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THE SITUATION ROOM
Some Terror Suspects Moving to Illinois; President Obama Touts Cash For Caulkers
Aired December 15, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, happening now: President Obama sends a message to health care reform critics: Don't get in my way. But Senator Joe Lieberman tells us he is not backing down from his one-man blockade despite the anger within his former party.
Plus, attack after attack in one war zone, then another. We will map out these decidedly new bombings and who may be behind them.
And some religious leaders call it propaganda and offensive. The Census Bureau reaching out to Latinos by invoking the names of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight: President Obama says that the United States is on the verge of making history, passing a sweeping health care bill that would insure millions more Americans, protect every American from insurance industry abuse, and reduce health care costs for families, businesses and the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The final bill won't include everything that everybody wants. No bill can do that. But what I told my former colleagues today is that we simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a longstanding and urgent problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The real problem, Republicans say, is what the president wants to do. You can't get much stronger than one senator likening the Democrats' health bill to a mission of political suicide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: This legislation that is supposed to be enacted before Christmas is still floating from secret room to secret room. And the Democratic senators are floating from meeting to meeting encouraging themselves to pursue this political kamikaze mission toward a historic mistake for them, politically, but unfortunately also for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very strong language indeed.
Dana Bash is standing by on Capitol Hill, but let's begin our coverage with Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent.
Ed, the president had a chance to meet with the Democrats behind you earlier today.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf.
And there have been many important moments in this entire debate, but I spoke to one of the president's top advisers, who said, flatly, this is the critical juncture in this health care debate. They know it here. That is why the president called all these Democratic senators over.
And I'm told that, behind closed doors, he was not pressuring them, he was not lashing out at people like Joe Lieberman who seem to be holding this up. Instead, the president firmly believes, according to his aides, that they really are this close to finally getting it done.
And so instead I am told by both White House officials and senators in the room that the president was very much cajoling, encouraging, saying basically saying, look, what can we do to bridge this divide? What do you need to get us get past the goal line there, those final few yards, Wolf?
BLITZER: Will he work with them one-on-one, Ed?
HENRY: Yes. In fact, I'm told, after this group meeting, the president called in Senator Ben Nelson, a key moderate from Nebraska, for a one-on-one meeting.
Interesting, he did not call in Joe Lieberman, somebody who has had perhaps frosty relations with Democrats as you've seen over the last couple of days.
But interesting to note that our Ted Barrett, our congressional producer, spoke to Senator Debbie Stabenow after this meeting, and she said they're actually still several votes shy, not just a couple of votes, not just Nelson and Lieberman. That suggests that perhaps in addition to the moderates, there might be some liberal Democrats who privately are still concerned that maybe this bill is moving too far to the middle.
That has been the problem in this debate among others. Every time they patch up a difference with Lieberman or Nelson, some other problem pops up. And that's why they still haven't gotten this done, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry is at the White House.
Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is working this story for us as well.
One senator stood in the way of this compromise and he got his way, didn't he?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That is Joe Lieberman.
It looks he is probably not going to stand in the way of health care anymore. And that's because Democrats are bowing to his demands not just to drop a public option, but also a compromise idea to allow people starting at age 55 to buy into Medicare.
Now, Democrats are going to do that very likely because they need Lieberman's vote, but it is making a lot of Democrats very angry towards him. So, I asked him about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I don't enjoy the personal vendetta. I certainly don't like people attacking my wife, which is outrageous.
But I have been at this a long time, and in the end, if you try to please everybody, you will do nothing.
BASH: You talk to a lot of Democrats, and there is a fundamental feeling among many of them that you have animus towards the president, that you have animus towards your former party, and that they say that this is all about Joe Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Well, that is just poppycock. This is all about what I think health care reform should be.
The president and I have a very good, mutually respectful relationship. If I had any sense of vendetta against the Democratic Party, I wouldn't be in the Democratic Caucus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Dana, you asked Senator Lieberman about the intense scrutiny that he is now under. What did he say?
