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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democrats' Grip on Power Slipping?; Terror Suspect Indicted

Aired January 6, 2010 - 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: Also this hour, the president has more to say about the attempted terror on Christmas. We're going to tell you what we are learning about his statement tomorrow and how much responsibility he is willing to take.

And two Senate Democrats are calling it quits. Now their party is perhaps more afraid than ever of losing that hard-won advantage over Republicans.

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

Less than two weeks after he allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab now is an indicted man, a federal grand jury in Detroit charging him with six counts in the failed Christmas attack.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has been going over the indictment.

And it is pretty specific.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is. It is interesting, Wolf. The word terror is never used in the six-count indictment, but that is exactly what it is all about.

The 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is now facing the following charges, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison, also attempted murder of the 289 other people on that Northwest Airlines flight, willfully attempting to attack and destroy the aircraft, willfully placing a destructive device in aircraft, and two counts covering possession of a firearm or destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence.

Abdulmutallab will be arraigned Friday in Detroit.

I sat down with Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano today and asked her what the threat to aviation looks like right now more than a week after the attempted bombing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: That is a really hard question to answer. I think it has changed. You know, the typical kind of assumption on the threat was sort of a large conspiratorial 9/11-style attack.

What we saw on Christmas was an individual who comes out of Yemen, who has been radicalized, who gets into the travel system. Dots are not connected in the intelligence community. And that is what the president has ordered to be addressed and rectified. He gets through the screening done at Amsterdam, and gets on a plane bound for the United States.

That is a much more difficult threat in a way to deal with than a conspiracy where you have multiple ways to intercept communications and the like. So, I would say it is a changing threat and perhaps a more difficult threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Napolitano says she thinks the events of Christmas Day have heightened global awareness that aviation security has to be improved, and some of her top deputies are traveling abroad to galvanize support.

She would not preview what additional aviation security measures the administration is considering, but, interestingly, she said aviation is not the only sector her department is worried about. As a precaution, DHS has surged personnel to ports and land borders to conduct additional searches of incoming cargo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Which is a good idea, I'm sure. Thanks very much for that, Jeanne.

The ranking Republican member on the House Homeland Security Committee is not satisfied with the administration's response to the attempted terror attack. Congressman Peter King of New York says someone should be fired for the acknowledged security failures. Today, the Joint Chiefs chairman is echoing the administration's line that the intelligence community needs to do a better job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We had the data. We had the information. We had the intelligence, but we just didn't get it shared. So, it is not a perfect system. We endeavor and there are an awful lot of tremendous people who work to make it perfect, but there is a human factor here that is in play.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Admiral Mike Mullen spoke earlier in the day at George Washington University here in the nation's capital.

President Obama and Democrats have perhaps some new reason to worry. Right now, they are staring at some serious threats to their grip on power in the U.S. Senate. Might they lose their 60-seat supermajority? That is question now that one of the president's closest and most powerful allies has essentially decided you won't have him to kick around anymore.

We're talking about Chris Dodd of Connecticut. And he is not the only senator bowing out.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, for more -- Dana.

BASH: That's right. Well, two senior Democrats in the past 24 hours have decided and announced that they are going to retire. One is Chris Dodd. And he of course is well known and widely respected by the party faithful.

It sounds counterintuitive and even crass, but we talked to Democratic political strategists all day today, and they say when it comes to the balance of power, holding on to Dodd's seat, they are quietly relieved he is retiring.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A 30-year senate veteran took a painful step to protect himself and his party.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: There are moments for each elected public officials to step aside and let someone else step up. This is my moment to step aside.

BASH: Chris Dodd spoke of a trying year. His battle with cancer, then losing his sister and best friend Ted Kennedy to the disease. But the big factor was that internal data showed his reelection virtually unwinnable, say Democratic sources.

DODD: Now, let me be clear. I'm very aware of my present political standing here at home in Connecticut.

BASH: That standing started to drop two years ago. Dodd not only waged a long-shot bid for president, he moved his wife and children from Connecticut to Iowa. But Connecticut voters appeared to take it as a sleight. Then he was dogged by controversy, an alleged sweetheart mortgage deal from Countrywide. The Ethics Committee eventually cleared him, but then there was this --

(on camera): You were very adamant yesterday, very adamant, you didn't know how this change got in there. And now you're saying your staff did work with the administration.

