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Fort Hood Suspect Charged; President Obama's Economic Travels

Aired November 12, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're learning that his former colleagues had some serious concerns about his state of mind, his competence, and his allegiance to Islam.

And President Obama's kicking off a trip to Asia. You just saw his remarks live in Alaska. He's eager to prove that he's not leaving jobless Americans, though, behind.

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

And let's get to the breaking news this hour. It could be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, perhaps the biggest, federal prosecutors targeting the assets of a nonprofit Muslim organization now suspected of being secretly controlled by Iran.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is digging into this story. She's joining us now live with more.

What a bombshell, Deborah. Tell us what we know.


Right now, U.S. officials are attempting to seize four mosques, plus a New York City skyscraper, on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, the charge, that the Alavi corporation, which gets money from the properties, is actually a front company for a larger Iranian-owned bank and that the bank channels money to support Iran's nuclear program and parts of its military forces considered terrorist organizations by the U.S.

Now, the four mosques include the Islamic Institute of New York in Queens, New York, the Islamic Education Center in Houston, Texas -- that's what you're looking at right now -- and two other mosques in Maryland and California.

President Obama today extended the national emergency with respect to Iran, because relations, of course, with that country remain strained. Now, the amended complaint filed today by the U.S. attorney in New York's Southern District also seeks bank accounts and other properties believed to have ties -- believed to have ties to the Iranian government.

And the U.S. charges that the government has been engaged in deceptive practices to fund terrorism and pursue its nuclear and missile programs. And, of course, its action against the Shiite/Muslim mosque is sure to further strain relations between the U.S. government and American-Muslims.

So, right now, this is going on, Wolf, and we will keep you posted when we get more.

BLITZER: And that skyscraper, that is a pretty impressive building. I'm sure you have walked by it on many occasions in Manhattan.

FEYERICK: Absolutely, very ambitious. But, again, the U.S. government is really trying to taper off the flow of money to Iran, especially because it's going to support the nuclear programs.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Deborah. We are going to have a lot more on this breaking news coming up this hour. Stand by. What's going on? We will assess.

Meanwhile, 13 people slaughtered in cold blood, 13 counts of murder, that's what the only suspect in the Fort Hood massacre now faces.


CHRISTOPHER GREY, ARMY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION COMMAND: Today, I have confirmed that U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old psychiatrist assigned to Darnall Medical Center here at Fort Hood, has been charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder.


BLITZER: And more charges could come against Major Hasan in the military's legal system. If convicted, he could be put to death.

Meanwhile, the suspect's lawyer is angry over how his client was told about the charges.


COL. JOHN P. GALLIGAN (RET.), ATTORNEY FOR MAJOR NIDAL MALIK HASAN: My client's 150 miles south of here in an ICU unit. He was served with charges, something that I have been telling the media for several days I have not yet seen.

That is, by, I think, anyone's measure, the first formal step in the processing of a criminal justice case in the military.


BLITZER: As for Fort Hood, things are slowly, slowly returning back to normal.


COL. JOHN ROSSI, DEPUTY COMMANDING GENERAL, FORT HOOD: Even as we move to resumption to normal mission and operational activity, we do so with the utmost respect for our families, as we would never want to minimize the enormity of their sacrifice. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Amid this investigation, we're also uncovering new information about the suspect's professional past.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's working his sources.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, former colleagues are giving us a portrait of Nidal Hasan as someone who had his share of problems during medical training, problems that did come to the attention of his superiors.


TODD (voice-over): A former colleague of Nidal Hasan's during his medical training tells CNN, Hasan's contemporaries had widespread concerns about his competence as a psychiatrist.

Former colleagues, who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, say they thought Hasan's presentations were not academically rigorous. And one said -- quote -- "No one in class would have ever referred a patient to him."

Earlier this week, Hasan's supervisor at Fort Hood was asked about reports of problems.

COLONEL KIMBERLY KESLING, DEPUTY COMMANDER OF CLINICAL SERVICES, DARNALL ARMY MEDICAL CENTER: His evaluation reports said that he had had some difficulties in his residency fitting into his residency. And, so, we worked very hard to integrate him into our practice and integrate him into our organization. And he -- he adapted very well and was doing a really good job for us.

TODD: But former colleagues tell CNN of substandard performance by Hasan during previous training. One of them says his PowerPoint presentations, like this one shown in "The Washington Post," were inappropriate and unscientific.

Hasan's former colleagues tell of Hasan talking about the persecution of Muslims and justifying suicide bombings in those talks, instead of the required discussions on health.