BASH: Well, he said he is certainly not happy about it. He is not happy that his wife is being attacked. But he obviously is an independent officially. He caucuses with the Democrats, but I asked about his next election for Senate, about 2012, and whether he would consider running as a Republican.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Any chance Joe Lieberman would run as a Republican?
LIEBERMAN: I don't know what I will run as. I like being an independent, so that is definitely a possibility, but I would say that all options are open.
LIEBERMAN: Yes. It is unlikely that I would run as a Republican, but I wouldn't foreclose any possibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: He went on the say, it's more likely I would run as an independent, but that it depends where I am.
I have got to tell you, Wolf, the Democrats, not just the liberal blogs, but the Democrats we talk to around here who work with him everyday who are already upset with him, when they see that he is even raising the possibility that he is running as a Republican, they're not going to be very happy.
BLITZER: Yes, that's going to further irritate them.
BASH: You got it.
BLITZER: But they need him. Without him, there's no deal, right?
BASH: They sure do.
BASH: They need him. That's why he is chairman of an important committee. That is why they are bowing to him on this very important policy issue to get health care through.
BLITZER: And it looks like he's going to get his way, at least for now. All right, Dana, thank you.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."
You spoke about the senator in the last hour, and if there is a deal, the Democrats desperately need 60, because the difference between 59 and 60 is deal or no deal.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I know. Do standards have any role in this?
BLITZER: This is politics, Jack, we're talking about.
CAFFERTY: Well, then you just answered my question, didn't you?
More proof religion and politics are deeply connected in the United States, especially if you're a Republican.
A new Gallup poll shows the religious intensity of Americans is a strong predictor of whether they're Democrat or Republican. In a survey of nearly 30,000 people, 49 percent of Americans who call themselves Republicans say they're highly religious, meaning they go to church at least once a week and say that religion is important in their daily lives. That compares to 37 percent of Democrats who feel that way. At the other end of the spectrum, only 26 percent of Republicans say they're not religious, meaning they never attend church and say that religion isn't important. And that compares to 56 percent of Democrats.
When it comes to race, the poll shows African-Americans are strongly Democratic regardless of how religious they are. Also, Latinos skew more toward the Democratic party.
However, the religious connection is strongest among whites. Consider this. Whites who are highly religious are more than twice as likely to identify as Republicans, rather than Democrats. And exactly the opposite pattern emerges among whites who are not religious. By a 2-to-1 margin, they are likely Democrats.
In all, about half of the white population in this country is both highly religious and leans toward the Republican Party.
With numbers like these, then, it's no wonder we hear Republican politicians invoking God and morality more often than we hear that from the Democrats.
Here's the question: What does it mean that Republicans are more likely to be highly religious than Democrats?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.
I thought that was kind of an interesting finding in this poll.
BLITZER: Yes, fascinating. And I guess it depends on your definition of religious, because people have different definitions.
CAFFERTY: No, but, I mean, they defined it in the poll, highly meaning that you go to church at least once a week and that religion plays an important role in your life.
CAFFERTY: And not religious means you don't go ever to church and don't care.
BLITZER: That's a good definition.
CAFFERTY: That's not bad.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack, thank you.
Violence explodes in the three terrible spots of greatest concern to Washington right now. We have details coming in of those deadly attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, suicide attacks happening on this day.
BLITZER: Deadly new attacks today in both the war zones where U.S. troops are risking their lives right now. Brian Todd is here to map out this latest explosion of violence.
Brian, explain what is going on over here.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really bad today, Wolf. Deadly attacks in four cities collectively illustrate there is no letup in the long and bloody slog for the U.S. and its allies in the war on terror.
We are going to start with the deadliest first, the central Pakistani city of Dera Ghazi Khan. An attacker detonates his car in the front of the home of a prominent opposition lawmaker. Now, the official was not home at the time, but the blast ripped through a local market, killed at least 20 people, wounded several dozen others.
Take that out of there. We are going to take you about 324 miles north, a bombing in the compound of Afghanistan's former vice president in the capital city, Kabul. It kills eight people, wounds 40. But the former vice president is not harmed in that attack.
