Return to Transcripts main page


Toyota Recall; President Obama's 2011 Budget; Spending Freeze; Olympic Security Fears

Aired February 1, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're learning more about the federal government's investigation of Toyota and why safety officials may not be satisfied with the carmaker's new fix for its recall nightmare, information you need to know.

Plus, the president promising not to treat your hard-earned cash like monopoly money, would his new budget plan ease America's debt or make it worse? We're asking lawmakers if they buy the president's math.

And security concerns here in the United States as thousands of people prepare to cross back and forth across the northern border during the Winter Olympics in Canada -- this hour, the high traffic and the terror threat.

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

But we begin this hour with Toyota. Federal Transportation Safety officials are continuing their investigation into the acceleration problem that led to the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles. The carmaker announced today that it's found a way to repair gas pedals that are becoming trapped in sticky floor mats.

But the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says it is looking into the possibility that something else might have caused the problem. Something Toyota is not acknowledging. It says so far it hasn't found any hard evidence of another cause but this does raise serious new questions as Toyota goes ahead with repairing the gas pedals and tries to ease the fears of so many millions of Toyota owners.

Let's bring in CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's taking a closer look at this story for us. Deb, tell us how Toyota says it is planning to fix this problem.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well they're going to do this one car at a time, but as far as what the government is looking into right now, they're looking into whether in fact it may be an electronics problem. They have not ruled that out even though Toyota is saying no, this is really the gas pedal.

Now engineers from Japan have been running durability tests to make sure that the repair that they're suggesting now is a good one and that it lasts. And here's what they came up with. If we take a look at this gas pedal here, that area is the area of concern. Now the cars affected by the recall are at risk of experiencing excess friction in that part of the pedal assembly which controls the feel of the pedal down by your foot.

Now over time weather conditions and wear and tear cause the areas to stick. Right here you can see a close-up of that area. And that's when you get more friction. The pedal does not return as it is supposed to and the car instead of slowing down continues to accelerate. So the solution that Toyota engineers came up with -- if we go to this graphic here -- is that pink bar right there.

That is a precision cut steel reinforcement bar. It is put there in order to allow the two areas to really operate as they're supposed to with much less friction and takes about 30 minutes to install but again when you think about it, it's 2.3 million cars. That adds up to million -- over a million hours of manpower to fix this problem and that's at dealerships nationwide, so even if they stay open around the clock, it's still going to take a lot of time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now Toyota says they've been transparent with these problems from the beginning, but today was really the first time we heard in depth from them.

FEYERICK: Well that's exactly right and that's what surprised a lot of people, even though they said well you know we don't know what the problem is and we're telling you we don't know what the problem is. And apology and an explanation really goes a long way, especially when a number of Toyota drivers remain afraid to drive their cars. Earlier this morning at about 6:30 Eastern Standard Time, the Chief Operating Officer Jim Lentz appeared in a Toyota video on YouTube apologizing for the recall.


JIM LENTZ, PRES. & COO, TOYOTA: We are truly sorry for letting them down. Nothing is more important to us than their safety and their satisfaction. And that we're redoubling our efforts to make sure that this can never happen again.


BLITZER: But now there are questions, Deb, as you know that it's not necessarily the floor mat, not necessarily the pedal but there's a much bigger problem that Toyota may have electronics.

FEYERICK: Well that's exactly right. And during the call the chief operating officer and a design official stressed that no, it was not an electronics issue. They say that there's no interference between the various components sort of like you get when you're in an airplane and they tell you to turn off the cell phone so that there's no interference.

Well Toyota says there are a lot of redundancy safety nets in place to prevent any sort of electronics system from failing. Toyota officials are planning to visit dealerships to gauge how their customers are reacting but again, with the federal government now coming out and saying you know we haven't really ruled this out. That certainly is going to raise a lot of questions. Toyota just trying to put the brakes on the whole thing by saying you're OK. We're going to take care of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deb Feyerick thanks very much. And Brian Todd is standing by with a mechanic. Information you need to know if you own a Toyota or you know someone who does. We're going to tell you what to do. If you're driving along, let's say at 40 miles an hour, 50 miles an hour, 60 miles an hour and guess what, that pedal sticks and it won't stop, you put your foot on the brakes and it's still going. We're going to tell you what you need to know because this could be a life and death related issue. Thanks very much, Deb Feyerick.

