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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama's First Year: Success or Failure?; White House Cooking the Books on Economy?
Aired January 12, 2010 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We may never know exactly how many jobs the stimulus package saved or created. This hour, a controversial change in the Obama administration's map. One Republican is accusing the White House of cooking the books.
Plus, America's verdict on President Obama's first year in office. Has it been a success or a failure? Stand by for some eye- opening results of our brand-new poll.
And Iran blames the United States and Israel for the assassination of one of its nuclear scientists. The bomb attack now ratcheting up tensions in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up, but this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, a new breach of airline security. This time, it's a potential health threat, not a terror threat. U.S. Airways now confirms a person on the CDC's do-not-board list flew on a flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco on Saturday.
Let's go to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, who is working the story for us.
Elizabeth, what happened here?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened here is that, as U.S. Airways told us, someone somewhere along the way dropped the ball.
The way that it works is, the Centers for Disease Control has a list of people who they think are basically a threat to public health, shouldn't be on a plane. This person was apparently on that list. The CDC gives the list to the TSA. The TSA is supposed to give that list to individual airlines, but, well, something went wrong here, so this person was allowed to board.
Now, Wolf, I find this next part a little bit interesting. U.S. Air has told CNN that they have not contacted passengers on this plane, the reason being is that the CDC says that the risk very low anything happening, since the flight was less than eight hours long.
That flight, the flight here in question, was about six hours long, so the airline says that they have not contacted any passengers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Explain to our viewers, Elizabeth, how does T.B. spread?
T.B. spreads person to person. It goes through the air. So, again, T.B. spreads person to person. The bacteria can stay in the air for many hours, and it's really close repeated contact that tends to do it. So, I do want to emphasize here that the chances of getting T.B. from someone on a plane are really quite slim, even on long flights. Even, sometimes, spouses don't get T.B. from each other, so this isn't something that would spread through an entire aircraft that easily -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And I guess it sort of reminds me of another incident, what, that happened back in 2007, when something similar occurred?
COHEN: Right. Andrew Speaker, a gentleman from here in Georgia, got on airplanes, not just one airplanes, but several airplanes. He had T.B. And the CDC had told him not to board airplanes.
Now, what happened -- what's interesting is that they checked many, many months later, and nobody on those planes got sick, or at least no one reported getting sick. So, here's someone with T.B. on several flights and nobody became ill. So, I think it's important to remember that to keep this all in context.
BLITZER: We're going to speak later with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. He will be joining us on this and more.
All right, Elizabeth, thank you -- a worrisome story, nevertheless.
We're keeping our eye on a potentially dangerous situation in Morehead City, North Carolina. A port was shut down today after a forklift operator punctured at least one container filled with a powerful explosive. That material is PETN. It's the same substance allegedly used in the attempted Christmas terror attack. Officials say the spill has been contained, but the downtown area near the port has been evacuated. No word yet on where the shipment came from our where it was headed.
The city's mayor says this appeared to be an accident and there are no concerns about terrorism.
Now to the $787 billion question: How many Americans got jobs because of the president's economic stimulus package? The Obama administration's ongoing tally has been the target of a lot of criticism and allegations of fuzzy math. So, the White House is doing some recalculating right now.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian.
It looks like there's a major change, Dan, in how the White House is calculating jobs saved or created.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is a major change, Wolf.
You know, all along, the pitch from the administration has been, when talking about this stimulus money, how many jobs would be saved or created. And they have been keeping this running total. But the last number that we saw, 640,000, as you see there on the wall, that came as of September.
Well, now they are changing that formula. But even that hasn't satisfied all the critics.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Sometimes, the numbers changed, but the message was consistent.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The goal here is that we're going to create or save 600,000 jobs over the next 100 days. Because of the bold and coordinated action that we took, millions of jobs have been saved or created.
LOTHIAN: The $787 billion stimulus program would save jobs of police officers or create new ones for idle construction workers, but the term saved or created was controversial, because calculating what jobs were not eliminated wasn't an exact science.