Get that out of there. Going to take you about 1,400 miles to the west, to Baghdad, a suicide bombing within three -- within just a few minutes of each other, three car bombs explode near the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing four people, wounding more than a dozen. Two of those bombs went off near Iraqi government buildings, the third one near the Iranian Embassy.
Take that out of there, go 260 miles north to city of Mosul. Two car bombs there and a roadside bomb kill four more people and wound 40 others.
Now, in Baghdad, officials say those bombings are aimed at undermining elections scheduled for March, where the fate of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be decided, along with that of several members of the legislature there.
So, things could be getting bad in Baghdad, as we head toward those elections in the spring. These bombings coming just a week after a string of large-scale coordinated suicide bombings killed nearly 130 people in Baghdad, Wolf. Of course, we remember that horrific day about a week ago.
BLITZER: Yes, injured about 500 in addition.
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: And getting back to Kabul, that bombing there and supposed attack against the former vice president, his name will be familiar to some of our viewers.
TODD: Absolutely will. And it is a name that carries back several years in the war on terror.
We have got the pictures here. Sorry. I got a little ahead of myself there. His name, Ahmad Zia Massoud. He is the former vice president under Hamid Karzai. His brother was Ahmad Shah Massoud, a favorite in the West as a leader in the fight against the Taliban.
Ahmad Shah Massoud killed just two days before 9/11 in 2001 by al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists. A bomb was hidden in their camera. You remember that attack well, as I did, Wolf. We thought it was strange at the time. Of course, two days later, after 9/11, we knew in the context it was later widely thought that al Qaeda was trying to get him out of the way, knowing that he would join the Northern Alliance, their bitter enemy in the war on terror.
So, these two brothers kind of really closely linked to the war on terror, attack targeting him today. We know that his brother died eight years ago.
BLITZER: Yes, attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq and attacks in Pakistan today. They're becoming a nearly daily occurrence as well, these terror attacks.
TODD: Certainly are.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you.
Obama administration officials may be walking into a red hot showdown over global warming. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is leaving today for the climate change conference in Denmark. The president follows her later in the week, and they may butt heads with leaders from a country that is a big polluter, just like the United States, according to all of these analysts.
Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.
Jill, here's the question. Will there be a showdown with China?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think you can say that things are getting pretty tense, pretty ugly between the world's two biggest polluters, because, after all, the foreign minister of China said that the lead negotiator for the United States was extremely irresponsible.
So there is a war of words. And, you know, really, one of the problems is that China is considered a developing country, but it is also the world's biggest polluter, and China wants voluntary limits on emissions. The United States wants mandatory limits on emissions. And then China throws it right back at the United States and says, hey, look, you are not limiting your emissions as much as you should be either.
So it is. It is tense.
BLITZER: But she has her work cut out for her, I would assume, Jill, not only with China, but with almost everyone in Copenhagen.
DOUGHERTY: Yes. Look at it. Just think of the way the world looks at it. They say the United States is the biggest industrial democracy. It's been polluting, if you look at it technically, since the dawn of the industrial age, more than 100 years ago. So, Clinton does have the big challenge, and what does she do? Well, the first thing is, she is admitting that the United States has not done a heck of a lot up to now. She would argue that, under Obama, they are taking action, taking responsibility.
And here is how she put it in an editorial today in "The International Herald Tribune." "It is no secret," she says, "that the United States turned a blind eye to climate change for too long."
So, she is going to be pushing there for two primary objectives of the Obama administration. One is to get a -- for all nations to take decisive action and to have their own action plans, and then to have an international accord that would be transparent.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is working the story at the State Department, the secretary of state in Copenhagen. The president of the United States will follow.
Mary, Joseph and the census -- details of the controversial campaign that critics are calling nothing short of propaganda.
BLITZER: Safe landing. One company's dream floats high after its plane is safely back on the ground. We are talking about Boeing's Dreamliner, the 787 landing after taking off from Everett, Washington.
It has seen over two years of delays. Some call this flight historic. Boeing says this plane is quieter, more environmentally friendly, and could use 20 percent less fuel. Boeing says it will eventually cost you less to fly on this plane. The 787 is made of mostly lightweight composite materials that Boeing says will mean less wear and tear. The price tag, about $150 million for each plane that won't officially fly until around 2011.
