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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Nears Decisions on Afghanistan; Swine Flu Worries
Aired November 23, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Join Anderson Cooper Thanksgiving night at 9:00 eastern to see who will become CNN's "Hero of the Year."
Well, happening now: the best political team on television on these stories. President Obama, he is set to meet with his war council to discuss Afghanistan. Might they discuss one provocative idea, taxing the rich to pay for any troop increase?
An alleged 9/11 terror could get a megaphone and hateful shout anti-American views. Wait until you hear the intentions of the 9/11 defendants at their civil trial.
And the doctor is in. Dr. Oz takes a break from his show to visit ours. Amid Thanksgiving travel, should you worry about planes and swine flu?
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama is closer to arguably the biggest decision of his presidency, potentially sending tens of thousands more troops off to war in Afghanistan. In just about two hours, the commander in chief is going to be weighing that decision with his war council.
Now, as they have before, they're going to be meeting in the White House, THE SITUATION ROOM. Might one provocative idea to pay for the troop increase be actually on the table tonight?
I want to go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan, to be able to help sort out, answer that question.
What do we figure is on the table tonight, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, the focus will be on Afghanistan, as the president tries to get those final answers to critical questions in making that decision. This is the ninth and potentially final meeting before the president does make his decision. It's expected to last about an hour-and-a-half.
And Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, says that the president is weighing how his decision will impact the forces and also how the strategy -- or how much the strategy will cost.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN (voice-over): An announcement on Afghanistan is expected some time after Thanksgiving. But the president is still seeking answers to some critical questions on sending in more troops.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out?
LOTHIAN: The president has held meetings with his war council in the secure Situation Room since September. His top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has recommended 40,000 additional troops. But any substantial increase will cost billions of dollars. And two leading Democrats, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, suggested in separate interviews that a war surtax might be necessary.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D-WI), HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: If we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it, because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to try to rebuild our own economy.
LOTHIAN: Since a decision hasn't been made, the White House wouldn't comment on how to pay for it. So, I asked spokesman Robert Gibbs if a war surtax had been part of the high-level discussions?
LOTHIAN: ... how to pay...
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well...
LOTHIAN: ... if you increase...
GIBBS: How to pay for the war, yes.
LOTHIAN: And has taxes...
LOTHIAN: ... come up, taxing Americans?
GIBBS: They -- they haven't gotten deeply into -- into the discussions on that.
LOTHIAN: Again, the White House was asked today what it thought about criticism that this long, drawn-out process makes it look as if the president can't make up his mind, that he's indecisive. He says that this has not been wasted time, that this is a very important decision and the president wants to get it right -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Dan, I noticed that Robert Gibbs said earlier today in the briefing -- you pressed him on it, obviously -- when he was saying perhaps the president could make a decision tonight, do you think he was being disingenuous or sincere in that, or he just doesn't know; it could be tonight or any other day? LOTHIAN: He really doesn't know. Frankly, I was talking to a senior administrative official. He said the president really has an idea of where he's going, but he still has some of that details that he wants to fill in around it.
We know that a decision will come sometime after Thanksgiving. That's what we have been told. But we don't know -- and I think Robert Gibbs knows -- if the president will make up his mind tonight.
MALVEAUX: OK. Great. Thank you so much, Dan.
MALVEAUX: The long-awaited elections in Iraq may be off just a bit further. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said that the vote may be delayed beyond the scheduled January date because of a dispute over how those seats in parliament are allocated.
Tonight, war is the topic, but, earlier, the topic was the economy. President Obama, he met with his Cabinet. Dogged by criticism his administration isn't creating jobs fast enough, here's how the president responded
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the ironies that we have right now is, is that businesses across sectors are making profits again, but their primary way of making profit has been to cut costs, as opposed to seeing increased demand.
And, unfortunately, the huge rise in productively, which is normally a good thing, in this circumstance means that they have learned to produce the same amount of goods with fewer people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, unemployment rates still a problem, but home sales are seeing some bright spots.
For October, for instance, the National Association of Realtors reports the highest sales gains in the housing market in two-and-a- half years, good news. Sales are now almost 37 percent above what they actually were in January. Now, that has helped the Dow today touch its highest point in over a year, the Dow gaining 133 points, the Nasdaq climbing 30 points, and the S&P jumped 15.
The jobs crisis is creating an awkward situation between President Obama and lawmakers who would normally they would be among his staunchest supporters.