DODD: Going back and looking, and obviously I apologize...

BASH (voice-over): Dodd denied, then later admitted to CNN he helped write legislation that allowed AIG executives to keep controversial bonuses. His poll numbers collapsed, and never fully rebounded, despite leading roles in high-profile issues like health care. Dodd's exit now is actually good news for Democrats. They hope to keep the seat with Connecticut's popular attorney general, who jumped right in.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: This will be very much a grass-roots, bottom- up campaign.

BASH: But this surprise retirement of lesser-known Senator Byron Dorgan does worry party leaders. His was a safe democrat from North Dakota, a red state Democratic sources admit they could now lose.

STU ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The bottom line is still nationally a difficult one for Democrats where in the Senate, it looks like this could lose some seats, and that 60-seat majority that they hold could be slipping away day by day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: At this point, as we enter 2010, Democrats are in danger of losing about a handful of seats. One of the most endangered Senate Democrats is the Democratic leader, Harry Reid. Polls show he is well known back home in Nevada, but not very well liked by his constituents.

His so-called favorable ratings, Wolf, there are actually pretty low, and he is actually trailing potential Republican challengers. There are several Republican challengers. They will have a primary later in the year. This is going to be definitely one of the races to watch, Harry Reid's race.

BLITZER: Have you heard any indication at all that Harry Reid might do what Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan have done and announce that he is retiring?

BASH: No indication whatsoever. Harry Reid is at the pinnacle of his career. And remember Harry Reid was a fighter, a boxer, and you talk to anybody around him and you talk to Harry Reid himself, he will tell you that, remind you that, and say that he is not somebody who gives up.

BLITZER: Let's see how much he can fight.

BASH: Yes, sure will.

BLITZER: He's going to have to fight.

Thanks very much.

BASH: Thanks.

BLITZER: While Democrats have reason to worry, do Republicans also have some reason to fear regarding those Senate elections come November?

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She is looking at this part of the story.

What are you seeing, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are six Republican senators who are retiring this year. All but one of them are long-term office-holders. Here is a look at all of them.

And it is usually easier for a party to reelect an incumbent than win an open race. So, this creates some vulnerabilities for the Republican Party. Now, four of these races can be considered tossup seats. First of all, there's Ohio, where Republican Senator George Voinovich is retiring. Obama won this state in the presidential election. And that Senate race could really go either way.

Another swing state, Missouri. Senator Kit Bond is retiring. Democrats really do have a chance of picking up a seat there, too. Also, in New Hampshire, Senator Judd Gregg -- this is Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He's in a tough race for Democrats.

OK. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, he is in jeopardy of -- he's retiring, but Republicans are in jeopardy of losing that Senate seat as well. Wolf, even Florida, where Senator Martinez is retired, now, current Governor Charlie Crist, you have thought he would be a shoo-in for Republicans to win that seat because he is so well known, but because of internal fighting in the party, Republicans could even fumble that race.

So, while Democrats stand to lose seats on their side, they could keep up their total count if they pick up just a few of those Republican seats we just mentioned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How hard would it be, Jessica, for the Republicans to actually take control of the Senate?

YELLIN: Well, that is the big question. See, to win a majority, of course, you need 51 seats for the Republicans. They would first of all have to hold on to all those six Senate seats I mentioned. Plus, they would have to pick up an additional 11 seats. And in politics that is what you call an uphill climb, not likely to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is an uphill climb. All right, thanks very much, Jessica Yellin.

Here is a question. How could this ever happen? How did an airplane come so close to being blown up near Detroit? Regarding that failed Christmas terror attempt, the initial report on what went wrong comes out tomorrow, but, today, our David Gergen has some inside information from his sources.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: David Gergen is joining us in a minute. He's got some new information on what is going on over at the White House.

But let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Not a good sign for the Democrats when that growing list of lawmakers, including veteran Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, are choosing not to run for re-election this coming fall.

Dorgan in North Dakota says he wants out of politics, wants to do other things. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd acknowledges he's in a difficult political situation, and he has personal reasons for not running for a sixth term. Dodd has been under fire for ties to the financial industry and for being the beneficiary of a VIP mortgage loan.