We'll go to Brian Todd shortly, but let's get to President Obama and his new spending plan. Here's one way to wrap your brain around it. It would cost American taxpayers seven billion, $289 million to go ahead and spend some of this money. More than eight -- we're talking about $7 million a minute if you take a look at that number. It's actually not that much bigger than last year's budget but at $3.8 trillion for the year it would add to the soaring federal deficit in the short-term.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We simply cannot continue to spend as if deficits don't have consequences. As if waste doesn't matter. As if the hard earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like monopoly money. As if we can ignore this challenge for another generation. We can't.


BLITZER: The president's 2011 budget is a tricky balancing act. He wants to pare down the long term federal debt with a freeze on some spending but he also wants to beef up the economy, at least try to, through new tax cuts and jobs programs. It's a very, very delicate act. Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan the president is proposing cuts but it's certainly not enough to bring down the deficits in the short-term. In fact the deficits are projected for as far as the eye can see.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You heard Peter Orszag talking about that earlier on your show. And the president acknowledging today that these proposed cuts alone will not be able to impact the deficit long term and so that's why the president is pushing for this bipartisan fiscal commission. This is a chance for Republicans and Democrats on a panel to sit down and find ways in the mid range and long-term to really impact the deficit to bring it down.

But you know one of the questions that came up today at the briefing is why is this commission even necessary? Shouldn't the president and Democrats in Congress who are the majority make the tough choices and what Robert Gibbs says is that this is a problem that one party alone can't solve -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's take a look at the Defense Department, the Pentagon budget right now. I take it that the president wants what, little bit more than a three percent increase in Defense Department spending even though they want to eliminate some big ticket items.

LOTHIAN: That's right and we were talking about that freeze where the military is not being impacted by that but there are some cuts that we're seeing there including the C-17 cargo plane. This is a plane that more than two years ago the Defense Department stopped production of but Congress continued to fund.

Obviously this had a big impact for some of these Congress people back in their hometowns in terms of jobs and so the president looking at this program and saying it's not needed. Nobody wants it. And so he wants to pull that from the budget at a tune -- to the tune of about $2.5 billion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dan Lothian is at the White House. Let's go to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Dana Bash is our senior congressional correspondent. You're talking to Democrats; you're talking to Republicans, Dana. What do they say about this budget?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well first of all they are very eager to remind the White House that yes the president sent a budget up but it is Congress that has the power of the purse and in many ways what the president sent was a political document with his priorities. We stopped by a couple of lawmakers' offices though as they were pouring through it.


BASH: Hi, Congressman.


BASH: Thanks for letting us come in. Appreciate it. In general, Congressman, you have seen some of the reports and certainly you were among many Democrats briefed by the White House about the spending freeze that they are planning on doing. What do you think of that?

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: Well I think it's a good idea to have a spending freeze or spending cuts. You know the question is the amount and where it's going -- what it's going to include. I mean for example, I would include the Pentagon. I wouldn't just have it be for certain domestic programs.

BASH: What are you looking for first to say I hope this is still in there, I hope this is cut.

PALLONE: There may be some cuts in the Army Corps projects which would be things like flood control and beach replenishment which are very important in my district. And I wouldn't -- I see those in the same way that I see road or mass transit projects that those are infrastructure projects. They're important and create jobs right away.

BASH: Now of course the Republican reaction is quite different. And we decided to come and talk to a Republican member of the House Budget Committee, John Campbell. We're going to go in and talk to him as he goes through the budget with his staff. Hi Congressman.


BASH: Be OK if we come on in?


BASH: OK. I just wanted to get...


BASH: ... get a sense of what you're doing here.

REP. JOHN CAMPBELL (R), CALIFORNIA: Well we're trying at this point to figure out the broad numbers are here.

BASH: Right.

CAMPBELL: And the overall numbers, I mean here is the overall budget totals, for example, and then the other thing I always look at are the economic assumptions.

BASH: Now, big picture. What is your overall sense of what you have seen so far? Better in terms of deficit reduction?

CAMPBELL: No, I mean this budget increases taxes, spending, debt and deficit basically almost every year going out. That is unsustainable. I actually think people need to be panicking. People need to be alarmed. People need to be very scared about expanding the debt.


