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Toyota Finds Fix For Pedal Problem?; Barack Obama Meets With Republicans

Aired January 29, 2010 - 18:00   ET


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And today, the Indiana Republican Party chairman had this statement.

He said -- quote -- "While we're sad to see him go, we understand his desire to be with his wife through her illness. We thank Steve for his service to our state, and wish him all the best in the future" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we wish him and his wife all the best as well. Hope that she does recover from this disease. Thanks, Lisa, for that.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Toyota looks for ways to fix a gas pedal problem that has stalled its factories and dealerships and scared consumers. What's next in the recall crisis involving millions of vehicles?

It wasn't exactly a meeting of the minds, but it was a remarkable meeting. The president takes questions from Republican lawmakers, as both sides try to ease that tension and the nasty tone that have dominated the political debate here in Washington.

And as California voters move a step closer to possibly legalizing marijuana, we will take you inside a marijuana superstore for pot growers.

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

What started as a bump in the road for one of the world's top automakers is threatening to become a giant sinkhole. Toyota is facing a crisis as it recall millions of cars, suspends sales, and shuts down production lines because of concern over sudden acceleration.

There's been a series of critical new developments today.

CNN's Mary Snow has been tracking all of this for us. She is joining us now with the latest -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the biggest developments today is that Toyota now says it is very close to announcing a fix for issues with its cars recalled this week. In an e-mail to dealers, the carmaker said company officials met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is awaiting regulatory approval, but dealers we spoke with say they didn't yet have specifics for consumers.

Now, these would be repairs needed for the 2.3 million vehicles recalled this week because of issues with sticky gas pedals, which can mean the car can keep accelerating even after you take your foot off the gas.

Now, how long could this whole process take? We asked John Allen. He's the senior automotive editor of "Popular Mechanics." He says, assuming that these gas pedals would have to be replaced, the entire process would not happen overnight, of course.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once a steady supply of those gas pedals is available, the dealerships are going to have to make appointments with all their customers, get them to come into the dealership, take an hour or so probably from the time you get there until the time you can leave for the mechanic to get all the parts installed and all the paperwork done, and that is going to take months for cycle through the entire spectrum of cars that are involved.


SNOW: Now, the issues with sticky gas pedals is just one part of the problem. Back in October, Toyota recalled more than four million cars because gas pedals were getting stuck on removable floor mats.

Now, all these issues led "Consumer Reports" today to suspend recommendations for the cars that have been impacted.

And, Wolf, two of those models that were impacted were among the magazine's top picks last year.

BLITZER: But even a fix, Mary, I take it is not going to the end of the issue?

SNOW: Yes, a lot of questions are now being raised, a lot of confusion.

And the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is planning a hearing on February 25 into the issue of the gas pedals, questions that have raised in the recall. And in calling that hearing, Congressman Henry Waxman's office sites 19 deaths in the past decades linked to Toyota vehicles and sudden acceleration.

Toyota has not confirmed that number. These are questions being raised. Now, yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was asked how Toyota is handling this recall. He said he had no criticism, that the automaker followed the law doing what they are supposed to do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary Snow, with an important story. By the way, we are only just getting word now of a recall by Honda. It covers 646,000 cars worldwide. They are called the Fit in the United States and called City or Jazz in other countries.

Honda says rain or melted snow can flood the master power window switch, causing the cars to overheat and catch fire. The defect is blamed for one death in South Africa. We are watching the recall of these Honda models as well.

Let's get some additional important information for the millions of Toyota owners here in the United States, indeed around the world.

David Sargent is vice president of the Automotive Research for J.D. Power and Associates.

He is joining us from Detroit.

David, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID SARGENT, J.D. POWER AND ASSOCIATES: Pleasure. Good evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: If someone owns right now one of these Toyota models with these faulty accelerator pedals, should they continue driving the car?

SARGENT: They should contact their dealer or Toyota itself and get the best advice possible. It is really the role of Toyota and the dealer to advise consumers on what's the best thing to do.

BLITZER: What would you do?