Things are looking rough for the Democrats come November in the midterms. When you consider the sagging poll numbers of President Obama and the Democratic Party, some suggest the Republicans could wind up having their best midterm election in some years and making some big gains.

In the Senate, the Democrats stand to lose their filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes. And it's estimated they could lose 20 to 30 seats in the House. If those things happen, President Obama will be almost rendered powerless when it comes to getting his legislation passed.

These retirements come at a time when Democratic incumbents like Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Arlen Specter facing tough reelection fights of their own. Reid will probably lose in Nevada.

To be fair, it's not just Democrats who are leaving town. In the Senate, there are five Democrats, six Republicans not running for reelection. In the House, there are five Democrats retiring and six running for other offices. There are two Republicans retiring and 12 running for other offices.

But, today, we talk about the Democrats. Here's the question: Why are so many Democrats heading for the exits?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you. Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Security forces in Yemen right now are hunting for a suspected al Qaeda leader thought to be behind a threatened attack. Concern about a plot forced this week's closures of the U.S. and British embassies. Yemen says it has stepped up anti-terror operations since that failed Christmas airliner bombing plot tied to extremists in Yemen. But Yemen's foreign minister tells CNN his country won't accept direct American intervention in the fight against al Qaeda. He says Yemen does want technical know-how, intelligence information, and firepower from the United States, also cash as well.

The initial report ordered by the president of the United States on the botched airliner bombing is due out tomorrow. The White House says an unclassified version will be made public and the president will also make another statement.

Our senior political analyst, David Gergen, is here. He's been talking to his sources.

David, what is the administration's next move?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the report tomorrow is important for them.

I think one of the things we have been speculating about, are any heads going to roll? The person who has been most in question is a fellow named Michael Leiter, who runs the National Counterterrorism Center. And I am told, Wolf, that he -- quote -- "is safe," which suggests I don't think any heads are going to roll tomorrow.

Instead, there is a real chance the president may take personal responsibility tomorrow. He did so in the meeting yesterday. He told his people basically...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: In the confidential meeting in the Situation Room.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: In a confidential meeting. He did not publicly, and that was noted by say Paul Begala on CNN.

BLITZER: He didn't do a Harry Truman, when he said the buck stops here.

GERGEN: Right, or a JFK after the Bay of Pigs, said I'm the responsibility party in this country.

I think he's about ready to do that and I think it may well come tomorrow. They are also very interested in how this young man was radicalized and how effective and how quick the process was in Yemen. He was first drawn in to their net to a very large degree through the Internet, just as Hasan was.

One person today called it hauntingly persuasive, what they put out on the Internet. But once he got to Yemen, they say the process of radicalization was extremely quick, and they essentially created a cult. They're creating a cult for these people, and then sending them forth.

Now, whether the White House will also say anything tomorrow -- there's been this question. He is -- he's black. And these were...

BLITZER: The Nigerian.

GERGEN: Yes, the Nigerian. And these were Arab Muslims. So, whether they will say anything about that tomorrow, I don't know that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What would be the point of pointing out the obvious?

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Well, pointing out the obvious, but also are there -- the question arises are Arab Muslims using blacks and sending them out as suicide bombers? They have used a lot of other Arabs before, but are they starting to do that? I think that would be -- we will have to wait and see what they say about that.

But, beyond that, in terms of what actually happened within the administration and why they missed it, they had all these fragmentary information, but there was a management problem. No one was ever assigned apparently within the administration, within the government to put all the fragments together. Instead, they...

BLITZER: What about the National Counterterrorism Center? I thought that was their job.

GERGEN: Well, that's their job. They handled the stuff, but they never really assigned anybody to pull it all together. And they are looking...

BLITZER: Well, that is a blunder.

GERGEN: Well, that's right. That is a blunder. It is a management blunder.

BLITZER: Yes.

GERGEN: And it is not an individual. It's a management blunder. You know, it was not somebody down in the ranks who just -- that screwed it up.

What they are looking to do is see if they can somehow get their computer who will sort of what they call pulse this information on a more regular basis, will automatically do it, so you don't have to rely necessarily on human fallibility.

BLITZER: Don't go away. We have got more to discuss.

