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Don't Ask, Don't Tell Demise?; Support for Political Grillings; Tea Party Holds Convention That as a Crash Course on Political Activism this Weekend

Aired February 6, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: They are the heart and the soul of the Tea Party's first national convention that's going on right now. We'll meet some of the people that turned a grassroots movement into a political phenomenon.

Ten Americans now stand charged with child kidnapping in Haiti. Was it a rescue attempt or a crime? This hour, the U.N's concerns about the fate of young quake victims.

And the British prime minister does it, why not the president of the United States? CNN's Richard Quest sets the stage for question time-American style.

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

Members of the Tea Party movement are holding their first national convention in Nashville right now. It is a new show of the group's political strength and influence and the way it is challenging the status quo. Our Mary Snow is at the convention, talking to Tea Partiers about their new found passion for politics. Listen to this.


NANCY HENDERSON, TEA PARTY ATTENDEE, SACRAMENTO, CA: To take the unity that we have and to solidify it more, to be a voice that is being heard.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Do you see yourself becoming more politically active back in Sacramento?

HENDERSON: I hope so. Yeah, I've never been involved in it before. I just went and voted along party lines, and never really taken an interest. But I see the Republican Party failing miserably, I see the Democratic Party failing miserably. And the people are standing up and I think that's what we're seeing, they're saying, hey, we don't want either one of you.

BRENDEN SMYTHE, TEA PARTY ATTENDEE, BOISE, IDAHO: We don't know what to expect. Our main purpose here is to be with others that are, frankly, as upset as we are.

SNOW: Up until now, would you have considered yourself politically active people? SMYTHE: No, never.


BLITZER: Let's go to Mary; she is in Nashville.

Mary, the mood right now, describe it for our viewers.

SNOW: Well, Wolf, let's set the stage there are workshops like this one going on behind me. This one, in particular, is talking about how to get young people involved.

And what people have been doing here, at this convention, there is 600 people who came here, going to workshops like this. Another one was getting women involved; how to use social networking sites to get involved. And use flip phones in terms of how to upload video on to YouTube and get the message across for the people who are coming here who say that many of them say they have never been politically active before. And they want to get involved in their home communities. They have come from across the country. And they say this is the first time they have ever really been engaged in a movement like this.

BLITZER: Is it more -- a lot of people, generically they seem to think the Tea Party followers are Republicans as opposed to Democrats. But you're hearing criticism of both parties.

SNOW: We are hearing criticism of both parties. Certainly much more criticism of the Obama administration, and Democrats. Most of the people we have spoken with say they identify themselves as conservatives, and that they're unhappy with both Republicans and Democrats. We have found a couple of people who say that they had been Democrats, but that they have changed all of that. Their picture of politics has changed in the last couple of years. And some now consider themselves independent. For the most part, though, they say they are -- they consider themselves conservative.

BLITZER: Is it the goal to have a National Tea Party leader, if you will, or a candidate?

SNOW: You know, that's something we have been talking about with the people who have come here. Exactly what do they want to see happen once they leave here? And most of them say they do not want to have another party, another candidate of their own party. What they say they want to do is to exert pressure on mostly Republican candidates who are already out there.

What some of the organizers here said is they have come up with proposing what they call first principles, smaller government, lesser- fewer taxes, and more power to the states. So some of the principles that they say they would like to see. And they want to use that in order to kind of hold it over the heads of candidates running in order for them to get fund-raising from the Tea Party movement. They want to see the candidates signing on to what they're calling the first principles.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is in Nashville at this conference that is going on right now. Thanks, Mary.

The Tea Party's clout will likely be tested in Florida's GOP Senate primary later this year. A darling of the group is challenging a member of the Republican establishment. Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a high-profile Senate race down in Florida pitting Republican against Republican could come down to two things, America's rising Tea Party movement and a hug.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, (R) FLORIDA: We know it is important that we pass a stimulus package.

ACOSTA: For Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist, it is the hug that just won't let go. His embrace of the president and of the stimulus program at this town hall meeting last year could cost this once rising GOP star a shot at a U.S. Senate seat.

MARCO RUBIO, (R) CANDIDATE: I've been hearing about these tea parties now for a while.

ACOSTA: Meet Marco Rubio, he's challenging Crist for the GOP nomination for that Senate seat and a darling of the Tea Party movement. Rubio has turned the hug into a fund-raising gift that keeps on giving.

