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President Obama Accepts Nobel Peace Prize; Americans Arrested in Pakistan; Interview With Tom Friedman

Aired December 10, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama tells the Nobel Committee he can wage war and promote peace. The commander in chief accepts his prize and addresses the controversy surrounding him.

Five young American Muslims behind bars in Pakistan right now, they're being questioned by U.S. investigators. Were they plotting acts of terror? This hour, we have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on the suspects and their possible links to extremists.

Our White House correspondent snags a rare interview with an internationally known power couple. We are not talking about the Obamas. We are talking about the Smiths, Will and Jada. The Hollywood stars are funny, engaging and they're rubbing elbows with global movers and shakers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama stood before the Nobel Committee in Norway today knowing he couldn't ignore the wars being fought at that very moment in Iraq and Afghanistan. He accepted his Peace Prize not so much as an honor for what he has done, but rather as recognition of what he's hoping to achieve.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president. She's joining us now live from Oslo, Norway.

How did it go, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there was a lot of anticipation, excitement, as well as controversy around Barack Obama's visit here. But the president faced all of it. He said that this is not about winning a popularity contest, but rather serving U.S. interests, and also trying to be a force of good around the world.

Now, he says, if he can be successful at that, perhaps some of the criticism will subside, but that is not his main concern.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, careful to show humility.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight.

MALVEAUX: Responding to the critics both at home and abroad.

OBAMA: I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

MALVEAUX: He is a reluctant wartime president being recognized for peace.

OBAMA: Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander in chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.

MALVEAUX: But President Obama made no apologies for ordering 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan just days ago. Accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, he said war is sometimes justified.

OBAMA: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history.

MALVEAUX: With that, President Obama warned that the world must respond to the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran and address global warming.

It was a day of protests, street theater, and pageantry. Earlier in the day, the Obamas visited Norway's king and queen, along with the prime minister and his wife. They signed the Nobel book. Later anti- war demonstrators and Obama's supporters mixed during a traditional torchlight parade, before attending an elegant banquet and behind bulletproof glass.

The president and first lady emerged from their hotel balcony, acknowledging the waiting crowd.


MALVEAUX: Now, President Obama said he wrote inside the Nobel book that he was thankful to the Nobel Committee for actually providing a sense of history, as well as Martin Luther King. He says, when he won his prize, it really galvanized the world, made him a stronger leader at home.

Wolf, that's certainly something that President Obama hopes this will do for himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, he's heading home pretty soon, right? Has he already left, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: He hasn't left yet. He's actually going to be overnighting here, and then he's going to be greeting some of the folks at the embassy. And then we will be all up wheels up fairly shortly.


MALVEAUX: But it is a 24-hour trip, Wolf, so it's fairly soon.

BLITZER: A fast trip, indeed. All right, Suzanne, thank you.

President Obama, by the way, is the fourth U.S. president to win a Nobel Prize, the third to accept the award while in office. President Theodore Roosevelt won it back in 1906 for drawing up a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. President Woodrow Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for creating the League of Nations, a precursor to the U.N. Jimmy Carter was awarded the Peace Prize back in 2002, more than two decades after he had left the White House. He was honored for his longtime work to resolve international conflicts and to promote human rights and democracy.

The Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Tom Friedman of "The New York Times" tells me, the president got in someone's face during his Nobel speech. Stand by for my interview with Tom Friedman on the Peace Prize, the Afghanistan troop surge, and a lot more.

Let's get to the arrests now of five Muslim Americans at a home in Pakistan accused by local police of plotting terrorist acts. The FBI now confirms they're the same men reported missing from here in the Washington, D.C., area.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has the latest on what's going on in this investigation.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the five men from Northern Virginia told the Pakistani Embassy here in Washington that they needed visas to attend a marriage ceremony of a friend and sightsee.

But authorities are still trying to determine if their actual intent was terrorism.


MESERVE (voice-over): Behind bars in this jail in Pakistan, five young American Muslim men. State Department and FBI representatives have now met with some of them. And a law enforcement official says there are indications some may cooperate with law enforcement.