ANNE MATHIAS, HEAD OF RESEARCH, CONCEPT CAPITAL: The idea that the administration could just say A plus B equals C and come up with a number is not -- that's not something that was ever going to be realistic.
LOTHIAN: So, in a little-noticed memo sent around last month, the Office of Management and Budget made what it calls commonsense changes to provide more accurate data. Gone is saved or created. Now, not quite as catchy, the phrase is jobs funded with government money, whether they are new or existing.
Another change, they're not going to keep a running total, only calculating how many jobs are funded every quarter. The changes came after concerns not only from people getting the money, but also members of Congress, and finally a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office.
While many folks would put the report on a shelf, said OMB spokesman Tom Gavin, we took what they had to say to heart.
Some experts say, this is the better formula.
MATHIAS: I think this is really practically the only honest way to measure what the stimulus is being spent on.
LOTHIAN: But a ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who considered the old accounting misleading is still not satisfied. REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: It's not going to define how many jobs were in fact saved as a result of our money going to the states or the cities. It's still going to basically be money spent and a guess about number of jobs.
LOTHIAN: And the congressman says that he's also critical of the accounting process over this quarterly review now, where they will release those numbers on a quarterly basis. He says he would much rather see something come out in a more real-time process.
The administration says that it's not bothered at all by the criticism, pointing out that some of the very same people who are not happy now complained that the former system was too complicated -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian is working the story at the White House for us. Thank you.
Jack Cafferty is coming up next.
Also, when you fly from now on, should you be seated near some pistol-packing pilots? There's a push to allow pilots to carry guns on planes when they're not flying the plane.
Also, deaths in Atlanta -- there's been a shooting there, and police are updating the public about the alleged shooter.
And the president is walking into a tricky situation. Our surprising new poll numbers, we're about to release them. They show just about how many -- just about -- about as many people like the administration as dislike it.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: (AUDIO GAP) are tough in this country, very tough for millions of Americans, but you would never know it watching the way Congress spends our tax money on themselves.
CBS News has a stunning report on the all-expense-paid trip of at least 20 members of Congress to the Copenhagen climate summit last month. The bipartisan delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was so large, they needed three military jets, two 737s, and a Gulfstream 5. Some members of Congress brought along their spouses, their kids. There were also senators and staff members who made the trip to Denmark, most of them flying over commercial.
Pelosi refused to answer any questions about costs for this or where they all stayed, even though she was the one who decided who went. Her office says only that it will -- quote -- "comply with disclosure requirements" -- unquote. CBS puts the cost of military jet flying time at about $170,000, plus the cost of dozens of commercial flights, hundreds of hotel stays, many of them at the five-star Marriott, and tens of thousands in meals and other entertainment expense.
It's a disgrace. The national unemployment rate is 10 percent. Employers cut more jobs than expected just last month. We got the numbers on Friday. People are suffering in this country.
California, Pelosi's home state, is faced with a $20 billion budget deficit. Governor Schwarzenegger's budget plan will force 200,000 children off low-cost medical insurance, will end home care for more than 300,000 sick and elderly citizens, and will cut income assistance to hundreds of thousands more.
This nation is hurting, but Nancy Pelosi can use three military jets for a December trip to Copenhagen, and then refuse to answer any questions about it.
Here's the question: How much do members of Congress feel the pain of the American people during this recession?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
What a horrible woman she is -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, you have got to tell us how you really feel about Nancy Pelosi.
CAFFERTY: I just did.
BLITZER: I -- I...
CAFFERTY: She's a horrible woman.
BLITZER: I -- I heard you say that.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you very much. We will see what our viewers think about Nancy Pelosi and this whole question. Jack's e-mail will be coming up soon.
Almost one year in, there's a split decision on President Obama. Depending on whom you ask, he's either helping or hurting the economy, strong or weak on terror, and pushing positive health care reform, or what critics deride as Obamacare. You can see just how split the split decision is in our fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.
Look at this. Forty-seven percent say the administration's first year is a success. Forty-eight percent say it's a failure. On the president's job approval, 51 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's digging deeper into these numbers.
Let's get to the issues, the specific issues.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BLITZER: How do the folks feel?