(On camera): Would you give president Obama a hug?

RUBIO: Why? Why would I? I don't even know him. Why would I hug someone I don't know?

ACOSTA: Charlie Crist has gotten himself in a lot of trouble for hugging President Obama.

RUBIO: Ultimately, you know, that gets a lot of attention. But what he got in trouble for was supporting a plan that is helping to bankrupt this country.

What I find at events like this is a growing number of Americans who have never been involved in politics before. I bet you that's a lot of you.

ACOSTA: Rubio takes his message of smaller government and lower taxes to Tea Party rallies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a great awakening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop the spending on unnecessary things.

ACOSTA: And his YouTube page features Tea Party activists venting their anger at Washington. Polls show Rubio has closed a 30- point gap and just might win the party primary.

(On camera): Would you be the first Tea Party senator if elected? RUBIO: Well, I'm running as a Republican --

ACOSTA: Despite the word "party", it is not a political party.

RUBIO: It is not a political party.

ACOSTA: Crist, by contrast, is no Tea Party animal.

ACOSTA: Do you ever sit down with any Tea Party activists and talk to them? Have you talked to any of them over the phone?

CRIST: Not really, no, I haven't. I know that --

ACOSTA: Not once?

CRIST: No, not once, no. Happy to, I probably have and don't know it.

ACOSTA: For groups like the Tea Party Express, there is no contest.

JOE WIERZBICKI, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: You want to know why there is anger at the Republican Party? Republicans embracing massive tax and spend policies, no, that's not what the Republican Party is supposed to be about and that's what Charlie Crist did.

ACOSTA: Tea Party groups say millions of Independents, Republicans, and even some former Democrats are ready to take down some of the biggest names in politics, from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Republican John McCain. But Democrats say all that infighting between Crist and Rubio actually presents an opportunity.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'd take either one of them as long as they're wounded and limping into the general election.

ACOSTA: Crist, who has a 50 percent job approval rating, is not backing down from a Tea Party fight. He defends the stimulus as a job saver. And notes Rubio has stated he, too, would have accepted funds from the program.

CRIST: About 20,000 teachers would be out of work today in my state. I can't in good conscience look them in the eye and say you and your family are going to be without a breadwinner. You have to eat.

ACOSTA: He's gambling conservatives will come around. Defying conventional wisdom in his own party, Crist met President Obama for another stimulus event last week.

(Voice over): Did you get any feedback from your fellow Republicans in this state that maybe you shouldn't be there when the president landed in Tampa?

CRIST: A lot, actually.

ACOSTA: They were telling you don't do it?

CRIST: Yeah. Quite a few people. I got a lot of advice.

ACOSTA: They shook hands for 27 seconds.

CRIST: I think people really want-I think they're kind of tired of the bickering they see coming out of Washington. I think that's part of the change that they want to see. It is part of the reason I'm running for the United States Senate. I think we need more civility.


ACOSTA: Voters down in Florida have plenty of time to make up their minds in this race. The primary is set for August, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta working that story for us.

And talk about Tea Party clout, some of those activists worked hard to help make this moment happen. A Republican snatching the Senate seat that liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy held for decades. Talking about Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, he has now been officially sworn in.

But might conservatives be shocked to know he holds some liberal positions on some hot button social issues? In New York, I spoke with the co-authors of the best sell book "Game Change", veteran political reporters John Heilemann of "New York" magazine and Mark Halperin of our sister publication, "Time" magazine.

But first, listen carefully to what Senator Brown told ABC's Barbara Walters about abortion rights, gay marriage and universal health care.


SEN. SCOTT BROWN, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: I feel this issue is best handled between a woman and her doctor, and her family. And on a marriage issue that you brought up, it is settled here 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've 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 everybody to have universal health insurance. Now, I suspect that there are some conservatives out there that are going to be surprised by that.

JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-AUTHOR, "GAME CHANGE": He's a guy who, I mean, he's said -- I think we should take him at his word, he is not a right wing Republican. He's an independent. He's something else. And he represents an important force in American politics for that reason. But he got a wide and conjoined with the Tea Party movement, I think a lot of those people are going to wonder whether this is really a guy in line with what they want to see happen, or whether he's a guy that rode in on their energy.

BLITZER: You think they knew that this was a guy who supports abortion rights?