P.J. CROWLEY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Right now, you know, they're in Pakistani custody. And -- and we are gathering information about -- you know, why they were there, who they were in the company of, and the implications of that. We have reached no conclusions on that.

MESERVE: Pakistani authorities say the Americans used YouTube to make contact with Pakistani radicals and communicated using drafts of e- mails to avoid sending messages on the Internet.

Computers, jihadi literature, and maps highlighting areas of Pakistan where terrorists have been active were all seized at the house where the five were arrested, according to the Pakistanis. Ramy Zamzam, seen here on Facebook, went to Howard. Investigators are checking that out, and George Mason University, where Umar Farooq, another of the Americans, went to school, also a mosque in Northern Virginia where several of the men worshipped.

Authorities have to reconstruct the men's history, since none of them had come to the attention of law enforcement before their parents reported them missing.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's missing is knowing who they were talking to, who they were meeting with, what e-mail traffic was being sent at the time they were still in the United States.


MESERVE: Though Pakistani officials say they were intent on committing terrorist acts and made contact with two terror groups, U.S. officials are being much more cautious. Law enforcement says the investigation is still young, and it is too early to know what the Americans were doing in Pakistan and who they were in contact with.

U.S. officials say that they are in discussion with Pakistani authorities about returning the men to the United States. As of now, they have not been charged with any crime in either country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. I know we are going to have more on this story coming up later. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, here we go again.

Five Transportation Security Administration employees are now on administrative leave, after a sensitive airport security manual was posted on the Internet. Hear's a little bit of what was revealed in that posting, who is exempt from certain additional screening measures, examples of identification documents that are acceptable to the screeners, and details of the screening process, as well as the limitations of those X-ray machines.

Now, this comes along weeks after three Secret Service officers were put on leave while that agency investigates how it allowed those two morons to crash a White House state dinner. Government employees who are found compromising national security are placed on administrative leave.

Gee, give me some of that. They sit home, do nothing, and continue to collect their paychecks. That's some punishment. We have 10 percent unemployment in this country, and, yet, try firing a government employee for anything short of a felony conviction. Can't be done. They are protected. They know it. And, as a result, sometimes, they just don't try very hard.

Look around anywhere, from your local city hall all the way to Washington. Government is rife with complacency, inefficiency and, in some cases, arrogance and downright contempt. I would be willing to bet that some of the 16 million unemployed would jump at the chance to get one of those jobs and would approach it with a little more enthusiasm and professionalism.

Here's the question. Are government workers at every level accountable enough? Go to Post a comment on my blog. Now, here is a hint: No, they're not.

BLITZER: I'm sure you will get e-mail from government workers. See what they have to say, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I have already gotten some. And -- and, surprisingly, a good number of those letters absolutely agree with what I just said.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's a good point.

All right, Jack, thank you.

A lot of heavy lifting on Capitol Hill right now over health care reform: the top House Republican wheeling out his complaints about the massive legislation. That may not surprise you. But today's comments by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, might. Stand by for that.

And we will meet a deer -- yes, a deer -- who is living a rather good life in Ohio. You will be amazed.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, Democrats are nervously watching each small step as a potential major step towards health care reform, the latest, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, potentially softening rather dramatically, softening her position on something she was previously very firm on. Could health care reform be even closer a hand?

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got the latest.

What is the latest, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that the Senate, of course, Democrats, they still have this tentative -- it is tentative, but tentative agreement to drop a public option from their health care bill.

So, I asked the House speaker about one of many of her past quotes, one of them that there is no way -- this is what she said -- "There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option."

So, I asked her if that still stands. And she basically said no.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We believe -- we in the House believe the public option was the best way to hold the insurance companies honest, to keep them honest, and also to increase competition. If you have a better way, put it on the table. As soon as we see something in writing from the Senate, we will be able to make a judgment.


