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Journalist Thomas Friedman Offers His Thoughts On Obama's Peace Prize, His Afghan Strategy, And Climate Change

Aired December 12, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: The war president accepts his peace prize with a nod to his critics.

This hour, the backlash against Afghanistan troop surge. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman explains why he thinks the new policy is a mistake.

Could what's being called climate gate derail America's fight against global warming? U.S. lawmakers debate the science, the new skepticism and the scandal over the stolen e-mails.

And Congress green lights subpoenas for the White House party crashers. I'll ask presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett about the security breach and whether there is anything the White House is trying to hide.

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

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 new paperback version. We'll talk about that shortly.

Tom, thank you 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 the same statement when he took the oath of office. It is a clear differentiation that he's trying to make and you certainly would want our president to say we intend to uphold the high 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 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 like that part when he got in their face?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I'm for getting into the European's face, because they all love Obama and what not, and I love the fact that they love our guy, love, love, love, but show me the money, baby. Show me the troops. Show me the commitment. Show me you're ready to fight. Love your love, but show me the money.

BLITZER: You still have a problem with his new strategy of sending in additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and you've written about it.

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, this is 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, tried 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 set the course for defeat. FRIEDMAN: He also warned that with escalation this could be a 10-year struggle. And, Wolf, can we really afford it? We're like two unemployed, like an unemployed couple with an overdue mortgage adopting a special needs baby. That's what we're 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, you know, 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: 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: 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 see parties in Iraq contending multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian parties for 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, you know, will turn out decently. It is going to be like that. But least it is moving forward. And the best sign that it is 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 is under way in Copenhagen right now. The release of these e-mails what is called climate-gate, 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: Clearly the skeptics and deniers are trying to use these e- mails to say all the research is wrong. 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, made some 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 should have not -- they shouldn't have done it, those scientists.

FRIEDMAN: I'm disappointed. Yes, I'm disappointed with the language they used. I'm sure if they could redo it now, if they knew they were speaking to the public, they would write it differently. I'm not focused on them. I'm focused on the fact that we know for the last 1,000 years, OK, that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere 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.

By the way, you know who is not debating this nonsense at all, China. China is not debating this at all. They know the glaciers are melting. They know something is happening. You know what they are trying to do? They're trying to clean our clock in solar, wind, celluaracy (ph), because they know it is happening. They're 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're, you know, holocaust denier, 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 is trapping more heat. It is 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 balance? 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 is 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 who care about climate change is about, is let's buy a little insurance. If we're right, OK, we are really headed for trouble.

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

FRIEDMAN: I think he's 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 a gallon gasoline? Because that is 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 exactly when the problem might hit. It is all about the odds, Wolf. It is all about the odds. When I heard the odds were 90 percent if I smoke, I 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 would like to buy insurance when I see a problem like that.

BLITZER: Gore speaks a five, 10, 15 years before the polar ice caps 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 is what regulates the climate and weather on earth so it makes it inhabitable. We're 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're 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 best-seller in hardcover. It is now out in paperback. I'm sure it will be a big best-seller as well. Thanks very much.

FRIEDMAN: Appreciate it, thank you.

BLITZER: Congress is demanding answers from the White House party crashers. But is the Obama administration being completely open about the security breach? I'll ask the president's senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett. I'll ask her about the president's new jobs and stimulus plan as well and whether the bailout for Main Street ignores the ballooning deficit.

Plus, one lawmaker is calling climate-gate the worst scientific scandal of this generation. Just ahead, a debate over the impact of those stolen e-mail and the bigger picture for U.S. policy on global warming.



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADERS: This makes me so angry. I was there, all right? I know all about TARP. First it was never intended all this money would ever have to be spent. But any money that wasn't spent was to go to the deficit. And the idea of taking this money and spending it, is repulsive.


BLITZER: Let's go to the White House right now. Valerie Jarrett is the senior adviser to President Obama.

Repulsive, he says. He was there at the creation of TARP and he says there was never any notion that this TARP money, which was supposed to help the financial sector, would be used to try to do something else.