BASH: And that Republican Congressman John Campbell did admit to me that his party, the Republican Party, spent too much taxpayer money when they were in charge in Washington. But the thing to keep in mind, Wolf, is that every member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election in November and Democrats know they are facing a very, very tough road ahead. And that is why whatever the president is releasing and whatever he's sending up here, the fact that there's an election year and a very tough one for Democrats, it is going to play big into the fate of the president's ideas for this $3.8 trillion budget.

BLITZER: It's a lot of money. And let's not forget what Dana just reminded all of us. The president's budget, it is a recommendation. Congress can increase it, decrease it, leave it alone, ignore it, do whatever they want. This is simply the president's priorities, his recommended budget to Congress -- Dana, thanks.


BLITZER: We'll watch as it goes through the process. It's not pretty, but we'll see what happens during the course of the next weeks and months.

There will be scores of athletes, thousands of spectators and millions of viewers. What officials hope there will not be is any sort of terror attack at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games but protecting the games will not be an easy or inexpensive job.






BLITZER: Let's bring in Jack for "The Cafferty File".

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A year ago, Wolf, it would have seemed unthinkable. The newly popular Democratic president boosting support for Republicans at the polls, but fast-forward a year and with a significant drop in President Obama's approval ratings that's now part of the GOP strategy for the upcoming midterm elections.

Some Republicans are hoping to tie their Democratic opponents to the unpopular policies of the president including things like spending, bailouts and health care reform. It's happening in conservative states like Louisiana and Tennessee where Republicans are hoping that Mr. Obama will show up to campaign with the Democrats, as well as in other states that the president won in 2008 places like Wisconsin.

In some cases they plan to tie Democrats to the Pelosi/Obama agenda, a reference obviously to the hideously unpopular speaker of the House. Nonetheless, Republicans understand that they are walking a very fine line here. The strategy could backfire if they go too far and attack the president personally. President Obama remains very popular with the American public even if they disagree with some of his policies.

Following stunning losses in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey, Democrats are prepping for a tough midterm election. Things could get worse. Imagine the symbolism of this -- losing the president's home state, Illinois. There's some concern that Republicans might take the president's old Senate seat along with the Illinois governorship.

Illinois has been Democratic for -- since the dawn of time but ongoing ethic scandals -- can you spell Rod Blagojevich -- I can't either -- and the near insolvency of the state government could change all that. Here's the question. Will President Obama help or hurt fellow Democrats in the midterm elections? Go to and share with us your thoughts.

BLITZER: It's very fickle. A year ago it was this, now it's this. A year from now who knows what it could be. CAFFERTY: You know I have never though -- that Massachusetts thing was like a keg of dynamite going off.


CAFFERTY: Who could have predicted that? And now everybody is going well, hey, anything is possible.

BLITZER: We just thought it was a done deal.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I mean Massachusetts.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks.


BLITZER: In his new budget proposal, President Obama is slashing a $1 million college scholarship fund for Olympic athletes. As many as 150 athletes participate in the program annually. Word of the budget cut comes 11 days before the 2012 Winter Olympic Games -- actually the 2011 Winter Olympic Games are set to begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, the 2010 -- let me repeat -- 2010. They're beginning in a few days. Vancouver is tightening its security net and as CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve found, it's a major undertaking.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, to protect these games the Canadians are mounting the biggest security operation in their history.

(voice-over): A Canadian navy diver plunges into frigid water off Vancouver honing his underwater bomb detection skills, a small part of a massive effort to keep the Olympics safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We prepared for the worst case scenarios, which includes terrorism and we'll be able to respond to the worst case scenarios.

MESERVE: The murder of 11 Israeli coaches and athletes by Palestinian militants at the 1972 Munich games has hung over every Olympic since. The threat of international terrorism in Vancouver is currently assessed as low.


MESERVE: The bigger concern domestic political protests. The Olympic torch relay has been disrupted several times by demonstrators. At critical locations in Vancouver, some roads are already closed. Police presence is heavy and 900 surveillance cameras stud security fencing.

(on camera): You see the cameras everywhere but officials say there will be other technology to detect chemical, biological and radiological threats. (voice-over): Massive inflatable barriers keep boat traffic away from cruise ships that will house some of the 15,000 security personnel. Military, police and Coast Guard all patrol to keep the city safe and commerce moving in Canada's largest port.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) see the container ships coming in, the tugs and tows working their chain (ph) in the harbor. (INAUDIBLE) like business as usual (INAUDIBLE) Vancouver.