MARK HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR, "GAME CHANGE": This is where he is a Northeastern moderate on social issues. But remember, two of the strongest issues in the Republican Party, throughout our careers, have been lower taxes and less government, and strong on national defense. And he is aggressive and I would say anti-Obama, anti-Democrat on those issues. So social issue are one thing.

In the Northeast, this is how Republicans used to get elected. He's getting elected balancing some conservative positions with some more moderate. It is good for the party if they want to win seats in the Northeast.

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

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

BLITZER: Barbara Boxer's seat in California?

HALPERIN: Joe Biden's seat.

BLITZER: Joe Biden's seat in Delaware. In other words, if you lose Massachusetts, what you and everybody else seems to say, everybody has got an open seat 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 is not going to be -it is very late, the Democrats would do very badly. They're hoping for an improved economy and they are hoping to be able to contrast the Democratic platform with the Republican platform, not a referendum on Democrats.

We saw in Massachusetts that was hard for them to do. Illinois is a great example where Republicans have probably have a very strong nominee, the Democrats are going to have a big, tough primary. We'll see who emerges.

HEILEMANN: These are big symbolic seats, too. I mean, you loose these and they are symbolically important as much as they are numerically important. BLITZER: It would be demoralizing. How demoralizing was Massachusetts for Democrats a year after the president was elected.

Guys, thanks very much. The book is entitled, "Game Change." weeks in a row, number one. What about the third week, is it going to be number one again?

HALPERIN: Yes, blow on the lucky cover, and Wolf Blitzer magic.


BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Who would have thought. Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, they have the number one best-seller.

HALPERIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work, guys.

In Haiti, there are so many children, so much need, which of them lost their parents in the earthquake, and which of these children were simply given away by their needy parents? As aid workers sort that out, they're also trying to stop people from kidnapping these children.

And the U.S. will kill terrorists around the world, but if those terrorists are Americans it creates a controversial question. Should the U.S. assassinate its own citizens?


BLITZER: Ten American missionaries are charged with kidnapping for trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic without the proper papers. Many of the children have parents who handed them over to the missionaries, hoping to secure a better life for their kids.

The Americans now being held in Haiti without bail, they could face life in prison. Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester, she's been digging into this story for us.

Lisa, it is causing a lot of concern out there. First of all, UNICEF, the United Nations organization that deals with kids, what do they think about the ten missionaries trying to take these 33 kids out of Haiti to neighboring Dominican Republic?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I asked them that question and they did not want to comment specifically about this Haiti case, because they said that this is an -- actually an issue for the Haitian authorities. What they did say is they are very concerned about people coming into the country, and taking children out of the country without any documentation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Even when parents say, you know what, we're so poor, we can't afford to give a good life to these young kids, take these kids, take them to some missionary, educate them, give them a better life. What do they say about that contingency? SYLVESTER: I asked them is poverty a justification, is it a reason, a valid reason for a parent to essentially give their child up for adoption? They said we can sympathize, we understand the anguish that a family feels not being able to feed their child, for instance, and wanting to do something about it. And so there would be a motivation to put the child up for adoption. UNICEF's position is if the parent needs resources, what should happen is they should help the parent get the resources. If a parent can't feed a child, then they should help that parent receive food, so the parent can receive.

I've got a-in fact, they actually put out a position on inter- country adoption that we can put up as a graphic.

They said, quote, "UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it, and that alternative means of caring for a child should only be considered when despite this assistance a child's family is unavailable, unable, or unwilling to care for him or her."

So adoption should be a last resort, that if there is a concern of not being able to feed their children, then get them food.

BLITZER: Can parents on the spot, as apparently was the case, involving these 33 orphans, at least some of them, can they decide on the spot, you know, what, take these kids, we're giving up our rights to these kids?

SYLVESTER: In short, no. There is a legal process. In fact, there is actually a Hague convention protocol, on inter-country adoptions. And there is a laid out legal process. Now, Haiti is not- did not sign this convention, but they still have a process and standards they follow.

For instance, number one, you have to make sure the child is adoptable. You also have to have something legal. It has to be in writing. There can be no money exchanged. And in fact in some cases, depending on the age of the child, they also will ask the child to weigh in on what he or she thinks.