VALERIE JARRETT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, the whole point in helping the financial sector was to jump start the economy. And help bring down the unemployment rate. Let's face it, Wolf, we still have a 10 percent unemployment rate. And although certainly as a result of the president's bold action when he first took office, he brought the economy back from the brink of disaster and we're beginning to turn it around. But we still have far too many Americans who are unemployed. And so I think it is very prudent to do what we can to bring down that unemployment rate to the degree we are able to bring down the unemployment rate, and get the economy going again. That will help bring down the deficit. That's the way we have a long-term sustainable healthy economy, both in the public and in the private sector.

BLITZER: But he says, and a lot of other Republicans agree, that TARP, troubled asset, that's what you were talking about when you created this whole program, and had a specific purpose, and if you want to try to redirect that money, you need to go back to Congress and authorize it.

JARRETT: Let's talk about it in segments. The small business initiative that the president announced today that will help small businesses have a better way of growing and expanding and investing in our country, that is eligible for TARP. Now in terms of the infrastructure and the third piece, which is to help consumers retro fit their home, we'll work with Congress. This will be a collaborative effort.

BLITZER: So there will be legislation required to make this change?

JARRETT: There probably will be legislation. We'll be working with Congress. The president announced today what he thinks are the three critical initiatives that will help jump start the economy, bring down unemployment and in a very targeted and focused way where we get the biggest bang for our buck.

And this didn't happen in a vacuum. Let's face it, Wolf, the president and his economic team have been working on initiatives for a long time. His Financial Economic Recovery Board has recommended a series of initiatives that are included in today's announcement. And just last week we had a jobs forum where also several of the initiatives he included today were part of the jobs forum recommendations and this is an ongoing effort. This is something he's been focusing on, as you know, Wolf, since the day he took office.

BLITZER: We're talking about $200 billion. Is that what the president wants to take away from TARP and use for these other initiatives?

JARRETT: There isn't a dollar amount that has been established yet. This is -- these are three key initiatives we're going to be working and figuring out what is the right dollar amount and we're going to figure out how much should go for these initiatives.

BLITZER: Is that the ballpark?

JARRETT: I don't even want to say what the ballpark is, because some of it may go to reduce the deficit. Some of it may go to the new programs. What I think the real message here today is that we have to do everything within our power to bring down the unemployment rate and to help small businesses grow, put investments back in our infrastructure, which will be good for our country and also create jobs. And we have to be more energy efficient and so what better way than have consumers get a credit for working to retro fit their homes. These are key initiatives that are at the backbone of the president's way of helping bring down the unemployment rate.

And we're also open to new ideas. So as opposed to people being critical, let's figure out a way to work with us and let's see how we can get Americans working again.

BLITZER: As you know, you're getting a lot of grief from some of your closest allies on the Hill, including some really strong supporters of the president, like John Conyers of Michigan. Listen to what he recently said.


JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Yes, holding hands out and beer on Friday nights in the White House, and bowing down to every nutty right-win proposal about health care, and saying on occasion that public options aren't all that important, is doing a disservice to the Barak Obama that I first met."


BLITZER: And today he told "The Hill" newspaper that the president recently called him and asked him to stop, quote, "demeaning him." That's John Conyers, who is a close friend and ally of this administration. Is this what's going on right now that you're losing some of your most ardent supporters?

JARRETT: No, I don't think so. Listen, we have a great deal of respect for Congressman Conyers. He's a huge supporter. He has worked very closely with the administration. He represents a state, Michigan, that has been very, very hard hit. Has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Certainly he's frustrated. We share his frustration. And, of course, we look forward to working with him and all the members of Congress to figure out how we can tackle the problems that we have ahead.

The president inherited a mess. Let's face it the largest national deficit in our nation's history, an economy on the brink of a meltdown, two wars, a health care crisis, an energy crisis, public education crisis, a confidence crisis in terms of how we're perceived around the world, he inherited a full plate.

And what he's done every day, Wolf, is to reach out and work with members of Congress and try to deliver on behalf of the American people.

