Return to Transcripts main page


Final Vote Nears on Senate Health Care Bill; Grading Obama's First Year

Aired December 23, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. I'm Erica Hill, in tonight for Anderson Cooper.

Tonight: history in Washington and high drama. As a final vote approaches on health care reform, we will take a look at what it took to get this far and what it may take to pass that final legislation, plus what reform may do to an already very weak link in the system, your family doctor.

Also ahead, he is coming home, but, after five years in a foreign country with his mother's family, how tough will it be for 9-year-old Sean Goldman to adjust to life in New Jersey with his dad? We are "Digging Deeper."

And a bit later, by popular demand, more of the best of 360, this time with some extra snaky goodness. Hmm.

First up, though, tonight: the countdown to final passage for health care reform in the Senate. After almost a year of debate, months of horse-trading, and weeks of bitter partisan wrangling, senators are staying at work until Christmas Eve for the first time since 1963. And they are sticking around to do something their predecessors have tried and failed to do for nearly 100 years running: pass legislation to give nearly every American access to health care.

The time for that big vote, 7:00 a.m.

The "Raw Politics" now from Jessica Yellin, who joins us after a day that has already seen lawmakers cast seven votes.

Jessica, why seven votes today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, because that is the Senate's style, isn't it? Nothing is simple.


YELLIN: So, Erica, most of those votes were Republican efforts to try and stop this health care bill, challenge it on issues ranging from spending to what they consider unfunded mandates, even the constitutionality of the very bill.

Bottom line, the Republicans were making a last-ditch effort to drive home their message that this bill, in their view, is too costly, grows government too much. But all their votes failed, so now the Democrats have cleared their path to this big and historic vote tomorrow.

HILL: They did, but there was still a little bit of drama surrounding that timing yet again, which I thought we had finally cleared up once and for all yesterday. Apparently not.

So, what was the drama today and with the time movement?

YELLIN: Again, nothing simple. In the midst of their series of...


YELLIN: ... these seven votes, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that that 8:00 a.m. vote they agreed to after much haggling would actually happen at 7:00 a.m.

Now, these Democrats and Republicans are exhausted. And when he said it was going to happen at 7:00, one Democrat let out a yelp, basically a sigh of exhaustion that they would have wake up an extra hour early to go vote for it.

So, Democrats then asked Republicans, will you agree to holding the vote tonight now instead? Republican huddled, but you could see John McCain shaking his head no.

This is just a sign of the measure of partisan acrimony that is there right now. And it's also a sign of their intense exhaustion. It has been epic.

HILL: Yes, and exhaustion for you, too, we should put out, because you have been working this story -- story nonstop.

So, what is next at this point, after the 7:00 a.m. vote?

YELLIN: Right.

What we are going to see next is a big fight after passage. There will be a fight between Pelosi, Reid and the White House. They call it a negotiation. Essentially, the House version of this bill is very different from the Senate version. They have to merge these bills.

And the question is, what will each side give up? Democrats in the House now privately say today they realize they do probably have to give up the public option. That is a big give from liberals. But there are other fights, the abortion language, how to pay for it.

And now the House is going public, saying to reporters, look, we are not going to suck it up and just accept what the Senate passed. So, tough negotiating ahead. Expect the White House to get very involved in final negotiations once they are back in the new year. This thing is far from done, Erica.

HILL: Far from done. And House members already huddling on a conference call today to start talking that out, as I understand.

Jessica, thanks.

President Obama likes to point out that we are all paying to care for the uninsured, with or without a reform bill. It happens every single day in emergency rooms around the country. Covering more people, he says, will lighten that load by enabling them to see and to afford a primary care doctor.

But there is a catch here. Take a look at these figures from the American Association -- the Association of American Medical Colleges, rather, which show we are currently 16,000 primary care physicians short of the number needed in this country -- 16,000 family doctors short. That gap, as you can see, is expected to grow to 46,000 by 2025, just 15 years from now.

And that is before health care reform pumps another 31 million patients into the system.

I asked 360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta about this earlier tonight. Here's his take.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The real goal here is not to simply get people more cards, more health insurance cards, but to actually get them care.

And if they can't get a doctor, in this case, a primary care doctor, who is going to be the first step, that is really going to mean that that is going to be hard for them to -- to get the care that they need. So, they got the card, but not the care.

You know, it is interesting, Erica. Massachusetts, in some way, is a model for this, because they, since 2006, have tried some similar programs. And I was curious about how it was working in Massachusetts.

And I asked Governor Romney -- I sat down and asked him specifically about that, and why E.R.s were just as crowded as ever before. Here is what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I think you have to measure the onset of swine flu and other conditions. I know doctors are busy giving people primary care. And that's an encouraging thing.

I don't believe for a minute that the people are going to say, let's go back to a system where we have 500,000 or 600,000 people without insurance. That's -- that's -- that's the wrong direction.


GUPTA: And it is interesting, Erica, because what he is really saying there is that the first step is to get the access, to really address the access issue, 96 percent now, incidentally, in Massachusetts, and then, you know, work on some of these other important points. We would get more doctors, make sure people don't have to go to the emergency room to get their care.