BLITZER: The death toll in Haiti, by the way, has reached 212,000 people in the wake of last month's earthquake. We're now also seeing an entire generation of kids alone in need, and in some cases abandoned. CNN's Joe Johns is in Port-au-Prince.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One little boy we talked to said he lost his dad, but his mom's still alive. Another lost a cousin. Figuring out what happened in these kids' lives can be tricky.

A flatbed truck cruising backstreets in tent cities carrying dozens of kids back from a day on the soccer field. Most people here don't know this is organized by one of the many groups here on a difficult mission, to identify and help children orphaned by the quake. (On camera): 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 try to figure out which of these kids are the so-called new orphans, the ones that don't have any parents, don't have any family, as a result of the quake.

But it is really tough trying to figure that out, there is something like 85 kids here right now. Almost a tossup as to who's who.

(Voice over): Father Rick Frechette is a priest from Connecticut who spent 22 years here rescuing Haiti's children. He says the critical thing is separating the long-time street orphans who already figured out how to survive in Port-au-Prince from the kids who 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, the way they stand, the way -- you know them immediately. And the kids that are trembling and scared to death and can hardly speak, you know that they're new to the street.

JOHNS: Second problem is not all of the orphans are orphans. Parents abandon them sometimes hoping they'll have a better life. Alfonzo Leon was once an orphan himself and now he also goes out searching for kids left without family by the quake. They don't take all the kids offered to them.

ALFONSO LEONE, NEUSTROS PEQUENTO HUMANIAN (PH): Like they would hope that I would take the children and actually they do that almost anytime. But we don't work that way.

Like, even 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 I would help the mother and the kids to have a meal, and to do something, you know, if we could help in the community, maybe we would do that. But I wouldn't take the children from her.

JOHNS: There is another challenge, too. Some here simply distrust anyone who says they're looking to help orphans. They're wary of motives. So the groups have to work to gain trust, which is not always easy.

Just last week Alfonzo and his team brought in these two little brothers who left their house before the quake. And now can't find their mother. The goal is to try to determine if the boys have any other family they can stay with. It is a huge challenge and a slow process. The orphanage connected to the Father Frechette and Alfonzo Leone is expected to expand, but Haiti will almost certainly not be able to handle the numbers of orphans likely to come into the system. Joe Johns, CNN, Port-au-Prince.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: How far will the U.S. go in tracking down American terrorist suspects overseas? Details of a startling admission by the nation's top spy.

And she says she was driving down a mountain road when her Toyota accelerator got stuck. The real life drama behind the recall.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the likelihood of another terrorist attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months? High or low? Director Blair?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An attempted attack the priority is certain, I would say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would agree with that.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Burgess (ph)--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am, agree.




BLITZER: It was a stunning role call, one after the other without hesitation, the nation's intelligence chiefs this week said terrorists will indeed try to strike again at America and soon. While the country looks to its defenses, it is also going after the terrorists, but how far should authorities go in hunting down American terrorist suspects? Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr has more on this.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as one U.S. official said, U.S. citizenship doesn't give you safe harbor in an enemy port.


(voice over): The radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, tied to the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas day bombing attempt and Al Qaeda. He's hiding in Yemen, but he's an American. Could the Obama administration target him for assassination because of his alleged terrorist activities? An extraordinary public admission, the nation's top spy said the Obama administration may kill American citizens abroad involved in terrorism.

DENNIS BLAIR, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community. If that direct action -- we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.

STARR: Blair said the government takes potential assassination seriously. But with Al Qaeda now trying to recruit Americans, it is something the U.S. must confront. The senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says he isn't so sure there are clear rules.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA, (R) MICHIGAN: The one thing that is consistent, there is no clarity as to how they operate.

STARR: After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush signed an order allowing the killing of terrorists around the world. But American citizens, even those tied to Al Qaeda, are a special case.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Those sorts of thresholds and criteria are all laid out in classified, either executive orders, or internal documents to the intelligence communities.

STARR: Blair made clear the line is crossed when radical Americans take actions against the U.S.

BLAIR: And whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that -- whether that American is a threat to other Americans, those are the factors involved. Mr. Chairman, we don't -- we don't target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans.

STARR: And CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin says that is the unpleasant reality.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If the intelligence agencies believe that someone is on the ground in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, threatening American lives, they're going to have the right to kill them right then and there.


