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THE SITUATION ROOM
Search for Truth in Haiti; Obama Reaches Out to Republicans
Aired February 3, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Rick, thank you.
Happening now, the Transportation secretary recalls his own warnings about Toyotas.
Should owners stop driving their recalled cars or not?
We have a top consumer expert standing by to try to clear up some of the confusion and give us some important advice.
Plus, why are we suddenly learning that the Christmas bombing suspect is, quote, "singing his guts out?"
Republicans are accusing the Obama White House of dodging for political cover.
And President Obama challenges Senate Democrats to keep leading and fighting. Some embattled lawmakers challenge him right back. In this tough election year, members of his own party are asking the president if he gets it.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Some Toyota owners tell us they're deadly afraid of driving their recalled cars, even as the company scrambles to fix the problem. They may be just as afraid and even more confused after hearing from America's Transportation secretary.
Listen to what Ray LaHood told members of Congress this morning.
RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: My advice is if anybody owns one of these vehicles, to stop driving it, take it to the Toyota dealer, because they believe they have the fix for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This afternoon, LaHood said he misspoke when he urged Toyota owners to stop driving cars being recalled because of the gas pedal problems.
Here's what he's saying now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAHOOD: If you own one of these cars, take it to the dealer. If you're in doubt, take it to the dealer and have them fix it, if it's one of the ones that needs to be fixed -- or at least have them look at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Toyota issued a statement thanking Secretary LaHood for clarifying his remarks. The company says -- and I'm quoting now -- "Our message to Toyota owners is this. If you experience any issuing with your accelerator pedal, please contact your dealer without delay. If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive."
We have lots of questions right now for the senior director for "Consumer Reports" auto test division.
David Champion is joining us from Yonkers, New York.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID CHAMPION, SENIOR DIRECTOR, "CONSUMER REPORTS" AUTO TEST DIVISION: Thank you.
BLITZER: How worried should people be if they own these brands -- these models, these models of Toyota that have been recalled?
CHAMPION: Well, the -- the instant of having a sticking throttle pedal is very rare. So I would not be overly concerned about driving the vehicle. But if you are driving the vehicle and you notice that the throttle pedal is a little sticky or has a gritty feel, a bit slow to return, then I would take it back.
BLITZER: Take it back to the shop -- to the dealership right away?
CHAMPION: Yes. Take it back to the dealer and make sure that they look at it. And as a general advice, if you're ever in a situation where you have the car with unintended acceleration, what we've been recommending is basically push the car into neutral, pull it over to the side of the road. The engine will be revving right off the red limiter (ph). It won't don't any damage to the engine. Once you get onto the side of the road, turn the engine off, put it into park and call a tow truck.
BLITZER: Well, some people say you should turn off the engine. In other words, if you're -- if you see the accelerator going, if the car begins speeding up and you put your foot on the brake and there's nothing happening, you put it in neutral and then you should turn off the engine right away/
But you're saying let the engine stay on?
CHAMPION: Yes, let the engine stay on. The one thing I'm worried about is if you turn the engine and turn the key all the way off, you might get it into the -- the steering lock position and then that would lock the steering.
Also, with the engine running, you've still got the power assistance to the steering. Some of the larger vehicles, like SUVs, are very difficult to steer without the engine running.
BLITZER: We're hearing new complaints about brake problems for some Toyota Priuses. You've heard about this.
How serious of an issue is this and is it related to the accelerator problem?
CHAMPION: This is a new issue that we've seen on 2010 Toyota Priuses. We're just getting to the -- to the grips to try and find out what's going on. Again, there's been very few complaints so far.
BLITZER: Some people fear it's not just the brake pedal -- the -- the gas pedal, it's not the floor mats, but it's a bigger electronics problem in the Toyota.
Are you convinced that the electronics are fine?
CHAMPION: From what we've seen of the work that NHTSA has done, in -- in terms of inducing a lot of EMF and radio signals and magnets, they couldn't find anything that would cause a throttle pedal to basically go wide open. Ray LaHood said today that they're going to look again. I think it's another good idea to go and look again.