SARGENT: I would probably contact my dealer, get the best advice, but I would be very cautious about driving the vehicle until it was fixed. But in the end, it is each consumer's choice as to whether they do that or not, but they can get the best advise from Toyota or their dealer.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are suspicious of both Toyota and the Toyota dealership which sold these cars. And they are looking for outside experts, whether the government or people like you, to give them some advice right now.

SARGENT: They are. Clearly Toyota has taken a bit of hit in terms of its reputation.

But I think that at this point Toyota is being very careful to give the best information it possibly can, make sure it is giving as clear information as possible, not saying anything that it shouldn't. So, consumers should trust that Toyota will give them the best information that they possibly can.

BLITZER: Months ago, we were told it was simply an issue of floor mats, that the floor mat got stuck with the gas pedal and that was causing this acceleration. Now we are told it is a real problem within the gas pedal itself. Here is the question to you. Did Toyota know then what it says it knows now about these faulty accelerator pedals?

SARGENT: We don't know that, Wolf.

I suspect that they didn't know for sure that there was a separate problem. Otherwise, I believe that they would have come out with an announcement at that time. I don't believe that Toyota would have knowingly hid that type of information from the consumer, because, sooner or later, that kind of information will get out.

And if they had knowingly hid that, then that would obviously be a serious concern. So I don't believe that a company like Toyota, which is an extremely reputable organization around the world, would knowingly hide that kind of information related to consumer safety.

BLITZER: How this is going to affect Toyota financially as an automaker?

SARGENT: Clearly, in the short-term, there's going to be a significant hit in terms of their sales revenue, because most of their vehicles are not on sale right now. And it is a running rate of about 100,000 a month in the U.S., plus, of course, others around the world, so there is a short-term hit.

Clearly the cost of the recall, itself, is significant. They need to reimburse dealers and in some cases pay consumers for the use of rental vehicles and so forth.

But I think, though, the bigger problem that they face is the long-term impact on their reputation. This is a company has built very high-quality, safe vehicles for decades. Clearly, they have taken a hit, and some consumers will be considering whether or not they want to buy a Toyota.

So, I think, over the long-term, the larger issue they face is, how does this affect their sales in the long term?

BLITZER: David Sargent is the vice president of J.D. Power and Associates.

David, thanks very much for coming in.

SARGENT: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Lots of worried Toyota owners here in the United States and around the world. GM, by the way, is offering incentives of $1,000 and low financing rates specifically for Toyota customers who are worried about these recalled vehicles. We are going to have more on this story coming up as well.

Toyota may be facing some tough times, but things are looking up right now for the U.S. economy. It grew at the fastest rate in more than six years in the last quarter of 2009, a booming 5.7 percent. That is on top of the 2.2 percent growth in the third quarter. Those two quarters of consecutive growth, meaning, according to economists, they mean that that means that recession is technically over, two consecutive growths, positive growths. That's two consecutive growths. Two consecutive quarters of economic growth suggests the recession is over.

But even with the strong growth in the second half of 2009, the economy shrank by 2.4 percent last year overall. That is biggest drop in 63 years, but that is good news, two consecutive quarters of economic growth.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Also, a very unusual guest at a retreat for House Republicans, the president of the United States, President Obama. It was a remarkable, sometimes testy, exchange. Mary Matalin and Donna Brazile, they are here to discuss. And we will have extended excerpts of what you probably missed it if you were not watching it earlier in the day. The TV cameras were inside.

And a possible change of venue for the trial of the 9/11 mastermind and others -- why the White House is now reconsidering New York City.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Talking about bipartisanship makes a nice sound bite, but, at the end of the day, it is just that. It's talk.

President Obama went into the enemy camp today going head-to-head for more than an hour at a meeting of House Republicans. For the most part, it was polite and cordial. How much good it did remains an open question.

The president chastised Republicans for opposing him on taxes, health care and the economic stimulus plan. Of the attacks on health care, the president said -- quote -- "You'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. I am not an ideologue" -- unquote.

The Republicans accused Mr. Obama of ignoring their ideas and driving up the national debt. This all follows the State of the Union speech, where the president renewed calls for bipartisanship.

The number-two House leader, Congressman Eric Cantor, says the president's address to Congress was full of what he called "rhetoric and lecturing." Cantor says he appreciated the offer of bipartisanship, but said Republicans have heard this song before.