MESERVE: But it is a big city with a multitude of potential targets like transportation hubs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are infinite places where things can occur and there cannot be a presence in all of them.

MESERVE: Some events will be held at the Whistler (ph) ski area two hours north of the city requiring a whole different set of security measures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our soldiers are deployed up there with snowmobiles, track vehicles, foot patrols, snowshoe, skis.

MESERVE: Connecting the two venues just one critical road, much of which hugs the coast. It, too, will be heavily patrolled. There will be air restrictions policed by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and 4,500 members of the Canadian armed forces with special skills and equipment are in reserve if needed, the budget for this multi agency security effort led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, $900 million.

(on camera): Wolf, the Canadians don't want this to be all about security. They want the focus to be on the games and the athletes -- Wolf, back to you.


BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve getting ready for the Winter Olympic Games starting in Vancouver in a few days. We'll be watching.

Gays in the military -- the president has promised to lift the ban, lift the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" ban that prevents gays from serving openly in the United States military. We'll speak about that and more with the authors of the bestseller "Game Change". They're standing by live.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf. Well Citigroup says it will scrap plans to charge fees on certain checking accounts. This is part of a settlement reached with the New York Attorney General's Office. The fees estimated to be about 100 to $120 a year would have affected more than a million customers. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says Citigroup failed to provide proper notice or adequate disclosures about those fees.

Take a look at this -- it was an unusual sight on the New Jersey Turnpike. A traffic reporter in a small plane was forced to make an emergency landing -- you see it there -- on a very busy highway. This after an oil pressure light came on. He landed near Exit 4 just before morning rush hour. Authorities praised him for the smooth landing and for doing something pretty, pretty nice. He immediately taxied off to the shoulder to get out of the way for drivers.

And General Motors' plans to sell Hummer to a Chinese machinery maker rather is being delayed a month. GM says they are extending the deadline to complete the transaction until February 28 pending final approve by the Chinese government. The once hot sport utility vehicle sold well into the mid 2000, when fuel prices began to rise.

And ads for Sunday's Super Bowl are sold out already, remarkable feat given this economy and given that 30-second spots cost up to $3 million. CBS, the broadcaster for the big game, says it's been 95 percent sold out since early January. Last year was a record for viewers with almost 99 million people tuning in. Anheiser Busch is the top advertiser this year. And Wolf, I know a lot of people who actually say forget the game -- we don't even watch the game. We just like to watch the commercials. Of course I like to watch both.

BLITZER: I know -- yes. I like to watch the game and the commercials are nice, too.


BLITZER: But the game is what counts, at least for a football fan like me. Thanks Lisa.


BLITZER: Millions of Toyota owners and passengers are wondering when their vehicles will finally be safe to drive. The company says it now has a fix for a gas pedal problem that could lead to runaway cars. We're going to take you to a repair center to find out what you need to know in case you're driving a Toyota and it simply keeps on going no matter if you put the brakes on. We'll tell you what you need to know potentially to save your life.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our lead story right now -- a problem that's terrified so many Toyota owners and led to the recall of millions of vehicles. It goes by the sterile sounding name of sudden unintended acceleration which means the gas pedal could become floored, sometimes catastrophic results. The gas pedal problem is idle, dealerships and factories.

Today Toyota says a fix is now in the works with parts being shipped to dealers across the country. Meantime, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells CNN it's continuing to investigate a range of potential causes. Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's over at a repair center in northern Virginia. Brian, you got some useful information for viewers, for drivers of Toyota vehicles. Tell our viewers what they need to know.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf. First of all, we do want to clarify something that we reported last hour. Since that time we've talked to Toyota officials who really want to stress this particular recall for the gas pedals, this campaign to fix the gas pedals in Toyotas they say does not have anything to do with the floor mat entrapment problem that was affecting some Toyota and Lexus vehicles over the past couple of months.

They say it's a separate recall, a separate issue. This pedal situation with the fixing of the pedals is completely kind of on its own and we have to reiterate that. This does not have to do with the floor mat entrapment issue. The floor mat entrapment problem is kind of what brought some of this to light, but this particular recall, this campaign is completely separate.