Our CNN national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, she is obviously following a lot of the details about that split, about the support.
Jessica, what can you tell us? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, these days, it seems the president cannot catch a break when it comes to Congress. And now his latest skirmish is with the Congressional Back Caucus. And it's over Wall Street reform.
Here's the backstory. House Democrats were almost ready with a bill to reform Wall Street when suddenly members of the Congressional Black Caucus said, not so fast. They're vowing to block the bill and keep it from coming to a vote unless the president meets some of their demands.
Now, that doesn't add up, right? Why would the usually populist Congressional Black Caucus oppose Wall Street reform? Well, it turns out they don't have a problem with the bill. They have a problem with this. Look at these numbers. The national unemployment rate is 10.2 percent. But, for minorities, it's astronomically worse, for African- Americans, almost 16 percent unemployment, and when it comes to Latinos, about 13 percent unemployment.
Now, the Congressional Black Caucus believes both the administration and Democrats simply aren't doing enough to bring jobs to minority communities, which are disproportionately affected by the recession. So, they're holding up the reform bill for Wall Street, keeping it hostage to get someone to pay attention.
Now, Representatives Maxine Waters and Emanuel Cleaver, they both released statements saying that this recession has created a systemic risk that threatens all parts of the African-American community, including the poor and the middle class. They say they are committed to addressing that risk and they will continue to do so.
So, let's go to the other graphic. I see it came up earlier. What do they want? They want more stimulus funds, more TARP funds, mortgage refinancing, job retraining, small-business loans, and more to stimulate job growth in minority communities.
Now, Suzanne, they met with top White House officials to voice their concerns. But still they haven't gotten what they want. So, in the meantime, the House financial reform bill is in limbo. And that means that changes for mortgages, for personal loans, for credit, banking regulation and Wall Street pay, they're all hanging in the balance while the Congressional Black Caucus negotiates with the White House -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: So, Jessica, what's going to happen next?
YELLIN: Well, they continue to talk to the White House. There's a jobs summit at the White House on December 3 that should address some of their concerns.
But most folks at the White House and on Capitol Hill believe this will be resolved in time for a vote after Thanksgiving. They're just drawing a line in the sand, saying, it's time for someone to pay attention to the problems especially faced by minority communities.
BLITZER: OK, Jessica Yellin -- thanks, Jessica. Jack Cafferty joining us now this hour with "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, some top Democrats think that the wealthy should have to pony up more tax money in order to pay for any troop increases in Afghanistan. Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says people earning $200,000, $250,000 a year should pay an additional income tax.
Levin says richer Americans have done -- quote -- "incredibly well" and that it's important to pay for a troop surge, instead of increasing the federal debt. Democratic Congressman David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, also says he favors a so-called war surtax.
Obey says people making $400,000 to $500,000 a year should be asked to pay as much as an additional 5 percent of their incomes, while lower earners might pay a smaller amount, down to 1 percent. Obey says if we don't increase taxes, the war in Afghanistan will -- quote -- "bleed every dollar in the budget away from any other initiative," unless of course the government cuts spending elsewhere.
CAFFERTY: First, they wanted to tax the rich to pay for health care reform. Now they want to tax the rich to pay for more troops for the war in Afghanistan.
The administration also plans to increase the top income tax rate. I suppose at some point the rich won't be. The White House suggests it could cost as much as $40 billion a year to send 40,000 additional troops into Afghanistan. President Obama is expected to announce his decision sometime in his lifetime. He will meet with his national security team again tonight.
Anyway, here's the question. Should additional taxes be levied against wealthy Americans to pay for more troops in Afghanistan? Got CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
They never heard that phrase cutting spending down there where you are, have they, ever, ever?
MALVEAUX: Well, they're working on it. They're working on it, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Oh, no, they're not working on it. They absolutely are not. They have never done it. They never will.
MALVEAUX: You don't believe them?
CAFFERTY: No. MALVEAUX: All right. We will leave it there. Thank you, Jack.
MALVEAUX: Well, the holiday season give a boost to the flu season? Could the H1N1 virus hitch a ride as Americans travel to friends and family for Thanksgiving? Well, that's a question that I'm going to put to TV's Dr. Oz.
And he wanted to plead guilty when he appears in court. Now there may be a dramatic shift in plans by the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind.
MALVEAUX: Word last week of new guidelines for breast cancer screenings by a government review panel has set off a firestorm of controversy. The recommendations to start mammograms at age 50 and to have them less often were followed with similar guidelines for cervical cancer screening.
