the first time President Obama has had to perform one of the most gut-wrenching jobs of his office. He stood before thousands of people at Fort Hood in Texas just a little while ago. He tried to give comfort to the grieving and to find some meaning in an incomprehensible massacre.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us now from Fort Hood, where he watched all of this unfold.

John, and I know you had to chance to go up to that memorial and to see it firsthand.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, you may hear behind me -- if you can't hear my audio, it's because they're -- one of the calls on base here. Just a short time ago, they gave the call to chow. And you hear some of the recorded trumpeting behind me.

I did have a chance to walk up just a few moments ago to go up. And now if you look up front, if you can get to the beginning, they have taken down now the 13 stations to the fallen. The portraits are gone. The boots are gone. The rifles are now gone. The effects will be given to the family members of course of the 12 service members and the one retired service member, the civilian, slain here last Thursday.

The breaking down, I guess a moment you reflect at the close of this ceremony, but truly a remarkable event here, a somber day for the families of the fallen and the families of the wounded to meet with the president and the first lady, to hear speeches from their commander here on the base, the chief of staff of the Army, and, of course, the commander in chief himself.

And you see there soldiers saluting after. For more than two hours, Wolf, after the service ended, you had family members, civilians, members of this community and members of the Army going by and paying tribute, just as you see that officer there going, stopping, saluting, some dropping a patch or a rose or a note.

And I did get a chance at the very end to go up there at the end of the line and look. And among all the personal mementos left at each station, a coin from the commander of this base, a coin from the Army chief of staff and a coin from the president of the United States.

It says, Barack Obama, president of the United States around the edge. It has the White House in the middle. The commander in chief coin that -- you can see the president now as he made the stops, he left one at each station. Those mementos of course will be given to the family members, Wolf.

And while that will be something they treasure, it will also be a reminder to them that the president had to come to pay tribute at a memorial service for their lost loved one, but still a very somber mood here, even as they break down. And for Fort Hood and the community here, the next challenge of course, Wolf, is to move on with the grieving, move on with the healing, and, as you know, the investigation of the tragedy also under way here and of highest interest right here on Fort Hood, where it happened.

BLITZER: Very emotional day, indeed.

And if your viewers didn't hear what the president had to say, we're going to have excerpts of the president's remarks. That's coming up this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, John King, thank you.

We heard President Obama promise that the killer responsible for the Fort Hood massacre will face justice. The alleged gunman now has a lawyer as investigators are delving deeper into possible motives.

Brian Todd is following the investigation for us.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told that right now, there's a massive internal investigation under way among law enforcement, intelligence and military agencies to figure out whether any warning signs should have been flagged about Nidal Hasan. The questions now surrounding some of this is, were some of the incidents we see in retrospect obvious at the time

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): On at least two occasions, we're told Nidal Hasan was supposed to give presentations on health issues during his medical training, but, instead, he discussed his views on problems faced by Muslims in the military.

A classmate who attended one of the presentations told CNN Hasan made several people uncomfortable and they objected. The classmate says Hasan's superiors, who he did not identify, let him finish any way. Here's an excerpt from of the presentations in "The Washington Post."

The military -- quote -- "should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as conscientious objectors to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events."

Hasan's attorney told CNN his client has not yet spoken to investigators.

COL. JOHN P. GALLIGAN (RET.), ATTORNEY FOR MAJOR NIDAL MALIK HASAN: Let's ensure that the process is followed, that the investigation is complete, and that we proceed with the same kind of impartiality that we would want in any case involving anyone, including ourselves.

TODD: Senior investigative officials tell CNN they took notice of Hasan last year when they intercepted as many as 20 communications between him and a terrorist sympathizer overseas.

Sources familiar with the case tell CNN the person being monitored was radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report as having developed a close relationship with two 9/11 hijackers.

Still, the investigators say Hasan's communications didn't appear threatening, appeared consistent with his research as a psychiatrist. After a review of those communications and his personnel file, an employee of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service made the decision not to pursue further investigation of Hasan, according to a federal law enforcement official.