Meanwhile, talk about things flying high. There is high anger over a political message that uses some well-known symbols of peace.
Let's bring back Mary Snow -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is part of the Christmas story not often told. One of the Gospels in the New Testament mentions a census around the time of Jesus' birth. While some biblical scholars question its accuracy, it is now being used in a new campaign, raising objections.
SNOW (voice-over): It can look more like a Christmas card at first, reading, "This is how Jesus was born," but then it states: "Mary and Joseph participated in a census. Don't be afraid."
The message is aimed at Latinos, and the posters are part of a by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials to participate in the 2010 census.
Reverend Gabriel Salguero is among pastors spreading the message.
REV. GABRIEL SALGUERO, THE LAMB'S CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE: And it is historically appropriate and I think it is theologically appropriate to say that Jesus, Mary and Joseph participated in the census of their day. That's what the Gospel says.
SNOW: But one evangelical leader calls it propaganda.
REVEREND MIGUEL RIVERA, NATIONAL COALITION OF LATINO CLERGY: It is very offensive and blasphemy to use the name of Jesus in the midst of a nativity, in the midst of Christmas, just for political purposes.
SNOW: Reverend Miguel Rivera of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders wants the Census Bureau to stop using the campaign using Jesus. But a spokesman for the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, says the campaign is coming from private funding, saying, "We do not provide funding to partner organizations and play no role in the creation of material by private community groups."
This flap is just the latest in a larger controversy in the Latino community over the 2010 census. Rivera has called for undocumented workers to boycott the census unless there is immigration reform. And he equates the use of religion in this current campaign with fear.
RIVERA: It is a way to intimidate and create a guilty conscience among those who are religious, like if they are doing the wrong thing, to maintain or just say no to the census and to comprehensive immigration reform.
SNOW: But Reverend Salguero says fear is what is keeping undocumented immigrants in the shadows, and he sees no problem with using the church for census purposes.
SALGUERO: I don't see it as a conflict between church and state, because we are not endorsing a candidate. What we are saying is, you need to be counted for the sake of congressional apportionment; you need to be counted for the sake of the democracy.
SNOW: There are some 7,000 posters being distributed as of now, and mostly they're in Spanish, aimed at the Latino community. But an organization working on the campaign says it is also translating these posters into other languages -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Controversy involving the Senate.
All right, Mary, appreciate it.
We are learning more about the administration's new plan to transfer some terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to an Illinois prison. Critics are railing about security risks, questioning the president's motives.
BLITZER: Happening now: from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to rural Illinois. Will sending some of the government's most hardened terror suspects to a prison in the heartland make that region an instant terrorist target?
President Obama pitches new federal incentives for homeowners who go the extra mile for energy efficiency.
And as the health care reform debate reaches a fever pitch on Capitol Hill, a staunchly liberal voice is raised against the Senate measure, why Howard Dean says it is time right now to kill -- kill -- this entire bill.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama is ordering the federal government to move forward with the controversial transfer of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A limited number of those detainees will be housed at a prison in rural Illinois. Plans to make that happen are in the works right now.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is standing by with details -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the administration claims that al Qaeda has used Guantanamo Bay in recruiting videos 32 times since 2001, four times just this year.
But there's argument over whether closing the facility will eliminate a national security threat or just move it.
MESERVE (voice-over): The maximum security prison in Thomson, Illinois, is only eight years old, largely empty. With some strengthening of perimeter security, the Obama Administration argues, it will be the perfect place to put as many as 100 Guantanamo detainees and hold military commissions. It does not hurt that some of the states key political players support it.
SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN (D) ILLINOIS: We believe this is in service to our country to make certain that Guantanamo is phased out, and the threat that it currently poses to us around the world is eliminated.
MESERVE: On Capitol Hill, a Republican blitzkrieg of criticism.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: They're going to move these prisoners from Gitmo to northwest Illinois because of some campaign promise that was made in the dark. I just think that this is a very bad decision, and the American people do not support it, and will not support it.
MESERVE: But in tiny Thomson, Vicki Trager watched the news and was pleased at the prospect of 3,000 new jobs in her community.