Well, joining me now is Dr. Mehmet Oz. He's the host of the popular and aptly named syndicated show 'The Dr. Oz Show."
Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
DR. MEHMET OZ, "THE DR. OZ SHOW": It's a great honor.
MALVEAUX: I want to start off first, obviously these screening recommendations caused a lot of stir and a lot of confusion, young women, such as myself, and older who are wondering, what should we do? Were these smart recommendations? Do you agree with these recommendations?
OZ: Well, I don't agree with the recommendations, but I agree with the process. It is very healthy for American medicine not to get comfortable in the status quo.
You want government-appointed panels to say, hey, you know what? We looked at the data again and we don't think we're doing it right. It forces a conversation to have like we're having right now that gets Americans involved in reassessing whether what we're doing makes sense.
So, mammograms, let's take that as an example. And, by the way, we busted our schedule on the show in order to cover mammography this week to make this come alive. And we brought world experts together.
And here's what sort of fell out of this discussion. First off, Americans are overconfident in mammograms. It's not as good a test as we had initially hoped, especially in women who are between 40 and 50, because their breasts are thicker. The mammograms don't go through the breasts as effectively. We have a lot more false positives for that reason.
Nevertheless, it's the best test we have. And my grandmother taught me when I was a little boy, you never throw away your old toothbrush before you get a new one. And so it's a test that we know saves lives. The panel argued -- and this is where the challenge part of the recommendations occur -- that it wasn't enough of an effective test, which is difficult to say, because how many lives do you have to save for it to be worthwhile?
So, I would say, America, we need to divide ourselves into two camps. One group of women are going to say, you know what? We're peace of mind women. We buy travel insurance. We like to know everything about our health. And we know there may be some false positives, but we want to know anyway. They should get mammography at age 40.
Other women are going to say, you know what? Power to me. I know what this data looks like. I'm not willing to take all these false positives. I know some of the things I can do to prevent the ailment, realizing that protection and detection are not the same thing. I will wait until 50.
MALVEAUX: What about the same for the cervical cancer screenings?
OZ: Very different story, because cervical cancer screening was slowed down. And specifically we're not going to do it until 21 years of age and women in their second -- between 20 and 30 won't get it except every other year. And women older than 30 will get it every third year.
But the recommendations were specifically made because the cancer grows slowly in the cervix. So, we're not saving more lives by doing more testing. It makes sense.
That didn't anger women. What angered women about the mammography testing is that the panel said, yes, we save lives, but not enough. That's where the rubber hits the road.
MALVEAUX: So you disagree with the recommendations of the mammograms, but you think that the ones dealing with the Pap smear, the cervical screenings, are OK?
OZ: It makes sense. And the biggest problem with the mammography screening wasn't the age, because I think that's a very personal decision that women have to make on their own with their doctor's support.
But it was their recommendation that doctors not teach women how to examine their breasts anymore. This is really important. And if you take nothing away from this discussion, please remember this. Women find half of all the cancers in their breasts. It's the most important tool we have. So, examine those beautiful organs on the front of your body. Learn them. Understand where the lumps and bumps are, because you're going to find your tumor before anybody else does.
If we can switch over to the flu season, H1N1, obviously, we have heard recently that perhaps it's peaked here in the United States, but that there could be a danger when we're all on the planes and we're going, driving, and we're seeing our relatives and the little kids and all that stuff during the holiday season, that we're going to expose ourselves to potentially getting it, because we're in such close contact and we're traveling so much.
Is that true? And what can you do about it in the next couple of days to protect yourself?
OZ: It's very true. It's the subject of tomorrow's show, by the way.
And what we're going to focus on is toxic travel. So, I will give you an example. When you sit on an airplane, if someone else on the plane is sick, let's say they have the swine flu or another viral illness, we estimate there's about a 20 percent chance, 20 percent, that you will get it, too.
Now, why is that? Laminar flow within the plane -- and four million of us will fly this weekend for Thanksgiving holidays -- the laminar flow forces the air through the plane and through all of the chambers in the cabin.
So, what you want to do is turn that air vent above your head on, take your fist, like I'm showing you, put it on your chest, and aim the air vent at your fist. Why? It circulates the air around your face and prevents air from other parts of the cabin from coming close to your nostrils, where you might inhale the viral pathogen.