BASH: Now, as the House speaker, who, as you can tell there, is suffering from laryngitis, as she opened the door to the House potentially passing a health care bill without a public option, she listed some criteria, including affordability for the middle class and accountability for insurance companies.

But she was surprisingly positive, Wolf, in her tone, not just about what the Senate is doing, but also about when the Congress can actually pass a health care bill. She even suggested that it is possible to give the president what he wants, which is a health care bill by Christmas.

BLITZER: Dana, the problem that the speaker might have, even if she is willing to give up on a public option, at least until now, there have been so many other liberals or progressives who have said, for them, this is an absolute essential ingredient. Without a public option, they are going to vote against it.

What's going on?

BASH: Absolutely. So many members of the House, the Progressive Caucus, as they call themselves, a very powerful group of liberal Democrats, have sent letter after letter saying they will vote no on anything if it doesn't have a public option in it.

So, I spent some time talking to several members of the Progressive Caucus, liberals. And while many, in fact, all of them, said they were very concerned about it, most said that they were leaving the door open to considering a health care bill without that public option.


REP. NYDIA VELAZQUEZ (D), NEW YORK: The insurance industry needs to have that type of competition. And I don't know if what they are offering will provide not only the competition that is needed in order -- in order to bring down the skyrocketing costs of the health care, but the savings that are necessary.

BASH: Do you think it is possible to achieve what you just described without a public option?

VELAZQUEZ: I doubt it.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And whatever we will get this year -- and I was for a single-payer, but I -- I know reality.

BASH: You were a single -- you're are a single-payer guy, and you know the reality, and the reality is that the votes are such that you are going to have to live without a public option, likely?

COHEN: That is what appears to be. And I don't -- while I won't like it, I'm not going that make me kill the program and kill the improvements that are in it.


BASH: Now, one thing that I found very interesting that that congressman there, Steve Cohen, and others said, Jerry Nadler of New York, is that they see what the Senate is considering -- and that is to make Medicare available, at least to buy into it, for people age 55 to 64 -- they say that see that as a public option, because it is the expansion of a government program.

And so we are starting to hear some liberals talk about that and the fact that they understand the reality. So, another quick thing that we are hearing is they are saying that it doesn't matter what you call it. It just matters whether or not it achieves the same goals, affordability and competition for private insurance companies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It sounds like the Democrats will take whatever they can get, as long as it is health care reform.

BASH: They are moving that way. Sounds like it.

BLITZER: All right. Yes. All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates goes to Iraq, but Iraq's prime minister did not have enough time to meet with him. What's going on? Urgent matters of death and security caused the prime minister, they say, to cancel a meeting with the defense secretary.

And after a plane crash where pilot fatigue might have played a role, lawmakers want to know this. Why doesn't the FAA have rules to stop pilots from flying when they are tired?


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Iraq's prime minister has canceled the planned meeting with visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after a series of bombings in Baghdad. Instead, Nouri al-Maliki met with Iraqi lawmakers who had summoned him to discuss Tuesday's attacks. At least 127 people were killed and more than 400 wounded. Gates says he in no way considers -- considers the missed meeting a snub.

And pilot fatigue was at issue on Capitol Hill today in the wake of that Buffalo crash, you remember, that killed 50 people last February. Senators demanded that FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt explain why the agency wasn't working faster on new rules that would prevent pilots from flying when they are too tired. Babbitt says the FAA needs more time. The families of those killed want the rules changed.

And portions of New York, Pennsylvania, and New England will likely be the final stops for that massive winter storm that's barrelled through most of the country. The storm could dump up to a foot of snow on these areas, before leaving the Maine coast tonight. Parts of the Midwest are still battling single-digit temperatures and severe wind chills. Seventeen people have died in the storm.

And, well, when you think family pet, you probably think cat or dog, definitely not deer. But meet Dillie. She lives with the Butera family in Ohio. She walks up stairs, eats homemade meals, including her favorites, ice cream and spaghetti, and even has her own room. Dillie is also potty-trained. She was brought to Melanie Butera's veterinary clinic more than five years ago barely alive. She was nursed back to health and has been with the family ever since.