VICKI TRAGER, THOMSON RESIDENT: The impact is going to come more from the new people coming into the area, new residents, new visitors, new tourism, and restaurants will be full.
MESERVE: Others fear that the Thompson facility will become Gitmo north, a target of al-Qaeda propaganda and possibly attack.
REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: Changing the address of Gitmo will not eliminate the hate that these terrorists have for our country.
REP. DON MANZULLO (R), ILLINOIS: Gitmo is surrounded by waters and sharks and Thomson, Illinois, is surrounded by melon fields, soybeans and corn.
REP. TIM JOHNSON (R), ILLINOIS: Illinois becomes actually the ground zero for international terrorism.
MESERVE: The administration claims that Thomson facility will be more secure than the Supermax in Florence, Colorado, where terrorist like shoe bomber, Richard Reid is held. At maximum security prisons, there is usually one guard for every two inmates, but Defense Department officials told the members of Congress there will be 10 soldiers for every one terrorist detainee at Thomson.
MESERVE (on-camera): The White House may have put the cart before the horse. Senior White House officials acknowledged that current law does not allow them to bring detainees to the U.S. who are going to be held indefinitely rather than tried in courts or military commissions. There will have to be some changes and because the administration acknowledges that some detainees will need indefinite detention, some civil liberties groups are unhappy with today's announcement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess debate will continue. Jeanne Meserve working on the story. More evidence today that this whopping number is weighing on President Obama. We're talking about the federal deficit well over $1 trillion at the end of the last fiscal year. CNN has now learned how the president may confront all of that red ink and address some serious concerns among members of Congress. Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent, Ed Henry.
HENRY (voice-over): Documents obtained by CNN revealed the president is privately considering an executive order that would create an outside commission to weigh sweeping tax increases, and deep spending cuts to programs for like Medicare that affect millions of Americans. All aimed at slashing the exploding federal deficit, which the president has promised to tackle after the economic recovery takes hold.
OBAMA: How we can structure a plausible scenario to get to medium and long-term deficit reduction.
HENRY: The documents suggest a split within the administration. Some advisers arguing the commission should have a narrow mandate because it is too complicated to tackle reform of social security, taxes, and Medicare, all at once. But other advisers according to the documents, believe there should be (inaudible) everything on the table.
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: We are on a path to bankruptcy as a nation, and it's that simple.
HENRY: The White House is facing heavy pressure from senators threatening to block a large increase in the nation's debt ceiling unless the president signs on to their version of a deficit commission.
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I believe a defining moment, 27 senators, 12 Democrats and 15 Republicans, have signed on in just a matter of hours.
HENRY: The Senate version of the commission would give 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans power to study the problem and then vote after the midterm elections on a reform package that could include dramatic tax hikes and spending cuts. If 14 of the 18 members approve the package, giving it a bipartisan nod, it would force an automatic upper down vote in both the House and Senate.
White House officials meanwhile are considering their own version of a commission with more Obama officials on the panel to give the president more control. Though the documents obtained by CNN warn that also brings political risk, quote, "the promise of greater say over the deliberations and final product of the commission, but the peril of being more deeply implicated in the event of failure."
HENRY (on-camera): Officials stress that these conversations are still in the preliminary stages, the president might not make it official until early next year. In fact, it could be unveiled in the state of the union address, but we are getting a preview of all that right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry over at the White House getting some good information for us as usual. Thank you, Ed.
Kill the bill, let me repeat it, kill the bill, why Howard Dean wants to take healthcare reform efforts back to square one. What is going on? The best political team on television is standing by.
BLITZER: The former Chairman of the Democratic Party says that the Senate healthcare reform bill is damaged goods right now. Democrats should just kill it. Howard Dean says the Senate bill isn't worth supporting any longer without the provisions to let people between the ages of 55 and 65 buy into Medicare. The former Vermont Governor and medical doctor said this in a Vermont public radio interview that aired just a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate, and honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The White House seems to be brushing aside Dean's suggestion. When asked about it, the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs said, and I'm quoting now, "I would not argue a medicine with Dr. Dean, but I would argue policy."