Two colleagues remember Hasan saying his allegiance was to the Koran over the U.S. Constitution. One colleague says he confronted Hasan about the presentations and says Hasan dodged his questions and talked about Islam. He says people complained to Hasan's superiors about his slide shows and that the superiors seemed attentive to their concerns.

NPR reports Hasan's superiors had a series of meetings in 2008 and 2009 discussing whether Hasan was psychotic. Hasan's attorney didn't comment on issues of Hasan's professional competence, but was asked about mental responsibility in this case. GALLIGAN: Any time you have conduct alleged or contributed to an individual that's completely inconsistent with what appears to be earlier conduct, that issues are raised that call into question one's mental responsibility.

TODD: One of Hasan's former colleagues tells CNN he saw no signs of mental instability in him, but believes Hasan did try to provoke people with his religious views.

Given these patterns, should someone have intervened with Nidal Hasan? General Russel Honore, who was not involved in Hasan's career, makes this point.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Something was missed in this major's tone, his demeanor, and the things that have been reported that he has said, that we could have possibly done more to help him before he got that far.


TODD: The former colleague I spoke to says he's beating himself up these days over that very question, asking himself repeatedly if he could have done something. He says he doesn't think he could have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do his colleagues, Brian, have any comments on what you have reported extensively on this week, the communications that Major Hasan had with this cleric who's now believed to be in Yemen?

TODD: Yes. And, specifically, I ran by them the finding by investigators that those communications were consistent with Hasan's research in his training.

And one of his colleagues said the notion that that is consistent with his research is -- quote -- "completely ridiculous and disturbing." He says to call anything he did as research is a joke. That's a quote from a former colleague. So, he does not find consistency in what investigators found in that instance.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks for all your reporting -- Brian Todd reporting for us.

Meanwhile, you want a job? Do you want a job? You might say the president could use your help right now. He's urging everyone to come up with some ideas. He effectively has put out a want ad. He's looking for anyone with some bright ideas to help the administration create more jobs. Today, he announced a new effort ahead of his major presidential trip to Asia.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's what a president has to concentrate on, especially one that is saying, listen, the economy is getting a little better. In fact, we heard today that first claims, that is, new unemployment claims, went down last week from the week before. So, that's good news. But, overall, the unemployment picture remains the biggest black mark on what many believe is a recovery. And for a president, what he needs to do is show people that he is on the job, no matter where he goes.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Some numbers: an eight-day trip to Asia, 15.7 million unemployed Americans. Think those two are not related?


Before departing for Asia this morning, I would like to make a brief statement about the economy.

CROWLEY: Americans like to see their presidents being presidential overseas, but trips when the home front is in economic turmoil require a bit of political finesse prior to departure, especially this departure.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's going to Asia, where not only is Asia our banker -- China our banker, in particular -- but Asia is the place where millions of jobs have relocated over the past couple of decades.

CROWLEY: Five-point-six million Americans unemployed for more than six months, six people looking for every one job opening, the worst odds in more than 70 years, and a trip that looks a little bit like going to the belly of the beast.

PETER MORICI, ECONOMIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The president is going to China. That's where the solution to the economic riddle lies. The huge trade deficit with China, its huge trade surplus is stealing customers from American businesses. They don't have anyone to sell their products to, so they're laying off workers or they're not hiring.

CROWLEY: The president isn't expected to return home with anything that might make a dent in the jobless rate, but, before leaving, he did announce a jobs summit next month.

OBAMA: We will gather CEOs and small-business owners, economists and financial experts, as well as representatives from labor unions and nonprofit groups, to talk about how we can work together to create jobs and get this economy moving again.

CROWLEY: President Obama is already hip-deep in economic advisers, and many outside progressive and conservative economists think this job summit is less about new ideas and more about support for one already on the table.

MORICI: There's a lot of sentiment on Capitol Hill for another stimulus package. The president hopes to engage private sector economists, receive some kind of endorsement.

CROWLEY: It will all play out in December. But, for now, the president, the most traveled first-year president ever, is off to Asia, having delivered a message to the home front.

OBAMA: We have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country.

CROWLEY: As the first President Bush once famously said, "Message: I care."


CROWLEY: Right now, the latest polling shows us the majority of Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the jobless problem. Now, as you move into an election year, as you know, Wolf, that, sooner or later, if we don't see those numbers begin to come down, it's not just those who are jobless now whose jobs are at stake, but the president's, maybe some members of Congress as well.

So, this has an urgency on Main Street and an urgency in Washington.

BLITZER: And he can have as many job fairs or job forums or job summits as he wants, but if it doesn't translate into jobs, it's going to be for naught.