BLITZER: How often does he call friends of his up on the Hill and ask them, you know what, stop demeaning me?

JARRETT: Wolf, listen, I don't know. I know he and Congressman Conyers have a close friendship. I think they have the kind of relationship where they can call each other anytime they want and talk about issues that are important to the two of them. But don't think you should be distracted by that. I think you should be focused on what are the two men doing to work together? And nine times out of 10 we're agreeing on issues, we're working constructively together and if once in a while, they blow off a little steam, and have some frustration, that's fine, too.

BLITZER: Let's quickly talk about Desiree Rogers and the White House's decision not to let her go testify before the House Homeland Security Committee. This is what the president, then senator, said about transparency and executive privilege back in 2007.


BARACK OBAMA, AS A MEMBER OF THE SENATE: There has been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there is something a little shaky that is taking place. And I think, you know, the administration would be best served by coming clean on this.


BLITZER: That is what he said about the Bush White House back in 2007. Tomorrow we expect the House Homeland Security Committee to issue subpoenas to the Salahis to come and testify. Is the White House rethinking its decision to prevent Desiree Rogers from testifying?

JARRETT: Listen, Wolf, with full support of the president, Mark Sullivan, who is the director of the Secret Service, went forth last week and testified openly and fully and transparently before Chairman Thomson's committee.

The Secret Service is solely seasonal for the president's safety. They took responsibility for what happened when the family, uninvited couple, was admitted into the White House at the state dinner. And they have had an open and transparent discussion with the committee.

And, moreover, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina released a report that he did, taking a look at what White House did overall, including the Secret Service, and said, yes, we should have done a better job. We should have had people at the gate working hand and glove with the Secret Service to make their jobs easier. That's really it. That's all there is.

BLITZER: What would have been the big deal if Desiree Rogers would have actually gone p to the Hill, said, you know what, we probably should have had a representative from the social office there checking off names at the gate? We made a mistake, but it is not going to happen again. What would have been the big deal if she would have -- if she would have gone before the committee?

JARRETT: Well, I think what is important is that we were open and transparent. If you look on our website,, you'll see Jim Messina's memo, it is open and it is clear, we accepted responsibility, we shared responsibility with the Secret Service. And case closed. And so now I think it is important that we move on. And the Secret Service will continue their investigation. They'll determine what to do in terms of safety. They're the ones who are principally responsible for the president's safety and they assume that level of responsibility. And we're going to do our job to make their job easier.

BLITZER: So if they continue to seek her testimony, she's not going to go?

JARRETT: I don't think so, Wolf. I don't think so.

BLITZER: Valerie Jarrett, thanks very much for coming in.

JARRETT: You're welcome.

BLITZER: The people trying to poke holes in the science of global warming are being called deniers. But those accused of that say others are the real doubters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're in denial. You don't understand what just happened.


BLITZER: That's Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe blasting Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey. They're here to debate the science of global warming.

And President Obama wants to lower taxes for small businesses. What do the party chairman for the Democrats and the Republicans think about that? Governor of Virginia, the outgoing Governor Tim Keane and Michael Steele, the head of the Republican Party, they're here, they will debate.



AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The North Polar ice cap is melting before our very eyes. It has been the size of the continental United States for most of the last 3 million years. And now suddenly 40 percent of it is gone and the rest of it is expected to disappear within five, 10, 15 years.


BLITZER: Global warming communicator Al Gore on what he sees as inconvenient truths that prove the climate is changing. But others claim some hacked e-mails prove otherwise. The e-mails are from top environmental researchers. Global warming critics believe they're evidence that scientists have exaggerated the threat of global warming.


Let's get Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe, he's joining us in Massachusetts. Democratic Congressman Ed Markey, they strongly disagree on what's going on.

Senator Inhofe, let me start with you, because , the EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, today she said this in announcing the steps that the Obama administration wants to advance.


LISA JACKSON, ADMINISTRATOR, EPA: There is nothing in the hacked e- mails that undermines the science upon which this decision is based.


BLITZER: Is she right?