STARR: The father of the Al Qaeda suspect Anwar Al Awlaki wrote to President Obama asking him to reconsider an alleged order to capture or kill his son. The U.S. government has never acknowledged there is such an order, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr working the story for us, sensitive indeed. Thank you.

U.S. Military officials say they're laying the ground work for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Is the president's plan to end the long-standing policy on gays in the military a good idea? We'll hear from two U.S. lawmakers who see this issue very differently. And one woman's Toyota nightmare, she talks about the terror when her car suddenly accelerated wildly.


BLITZER: The Pentagon is now taking steps to prepare for the lifting of the ban against gays serving openly in the United States Military. Defense officials tell the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that a year-long study is now underway that will contain an implementation plan for when Congress repeals the law.


ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Our men and women in uniform are fighting two wars, guarding the front lines against a global terrorist enemy, serving and sacrificing on battlefields far from home, and working to rebuild and reform the Force after more than eight years of conflict.

At this moment of immense hardship for our Armed Services, we should not be seeking to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.


BLITZER: Joining us now to discuss the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, two members of the Congress, the Republican Representative Duncan Hunter Jr. He's a Reserve Marine, freshman congressman from California, holding the seat vacated by his father, the 14-term Congressman Duncan L. Hunter. He opposes lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Also joining us, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York State. She supports lifting the ban. Thanks to both of you very much for coming in.

Congressman Hunter, why is it OK for the - the militaries in Canada, Britain, France, most of the NATO Allies, Israel, to allow gays to serve openly without any serious problems there, but not OK to allow gays to serve openly in the US Military?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER JR. (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, the - the main reason is we aren't Britain, France or Canada or Israel. Their - their military is much smaller than ours. It's much more specialized. We have a larger military and - and I think that it would be detrimental to our - our entire force, our - our cohesiveness if - if we allowed homosexuals to serve openly.

But the - the main answer is they aren't us, we aren't them. We're the - the world's major military, its major police force, doing things like Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and - and carrying the majority of the burden for most wars where we're in the - the right and I think it's important that we maintain that status quo.

BLITZER: I'll get to Senator Gillibrand in a moment, but you don't think, for example, the Israelis have military issues similar to the issues the United States faces?

HUNTER: Yes, but the Israelis have mandatory service. So you have to go into the military in - in Israel. We have an all volunteer force and it's been that way...

BLITZER: But do they have a problem as far as unit cohesion because they allow gays to serve openly?

HUNTER: I don't - I don't know, Wolf, but they don't have a choice because it's all volunteer. They - I mean, it isn't volunteer like - like ours is. They - they have mandatory service.

So in Israel it doesn't matter if you like it or not, whereas here, the recruiters are going to say, hey, it's - it's hurting the recruiting because we - we don't have as many kids who want to join because they allowed homosexuals to - to serve openly. Israel doesn't have that. You - you are actually forced to join the military in Israel, two totally different situations.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's let Senator Gillibrand respond to that. Go ahead, Senator.

SEN. KRISTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, in answer to your question, Admiral Mullen testified today that he has talked to the commanding officers of these other services for other countries and in fact they've said they've experienced no undermining of morale or no less unit cohesion.

And he brought up a point that I thought was very important, that we serve with these militaries, not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan, and our men and women serve with their men and women and there's no problem in our ability to serve effectively.

BLITZER: All right, you want to respond to that, Congressman?

HUNTER: Sure, Wolf. To - to her last point, I was in Afghanistan, serving with NATO for six, seven months, didn't run into any open homosexual men or women, with the Brits, Canadians, Germans, French, the other people I served with over there. So it isn't like there's a bunch of open homosexuals serving all - all over with Americans.

On the - on the other point, Admiral Mullen and - and Secretary Gates are both political appointees. They're going to be biased. They're going to say what the administration wants them to say. What I want to talk to is the Marine Corps commandant. I want to talk to - to General Casey in the Army. I want to see what the military leaders, the actual service leaders, have to say on this because I think they'll have a much different take than the political appointees.

BLITZER: Let me just hesitate for a second, Congressman Hunter. Secretary Gates is certainly a political appointee, named by the president, confirmed by the Senate, but Admiral Mullen's a four-star Navy admiral, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a career military officer. You're saying he's a political appointee?

HUNTER: What I'm saying is his - his point of view, and he stressed this today, was his and his alone. It is not his - his actual Joint Chiefs' point of view. I think we're going to hear something very different.