It's not the person next to you who will make you sick. It's someone in front of you in the cabin and off to either side. That's why these kind of toxic issues come up so frequently when we travel. Same goes when you go to a hotel room. That bedspread doesn't get washed. The remote control doesn't get cleaned. And God forbid you use the glass, because, remember, the glass in the bathroom doesn't get washed in a dishwasher. It gets wiped down with a towel.
MALVEAUX: So should you avoid the glass altogether, and what do you do about the bed sheets?
OZ: Bed sheets, take them off, put them in the corner of the room. Don't touch them again. The remote control, either wrap it in a bag or clean it with a handy wipe, which you ought to have anyway because the plane that you came out of also has dirty platters in front of you and the bathroom handles.
So, you're going to use those same wipes there. And, finally, with the glass, you ought to request a plastic glass. And they can bring that up easily. Do not trust that the customer in front of you is as healthy as you are.
MALVEAUX: I want to bring up this poll here, a CNN poll. Very interestingly here, recently polled Americans on the H1N1 vaccine said that more than 50 percent said they don't want to get the vaccine here; 7 percent received it. There are 14 percent want it and tried to get it -- 21 percent said they want it but have not tried. But 55 percent, Dr. Oz, said they don't even want to deal with this vaccine.
How dangerous is that? Is that a problem?
OZ: Well, it sounds terrible when you see the data like that. But remember that in an average year, only about a third of people get the seasonal flu shot. So, as opposed to the norm, you're closer to 50 percent. It's a huge increase for any kind of public policy.
Here's the deal. Don't think that the government's forcing this on you. Think of this as the government saying, hey, you know what? There's a Category 3 storm coming at your city, not a Category 5 storm, a lower-grade storm. And it might hit you, it might not. You can take whatever precautions you desire. I personally think the vaccine makes sense.
I have been vaccinated. I think health care workers -- and I still practice medicine here at New York Presbyterian -- so, I got my shot, like most of the doctors have already gotten their shots. But if you're a gentleman over the age -- or a woman over the age of 50, probably not as big a deal for you. But if you're pregnant or you have got kids who have chronic illnesses, you want to get vaccinated.
MALVEAUX: OK. All right. Dr. Oz, thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Good luck with your show. Thanks so much.
OZ: Stay well.
MALVEAUX: Well, a stunning twist in the controversial trial of the confessed 9/11 mastermind -- why and four others may now be planning to plead not guilty.
MALVEAUX: American students rank 21st in the world in science and 25th in math. And President Obama says that puts the country at a disadvantage when it comes to medicine, energy and security. He announced a new educate to innovate program, a campaign today, saying it will bring together teachers, parents, business and even the "Sesame Street" crew to promote math and science learning. The White House also plans to hold an annual science fair.
Well, should the world worry about what Iran is doing? Amid concerns about its nuclear program, Iran is flexing its military muscle, displaying missile and air defenses. What message is the country now trying to send?
MALVEAUX: There's a startling new twist today in the case of the man believed to be the architect of the 9/11 attacks and his co- defendants.
Our CNN's Brian Todd, he is following all of these legal maneuvers for the five suspected terrorists.
This comes as somewhat of a surprise in what they're planning to do. Tell us more about it, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is surprising, Suzanne, strong indications now that they will plead not guilty, a dramatic potential change in legal strategy for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others.
TODD (voice-over): Not long ago, he wanted to plead guilty and be executed as a martyr. Now alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others who will be charged in connection with the attacks plan to plead not guilty when they are charged in a civilian court. That's according to Scott Fenstermaker, a lawyer for one of the men, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.
Fenstermaker explains why.
SCOTT FENSTERMAKER, ATTORNEY FOR ALI ABD AL-AZIZ ALI: Well, I believe the legal term would be a justification defense. What they believe to be American's aggressive foreign policy needs to be defended against. And I believe that they believe that it is -- the September 11 attacks were in response to that.
TODD: Fenstermaker believes his client and the others will still acknowledge their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks, and:
FENSTERMAKER: He said that, "My" -- "Here's my goal." And he wrote down the word "death" on a piece of paper.
TODD: Fenstermaker makes clear he's only speaking for his client, not all five who will be charged, and he likely won't be Abd al-Aziz Ali's defense attorney at trial. He's now representing him in a case challenging his detention at Guantanamo Bay.
But Fenstermaker says his client has told him of his intended plea, and he believes all five have agreed on one approach. Some, including relatives of 9/11 victims, worry that a civilian trial would provide the defendants with a platform, although no TV cameras would be allowed.