The sticking of the gas pedals on the Toyotas is a separate problem from the floor mats. That being said, we're now with Omar Panjshiri from the Chantilly Repair Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Now what Toyota officials have told us is that what they're going to do with the gas pedal just like this one, Omar, is put a steel -- a specifically cut steel reinforcement bar into the assembly of pedals like this. Tell me where it's going to go and what it will do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The steel reinforcement goes right in here. The pedal will get reinstalled back in the vehicle. The purpose for that (INAUDIBLE) steel reinforcement is to reduce friction in the pedal.

TODD: Yes. OK. So that will probably as Toyota says is going to prevent these accelerators from sticking and that will be -- that will be the way they are going to address this problem. Wolf, you had a question for Omar?

BLITZER: Yes, I do. Omar, some practical advice for drivers of these Toyota vehicles right now, you're driving along on a highway at 40 or 50 or 60 miles an hour. You got your wife next to you. You got your kids in the back seat. All of a sudden you put your foot on the brake but it's not stopping, it's continuing to go, no matter what you do, the brake is not working. Give our viewers the recommended advice what they need to do to stop the car.

OMAR PANJSHIRI, TOYOTA-LEXUS TECHNICIAN: In the unfortunate event if that does happen you want to make sure that you do not continuously pump the brakes. Pump the brake one time and depress it -- first thing you do. If it does not stop, shift the lever from drive to neutral and then continually press the brake and slowly try to swerve off the road and park the vehicle safely. Once the vehicle is stopped and it is in a safe area, turn the ignition switch off and then I guess call the dealer and get some assistance. Do not try to drive the vehicle back again.

TODD: You will lose a bit of the power steering.

BLITZER: I want to be clear, you are driving along. You can't stop. You shift first into neutral and then you put your feet on the brakes and you just hold the brakes down. You don't pump them but you just keep them down, is that right?

PANJSHIRI: That is correct. Once you have the vehicle in neutral you push the brake pedal and hold them down. The reason why if you keep pumping the brake it depletes the vacuum assist and reduces the brake assist.

BLITZER: At what point do you turn off the engine?

PANJSHIRI: After you come to a complete stop you can turn the ignition off.

BLITZER: There's been some confusion about turning off the engine before.

PANJSHIRI: After you come to a stop, you can turn the engine off to give you assistance. If in fact you cannot stop the vehicle and if you are depressing the brake and it continues to go forward, then you can turn the ignition off and if you have the push start ignition system, you can push the start button and hold down for three seconds that will cut out of engine and it will gradually pull over to the side and come to a stop.

BLITZER: Good information potentially that could save someone's life. Brian Todd is working the story. He'll be on it throughout this week. We'll try to find out what's going on especially this new development that maybe electronics are involved. We'll follow up tomorrow on that. Guys, thanks very much.

Toyota's gas pedal recall affects 2.3 million vehicles in the United States. These include the 2009-2010 Rav4, Corolla and Matrix models, the Avalon from 2005 to 2010, certain Camrys from 2007 to 2010, the 2010 Highlander, the Tundra from 2007 to 2010 and the Sequoia from 2008 to 2010. Toyota has also recalled as many as 1.8 million cars in Europe. That involves eight different models some of which aren't sold in the United States.

Let's go to another major story we're following right now. President Obama's call to overturn the military policy known as don't ask, don't tell. We'll talk about that and more with co-authors of the best-selling book "Game Change." It's number one on the New York Times bestsellers list for the second week in a row. Joining us now, the veteran political reporter John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of our sister publication "Time" magazine. Guys, congratulations once again on the bestseller. Is this a smart political move on the president's part? We're going to be hearing tomorrow up on Capitol Hill to eliminate - to repeal the policy don't ask, don't tell.

MARK HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR "GAME CHANGE": Public opinion has certainly shifted since Bill Clinton tried to do this but not enough that Republicans, most Republicans won't attack. It will put Democrats in a defensive position in some places. It's a political fight for sure even though public opinion in the military has changed. The president is doing something he believes in. My general view is when presidents do that it's good politics. BLITZER: Is it though possible that the military will give the president the cover he needs and say they do this in Israel and England and France and Canada and most the NATO allies allow gays to serve openly in their respective militaries, why can't the United States?

JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-AUTHOR "GAME CHANGE": I think it's really possible Wolf and I think there's been obviously a shift within the military culture on this subject. The president will take advantage of that. Bob Gates will give him a lot of cover on this. But I also think it's good politics in a different way. The president right now is balancing a tough -- juggling a couple different imperatives as he heads into the 2010 mid term election. One is that he has to appease independents and moderates who are upset at him for being too much of a big government liberal but the other is that he's got this demoralized base. This is an issue that's very important to large part of the Democratic base. Seeing Obama fight for this, seeing Obama push this hard will help him with those people he needs to have activated for the midterm elections.

BLITZER: Do you see any evidence the president will change his position and come around and support gay marriage?

HALPERIN: No evidence that he'll do that any time soon. Although I think in his heart some day he would like to. What's important when he talks about this is that he not do what Bill Clinton did. He has to step up and explain his position full throated, clearly enunciate why he believes this, not hide behind spokespeople, not let the fight occur outside his own influence.

BLITZER: I watched Scott Brown, the newly elected senator from Massachusetts, on ABC yesterday with Barbara Walters. Listen to some of the things he was saying. Listen to this.


SCOTT BROWN, ABC: I feel this issue is best handled between a woman and her doctor and her family. On the marriage issue that you brought up, it is settled in Massachusetts. I believe that states should have the ability to determine their own destiny. In Massachusetts the free market, the free enterprise has taken control and they're offering a wide range of plans. I have never, ever said that people should not get health insurance.


BLITZER: When you listen to him in that interview yesterday, he supports a woman's right to have an abortion. He supports the law in Massachusetts which allows gay marriage and he supports the law in Massachusetts which wants everyone to have universal health insurance. Now, I suspect there are some conservatives out there that will be surprised by that.

HEILEMANN: He's a guy that has said -- we should take him at his word. He's not a right wing Republican. He's an independent. He's something else. He represents an important force in American politics for that reason. He got aligned with the tea party movement and many will wonder whether this is a guy who is in line with what they want to see happen or whether he's just a guy that rode in on their energy.

BLITZER: Do you think he knew he was a guy that supported abortion rights?

HALPERIN: This is where he is as a northeastern moderate on social issues. Remember, two of the strongest issues in the Republican Party throughout our careers have been lower taxes, less government and strong on national defense. He's aggressive and I would say anti-Obama, anti-Democrat on those issues. Social issues are one thing. In the northeast, this is how Republicans used to get elected. He's getting elected balancing some conservative positions with moderate is good for the party to win seats in the northeast.

BLITZER: What about Illinois? Is it possible the president's home state and Democrats could lose that Senate seat this year?

HEILEMANN: I think it's possible. It's possible. And every piece of evidence that we've seen so far in these last two off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia, now Massachusetts, the Democratic Party is in a considerable state of disarray right now in Illinois. I don't think it's impossible. You could see Harry Reid's seat go.

BLITZER: Barbara Boxer's seat in California. Joe Biden in Delaware. In other words, if you lose Massachusetts, what you and everybody else seems to say, everyone has an open seat right now.

HALPERIN: Even the white house wouldn't try to spin the notion that if the election were held today, which I can tell you it's not going to be, is very late, the Democrats would do badly. They hope for an improved economy and hoping to be able to contrast the Democratic platform with the Republican platform and not a referendum on Democrats. We saw in Massachusetts that was hard for them to do. Illinois is a great example where Republicans have a very strong nominee. Democrats are going to have a big tough primary.

HEILEMANN: These are big seats. They are symbolically important.

BLITZER: It would be demoralizing with Massachusetts a year after the president was elected. Guys, thanks very much. The book is "Game Change." Two weeks in a row number one. What about the third week?

HEILEMANN: Wolf Blitzer magic.

BLITZER: Who would have thought? Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, the number one bestseller out there. Good work guys.

It was a grizzly sight. Thousands of victims of the Haiti earthquake dumped into mass graves. Three weeks after the destruction, Haitians are now given an opportunity to pay proper respects.


BLITZER: Haiti was devastated by an earthquake with countless fatalities but despite the overwhelming destruction and the mass graves, respect for the dead is still vitally important. Let's go live to CNN's Joe Johns. He's in Port-au-Prince right now working this story.

Joe, what's going on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, this is one of those stories that has really just ignited such strong passions in this country and in small part and perhaps in large part because this is a country that just does not believe in disrespecting the dead. It has such negative connotations throughout Haiti.


JOHNS: Thousands buried in this new mass grave for the first time with a Christian blessing. Haiti's Catholicism stretching out to this wasteland, blessings, prayers, holy water. Daniel Rouzier, a local businessman, saw the mass graves on CNN's "AC 360" and hired the diggers and brought the priest. What went through your head when you saw the report?