However, after today's meeting, Cantor said this is the kind of discussion they need to have more of.

Cantor has accused the administration of showing "arrogance in ignoring public opinion," and that congressional Democrats have been no better when it comes to bipartisanship. He insists the Republicans are open to talking and working with the other party. We'll see.

Sadly, the current political strategy in Washington for both parties seems to bet this: I win if I can make the other guy lose.

Here's the question: President Obama has renewed calls for bipartisanship. Is he dreaming?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have extensive excerpts coming up of this remarkable exchange they had today. It was the closest I have seen a president of the United States having with the opposition, sort of similar to what they do in the British House of Commons, when the prime minister takes questions from the opposition there. It is not very often it happens here, but we will show our viewers what happened.

CAFFERTY: You don't suppose it would have anything to do with the loss of that supermajority up in Massachusetts, do you?

BLITZER: Yes, I do believe it did have a lot to do with that, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Me, too.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, don't go far away. Thank you.

All right. Let's get right to Lisa Sylvester. She has got an update on that plane diverted from Newark to Jacksonville, Florida, because someone had a name similar to someone on the no-fly list.

Lisa, what do we know now?

SYLVESTER: Well, we know that, first of all, it was Continental Flight 881 and it did land roughly 30 minutes or so.

The good news, though, is law enforcement officials are telling the Associated Press that the passenger on that diverted was not, not a match on the terrorist watch list. So, we will keep monitoring this story and bring you the latest developments.


BLITZER: President Obama, in a very unusual question-and-answer session with House Republicans, frank, at times, a bit tense, testy. There's no doubt about that. You are going to hear what was said. We will talk about it all with Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin.

Stand by.


BLITZER: The political debate in this country has been marked by bipartisan bitterness and a nasty tone. In a bid to ease those tensions, President Obama and House Republicans met today at a GOP retreat in Baltimore.

It was pretty rare and also pretty remarkable to see the president take questions, not from reporters, but from members of Congress, the rival party, no less.

Watch this exchange between the president and a Republican congressman from Utah.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I'm one of 22 House freshmen. We didn't create this mess, but we are here to help clean it up.

And (AUDIO GAP) talk a lot about this deficit of trust. There's some things that have happened that I would appreciate your perspective on, because I can look you in the eye and tell you, we have not been obstructionist. The Democrats have the House and Senate and the presidency.

And when you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn't. I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.

You said you weren't going to allow lobbyists in the senior-most positions within your administration, and yet you did. I applauded you when you said it, and disappointed when you didn't.

You said you'd go line by line through the health care debate -- or through the health care bill. And there were six of us, including Dr. Phil Roe, who sent you a letter and said, "We would like to take you up on that offer. We'd like to come." We never heard a letter. We never got a call. We were never involved in any of those discussions.

And when you said in the House of Representatives that you were going to tackle earmarks, and, in fact, you didn't want to have any earmarks in any of your bills, I jumped up out of my seat and applauded you. But it didn't happen.

More importantly, I want to talk about moving forward, but if we can address...



CHAFFETZ: I would certainly appreciate it.

OBAMA: That was a long list. So the...


Let me -- let me respond. Look, the truth of the matter is that if you look at the health care process -- just over the course of the year -- overwhelmingly the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN, because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which guys were participating.

I mean, the -- how many committees were there that helped to shape this bill? Countless hearings took place.

Now, I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership.

What is true, there's no doubt about it, is that once it got through the committee process and there were now a series of meetings taking place all over the Capitol trying to figure out how to get the thing together, that was a messy process. And I take responsibility for not having structured it in a way where it was all taking place in one place that could be filmed.

How to do that logistically would not have been as easy as -- as it sounds because you're shuttling back and forth between the House, the Senate, different offices, et cetera, different legislators. But I think it's a legitimate criticism. So on that one, I take responsibility.

With respect to earmarks, we didn't have earmarks in the Recovery Act. You know, we didn't get a lot of credit for it, but there were no earmarks in that.