David Gergen with some good information for us.

And of course we will have extensive coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow on this new report that the president will release. And we will see if the president does in fact say the buck stops with him, and he takes personal responsibility for the failures that did occur. Stand by for that.

The Homeland Security Department looking for some volunteers right now as it tries to tighten up security in the wake of the failed Christmas Day airline bombing. Details of the jobs DHS is looking to fill, that, you will see and hear right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Even as the Obama administration investigates intelligence failures, the Department of Homeland Security is taking on a new role in trying to keep terrorists off planes and out of the U.S.

And we are working to track down the father of that bombing suspect who was so concerned about his son's extremist views that he went to the CIA. We are going to tell you what we are learning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now: The Homeland Security Department wants more U.S. air marshals and more people looking at visas in the wake of that failed Christmas Day airline bombing, and it's asking for volunteers from within its ranks.

And what role, if any, will the father of the suspect in that botched attack play in his son's trial? Will he testify or possibly use his vast resources to help his child's defense?

Plus, what some see as a dig by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, against President Obama. Is there any growing tension between these two people? I will ask the best political team on television.

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

Let's get some more now on the top story. A federal grand jury today indicted the suspect in the airliner bombing attempt. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab faces six counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder.

After that Christmas Day incident, President Obama said he ordered some changes in the wake of the attempted plane bombing. And now it looks like people who worked for the Department of Homeland Security are being asked to step up and take on some new duties.

Our Special Investigations Unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau is joining us now. She has got some new information she is just learning.

Abbie, what are you learning?

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Well, Wolf, one of the changes ordered by the president is to put more air marshals on flights.

And, just today, the Department of Homeland Security sent out an internal notice looking for volunteers to work as air marshals starting immediately. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents have already relieved some training as part of their regular jobs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbie, this is the second request for volunteers at DHS this week.

BOUDREAU: That's right.

CNN has also learned about a request seeking qualified DHS employees to help check visas at American consulates and embassies around the world. In most places, that is part of the job of the State Department, but in some areas, Homeland Security puts its own officials inside diplomatic missions to assist screening people who apply for U.S. visas.

So, the officials would also help with checking the selected applicants and writing intelligence reports. The officers would be assigned to an embassy for at least 30 days. The request says, in part -- quote -- "Work is conducted in an embassy or consulate, some of which are located in high-threat areas."

Now, Wolf, of course, this is so critical right now in light of the questions being raised about how the bombing suspect got on the plane and why his visa for the United States was not revoked.

BLITZER: Abbie, what can Homeland Security Department officials do that State Department diplomats or officials can't do?

BOUDREAU: Well, unlike Homeland Security officers, we are told that State Department officers who process visa requests not part of law enforcement. They simply don't have that extensive training to thoroughly check someone who is trying to get a U.S. visa.

So, by putting Homeland Security officers in these embassies, it is another counterterrorism tool. So, right now, this program operates in 12 countries through Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The agency says the program is set up to prevent terrorists, criminals and other ineligible applicants from getting a U.S. visa.

Now, of course, we did reach out to DHS. DHS did decline to comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbie Boudreau working the story for us, thank you

With the indictment in the botched Christmas Day terror attack, questions are now being raised about what role, if any, may be played by the accused man's father, a powerful and wealthy banker who warned U.S. officials of his son's anti-American extremism.

Our Brian Todd is working that part of the story for us today.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, this suspect is about to have his first hearing in federal court. No word on where his family is at the moment or how they'll handle themselves in this case. But the accused terrorist has a whole new set of charges to face.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Federal officials escalate their legal offensive against airline bombing attempt suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charging him with six counts in a new indictment, including the attempted murder of 289 people aboard on that Northwest Airlines flight, and the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Penalties if he is convicted range from 20 years to life in prison. Will Abdulmutallab's family be involved in a possible trial? They are not talking to the media. Officials at the Nigerian embassy in Washington wouldn't go on camera with us, but one diplomat there said the embassy has not heard from the suspect's father, Al-Hadji Umaru Abdulmutallab. They don't know if he is in the U.S. or if he has plans to travel to America. Nigerian community leaders in the U.S. who say they don't personally know the family tell us they believe the father will be very torn. They say he may show moral support to his son, may use his vast resources to assemble a top legal team, but one community leader also says this.