A Defense Department official wouldn't comment on that. I asked former Bush White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend about connecting the dots.

(on camera): How hard, looking back, would it have been to tie all this together, the communications overseas, the PowerPoint presentations that bothered some people, to tie all it together and look at this guy?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Remember, you have got a PowerPoint presentation. You have got communications over a period of time in an unrelated investigation. It's very difficult for investigators to get all of that information in one place, especially when he's not the overall target of the investigation.


TODD: Now, investigators tell us, so far, they believe Nidal Hasan acted alone. They see no evidence of co-conspirators or that somebody else directed him to do what he allegedly do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad story, indeed. You're going to stay on top of this investigation for us.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Lots of unanswered questions.

We will be speaking, by the way, with John Galligan, the attorney now hired to represent Major Hasan. We will be speaking with him tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: When the feds, Wolf, found 90 grand in cash in Congressman William Jefferson's freezer, well, you had to figure right away something wasn't kosher. And, sure enough, this slimeball had turned bribery, fraud, and money-laundering into a fine art.

The former Democratic congressman from Louisiana was convicted on August 11 -- or convicted, rather, in August on 11 federal corruption counts, 11, including bribing a Nigerian vice president on a telecom contract. Federal prosecutors now want Jefferson locked up for as long as 33 years, which would be the harshest sentence ever for a member of Congress.

The Justice Department insists that his -- quote -- "stunning betrayal of the public trust" is deserving of what could be a life sentence for this 62-year-old man. And they want him to start serving his time now, immediately after Friday's hearing. Currently, he's free on bond.

Of course, Jefferson's lawyers argue he should get a prison term of less than 10 years. After all, what's 11 federal convictions among dirty congressmen? They say the government's recommendation is out of line with previous sentences for congressional corruption and that it does not take into account the positive side of Jefferson's life and career. Wonder what that is.

Former Congressman Duke Cunningham, a Republican of California, was sentenced to eight years in 2006 for taking more than $2 million in bribes, along with tax evasion and fraud. Maybe if the system began to come down harder on jerks like Jefferson who violate the trust placed in them by the people, future would-be scoundrels would think twice about filling their freezers with ill-gotten lettuce.

Here's the question: Should 62-year-old convicted Congressman William Jefferson get 33 years in prison? Here's a hint. Yes.

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: That's a pretty bold hint there, I guess.


CAFFERTY: Yes, it's a subtle hint. Yes.

BLITZER: It's not too subtle. All right. Thank you.


BLITZER: If you're a Senate Democrat desperate the pass health care reform, but other Democrats may be standing in your way, who are you going to call? You're going to call Bill Clinton, the former president. He went to Capitol Hill today to try to whip up support for health effort, but will his fellow Democrats listen to him?


BLITZER: Flags and flowers, prayers and praise at the memorial service for those killed at Fort Hood. President Obama delivered soaring reverence for those killed, searing reproach for the killer, and soothing words for the families.


OBAMA: This is a time of war, yet, these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here on American soil in the heart of this great state, in the heart of this great American community.

This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible.

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that's been left. We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But here is what you must also know: Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we too all often take for granted.

Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy.


BLITZER: Their legacies, unfortunately, were set in motion by a gunman's rage. For that, the president saved some of his toughest words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world and the next.

These are trying times for our country. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis.

In Iraq, we are working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.

As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for and the strength that we must draw upon. Theirs are tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call -- the call to serve their comrades, their communities, and their country.

In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility. In an era of division, they call upon us to come together. In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.

We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing they would serve in harm's way.

We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.

We are a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God.


BLITZER: Quoting a former president was just one way President Obama honored those who served, who have served and who have fallen.


OBAMA: Here at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home. Later today, at Fort Lewis, one community will gather to remember so many in one Stryker brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan.

Long after they are laid to rest, when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured, when today's service men and women are veterans and their children have grown, it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests, believed in perseverance, not just when it was easy, but when it was hard, and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

So, we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service.

May God bless the memory of those that we have lost. And may God bless the United States of America.