I don't know about you, Wolf, but I definitely want to see this deer go catch -- or play catch or roll over something, whatever deer do.


BLITZER: I -- I guess the veterinarian knows what she is doing, let's hope.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.


FEYERICK: Exactly. Looks good.

BLITZER: All right, Deb, thank you.

A noted foreign policy expert is against the U.S. sending more troops to Afghanistan. We are talking about the Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman. He is here to explain why on that and more.

And meet President Obama and his wife. We are not talking about the real president. We are talking about the actor Will Smith, who President Obama previously said he would want to play him in a movie. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith in Norway for the Nobel ceremony, wait until you see their rather funny interview with CNN.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: troubling questions, as five Muslim Americans are arrested in Pakistan, accused plotting terror acts. Are young Muslims becoming radicalized? And how many Americans could be training for jihad in Pakistan or elsewhere now?

They're among the hottest items for holiday shoppers this year, but we have information you need to know about potential hidden costs of those flat-screen TVs.

And U.S. researchers vs. Russia -- scientists right now at odds over new findings about part of a skull and jawbone said to be Hitler's.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get back to our top story this hour.

President Obama is promising to use his Nobel Peace Prize to help make the world what it ought to be. He accepted the award in Oslo, Norway, acknowledging the apparent conflict of being hailed as a peacemaker even as he orders more U.S. troops to wage war in Afghanistan.



OBAMA: Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.



BLITZER: That was one of the few times the president was actually applauded during his Nobel acceptance speech, interrupted during the speech for applause.

Let's talk about this and more with "The New York Times" columnist and author Thomas Friedman. His book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America" is now out in a new paperback version.

We will talk about that shortly. Tom, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: In that clip we just heard from the president, sort of implicitly criticized the former President Bush for -- quote -- "torture and Gitmo," and seemed, at least a lot of analysts probably will conclude, once again implicitly apologizing for those policies.

Is it appropriate to do that abroad?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I don't know that it was particularly an apology, Wolf.

The president, remember, made this same statement when he took the oath of office. You know, it is a clear differentiation that he is trying to make. And you certainly would want our president to say we intend to uphold the highest standards in the world.

What actually struck me about the speech was, that was counterbalanced with the fact, several lines the Europeans didn't applaud for at all, which is, we expect you to join us in this long struggle to defend and expand freedom around the world, number one, and that you have got to understand that, sometimes, fighting a war is actually the best way, in the long term, to uphold peace.

So, I would say he got in their face as well.


BLITZER: You liked -- you liked that part, when he got in their face?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I'm for getting into the Europeans' face, because, you know, they all love Obama and whatnot. And I love the fact they love our guy. Love your love, but show me the money, baby.


FRIEDMAN: Show me the troops. Show me the commitment. Show me you are ready to fight. Love your love, but show me the money.

BLITZER: But you still have a problem with his new strategy of sending in an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. And you have written about it.


Well, Wolf, you know, this was a very hard call for the president. I have great respect for that. This is a really difficult problem. My concern about it is that I do really not believe -- I don't really believe we have the Afghan partners to succeed in this mission. And I think to get those partners will require nation-building Afghanistan.

And, at a time, Wolf, when we so desperately need nation-building in America, doubling down there strikes me as not particularly wise right now.

BLITZER: What should he have done?

FRIEDMAN: I would have basically kept the footprint where it is, if not smaller, worked with Afghan tribes, try to confine myself to building maybe some model areas in the country, and simply limit our exposure there, not go for the grand slam.

BLITZER: Because General McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned doing -- without that escalation, it would have been -- it would have set the course for defeat.

FRIEDMAN: Well, and he also warned that with escalation, this could be a 10-year struggle. And Wolf, can we really afford it?