EDWIN DYKE, NIGERIAN FOUNDATION OF MICHIGAN: I bet you that Al- Hadji would do whatever thing that he think (sic) will help the situation. He does not support the actions of Farouk.

TODD: Edwin Dyke says that means that the father could take the stand. He points out, it was the father who first alerted U.S. authorities to his son's extremist views, but the family is not likely alone in its angst.

(On camera): Observers say that like the family Nigerian officials here in the embassy and elsewhere are engaged in a delicate balancing act between needing to meet their obligations regarding a Nigerian citizen and not wanting to give the perception of too closely supporting an alleged terrorist.

(Voice-over): Ephrain Emeka Ugwuonye is a Nigerian attorney in Washington who's represented the embassy in the past. He says Nigerian officials have consulted him informally about this case.

(On camera): What kind of balance does the Nigerian government have to strike in this case?

EPHRAIN EMEKA UGWUONYE, NIGERIAN ATTORNEY: There is no doubt that Nigerians in Nigeria, outside Nigeria, are interested in the case. It is a case with profound implications for the country. So I expect Nigerian government to be deeply interested in this case. However, given the prevailing sentiment, Nigerian government is going to try to be subtle. I would not like to come so openly or actively in support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The Nigerian official at the embassy did tell us someone from the embassy did travel to Michigan in the days after the incident to give the suspect what he called consular access, but he did not give details on what was discussed at that meeting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In that seven-page indictment, which I read, there is some new information about the explosives that he brought on to that plane and it sort of brings back some memories of another high-profile attempt to blow up a plane.

TODD: It sure does. The indictment says that Abdulmutallab carried a substance called triacetone triperoxide, also known as TATP. This is a substance that experts say helps light the other explosive that he allegedly carried, that PETN which is so potent.

Terrorist experts say the shoe bomber Richard Reid also carried TATP on his flight. This case has many similarities, as you know, to that case, and here is another similarity. BLITZER: Because Richard Reid also had PETN in addition to that.

TODD: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: So...

TODD: The cases really are very, very similar.

BLITZER: The only difference is where Richard Reid put those explosives on his body.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: In his shoe as opposed to Abdulmutallab who put them in his underwear.

TODD: The parallels are very eerie.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian. Brian Todd doing excellent reporting as he always does.

Following the devastating suicide bombing that killed seven CIA operatives at an outpost in Afghanistan, new security guidance has gone out to U.S. bases throughout that country.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is working this story for us.

Chris, what are you learning today?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. intelligence official is now telling CNN that they believe that this suicide attack was ordered at the very highest levels of al Qaeda, because it struck at the very heart of American efforts to find Osama bin Laden.

The official calls the sophistication in this attack unprecedented. Remember, this was a man, Umam Khalil al Balawi, who had posted openly on some jihadist Web sites talking about jihad and yet, both Jordanian and some American officials believe he had been turned, he was working for them.

Several sources now say that they picked him up outside of the CIA base. They put him in a car without searching him. They drove him on to the base, bypassing the layers of security there, and that he detonated a hidden security belt or vest within very shortly after getting out of the car on base.

He was given all that leeway, because intelligence sources say he had been giving them good credible information over a period of months and now he was dangling a huge carrot, the whereabouts of al Qaeda's number-two man, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Wolf?

BLITZER: Pretty chilling stuff when you think about it. A highly educated Jordanian, a doctor, a double agent, and a suicide bomber. When you think about it, it's very chilling indeed. All right, Chris, thank you.

Imagine, you're at the airport and someone slips explosives in your bag. That's what happened at one airport. You may be shocked to learn who planted the explosives in the passenger's luggage and why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, an airline security test gone horribly wrong. Slovakian authorities admit that they planted explosives in a person's luggage on a Saturday flight from Slovakia to Ireland without the passenger knowing it.

They say a police officer failed to take the explosives out of the bag at a security checkpoint. The unwitting passenger was tracked down and the explosives were recovered. Slovakia calls the test a mistake but insists no one was endangered saying the explosives were harmless without other bomb components.