Let's bring in our best political team on television, and joining us, our Senior Political Correspondent, Candy Crowley, Democratic Strategist, Mo Elleithee, and Republican Strategist and CNN Political Contributor, Alex Castellanos. His media firm has clients including pharmaceutical research manufacturers, and American Health Insurance Plans Association.
All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in. Mo, Howard Dean says kill it, basically go back to square one.
MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: Well, yes, look, it's not the perfect bill for a lot of Democrats. A lot of the progressives and liberals aren't going to love everything in this bill, but at the same time, it still is a real reform. It still deals with giving tens and millions of Americans -- 10 million Americans access to healthcare. It reduces cost. It deals with things like pre-existing conditions so it is still real reform. I think scrapping the bill is a huge mistake, and my guess is most of the Democrats in the Senate are going to see it that way at the end of the day.
BLITZER: A lot of Republicans are going to agree Howard Dean for different reasons, they want to kill it, too.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think there will be a lot of folks in sync here, but this is powerful politically, because in the business there's a thing called permission to believe. Where you make your argument, but consumers still don't move until nine out of every 10 doctors say take this aspirin or Tylenol or whatever.
Howard Dean is permission to believer for the liberal left to say, no, this is how we spent a lot of political capital and we're not getting enough for it. So this actually is a serious problem that could push this into an election year, and that's probably not good for the president.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Except that Howard Dean --
BLITZER: Because the public option is what Howard Dean really wants. CROWLEY: But Howard Dean is not in the Senate so he doesn't have a vote. It seems to me that we have gotten signals for last two days that they are willing to give up this public option that the Senate Democrats are willing to give it up knowing they can't the 60 votes.
And again, because they need to be able to go to the American people and say, we got healthcare reform. Did we get everything? No, we didn't get everything we want, but we got you this. I've got to tell you, if you are sitting in your house around the dining room table, and you find out that even though you have heart problems, you can now get insurance with the pre-existing conditions. That means more to your than a public option.
BLITZER: Well, let's do the Math at the House of Representatives. Assuming they get the 60 votes for this water down version. In the Senate, they still got to back, they got to reconcile the differences within the House. So if you add virtually all the Republicans, maybe one Republican from Louisiana will vote for it. But if you add up all of the Blue Dog Democrats who don't like it, and you add up the progressives and the liberals on the far left who won't like it, will Nancy Pelosi have enough in the House of Representatives to get this passed?
ELLEITHEE: Yes, I mean, ultimately, I think there are enough votes there because I think Candy is right, a lot of the Democrats aren't going to want to go home in an election year and say that they were the reason we did not get healthcare reform. They are the reason we didn't eliminate pre-existing conditions and improve access to healthcare. So ultimately, people are going to come around and there is time still for them to express their concern, express their disappointment that they didn't get everything that they wanted, but Democrats don't want to be responsible for killing it.
BLITZER: So is it still going to pass?
CASTELLANOS: I don't think so this year. By the way, this whole thing about pre-existing conditions --
BLITZER: Well, I'm talking about this year, if it's still going to pass in January or February?
CASTELLANOS: If it goes into next year, I don't think you're going to see this huge bill. Maybe they will come back with something more modest. If they do agree, Republicans and Democrats, do agree on eliminating pre-existing conditions, so that is not going to be a political weapon next year. Both sides agree on that, and they could have gotten that if it hadn't been a big budget-busting bill.
The other thing about folks at home, Candy, they are seeing is -- they are seeing 1/20th here. Twenty percent of the American economy just being juggled up in the air by some folks in Congress to satisfy the political needs and whims of one senator or another senator. This is looking very political now, and that's hurting the overall, I think possibility of anything getting done for the rest of the year.
BLITZER: All right, Alex Castellanos, I just want to point out that you are still an unpaid adviser to the RNC as well. Is that right?
CASTELLANOS: Well, if I could be paid, but I guess not. But if not, the things you do for your country.
BLITZER: We'll talk about Roland Burris, the Illinois senator. He says he's not going to vote for it like Howard Dean. He thinks it --
CROWLEY: It is far more dangerous than Howard Dean says he doesn't like it.