But the main area that I think people should be concerned about is the previous recalls on floor mats. Those floor mats have been proven to stick the throttle wide open. And, in the meantime, while you're waiting for the recall to be done on those floor mats, make sure you take all the floor mats in the Toyota vehicles out of the driver's side.
BLITZER: Any second thoughts about highly recommending Toyota over the years?
You -- "Consumer Reports" has, as you know.
CHAMPION: No. We -- we think that Toyota makes a very, very good car. They're usually very good in terms of crash tests. They come with all the -- the latest safety features on. Their reliability in the past has been excellent. And, you know, once this recall has gone through, we would not have any hesitation in recommending a Toyota vehicle.
BLITZER: David Champion is with "Consumer Reports," the auto test division.
David, thanks for coming on.
CHAMPION: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story coming up. Brian Todd is investigating. We'll also speak with Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan. He's not happy with Toyota right now and he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain why.
If you own a Toyota -- one of these cars that have been affected, or you know someone who does, you're going to want to see this.
Let's get to the uproar now over the administration's handling of the failed Christmas bombing suspect. The attorney general, Eric Holder, sent a letter today to Republican critics defending his decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian court.
Some GOP lawmakers are fuming that the administration leaked word late yesterday that Abdulmutallab is now cooperating with investigators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: I think it's really extraordinary that we have a situation where there was a leak that this -- the Christmas Day bomber was giving us information, he was read his rights and then he -- he quit talking. Political controversy developed about reading the rights to non-Americans in those situations -- enemy combatants and the rest -- and -- and to help squash the political controversy, the White house calls -- hastily calls a briefing with a senior administration official to say, oh, no, he's singing his gets out.
I can't figure out a reason that would happen other than political cover.
BILL BURTON, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will say that the -- the reason that people were told about the success of these interviews didn't have anything to do with politics in the sense that a determination was made here at the White House that it was important for the American people now to know that we're doing everything possible to keep the American people safe and that these interrogations are working, that we're getting evidence that is actionable and that we feel like we've pursued the right course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- Ed, first to you.
You were at that White House briefing when we learned that Abdulmutallab is talking to investigators. Talk a little bit about the timing.
Why are we hearing about this now?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are under great pressure in this White House. You saw the Republican attack there from Mac Thornberry, the congressman. And they decided -- made a calculation here, when you talk to top aides, that it was time to start pushing back.
As you heard Bill Burton there, there's -- they're insisting it's not driven by politics. But the fact is they are acknowledging that -- that they were facing pressure and -- and they were tired of it. As one top official here said last evening, you know, they're frustrated as hell that Republicans have been saying that they botched this Detroit terror case and they finally decided enough is enough.
So you heard the push-back last night with this extraordinary briefing here late at night at the White House to lay out how family members of Abdulmutallab helped gain his cooperation. You saw the push-back from Bill Burton at the briefing. And they're basically saying enough is enough with the attacks. They believe that their method has been methodical, that it has been quiet and behind the scenes and without torture, without pushing the envelope on enhanced terror techniques or anything like that, they've gotten good, actionable intelligence. And they finally decided they're going to tell their story -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment -- Gloria, you've been talking to a key Republican moderate about all of this.
And what are you hearing?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Senator Susan Collins, who's the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, really has one problem here. And that is she believes that no matter what decision was made, that the folks in the intelligence community -- high level officials -- should have been consulted, not just informed about how to proceed with Abdulmutallab, but consulted on the best way to proceed, because she says they have a lot of information to offer and that, in the end, we will never know whether the quality or the quantity of the information that we're getting right now would have been better had we done it another way.
So Republicans want to get Eric Holder up to the Hill and they want to ask him why this was not done in a broader way. People had an opportunity. They were told how he was going to be questioned, but they weren't consulted about it.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, guys, because we're going to continue our coverage of this, as well.
Ed Henry and Gloria Borger.
President Obama faced a friendly audience today -- or at least it was supposed to be pretty friendly. Wait until you hear some of the push-back, though, he got from some fellow Democrats. The cameras were rolling.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here.
with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: It turns out some lawmakers are all about fiscal restraint as long as the cuts don't affect their constituents.
Not in my backyard, right?