BLITZER: And later this hour, we will pay tribute to those 13 Americans who were so brutally killed last Thursday. And we will share some thoughts on each one. That's coming up later this hour.

It was the primary topic during Wall Street's fiscal meltdown. Why weren't these high-flying institutions better regulated? After all this time, we seem no closer to real reform. Has it all just been forgotten? Or have special interests killed any real chance of regulation?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: In times of tragedy, presidents try to find the words where there are no words. And it's not easy, even with speechwriters -- just ahead, President Obama and the challenge of being the nation's mourner in chief.


BLITZER: We will get to Candy Crowley and President Obama's moving words today at that memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas. Stand by for that.

But let's turn to the fight for health care right now. It's unfolding on Capitol Hill. Democrats worry if fellow Democrats will support it, so leaders are bringing in the political big guns. One of the biggest, Bill Clinton, the last president to push for universal coverage, he spoke today to Democratic senators behind closed doors about what's at stake if they don't pass health reform.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us now from Capitol Hill with more on this story.

What are you picking up, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democrats who were in this meeting told us this was not former President Clinton talking about specifics in the bill. This was him telling them, your bill is not going to be perfect, you're not going to get everything you want, but you need to act now and make adjustments in the years to come. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Former President Bill Clinton arrived on Capitol Hill with a message for Senate Democrats.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever their differences are, I just urged them to resolve their differences and pass a bill. And I also believe, you know, people hire us to come to work in places like this to solve problems and to stand up and do it.

KEILAR: More than 15 years after losing a long hard fight to overhaul the nation's health care system, Clinton said he stressed to Democratic senators the -- quote -- "economic imperative" of delivering health care reform.

Asked by reporters how important it is for Congress to pass a final bill this year, Clinton wouldn't say. But in the private meeting with Senate Democrats, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said Clinton stressed, Congress needs to approve a health care overhaul this year.

It's a deadline the White House insisted on again this week, and congressional Democratic leaders say it's still their goal. But in the most definitive sign yet that it might be impossible, Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate and one of the president's closest allies on the Hill, said the Senate may only be able to pass its bill, one vastly different from the House-passed legislation, and not the final bill that President Obama would sign into law.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Getting it out of the Senate.

Now, if we are -- if we are fortunate enough to get it done earlier, then who knows. But I would say our goal is to make sure it's out of the Senate this year.


KEILAR: Now, as Democratic leaders struggle to get the buy-in from those moderate Democrats who have serious reservations about a government-run insurance plan, not to mention the controversy over abortion coverage, conventional wisdom, Wolf, tells you this isn't going to get any easier if it moves into an election year.

BLITZER: Yes, some think the easy part has happened; the tough part is really on the way.

Thanks very much, Brianna.

And with so much debate over health care, something else extremely important to all of us could be getting lost in the shuffle.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here to explain.



JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you ever think it seems strange that after all this talk about recession, and bailouts and economic meltdown, Washington still has not passed new laws to fix the very problem that led to the meltdown to begin with?

Well, today, Senator Chris Dodd and the Democrats on the Banking Committee unveiled a part of a bill or a proposed bill that's supposed to protect consumers and prevent a repeat of the collapse. It is heavy-duty, 1,136 pages long.

Now, some key pieces, it would create a new consumer financial protection agency, which would do exactly what the name suggests. It would give the government the power to break up big companies that they consider too big to fail.

And, as for bonuses, well, shareholders would get a say about how much bosses are paid. They would get a vote, but it wouldn't be binding -- still, some major changes.

BLITZER: So, what took so long?

YELLIN: Well, one thing, Wolf, health care, health care, health care. It sucked up all the oxygen in the room for other major reforms.

Then there was a major lobbying campaign. Check this out. The Chamber of Commerce alone has spent $65 million so far this year alone on lobbying. And then, if you put together all the lobbying by business and financial associations just this year, they have spent $1.6 billion on lobbying.

So there's a lot between here and resolution on this. The White House and the Democrats -- they would like everything to happen this year, but with health care and the likely fights ahead, most Congressional watchers think, Wolf, think they'll be lucky if this passes by next spring.