Wolf, you know, we're like two unemployed -- we're like an unemployed couple with an overdue mortgage adopting a special-needs baby. That's what we are doing in Afghanistan. Can we really afford that? We live in a world of choices now. Yes, I know the ideal thing, according to the generals, was put in 80,000 troops. That may be the ideal thing, but maybe we can't afford to do the ideal thing on every front in the world today. We have to make choices. That was my argument.

BLITZER: But is the war in Iraq definitely going to result in a positive ending for the U.S., all the sacrifice the U.S. made there?

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, no one can predict the outcome there. But look what's going on there.

They have finally agreed on their own, you know, to have their next round of elections. You're going to parties in Iraq contending multiethnic, multisectarian parties for the first time, free and fair election in the heart of the Arab Muslim world.

That's a big deal. That will resonate. That will have an influence in the region.

If we make Afghanistan into Norway tomorrow, it doesn't resonate. It doesn't radiate.

And so, one can only hope Iraq will turn out decently. It's going to be like that, but at least it's moving forward. And the best sign that it's moving forward is the bad guys keep trying to murder the process there.

BLITZER: Let's talk about "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and global warming, this conference that's under way in Copenhagen right now. The release of these e-mails, what's called Climategate, how much damage does that do to those who say man does have the significant role in global warming and this whole debate takes a new twist as a result of that?

FRIEDMAN: Well, clearly, the skeptics and deniers are trying to use these e-mails to say all the research is wrong. Let's see, all the research from all the research centers in the world, built up over 50 years is wrong because a couple of climate scientists talking to each other in private, you know, based on statements that they probably wished they had rephrased? Sorry, Wolf. I don't buy it.

BLITZER: But you, yourself, wrote in your column the other day that they shouldn't have done it, those scientists.


FRIEDMAN: I'm disappointed with the language they used. I'm sure if they could redo it now, if they knew they were speaking in public, they would write it differently.

I'm not focused on them, Wolf. I'm focused on the fact that we know for the last 1,000 years, OK, that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has stayed steady. We also know since the Industrial Revolution, it suddenly spiked. And with that spike has been a spike in global average temperatures.

We know that. OK? We know that from multiple sources.

And by the way, Wolf, you know who's not debating this nonsense at all? China. China is not debating this at all.

They know their glaciers are melting. They know something is happening. And you know what they're trying to do? They are trying to clean our clock in solar, wind, cellulosic, because they know it's happening.

They are not caught up in this idiot debate. And that's where we should be.

BLITZER: When you say idiot debate -- because the former vice president, Al Gore, he refers to those who question global warming as global warming deniers, as if they are Holocaust deniers, if you will, and they really have no place at the table. Do these scientists who are skeptics have a place at the table?

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, absolutely. What they need to do is put forward a counter thesis to the vast body of scientific research that says basically the greenhouse blanket around the Earth is getting thicker with greenhouse gases, it's trapping more heat, it's going to raise average temperatures.

What we don't know -- what we don't know is exactly how fast that will happen, when the red lines will come, what the climate might do to naturally bounce. We don't know any of that, Wolf.

But you know what I do when I face a problem that is irreversible -- that gas stays there for a long time, Wolf -- when I face a problem that's irreversible and has a potentially catastrophic outcome, you know what I do, Wolf? I buy insurance. That's what the whole climate strategy is about, what those of us care about climate changes is about is let's buy a little insurance, because if we're right, OK, we are really headed for trouble.

BLITZER: Obama, from your perspective, talks a good game. But is he doing enough?

FRIEDMAN: I think he is off to a very good start. I still think we need to have a price on carbon that would trigger mass innovation in green technology.

BLITZER: Can the U.S. economy afford that right now?

FRIEDMAN: Well, can we afford $5, $6 gallon gasoline? Because that's where we're headed if we don't do anything else.

BLITZER: So you have no doubt about any of this?

FRIEDMAN: I have no doubt that we need to do something. I have many -- I don't know any better than anybody else what -- exactly when, you know, the problem might hit.

It's all about the odds, Wolf. It's all about the odds. When I heard the odds were 90 percent if I smoked I would get cancer, I said, you know what? I don't think that's a very good idea. Well, the world is smoking now.