BLITZER: You're saying he's biased? Are you - are you...

GILLIBRAND: Wolf, may I address this question?

BLITZER: Yes, hold on Senator. I just want to clarify what the Congressman is saying. You're saying he's biased?

HUNTER: Oh, he - he is biased to the administration. Yes. I believe so. I think we, you know...

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Senator.

HUNTER: We saw what happened with - with General - General Pace. I don't think he wants that to happen to him.

BLITZER: Go ahead...

GILLIBRAND: In answer to...

BLITZER: Peter - you're talking about Peter Pace, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. What happened to him, Congressman?

HUNTER: He was - he was basically kicked out of the administration and - and reprimanded for...

BLITZER: But that was during the Bush administration.

HUNTER: No, true, it was during the Bush administration, but - but still, he was - he was pretty much reprimanded and - and his career ended because of - of words on - on this particular subject.

GILLIBRAND: Well, Wolf, I'd like to address...

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Senator.

GILLIBRAND: Wolf, I'd like to address some of the men and women who are serving in the military right now. You know, I have a project on my website DADT story project, and I have men and women who have served in the military who told their own personal stories about why this policy is so corrosive. And it was amplified by Admiral Mullen today when he said this is about integrity.

And I have sergeants who are saying that it fundamentally undermines the integrity - not just their own integrity where they're being forced to lie about something so important, about who they love, not being able to kiss their loved ones good-bye when they're - when they're going off to serve, not being able to talk to their commanding officer or the men and women they serve with about the things that are most important to them, that it's - it's not only living a lie, but it undermines the integrity of their own being, but also the Armed Services. And those stories...

BLITZER: Well, Senator, let me - let me just press you on one of the arguments Senator John McCain made, that the House Republican Leader John Boehner made, that the United States is now in the middle of two wars, a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan. This is not the time, they say, to raise this divisive issue. It's better left to the sidelines. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, they say, is working out just fine, leave it alone.

GILLIBRAND: It's not working out just fine, Wolf. We've lost 16,000 personnel because of this policy, more than 800 in mission critical areas, meaning we cannot easily replace them. We lost 10 percent of our foreign language speakers, particularly in Farsi and Arabic, where we're desperately trying to fight terrorism and need those skills.

This has cost the military over $300 million in recruitment and replacement cost. We need all of our best and brightest serving now with all of these skills, with all of this training. And so, I would challenge you now, when we have two wars, great recruitment needs and fighting terrorism on every front, we need all of our best and brightest in place, and we should not lose another soldier, another airman, another Marine, another Naval officer. We just cannot afford to lose some of these men and women.

HUNTER: If I may, Wolf, since ...

BLITZER: Very quickly, Congressman.

HUNTER: ... since 1999, over 1.96 people, 1.96 - 1.96 million people have been discharged. One half of 1 percent of those have been discharged because of - of homosexual conduct.

I was in the military, the Marine Corps, for three tours. It's going to hurt unit cohesion if we take this issue and we press this as a social experiment on the military right now when we have two big wars going on.

GILLIBRAND: I think you...

BLITZER: Congressman Duncan Hunter - I - unfortunately we're out of time, but I'd love to have both of you back to continue this debate, because obviously it's not going away. If you have a ten- second comment, Senator, go ahead.

GILLIBRAND: Well, I just want to thank Duncan for his service and his commitment and his sacrifices for our military. I served with your father in the Armed Services Committee on the House side, and so I'm greatly appreciative of your service.

BLITZER: Well, I'm going to have Senator Gillibrand back. You got a hot political race coming up this year. We'll talk politics the next time you're here as well. But a good, important discussion on a major issue facing the United States Military right now.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

HUNTER: Thanks, Wolf.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: It's a British political tradition some would like to see brought to the United States.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question Time is designed to test the mettle of the woman or the man in the office.


BLITZER: CNN's Richard Quest shares the good, the bad and the ugly of question time.

Plus, the dramatic story behind the headlines, what's it like when your car accelerates out of control? One woman shares her frightening story.


BLITZER: It's costly, it's embarrassing, and right now Toyota is desperate to repair not just its cars but its reputation. The automaker is mired in a public relations nightmare. There are two recalls involving accelerator pedals on various models involving 8 million cars, now the revelation of breaking problems on the Prius Hybrid.