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: No, she's not right. We had Lisa Jackson before my committee, oh, not more than a week, maybe a week and a half ago. And she said that, you know, that they relied on the IPCC for the science that came to this -- to this decision to have the endangerment finding. And actually I have a letter from her in writing saying that's where they get their science.

Now we see that that science has been pretty well debunked. And one thing interesting about this, Wolf, is that I remember a long time ago on your program, four years ago, I made a speech on the Senate floor where I talked about all these scientists coming in, talking about how they can't get their side on there. And the science is all rigged. And so I gave a speech on the floor, it lasted about an hour, and sure enough what is happening today in this whole debate is just what we said was happening four years ago.

BLITZER: Let me let Congressman Markey weigh in.

How much damage do these leaked e-mails do to your side of the story?

REP. ED MARKEY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: It does almost no damage at all. In fact, the important thing to keep in mind here is that the National Academy of Sciences, of every country in the world, has endorsed these findings. It is not just the United States. It is not just the British. It is every country in the world.

And in addition, and this is something that skeptics, the deniers, cannot overcome, we are reporting this year the warmest ocean temperature in history. The last nine years have been amongst the top 10 warmest in the history of the planet. There has been a 6-degree increase in temperatures in Alaska over the last 50 years, which is what is leading to villages actually falling into the ocean with the melting of the permafrost. So the fundamental science has not been altered at all by this -


BLITZER: I want, Senator, hold on one second. I want Senator Inhofe to respond. But on the specific question of these scientists trying to prevent, Congressman Markey, trying to prevent some dissenting scientific views from getting something air, from being known, you condemn that, don't you? MARKEY: Well, absolutely. But, remember, almost all of the criticism that was in those e-mails was, in fact, included in the intergovernmental panel on climate change that the United Nations released. So it wasn't as though all of this skepticism wasn't, in fact, identified. It was only that the overwhelming majority of scientists in the world, thousands of them rejected the conclusions of this handful of skeptics.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.

INHOFE: Hey, Ed, you're in denial. You don't understand what just happened.

This is a very serious thing. Let me just tell you, I will read two things, Wolf. One is from "The Atlantic Monthly", the stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering. This is the big one, the big publication in UK, is the UK "Telegraph", this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation.

You can't play this one down. This is a huge, huge deal. And the fact that they are going into an endangerment finding, using this as the science, that makes it that much worse. It is a recognition that we have won, and they have lost in terms of a legislative cure for this. Your bill is dead. It is not going to go anywhere. The Boxer bill is dead. For that reason, in order to save face at the big meeting that is watching us right now in Copenhagen, they had to come up with a -- an endangerment finding. I think the first thing --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, SITUATION ROOM: Let me just explain to our viewers that endangerment finding allowed the Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA to say that because these greenhouse gases threatens, she says, the public health and welfare of the American people, she's moving forward with these unilateral steps avoiding congressional action. Is he right, congressman, that your cap and trade legislation is dead?

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Absolutely not. We have already passed it through the House of Representatives. The Chinese, the Indians, other countries around the world have already announced that they're going to make commitments in Copenhagen over the next two -- over the next two weeks to show that they are going to begin to deal with the lowering of emissions in relationship to their GDP. And in the Senate we know that Senator Boxer, Senator Kerry, working with other members including Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman and others towards the goal of finding a pathway toward the production of final legislation.

BLITZER: Why do you think the legislation is dead for all practical purposes?

INHOFE: All the -- because I can count votes and so can Ed and he knows this. Barbara Boxer might have as many as maybe 25 votes right now. You have to have 60 votes. The time is not your friend, Ed. More people find out about that and the more science is drawn in and more people realize, this would constitute the greatest tax increase in the history of America and accomplish nothing. BLITZER: We'll have more of this debate between Senator Inhofe and Congressman Markey coming up, including the arguments for developing alternative energy sources.


MARKEY: It is quite clearly, we only produce eight million barrel of oil a day in the United States. We import 13 million from places all around the world that we should not be importing it.