But that was 2006. And, you know, three, almost four years later now, they are still working on that. It is a process.

HILL: Right. And that shortage seems to be growing. So -- so, what is there in the bill? Because I know there are some elements here that are actually going to address the shortage.

GUPTA: Well, you know, you have 27,000 or so roughly every year medical graduates. And about 6,000 of them go into primary care.

Many would say those ratios should be reversed. You know, you should have more going into primary care and less going into the subspecialties. But that is the system as it has evolved. Some of that has to do with pay. Primary doctors get paid less. And there's been less incentives over the years and those disincentives have built up.

There are some things in the bill that could help. For example, there are some loan forgiveness programs particularly designed for people who go into primary care. Medicare reimbursements for primary care physicians is going to be a bit -- bit higher.

HILL: Yes. And Some of the reasons you give there, one of the main ones, when you look at what a primary care physician makes vs. a specialist, for a lot of people coming out of school, that is why they are specializing, because they're coming out of school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans that they have to pay back.

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, there are people who potentially could be in debt their entire lives, if they go into one of the primary care specialties.

HILL: Right. And part of the problem with care -- and you pointed this out a little bit, too -- is that a lot of people will, just in turn, go straight to the emergency room. There -- there was talk, as you just mentioned, about changing that idea and changing that thought process.

So, how you go about doing that to encourage people, instead, to go to see a doctor?

GUPTA: Yes. Well, a lot of it starts obviously before people get sick in the first place, so trying to keep people healthy.

And that is something that we have heard over and over again with regard to health care reform. Can we create a prevention society, as opposed to disease -- a taking-care-of-disease society? That is the first step.

But, still, there's going to be people who have accidents. They're going to have emergencies and all that. What was really striking about Massachusetts was that the E.R.s are probably as crowded, if not more crowded, than they were back in 2006.

So, people have the card now, and they're maybe thinking more about their health, but they're showing up at the emergency room, because they can't get a doctor.

What's also interesting here is that, you know, out of these 31 million people, Erica, a lot of them are these young invincibles. They are people who really haven't thought about their health. They are immortal in their own minds in many ways.

And, as a result, they -- they predict that the -- the increased burden on the primary care system as a result of adding these 31 million people may only be in the single digits as far as percentage, so...

HILL: Interesting.

GUPTA: ... you know, 4 percent to 9 percent, because, a lot of them, even though they have the card now, still may not see the doctor.

HILL: Right.

GUPTA: And that is another thing that has to be encouraged.

HILL: You mentioned the -- the rates of people going to -- to the emergency room in Massachusetts and how they have gone up a little bit.

But could that be, too, that -- that some people are thinking, well, now that I have coverage, I know that I can go?

GUPTA: I think so, absolutely.


GUPTA: And that could explain why the numbers have gone up a little bit, but also this idea that, when we went there and spent some time in Massachusetts, going -- just going and talking to these patients, why are you here? You know, I have a sprained wrist or I have something that could have probably been seen by a primary care doc.

But they're hearing four to five weeks of waiting.

HILL: Wow.

GUPTA: And that is if they can even get an appointment in the first place.

Many of them, despite the fact that they have had the card for three years, still don't have a primary care doctor assigned to them. So, you know, it's -- it is just difficult for many people.

HILL: That it is, a lot of hurdles still to overcome.

Sanjay, always good to have you help us work this out, though. Thanks.

GUPTA: Happy holidays, Erica.


HILL: As always, you can let us know what you think by joining the live chat now under way at I'm about to log on.

Up next: presidential priorities. How has President Obama done when it comes to meeting his three biggest goals, among them health care? The president gave himself a B-plus lately, but what grade will David Gergen and the rest of our panel give him?

Also, tonight: What went wrong? Investigating the landing that left an American Airlines 737 just feet from the ocean and sent dozens of passengers to the hospital.


HILL: If health care reform passes the Senate tomorrow and then makes it into law, President Obama will make history. But monumental as universal health care may be, it is not the only big item on his agenda. This president has promised a lot. And people expect a lot.

Nearly a year into his administration, we wanted to know, is he living up to expectations?

Tom Foreman has got some answers for us tonight and the "Raw Politics."

Hi, Tom.


Let's start with the issue that looms above all others, for better or worse: the economy. The president promised big improvements. So, let's look at the key indicators here.

Unemployment started this year at about 6.7 -- or 7.6 percent. Now it is at 10 percent. Home losses, they are much worse than they were last year. says more than 300,000 foreclosures each month, nine months in a row.

Bank failures, more than 140 have closed. But the president said fixing all this would take time. And, in fairness, he did inherit many of these problems from George Bush. And there are signs of improvement, especially in the stock market, which has clawed its way back up over the 10000 mark -- Erica.

HILL: But, Tom, OK, so that is -- that is the signature issue. We want to look at the signature issue, rather, health care reform. What about here?