And today, President Barack Obama unveiled a multi-million dollar program to boost American students' math and science scores. The $250 million initiative will help train more than 10,000 new teachers over the next five years. It will also support professional development of more than 100,000 current teachers. The program is funded with both private and public funds.

And thousands of mourners filled a New York church today for the funeral of legendary civil rights attorney Percy Sutton. Sutton was perhaps best known for representing Malcolm X. He was also a member of the famed Tuskegee airmen and became a successful media mogul and New York politician. A host of dignitaries attended today's service including Attorney General Eric Holder.

Sutton died December 26th at the age of 89. Wolf?

BLITZER: He'll be remembered for a long time indeed, Percy Sutton, in New York. Thanks very much. Our condolences to his family, to be sure.

Is there a growing tension between Nancy Pelosi and President Obama? Details on what the House speaker said that's fueling some of these buzz.

And Newt Gingrich says Americans may die because of President Obama's policies. Is he going too far?

All of that is coming up, plus the best political team on television.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The former House speaker Newt Gingrich is raising some eyebrows saying American are more likely to die because of President Obama's policies and defending the comment as good citizenship.

Let's talk about that and more with the best political team on television. CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, conservative commentator, Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief with CNSNews.com, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, and our CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen.

Now, David, I'll read to you what the speaker said in the "USA Today." Some of us believe that the Obama administration's policies on terrorism are profoundly wrong in principle and very dangerous in practice. If we truly believe Americans are more likely to die because of the Obama administration's policies, don't we have an absolute obligation to speak out?"

What's the answer?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's right. I think once you go back to Churchill in the 1930s, he called repeatedly for rearmaments, said the policies were weak. He went after appeasement especially after Munich. He went after Chamberlain. He said this was a surrender and he was later regarded as a hero for someone who's willing to say the truth.

And I think there are times I think one has to be thoughtful about the language, but sounding the toxin, it seems to me, is a part of western tradition to go back a long way.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But there's a way to do it, and I think, as Richard is referring to, and to say that President Obama will cause people to die is like Dick Cheney on steroids...

BLITZER: Well, he says if. He says if.

BORGER: If. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: His policies. It's like Dick Cheney saying, you know, we're not safer, we're -- it's worse . I mean, you can personalize it. They have a case to make. They have a legitimate case to make if they want to make, but it is the language and it is the perception that it's a personal attack on President Obama rather than policies. And that -- you know, that crosses the line.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS.COM: Wolf, I agree with David. The most important function of the federal government is national security. When you have a question of war and peace, it's always the most intense debate we have in America. I thought Newt Gingrich's column was excellent.

And look at it, we have a president who ran for office in part because he objected to the war policies of President Bush. He thought the war in Iraq was needless. Therefore he thought men died needlessly in Iraq. This is a legitimate topic of debate. That column goes on to talk about the question of trying terrorists in civilian court which was your last story on this show.

This is a huge question. And there is a question of whether Americans will die because of the policies we're pursuing.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, so here's the problem. The problem, of course, someone -- if they think there's a problem with what the president is doing has the right to say so. Democrats said so about the Iraq war for years, and they have the right to do that.

The problem here is, it sounds like Gingrich is playing -- Newt Gingrich is playing a little politics here, and that's what doesn't helps us at all. Is he against the president sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to try to go after terrorists? Is he against predator strikes in the Pakistan, as we assume are true, to go after terrorist?

Is he against putting more TSA officers now that we have a problem at the airports? Is he against us going after the terrorists who we catch on our shores -- or trying to hurt us?

The president of the United States is taking national security very seriously and it is not helpful to have a Republicans -- former speaker -- out there questioning his commitment to protecting American lives.

BLITZER: Hold your thoughts, because I want to quickly want to talk about Nancy Pelosi. She said something yesterday that are creating some buzz suggesting when she was asked why not allow C-SPAN to televise some of these final rounds of negotiations over health care reform, they pointed out to where the president said during the campaign that he wanted C-SPAN cameras to show us everything happening in these negotiations. No backroom deals.

Here's what she said. Listen. It's very quick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: There were a number of things he was for on the campaign trail.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If you didn't catch it, I'll read it to you. "There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail," and then she laughed. Is she...

BORGER: Right. She's not laughing.