One relative presented her concern to Attorney General Eric Holder.
ALICE HOAGLAND, MOTHER OF SEPTEMBER 11 VICTIM: I am afraid that the theatrics are going to take over at this point, and I very much regret that.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Judges can handle that. We have got experience in -- in doing these things.
TODD: I asked former Justice Department former prosecutor Patrick Rowan another key question.
(on camera): What are the chances Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of these other defendants could be found not guilty?
PATRICK ROWAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: Well, any time you have a jury of 12 people that are brought in off the street, there's some risk that you will have one or more persons who's not particularly reasonable in the way that they look at evidence.
But I think, in general, the government has a very strong chance of -- of securing a conviction against all five of these defendants.
TODD: Rowan says it's tougher to handicap possible sentencing. He says the government will likely seek the death penalty if they are convicted, and the defendants may want that.
But he says it's always tough to get a jury to agree to a death sentence, and attorneys for the accused men may ask the court not to give them their wish for martyrdom -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: So Brian, what about the possibility of a mistrial, if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other defendants are released potentially into the United States? Is that a possibility?
TODD: Technically under other trials, it could be a possibility. But in this case, Attorney General Holder says it's not going to happen. Under U.S. law, he says, anyone deemed dangerous could not be really be released back into the United States. So, if there is a mistrial, they will essentially be held under the same laws under which they're held at Guantanamo right now.
MALVEAUX: OK, thank you very much, Brian.
The Pentagon says its sweeping policy review begun in the aftermath of this month's massacre at Ft. Hood is going to be finished by January 15th. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the review of personnel, health, other policies last week. And the review team is now going to look at how the army handled the specific case of Major Nidal Hasan, who's accused of killing 13 people. It's also going to look for some weaknesses in the Defense Department policies that could leave other soldiers vulnerable.
After Iranian diplomats nixed a U.N. agreement meant to slow down their nuclear program, the Iranian military is making it clear that a military option is not going to be easy either. For a second day, missiles, fighter jets, air defense systems, all went into action and their defenses were centered on these nuclear facilities, which Iran insists are intended for energy, not military purposes. Now these exercises contributed to, among other factors, such as a weakening of the dollar, a sharp increase in oil prices around the world today.
Democrats may have scored a big victory over the weekend, winning the vote to debate health reform in the Senate. But finding an agreement over one option could give the party some real headaches. Our CNN congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar has all the details. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Democratic leaders heralded this weekend's narrow party-line vote to bring their health care bill to the Senate floor, but the cracks in their fragile majority over a government-run insurance plan are on full display.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The road ahead is a long stretch, but we can see the finish line.
KEILAR (voice-over): But listening to Majority Leader Harry Reid's own Democrats, the controversial government-run insurance plan currently in the bill might not survive the race.
SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: I wouldn't support any kind of government-run insurance operation. It would undermine the private insurance that 200 million Americans currently have.
KEILAR: Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson's concerns are shared by Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman. He voted with Democrats Saturday to begin debating health care, but says he will vote against a health care overhaul if it includes a public option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We have a health care system that has real troubles, but we have an economic system that is in real crisis. And I don't want to fix the problems in our health care system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Without Lieberman, Democrats would have to look across the aisle to hit the all-important 60-vote mark, their logical and possibly their only ally, Maine's Olympia Snowe. She worked with Democrats on a compromise in the Senate Finance Committee earlier this year. Snowe supports a public option with a trigger, a government-run insurance plan that kicks in only if private insurers fail to provide accessible and affordable coverage.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Olympia Snowe would very likely come on if the trigger was reinstituted or made part of the bill. And so we could be returning to the trigger. And then, of course, we will see Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine really come back on to the scene and become a big player in this debate.
KEILAR: In addition to satisfying moderate Democrats, Democratic leaders also have the challenge of keeping liberal senators happy. For instance, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Ohio's Sherrod Brown are drawing their own line in the sand saying they want a public option. And even Roland Burris, the senator appointed to fill President Obama's vacated Senate seat, says he will vote only for a public option. He is not a political heavyweight. But his vote matters as much as any other, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brianna. The Republican Party is slamming what it calls President Obama's socialist agenda. And it's making a new demand of all GOP candidates. That and more with the best political team on television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Do you think this is a scandal, the position that he's taken regarding health care and having people be able to have access to abortion? Do you consider that a scandalous issue?