FOREMAN: Yes. Again, he has promised a lot, and he is delivering some of it, in fairness. A health care reform law by the end of the year. The timing? No, that is not going to happen. And even if he gets to sign it in the next month or so, well, it is going to be a mixed bag. The government option, also known as the public option, which he wanted early on, appears to be a long shot, if it has any shot at all.

Coverage for all Americans, another promise there, no. The estimates vary on how many people will remain uninsured, but certainly it will be millions. Still, health care reform has never made it this far before. And it does present a fundamental change for health care coverage in America, so, still big hurdles, but a lot of progress, too -- Erica.

HILL: What about in terms of progress, the issue that so many people at one point thought would really decide the elections? And that would be the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

FOREMAN: Yes, absolutely. The president said he would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. He has. And he continues to do so. He also said we have all of the combat troops out of Iraq by the summer of 2010. That depends on what you define as a combat troop, how he is going to do on that.

In any event, he has planned the withdrawal and he has pretty much followed the blueprint laid out by President Bush, which has angered some of his liberal supporters, who wanted a much more ambitious withdrawal -- Erica.

HILL: And so it begins looking back at the first year.

Tom Foreman, thanks.

Want to take a look at strategy now with senior political analyst David Gergen, political contributor and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. And we're also joined tonight with Tanya Acker, who worked in the White House Counsel's Office during the Clinton administration and currently writes for "The Huffington Post."

Good to have all of you with us.

I wanted to start with David.

And I will start this with you. The president giving an interview to PBS. Here is what he had to say about health care reform.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So when you look at the criteria that I have set forth, this is a good deal. Now, are there provisions here, provisions there, that I would love to have in the bill? Of course. But overall, I think that I have seen 95 percent of what will work for the American people, for small businesses and for the government budget that I was seeking from the beginning.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: So, now begins the fun part for our panel tonight. We are going to let you grade the president.

David, would you give him as high a grade on this as the president appears to be giving himself?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I would certainly give him high marks on the politics of this and political leadership. He sometimes led from behind, not out front.

But Barack Obama has done something no other president has ever done. That is, he has gotten, you know, universal access through the House and he's about to get it through the Senate. And, very likely, he is going to have a bill.

It is on the substance where think that I would give him lower marks. Some of the savings that are promised here seem almost fantastical. They are -- they are fictional. It is just hard to believe the Congress will have the courage to do what it is promising to do.

And, beyond that, bending the cost curve, getting the cost of health care under control, I think most of us think that that is simply not here in a serious way, a lot of experiments.

But I must tell you, my wife and I are proud parents of a daughter, Katherine, who is a primary care doctor here in Massachusetts. And I can just tell you that, in her medical school class, most of the students could not go into primary care because they did not have scholarship help. They have built up all these debts. They have wanted to go that. It is a more idealistic role in many ways, but they simply couldn't afford to do it.

And this bill does not seriously address that issue.

HILL: And that is one of the things we talked about with Sanjay just a little bit earlier.

GERGEN: Exactly.

HILL: So, David, overall if you had to put a letter grade on health care reform for the president, what would it be?

GERGEN: A-minus on politics, B-minus on substance.

HILL: All right.

Leslie Sanchez, we will let you weigh in now, coming to us from the right. What is your grading for the president when it comes to health care reform?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: A C. I would definitely give the president a C, for some of the reasons that David cited, in the sense that he has been successful in a massive expansion of government into health care, a sixth of our economy. He did it in a very hyper-partisan way, without Republican support. There's little margin of error on the Senate and -- and very small margin in the House side. And there's a lot of heavy lifting that has to be done. I think the -- the opportunity here is for the Democrats, for the first time in this process, to have a compromise with Republicans, to come to the table and negotiate something that's fair for a very unpopular bill.

And, for that reason, that's another reason I give it a C.

HILL: Tanya, I think I hear you disagreeing right there.


TANYA ACKER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm afraid that I do. I'm going to give him a B across the board on health care.

I want to jump quickly to something that Leslie said about the hyper-partisanship of this bill. We have to remember that, at the outset of this process, Jim DeMint really encapsulated the Republican position, when he said that beating Obama on this issue would be key to the GOP, and that they would make it his Waterloo. They were unsuccessful in that.

Now, I do think that, substantively, we are going to have to see, not just in terms of the reconciliation, but some of the real meat of this bill really still has -- we have yet to see how that is going to play out.

Remember, in addition to covering another 30 million Americans, in addition to banning the insurance company practice of excluding people with preexisting conditions, this bill is intended to ensure that insurance companies don't have some of these unjustified premium increases that they have heretofore been able to get away with.

And until we know what the regulatory mechanism will be for ensuring that, then we are not going to really know what sort of teeth this is going to have in terms of real consumer protection.


HILL: We are going -- we are going -- don't worry. We are going to continue our grading. We do have to take a quick break.

But we do want to get your thoughts on how the president was doing with his -- with his agenda when it comes to the economy, also Iran and Iraq, which Tom Foreman touched on. So, stay with us, panel. We will be back with that in just a moment.