CROWLEY: Yes, exactly. And that's the danger in this sort of thing, is OK, now I'm going to have a big jobs summit.

If we come into January, February, March and we're still seeing really high jobless rates, that then becomes a problem, as people look back, because, then, what else have you got to pull out?

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

The nation is awash in job loss and red ink. Right now, a key economic measure set a record. Last month, the deficit hit $176.4 billion. There's fear that that could hurt any economic rebound. I spoke about that with Peter Orszag from the White House. He's the director of the Office of Management and Budget.


PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR OF OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Well, we first have to explain that right now, the deficit is actually, ironically, helping the economy. The tax relief and additional spending helps to bolster demand when the economy is very weak.

The problem is, at some point, whether it's in 2011 or 2012 or 2013, the situation starts to reverse. And, at that point, deficits crowd out private investment and become a harm.

We need to get ahead of that problem. And that's the line we're trying to walk in the budget that we're putting together for next February.


BLITZER: So, that clock is clearly, clearly ticking.

The government says there are 42 million available doses of the swine flu vaccine right now, but lots of people are still waiting. We're going to map out where the vaccines are.

And new rules from the Federal Reserve mean banks will have to get your permission before charging overdraft fees on debit and ATM cards. The Fed says it's an important step to protecting consumers, but there are some loopholes.


BLITZER: A dramatic rise in the number of swine flu deaths here in the United States. The CDC now says the number of people dead from the H1N1 virus is nearly four times the number they had estimated.

So, where's the vaccine? Is it getting to the American public?

Tom Foreman is joining us here with more on this story.

Good questions. Do we have the answers?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there really is still this big gap, Wolf, between wanting the vaccine and getting the vaccine. I'm going to show you three reasons why.

This is the supply in the last month. This is pretty good. Look at this, been steadily rising up, up, up, up. It's right here. Now it's pushing up pretty close to the 40 million mark. That's nice.

Problem is, the government led us to believe that there was going to be a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. And, so, it raised expectations against...

BLITZER: They thought 100 million.

FOREMAN: Exactly. And against this demand, that left a lot of people feeling left out.

There's a secondary reason here. I'm going to move this down and out of the way for a moment here. This is another reason. The way this is being distributed, if you look at this map, you can see the hot spots here where there's a lot of it going on right now, but it's pretty much all over. The way it's being distributed is not just where they have the biggest problem. It's where the biggest population is focused.

So, in any given state, if you were to look at, for example, Illinois and Indiana here, Illinois has well over a million doses. Indiana has only about 600,000. If you break down the size of the populations of the state, it doesn't work out perfectly, and it's hard to say which one has the advantage, but it's easy to see why someone over here might look across the border and say, why do they have it so good? And they look over here and say, why do you have it so good?

The distribution has been uneven in terms of who gets it.

And the last part, Wolf, is when we look at the bottom here, when we go back to our map here once again to the vaccine supply, there's one other big issue at play here. For different states and different localities to get these drugs, they have to request them.

That involves paperwork, telling the feds where to ship it, whether it goes to a hospital, a doctor's office, a mall, wherever you're going to send it. And that is considerably below this line. If you look at the actual number of doses that have been delivered when all the paperwork's complete, you're down here, about 25 percent lower.

All of it adds up into a simple thing, Wolf. The simple truth is, if you want this vaccine, your ability to get it may depend on where you live, the actual supply, and how aggressively and effectively your state and local authorities are getting after those much-wanted doses.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks. Very good information. Appreciate it.

Let's walk over to Jessica Yellin right now.

Jessica, the Federal Reserve taking some new steps today to help protect all of us from some banks and credit card companies.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's great news for folks who are feeling squeezed by the big banks, because, coming soon, thanks to the Federal Reserve, the big banks will no longer allowed to charge automatic overdraft fees on your ATMs or your debit cards. Soon, they will have to actually get your permission first. Imagine that.

It's a huge change, because right now most of us, we're automatically signed for overdraft programs, and if you go just a dollar over your limit, your bank could actually charge you a $39 penalty each time. The banks, they are raking in the dough over this. Get this. This year alone, they will make $38.5 billion on overdraft fees alone, $38.5 billion.

So, this new limit, it sounds good, right? Well, there are some holes. First, it applies only to overcharges on your debit card, not when you write checks from your checking account. And even though they announced the new rule today by the Fed, it doesn't actually go into effect until next year, on July 1.

Well, the problem with that is, remember, those new rules on credit cards are supposed to go into effect next year, too, and for the very same reason, to give banks a chance to update their computers to meet the new guidelines.