REV. THOMAS TOBIN, BISHOP OF PROVIDENCE: Absolutely, not so much his position on health care because he supports health care reform as the bishops do. But because of his longstanding support of abortion, that is a scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The Roman Catholic bishop of Providence in THE SITUATION ROOM. It was just the last hour, talking about his decision to bar Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy from taking communion because of his support for abortion rights.
And abortion, of course, just one of the issues where battle lines are already being drawn as the Senate prepares to move forward with health care reform legislation. I want to bring in the best political team on television, our CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN's Joe Johns, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala and CNN contributor, David Brodie, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Let's think about this as Thanksgiving dinner. We're a family. We all get to argue and take on these issues.
DAVID BRODIE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nice table.
MALVEAUX: Yes, let's start off.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We're watching football.
MALVEAUX: And politics, of course. Let's take on Harry Reid. Obviously he brokered the move forward to at least allow this debate to continue. But he really does seem to be threading the needing, if you will. Lots of things to go through -- abortion language, the public option. Paul, let's start with you. Just jump in there. What does he have to do to close this deal?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: If this were a football team, Texas beating Texas A&M, for example, which is what happens in my house on Thanksgiving, he'd be our MVP. He would be the Democrat's Heisman Trophy winner. It's extraordinary what he has been able to do. He's met all the president's principles on health care reform, most importantly trying to keep costs down and cover everybody. Covering 96 percent of Americans and the same bill is the largest deficit reduction package that's been proposed in 12 years. So he deserves enormous amount of credit. It's almost impossible to do what he's doing. But look, so far, so good. When you get 60 out of 60, you're doing pretty good.
BORGER: Now's the hard part. I mean honestly, he got those 60 votes to get a debate. Now that you're going to have to get a bill out of the Senate, some of those votes are going to shift because a lot of people don't like the public option, including four of his own folks. And so if he's going to go looking for a couple of moderate Republican, he may lose his Democrats. We keep joking about this, but it's like whack-a-mole, right? You get somebody to support you on the public option and you lose someone.
BRODIE: Well and I also think with Harry Reid, he's like kind of Frankenstein in that, he's kind of making concoction potions. He has to keep going back to the drawing board to figure out what is the right combination here exactly? And look, this is a numbers game. He needs 60. He's going to lose Lieberman and Nelson if there's any sort of public option. He's going to look at Olympia Snowe and maybe Susan Collins to maybe get to 60. But then if he's going to look to them, he's got to go with potentially a trigger option. So this thing is going to be watered down, to a degree. And the question is just how watered down is it going to be?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: He's got a race back home, too. And that's another thing that people are really not thinking about. He's had a lot of close races, that's the first point. The other point, I think, though is that he's clearly a little worried, talking to his staff today, about Independents back home in Nevada. He's got people on the left who seem to be supporting him on the public option. But it's the Independents that he's worried about. So he's already started campaigning and so on to try to assuage those people as we move closer and closer.
BORGER: And independent voters care about the cost of this. And the White House says that their proposal brings the deficit down about $130 billion over 10 years. But Republicans unanimously are saying, no, this is big government. It's going to bust the budget and don't believe those guys. And those Independent voters, so far, seem to be very skeptical on the question of the deficit.
MALVEAUX: And I've talked to senior administration officials about this. It's been a really delicate balancing act in terms of how the president gets involved here. But there was one, Congressman Lynn Woolsey who said should he get more involved? Here's how the Democrat responded. He said, "Now is the time for him. He said he didn't support the Stupak abortion language, and it made a difference coming out of the Senate. We are hoping because we are his base, along with 78 percent of the public who want a public option, we want him to step up now."
Does the president need to be more active in this debate? BEGALA: Well, sure. And he will be. The thing is, it's hard to argue with success. Right now, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, have pushed this boulder up a higher part of the mountain than anyone else. One of my friends in the White House said we feel like we're maybe at base camp three or something on the way up to the top of Mt. Everest. But yes, there are some of those people -- I think someone, maybe David mentioned and Gloria, some of these conservative moderate Democrats, who a little presidential persuasion could help with. And also perhaps some of these Republicans. And he campaigned reaching out across the aisle. He can do that now.
MALVEAUX: Here's how the RNC is moving into the debate here. They're circulating this new resolution. It calls on party members to stand up to President Obama's what they call socialist ways. It says that "Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies and Republican solidarity in opposition to Obama's socialist agenda is necessary to preserve the security of our country, our economy and political freedoms, and our way of life."