BLITZER: We're going to bring you the rest of this debate. That's coming up. There may be a lot more mud than grass in Afghanistan. But that hasn't stopped football fever from spreading there. You'll see that and more in today's hot shots. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Time for part two of our debate over global warming between Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe and Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey. As they spar over climate change science, they also debate how to pay to clean the air. The World Bank, Congressman Markey, says that developing nations will need between $75 to $100 billion a year, the poor nations to adopt a climate change and a lot of that money is going to have to come from U.S. taxpayers. At this time of economic distress, do you support providing these countries with billions of dollars to help them deal with climate change?

MARKEY: We will have to provide some help. Those numbers, are I think are way on the high side. But let me just say this quite clearly. We only produce eight million barrels of oil a day in the United States. We import 13 million from places all around the world that we should not be importing it. We have a chance here to begin to back out that imported oil. We have a chance here to create 1.5 to two million new jobs in our economy in order to create a new industrial sector. I understand that the fossil fuel industry is going to fight this all the way with their junk science. But remember this, if we don't create these million to two million green jobs in America, we are going to wind up importing the new wind turbines, solar technologies from China, from Germany. That's our choice. Back out that imported oil, improve our national security, create the new jobs here, while we're also reducing emissions or else we're going to wind up ultimately behind the --

BLITZER: Hold on one second senator. Any chance Congress, the Senate will fund billions of dollars to poor nations to deal with climate change? Senator?

INHOFE: Oh, no. There's no chance of that at all. In fact, I understand that the president is going there and is going to commit us, this is what I read in the media, to $10 billion a year for these developing nations. Now stop and think about it. China already owns $800 billion of our debt and we're going to give them $10 billion to be good boys? It is not going to happen. As long as they can keep us, to exporting jobs to China and India and Mexico, they're going to like it the way it is.

BLITZER: I would like to invite both of you to come back next week when the president is in Copenhagen at the end of this summit to continue this debate if that's OK with both of you.

INHOFE: It's fine with me, Wolf. Keep in mind, what Ed says is we right now have enough resources if we just develop our own resources. We wouldn't have to be dependent upon any country for our ability to run this machine called America. And Democrats won't let us drill, won't let us do what is necessary to export our own --

MARKEY: Wolf, we have 3 percent of the oil reserves in the world. We consume 25 percent on a daily basis. The math doesn't work. We need a new plan, renewable energy technologies, long-term, or else we're going to get deeper and deeper into the Middle East and that's what we're debating. We're sending more and more troops over there. We have to begin our strategy.

INHOFE: We have the largest reserves in the world, the largest reserves in the world.

BLITZER: We'll continue this debate next week, gentlemen.

MARKEY: I look forward to it.

BLITZER: President Obama says Main Street needs a bailout. But Republicans complain his new jobs and stimulus plan will put America deeper and deeper in debt. The Republican and Democratic party chairmen, they go head to head on jobs, the deficit and whether the administration is doing the right thing.

And so what if he is a Mormon? Senator Orrin Hatch thinks Hanukkah is something to sing about.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot simply go back to the way things used to be. We can't go back to an economy that yielded cycle after cycle of speculative moves and painful (INAUDIBLE)


BLITZER: President Obama called on both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to try and work with him to create jobs. The president outlined a plan to use bailout money to encourage small businesses to hire by offering tax breaks.

Joining us now, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele. He's the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and his Democratic counterpart, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. He's the outgoing governor of Virginia. Michael Steele, the president wants to lower taxes for small businesses which go out and create so many jobs. I assume you like that proposal that he announced today.

MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: I like it when it is real. But it is not real, Wolf. That's the reality of it. Small business owners are not stupid. You're telling them that we're going to spend money, we're going to cut down the deficit while we spend more money. We're going to give you a tax cut while we spend more money. This makes no sense. And it is the same argument that we have heard now for the last few weeks that people just aren't buying. And the reality of it is if you want to get this economy started, you need to look at the source of that engine. That engine is small business. That source is small business. Why aren't we putting the dollars in the pockets of those small business owners instead of through this health care plan and now through this taking TARP money and putting it over here, you know $200 billion here and there.

BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question. The president says he wants to lower taxes for small businesses. That's something Republicans like.

STEELE: Absolutely. That in and of itself is not going to help those small businesses get to where they need to be, Wolf. When at the same time you're increasing the regulatory burden, the tax burden and other burdens on those very same small businesses. You're not creating a marketplace for him to go into and get the capital and credit that they need.

BLITZER: You hear the point he's making, Governor Kaine. You're going to give them a little benefit, but you're going to take away a lot more through regulation all of these other efforts than you're going to be putting in.

TIM KAINE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: Wolf, these guys talking points is to be against anything the president is for and so a year ago when the economy was in free fall, he put a big recovery and jobs bill on the table that has already saved or created 1.6 million jobs by all nonpartisan estimates. Today he's laid out a strategy to go right at small business success, focusing on tax credits for hiring and it looks like the reduction of capital gains taxes for new businesses and startups. Startup businesses and small businesses are the engine in the American economy. And I don't know who Michael has been talking to, but I've been talking to a lot of business owners who are very, very excited about a proposal that directly focuses on small businesses.

BLITZER: Let Michael Steele respond.

STEELE: I bet you have been talking to them. And what they have been telling him is that is something you're not listening to governor, something the president is not listening to and what you just described is a farce.

KAINE: Michael, let me just say this --

STEELE: Can I make my point?

KAINE: Michael, let me say this -- STEELE: I will make my point and you can say whatever you want.

KAINE: Great.

STEELE: This is the reality that you have to face right now, Mr. Chairman --

KAINE: I'm going to tell you...

KAINE: One at a time. Governor.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on. Go ahead. Finish your point.

STEELE: Small business owners in this country are closing their shops. They're not hiring people. I don't know what this imaginary 1.6 million people who had their jobs saved, did anyone tell them? Because the line at the unemployment office is now 4.8 (ph) million people. So the reality right now for small business owners is that you're not doing the job. The president is not doing the job in connecting their reality to their bottom line.

BLITZER: Governor?

KAINE: All right, let me come back. First, when the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month a year ago, Michael and his colleagues were just standing around and saying heck of a job. This president tackled it through a recovery act. And the nonpartisan estimates, the Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan economists looked at by "The New York Times" and even John McCain's principal campaign economist, Mark Zandi, has said that the recession is coming to an end because the stimulus is working. Last month the job losses were 11,000, down like 800 percent, 80 percent from just a year ago. This bill that goes after small businesses is something I know about. Virginia, eight times in the last four years, has been named the best state for business in the United States and one of the top five states to start a business and the way we do it is we go and we look at the ways to make the tax code fair to small businesses. That's what this president is proposing to do and that's exactly what the small business sector in this economy needs.

BLITZER: The Senate majority leader sparks an uproar with this remark.


SEN. HARRY REID (D) MAJORITY LEADER: You think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. In this country, belatedly recognized wrongs of slavery. There were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down. It is too early. Let's wait.


BLITZER: The party chairman continue the debate. They'll be debating the fallout from that comment. We'll be back with Michael Steele and Tim Kaine. Also, a Senate songwriter pens what might be a new Hanukkah classic.


BLITZER: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stirred up some controversy yesterday by comparing the battle over health care reform with the fight ending slavery. We're back with the Republican party Chairman Michael Steele and the Democratic party Chairman Tim Kaine. Governor Kaine, this is what Harry Reid said yesterday, in part.


REID: You think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down. It is too early. Let's wait.


BLITZER: Would you have used that comparison, that analogy, slavery, digging in your heels and trying to keep slavery going and make that analogy to health care reform?

KAINE: Well, wolf, I probably wouldn't just because it is intense but I know that feelings are very, very strong. They're strong on the Republican side too. The other day, Senator Lamar Alexander compared Medicaid to a ghetto. That's language that probably isn't appropriate either. But the fact of the matter is this. The Democrats are trying to do what the American public wants them to do, which is to reform health care so that we provide security for the insured, coverage for the uninsured and hold costs down. And the Republicans as was evidenced by a memo released within the last 10 days by Senator Judd Gregg are trying to figure out every way they can to slow it down and delay it. We're going to move forward to make something happen. It is time for action. The other side believes it is time for delay. That's their prerogative. It is not what the American public wants.