Politico reports about fiscal hawks who are now balking at President Obama's proposed budget cuts. Here are a few examples. Republican Senator George LeMieux of Florida -- he called the president's proposed freeze on some federal spending too little, too late. But now he says the president's proposed $3.5 billion cut in the NASA budget makes no sense. LeMieux says there should be cost- cutting everywhere, but apparently that doesn't include NASA.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, often against big government, criticizing the proposal to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies in her home state of Louisiana.
Republican Senator Jim DeMint, one of the most fiscally conservative of all, says raising taxes on corporations as a way to trim the deficit is the "coward's way out."
And on it goes. Missouri senators -- one Democrat, one Republican -- they're against the president's plans to cut spending on the C-17 aircraft. The manufacturing of that aircraft represents lot of jobs in St. Louis.
Coal state lawmakers unhappy with the president's call to eliminate tax breaks for that industry. With the midterm elections sneaking up just around the corner, well, once again, politics will trump everything.
To hell with the nation's skyrocketing deficits, these lawmakers talk a good game about cutting spending, but at the end of the day, that's all it is -- just empty talk. Here's the question -- how can the U.S. reduce deficits when most lawmakers won't support budget cuts in their own backyards?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess another way of phrasing that question would be which senators support cutting -- cutting programs in their own backyard?
BLITZER: I wonder if we could name any?
CAFFERTY: I don't think -- probably not. But that -- they say, you know, if you don't bring home the pork or you don't bring home the bacon, then you don't get reelected. The problem is there ain't no more bacon. The hog has been picked down to the skeletal remains. And we've got to start stopping this or we're going to -- we're going to go belly up.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Stand by.
Attention Republicans in Congress -- President Obama has a tough new message after standing on what you might call hostile ground at a Republican retreat last Friday, today it was friendlier territory. The president turned a meeting with Senate Democrats into a bit of a pep rally, encouraging his party to be more aggressive and aggressively claiming Republicans are determined to just say no.
Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- so, Dana, you were there in the room.
How did it go?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, Wolf, last week, the president opened up the Q&A with Republicans to show some Independents that he's willing to reach and show his base he's willing to take the GOP on. What was fascinating about today is that Democrats used this as a chance for their own vulnerable senators to take the president on.
Take a look at these six senators. We'll put it in here. All of them are facing tough reelection battles this year. Each was carefully chosen by the Senate Democratic leader to ask a question and none missed the chance to use the forum, live with cameras rolling, to show frustrated voters back home they're listening and even willing to stand up to the president.
Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, she was probably the most pointed and personal. She told the president about a frustrated constituent who doesn't think he or his aides have the experience to understand their struggles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: He and his father have worked hard. They've built three -- three or four different small businesses. And he fears that there's no one in your administration that understands what it means to go to work on Monday and have to make a payroll on Friday.
And are we willing, as Democrats, not only to -- to reach out to Republicans, but to push back in our own party for people who want extremes?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Blanche is exactly right. We've got to be non-ideological about our approach to these things. We've got to make sure that -- that our party understands that, like it or not, we have to have a financial system that is healthy and functioning, so we can't be demonizing every bank out there. We've -- we've got to be the party of business -- small business and large business -- because they produce jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And, Dana, Senator Lincoln even sent a -- a campaign press release about that moment shortly thereafter, touting the fact that she stood up to the president of the United States.
That was interesting. BASH: It sure was. And it really, really spoke to what this really was all about. In fact, I was sitting behind Senator Ben Nelson when these questions from vulnerable Democrats started. And he said under his breath, he said, "So much for soft balls."
Wolf, it did turn out to be a chance for worried Democrats to give what amounted to campaign speeches, whether it was Evan Bayh pressing the president on deficits or Arlen Specter pressing him about unfair trade with China that hurts union workers in his state.
And sitting there watching this, it was very clear to everyone in the room. They knew the optics of this was politically helpful. At a time voters think Washington is a problem, these incumbents and Democrats -- endangered incumbents -- got to look and sound like they're challenging the system and that they're not part of it.
BLITZER: And they assume it probably will help them in their bid for reelection.
All right, Dana.