We don't know when, how it will hit, what could counterbalance, but I like to buy insurance when I see a problem like that.

BLITZER: Gore speaks of five, 10, 15 years before those polar icecaps melt. Are you with him on that?

FRIEDMAN: I have no idea. I'm not a climate scientist.

All I know is this, Wolf -- the world is enveloped in a greenhouse blanket. We know that's what regulates the climate and the weather on the Earth so it makes it habitable.

We are making that thicker with greenhouse gases. As we do, we will trap more heat. As we trap more heat, average temperatures will rise and more ice will melt.

When, how fast? I don't really know. All I know is if that reaches an irreversible process that ends in catastrophe, we are a bad biological experiment. And therefore, Wolf, I would like to buy a little insurance.

BLITZER: Insurance is always good.

Thanks very much, Tom Friedman, for coming in.

The book is entitled "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America." It was a huge bestseller hardcover. It's now out in paperback. I'm sure it will be a big bestseller as well.

Thanks very much.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it. Thank you.


BLITZER: Americans arrested in Pakistan leaving a trail of evidence inside the home where they were nabbed. We're going to bring you in exclusive look inside that home and new information on the terror investigation.

And are government workers responsible for airline security being held accountable when things go wrong? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

And just in time for the Nobel Prize ceremony, guess what? A UFO over Norway.


BLITZER: Look at this picture of the U.S. Capitol as the sun goes down. I love this picture of Washington, D.C. Take a look. And as you look, let's move on though.


BLITZER: Raise your hand if you answer yes to this question: Would a pending health care reform bill raise your taxes if it becomes law? There's a surprising response in a new poll.

President Obama and the actor who could one day play him in a movie. We're talking about Will Smith. Will Smith and his wife are in Norway for the Nobel ceremony. The Hollywood power couple gives a rather funny interview to CNN.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. But make no mistake, evil does exist in the world.


BLITZER: The president of the United States accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, earlier in the day.

Let's talk about that and more with Donna Brazile -- she's our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist -- and Republican strategist, former Bush White House official, Ed Gillespie.

A lot of your colleagues from the Bush administration are praising the president's speech today, Ed, thinking it was well done. Maybe a couple nuances here and there they weren't crazy about, but, all in all, they liked it.

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Wolf, I think it was good that the president did acknowledge that there is evil at play in the world. And, in fact, it is the responsibility of our commander-in-chief to stand strong in the face of it when it poses a threat to Americans, as the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan do. So I supported that aspect of the speech, I supported his, as many of my, as you noted, fellow Bush alumni did as well in his stand for more troops in Afghanistan.

Had some concerns. I think it would have been nice to mention the valor of our troops in Iraq and the success there as well, because that's important, and some other things. But I think by and large, the president gave a thoughtful speech and one that made some important bright lines.

BLITZER: Because George W. Bush, if you go back to his State of the Union Address in 2002, Donna, listen to this little clip, because it's very similar, at least in terms of the tone, the nature of what the president wanted to convey today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.


BLITZER: President Obama made the case for a just war today, even while receiving the peace prize.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I thought this was -- I thought his speech was very inspiring. I also thought that he acknowledged that his prize was not just for past achievements, but also it was a call to action. And the president made it very clear that we face some difficult times ahead, especially with regards to Iran and North Korea and their nuclear ambitions.

So I thought this was a forward-thinking speech. And if this speech had been written for George Bush, I don't know if he could have given this speech given the lack of credibility that his administration had with some world leaders after we invaded Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Ed Gillespie.

Because you worked with President Bush. With the exception of what the president said on "torture" or Gitmo, could President Bush have delivered this basically same speech today?

GILLESPIE: Well, I think some elements of it did track with -- what President Obama said today did track with points that President Bush made earlier in his presidency. Obviously I disagree with the president of the United States implying that the United States has engaged in torture. That is not the case.