And a little bit later, want to update you on the news we brought you last night, a Brazilian court ruling Sean Goldman must be returned to his father, David, that reunion now expected to happen tomorrow -- happy news, indeed. But what happens in the days and the months and frankly in the lifetime after the father-and-son reunion? We are "Digging Deeper tonight. Also ahead: You asked for it, more singing, more dancing, more Anderson Cooper cracking up, more of Bob. That's right, 360's best of '09, also known as some of Anderson's most awkward and funniest moments -- just ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Constructionman Ross Bass (ph) of the United States Navy Seegees (ph), Kandahar, Afghanistan.

I just want to wish my mom, dad and girlfriend, Nikki (ph), back in Knoxville, Tennessee, a merry Christmas and a happy new year.



HILL: On the agenda tonight: President Obama and a question made famous by a New York mayor, Ed Koch. So, how am I doing?

How is he doing, the president, coming to the end of his first year in office? Well, a moment ago, our panel graded him on health care.

Back now with that panel, David Gergen, Leslie Sanchez, and Tanya Acker.

OK, now we're going to move on to the economy, and I'm keep going in the same order here, so we can see your grades all aligned up on the big wall. So, don't think I'm playing favorites here.

But, David Gergen, I'm starting with you.

As we look at the economy, we have got, of course, the bank bailout, this giant stimulus package, yet unemployment now at 10 percent, more jobless Americans than when the president took office on January 20. So, has he done as well as he could have or as he promised he would, David?

GERGEN: Erica, it is important to remember that, when the president was taking office, his economic advisers told him that there was a one-in-three chance this country was going to have a Great Depression. And he and his team, along with -- I must say, the Bush team deserves some of the credit, too -- steered us past that, and we didn't go over the cliff.

So, I think, for that, and it's also for the investor class -- I just read that this morning that the S&P 500 has actually gone up 37 percent since he took office. That is the second highest number in all -- in all of presidential history.

So, for a lot of people, this has -- this has -- we are doing a lot better, and we seem to be coming out of it. Unemployment is clearly a lag and it may be much worse than we have had in the past.

He has -- so, I think he is very incomplete on this, both on the unemployment side. And, I must tell you, all this spending, the lack of discipline in Congress, the lack of discipline in Washington, in the face of these mounting deficits, could mean we pay a huge price just down the road in higher inflation and in real deterioration of America's status as a power.

HILL: So, the incomplete because you haven't seen enough yet?

GERGEN: Incomplete.

HILL: OK. Incomplete.

Leslie Sanchez, are you giving him an incomplete or a grade?


HILL: What do you think?

SANCHEZ: Oh, no, I'm happy to give him a D, no doubt, for downward, do-nothing.


SANCHEZ: We can think of a few other things. I think tremendous disappointment is another word I can think of with respect to that.

I like David's optimism. Yes, you know, we did not go on the brink. And I think many economists, I think many historians will agree that it was a tremendously and is a tremendously difficult economic time in our nation's history.

But there's a couple of things. One, it almost seems like the Obama administration, it did embrace some of the policies of the Bush administration with respect to some of this deficit spending.

But this continuation of bailouts, this continuation of spending, and -- and there was an agreement, taking the president at his word that, if we went with him on the stimulus package, we would not see above 8 percent unemployment, and now we are at 10 percent, and, also, just fundamentally a disagreement about where the growth in jobs are.

A lot of conservatives, a lot of individuals look at the growth in small business. That is what has helped this country, historically, recover from bad economic times. You're not seeing that. Even things like health care that we are talking about, you are seeing a burden again placed on small business.

HILL: Right.

I have to...

SANCHEZ: So, for that reason, there's a lot of concern.

HILL: OK. So, you're giving a D.

I have to move you -- I have to move everybody along.


HILL: Tanya, I will let you weigh in now. And I'm guessing your grade might be a little higher. I'm just going out on a limb.

ACKER: My -- good, good guess, Erica. Good guess. I'm going to give him a B.

How could you say that this president did nothing in the face of this crisis really boggles the mind. And I think that, in terms of some of the interventions that he did push, TARP, for instance, we have seen a lot of the largest recipients of TARP money already pay that back.


ACKER: I that we have seen great increases in the Dow.

But all that said, all that said, unemployment certainly does remain a problem. And I think that this is going to be an issue with which he is going to have to contend.

Now, remember, a lot of the stimulus money hasn't made its way through the system yet. So, I think that we still are going to get the benefit of that, both in terms of infrastructure spending and some of the other spending that may boost employment numbers, but there's still a lot of work to do on that issue, no doubt.

HILL: All right, one other big issue that we definitely want to hit before we let you all go.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll -- I'm going to throw up the numbers for you here -- released today finds 59 percent of people support the president's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Iraq winding down now, Afghanistan ramping up.

You guys have about a minute to split between the three of you.

That is your challenge, David Gergen.


HILL: The grade on handling these two wars?

GERGEN: The public gives Barack Obama his highest marks on handling the foreign policy. I think they are right. He has got a very complicated situation in Iraq, which he has handled smoothly. And turning to General Petraeus and General McChrystal in Afghanistan, I think, has been smart. And putting the troops in there has been smart. A-minus.