BLITZER: I mean, is she taking a hit at the president there? BORGER: Of course, she's saying -- she hit at the president. Yes. She -- you know, for example, she is for the public option, the president likes the Senate bill that's not going to have the public option. She doesn't like the way the Senate raised taxes to pay for health care reform. And it's likely that, you know, the Senate could prevail in this case.

So I think, you know, she's representing her folks in the House of -- but, sure, there's a lot of things that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party are upset with President Obama.

BLITZER: It's only a few seconds, but it's created a little stirrup there.

GERGEN: Well, it has created a little stir. I don't agree with her policies frequently, but I do respect her as a leader.

BORGER: Yes.

GERGEN: And she's tough. And she gave him a little elbow in the ribs because she's getting crowded, just as Gloria said. She's going to -- you know...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jamal, can you defend the administration's backing away from that campaign commitment to let C-SPAN cameras show the American people everything?

SIMMONS: Yes. I'm not sure exactly what people are talking about on this. I mean I think on the reality, we know that they had an initial kickoff. They had 260 people there. Everybody was able to watch it. They've done 11 roundtable meetings.

GERGEN: Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: No. They did. They had 11 roundtable meetings on the Web site.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: On the Web site. Nine of them are still available online. The House had hundreds of...

BORGER: Come on. You know.

SIMMONS: And the Senate had hundreds of hearings about this in public. So the bill that is produced is a bill that the public has had a lot of...

BORGER: No, Max Baucus wrote a bill in his private -- behind closed...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Terry gets the last word.

JEFFREY: Well, real quick. They do not want the American people to know what is in this bill. But it's not unusual for Speaker Pelosi to make sarcastic quips at her press briefings. It is unusual for her to direct them at the president.

The bottom line, though, is if she doesn't cooperate with President Obama and agree to take the Senate health care plan, and Congressman's Stupak's abortion language in it, and move it through the House, they will not get a health care bill. So I as a conservative against this health care bill am rooting for Nancy Pelosi to get...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Hold your thoughts, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: Go, Nancy.

BLITZER: All right. We got -- we'll continue this conversation tomorrow.

Let's check in with Kyra Phillips to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

What are you working on, Kyra?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. We're working on a lot. Coming up at the top of the hour, important news for the 22 million Americans struggling with depression. A new study says that common drugs used to treat the disorder like Prozac and Paxil are great for drug profits but may not help most people.

Researchers found that a placebo-like sugar pill actually works just as well as drugs for mild cases of depressions. And many people get painfully addicted to the medication. So how will this affect the treatment of depression in the future?

Please join us for all that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Be happy to. See you in a few moments. Kyra, thank you.

More fiscal pain, plus Hurricane Katrina and yodeling in Austria, all of it contained in Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial swan song. We have details of his final state of state address.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack? JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is why are so many Democrats heading for the exits with the midterm elections coming up? And the reason we focus on the Democrats is because they control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. So that was the reason for that because we got some question firing about that.

Jamie writes, "Because they know they don't have a snowball's chance of being reelected. They were put in the position of being irrelevant within their own party or supporting on popular policies set forth by Pelosi, Reid, and Obama. It's more profitable to remain loyal to the party."

Marie in Portland writes, "Do the math. There are more Republicans not running for reelection in the Senate than there are Democrats. The same goes for the House. So why aren't you asking why are so many Republicans heading for the exits?"

Monroe in Connecticut writes, "Even the Democrats are starting to see the folly of the Obama administration. Talk about a sinking ship. Chris Dodd has been a disgrace as was his father before him in Connecticut. This viewer lives in Connecticut. They're all just worthless thieves who are in it to line their pockets. Dodd just jumped off the ship before the people turned him out. He's worthless."

William in New Jersey writes, "It's time all the hacks get out regardless of political party. Let's get some fresh non-partisan blood in there." Yes, that'll happen.

Rich writes, "I would first ask the question is this normal for any off-year election? Also aren't there as many or more Republicans who have chosen to run in the fall? Your question seems to exaggerating the situation."

Ron writes from Copenhagen, "As much as I hate to say it because I am very pro-Obama, I think these guys are abandoning what they see as a sinking ship. It's too bad, really, as the administration has been the first glimmer of hope the U.S. has seen in many, many years."