Well, the banks used the delays to jack up their rates and squeeze customers. And you kind of got to wonder why the banks are getting the same window for the rules for overdraft fees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us how all this came about, Jessica.

YELLIN: Oh, you're asking the politics of it, of course. Yes.

Well, the rule was announced by the Federal Reserve. It's run by this man, Ben Bernanke. The Reserve is a very powerful organization that oversees our currency and interest rates. Now, we were talking about Bernanke yesterday, because he's in a turf war with this man, Senator Chris Dodd.

Now, Dodd runs the Senate Banking Committee. He's working on a new plan to overhaul our financial system. And he's really trying to strip the Federal Reserve of its consumer protection role and give it to a different agency. That agency would make policies like overdraft protection their main mission.

Well, no surprise, the Fed doesn't like this turf war. They don't like the idea their power would be taken away. They say they can do it on their own.

But, reality check, they have had the power to stop overdraft fees since 1978, 30 years. And you have got to wonder what took them so long. Interesting timing, Wolf, that they would announce this new consumer protection the very same week a senator tries to take that power away from them.

BLITZER: Interesting, indeed, Jessica.


BLITZER: Don't go far. We have got more news to report. Thanks very much.

A travel warning from the State Department -- we're going to tell you why the government is now urging Americans heading to Germany -- yes, Germany -- to stay alert and keep a low profile.

And the Catholic Church flexing its muscles in the health care debate -- how much power will the church have in shaping the legislation?


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


BLITZER: President Obama is sending a message to his war council. He wants more options in Afghanistan. We have new information about the big decision he's trying to make about whether to send more troops in.

And when Catholics clash -- the church putting new heat on one of the faith's most famous families, the uproar involving a Kennedy, health care reform, and abortion. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As you saw live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the president of the United States visited troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska on his way to Japan, later China, the president speaking, reassuring the troops that he is with them, committed to them.

As he's flying off to Asia, he's also believed to be carrying some so-called strategic options for Afghanistan. He's reviewing them on Air Force One, we're told. We have also been told he's not necessarily all that happy with any of those options right now.

Let's turn to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's over at the White House working her sources.

What do we know? Because this is a critical decision the president has to make, whether to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.


And what we're hearing from the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who actually briefed reporters aboard Air Force One before landing there, is, essentially, he's looking at these options, but he's not happy with any of them as they are, that he's taking the best of some of those options.

He's also making phone calls. What the president expects now is for people inside of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan to reach out to the Afghan government and to try to get some assurances here, some agreement. How are they looking and evaluating their own police, their own army units? When do they think they will be ready to take over?

He wants some benchmarks, Wolf, essentially. He doesn't want to go in with some sort of open-ended timetable. He wants to get a sense of what can the Afghan people and the government, in particular, do at different times to go ahead and make it worth it to put those troops in harm's way.

The other thing that we are learning is that we don't anticipate that he's going to have one of those large war council meetings when he's overseas. But that's likely going to happen when he comes back, in a week or so. He is going to be having some smaller group discussions, some phone calls, some questions. So he is going to be working on this while he's overseas. And we expect that there's going to be more work ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly could do a video conference call from Air Force. He's got the secure communications -- if he wanted to. Suzanne, thanks very much.

The question of abortion certainly has always been part of the health care reform battle on Capitol Hill. But now it's being further complicated by the entry of the Catholic Church into the fray.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is here with more on this part of the story -- a very sensitive, delicate moment in this debate.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A thorny issue of abortion coverage in the health care bill. It's pitting abortion advocates against anti-abortion advocates, not to mention church against state.


KEILAR: (voice-over): In Rhode Island, a high profile feud between the bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, and Catholic congressman, Patrick Kennedy. Tobin has called the son of the late health care champion Ted Kennedy "a disappointment for his support of abortion rights."


REV. THOMAS J. TOBIN, BISHOP OF PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND: If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means that you believe certain things, you do certain things.

If you cannot do all that in conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.


KEILAR: The clash happening as the Catholic Church flexes its muscle in the debate over health care reform. To get the needed support of conservative Democrats, Speaker Pelosi was forced to allow a vote on tougher abortion restrictions in the bill and at one point, found herself negotiating directly with representatives of the Catholic Church.

REP. BRAD ELLSWORTH (D), INDIANA: A lot of members had a lot of faith and -- in what the Catholic bishops' view of this was. They -- they wanted some kind of a blessing by the bishops.