And to donna's point, you know, I would just have to point out that President Bush, obviously, along with other leaders from the United Kingdom, the United Nation, many other places, did believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of that in terms of the credibility of that intelligence -- we have gone back and revisited it that many times -- the success in Iraq today that we see and a stable, democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is a benefit to not only the United States in terms of our national security interests, but the region.

BLITZER: Let me -- Donna, go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well, look at the price we paid for taking our eyes off of Afghanistan, the fact that we have to send in additional troops to stabilize that situation. So I think -- and going forward, this president has chosen a different path. He's chosen to not only restore America's leadership in the world, but to also renew ties and alliances with important allies that will be very helpful long term in defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Let me move on and talk a little bit about this new poll, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Donna, I'll go to you first.

And it asks this question: "Would the U.S. Senate health care bill increase your taxes?" Eighty-five percent believe they would, only 14 percent say no.

Most Americans clearly, an overwhelming majority, believe that the Democrats want to raise your taxes.

BRAZILE: Well, I believe that the Senate bill, as well as the House bill, those bills are fiscally responsible. The CBO, which most people thought was nonpartisan, except now people are trying to say that they are not, but it basically said that this bill will save money long term. And I think that's the important thing.

The American people need to understand that for the vast majority of Americans, their taxes will not be raised. But instead, their premiums will be lowered. They will able to afford health care, especially for those Americans who are concerned right now about the rising costs of their own health care.

BLITZER: Whether or not it will or it won't, Ed, the same poll says -- we asked the question, "Would the Senate health care bill increase the budget deficit?" Seventy-nine percent believe it will. Despite what the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, estimates, only 19 percent say no.

So bottom line, Ed, the American public is very skeptical as far as taxes and deficits are concerned that they are going to be happy with this bill.

GILLESPIE: Wolf, on virtually every argument the Democrats have made in support of passing health care reform legislation, the public is on the other side whether it's the notion that this increase, this massive increase in federal spending is somehow going to reduce the deficit, whether it's whether or not passing it will help our economy rather than hurt it, whether it's your taxes are going to go up or down or your insurance premiums will go up or go down. Most Americans have concluded rightly, in my estimation, that this is going to be harmful to them and to our economy. And there is a correlation here, Wolf, with the Democrats insisting on moving a bill in the face of serious opposition from the American voters, to the fact that Republicans now enjoy for the first time since 2004 an advantage on the congressional generic balance.

BRAZILE: Ed, what you failed to acknowledge, that in 2003, when the Republicans rushed the Medicare prescription drug bill, a $700 billion bill, with no way to pay for it, they didn't ask the CBO for an analysis. They didn't figure out a way to pay for it.

We are now paying for that misguided policy. So I think it's important to understand that the American people need read up, find out what's in the bill, and not listen to the naysayers and those who have no alternatives to the status quo.

BLITZER: Donna, very quickly... GILLESPIE: The actual cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit has come in lower by about $250 billion over 10 years' time than was projected by the Congressional Budget Office.

BLITZER: We're not going to get into debate on the prescription drug...

BRAZILE: Well, we're ready for this argument tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll continue it.


GILLESPIE: That's a fact. Numbers are numbers.

BRAZILE: That's not true. That's not true.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much. We can continue this during the commercial break, guys. Thanks very much.

If there is ever a movie made about President Obama, he said he would like Will Smith to play him. What does the actor think about that?

Our Dan Lothian caught up with Will Smith and his wife Jada in Norway. Stand by.

And why you may want to think twice if you have a flat-screen TV on your holiday shopping list, or, at the very least, you may want to adjust the picture.


BLITZER: Look closely. One of them is internationally recognized, married to a famous woman with beautiful kids, rubs elbows with some of the world's most powerful. Come to think of it, that description fits both of them, President and Obama and Will Smith.

The president has previously said he would want the actor to play him in a movie. No word on that, but Smith did travel to Norway for the Nobel ceremony.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's joining us from Norway right now.

You caught up with Will Smith today, didn't you, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Will and his wife, Jada. You know, they are the Hollywood power couple, longtime supporters of President Barack Obama. They are here to take part in the concert tomorrow night, the Nobel concert.