And Jeremy in the interest of keeping me humble, I guess, writes from Albuquerque, New Mexico, "Your article answers your own questions. All these politicians are either retiring or moving ahead with their careers. Go home and get some sleep. You sound like a complete idiot today."

Just today? If you want to read more about this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: Is he is friend of yours?

CAFFERTY: See you tomorrow.

BLITZER: A friend of yours, Jeremy in New Mexico?

CAFFERTY: Not anymore. We used to be close. But I'm calling it off now.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks -- see you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

Let's check with Jessica. She has our "Political Ticker." Jess?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York could wind up with a formidable challenger in the Democratic primary this fall. The "New York Times" is reporting former congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is considering a bit to unseat Gillibrand.

Some prominent New York Democrats just aren't satisfied with the senator. You'll remember she was appointed last year to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. And Ford, he represented Tennessee in the House, but he moved to New York three years ago.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered his final state of the state address. And the prognosis is not good. The Republican warned of more pain ahead as the state confronts a massive budget crisis. Schwarzenegger likens the fiscal crisis to Hurricane Katrina but he also expressed confidence and has promised to bring about economic reform before he leaves office.

He says, if he ever hesitated to try something hard, he'd still be yodeling in Austria. We'd like to hear that.

And just when you thought you may have heard all about the political retirements there are, well, guess what? Here's another one. Democratic Party sources tells CNN that Colorado's Governor Bill Ritter has decided not to run again this fall.

Ritter was facing a tough reelection battle against a former Republicans congressman, Scott McInnis, and Colorado will now become the 11th open governor's seat the Democrats have to defend in November.

Republicans are also defending 11 open seats of their own. I think, Wolf, we are going to be very, very busy this election season.

BLITZER: And we'll be. A lot of politicians want out, and guess what, a lot of politicians want in. So we will certainly be busy. A lot of new names out there.

Thank you.

Forget what's happening in the foreground. Sometimes the background is where the fun is.

CNN's Jeanne Moos getting ready to take a "Most Unusual" look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Kids, koalas and more. If you're going on camera, be careful who's behind you. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sure, you can tell everyone where to stand. But getting kids to stand still, good luck.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D), CONNECTICUT: I am still driven by the same passions...

MOOS: We were more interested in what Senator Chris Dodd's daughter was whispering.

DODD: So many, many years ago.

MOOS: Than we were in his speech. Four-year-old Christine had her hand on dad's shoulder.

DODD: Wishing that I could have seen...

MOOS: And on mom's nose.

DODD: Political shape of my career.

MOOS: And check out the older daughter going gaga at the mention of her name.

DODD: These young children, Divine Grace who's 8.

MOOS: When her dad kisses here, she wipes it off. Judging from her parting words, Grace would rather be saying Grace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm starving.

DODD: Come on in here, gang.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm starving. I'm starving.

MOOS: But (INAUDIBLE) what they eat. The man voters pick to be New Jersey's next governor wasn't the only thing picked at his acceptance speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want the government to fix every problem. They just want to give a hands-up...

MOOS: We've seen enough of the lieutenant governor-elect's on getting his hand up.

Remember Chief Justice John Roberts' son. He made the papers for escaping his mom's clutches and crawling around as the president introduced his dad.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: He is an honors graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

MOOS: Young Jack graduated to hand signals and fancy footwork. BUSH: After he was nominated for the Court of Appeals in 2001.

MOOS: Eventually, Jack had to be marched off the stage.

BUSH: I received good advice from both Republicans and Democrats.

MOOS: Even older kids can't stand still. Letterman made this kid famous.

BUSH: You're worried about the quality of the education. We stand for the fair treatment of faith based groups...

MOOS: Of course, there was Rudy Giuliani's son all grown up now. But will he ever live down his dad's swearing in as mayor, blowing kisses, joining in the oath.

(On camera): You know, it's one thing when your kids steal the show. But how about when it's a couple of koalas. And we do mean a couple.

(Voice-over): Tennis star Andy Roddick was talking to reporters at an Australian koala a sanctuary.

ANDY RODDICK, TENNIS PLAYER: Because we were fighting about a 35-mile an hour crosswinds.

MOOS: Who cares about the tennis court when you can watch koalas courting.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."