KEILAR: Abortion rights Democrats bristled at the thought.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: It is disturbing to me, that such an extraordinary lobbying effort was launched by a church, pushing an idea that many Americans -- probably the majority of Americans -- really don't agree with.

KEILAR: The health care debate moves now to the Senate, where a quarter of the chamber is Catholic, and where the church will again exert its influence, says Bill Galston, a former policy adviser to President Clinton.

BILL GALSTON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: And I think it is very, very likely that the outcome will be the same in the Senate as it was in the House.

(END VIDEO TAPE) KEILAR: Now, Democratic aides in the Senate concede that Galston may be right. But sources tell me they don't think literals will scuttle health care reform over it. But in the House, Wolf, there are some liberals who say they will vote no if this tough language remains in. So definitely a tough negotiation ahead for Speaker Pelosi.

BLITZER: Yes. And they're -- all sides are posturing right now to get some...

KEILAR: Exactly.

BLITZER: ...get some leverage.

Brianna, thanks very much.

President Obama takes a big hit on unemployment. Americans are not happy and they're speaking out. The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan expressing concern about possibly sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Let's talk about it with the best political team on television -- our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Paul Begala; Republican strategist Tony Blankley, former spokesman for Newt Gingrich; and CNN's Joe Johns.

It's one thing when a low level -- a low level State Department employee says, you know what, I'm quitting because I don't like this policy. But when the U.S. ambassador, the former military commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, says, you know what, stop doing this until you -- we get some assurances from President Karzai, it's very different.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that is his job. General Eikenberry, now Ambassador Eikenberry, it's his job to give the president his most candid advice. What I don't like, as a former White House aide, is that advice leaked to the press.


BLITZER: You can't necessarily blame him for that.

BEGALA: I don't know. I don't know where it came from. But now I'm in the media, I like being able to plow through this stuff. But it's -- it's really...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this whole process has been full of leaks, hasn't it?

BEGALA: It has been. And that ill serves the president. It ill serves our national interests and it ill serves our troops. He needs the debate. He needs those people taking vigorous, opposing views. But as a White House aide like Tony was, I don't like seeing it... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But a lot of people are posturing by leaking, aren't they, Tony?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, yes. Look, I mean this is a very idiosyncratic decision for us, for -- for something like this. I've never seen anything quite like it. For the ambassador to come in -- three months they've been reconsidering this policy, going back to the middle of August, at this last moment, when the White House seemed to be setting this all up in the last few days for -- close to a decision, there's nothing new in the last week that -- that the ambassador didn't...

BORGER: Well...


BORGER: ...election, post-Karzai (INAUDIBLE).

BLANKLEY: You know, even -- even that is several weeks apart. I -- there's something -- there's something odd about this decision- making process that I don't quite -- I don't quite understand.

BLITZER: Well, let's speak to Joe, who's been the recipient of many leaks over the years.


BLITZER: So you understand this whole process.

JOHNS: And leaks are for a reason. I'm sorry. I mean, no matter what anybody else says, if you're sitting in the White House or on Capitol Hill and somebody comes to you and says, hey, how about this, they're leaking the information because they want to get it out.

I talked to one guy -- one consultant today who said this administration has mastered the art of the trial balloon. They put everything out there, they get people who are going to get angry in the position of knowing what's coming down the pike...

BORGER: Well...

JOHNS: ...and they basically...


JOHNS: ...they set the stage for this information.

BLANKLEY: There's nothing new about that. We've been leaking...

BORGER: Right.

BLANKLEY: ...trial balloons for years, for goodness sakes.

BORGER: You mean, we're being used? I'm shocked.

JOHNS: Yes, there you go.

BORGER: But -- but if the argument is that Barack Obama is fighting his generals, how convenient is it to have a general -- you know, a retired one...


BORGER: on his -- on the side of fewer troops in Afghanistan...

JOHNS: Exactly.


BORGER: ...because -- because the political situation there is so corrupt and -- and Karzai has no credibility.

BLANKLEY: (INAUDIBLE). But I can't think -- I can't believe that Rahm Emanuel or any of the senior people in the White House would like to have the decision-making process play out in public the way it's playing out. This is not by calculation. This is because the -- the decision-making process in some way can't get to a conclusion. And inevitably, people are always leaking. I understand you leak to push stuff.

BORGER: Well...

JOHNS: And to bring the public into the process. That's what it's all about -- bring the public into the process, bring your base into the process, so they see the basis on which you made the decision.


BLITZER: I'm going to play this clip now. The former vice president, Al Gore, all of you remember Al Gore. Larry King just taped an interview with him. Al Gore has a new book that he's promoting.

And I'm going to play this little clip from the interview.