Meanwhile accident victims are telling their stories of what happened to them as they drove their Toyotas. Here's CNN's Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now I'm doing less than 10 miles an hour and I'm riding the brakes.


FEYERICK: This is - this is really the only way you can, because this is very easy to lose control on this road. You knew that.

POZEN: Oh, yes. FEYERICK (voice-over): Nicole Pozen knows this winding road like the back of her hand. Her house used to be at the top of the mountain.

A year ago on a rainy afternoon, as Pozen slowly steered her 2007 Toyota Tundra around this hairpin turn, she says the unthinkable happened.

POZEN: As soon as I touched the accelerator, it just - it just jumped. I mean, it just went. It went over the curb and there was nothing I could do. I was too close to the curb to be able to do anything. And I - I pressed the brakes, I did - I mean, I did everything that - that I thought I could, and I - I couldn't get my car to stop.

I just remember seeing cactuses, and then that was it. And then I remember seeing the road.

FEYERICK (on camera): At that point, you're coming down that incline, what are you thinking to yourself?

POZEN: Am I going to die? I was thinking, you know, am I going to survive this? What's going to happen? Am I going to - am I going to die?

FEYERICK (voice-over): Pozen believes what happened to her is what's happened to many other drivers who say their Toyota vehicle accelerated without warning. Toyota says these incidents are rare and generally do not occur suddenly.

FEYERICK (on camera): You're going from 50 to 60 miles in a vehicle that's - that's pretty much out of control to sort of a dead stop.


FEYERICK: This tree...

POZEN: It just - it just stopped. I mean, it - it just stopped.

FEYERICK: When the police came, what did you tell them?

POZEN: I told them - I told them - they asked me what happened. I told them the truck - I told them exactly what happened up there, and I told them the truck just kept going. I said it just kept going, and that's what I kept saying.

FEYERICK: Did the police believe you?

POZEN: No. They thought that I was drunk or on drugs.

FEYERICK (voice-over): The police report says Pozen was not drunk. Missing, however, is Pozen's account of her Toyota truck accelerating wildly.

FEYERICK (on camera): Why didn't they put it in? POZEN: I have no idea. And I was surprised when I looked at - well, I wasn't really surprised, but I was when I looked and it said "Opinion," it said, "driver - my opinion was the driver was just driving at - at unsafe speeds." Well, yes, of course I was - down the cliff!

FEYERICK (voice-over): Asked to explain that report, police told us they try their best to record drivers' comments accurately.

David Wright is part of the class action team that recently asked a judge to widen Toyota's recall to include all models involved in sudden acceleration incidents, not just those models Toyota identified, like Pozen's 2007 Tundra.

DAVID WRIGHT, PRODUCT LIABILITY ATTORNEY: When the police come to a scene and they - they can't reproduce an event right there, too often it's - it's easy to just say, well, the vehicle is traveling at an unsafe speed, with the - with the implication being it was the driver's fault.

POZEN: Everybody told me that I was crazy.

FEYERICK: Pozen, who has two young sons, suffered serious injuries to her neck and back and is now on disability and considering legal action. When she heard about Toyota's recall of millions of vehicles, hers included, she felt vindicated.

POZEN: I'm so angry at Toyota because they could have prevented so many things, and it wouldn't have been that hard. I mean, how hard would it have been to - to look into a problem? They didn't look into it at all. They wrote it off.

FEYERICK (on camera): Pozen says it's not just anger toward Toyota. She also says she feels the sense of outrage that so many people had to experience the same kind of fear she did.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Monrovia, California.


BLITZER: If you want to know if your Toyota has been recalled or what to do if its gas pedal sticks, you can visit There's a wealth of information for you there, very important information.

President Obama stood his ground on hostile territory at a Republican retreat, and now that has certainly made headlines. The British prime minister, though, often engages in verbal battle with lawmakers. Should President Obama do more of that?

I'll speak about it with CNN's Richard Quest in London.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important, I think, to constantly have our cards out on the table and welcome challenges and welcome questions.


BLITZER: That was the president facing questions from members of Congress for the second time over the past week, that excerpt coming from a meeting he had with Senate Democrats.

Grilling political leaders has been common among British lawmakers for a long time. Now there's a growing online movement to make Question Time a tradition here in the United States. Supporters of the idea from both parties have posted a petition calling on President Obama to host a regular Q&A session with Republicans in Congress.