BORGER: Well, that's their base. They're playing their base. And Lynn Woolsey is the Democratic base. The question is whether Barack Obama decides that he's got to play to his Democratic base. At some point, look, this is the Republican strategy. Solidarity in opposition, betting on a different side, believing this is an unpopular bill that will only become more unpopular with time.
BRODIE: But let me just say real quick, I think we saw a couple of -- what are President Obama's nonnegotiables? And I think when the Stupak language came out, we saw that the abortion language that passed in the House was a nonnegotiable for this president. He said, I'm not going to have anything of that.
Having said that, the government-run public option, well that has not been a nonnegotiable for him. He has not drawn a line in the sand in this. So the congresswoman from California who wants him to come out and say, 78 percent of the public support this, the president's saying no way because he knows that that may not --
BORGER: He's going to get beat on it.
BRODIE: At some point, possibly.
MALVEAUX: You think, Gloria? You think he's going to get beat on it?
BORGER: I think he'll give on the public -- he's going to have to give on the public option. And he made the point in his speech to Congress that it's what he prefers, but he doesn't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good in getting something through.
JOHNS: That takes you right to that socialist question. That's been used again and again and again. And right now, we've got liberals asking, hey, wait a minute, is this guy really one of us? The president may be called socialist it and may be useful to be used by the right. But when you look at them, they threw out the socialist option in the health care first thing. And that was single payer. MALVEAUX: I have to leave it there, guys, sorry.
BRODIE: We've got more to say.
MALVEAUX: We're going to continue this. Days and days, we've got all week to handle this. I'm going to straight to John Roberts, who's in New York.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, thanks so much. And coming up at the top of the hour on "CNN TONIGHT," President Obama and his war council meeting for the last time this evening. A new war strategy for Afghanistan is expected next week. Now some Democrats in Congress want to pay for any troop surge with new taxes. And it's not just Afghanistan. Expensive health care plans in the House and Senate are packed with new taxes, $370 billion for the Senate bill alone.
Some people in this country could end up paying more than 60 percent of their income to the government. Is it all just too much? Do Americans have a breaking point when it comes to taxes? Please join us for all that and more coming your way at the top of the hour. Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: All right, looking forward to it, John, thanks.
Well, she has taken a beating in some polls. But Sarah Palin gets a boost ahead of a visit to Iowa. On our "Political Ticker," how Palin rates to other key Republicans there.
MALVEAUX: This just in, new details about that massive crib recall that we told you about here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to go directly to Alina Cho. She's been standing by with those details. Alina, what can you tell us?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. A new announcement just came in from the Consumer Products Safety Commission. We now have the make of the cribs, 2.1 million drop-side baby cribs made by the Stork Craft company are being recalled. About 150,000 of these cribs were sold under the very popular Fisher Price logo. There are apparently problems with the drop side of the crib which can, can result in enough space between the crib and the mattress for an infant or toddler to be trapped. And of course, that could lead to suffocation.
Now, parents are being advised to find an alternative safe sleeping environment for their children and contact the company for more information. And for that contact info, you can go to the Web site, that is storkcraft.com. And again, Suzanne, we're talking about 2.1 million drop-side cribs, incredible, 110 incidents and parents are being urged not to use any cribs with missing, broken or loose parts. Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: All right, Alina, thank you so much.
I want to go straight to Jessica Yellin with the "Political Ticker." Hey, Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne. Well, there's more heartburn for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. This time, it's not about his love affair. He has been charged by a state ethics commission of splurging on himself at taxpayer expense. Among the allegations, he's accused of buying business class tickets with public money, using state-owned planes nine times for personal or political use, and 10 times of reimbursing himself with campaign cash. All no- nos.
This was from a politician who made his name as a fiscal conservative. In fact, he was so opposed to government spending, he tried to refuse stimulus dollars to help his cash-strapped state. Now Sanford's attorney says these are all technical matters that can be easily explained.