LARRY KING, HOST: Historically, the Democrats have had a deal with schisms.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both parties have had this from -- from time to time. But this appears to be a part of the cycle where the Republican Party is facing a challenge from within by purists who do not want moderates in -- in the Republican Party. And if I was a Republican, I would argue that that's a mistake.

KING: Because?

GORE: Because both of our two major political parties have been more successful when they have a -- a broad tent and the base with -- within the party rather than a determined effort to exile those who don't follow some ideological line.


BLITZER: Al Gore it's going to be Larry's guest for the hour later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

What do you think about that point he makes about the divisions right now within the GOP?

BLANKLEY: I think people should beware of Democrats or Republicans who give advice to the other party, because it may not be entirely sincere. Look, I mean more...

BLITZER: But there seems to be a split between the purists...


BLITZER: ...and the more moderate, let's say.

BLANKLEY: has raised, what, $3.5 million to run primary -- ads against Democratic incumbents who are not liberal enough. There's nothing -- I think both parties, by the way, are going to be particularly susceptible to that this season because with the volatility in -- in the public and with the issues as important as they are to the two bases, that I think that both parties are going to be shuttered some by -- by these ideologues on both sides.

BEGALA: But Gore has credibility on this. I mean back when Tony was in the White House and Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States, Al Gore was a leader of the movement that he and Bill Clinton and others used to bring the party back to the center.


BEGALA: So he speaks with real credibility. He is one of the reasons -- he and my old boss, Bill Clinton -- that the Democrats became the majority party again, because he moved us back to the center.

The Republicans need someone...

BORGER: Right.

BEGALA: ...who can move them back to the center and I don't see that person arriving right now.

BORGER: But Tony has a point, because is targeting Democrats who voted against health care reform in the House. So they're eating their own in the Democratic Party, just as the Republicans...


BLANKLEY: We actually have an odd situation. If -- if the Republicans play to their base, as they're being urged to, if the Democrats play to their base as they're being urged to, for the first time in my recollection, neither party will be contesting the centers, which is a very odd circumstance...

BORGER: Which is what they should be doing.

BLANKLEY: Which is presumably what they should be doing.

BEGALA: But much more, I think, where this president is inclined, President Obama, going to the center. He's cut very pragmatic deals that have annoyed liberals. Nancy Pelosi now is being attacked from the left because she allowed a comparatively pro-life amendment on abortion Brianna just reported on to come up. And so the left is even mad at Nancy Pelosi.

BLITZER: She had no -- she had no choice if she wanted it passed.

BEGALA: Because she wants it passed. She's being pragmatic.



BLITZER: That's what a smart leader does.

BLANKLEY: But do keep in mind that self-identified, 40 percent of the public are conservatives and 20 percent are liberals. So if there's gong to be a polarization, that doesn't necessarily hurt.


BLITZER: I want -- I want Joe just to -- just to weigh in...


BLITZER: Joe, if the Republicans want to be in the majority and if they want to be in the White House, they've got to do what Ronald Reagan said and have that big tent.

JOHNS: They abso do -- they absolutely do. But, also, polarization, to some extent, works. The question is the middle and the question is which party seems more reasonable to the people in the middle?

You know, if you look extreme to a lot of those people in the middle, then you're going to have a problem.

BORGER: Yes. Right.

JOHNS: If you look sensible and smart...

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: But Al Gore has had to...

JOHNS: Then they'll go with you.

BEGALA: Al Gore has a book out. He's on a book tour. I think that's great, as a Democratic strategist. Sarah Palin has a book coming out. I think that's even better, as a Democratic strategist. We need more Sarah Palins. I can't wait to see Sarah on Larry King. Governor, come on THE SITUATION ROOM. We'd love to have you. We want more Sarah Palin...


BLITZER: You're going to be seeing a lot of Sarah Palin and Al Gore over the next few days.


BORGER: Can I just say, it's OK to play to your wings during -- for a midterm election. But at some point, when you want to elect a president, you've got to get back in the middle.


BLITZER: Good point, Gloria.

Guys, thanks very much.

And Gloria.

You're not a guy.

BORGER: I'm not a guy.

Thank you for noticing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Barack Obama is heading on his first trip to Asia as president of the United States. But he'll find that some Asians are already quite familiar with his voice.




BLITZER: These Japanese students are using President Obama's speeches to improve their command of English. Kyung Lah will be here with that story.

Stick around.



BLITZER: President Obama heading toward Japan, where he'll be welcomed as the leader of the United States -- and by some as their English teacher.