DANIEL ROUZIER, FOOD FOR THE POOR: This was not reflective of Haiti. We have tremendous respect for our dead. We build them graves that are sometimes better than our own homes and so this is a fluke and I felt that it was only right for us to give them a proper Christian burial so we did.

JOHNS: The priest he brought, Father Rick Frechette from Connecticut, a well known American priest who has lived in Haiti for the last 20 years. Father Frechette and others say this has long been a dumping ground for bodies and before the quake he came out once a week to say prayers for the dead but he wasn't prepared for this.

REV. RICK FRECHETTE, CATHOLIC PRIEST: The bishop came and got me and said, my god, this is unbelievable. We went out there together in order to have the blessing, the prayers and the chants for the dead. But we couldn't do it in any other way but to bring backhoes because there were piles of them. We were trying to make right a situation that was very wrong and we do that every Thursday any way.

JOHNS: We don't know how many people are here. By one estimate something like 2,500 or so could be more, could be less. Locals tell us this area has been a dumping ground for bodies since the days of Haiti's dictators. Now though, a final resting place with some dignity for victims of the Haiti earthquake.


BLITZER: Joe, there's been reaction today to these mass graves. What happened?

JOHNS: Well, it's kind of amazing. Early this morning here buses started going out to that area which we've taken to referring to as the valley of death, many buses. Several hundred people actually went to a religious service, an interfaith service there saying good- bye properly to all these tens of thousands of dead Haitians. I can't overstate the importance of this issue in this country. People just don't believe in disrespecting the dead. The other interesting note is that there was something of a political rally that event. At the same time it was also a memorial service because these were supporters of the former president who went out to do this morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you throughout the week. Joe Johns on the scene for us in Haiti. Appreciate it.

A woman's biological clock may be ticking much faster than expected. There are stunning new findings from a brand new study on fertility.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi again Wolf. The Taliban are denying Pakistani media reports that their leader is dead. State TV reports that the leader died after being wounded in a recent drone attack last week. The report cites witnesses who say they attended his funeral. But a Taliban source denies the report telling CNN the Taliban commander in Pakistan has simply gone "underground."

And civil rights icon Joseph Lowery is in the hospital in Atlanta. A friend of the 88 year old said he was suffering respiratory problems. He was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Emery University Hospital says he's in stable condition. We're certainly glad to hear that.

BLITZER: Certainly are. Thank you for that update, Lisa.

How fast is a woman's biological clock actually ticking? In this study, startling statistics about fertility and the number of eggs a woman loses as she ages. Here's CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, doctors have always known a woman's chances of conceiving go down as she ages but this new study quantifies exactly how many fewer eggs a woman has as she gets older and what they found is a woman is born with more than a million eggs. By the time she hits 30, she has only 12 percent of those eggs left and by the time she hits 40, she has only 3 percent of those eggs left. To put it another way, we picked a couple ages and tried to see how many eggs a woman has those ages. At age 13 a female has about 180,000 eggs. At age 25, that goes down to 65,000. At age 35, that goes down to 16,000.

Now, it's important to remember it only takes one good egg to conceive a baby so obviously women in their late 30s and early 40s can conceive often quite easily. I put myself in that group. Women shouldn't panic. If they are curious or if they are concerned and want to know if they're having any fertility problems, they can go to the doctor. There are certain blood tests that can be done and certain ultrasounds to be done to help a woman assess what's going on with her fertility. Wolf?

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for that report. Will President Obama help or hurt fellow Democrats in the midterm elections? Jack and "the Cafferty file" and your e-mail coming up.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for the Cafferty file.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is will President Obama help or hurt fellow Democrats at the mid term elections in November?

Richard writes, "Way too early to tell whether the president is a liability. Ten months is a millennium in politics. Let's wait and see. I think the anger from these elections is based on the economy and not because the Republicans have any new ideas on how to save the country."

John writes, "Are you kidding? He has already hurt Democrats in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. It's possible his endorsement or passive support could destroy a candidate's chances in November."

Ryan in Wisconsin says, "Both parties have gotten too far to the extremes. They both need to come back to the middle where the majority of us live. I think we'll see more independent candidates rise up. I'm sick of party politics. They need to open their eyes, look at the problems and find the best solution, whether it agrees with the party or not. Congress is the problem, not so much Obama."