And joining us now from London, CNN's Richard Quest. Richard, it's pretty unusual here in the United States, not unusual where you are, but twice in the past week now the president of the United States has taken questions before cameras, first from Republican leaders, then from Democratic leaders.

Here's a little clip of what happened last Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Price from Georgia, and then we'll have one more after that if your time permits, Mr. President.

OBAMA: You know, I'm having fun.


OBAMA: This is great.


Tom Price, Georgia.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: I want to stick on - on the general topic of health care but ask a very specific question. You have repeatedly said, most recently at - at the State of the Union, that Republicans have offered no ideas and - and no solutions. In spite of the fact...

OBAMA: I don't think I said that. What I said was in - in the context of health care - I - I remember that speech pretty well. It was only two days ago. I said I welcome ideas that you might provide. I didn't say that you haven't provided ideas. I said I welcome those ideas that you'll provide.


BLITZER: Now, since that exchange last Friday, there's been a lot of talk here about Question Time, what occurs in the British parliament all the time. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown - I'll play a little clip for those of our viewers not familiar with what goes on in the - in the House of Commons.


GORDON BROWN, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: We not only saved the world - saved the banks - saved the banks, but led the way...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's now on the record. He's - he's so busy talking about saving the world, he's forgotten about the businesses in the country.


BLITZER: All right. I think our exchange here on this side of the Atlantic was very quaint compared to what's going on over there. But is this a good idea, do you think, for the US president to engage in let's say a US version of Question Time?

QUEST: Well, first of all, you have to put it into its context. Question Time in the House of Commons is a highly political moment. It is a point scoring, Punching Judy, all out fistfight between the two parties. It is designed to try and score against the other.

Forget the argument, you are going out to try and trap the opposition as best you can, and the best evidence of that is the prime minister doesn't even get notice of the questions. He has to take them blind from all other MPs, including the leader of the opposition.

BLITZER: So, it - it...

QUEST: Whether that would work in the United States, of course, is interesting because, first of all, you've got the separation of powers which, of course, between the Executive and the Legislative, and secondly, Wolf, how would Americans feel if that Republican question have been put much more rudely, much more brutally about Mr. President, why are you doing this? What about that? What would Americans have said then?

BLITZER: And especially that would have been followed by a whole bunch of boos and catcalls, if you will, which is fairly common in the House of Commons. So what I hear you saying, it's largely political theater that's going on in London as opposed to something substantive emerging from that?

QUERST: Complete political theater, and the best sound bites of Question Time and the most famous in Gordon Brown's time is the one that you just played there. They are then played again and again on radio and television, and those point - newspapers will put points scoring, who won that particular exchange.

The prime minister does it every Wednesday for 30 minutes, but we come back to this idea, would you find it acceptable for your head of state to be put through such a grinder? Question Time is designed to test the mettle of the woman or the man in the office. Margaret Thatcher was brilliant. You would watch her absolutely remove limbs from leaders of the opposition, of the Members of Parliament. Ultimately, though, they are talking about the policies that are going to be put forward. It is probably, in fact - no, not probably, it is definitely much more heat than light.

BLITZER: Heat. But it's good TV, irrespective. I watch it often on - on CSPAN here in the United States. It's great TV. We'll see if that Question Time emerges here in the US.

QUEST: Yes, but, Wolf, one point to note, even in that short clip that you played of the Republican questioning the president, you already got a taste of what could happen. For instance, the Republican starts the question and he starts to get a little bit antsy and a little bit angry, but the president comes straight back. He interrupts, he questions the questioner, he demeans the question.

Now I guarantee you, if you had Question Time with the president, it would be six months to a year before it would be a fistfight like the House of Commons.

BLITZER: Richard Quest knows something about the House of Commons. Appreciate your thoughts, Richard. Thanks.

Stocking up for a blizzard and for the Super Bowl. Stand by. Our Hot Shots, coming up next.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the "Associated Press".

In Washington, DC, shoppers packed a grocery store as a massive snowstorm approached. In Sarajevo, in Bosnia, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman discuss the situation in the country in a news conference.

In Ukraine - look at this. Fishermen used tanks to protect themselves from the cold wind. And in Florida, the Vince Lombardi trophy sat between helmets of the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, waiting to be presented to the winner of Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami.

Some of this week's Hot Shots - pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Joins us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.