Thanks very much.
Could the frustration you just heard coming from these Democratic senators be due to worries -- serious worries that Republicans might actually take over the majority in the Senate?
Let's bring in CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen.
I guess the question, is it really possible -- 59 Democrats, 57 Democrats, two Independents who caucus with the Democrats -- is it really possible they could be in the minority after the midterm election this year?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Wolf, you know, only a few months ago, that was outside the realm of imagination -- totally unimaginable. At best, the Republicans might pick up two, three or four seats.
But now, after Scott Brown's victory, given the sourness in the country, the reality is setting in -- the new reality is setting in for Democrats, hey, these Republicans can make sizable gains and it is mathematically possible. It is, for the first time, within the realm of imagination, they could actually pick up control.
Let's look at it. As you know, there are 100 seats in the Senate. The Republicans right now need -- have 41. They need to pick up 10.
There are three states where they are now favored -- Arkansas, Delaware and North Dakota -- one, two, three of the 10 that they need.
There are four states right now, Wolf, that are considered competitive -- Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Colorado. That's four more. So now they're down to three. And lo and behold, there are three states in which Democrats are potentially vulnerable. In Indiana, Dan Coates just announced against Evan Bayh today. That makes that -- that's going to make that more competitive.
California -- we just saw in Dana's piece how Barbara Boxer was asked to ask a question. That's a potential seat for them, too.
And New York -- surprisingly, Hillary Clinton's old seat. That's a possibility, too. Very unlikely to happen, Wolf, but for the first time, it is within the realm of imagination.
And what that does suggest, when you've got -- they'd have to run the whole board. But when you've got 10 seats like that, that are possibly in play, there is a reasonable possibility, if things continue the way they are, that you'll pick up a number of them. And that would -- too, would change the dynamics in Washington.
BLITZER: But that assumes the Republicans don't lose any incumbent seats.
Are they have -- do they have any endangered seats on the Republican side?
GERGEN: There are some endangered seats on -- on the Republican side and that's a very good point/counterpoint. In particular, the -- the fight that's going on in Florida, where there's a Republican seat. Charlie Crist, the -- the incumbent governor now, is facing a candidate who's heavily favored by the Tea Party group. And what's happened here is Rubio, the challenger -- the conservative challenger, has moved ahead of Crist in the polls. If Rubio won the nomination, that could put that seat -- easily put that seat in jeopardy for the Republicans. And there are a few.
But let's look a little deeper at some of these, if we could, Wolf.
In Arkansas, the most notable, I think, of all of these is two- term incumbent, Blanche Lincoln. She is now running against five different Republican opponents. She's now running some 20 points behind. And there's a fellow named John Boozman, who's a Congressman there, who just announced, who's regarded as a very, very strong competitor against her, 20 points up. So that's Blanche Lincoln.
Let's look at another one here. This is a -- this is a hard one for Democrats because it's Joe Biden's old seat. And he's had someone who has been a close friend and aid in that seat. Everybody thought that Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, very popular in Delaware, would run. He's not -- he clearly was not going to run now. And suddenly, Mike Castle, who is a big Republican name in Delaware, is the favorite in that seat. To lose Joe Biden's seat would be -- it would be a real sadness for the Democrats.
And finally -- and very, very importantly -- Barack Obama's old seat. You know, he had Richard Burris in that seat. There's been a lot of controversy. Richard Burris decided not to run. And now, Wolf, just yesterday, a fellow named Mark Kirk won the Republican nomination. He's a Congressman. He's a moderate. He may not play -- please the Tea Party folks, but he's very popular in Illinois. And suddenly, that seat is extremely competitive.
So there are a lot of seats out there, Wolf, that are in Republican hands -- that are in Democratic hands that are very competitive today.
BLITZER: Good point. And David, as all of our viewers by now know, that if a Republican can win the Senate seat in Massachusetts, potentially, every Senate seat is at play right now in this...
GERGEN: That's exactly right...
BLITZER: ...political (INAUDIBLE).
GERGEN: Scott Brown is coming to Washington tomorrow...
GERGEN: ...to be -- because they -- they've moved it up. He's going to be sworn in tomorrow afternoon.