You know, they have been -- they are really excited about being here. And I really asked them a number of questions about various different issues. But in particular, why was it so important for them to leave sunny southern California to come here to frigid Oslo to take part in this special event? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: It's a fantastic, historical event. You know, Barack Obama as a person is a fantastic individual, but Barack Obama as an idea marks an evolutionary flash point for humanity. You know? So it's something that we absolutely positively had to be a part of.

LOTHIAN: There has been a lot of criticism about the president getting this award when he essentially is still writing that script.

SMITH: Absolutely.

LOTHIAN: Is it a valid criticism, do you think, that he doesn't deserve this right now?

JADA PINKETT SMITH, ACTRESS: Well, all I can say is that our president has opened his arms to the world, and he has been a huge symbol of change himself. So I have to say that I was quite honored when he was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize.

W. SMITH: And they have been giving out that award for 100 and some years, so they get kind of good at picking...

J. SMITH: What they do.

LOTHIAN: I know the president has talked about it. If a movie is going to be made, he wants you to play Barack Obama.

W. SMITH: Now that I -- I can do that. Yes.

LOTHIAN: Is that going to happen?


W. SMITH: You know, that's what -- that's what it is. That's what it is.

It's like, you know, Americans historically have been attracted to the ears. You know? It's like Abraham Lincoln and...

J. SMITH: Oh, yes.

W. SMITH: ... you know, Goofy, Mickey Mouse.


LOTHIAN: So I'm hurting here, because I have small ears.

W. SMITH: Yes. Yes. It's like...

LOTHIAN: That's a bad thing?

W. SMITH: I mean, it's, like, the chicks don't dig that.


LOTHIAN: I'll have to tell my wife about that.


LOTHIAN: Wolf, the chicks just don't dig me.

Anyway, you know, he'll play the president on big screen but says he has no political aspiration. His wife Jada says that they are artists and they'd rather spend all of their time doing charity work.

BLITZER: Dan, for what it's worth, you have lovely, lovely ears. No doubt about that.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian covering the story for us.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: That's very creepy, talking about ears. It creeps me out.

The question this hour: Are government workers at every level accountable enough?

Doug in Dallas, "No, they're not, unless you count contempt as a virtue. They tend to treat the average American, their boss, as idiots and they act like they can do no wrong. And if they do, it's no big deal. I guess that comes from knowing you can't be fired. There is no accountability, so they just thumb their noses at us while we continue to pay them."

Chip writes from Ohio, "The saying 'close enough for government work' exists for a reason. You hit the nail on the head. You're right on the money as far as firing someone, too."

"Not all employees are lazy and inefficient, but a large enough percentage are. My dad worked in the government and was trying to fire someone he supervised. After about a year of paperwork and trying to build a federal case, he decided it would be easier to just let it go, wait three more years until the guy retired. Sad."

Paul says, "My father worked for the government for 35 years. He and his colleagues were competent, dedicated and enterprising. Jack, think how you worded your careless statement about government workers full of generalities and attacks."

Bill in Atlanta writes, "As we head more and more towards socialism, just keep in mind what great service you currently receive from all the government institutions and programs, and think how wonderful it will be when the government gets more involved in your life."

Barbara writes, "As one who worked for government for 25-plus years and saw the incompetence and lack of work ethic in too many of the employees who I worked alongside of, I can attest to the fact that they are overprotected from discipline and firing. They have more job protection than do union members."

And Dave writes, "Jack your TSA story illustrates exactly why we don't need a government-run health care system. It would just be filled with more unaccountable bureaucrats."

If you want to read more on the subject -- we got a lot of e-mail on this -- go to my blog,

Are you coming to New York tomorrow?

BLITZER: Yes, I am. I'll see you in New York.

CAFFERTY: Are you going to buy me dinner?


CAFFERTY: No you won't.

BLITZER: Not necessarily tomorrow. I'm busy after work tomorrow. Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.