CNN's Kyung Lah explains. She's in Tokyo.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama's speeches have inspired millions of Americans. But they're also inspiring people who don't even speak English.


LAH: In this high school English class in suburban Tokyo, the teacher is relying on an outside voice.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is watching what we do here.

LAH: You may have heard of him.

OBAMA: The world is paying attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world is paying attention.

OBAMA: We say, we hope, we believe.


LAH: Their textbook is an English language book and C.D. set featuring the speeches of Barack Obama. The students mimic his speaking style and take grammar quizzes from the president's election night victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park.

OBAMA: It belongs to you. It belongs to you.

LAH: "The way he speaks is different from us," says Hakato Mayijima (ph). Their teacher says that difference is inspiring them to learn English. The book isn't just a hit in high schools...

OBAMA: With my words.

LAH:'s a best-seller across Japan, a nation that's embraced guides on learning English with gusto. But never like this.

OBAMA: Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real.

LAH: "People wrote us letters saying they were moved and they cried," says the publisher. "Obama is giving Americans hope and Japanese people feel it, as well."

As far as a book on President Bush? "Not really best-selling potential," says the publisher. And Japan's own lawmakers, quite a bit more subdued than the American president.

Most readers don't understand all the words, but the publisher says the speeches still manage to capture the Japanese imagination.

OBAMA: Yes, we can!

LAH: "It's not just English," says this teacher, "it's communication" -- beyond language and proving, beyond borders.



BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting for us from Tokyo.

There's a new way you can test your knowledge of all the stories we report here on CNN. It's time for all of us to take the CNN challenge -- Jessica Yellin, for those of our viewers who haven't done it yet, explain how this works.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, for anybody who's surfing the Internet, looking for a new way to procrastinate, this is the perfect news quiz. You can online, We used you as our tour guide last hour. Let's pick Anderson Cooper, who talks smack.




YELLIN: Anderson, talk your smack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not happening.

YELLIN: It's not happening.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Come on, pick me. Wolf picks the really hard questions. I'm your guy.

BLITZER: Rick Sanchez.

YELLIN: Rick Sanchez.

He's going to be our tour guide.

Now, let's go to the next question. The first question in the round is going to be, all right, here we go.

Timing, timing, timing. So there's going to be a clock that's going to come up here. It's going to count us down from 30 seconds.

What country appealed for the release of three American hikers held by Iran on charges of espionage?

BLITZER: I would say it was Switzerland, because they have interests -- a U.S. interests section.

YELLIN: And you are right. Twenty -- you did it in nine seconds.

Let's do one more question, because we have the time and because you know the answers. You're very good.

BLITZER: Well, they represent the U.S. because the doesn't have diplomatic relations.

YELLIN: So it's going to count us down.

Why was a scheduled event featuring former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush canceled by the two ex-presidents?

BLITZER: Because the ex-presidents said the event was over hyped.

YELLIN: Excellent. You got the answers both right.

So It's cheaper than online shopping and it feels educational. Check it out.

BLITZER: It's a lot of fun, too, to see how they do.

Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Drama on the air -- a guest on CNN's LARRY KING LIVE threatens to walk off.

What happened?

Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.


KING: Can you hear the question, Carrie?



BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is keeping an eye on the Political Ticker.

What's going on -- Jessica?

YELLIN: Wolf, you don't have to roll the breaking news animation on this one. Sarah Palin is confirming what most of us pretty much already knew -- that she did not always get along with the folks in the McCain campaign. The Associated Press got its hands on Palin's new book, "Going Rogue." And the former Alaska governor is speaking out.

We got some early clips from her interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Listen to what she has to say about her widely panned performance in a 2008 interview with CBS News.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Let's talk about the interview with Katie Couric.



Palin: OK. Oh. Oh (INAUDIBLE).

WINFREY: You talk about it in the book, so I -- I assume everything in the book is fair game to ask.

PALIN: Yes, I hear you. It is.

WINFREY: You -- you do say that it wasn't your best interview.

PALIN: But there again...

WINFREY: Did you think that it was seminal, defining moment for you, that interview?

PALIN: I did not. And -- and neither did the campaign. In fact, that is why segment two and three and four and maybe five were scheduled. T campaign said right on, good, you're showing your independence, this is what America needs to see and it was a good interview. And, of course, I'm thinking if you thought that was a good interview, I don't know what a bad interview was, because I knew it wasn't a good interview.


YELLIN: OK, now the juicy stuff?

She talks about her relationship with the father of her grandchild, Levi Johnston.


WINFREY: Look, one final question about Levi.

Will he be invited to Thanksgiving dinner?