BLITZER: And he'll be the successor to Senator Kennedy.
Who would have believed that only a few weeks ago?
David Gergen, thank you very much.
Your money bailed out the insurance giant, AIG. Now, $100 million will be paid out in bonuses.
What's going on?
The secretary of the Treasury calls that outrageous. Wait until you hear how Tim Geithner says you could get that money back.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, outrageous -- that's how Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is describing AIG's plan to grant its employees almost $100 million in new bonuses. Geithner told the House Ways and Means Committee today that the bonuses, which were negotiated years ago, could be recovered through a bank fee included in President Obama's proposed budget. The Treasury secretary has asked Congress to support the measure.
And Congress is condemning China in the wake of recent reports of cyber attacks against Google there. The Senate approved a resolution last night demanding an explanation for the attack and criticizing China's restriction on free speech on the Internet. Google is considering pulling out of the China. The Chinese government denies any involvement in those attacks.
And the results from the Illinois primary are in. And state treasury -- treasurer Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Congressman Mark Kirk will be going head-to-head for Barack Obama's former Senate seat this November. The race for governor, however, remains a question mark. Democratic Governor Patrick Quinn, who succeeded the disgraced Rod Blagojevich, has a slight lead over his challenger. The race on the Republican side is also undecided.
And golfing legend Tom Watson has a message for Tiger Woods -- show some humility. The eight time major winner, who's in Dubai for the start of the Dubai Desert Classic, says Woods should admit that he screwed up when he returns to the game. He also says the 14 time major winner doesn't have the same stature as other former greats.
Woods has taken an indefinite break from the game after an admission of infidelity.
And I've got to tell you, Tiger Woods has a long ways to go repairing his image -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly does. And maybe that's pretty good advice to begin with.
All right, thanks very much, Lisa.
Don't go away.
In Happy Holidays right now, some crucial witnesses are speaking out about the case of those 10 American missionaries accused of child trafficking.
And Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State, is now speaking out about it.
CNN is in the quake zone. We're investigating the story. We're staying on top recovery efforts, as well.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a search for truth in Haiti. Americans accused of child trafficking are questioned by a judge and their interpreters talk to CNN about the events leading up to the arrests.
President Obama reaches out to Republicans soliciting their ideas, even inviting them to a Super Bowl party this Sunday.
So why is he also blaming some of them for playing politics? Our political contributors Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin, they'll weigh in live here this hour.
Making thinks move with your mind. Innovations that could revolutionize the way we live.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Finding out the intentions of those 10 Americans who tried to take a busload of children out of Haiti. Authorities are trying to do that right now. The male members of the group, five of them in all, were questioned by an investigating magistrate. The women were questioned yesterday. Officials say following these interviews, the D.A. will determine whether or not to file charges. CNN's Karl Penhaul is live in Port-au-Prince. Dan Simon is gathering information in Idaho, where the church is based.
Karl, let me begin with you. What are you finding out today about why these Americans did what they did?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well there were some new developments today. One of those Haitian authorities around midday took away for questioning a Haitian policeman who normally works at the Dominican embassy. Authorities say they will question him about whether he provided illegal paperwork to the Americans to facilitate them taking the Haitian babies and children out of the country.
Now, that questioning comes after three interpreters, who worked for most of last week with the American Baptists, told CNN that the Americans had on at least two occasions an unauthorized meeting with that Haitian policeman that works at the Dominican embassy. An interpreter told me that the content of that conversation was essentially that the Haitian policeman offered to help the Americans and in their effort to get the kids out of Haiti. There was a meeting on Tuesday and there was a meeting on Thursday.