HILL: A-minus.

Leslie Sanchez?

SANCHEZ: Give the president a B with respect to that, strong on foreign policy. Wish he had made his decisions in a more immediate timetable to protect our troops.

SANCHEZ: And Tanya Acker, I will let you round it out.

ACKER: A-minus. I like the fact that he is deliberative about the decision in Afghanistan. I also like the fact that, in Iraq, he is taking a very aggressive diplomatic stance. I don't think that we would have seen elections in March if he hadn't pushed the Kurdish leadership to agree to that.

So, I'm going to give him an A -- A-minus.

HILL: All right. So, that was the -- that was the overall report card.

David Gergen, Leslie Sanchez, Tanya Acker, always a pleasure to have all of you with us. Have a great Christmas. Thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Merry Christmas.

GERGEN: Thank you, Erica.

ACKER: Thanks. Merry Christmas.

HILL: Still ahead: David Goldman could be just hours away from taking his young son home. We will have the latest details in his custody battle coming up, plus, the difficult days that lie ahead for 9-year-old Sean Goldman. He leaves behind a Brazilian family he knows and loves. What will that readjustment be like for him?

And another nasty winter storm slamming the country, this time taking aim at the nation's midsection. You are looking at live pictures right now from Minneapolis. We will tell you just what the bad weather could mean for your holiday travel.


HILL: Richard and Mayumi Heene facing a Colorado judge today for sentencing. So how much time did they get for cooking up the infamous Balloon Boy hoax? That's coming up.

But first, want to get you the latest on some of the other stories we're following tonight. Randi Kaye here with the "360 Bulletin."

Hi, Randi.


A major winter storm slamming the nation's midsection is making mincemeat of holiday travel plans. This is what it looks like in Minneapolis tonight. The storm causing flight cancellations, delays and worse. In Nebraska and Kansas, slippery roads are being blamed for five deaths. The worst of the storm is still ahead with up to two feet of snow possible in some areas by Christmas day.

Severe weather is also hitting east Texas where there are reports of several tornadoes touching down. The storms have damaged cars, trucks, homes and businesses and knocked out power to more than 1,000 people.

Now to a developing story in southeastern Virginia, where negotiators are trying to convince an armed man to release five hostages being held in a post office. The gunman took them captive this afternoon. Police say shots were fired but there are no reports of injuries. The only demand the gunman has made so far is for pizza.

And we're happy to bring this "360 Follow" to you. Fifteen-year- old Michael Brewer is out of the hospital tonight and back with his family four months early. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body when a group of teenagers allegedly set him on fire in October.

Doctors did not expect Brewer to go home until the spring. His mother said getting out of the hospital was the only thing he wanted for Christmas.

And Prince William may have been born to the manor, not to mention the throne, but he recently spent a night on London's streets, a very chilly night, I might add. Temperatures fell to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. The 27-year-old prince is a patron of a British homeless charity and said he wanted to highlight the plight of homeless British teenagers. Very nice to see him doing that.

HILL: Yes, it is. And wow, how about that young boy in Florida finally getting out? Amazing.

Well, from Prince William to the year in pop culture. As we know, some of it was good. Some of it was very, very bad. But hey, that's good fodder for Tom Foreman, who's covering it all with the special, "All the Best, All the Worst of 2009." He's got a preview now with an eye on TV. Take a look.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Television saw a few hellos...

LEA MICHELE, ACTRESS: Glee is my one shot. If this doesn't work out, then my whole high school life will be nothing but an embarrassment.

FOREMAN: ... a few good-byes...

TONY SHALHOUB, ACTOR: OK, let's say hypothetically that it's not hypothetical.

FOREMAN: ... and a lot of favorites hanging around for more.

HUGH LAURIE, ACTOR: Then it's the right call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think things like "House" and "Criminal Minds," so I'm pro-FBI.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Makes it a federal case now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think "Modern Family" is really funny.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Office" is still really good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to be honest with you, Tom, I mean, I'm a "Gossip Girl" fiend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You feel that way.

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST/AUTHOR: I don't really watch as much TV as I probably should, as a good American. I probably should watch more TV than I do.



HILL: Well, we hope Ben Stein's news addiction, of course, includes "360." Be sure to watch Tom Foreman's special, "All the Best, All the Worst of 2009." It comes your way tomorrow right here at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead tonight, the father who fought for five years to get his son back will soon have his wish. David Goldman is to be reunited with his son, Sean, tomorrow morning.

But what about Sean? He hasn't lived with his dad for more than half of his life. So how will he adjust to the changes? We'll speak to a psychologist.

Also ahead a holiday travel nightmare. An American Airlines plane with close to 150 people on board overshoots the runway, nearly crashes into the Caribbean sea. Everyone survived. We've got the latest for you on what went wrong and right, ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Perry (ph), stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I just want to say season's greetings to my grandma and grandpa back home in Albany, New York. I miss you guys, and I love you guys and thank you for all your support.