Andrew in Colorado writes, "If President Obama sticks to his agenda, which Americans don't want, he will hurt his party greatly. We are already seeing other moderate Democrats who are distancing themselves."

Chuck writes, "It will help. Obama is the best thing to happen to the Republicans since Bill Clinton."

Jay writes, "I think it's too early to tell for sure how Obama's influence will pan out. He has eight months or so to make a difference and if the economy improves, so will the voter response. On the other hand it really bugs me how feckless the American voter can be. Who was in power when everything came tumbling down? The Republicans. Why do people think it would be better to have them back in power again? Voter psyche too confusing to understand."

Dan writes, "Are you kidding me? With how fast the American people forget, we'll be sweeping the house and the Senate in November when this economy comes roaring back. I can't wait to see your story then, Mr. Cafferty."

Me either. If you want to read more on this you can go to my blog at, or not.

BLITZER: Saints or Colts?

CAFFERTY: Boy, I hope the Saints win. I think the Colts will.

BLITZER: Because of Peyton Manning?

CAFFERTY: Yeah, and they're just very solid. Although, they lost the defensive player, he's big. I would just, for emotional reasons, love to see the saints win.

BLITZER: After New Orleans, Katrina and all the people that went through, it would be so exciting for them.

CAFFERTY: Hard to root against Peyton Manning. I'm dodging like you do.

BLITZER: I don't think New Orleans has ever won a super bowl.

CAFFERTY: Who do you like?

BLITZER: I like the Buffalo Bills.

CAFFERTY: They're not in the super bowl.

BLITZER: I like the Washington Redskins.

CAFFERTY: Of the teams in the super bowl.

BLITZER: The sentimental favorite.

CAFFERTY: Which is?

BLITZER: The underdog.

CAFFERTY: The Saints?


CAFFERTY: You're on the record as rooting for the Saints?

BLITZER: I want to see a good game, not a blowout.

CAFFERTY: Wolf likes New Orleans. Call a bookie, get it in. Lines four, came down a point.

BLITZER: Lot of friends in Indiana.

CAFFERTY: You've got friends in Buffalo, too.

BLITZER: Bills are coming back. Just wait.


BLITZER: Ladies night at the Grammys, did you watch? It was a huge night for Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Kareen Wynter has the winners and losers.


BLITZER: Campbell Brown is up at the top of the hour, that's next. I'll be back with Anderson Cooper 360. Grammy night, ladies' night, some of the biggest names in music raked in musical gold. CNN Kareen Wynter has the winners and losers.


KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With Beyonce and Taylor Swift leading the nominees, it looked like it might be ladies' night at the Grammys.


WYNTER: Indeed, it was. Beyonce had a fierce showing, leading the way with six awards, the most ever for a female artist in one night, topped off by "Single Ladies: Put A Ring On Be It."

BEYONCE: I would love to thank the Grammys.

WYNTER: Swift won four Grammys including the night's biggest prize album of the year for Fearless.

TAYLOR SWIFT: This is the dream come true, when you have crazy dreams like I wonder what it would be like to win a Grammy some day.

WYNTER: Crowned its queens but saved its most heartfelt tribute for the king of pop, the late Michael Jackson. His two oldest children, Prince Michael and Paris, accepted his lifetime achievement award.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through all his songs, his message was simple, love. We will continue to spread his message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. We love you, daddy.

WYNTER: Earlier, the a-list audience and folks at home dawned 3- D glasses for a film of Jackson's pro-environment earth song accompanied by a group of singers.

Speaking of kings, Kings of Leon celebrated their record of year win for "Use Somebody."

KINGS OF LEON: We're all a little drunk but we're happy drunk.

WYNTER: It wouldn't be the Grammys without some amazing performances. This year's included Lady Gaga, who opened the show paired with the equally flamboyant Elton John.

Rock album winners Green Day went Broadway, Beyonce marched on, Jamie Foxx was opera man and Pink did some high flying water-soaked acrobatics. Mary J. Blige and Andre sang "Bridge over Troubled Water" for Haiti, it will be sold online to raise money for relief. It was a reminder of what music does best.

After the show, I spoke with Mary J. Blige, who said it was a very emotional performance, one she hopes will inspire others to help.

Kareen Wynter, CNN, Los Angeles.