BLITZER: Next spring. And that's an election year, so that further complicates what's going on.

YELLIN: Exactly This will be a massive fight all next year.

BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you.

Thanks very much, Jessica.

Don't go too far away.

We've got some Political Tickers coming up, as well.

The president of the United States certainly fills many roles -- military commander-in-chief, leader of the executive branch of the federal government, head of his political party. But in times of crisis, the president has another very crucial job -- he consoles and unites a nation. Candy Crowley is here with more on this part of the story.

And we saw that unfold today.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We did. And what was fascinating, Wolf, is when you looked at the elements in President Obama's speech, in the time of national tragedy, and went back and looked at other president's speeches during similar times, you found that there was a lot in common.


CROWLEY (voice-over): October 1983 -- a truck bomb kills 220 U.S. Marines in Beirut. A president leads a nation in grief.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there are no words that can express our sorrow and grief for the loss of those splendid young men and the injury to so many others.


CROWLEY: April 1995 -- A bomb blast in Oklahoma City kills 168 people, including 19 children. A president speaks to anger, fear and the values of the country.


BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.


CROWLEY: 9/11 -- nearly 3,000 people die at the hands of terrorists and a president tries to steady a nation rocked to the core.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing. Our purpose as a nation is firm.


CROWLEY: In the worst of times, presidents often give their best speeches -- their works of art during ugly, painful moments in history.

January 1986 -- the space shuttle Challenger, with seven aboard, including a schoolteacher, breaks apart 73 seconds after lift-off.


REAGAN: We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly (ph) bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.


CROWLEY: Grief is a complicated, individual thing; disbelief, sadness, anger, despair. Grief writ large is harder still. Presidents have to capture all the emotions for everyone. They are national pastors, essentially, giving voice to the unspeakable, explaining the unthinkable, finding the meaning of life inside senseless death.

November 2009, the president at Fort Hood.


OBAMA: Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy.


CROWLEY: Still, they are presidents, not pastors. They lead nations, they lead armies.


REAGAN: We cannot and will not dishonor them now and the sacrifices they've made by failing to remain as faithful to the cause of freedom and the pursuit of peace as they have been.



OBAMA: So we say good-bye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead and pursue the peace that guided their service.


CROWLEY: For many who grieve, time stands still. But presidents have to move a nation forward.


CROWLEY: And in the end, when we looked at these speeches, Wolf, that really was the predominant theme that came out, that these were presidents who really needed to encapsulate the grief a nation was feeling, but also to sort of gently move it forward, because there is so much work to be done. And often, these sorts of things, they worry -- will sink a nation, or at least occupy a nation when they really have to move forward. I think you saw that today in the remarks the president made about Afghanistan and elsewhere -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure. And -- and there's no doubt that he comforted the families of those 13 Americans who died. That was very, very evident.

CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

As we reported earlier, the former president, Bill Clinton, came to Capitol Hill today.

Was it to encourage senators to keep up the fight for health care reform or was it to bang some heads together to try to get them working faster?

We're going to check in with the best political team on television.


BLITZER: Let's go back to our top story, the memorial service held at Fort Hood in Texas earlier today. Let's discuss with the best political team on television.

Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile; former Bush speechwriter, David Frum -- he's the editor of; and senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's back -- Gloria, what did we learn about the president of the United States today in this job as -- as a consoler-in-chief?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we learned that he can do it. There were some lines, particularly some of the ones that Candy used in her piece, that really did console people and that told Americans how much we respect the service not only of the fallen, but of -- of servicemen and women everywhere.

And I think at this particular moment, presidents try to bring people together in their grief. And I think he did that today.

BLITZER: Did it work, David?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER, FRUMFORUM.COM: I think it worked. He's -- he's a man of great dignity and great self- preservation. I think the thing I learned, though, today was not what he said in the speech, but from this morning's "Washington Post" detailing all of the lapses.

We learned that he has the Army high command by the throat politically, that this -- this is about to become a major scandal, this story, of the -- of how negligent they were. And the -- the generals, the people at the top of the command, are going to need the president to give them political cover, in much the same way it has happened after 9/11. He has a lot of leverage over them.