HILL: Tonight, a major development in the bitter custody battle over 9-year-old Sean Goldman. Today, the boy's Brazilian relatives said through their lawyer that they will not file any further appeals. They'll begin, in fact, steps to return Sean to his father, David Goldman, immediately.

So what this means now is father and son could be reunited as soon as tomorrow morning, which is when the court ruling says Sean must be handed over.

For David Goldman it is clearly the best possible news. But for the 9-year-old boy at the center of this ugly battle, it's fair to say the next few days will be far from easy. He'll be leaving behind the family that has cared for him since his mother died last year, a family he's lived with for nearly five years.

Let's dig deeper now with psychotherapist Robi Ludwig and "In Session" legal contributor Sunny Hostin. Good to have both of you with us.

It is such an interesting -- I mean, it's such a joyous occasion for his father and for his paternal family, but there is a lot going on when you're a 9-year-old boy.

Robi, what are the biggest hurdles as he heads home and adjusts to life not just with his dad...


HILL: ... but in a different country, where he hasn't lived for five years?

LUDWIG: Well, I think for Sean, he's going to feel like he's kidnapped, and he's going to have a huge adjustment. So he might feel really angry. He's been really suffering, probably from parental alienation syndrome, where he's going to feel like his biological father is evil. So that's something to really consider here.

HILL: And how do you address that? I mean, the Goldman family has said, "Look, we understand there are a lot of hurdles ahead, and so we have been speaking with mental health professionals. You know, we're trying to make this transition as smooth as possible." What should be in place from the moment he gets on that plane?

LUDWIG: Well, I think that Sean should be in therapy, so a therapist can help him basically help him counteract whatever negative feelings he has towards his father.

And also to realize, this is going to take time. This is not something that's going to happen overnight. And so, everybody has to be really smart about it and allow time to take its place and for everybody to kind of develop a natural, loving relationship.

HILL: There has, obviously, this story when you're reporting on it from the U.S. and you see more of the American side of it than you do in Brazil, a lot of people tend to say, "Well, of course, he should go back. This is his biological father. He should absolutely be with him."

But Sunny, you made an interesting point the other day, that you didn't necessarily feel that that was in the best interest of the child. Why is that?

SUNNY HOSTIN, "IN SESSION": Exactly. And thank you for having me on again, because I received dozens and dozens of e-mails: "Shame own, Sunny. Shame on you."

Well, no, the standard, typically, in the United States and all over the world is what is in the best interests of the child when you're determining custody. That's always the standard.

Of course, it was different in this case, because we were talking about an abduction, international abduction, and the child had to be, you know, returned to his father and to the United States.

But the question in my mind still has been is that really in the best interests of this child? And the grandmother, the maternal grandmother, has said he does not want to be in the United States. He does not want to be reconciled with his father.

LUDWIG: Here's the problem, though. Here's the problem. We don't know if this is due to parental alienation.

HOSTIN: That is true.

LUDWIG: And very often, kids really don't know what's in their best interests.

HOSTIN: I disagree with that.

HILL: Well, the judge, though, said in this care he said, "Look, we agree that this child is not of an age where he can say what is in his best interest or where he can even say, 'This is what I want.'" Not old enough to know.

HOSTIN: I disagree with that, because I was a child sex crimes prosecutor, and I interviewed dozens and dozen of children. And I think we can't really dismiss what a child's view is and a child's will.

This is a 10-year-old, 9-year-old child. This is not an infant, 2-year-old, 3-year-old. I don't think that we should be in a position to just say this child's view, his will, his wants, his desires should be dismissed.

LUDWIG: But here' s the thing. That's true. I mean, you certainly don't want to take away a 9-year-old or a 10-year-old's voice. They certainly have preference, and they're allowed to love and feel connected to a parent.

Ideally, what would happen here is if it's treated like a divorce case, where the child is allowed to maintain a love towards the only family that he's really known. And somehow, these two sides can consider, you know, what's in the best interests of these -- this child. And maybe the child needs to continue to love his stepfather. And that there needs to be a cultural awareness.

HILL: That is more than visitation. You mentioned cultural awareness, perhaps an international school, making sure that he sees the family. Does this mean trips back to Brazil?

LUDWIG: It might. And you know, we want to ensure that the child is safe and not in danger of being kidnapped again but that there is an appreciation that he's also Brazilian, that he is going to have a love of the culture and a need for it and a need for his original family.

And also I think, too, the father is going to have to know that his son might act out and be angry with him and will have to take the high road. I mean, everybody has to be really knowledgeable here.

HOSTIN: Exactly. And we'll have to consider what is in the child's best interests...

LUDWIG: Right.

HOSTIN: ... because that is what the governing standard is at this point now that he is in his father's custody.

HILL: And take that into account in terms of just every day dialogue, right?

LUDWIG: Exactly. That's right.

HILL: Said about the other family, which comes back to a divorce case, really.

HOSTIN: And a piece of the story no one is talking about. No one is talking about that.

HILL: That's why you're both here tonight.

LUDWIG: It is normal for the father to feel angry and -- towards this other family. And he needs to not take it out on his son during those tough moments because there are going to be many tough moments. There's no magic bullet to when the parental alienation just goes away.