(LAUGHTER) PALIN: You know, that's a great question. And -- you know, it's lovely to think that he would ever consider such a thing, because, of course, you want -- he is a part of the family and you want to bring him in the fold and kind of under your wing. And he needs that, too, Oprah. I think he needs to know that -- that he is loved. And he has the most beautiful child. And this can all work out for good. It really can. We don't have to keep going down the road of controversy and drama all the time. We're not really into the drama. We don't really like that. We're -- we're more productive. We have other things to concentrate on and do, including...

WINFREY: Does that mean yes, he is coming, or no he's not?


YELLIN: All right, you heard it, no drama in the Palin family.

Let's remember that in 2012.

All right, this tidbit just in throws a new wrinkle into the whole debate over health care reform and abortion. reports that the Republican National Committee's insurance plan covers elected abortion. Now, an RNC spokeswoman tells Politico that the policy has been in effect since 1991 and the party is taking steps to address the issue. You will recall, 176 House Republicans joined 64 Democrats in supporting an amendment to health care reform that puts limits on insurance coverage for abortion -- and, Wolf, here's a story close to home. In a few minutes, our viewers are going to notice something has changed here at CNN, if they haven't heard, because it really has been all over the papers and the blogs. Lou Dobbs delivered his swan song at this network last night. He is moving on to other things.

In the weeks ahead, the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour on CNN will be devoted to something you, Wolf, and I, care a lot about, and many of our viewers -- politics. So our colleague John King will be taking over in the anchor seat in that hour. But for tonight, we know the hardest working man in the news biz will filling in for another hour. Yes, Wolf, viewers will be seeing more of you tonight. I don't know how you keep going. I hope they're giving you an energy drink.

BLITZER: Just one more hour. Four hours is not too bad. We've done more before.

Jessica, thanks very much.

And we wish Lou Dobbs all the best. Lou an original CNN anchor going back to 1980. He's moving on and we wish him good luck.

A beauty queen threatens to walk out on LARRY KING LIVE -- one of many Moost Unusual, awkward moments on TV lately.

Here's our Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): We never turn up our nose for news.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's disgusting, I know.


MOOS: Especially not at those wonderfully...


MOOS: ...awkward moments.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Larry, you're being inappropriate. You really are so I'm not going to...

KING: What?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- talk about...

KING: I'm asking a question.




SEAN HANNITY, ANCHOR: We screwed up.


MOOS: This week had more than its share of awkward TV moments, thanks to the former Miss California USA. Maybe you saw her getting miffed at Larry King and taking off her mike.

KING: Is she leaving because I asked what motivated the settlement.

Did you hear the question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I can't hear you.


MOOS: But I'm answering what I can't hear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm about to leave your show.

KING: Who are you talking to? Hello?


MOOS (on camera): But we crown Carrie Prejean Miss Awkward Moment because she inspired awkward moments on more than one show.


JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST: And yet you say that you're a victim. I don't -- I don't totally buy it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you see the attacks that I was under?

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST: It's the best thing that happened to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not worried about you, Carrie.


MOOS: But our favorite was Barbara Walters describing Prejean's X-rated home movie.


WALTERS: Are you alone doing whatever you were doing with yourself?


MOOS: What was Sean Hannity doing on Fox News, Jon Stewart wondered. Using video of a major rally two months ago to illustrate a smaller protest against health care reform.


JON STEWART, HOST: Not a cloud in the sky. The leaves have changed. All of a sudden, the trees turn green again and it's cloudy.


MOOS: Trying to make the smaller rally seem bigger, said Stewart.

Inadvertent think, said Hannity, but he apologized.

HANNITY: So Mr. Stewart, you were right. I thank you and all your writers for watching.


MOOS: CNN's SITUATION ROOM went to pot this week.

YELLIN: But, Wolf, would you know a marijuana plant if you saw one?

BLITZER: I'm not sure I -- I'm not sure I would know. I could smell it. You could smell the marijuana, Lou, but you probably wouldn't recognize a plant, am I right or wrong?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, you're dead wrong.


MOOS: Certitude plus attitude -- what a dude. Lou, we're going to miss you.

DOBBS: This will be my last broadcast here on CNN.

MOOS: From veteran leaving to cub arriving, "The Today Show" announced the winner of its Kid Reporter competition.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is Richarde (ph). It's you. Deidre, it's you. It's you. You won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're today Kid Show Kid Reporter winner. You're the winner, dear girl.

MOOS: If you're going to be a reporter, kid, you've got to learn to fill dead air.


MOOS: We said fill it, not kill it.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.