BLITZER: What did you learn about the president today -- Donna? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this was a very somber occasion. And so I thought the president really expressed the profound sadness we all feel over the loss of life and the gratitude that I think most Americans feel toward our military, our brave men and women who serve our country. So this was a very important memorial, especially in light of the fact that tomorrow is Veterans Days. And over the next couple of days, we'll be hearing about funerals all over the county, especially in 11 states, when these people will be buried.

BLITZER: Today, really was a day to remember those 13 Americans who died -- Candy.

There will be plenty of time to do recriminations, looking back, whether or not they -- they did a good job, didn't do a job, could this have been avoided, was it a random incident or an act of terror. But today was a time to remember and reflect.

CROWLEY: And he counseled on that, actually, in a couple of lines in his speech, saying we need to give all protections of the law to whoever is accused, but we are also going to get justice. So he did counsel on that.

I think that the most effective is the naming of the individuals, the little bios, which really give you a portrait of the military -- the small towns that so many of these men and women come from. I think that was the most effective part of the speech. And I imagine it was also the most effective for the families, because when I have talked to families who are grieving, who have suffered a great loss, people always say to me, why do they talk to you?

Why are they -- and it's because their grief is to large that if you can give some sort of sign that you understand how large it is, it is comforting.

For the president to be there, for the president to mention the names of these people is comforting because it gives voice to a very deep grief to people whose entire world has been shaken.

BRAZILE: And he also spent time later with the -- the wounded soldiers who are still in the hospital. I thought that was also a very important moment, too.

BLITZER: The first lady was there, as well.

All of this is very important in trying to heal some of these wounds and some of them will never be healed.

BORGER: Right. And, you know, the first lady has made veterans' families her thing as -- as first lady. She's spent an awful lot of time with the families of veterans. And so I think it was really a very natural thing for her to do. And again, just to reiterate Candy's point, to hear the president of the United States talk about your child doesn't end your grief, but makes you understand that your grief is shared at the highest level.

BLITZER: I want to get on to talk about Bill Clinton on Capitol Hill.

But one final thought from David Frum. You used to write speeches for President Bush.

How was this speech crafted?

FRUM: This is a well done speech. And it had -- it had a kind of -- it hit, also, on some very delicate matters, like the question of accountability, of responsibility, of the relationship between the killer and his religion and the question of the man's mental responsibility. All of those things couldn't be ducked. They were touched on. They were -- they were done deftly.

Barack Obama always brings tremendous dignity to this job, whatever -- whatever else one thinks about him, he is -- he is a person of tremendous composure.

BLITZER: Let's talk...


BLITZER: Let me -- let me move on and talk about Bill Clinton for a second.

He came up to Capitol Hill, Donna. He met with Democrats up there. The problem that the president has right now in the Senate is not with the Republicans, because none of them -- maybe one. But I don't think any of them are necessarily going to support Harry Reid and the Democrats' version. But he needs 58 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats to come up with 60 votes.

Did Bill Clinton move that process forward?

BRAZILE: I think if there is one individual outside of the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who can help seal the deal in the Senate, along with Senator Reid, it is Bill Clinton. Not only is he well respected inside the Democratic Caucus, this is a -- there is a president who tackled this issue. So bringing that back to their attention today reminded the Democrats to unify, to come together and we have no...


FRUM: That's like saying...


CROWLEY: This was a political speech he gave to them. And I -- I mean the underlying message from him, who is the best politician in his party and the best strategist in his party, is, folks, you have to go along with this. You don't get health care, you're in huge trouble.

I mean this was -- this was a politician coming to talk to other politicians. FRUM: He's not the (INAUDIBLE) -- he's not a politician, he's the ghost of Christmas past. He's here to rattle his chains and say, do you all want to end up like me 15 years from now?

BORGER: Yes. But wait a minute, what he is saying to them is remember 1994, 54 seats switched and Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives as a result of the Democrats not governing on guess what issue -- on health care. So, you know...