HILL: And a lot of that, too, is going to be trial by fire. Robi Ludwig, Sunny Hostin, good to have both of you with us. Happy holidays.

LUDWIG: Happy holidays.

HOSTIN: Happy holidays to you, too.

HILL: Just ahead, a horrifying end to a flight. An American Airlines jet skids off the run way in the Caribbean, nearly slides into the sea. You can see how it broke up there. We have the pictures, though, and the stories of survival.

And a little bit later, a reality check for Balloon Boy's dad. He hoped that his stunt would make him famous. Instead, it's sending him to jail. The latest when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HILL: It may take months before investigators know what caused a packed American Airlines flight last night to overshoot the runway in Jamaica.

The Boeing 737 broke apart, as you can see in these pictures, after landing and nearly went into the water. Scores of passengers were injured, but considering what happened to the plane and the horror and the panic that was understandably unfolding inside the cabin, it's no wonder some are calling this near catastrophe a Christmas miracle.

Randi Kaye has an up-close look.


KAYE (voice-over): This is not how passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 331 expected to arrive in Jamaica. Their jet overshot the runway, knocking off an engine, separating from the landing gear, then skidding on its belly, stopping just feet from the Caribbean Sea.

Naomi Palmer was in seat 8D and remembers the pilot warning the weather was bad. It was raining. Still shaken, she spoke with us by phone.

NAOMI PALMER, SURVIVOR OF FLIGHT 331 (via phone): This was this terrible impact, and I realized that we had crashed. And I wondered whether or not we were in the water. And I know when I looked in front of me, it like the plane burst in two.

KAYE: Palmer said she couldn't even see the people in the first class section of the plane anymore. Passengers rushed to get out.

PALMER: I saw people crying, people being hurt and still trying to get off the plane. And when I finally got off the plane and actually, my focus was just to be as far as possible away from the plane.

KAYE: Palmer had boarded in Miami. The flight, carrying 154 passengers and crew, originated in Washington, D.C., but stopped in Miami before skidding off the runway in the Jamaica capital of Kingston shortly after 10 p.m.

Officials are still trying to determine if the weather caused the plane to slide.

PALMER: My thoughts were for me now to try and get off the plane, because everything's telling me it's going to burst in flames. It was pitch black. And because I smelled, like, the oils and everything, that I was really very scared.

KAYE: Palmer eventually slid off the wing to safety. Jamaican officials say at least 90 passengers were taken to the hospital. No life-threatening injuries: mostly fractures, broken bones, cuts and bruises. Many visibly in pain as they were taken off the plane but lucky to be in one piece, unlike the Boeing 737, which broke into many. PALMER: It is a miracle. I don't know how else to put it. I sit here wondering how did this happen and we are still alive?

KAYE: Other than some pain in her ribs, Naomi Palmer feels OK. Holiday miracle or quick-thinking passengers and crew? The reason doesn't really matter, does it, when you survive something as scary as this?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


HILL: Up next, sentencing day for the parents of the so-called Balloon Boy. Did they get off too easy? Did they get what they deserved? We'll tell you the punishment. We'll let you decide.

Also ahead, our favorite moments from 2009, including this one. Let's just say Anderson probably not trying out for "Top Chef" any time soon.


BOBBY FLAY, "IRON CHEF": And then you want to hold the onion down like this, and you want to make slices into the onion. OK? I know, it's not -- it's not easy. Onions are not easy. I have to give you credit even for trying. OK, and then -- and then...

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I have no choice, because you came on the set.

FLAY: OK. That looks pretty good.



HILL: Coming up, we're at it again. Some of the greatest moments from "360" in 2009. Remember the visit we got from Oscar the Grouch? A highlight for all of us around here. I know Anderson will never forget it. He loved it, as well.

First, though, we do want to get caught up on some of tonight's headlines. Randi Kaye back with a "360 bulletin."

Hey, Randi.

KAYE: Hello, again, Erica.

They hoped to get a reality TV show. Instead the parents who are responsible for the Balloon Boy hoax are going to jail. Richard Heene faces 90 days behind bars starting next month. His wife, Mayumi, got 20 days. The Colorado judge also barred them from profiting off their hoax for the next four years.

Swindler Bernie Madoff has been moved to a prison medical facility. There's no word yet on why. Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence after pleading guilty to cheating investors out of $65 billion.

Singer Amy Winehouse is facing assault charges in Britain after she allegedly got in a fight last weekend at a theater. It is her latest brush with the law. A London court cleared her of similar charges in another case back in July.

And the search is on for this bad Santa. A man dressed as the jolly old fellow robbed a Nashville, Tennessee, bank at gunpoint. Yes. And told tellers, no kidding -- we are not making this up, we couldn't make this up -- told tellers that he needed the cash to pay his elves.

HILL: That is so low.

KAYE: Yes.

HILL: I think we can guarantee a certain someone is getting coal in their stockings.

KAYE: Guaranteed.

HILL: Although he doesn't even deserve the coal. But anyway.