BLITZER: Yesterday Senator McCain asked Senator Reid, Michael Steele, to either apologize or clarify. Today the majority leader said this.


REID: At pivotal points in American history the tactics of distortion, delay have certainly been present. They have been used to stop progress. That's what we're talking about here. Anyone who willingly distorts my comments is only proving my point.


BLITZER: All right. Are you satisfied with that explanation, Michael Steele?

STEELE: No. And there is no distortion of his point. He said what he said, it was very clear. I said yesterday and I'll repeat again it was an ignorant statement to make. As a leader of the United States Senate he should either come to the well and apologize to the American people, to his colleagues, for making such an ignorant remark or in my view, should consider another line of work. But we're working on that. That will take care of itself in time. The reality for the country right now is that you're seeing played out in large measure the arrogance of power where Democrats feel that they can come to the well of the Senate, say whatever they want to say, do whatever they want to do and there is not a dag gone thing you can do about it, America. You can't stop us. Well, I'm here today to say you can. You're empowered because we are still a government of, by, for people and this kind of hot rhetoric, whether what side it comes from, has no place in this debate and I think the senator should step away from it.

BLITZER: I think it is fair and governor, I'm sure you agree, the American public hates this kind of discourse when they hear politicians getting this passionate, this angry about these kinds of issues.

KAINE: Well, Wolf, I think that's right. I think what the American public wants to see is action. And so, you know they don't like rhetoric. But another thing they don't like is they don't like gridlock, delay, obstruction. They want to see progress and results. Every Democratic president since Harry Truman has made efforts to try to do fundamental health care reform so that those without insurance have access to health care and those with insurance get some basic and fundamental protections. This is not a new thing. It has been on the table as a dream for this country for a very long time. And we have now gotten bills through most committees and through the House. We're on the verge of a major historic landmark in the health care future of this nation. Obviously there are folks who want to delay it and obstruct just as there was with Medicaid or Social Security. But we're not going to be slowed down by those who just kind of want to get in the way. We're working to find a common sense set of solutions that will serve the American public and we feel very, very good about the chances of making that happen.

BLITZER: Deep snow right now blanketing parts of the country. It is just one of this week's hot shots.


BLITZER: Here is a look at some of this week's hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. In Toronto, a goaltender from the Maple Leafs talked with schoolchildren during an outdoor practice. In the Czech Republic, a newborn black rhino made an appearance at the zoo. In New Hampshire, this youngster worked to shovel out the family car after the region got pounded with snow. And in Afghanistan, this U.S. Army soldier made some moves while playing football in the mud. Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

There is two things you may not necessarily know about Senator Orrin Hatch. The Utah Republican is a songwriter on the side. And even though he's a Mormon, he also has a great love for the Jewish people. Put all this together and you have an instant Hanukkah classic written by the senator himself. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. Abbi, where can we go to listen to this new song? ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is here on the website of Jewish magazine, "The Tablet," where they do admit the absurd quality of this video, a Hanukkah song written by a Mormon Senator, Orrin Hatch, performed here by Arab vocalist Rashida Asa (ph). Take a listen.

I don't know if you caught the senator unbuttoning his shirt there. He's showing off a mezuzah, the pendant containing a Hebrew prayer that Senator Hatch wears around his neck. He wrote the song for a heart felt desire to reach out to the Jewish people. But you'll only catch him singing backup vocals. While the senator has been writing songs for about 15 years, he once told our Larry King, you wouldn't want to hear me sing. We'll be playing this around the office and I think you'll agree that it does stick in your head somewhat.

BLITZER: It does. It's got a good catchy tune and to all of our Jewish viewers out there, Happy Hanukkah. Thanks very much Abbi for that. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us week days in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN international. The news continues next on CNN.