Now I asked the interpreters if they believed this might be a corrupt cop who was doing something illegal to help the Americans get these kids out. He said he didn't know. I asked the interpreters if they thought money had changed hands. Again, they told me they didn't know. All along though, the American Baptists have said the only legal piece of paperwork was a permit for them to allow the children into the Dominican Republic. They told me in a jailhouse interview, that paper had been issued by the Dominican authorities. I talked to the Dominican consul-general to the Haiti, he said that's an outright lie in his words. He said he met the team leader on Friday, and he told her very clearly, you do not have all the documentation in place, I cannot give you permission to enter the Dominican Republic, you do not have permission to leave Haiti, either, and he said if you embark on this trip, then you will likely be accused of child trafficking. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLOS CASTILLO: The Haitian national police, even before they got into the immigration or customs on the Haitian side, the Haitian authority contact me, they call me, and they told me that she was telling them that they had authorization from the Dominican authorities to cross the border, which was a lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: So we know that Laura Silsby lied in parts of her interview with CNN, and now the allegations that this group was having shady meetings with officials. Obviously now the judge is still investigating.
BLITZER: When you say she lied in interviews with CNN, based on what he heard from the consul of the Dominican Republic she has lied, at least he claims she lied. Is that right?
PENHAUL: That's right, yes, and certainly we have now talked to the Americans three times, once on Saturday, once on Sunday, and again last night I went to the jailhouse to talk to them to cross-check some of these allegations. They did not want to talk, and when I asked them if they knew a Haitian policeman of the name -- of the man that has now been arrested, and if they knew a Dominican official on the Dominican side of the border, the group simply started singing hymns. They sang "Amazing Grace" and other hymns as well to drown out any further questioning.
BLITZER: What are they say there, Dan? These ten Americans, they are in prison, in jail right now in Haiti, at least for the time being.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously they're very anxious. Friends and family of those detained Americans have been gathering really around the clock, at the central valley Baptist church in Meridien, Idaho. As it relates to Laura Silsby, she is a member of this church and she really put together this mix to rescue, and we've been looking into her past. We know she is runs a business here called personalshopper.com. We could also tell you that she's been having some financial issues, and that just adds probably to the stress she's feeling there in Haiti. In addition, though, she received this award back in 2006 from an organization called the E- Women Network Foundation. That organization noted that Laura Silsby has done work in the past helping disadvantaged children.
That said, Wolf, some serious questions have really risen over the past couple days about the capabilities of this group to really handle taking on a task of this magnitude. For example, we know this group, called the New Life Children's Refuge, I have their mission statement right here. We know they have absolutely zero experience running an orphanage. No experience. In addition, they have not filed as a nonprofit with the U.S. government, and they're not registered as an international adoption agency. I addressed some of those questions with the pastor here at the church. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. CLINT HENRY, CENTRAL VALLEY BAPTIST CHURCH: I believe that the kind of knowledge that it takes to begin an organization that works that way was in place. The kind of employees that it takes to successfully run an orphanage, those were going to be hired. As far as international travel, the team have all done those kinds of things. So the only thing they hadn't experienced was an earthquake.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SIMON: Wolf, this plan was hatched some two years ago, then the earthquake struck and the group instantly rushed to Haiti. Perhaps that explains why they didn't go through the necessary bureaucratic hoops to get everything ironed out.
BLITZER: Dan Simon working the story in Meridien, Idaho, and Karl Penhaul in Haiti. Listen to this, guys. The secretary of state Hillary Clinton is now speaking out about this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know how to do this in the right way, and it was unfortunate that whatever the motivation that this group of Americans took matters into their own hands. As you know, they have been charged with breaking the laws of Haiti, and we are engaged in discussions with the Haitian government about the appropriate disposition of their cases. They've been granted consular access. We are providing them the services that any American citizen who is detained is entitled to, and we will be working through the questions that the Haitian government has, and looking for the best way forward on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story and update you when we get new information. An important story for us.
We're seeing so many Haitian children, by the way, fighting for survival right now. Some are orphans, others simply abandoned. Just ahead, the huge challenge of keeping them alive and safe.
And President Obama's aunt is taking another shot at trying to stay here in the United States. Does she have a strong case to make to immigration officials?
BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is concerned about the nation's economic recovery. During the ceremonial swearing in for his second term, Bernanke told staffers that despite a growing economy, far too many people remain unemployed. He also talked about the challenges facing the fed, which include protecting its independence from Congress and making the institution more open and accountable.
President Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is preparing to make her second bid for political asylum. The Kenyan native goes before an immigration judge if Boston after defying a deportation order in 2004. She's expected to argue that ties to the president could make her a political target if she returns to Kenya. Her status was revealed shortly before President Obama was elected in 2008. And while many of you are gearing up for this Sunday's Super Bowl, some in the NFL are worried that the game's days could be numbered. The NFL Players Association fears owners will impose a work stoppage after the current collective bargaining agreement expires and they're taking their cause to Capitol Hill. The league says a new collective bargaining agreement will be reached, but the existing form is too generous. So hard to imagine not having NFL games.
BLITZER: You know, they're negotiating right now. Both sides are getting tough. We'll see what happens. But more importantly we'll see the Super Bowl.
SYLVESTER: Yes. We will. We'll be front and center.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
Here's a question, what if you're invite to a Super Bowl party on Sunday by the president of the United States? Wait until you hear who President Obama is knitting over to the white house for the Super Bowl. The battle may not be on just the football field.
BLITZER: Joining us our political contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
I want you to listen to the president of the United States today slamming Republicans for backing away from what he thought they wanted in the first place, referring to this Conrad Gregg fiscal commission idea. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We were assured this was going to be bipartisan, only to see seven Republicans who co-sponsored the idea in the first place, suddenly decide to vote against it. I'm opening to honest differences of opinion, but what I'm not open to is changing positions solely because of short-term politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What about the seven Republicans that wanted the president to create this commission that would have some real teeth. The last minute she switched and voted the other way.
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It wasn't at the last minute that followed the explosive expansion of government and the debt. It would have included tax increases, even as Ms. Frommer says, his economic adviser, you can't raise taxes in a recession, it's contractionary. So that's -- you know, when we say bipartisan, we mean we won't Kentucky pit late to your agenda. We're going to stick on our principles. Right now the initiative is spending cuts before considering tax increases.
BLITZER: Does that make sense to you, Mary's explanation, Donna? DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, we're not going to capitulate to the Republicans' desire to go back to the policies of the past that clearly put us in this terrible financial shape that we're in today. Wolf, all the partisanship aside, we're in deep trouble as you said the other night, when I cab back and turned on my TV, and Wolf, you scared the daylights out of me. I think that we have to go into these meetings and put our partisanship aside and really figure out was best for the American people in terms of turning this economy around. I understand the desire not to put the tax cuts on the table at this time or tax increases, but if we're going to get this budget under control, Mary, I do believe we have to put everything on the table. Spending cuts not just in non-defense areas, but every area action if we put that aside and stop worrying about the election, we might get something done.
MATALIN: But you're doing the same thing the president does, though I won't impugn your motives in the way I might have his, there's a presumption of bipartisanship or obstructionism, I don't think the president's people and even his economic people want to raise taxes. The spending cuts, reductions and long-term debts restructuring would be difficult enough to bring those degree or even get started on those issues. Why not start in the places where we agree and work through some things, proving that we can work through things, and then get to the stuff where we flat-out are not going to ever agree?
BRAZILE: Well Mary, 95 percent of the American people, as the president said at the state of the union, no one has disputed this, 95 percent of the American people have already received a tax cut from this president with the stimulus package, something that the Republicans, you know, supported the president putting in the package and then voted against it. I think it's important we give the president some credit for some of the efforts he's already put forward on the table and see if Republicans can meet him halfway on some of the other spending programs.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, we'll leave it on that note and see if the president continuing what he's done now twice, one with the Republicans, today with Democrats, and have some of these televised Q&A sessions. I know he's inviting the bipartisan leadership into the white house next week. I let's see if they let cameras stay inside the white house for that entire meeting and see what goes on. That would be good television.
BRAZILE: I support that.
BLITZER: I support it, too. I think the American public supports it. Mary, do you support that?
MATALIN: Absolutely. I'm not sure we would ever get as fine a presentation as we did in Baltimore, and it would have been even better had the Republicans been able to be filmed as well, but there was a spontaneity about that and seriousness of purpose. Yeah, I think we should do more of that. I don't know that it can be replicated.
BLITZER: More television, I guess. Donna?
BRAZILE: I just want to say Mary and I we disagree on a lot of policy issues, but we are both supporting the New Orleans Saints this weekend.