Well, Palin wows Iowa. It certainly seems early for that political headline, but in two weeks, Sarah Palin's book tour travels to Iowa and the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate should expect a warm welcome from Republicans in Iowa. A new "Des Moines Register" poll shows 68 percent of Iowa's Republicans view Palin favorably. She's virtually tied in the poll with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses and Palin's pulling ahead of other potential GOP presidential hopefuls, including Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
And this was the fun one. Seems we can't get enough of Rod Blagojevich's hair and hair jokes, can we? The Illinois governor who was famous for his well groomed and very full head of hair before he became notorious for the corruption scandal that forced him to resign is now becoming a symbol of corruption himself. A Republican candidate for governor is using the Blagojevich hair and the scandal in his latest ad. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where has Springfield's culture of the hair, corruption, and spending left Illinois? Facing bankruptcy, with an $11 billion deficit growing $30 million each day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: All right. Andy McKenna is running against the man who replaced Blagojevich as governor, Democrat Pat Quinn. The McKenna campaign plans to air the new ad across Illinois. It's a new day, Suzanne, when Blagojevich's hair stands for a need for change.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Jessica. I want to go straight to Jack Cafferty. Jack?
CAFFERTY: Is it necessary to run a story about a guy with a full head of hair right as a lead-in to me?
MALVEAUX: Oh, that was unintentional.
CAFFERTY: Just an accident, I know. The question, should additional taxes be levied against wealthy Americans to pay for more troops in Afghanistan?
Bill in Mexico, "I just saw the question about taxing the rich to pay for additional troops. That's fine with me. But I would prefer to tax those who are in favor of sending more troops."
Nancy says, "Is this the new catch phrase for 2009, tax the wealthy? I'm not wealthy and I'm beginning to get scared for this group of people. If we tax them for everything they have suggested, they will no longer be in the high income bracket. We're not trying to spread the wealth around, we're spreading poverty."
Kevin in Chicago, "Sure, why not? I would be in the tax bracket that would be exposed to the so-called war tax and I don't have an issue with ensuring the security of our nation."
Hansen in Canada, "If each decision to go to war included a tax increase to pay for it, there would be a lot fewer wars."
Jeff in Hawaii, "No, the rich should not be taxed for the war in Afghanistan. All of us Americans ought to do our fair share, from the poorest to the wealthiest. Why doesn't the government try selling war bonds or placing a value-add tax on all goods and service? Our troops deserve the best from all of us, not just our elite."
Brad in Memphis, Tennessee, "It's two separate questions. Yes, the wealthy should pay more taxes. No, we don't need anymore useless deaths in Afghanistan."
Jack writes, "No way, if you keep taxing the people, rich or poor, you will have another Boston Tea Party and believe me, it's coming."
And Adrienne says, "A resounding yes. The rich run this country. If there's a sacrifice to be made by them, the war will come to a screeching halt and it's about time."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Suzanne, I'll see you tomorrow.
MALVEAUX: See you tomorrow, Jack, thanks. And for our most unusual moment, we've got Jeanne Moos coming up next.
MALVEAUX: One bank robbery suspect's paper trail that led straight to his stomach. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's no picnic dining on the hood of a police car. Maybe you've seen the alleged bank robber eating what police believe was a hold-up note saying, "Give me the money or I'll shoot." You may have seen it, but the Twinsburg, Ohio, police checking for weapons didn't see it, until police from the city where the bank was robbed called. SGT. GREG FETETIK, TWINSBURG POLICE (on phone): They contacted our department and said, hey, by the way, did you guys find a note? And that's when the officers were checking their dash cam video and, well, there's this guy eating the white piece of paper.
MOOS: But eating the evidence is nothing new. Whatever this lady is eating in a Chinese courtroom, at least she had the sense to wash it down. The most common thing suspects eat seems to be pot, as seen on this episode of "Cops."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see what's in your mouth again real quick, please? Can you just open your mouth? What is that? What's in that? Just spit it out, it's OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ate the plastic and everything.
MOOS: And then there was this North Carolina teenager, who at least ate appetizing evidence after allegedly trying to rob a store. Police say the suspect used a banana stuck under his shirt to simulate a gun and then the owner and a customer jumped the suspect and sat him down to hold him until police came. But before they arrived --
BARRY MABE, HELPED STOP ROBBER: The boy pulls his banana out, peels it and eats it. So he had eat the evidence.
MOOS: But not all of it. He couldn't eat the peel, so police photographed it as evidence. Sometimes evidence eaten isn't the main course. Police in the bank robbery case say they still have surveillance pictures and money found in the car with an exploded guy pack and a gun. So they don't have to sit around and wait for the guy to pass the note?
FETETIK: No, I don't think so. And I don't know if we'd get anybody to volunteer for that job.
MOOS: At least a note is low in calories, high in fiber. Jeanne Moos, CNN -- maybe he didn't have any breakfast.
FETETIK: that could be.
MOOS: New York.
MALVEAUX: I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."