I was confronted at the beginning of my term with an omnibus package that did have a lot of earmarks from Republicans and Democrats, and a lot of people in this chamber. And the question was, was I going to have a big budget fight at a time when I was still trying to figure out whether or not the financial system was melting down and we had to make a whole bunch of emergency decisions about the economy. So what I said was let's keep them to a minimum, but I couldn't excise them all.

Now, the challenge, I guess, I would have for you as a freshman is what are you doing inside your caucus to make sure that I'm not the only guy who's responsible for this stuff, so that we're working together. Because this is going to be a process.

You know, when we talk about earmarks, I think all of us are willing to acknowledge that some of them are perfectly defensible, good projects. It's just they haven't gone through the regular appropriations process in the full light of day.

So one place to start is to make sure that they are at least transparent; that everybody knows what's there before we -- we move forward.

In terms of lobbyists, I can stand here unequivocally and say that there has not been an administration who was tougher on making sure that lobbyists weren't participating in the administration than any administration that's come before us. Now, what we did was if there were lobbyists who were on boards and commissions that were carryovers and their term hadn't completed, we didn't kick them off.

OBAMA: We simply said that moving forward, any time a new slot opens, they're being replaced.

So we've actually been very consistent in making sure that we are eliminating the impact of lobbyists, day in-day out, on how this administration operates.

There have been a handful of waivers where somebody is highly skilled; for example, a doctor who ran Tobacco-Free Kids technically is a registered lobbyist, on the other hand, has more expertise than anybody in figuring out how kids don't get hooked on cigarettes.

So there have been a couple of instances like that, but generally we've been very consistent on that front. OK?


BLITZER: It was really an extraordinary event, but did the president and the House Republicans actually succeed in clearing the air?

Let's talk about that with two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Mary, do you ever remember a time when your former boss, president George W. Bush, went to meet with House Democrats and had an exchange like this?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. As a matter of fact, the first week we were in office, President Bush had -- W. Bush had the outside and inside Democratic leadership. Yes, he did do that. I do remember that.


BLITZER: With TV cameras there?

MATALIN: This -- it was a remarkable event it was well-executed. There is no more greater political maneuver than going into the lion's den, but no better execution of it I have never seen. I thought it was really great.

And I think it did clear the air. For it to be effective and to be honest, there has to be consistency. There has to -- one day of making good doesn't make up for one year of abuse.

So, if he is consistent, it will mitigate the suspicion that this was in response to the epic defeats last year.

And Donna I have been there. There has to be something institutionalized beyond one meeting a month, like get somebody in leg affairs or Rahm's office or Axelrod's office to be the go-to guy for Republicans.

When Democrats called Karl or Josh or Nick Calio, they got through and they got a response. It needs to be institutionalized. And I think we can pull together here on some of the things on which we agree.

BLITZER: Well, that is a fair point, Donna, don't you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I was at that meeting that President Bush attended with the House Democratic Caucus.

I don't believe it the kind of exchange we saw today, but it really was an opportunity following Bush v. Gore and the election of 2000 for the president to try to break bread.

But going forward, I really do believe that the Democrats clearly are in the majority, and they need to lead in a way that can bring Republicans into the process, whether it is in committee hearings, whether it is coming up with legislative strategy, scheduling floor debates, accepting amendments.

There is a way to find the common good, if we can an agree on common principles, especially when you operating in a political environment that we are in an election season, where both parties are trying to win races.

But there is no question. I thought President -- I almost called him President Reagan -- but President Obama did a great today in answering those questions in a straightforward way.

BLITZER: All right. I want both of you to stand by for a moment, because we have a lot more to dissect. I want to talk hear more about this remarkable exchange the president had today with House Republicans.

We are going to take a quick break. We will be back in 60 seconds. Donna and Mary are standing by.



BLITZER: We are back with our two CNN political contributors Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Let me play another little clip of what the president said today. He's trying improve the tone here in Washington.


OBAMA: You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, "This guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America." And I -- I would just say that we have to think about tone.

It's not just on your side, by the way. It's -- it's on our side as well. This is part of what's happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.

We've got to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes because it boxes us in in ways that makes it difficult for us to work together because our constituents start believing us. They don't know sometimes this is just politics, what you guys, you know, or folks on my side, do sometimes.