BLITZER: Donna, can he turn...

BORGER: ...there is no failure allowed.

BLITZER: Can he turn Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat, as he likes to call himself, around, and prevent Joe Lieberman from voting with the Republicans for -- to -- to allow a filibuster?

BRAZILE: I will leave Joe Lieberman to Harry Reid. I think that is a special situation.

But can he persuade Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Bill Nelson -- Ben Nelson -- I think he has enormous sway inside the Democratic Caucus and he can twist some hands.


CROWLEY: People have -- for the people who have the most sway over those senators and particularly those who are up for re-election are the people back home. So, they -- yes, he is great and he can counsel them on how to sell this back home and he can counsel them about what will happen if they don't vote for it, to the Democratic Party as a whole. But in the end, they're going to listen to the folks back home...


CROWLEY: ...because they want to get reelected.

FRUM: I wonder...


FRUM: I wonder who's in charge of telling Evan Bayh the message, you don't think Barack Obama is going to have Joe -- Joe Biden on the vice presidential slot next time, do you?

BORGER: Right. Well...


BORGER: Well, I think he will. I think he will. But I also think what Bill Clinton was saying there was, you want me to come campaign for you, I'm popular in the Democratic Party, you'd better vote for this.


BLITZER: Evan Bayh may have been on the short list the last time, but Joe Biden got the nod...



BLITZER: we all remember.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Normally, when we have a story about the person lying on the tracks in the path of a speeding subway train, normally, it just can't end well.

But this is a Moost Unusual story. You don't want to miss this right after, when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's check our Political Ticker.

Jessica Yellin is working the Ticker for us.

What's going on?

YELLIN: Wolf, you know, Sarah Palin is being very particular about where she travels to hawk her new book.

Well, guess which states just happens to be her on go-to list?

Iowa. Now, in fairness, Sioux City, Iowa does fit Palin's plan to visit more rural, conservative spots on her book tour. But here is a prediction -- the sight of Palin in the leadoff presidential caucus state in December -- it's going to set some tongues wagging about White House ambitions.

And you know what?

She might just be fine with that.

Well, there are more changes at the White House. White House Communications Director Anita Dunn will leave her post in the coming weeks, after staying on actually longer than expected. Now, administration officials confirmed to us she will be replaced by her deputy, Dan Pfeiffer, who worked on the campaign from the start. Now, Dunn will keep a role as a consultant. She has been leading the White House push back against Fox News, accusing that network of acting as an arm of the Republican Party.

And, Wolf, here's something you just don't hear that often. Congressman Steve King felt it was so important to be in Washington to vote against the Democrats' health care reform bill that he skipped his own son's wedding to do it. His son was getting married in Iowa the night of the vote in Washington. Now, King did not miss out on the nuptials entirely. In midst of an intense floor debate, the congressman received a picture of the newlyweds on his cell phone. It's something.

The congressman says it was not a hard decision to make, his family understood and he has no regrets -- Wolf, the question is, would you ever have skipped your own daughter's wedding to anchor THE SITUATION ROOM?

BLITZER: N.G. (ph), as they say. OMG.


BLITZER: Wow! This congressman, I guess he...

YELLIN: Maybe if the dad doesn't go, he doesn't have to pay.

BLITZER: He's got guts, this guy, Steve King of Iowa.

Jessica Yellin, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty -- Jack Cafferty, go ahead.



CAFFERTY: The question is: Should 62-year-old convicted Congressman William Jefferson get 33 years in prison?

That's what the prosecutors want. He's the Louisiana weasel that they found the $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

Daniel in Tennessee: "Lock him up, throw away the key. It will serve as a warning for these arrogant, hypocritical so-called servants of the people to think twice about making deals behind closed doors that ultimately serve no one but themselves, their families and other political or business related cronies."

Gord in New Jersey: "We're clearly a nation of many laws, but we have a hard time with justice. Thirty-three years is too much given how many, no doubt, equally guilty congressmen have dodged jail or served less time for similar crimes over the years. For example, Duke Cunningham in California was sentenced to only eight years." David in New Hampshire: "Yes, Jack. When are people going to realize, until you start handing down sentences that are actually a deterrent to the crime against the public trust, the politicians will continue to break the laws? If you ask me, any politician convicted of such crime should get an automatic life sentence."