BORGER: Well, there's really a very strong division, Wolf, on the issue.
Let's look at foreign policy first, as you see up here on the wall, 53 percent approval on Iraq, 51 percent Afghanistan, 51 percent foreign affairs generally, 50 percent terrorism. So, the president, the new commander in chief, does very, very well on foreign policy, but domestic policy, that's more problematic for him, unemployment 45, the economy 44, taxes 44.
But look at these two, health care 40 percent. That's pending in the Congress. And the federal deficit, a big issue looming for him out there, that's 36 percent. The problem, of course, is that, if you look in our poll further, you will see that domestic policy is what the voters really, really care about right now.
And that's why you see the administration pivoting to the jobs issue. They want to get health care done. They want to get an energy bill. They want to get financial regulations passed. They know what happened to Ronald Reagan in 1982 with 10.4 percent unemployment. He lost 26 seats in the House. They don't want to see that happen again.
BLITZER: It's still the economy, after all, when all...
BLITZER: ... when all is said and done. So, what's keeping him afloat now?
BORGER: Well, this has always been the case for President Obama. People like him.
We asked about his personal qualities. Sixty-four percent say they like his personal qualities. So, that is keeping him afloat personally, but that doesn't do much help his own Democrats, Wolf. And they're facing, of course, reelection in 2010. All of them in the House are. And so Barack Obama being popular doesn't do that much for them.
BLITZER: Yes. He's got -- he's got a lot of issues right now, as they say. Thanks very much for that, Gloria.
BLITZER: Don't go too far away.
IN these still painful economic times, the heads of some of the biggest banks in the United States are just hours away from being grilled about what went wrong, including what they did wrong. It's coming at a time when anger at financial bigwigs may be as strong as ever.
Mary Snow has been looking into this story for us. It sets the stage for an event that's about to take place tomorrow, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And what we will see, Wolf, is four banking CEOs in Washington to face questions.
Now, tomorrow marks the first public hearing held by the bipartisan panel given the job of investigating the financial question -- crisis. And the question is, will it make a difference?
SNOW (voice-over): What led to the current financial crisis? Answering that question will be the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America, the four biggest investment firms in the United States.
The bank chiefs will feed questions from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a 10-member bipartisan panel appointed by Congress. It's modeled at the Pecora Commission, which investigated the calls of the 1929 market crash and the Great Depression that followed.
The first public hearing comes just as banks are planning big bonuses. And economist Simon Johnson, author of 13 bankers, calls it fresh moral ammunition and an opportunity for the panel.
SIMON JOHNSON, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: The bonuses today, the bonuses the banks plan to pay for 2009, have an eerie parallel with the size and structure of the bonuses they paid in 2007 before the crisis, and, in some views, in my view, contributing to the crisis. So, they need to make that link and they need to make it very -- very human and very specific.
SNOW: Keeping the story human, Johnson says, is key in hearings that can become too technical. The chairman of the panel is former California State Treasurer Philip Angelides, who says he wants to hear the bank's role in creating the crisis and finding out how they became too big to fail.
One panel member, Keith Hennessey, even asked the public to weigh in on his blog about questions to ask the bankers. Among the responses: "One nagging question I have to any of four, how do you sleep at night?"
But some analysts raise question about the panel itself, namely, can it be effective when Congress and the administration are already looking at reforms?
SARAH BINDER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Now, the legislative process to reform regulation is already well under way. And, so, the questions will be raised, how can a commission's report be relevant for sort of diagnosing problems if the problem-solving has already gone down its way on the legislative track? SNOW: While there's differences on how effective this may be, most agree, even the lobbyist group for the banks, that the hearings could grow heated.
SCOTT TALBOTT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE: We do expect some fireworks, but, in the end, I think that laying out the -- laying out the record about what happened and what the industry has done to correct the problems and correct the mistakes it's made will help restore confidence in the industry going forward.
SNOW: And, Wolf, some economists say, though, in order to fix the problems, the panel needs to get specific, including questions such as finding out who the managers were at the banks while they lost so much money and whether those same managers are still in place and getting bonuses? The panel's findings on the financial crisis are due in December -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will watch this panel's work throughout this year.