So, just a tone of civility, instead of slash-and-burn, would be helpful.


BLITZER: Mary Matalin, that was the advice he was giving the House GOP.

What do you think?

MARTIN: Oh, I this he is exactly right. And even though he did mention it happens on both sides, if he would have stood up at the time that Senator Reid was calling objectors to his policies evil- mongers or Nancy Pelosi was calling them un-American -- he should have been speaking up throughout the whole year.

That's why I'm saying, to go forward, he needs to keep calling everybody out on each side when they do that, because it is -- we're not talking to the Republicans and Democrats out there, the great middle ground really -- he's right. They do not understand this political language and it's beyond political language when you call somebody an evil mongerer for disagreeing with you.

But he can do this because people do still like him. And they, even when they disagree with his policies, they want him -- and they do want a tone of civility, not partisan capitulation, but civility in these important debates. And I think he can do it if he stays on it, if he's consistent.

BLITZER: Do you think he should -- that -- that people on your side, Donna, on the left, should be careful in what they say about Republicans, just as he wants people on the -- on the right to be careful what they say about Democrats, including the president?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I don't think there's any problem with being respectful. You know, the years I've spent on Capitol Hill, I learned a great deal from my Republican colleagues. Many of them are still my friends. And I have enormous respect for them.

But it is on both sides. And some of the language has been incendiary and -- and quite hateful. And, Wolf, there -- there are times when I -- I'm sure Mary can say the same -- when we leave these -- these shows, we get e-mails that are just hurtful and downright, you know, angry rants from people who disagree with our positions.

And I often tell them, I said, you know, you can disagree with me, but you -- you don't have to call me all of those things.

Now, what people didn't know about those of us who live in Washington, D.C. -- and Mary can tell the world this, as well -- we actually respect one another and we respect each other's views, even if we disagree

So I think the tone can really be changed if it starts with us, if it starts with the president and members of Congress, as well.

BLITZER: It sounded to me, Mary, like what he was saying was, you know what, I think that the Rush Limbaughs and the Sean Hannitys on the right are really hurting this process, just as the Keith Olbermanns and the Rachel Maddows are hurting this -- this process. That seemed to be the subtext of what the president was telling the House GOP.

MATALIN: You know, the -- one of the unimpressive things about the State of the Union the other night was the parade of straw men and, you know, from his predecessor to partisans to pundits. OK, he's the president of the United States. He can control. He has the biggest bully pulpit. And they have been elected on both sides as representatives of their people.

What's going on out here and the white noise is -- should not affect how they deal with each other. And if he leads, people will follow.

Donna, I'm laughing because maybe they should do what we do after those shows, instead of screaming at each other, we go have a good glass of wine. And "who dat," girlfriend.

BRAZILE: "who dat" -- Mary, don't tell all our secrets, please.

BLITZER: And they both will be rooting for the New Orleans Saints.

BRAZILE: Oh, we will.

BLITZER: I believe they have that in common, as well.

Guys, always good to have your perspectives here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MATALIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks to both of you.

BRAZILE: "Who dat?".

MATALIN: "Who dat," girlfriend.

BLITZER: The White House is now reconsidering plans to try those 9/11 terror suspects in New York City. We'll tell you why. And we'll also talk about it with our national security contributor, Frances Townsend.



Happening now, this task is monumental, with hundreds of thousands of lives literally at risk. CNN's Gary Tuchman rides along with a United Nations representative making key decisions about Haiti relief.

One state relatively unscathed by the great recession -- is it getting more stimulus money than it really needs?

We're digging deeper as part of this week's Stimulus Project here on CNN.

And we'll take you inside the marijuana superstore some have dubbed the Walmart of weed. It's the one stop shopping for would-be growers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Senior administration officials confirming to CNN that the White House is reconsidering the plan to hold the 9/11 terror trials near Lower Manhattan's ground zero. That comes after New York's mayor and other politicians voiced deep concern about the cost and the disruption of such a trial.

And joining us now, our national security contributor, Fran Townsend.

She worked as a homeland security adviser for President Bush.

Fran, thanks very much for joining us.

All right, let's talk about the possibility of moving these upcoming trials -- the 9/11 suspects, the detainees -- from New York elsewhere.