KAYE: To pay the elves, feed the reindeer. What next?

HILL: Awful. Come on. Leave the big man alone.

All right. Now to our 360 winners. Tonight's photo, we frankly could not resist. Richard and Mayumi Heene, back for an encore. As you've just heard, they report today for their sentencing hearing.

Our staff winner tonight is Jill. Her caption: "(SINGING) Richard Heene, Science Detective (SPEAKING) and his wife start filming their new reality show, 'Behind Bars'."


HILL: Yes.

Our viewer winner is Richard. His caption: "After the reality TV balloon bubble bursts, reality sets in."


HILL: So, very clever, Richard. Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way. Two fine showings this evening.

And for "The Shot" tonight, our favorite 360 moments of the year. We showed you a few last night, including Anderson's trouble finding Indiana on the map.

KAYE: That was a good one.

HILL: Good moment. We also gave you the crew's show-shopping performance of "Single Ladies," which frankly, we all loved so much, we're bringing it back tonight as an encore... KAYE: Really?

HILL: ... along with some other funny memories from 2009. Take a look.


COOPER: Oscar, welcome.




COOPER: Well, how do you -- how do you say hello to a grouch?

SPINNEY: I say, "Beat it."

HILL: Well, beat it Oscar.

COOPER: This is Erica Hill.

SPINNEY: Hey, I'm in love.

HILL: I love you too, Oscar. This is going to work out very well.

COOPER: Do you use a BlackBerry at all?

SPINNEY: No, I have -- I have a blueberry.

COOPER: You have a blueberry? You like the blueberry better?

HILL: One you found on the street?

SPINNEY: Doesn't work anymore. I danced on it.

COOPER: Well, Oscar, thank you so much for being with us. And congratulations on the 40th anniversary of "Sesame Street."

SPINNEY: All right. Well, I'll accept that, and I want to say to you, Coop, and you, Erica, have a rotten day.

HILL: So I brought in a special guest, one of my colleagues from "The Early Show." Iron chef Bobby Flay...

COOPER: Oh, Bobby Flay.

HILL: ... is here with us. So Bobby is here. And actually, he's here to give you a lesson, Anderson cooper. If you'll turn behind you...

COOPER: How's it going?

HILL: Need you to come off the stage...


HILL: ... and learn how to chop an onion properly. I'll get out of the way to let you boys work your magic.

FLAY: The first thing you want to do is cut this straight down, OK? Straight down like this. All right. And then you have half the onion. You can hold on...

COOPER: I don't really want to hold the onion, because then you smell like onion.

FLAY: No, no. That's part of cooking.

HILL: There is soap and water in the building. You'll be fine.

FLAY: OK. You use a knife like I shave. I can't slow down. OK.

COOPER: I do this.

FLAY: Perfect.

COOPER: I actually used to collect snakes as kid.

HILL: You did?


HILL: Well, this is going to work out really well, because I actually have something for you here in the studio.


HILL: Because you're going to do all these "Planet in Peril" reports. I want to make sure you're safe out there, Anderson Cooper. I want you to learn the skills that John Zarrella mastered. What if you're in the Everglades, Anderson?

COOPER: Can I hold him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she's friendly enough.

COOPER: Friendly enough?

HILL: See, everybody was thinking you'd be totally freaked out and that you wouldn't even want to get near the snakes.

COOPER: No one knew what I actually feel.

HILL: Look at that. See, you learn something new about Anderson Cooper every day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't worry. She's just tasting the air, tasting the smells around.

COOPER: That's what the tongue is used for, for like smell?


COOPER: Yes. Erica, would you like to hold her?

HILL: No thank you.

COOPER: Really?

HILL: Yes really.

COOPER: You sure?

HILL: No really, I'm sure.

COOPER: OK, just ahead, secrets to a long life, probably not involving snakes. Start by staying away from -- pythons.

So, it's Floor Crew Friday, which is a celebration of all things having to do with the floor crew. Tonight, the guys are giving us their take on Beyonce's "Single Ladies," so releasing the fury, here's Bob, Frank and Joe.



HILL: That just doesn't get old.

It never gets old. It never gets old.


HILL: I love it.

KAYE: It gets funnier, actually, every day.

HILL: It does.

KAYE: Maybe it's just us. I don't know.

HILL: Frank, Bob, Jerry, fine work, as always. Beyonce, look out.

Before we go, there might be a little something in the water around here this week. Earlier tonight, our magic wall producer David Reisner (ph) proposed to his girlfriend nearby in the park here on skates, on ice skates.

Now, the best we can tell also, our very own technical production manager, Brooke Turnbull (ph) is not quite so light on his feet, but he is no less romantic. Brooke let us know he popped the question to 360 alum Amanda Townsend (ph), and yes, they both said yes.

KAYE: Too cute.

HILL: So the best to both couples. Fantastic news. We wish them all the best. So excited for them.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, voting on health-care reform, 7 a.m., right there. Got a little preview for you, coming up.


HILL: Good evening again. Thanks for being with us. I'm Erica Hill, in for Anderson Cooper.