All right, Mary, thank you.
Officials say he's a pirate who terrorized the high seas. Now there are some shocking new charges against the captured suspect being tried in New York.
And regarding the suicide bomber who allegedly recently killed CIA officers in Afghanistan, we have learned something that raises this question. Was the bomber just minutes away from possibly being stopped?
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some of other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Deb, what's going on?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're getting more information on a deadly shooting this afternoon in suburban Atlanta.
Police now say three people were shot and killed at a Penske Truck Rental business in Kennesaw. At least two other people were wounded. Police say the suspected shooter, a former Penske employee, is in custody. We will update you as we get more details on that.
Thirty-one hundred troops based mostly at Fort Hood, Texas, are being deployed to Afghanistan as part of President Obama's plan to increase U.S. forces there. The Pentagon expects them to arrive this summer. In all, the president is sending 30,000 more troops to fight that war in Afghanistan.
New charges are being brought against an accused Somali pirate. Prosecutors in New York allege the man was involved in two other ship hijackings off Africa, including one ship that's still being held. Captured last year by U.S. Navy SEALs, he's accused of being the head of a gang that attacked the Maersk Alabama in April. He denies those charges.
The number of bird-plane collisions could pass 10,000 for the first time in 2009. At least 57 strikes called major damage to aircraft and a total of eight deaths. Among the incidents, that U.S. Airways flight that went into the Hudson, although no lives were lost. Denver had the most bird strikes, with 273, including one in which a bald eagle was sucked into a jet engine.
And Conan O'Brien is weighing in the NBC late-night saga. The comedian suggests in a statement just out this afternoon that he will not accept NBC's proposal to move "The Tonight Show" to a later time to accommodate an 11:35 p.m. show hosted by Jay Leno. O'Brien, who has been hosting "The Tonight Show" for seven months, says moving it would cause its destruction. He says he hopes he and NBC can resolve the matter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tense situation over there, NBC and late-night.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Deb, for that.
This programming note: Here, next week, THE SITUATION ROOM will start at a new time. We will be on the air from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Rick Sanchez and "RICK'S LIST" will go from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Just wanted to alert you to that. We start next month, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
A new warning from some airline pilots: They say there's an easy step to increase security, and it's not being taken.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: The race for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat heating up right now, as the candidates spar over how the outcome of the vote could affect the rate of health care reform -- that vote in one week.
Iran lashing out at the United States after one of its top nuclear scientists is killed in a bomb blast. We have the latest from Tehran on the attack, plus the State Department's response.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
For every terrorist or suspect you hear is caught or killed, many others wait in line to do harm against the United States and its interests. But what if one or more of them actually succeeds? That's a disturbing possibility, as experts say. This year, terrorists could be even more emboldened than last year.
Let's bring in Brian Todd. He has been speaking to a lot of sources on this.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they may not only be more emboldened, but we're told al Qaeda may have hit on a strategy that could stretch America's counter terror efforts very thin across the globe.
TODD (voice-over): An attack that came frightening close to succeeding. U.S. officials and terrorism experts say the airline bombing attempt also served as a chilling symbol of an al Qaeda that's nimbly changing its playbook.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We have to whack a lot of moles all simultaneously. And that's what we have to do with this global movement that is al Qaeda.
TODD: From the airline conspiracy, to the killing of CIA personnel in Afghanistan, to a Denver bus driver charged in a plot to target New York, officials and experts tell us of an al Qaeda that more and more leans on affiliates and solo operators to launch attacks against America and its allies, regularly communicating with them and providing them with strategic direction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")
JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They're trying to look for ways and vulnerabilities in our system to get their operatives either here to the United States or in other places to carry out these attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Part of this plan, experts say, is a result of American success in the war on terror. U.S. drone strikes and other attacks have weakened al Qaeda's central leadership along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. They have forced the organization to adopt a strategy that sounds like a corporate blueprint, with experts using terms like outsourcing and franchising.
Sam Rascoff, former intelligence analyst for the New York Police Department, says this could prove a deadly game plan in the coming year.