What's the big deal?

Why not do it in New York?

You -- when you worked at the Justice Department back in the '90s and then in the White House, there were plenty of trials against suspected terrorists in New York and elsewhere -- civilian trials.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's right, Wolf. But here's the problem. I mean I -- I really think that this betrays a lack of understanding by the administration and folks here in Washington about the real wounds that still exist on New Yorkers in general and the victims of 9/11, in particular.

I mean remember the flyover of Lower Manhattan and the reaction there?

What you're seeing is a similar reaction. We're understanding from sources in New York that Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, and Mayor Bloomberg, were not even -- were not even consulted about this decision and weren't notified of it until the -- the hour before it was actually announced.

It's a big deal. It's very expensive. It's very difficult. And regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the decision to have them in a criminal trial versus a military commission, the notion of having the location of it being in Lower Manhattan, I think it's a mistake. And I think they see that now.

BLITZER: What about the other part, that they should be either in a military tribunal or a military commission or in a civilian court?

Which would be more appropriate for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, my personal opinion is that this is the classic case where he should have been kept in a military commission. But frankly, you can understand why the new administration may have a different view. And that's OK.

That's why I say, look, there are going to be policy differences. There's a new administration and it's their right to make those changes. But when you make those changes, the important thing is that you understand and you calculate in the reaction of the victims of those horrific crimes. And my fear is that they didn't do that -- they didn't do it in deciding where it was. And it's not clear to me that there was any consultation with any of the victims' families prior to making the decision to take -- bring them into a criminal trial. Many of them object to a criminal trial.

BLITZER: But some victims, presumably, might like the idea of trying them in New York, where the crime was per -- was committed.

TOWNSEND: Well, that -- there may be, Wolf. But I will tell you, what we hear now is the huge outcry, both from victims' families and from New Yorkers who live in that neighborhood. You know, Lower Manhattan, this area is a very vibrant economic neighborhood now. There are families living there, there are businesses there, all of which will be horribly affected by the restrictions, in terms of travel and traffic, that will be put in place for a very protracted period of time during the trial. And especially -- this becomes an especially vulnerability, Wolf. When you're moving the -- the defendants from the jail facility to the courthouse each day, those movements are particularly vulnerable times.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just yesterday, we reported on questions about his charity. Now today, this Congressman calling it quits in a tearful news conference, but citing a very different reason.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what else is going on?


The federal government says it will cut its greenhouse emissions 28 percent by 2020. This from President Obama today. In a statement, the president said that as the largest energy consumer, the United States government has a responsibility to reduce its energy use and become more efficient. He says the measure will save several billions of dollars.

Well, there is word that a second U.S. citizen is being detained in North Korea. The State Department says the North Korean government has informed them they've detained an American who entered the country from China. The U.S. has been unable to get further information on the incident. North Korea is also holding an American it says entered the country illegally from China on Christmas Eve.

And warnings tonight about a rabies outbreak in New York's Central Park. There are confirmed reports now of 28 rabid raccoons found in and around the park in the last few months. Health officials are warning people to be extra cautious and to keep those pets on a leash when they are inside the park.

All very good advice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent advice. But Central Park is great, but just be careful.

All right. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

By the way, there's another way to follow what's going on behind- the-scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter, as you probably know. You can get my tweets at -- all one word. Maybe I'll tweet something in the next commercial break.

As California voters move a step closer to possibly legalizing marijuana, we'll take you inside a marijuana superstore. It's a big box retailer for pot growers.

Stick around.



BLITZER: This week, CNN is your watchdog. Since President Obama took office, the government approved $862 billion of your money for thousands of projects. CNN will tell you exactly where a lot of the money is going. Is the stimulus, though, turning into jobs for you?

In North Dakota, it seems they already have plenty of jobs.

What's going on?

CNN's David Mattingly is joining us.

He's been digging deeper into this story.

What are you finding out -- David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an embarrassment of riches. North Dakota is getting a lot of stimulus money from Washington and even some public officials there are asking, who needs it?


MATTINGLY: (voice-over): At the local ice rink in Bismarck, North Dakota, there's a lot more to talk about this winter than just hockey. Manager Jim Peluso, also a county commissioner, made headlines when he decided to just say no to federal stimulus bonds.