MATALIN: Who dat, girlfriend.
BRAZILE: We dat.
BLITZER: Donna Brazile was invited to go see the game at the white house by the president. She is going to Miami to watch the game like a real football fan, like a real Saints' fan, and so is Mary Matalin. She was not invited to the white house for that game.
BRAZILE: Well, a lot of Republicans were.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. I was not invited either.
The world is watching how Haiti is taking care of the orphaned children. Just ahead, the challenge of helping children as parents may or may not still be alive and the pain and heartbreak that goes along with it.
BLITZER: Right over to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is how can the United States reduce the deficits when most lawmakers will not support budget cuts if they happen in their own backyards?
Greg in Minneapolis writes, "The first order of business in reducing the deficit comes with the next election. Voters nationwide should vote against any incumbent with the message that it is time to clean out Congress and replace them with people who are fiscally responsible and in 2012, do the same thing for those incumbents who remain along with the current occupant of the white house who has the gal to complain about what he had to inherited and then proceeds to bust the budget with more deficit-spending."
And Michael writes, "Flat tax, flat tax, flat tax, Jack."
Angie says, "If conservatives of both parties were serious about cutting spending in Washington then they would support the budget cuts in their own backyards."
Mike in Oklahoma City, "Good luck getting the gerbils in Washington to do anything for the good of the country. Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter. They are concerned with staying in their cushy jobs first and foremost. And as long as they can keep that as a possible lifetime gig, they will continue raping this country to pay for garbage we don't need." Gerbils in Washington. I like that.
Sue in Idaho writes, "Why not contact your backyard congressman and tell him/her how the cow eat cabbage? You can only wring your hands for so long. If they don't listen, don't put a check by their name in the next election."
John in Vermont writes, "In a word, they can't. There are no rewards for a congressman who doesn't bring home the pork."
And Jimmy says from North Carolina, "We cannot reduce deficits until the administration takes a stand. The only stand they take now is spending. When you talk out of both sides of your mouth, you get gravy on your tie."
If you want to read more about this question, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Wolf?
BLITZER: I don't want gravy on my tie. All right. Jack, thanks very much.
A U.S. trained scientist has another outburst in court as she's found guilty for trying to kill Americans, and we will tell you who she is trying to blame for the verdict.
BLITZER: We are seeing a generation of kids alone in need and in some cases totally abandoned. CNN's Joe Johns is in Port-au-Prince.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One little boy we talked to said he lost his dad, but his mom is still alive. Another lost a cousin. Figuring out what happened in these kids' lives can be tricky. A flatbed truck cruising the back streets and tent cities carrying dozens of kids back from a day on the soccer field. Most people here don't know it is organized by one of the many groups here on a difficult mission to identify and help children orphaned by the quake. The day camp is more than just play time, it is a safe place for the children outside of what is a really harsh environment right now, but it also gives the group a chance to figure out which of these kids are the so-called new orphans, the ones who don't have any parents, don't have any family as a result of the quake, but it is tough to figure that out. There is something like 85 kids right now, and almost a toss-up as to who is who. Dr. Father Frechette is a priest from Connecticut who spent 22 years here rescuing children from Haiti and he says to separate the street orphans who have figured out how to survive in Port-au-Prince from the kids who have just lost their parents in the earthquake.
REV. RICK FRECHETTE, CATHOLIC PRIEST: The kids who are used to the street, you know, they have scars, and the way they stand and you know them immediately and the kids trembling and scared to death and can hardly speak, you know that they are new to the street.
JOHNS: The second problem is that not all orphans are orphan, because parents abandon them hoping they will have a better life. Alfonso Leone was once an orphan, but now he goes out to search for the kids left without family by the quake, but they don't take all of the kids offered to them. ALFONSO LEONE, NUESTROS PEQUENOS HERMANCS: They would hope they would take the children, and actually they do that almost any time, but we don't work that way, even like the mother with a child would beg us to take the children, but we can't do that, because we don't operate that way. We help them, and in that case, who would help the mother and the kids to have a meal and do something and if we could help in the community, maybe we would do that, but I would not take the children from her.
JOHNS: There is another challenge here, too.