SAM RASCOFF, FORMER NYPD INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Al Qaeda and its networks seem to be getting that much closer to successfully pulling off an attack inside the United States. For 2010 to be worse would mean, first and foremost, that al Qaeda would actually succeed at doing that. And I think I'm not alone among counterterrorism experts in thinking that's a real possibility.
TODD: Rascoff says one part of that playbook that likely won't change, al Qaeda's favorite targets. He says the group is still fascinated with airlines, trains, transportation hubs. Don't expect those to move off the target list any time soon, Wolf.
BLITZER: What are you hearing from these experts how the U.S. and its allies need to counter this threat?
TODD: Let's overuse another sports term: zone defense. They say this is going to require more of a projection of military force and surgical special-ops type operations in far-flung areas across the Gloria Borger. The U.S. has been doing some of that. They have got to do a lot more of it in the coming year.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that, a very worrisome story indeed.
To help fight terror, should pistol-packing pilots be sitting near you on your flight?
Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's taking a closer look at this story.
What are you learning, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, there's been a big push to improve air security, but some pilots say there is one easy step that is not being taken.
MESERVE (voice-over): These are federal flight deck officers, FFDOs. They are pilots trained to carry guns to protect their cockpits. But when these pilots are passengers on aircraft, they are not allowed to carry their weapons, and they ask, why not?
MIKE KARN, FEDERAL FLIGHT DECK OFFICERS ASSN.: They are being wasted. They're already there on the aircraft, they're already there transporting their firearms. They're already commuting and deadheading in the back of the aircraft. All that needs to be done is simply turn that system on.
MESERVE: But the Transportation Security Administration has not done so. In a statement, the agency says the FFDOs are a valued layer of aviation security, but, "To carry a firearm beyond their primary jurisdiction, defense of the flight deck would require not only a change in law, but additional training hours.
The Air Transport Association which represents the airlines says, "Commercial airline cabin security is best handled through the Federal Air Marshal program."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a seat. Take it easy. Lean forward. I'm a federal air marshal. You're being placed under arrest. MESERVE: Some aviation experts say a law enforcement officer is better trained to deal with a range of security issues than a pilot. The fear expressed by some is that armed pilots in the passenger cabin would become a bunch of "Dirty Harrys." But the FFDO Association argues no one knows the aviation environment better than pilots do.
KARN: You travel in the back of the aircraft with us all the time. You travel at 80 percent of the speed of sound with us. We make decision about weather every day. You trust our judgment and you trust us with your lives. Why would you not trust with us your security?
MESERVE: The Department of Homeland Security is currently training personnel from component agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service to supplement the federal air marshals. The FFDOs say it would be faster and cheaper to train them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, how long would it take to train these pilots to do this kind of work?
MESERVE: Well, the FFDO Association claims that there has been an internal TSA study of this, that it would only take a day or two to get them ready to carry a gun in the passenger cabin. But we don't have confirmation of that from the TSA.
BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.
We're digging deeper on our lead story this hour, the TB patient who was able to get on a plane despite being on the CDC's do not board list. I'll talk about that and more with a renowned expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH. He's standing by live.
And we have an update on a spat between Michelle Obama and the animal rights group PETA. Now one side is now blinking.
BLITZER: It was only a couple months ago that most of the United States was reporting widespread flu activity, all these states in red, and people across the country were having to wait in long lines because of a shortage of the H1N1 vaccine. Now the government has more than 130 million doses available, and only one state, Alabama, reports widespread flu activity.
Joining us now to talk about that during this National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Fauci, thanks very much for coming in.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is the H1N1 scare over?
FAUCI: No. The issue with H1N1 is not over.
I wouldn't necessarily call it a scare, but we really need to continue to be vigilant about this, and we want to, at this time, as you mentioned, really want to push to get people vaccinated who have not been vaccinated. We have a golden opportunity.
The activity, as you just mentioned a moment ago, Wolf, is low in the United States, with only one state reporting widespread activity. But we have a lot of vaccine available now. We want people who have not been vaccinated to get vaccinated, particularly those individuals who have underlying conditions such as asthma and heart disease and lung disease and a variety of other chronic conditions, which would make them much more prone to get the complications of influenza if they get influenza infection.