BLITZER: Well, it is still 60 votes. It's not a done deal yet. We'll see what happens in the next couple of days. These are critical days.
Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary, what is going on?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Well, the attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that will keep him in the hospital until tomorrow is being called premeditated. Mr. Berlusconi suffered a broken nose and two broken teeth when he was smacked with a model of the cathedral during a rally. He's been ordered to rest for a couple of weeks. Authorities say the suspect has been in their words developing a rage against the prime minister for some time.
The new CEO of General Motors is not wasting any time aiming to pay off a $6.7 billion federal loan by June which is much sooner than the deadline. The Former Telephone Executive, Ed Whitaker Jr. has said he wants to change the dysfunctional culture at the nation's largest automaker. This loan is just a fraction of what the company has received in government money. It received $50 billion in federal bail out funds. >
And the House voted today to stop those annoying spikes during TV commercials. Supporters say the bill would prevent TV ads from skyrocketing the noise levels by requiring the Federal Communications Commission to adopt new guidelines. The Senate has introduced an identical measure. As it is now, the government does not have control over commercial value levels -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As usually the commercial has gone to political commercials. All the commercials are louder. They hear me speaking, but when it goes to a commercial, it becomes much larger. All right, Mary, thank you.
A new find on President Obama's family tree, he has ties to one of the world's richest man.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) Let's go to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
CAFFERTY: Did Mary say that the Congress is working on legislation to control the volume of TV commercials?
BLITZER: Yes, she did.
CAFFERTY: That is -- that's a comfort.
BLITZER: You know, that is funny, Jack, because I thought of the same thing you did.
CAFFERTY: Well, we may have to do something with this tomorrow on "The Cafferty File." Tonight's final offering is this: What does it mean that Republicans are more likely to be highly religious than Democrats? This is according to a Gallup poll.
Nick in Missouri writes: "Being religious is more than attending church or saying you're religious. You don't hear the term passionate conservative much anymore. Perhaps Republicans found it too difficult to live up to that claim. Actions towards others such as supporting healthcare reform should be a fair barometer for how religious a person really is."
Layne in Illinois writes: "I have been watching politics since the '60s and in the Republican administrations there seems to be quite a disconnect between their actions and any teachings laid out in the bible. Not that the Democrats have behaved any better. My point is if you're going to claim the moral high ground or religious high ground, you damn well better be able to back it up with your actions."
Shirley in Greensboro, North Carolina: "The way you post the question, Jack, suggest that Republicans are unusual in being religious. Why not state the question vastly? What does it mean that 56 percent of people voting Democratic describe themselves as not religious?"
Chris writes: "The Republicans have made me less religious. Their blasphemic understanding of Christ teachings is embarrassing to Christians like me."
Annie in Missouri writes: "Truly religious people care about other human beings, and that just isn't in the blood of the Republican Party. They're more concerned about corporations, wars, and I've got mine so the (inaudible) with the rest of you. Sure they care about the unborn, but once you're born, they want no part of helping out their fellow human beings."
And Anna in Chicago writes: "Republicans are like Tiger Woods, they pretend to be holier than thou, until they get in trouble and we find out that they are sinners just like the Democrats."
You want to read more on the subject. We've got some great e- mails on this. Check out my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile. We may do something on that thing about the TV commercials. What do you think? BLITZER: I think it's a good idea. Excellent idea. You know who else is going to be in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow?
CAFFERTY: Really? The singer?
BLITZER: Her new album is called "Shewolf" so she wolf and "Hewolf" in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CAFFERTY: I see where this going, all right? Are you going to interview her?
BLITZER: I already have. The interview airs tomorrow.
CAFFERTY: All right, we will look forward to that. He wolf and she wolf.
CAFFERTY: Having little wolves perhaps.
BLITZER: No --
See what's coming up at the top of the hour. I know you must be jealous. We have Shakira tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM, John.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I am just trying to comprehend how many wolves one "Situation Room" can hold, but coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN Tonight, the start of our special series, California in Crisis. The golden state in a financial free fall, a busted budget, rampant unemployment, and an embarrassing political mess. Why is California in such chaos? Can the golden state be golden again? Please join us for all that and more coming your way at the top of the hour. We don't have Shakira Wolf but we've got a lot of other things.