(on camera): You had $9 million on the table.

JIM PELUSO, BURLEIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: But sometimes you've just got to do what -- what's in your gut and you've got to do the right thing.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): Peluso says he couldn't justify spending those millions when North Dakota's economy is booming. A recession-proof mix of energy and agriculture makes for the nation's lowest unemployment, the second fewest foreclosures and a state budget surplus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John and Mikey Rubin (ph).

MATTINGLY: Even North Dakota Governor John Holden, now running for U.S. Senate, opposed stimulus funding, like many of his fellow Republican governors.

(on camera): Does North Dakota need the stimulus money?

GOV. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: No. No. And we didn't support the stimulus bill. Our focus in North Dakota is on aggressive job creation. And -- and that's what you see going on.

MATTINGLY: It seems like the last place that would need help during a national recession. But North Dakota actually ranks near the top of the country for per capita stimulus funding -- on the receiving end of more than a half billion dollars.

(voice-over): So why was so much money targeted for North Dakota in the first place? We found a huge part of the answer at this coal burning power plant, where $100 million stimulus will be spent developing a new green way to remove carbon dioxide emissions.

(on camera): Is this the best place in the country to be spending that kind of money for this kind of project?

DARYL HILL, ANTELOPE COUNTY POWER SYSTEM: I think it is. We have a -- a state-of-the-art power plant here. And the infrastructure for investigating how you would do it here at this plant is already in place.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): The process is called carbon sequestration. The big ticket project will determine how well it will work on an industrial scale. Theoretically, it could promote green energy and reduce greenhouse gases. The White House says it was a good forward-looking fit for the stimulus agenda.

JARED BERNSTEIN, ECONOMIC POLICY ADVISER TO THE VICE PRESIDENT: Carbon sequestration is obviously a critical function of the clean energy economy. And believe me, there are going to be a lot of North Dakotans who are going to be very happy to have jobs in that industry whatever the unemployment rate is in their state.

MATTINGLY: The project would take years. But in the here and now, not everyone in North Dakota is getting behind stimulus. Jim Peluso looked around his county and didn't see the need.

(on camera): What's your unemployment rate?

PELUSO: About 3.5 percent.

MATTINGLY: Did you feel embarrassed even considering taking this money?

PELUSO: Personally I did, yes.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): Just say no -- an apparent luxury afforded in this rare island of economic prosperity.


MATTINGLY: North Dakota now, by the numbers -- $744 million in available funds from the stimulus project, 1,293 jobs listed as created or saved. We talked to public officials there who say they're leaning toward the saved side. Not too many new jobs being created so far. The state an envious -- an enviable 4.4 unemployment rate, the lowest in the nation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But as you know, they've -- they've got some influential members of Congress in the Senate and the House here in Washington. It helps explain why some of that money, no doubt, went there.

All right. Thanks very much, David, for that good report.

We're going to check in with the Stimulus Desk at the CNN Center. Tom Foreman is there. That's coming up, as well.

Also, we'll take you on a relief mission in Haiti with the United Nations official who makes key decisions over where the earthquake aid should go.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: President Obama has renewed his call for bipartisanship.

Is he dreaming?

Kris in Ohio: "I don't think he's dreaming. He believes that if he just calls for bipartisanship enough times, he can make the Republicans look bad without actually having to be bipartisan. It's all gamesmanship."

Steven writes: "Even if President Obama is serious about bipartisanship, which it is too early to tell at this point, I don't think Pelosi and Reid are the slightest bit inclined to work with anyone."

Brian in Denver writes: "Of course he's dreaming. The GOP made the decision to scuttle Obama's main domestic priority, health care, in order to win points for the next election. They did this by arguing that it was a socialist plot to take over the country and kill your grandparents. It's been effective. Obama's numbers have plummeted in the last year. Other than doing the right thing for the country, what incentives would the Republicans have to not continue what they've been doing? It's working."

David writes: "Obama is the one who refused to allow Republican input on the health care bill, directed that negotiations occur in secret closed door meetings so the Republicans couldn't even see the bill as it was drafted and directed Congressional leadership to avoid a conference committee, so Republicans could not have a say on the merged Senate/House bill."