So we want to protect those people, so we're encouraging all people now who want to get vaccinated, but particularly those with underlying conditions to get vaccinated now, that we have plenty of vaccine. It's a very good opportunity right now.
BLITZER: But a lot of people have written to me saying it's a little late in the season, the flu season, to be vaccinated. Is it too late right now? Because normally you're recommending in October or November people get vaccinated, and now we're already into January.
FAUCI: Absolutely, Wolf, it's not too late. There is certainly the possibility that there could be another wave of activity of influenza.
Back in the pandemic of 1957, '58, when it peaked in the early winter, we thought it was over. And what happened, as we got into the deeper part of the winter, we started to see increased cases and increased death. So it is not over by any means, and there's a great value in getting vaccinated if you've not been vaccinated.
And as I mentioned, particularly people with underlying conditions. But anyone, really, who's not gotten vaccinated should seriously consider getting vaccinated, because there's a possibility that we will have more activity as we deeper into the winter.
BLITZER: Has this season been a lot milder than you thought it would be, which would be good news, obviously, as far as the swine flu or the H1N1 is concerned?
FAUCI: Well, as far as pandemics go, it certainly spread very efficiently. We've seen a lot of activity not only here in the United States, but worldwide.
When you talk about mild, if you're referring to the seriousness of the condition, namely, how virulent is it, it hasn't been a particularly virulent type of a virus. However, there are people, particularly younger people, who have gotten infected, even younger people with no underlying conditions who have had serious problems, as well as pregnant women. There have been about 10,000 deaths from this H1N1, Wolf. About 1,000 of them have been in children 18 years old and younger. So this is not something to be taken lightly.
In the big picture, it hasn't been a very virulent type of a pandemic, but for those who have gotten sick and had serious complications, it is serious. So we cannot take it lightly, which is the reason why during this Influenza Vaccination Week, we're encouraging people to get vaccinated now that we have plenty of vaccine available.
BLITZER: You've seen these critics criticize the World Health Organization, Dr. Fauci, for supposedly exaggerating the dangers of the H1N1 because of the pressures that they're getting from drug companies to sell the vaccine. You've seen that criticism, and I would love for you to respond if you don't mind.
FAUCI: Yes, I can do it pretty succinctly, Wolf. That's just nonsense.
What we've done with the vaccine, our making the vaccine, getting the vaccine available, and encouraging people to get vaccinated, is purely motivated on public health consideration. So I don't have any idea what these people are talking about. It really is nonsense. This is a public health concern, and the right things are being done from a public health standpoint.
BLITZER: All right. I want to switch gears to our top story this hour.
Now US Airways confirming that someone with tuberculosis was allowed to board a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco last Saturday, about a five-or-six-hour flight.
How serious of a problem is this?
FAUCI: Well, it shouldn't have happened, first of all, so there's not an excuse for that. But we have experience with people who happened to have gotten on plains with tuberculosis and whether or not there's a risk, if any, high, low or whatever, of transmitting it to people on the flight. And if you're on a flight that's anything less than eight hours, the possibility or the chance, the probability of your transmitting that to another passenger on the plane is extraordinarily low.
So, although that person should not have been let on that flight, the fact remains the risk to the individuals on that flight, since it was a flight that was only five or six hours, is really very, very low.
BLITZER: Do you have any idea how this individual who was on this do not board list managed to get on that flight? Have you looked into that?
FAUCI: No, I haven't had a chance to do that, Wolf. I really don't know what happened, what the slipup was there. I just don't know.
BLITZER: Well, they better learn and make sure it doesn't happen again. Even though the risk is low, any risk is unacceptable as far as all those passengers are concerned, as I'm sure you agree.
Dr. Fauci, thanks very much for coming in.
FAUCI: I agree. I agree.
BLITZER: And helping to educate our viewers.
FAUCI: Good to be here.
BLITZER: A lot of them have not yet received the H1N1, but you're saying go out and get it, it's not too late.
BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Fauci.
BLITZER: If at first you don't succeed, perhaps try again. Is that what former Democratic congressman Harold Ford Jr. is now saying? He previously lost the Senate race in Tennessee. Now he's considering the Senate race in New York. Should he?
And one reformed extremist calls it the biggest deception ever hitting intelligence agencies regarding that double agent who went on a suicide bombing mission in Afghanistan killing CIA officers. How did he fool two of the world's best spy agencies?
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now, our CNN political contributor James Carville. He's a Democratic strategist. And the former secretary of state of Ohio, Ken Blackwell. He's a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Let's talk first about Harold Ford Jr.
He's seriously thinking, James, of challenging the incumbent senator in New York State, Kirsten Gillibrand, for the Democratic nomination. He once ran for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.
"Some have already questioned," he writes, "whether I should be writing. Others are falsifying my record of public life. New Yorkers deserve a free election. New Yorkers expect a politics where politicians do what's right based on independent judgment, free of political bosses trying to dictate."
Your friends over at the White House not very happy, James, about this. They would like to see Kirsten Gillibrand get elected.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: And so would I. And I like Harold Ford. He's a friend of mine.
I watched and supported his candidacy when he ran for the Senate from Tennessee. I actually wanted him to be chairman of the DNC. And he's a great guy.
But I think -- and I don't know what particular bosses that he's talking about. Senator Gillibrand has done a great job. She is the Democratic senator from New York. And I think that a primary is probably the last thing we need in the state of New York now.
BLITZER: The argument, James, being that he might have a better chance of beating a Republican than Kirsten Gillibrand.
Do you buy that?
CARVILLE: I don't necessarily buy it, but if he were running in Tennessee against a Republican, I would be for him in a second. I think he's a great guy.
But I think Senator Gillibrand is doing a tremendous job, she's quite a remarkable woman. She's very supportive of a lot of people in New York State.
And I don't know what he's talking about, the bosses or something like that. That's some rhetoric that I'm not sure we need to be engaging in here. This is an important Senate seat.
BLITZER: Well, what's wrong with a Democratic challenger to an incumbent? Let me bring it Ken Blackwell.
From your perspective, a Republican perspective, what's wrong with Harold Ford challenging Kirsten Gillibrand.
KEN BLACKWELL (R), FMR. OHIO STATE SECRETARY: As James knows, I encourage that competitive, their competitive match 110 percent. We would really love to have a New York banker (ph) like Harold Ford, a carpetbagger, to run against in the November election. So I encourage him 100 percent.
This is a free country, he's a free man. Give the voters of New York a choice.
BLITZER: Well, he's lived in New York State for three years, lives in lower Manhattan right now. You still think that would brand him as a carpetbagger, Ken Blackwell?
CARVILLE: I'm not -- I'm not...
BLACKWELL: Oh, I am sure that the Chicago machine would put all of the negative labels on him that they can. I mean, he's going up against the machine. I don't think Harold really knows how hard they play ball not only in New York, but in the Windy City of Chicago, where most of President Obama's organizers come from. BLITZER: James, he's lived longer in New York State than Hillary Clinton lived in New York State before she ran for the Senate.
CARVILLE: I agree. You're not hearing any carpetbagger charge from me.
I just think -- that would be -- I haven't said a word about that, and I reject it out of I think that good Democrats are entitled -- and I'm not saying that he doesn't have the right to run. I just don't think that a run at an incumbent senator who's doing a good job is a very smart thing.
He has a right to run, whether he wants to run. And I like him, he's a friend of mine. And I'll like him when this is over. But I'm not very enthusiastic about his candidacy for this particular office. That's all it is.
But, no, he has a right to run in New York just like Senator Robert Kennedy did, just like Senator Clinton did. Absolutely. No, I don't question his right.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, he says, "I'm strongly considering running for the United States Senate." He didn't say he's definitely going to run. He's strongly considering it.
Let me switch gears, Ken Blackwell, get your reaction to Harry Reid, the uproar over the past few days about the comments he made, quoted in this new book. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leaders, says, you know what? Let's put this away.