A.J. in Chicago: "No, he ought to have to make some other significant form of restitution. I don't think prison time is appropriate for this type of crime."

Jeremy in New Mexico: "Yes, he should and he should have thought ahead and committed the abuses of U.S. citizens' trust when he was younger. Non-politicians die everyday in our prisons."

Silas in Boston: "Thirty-three years in one of our prisons at the taxpayers' expense? No way. Give him 10 years in prison in Nigeria at the expense of those who bribed him."

And Joe in Delray Beach, Florida: "Supposedly, nobody is above the law. Still, at 62, Jefferson is a senior citizen. Give him a 10 percent senior discount -- 29.7 years sounds just about right."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog. You'll find that at -- Wolf, go ahead.

BLITZER: Not a lot of sympathy for Congressman Jefferson, right?

CAFFERTY: No. But there are some letters that suggest that, you know, the scales of justice need to be a little more balanced. Cunningham got eight years. They want to lock this guy up for 33. Some people say, you know, black people tend to get -- African- Americans get stiffer sentences than white people, which statistically is probably true. So it wasn't all one-sided, but pretty much.

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow.

Thank you.


BLITZER: If there's one simple tip for a long and happy life, it could be this -- if there is a train coming, try to avoid being on the tracks.

But as CNN's Jeanne Moos observed, people are violating this rule and they're getting away with it. And it's all Moost Unusual.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It gives every commuter the willies.

Who hasn't contemplated their own demise while waiting for a train?

Only in this case, the woman says she was drunk. Trying to stamp out a cigarette, she lost her balance and fell to the tracks of the Boston subway, looking up to see the headlights of an oncoming train. This is what the train operator saw -- people franticly waving.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're obviously telling me, you know, slow the train down. Then as I'm approaching, the lady poked her head up. And I'm like, oh, my God, someone's in the pit. So I just threw it in emergency, exactly what I was supposed to do.


MOOS: In the nick of time, the train came to a stop.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After the fact, she comes up with like a big smile on her face. And I'm like oh, my God, I'm like, you know, you really scared me.


MOOS: Then folks hauled her back up onto the platform unhurt.

(on camera): It's been a banner year for people getting run over and then having their close call run over and over again on TV.

(voice-over): There was the Israeli woman who apparently tried to commit suicide by lying down on the tracks. Ten seconds later, she got up and staggered off.

Then there was the runaway baby stroller in Australia, a six- month-old boy inside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a woman that I thought I should jump.


MOOS: The mother told "The Today Show" about finding her son beneath the train.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we were approaching toward the front, I could hear him crying. I was relieved about feeling that my -- my boy is alive.


MOOS: Again unhurt.

(on camera): Wouldn't it be nice if we were all as agile as Neo in "The Matrix?"

(voice-over): Even Neo didn't have to contend with a train hitting a truck hitting a guy. This man in Turkey lost his hat, but not his life.


CEM TOKAC, CRASH SURVIVOR (through translator): I cannot remember anything about the accident. I thought I was sleeping, but when I woke up, I was not in my bed, I was on the ground.


MOOS: Dudley Do-Right used to ride the rescue.


MOOS: But who needs Do-Right when they do all right on their own?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life is really beautiful.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



We'll take a quick break.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: President Obama says the victims of the Fort Hood massacre will be remembered always in the places they lived and the people they touched. He paid personal tribute to 13 American heroes.


OBAMA: Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill.

Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo.

Staff Sergeant Justin Decrow.

Major John Gaffney.

Specialist Frederick Greene.

Specialist Jason Hunt.

Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger.

Private First Class Aaron Nemelka.

Private First Class Michael Pearson.

Captain Russell Seager.

Private Francheska Velez.

Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman.

Private First Class Kham Xiong.


BLITZER: Our deepest, deepest condolences to all the families -- all the families of these 13 American heroes. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.