Ken in North Carolina: "It's more a nightmare than a dream. The president doesn't get it. He should have gotten the message at the State of the Union, when he called for tax cuts for businesses and the Republicans, who get high and happy on the scent of tax cuts for businesses, neither acknowledged nor applauded."

And Carol in Massachusetts writes: "I thought it was a dream until today. Obama took questions at the Republican retreat. I was riveted to CNN. Each side made valid arguments in a reasoned and civilized manner. It was compelling and refreshing. More of this, please." If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it at my blog at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It was pretty compelling. You know, it was that -- this compelling, we've decided, Jack, tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, the Saturday SITUATION ROOM, we're going to replay it for viewers who may have missed it. It's a good idea to see the president taking questions from House Republicans. Pretty cool.

CAFFERTY: Yes, into the lion's den. And -- that was good stuff.


All right. Tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

From the outside, it could be an Ikea or a Wal-Mart. But this superstore is selling everything you need to grow marijuana. We're taking you inside.

CNN's Dan Simon is there.


BLITZER: California voters will likely soon be inviting on whether to legalize and tax marijuana. Pot has become so mainstream in the state, there's now even a marijuana superstar for growers.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us live from the middle of it all -- Dan, all right, explain to our viewers what this is all about.

DAN Christmas Eve, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this shows you just how pervasive and out in the open the cannabis industry has become here in California. Just like any other retailer, you would expect to find products on the shelf. Here's one called Supernova. I'm not quite sure what that does. Here's one called Dark Energy.

They have some really sophisticated contraptions over here. And this is not cheap stuff. And all of this is so you can grow marijuana inside your home. They've had quite a few customers today. They just opened. We were here as they got ready for business.

Take a look.


Christmas Eve (voice-over): One last coat of paint before the grand opening. It's a business that aspires to be the retail king of marijuana growing.

(on camera): It's a 15,000 square foot warehouse. And when you come in, you can see all the products on display to grow marijuana.

You have all of your chemicals over here. To my right, you have all the soil. You've got the containers. You've got the lights. It's really sort of a one-stop shop to get your supplies to grow marijuana. (voice-over): Twenty-five-year-old Oakland entrepreneur Dhar Mann thinks he's got a winning concept with a store he's called iGrow.

(on camera): There are other stores that sell hydroponics equipment, but they don't necessarily advertise that it's for growing marijuana.

DHAR MANN, OWNER, IGROW: Other stores -- and I've walked into other hydroponics stores. If you discuss the magical "M" word, they'll ask -- they'll actually ask you to leave their store. So they don't allow any sort of discussions regarding cannabis.

Christmas Eve: It's one thing to buy the equipment, it's a whole other thing to actually know how to use. Well, here they think they've figured that out. They've got a group called the Grow Squad. Best Buy -- they have the Geek Squad. Here they have the Grow Squad. A team of people are going to be in this room, ready to answer all of your questions in terms of how to grow marijuana.

(voice-over): They'll make house calls, too. And if you're in need of that marijuana I.D. card required both to grow and purchase medical marijuana, the store offers another added convenience.

(on camera): Down this hallway that we're about to go through, you're actually going to have a doctor on staff who's going to be here full time, who will do physicals, do whatever you need to get that card.

MANN: Exactly. We wanted to make it really simple, just because, you know, a lot of our customers are also wheelchair patients. So we just thought it would be very accessible to have somebody on site and, again, offer the full-service solution that we're aiming for.

Christmas Eve (voice-over): That full service even offers classes on growing marijuana, like a computer store that teaches you how to use your PC.

(on camera): Well here, they're doing the same thing.

(voice-over): Just substitute marijuana for the computer.

(on camera): So you bought all your equipment and you know what you're doing. At the end of the day, you can have a room that looks like this.

(voice-over): C.J. Miller is a proud member of the Grow Squad. We're on the ground floor of his townhouse. He candidly admits to making a killing selling his crop to local dispensaries.

C.J. MILLER, GROW SQUAD: The average is about $40,000 to $45,000 every eight to 10 weeks.