Here's what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The chairman of your party, Michael Steele, said on Sunday that, if you, if Mitch McConnell, you had said similar words, then Democrats from the president on down would be calling for your head and calling all Republicans racists.
Do you agree with that?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Who's going to be the Democratic leader of the Senate is up to the Democratic Conference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he's also saying, you know what? He doesn't think that Harry Reid needs to resign.
What do you think, Ken Blackwell?
BLACKWELL: Well, I'm an equal opportunity critic. I was very critical of Trent Lott, and I was equally critical of what Harry Reid had to say. But that's a decision that the Democrats are going to have to make. So I would agree with Senator McConnell that that's their call. I'm just saying that I think that the critics on the other side of the aisle need to be equal opportunity critics. They were really tough on Trent Lott. I think they should be equally tough on Harry Reid.
BLITZER: Well, not James Carville, because he didn't think that Trent Lott needed to resign.
Is that right, James?
CARVILLE: Right, I didn't. But that's like saying that an armed robber ought to be treated the same as a jaywalker. I reject it out of hand.
But, by the way, I was ready to forgive the armed robber, so I'm not going to get all that jacked up about a jaywalker here either. It's all absurd, and there never was anything about resigning. I don't know what Michael Steele was even talking about.
BLACKWELL: Well, I think...
CARVILLE: I didn't think Lott should resign, so I think we're obliged to forgive people, particularly for...
BLITZER: Ken Blackwell, what do you think of Michael Steele's leadership at the RNC?
BLACKWELL: Oh, I think he has some challenging moments. But in 21st century American politics, don't we all?
So I think there's going to be a big meeting at the end of the month out in Hawaii of the RNC. I think he'll make his case and he'll either have his leadership reaffirmed or he will have his invitation to his critics to send him packing, and that's pretty straightforward.
CARVILLE: It sounds like former secretary of state Blackwell is as enthusiastic about Michael Steele staying as I am Harold Ford running for the Senate. I thought I detected a little hesitancy there.
BLITZER: That's why we love politics as much as we do, guys.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in, James Carville and Ken Blackwell. Always a good discussion.
Animal rights activists are giving in, in a spat with the first lady, Michelle Obama. But now they want something from the president. Stand by.
And the election to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts one week away. Top Democrats including Bill Clinton are scrambling to protect the seat and protect an important advantage over Republicans.
And a nuclear scientist killed in a bomb attack in Iran. The U.S. is responding to angry accusations by Tehran that Americans had something to do with it.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How much do members of Congress feel the pain of the American people in the recession?
Ann writes from New Jersey, "They're immune to any kind of pain. Their egos get in the way."
"They can give themselves raises while a lot of people are losing homes and going bankrupt because they lost their jobs and while seniors on Social Security get no cost of living increases, even though Medicare costs and supplement costs continue to rise. They do for themselves, and the rest of us can fly a kite."
J.W. in Georgia writes, "Congress pains over steak in their dining hall while Americans eat bologna. Congress pains to travel in jets while America fixes their aging cars. Congress pains to pay no Social Security while Americans cough up congressional retirements."
"Poor Congress. It must be very painful."
Del in California writes, "Zero. I live in California. I thought our state representatives didn't understand, but this is ridiculous. How disgraceful!"
Art in Vermont writes, "What economy? What recession? Unemployment?"
"They're all employed. They're all millionaires. Hey, the economy is chugging along for them. Nothing to see here, folks. As far as they're concerned, the matter is closed."
John writes, "The Congress hasn't felt the pain of the American people suffering through this horrible economy at all. Nancy Pelosi is just one more instance of that. She's so out of touch with the American people, it's as if she's from another planet. I live in California and cannot wait until she's voted out of office."
And Andy writes, "Not a bit. When was the last time a member of Congress had to choose from McDonald's dollar menu when dining out?"
If you want to read more on this subject -- I got a lot of mail -- go to by blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We want to read more and we will, Jack. Thank you.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a bombing in Tehran kills a nuclear scientist. Tensions rise as Iran blames the United States, Israel and opposition groups.