BLITZER: I know you've got some good stuff there. See you in a little while, John. Thank you. Her husband's numbers are down, but what do Americans think about the job Michelle Obama is doing as the first lady? They are speaker out in a brand-new poll.
On our political ticker, President Obama says he finds insulation to be, quote, "sexy stuff." The president is asking Congress to offer incentives to people who improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Home depot in suburban Virginia outside Washington, he said it would create jobs while saving energy and cutting pollution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I'm calling on Congress to provide new temporary incentives for Americans to make energy efficiency retrofit investments in their homes. We want them to do it soon. I know the idea may not be very glamorous although I get really excited about it. We were at the roundtable and somebody said insulation is not sexy. I disagree. Frank, don't you think? Insulation is sexy stuff. Here's what is sexy about it, saving money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: More Americans think Michelle Obama is doing a good job as first lady as she closes in on her first year in the White House. The poll shows 57 percent of registered voters nationwide approve the way she is handling her job. That's up seven points from March. Overall, Mrs. Obama is popular. Almost half of those surveyed don't think she has done anything so far to change the role of first lady.
Here in Washington, D.C., gay rights activists are celebrating the D.C. city council voted today to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 11-2. Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to sign it into law. Opponents are vowing to take their complaints to the U.S. Congress, which has a say over laws in the nation's capital.
Lawmakers have 30 days to intervene. If not the District of Columbia will join Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Iowa in allowing same-sex couples to marry. New Hampshire begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses next month. >
President Obama apparently has a richer family history than we knew. Really rich, Warren Buffett rich. Ancestry.com says the billionaire investor and President Obama are seventh cousins three times removed. The online site says they share a great grandfather who owns slaves in Maryland and may not be that surprising. Given genealogists have linked the president to a slew of famous distant, repeat distant relatives, including Brad Pitt, Winston Churchill, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush. >
He turned independent but generally votes with his fellow Democrats in the Senate, but now Joe Lieberman has become persona non grata among healthcare reformers, at least many of them. We're going to show you some most unusual ways. Critics are slamming the senator when we come back.
Senator Joe Lieberman may be left wings most hated man these days for his role in stripping certain provisions from the healthcare reform. CNN Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at what his critics have to say.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice-over): From the days of high-fives, Joe has hit a new low among liberals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't Joe Lieberman particularly odious?
MOOS: From regular Joes on the internet to progressive radio host.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schmuck, sour little prune, this man turns my stomach.
MOOS: They have turned on Joe, saying he's turned on healthcare, traitor Joe. Plastered on a doggy t-shirt. He is being mocked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My crummy Joe Lieberman impression.
MOOS: In this hostage video, Lieberman is accused of holding the healthcare bill hostage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can do whatever I want to it unless you give me what I want.
MOOS: Senator Lieberman hasn't been fed to the liberal lions yet but he has been fed to the cats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, you guys. This string is Joe Lieberman. Lieberman must pay.
LIEBERMANN: I can tell you that inside myself I have not enjoyed this period of time. I have done what I thought was right.
MOOS: Yes, right, say liberal blogs. The Huffington Post asked readers what would you give Joe Lieberman for Hanukkah? Suggestions like a muzzle or a horse's head. Left-wing Dailykos posted a poll asking which word describes Joe Lieberman and offering only the same word. So much for multiple choice. On Youtube, Joe Lieberman's eyes and other body parts were fried in hell.
(on-camera): Now you think Senator Lieberman would be feeling the pressure of all this liberal hate. All the bad vibes, insults being hurled at him. He was still putting the Joe in jovial. CNN's Dana Bash asked about those that bashed the senator saying he is enjoying the limelight.
LIEBERMAN: It is no fun to have your colleagues be angry at you. Am I excused?
BASH: You are, sir.
MOOS: Not by everyone. What do you think of Joe Lieberman? Jeanne Moos, CNN New York.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CNN TONIGHT"