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President to GOP: I'm Open to Compromise; Texas Showdown for GOP's Soul

Aired March 2, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Rick, thank you.

Happening now, Senators chase after a way out of Jim Bunning's squeeze play. The former pitcher still is holding up a crucial package of jobless benefits. We're tracking the Republicans' moves and any hopes of a breakthrough. Stand by.

A Texas showdown billed as a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. This gubernatorial primary underway right now could have an impact well beyond Texas.

And even if your check is in the mail, you might not necessarily get it for a while. The U.S. Postal Service is ready to take an ax to its budget and most of us will be affected one way or another.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Senator Jim Bunning hasn't received this much national attention since his heyday as a Major League pitcher. Today, the Kentucky Republican once again blocked the Senate from extending a package of benefits for jobless Americans, because he says it would add to the federal deficit. It's hard to say who's more frustrated, Democrats, and even a lot of Republicans, urging Bunning to give up on his one man crusade or reporters trying to catch up with Bunning and pin down his motives.

Watch our Dana Bash give it a try.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have, really, just a couple of easy questions for you to answer.


BASH: No, sir, just specifically on the fact that I understand your point -- I understand your point that you're making about they need to pay for these benefits.

But what Democrats are asking -- and it's a fair question -- is why now?

Why not before? BUNNING: Well, it has been.

BASH: Why haven't you called...

BUNNING: I have been.

BASH: What has changed?

What has changed?

Why are you now calling for things to be paid for?


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

There's been some talk in the last couple of hours or so of a breakthrough on this impasse.

What's the latest?

What do we know -- Dana?

BASH: Well, there's an attempt at a breakthrough. The -- the Republicans, including Jim Bunning, which is a breakthrough in and of itself, are talking about -- are actually proposing the idea of passing this $10 billion package, which includes unemployment benefits that have expired and -- and benefits for health -- health care and others. But along with that, to have three separate votes on different ways to pay for it so it doesn't add to the deficit. That is something that was proposed to Harry Reid. But he said, you know what, I'm OK with having one vote on how to pay for it -- but just one vote only.

Listen to what he said.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I have said from the very beginning, we will give them a vote. They want this paid for, they can have it. They can have -- vote to have it paid for. They can have that. But we're not having four votes.


BASH: He said for the Republicans, including Senator Bunning, tell me that it's actually three that they're proposing.

Senator Bunning says, sorry, this is his -- from his perspective, this is his offer and this is his final offer. He says he's not negotiating on this anymore.

Listen to what he told our Paul Courson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you won't accept just one vote?

BUNNING: I am not negotiating. I guess you can't hear.


BASH: There you go, he's not negotiating. But despite him saying that, we are told from sources in both parties to stick around, that perhaps before the night is over, Wolf, they will have some kind of way to break this impasse.

Again, big picture here, what we're talking about is one senator, Jim Bunning, holding this up he says not because he is opposed to extending these now expired benefits, but he says it is time for the government to start paying its bills and not spend money that it doesn't have. And he's looking for ways -- not way, but ways to do it.

BLITZER: He says it's a matter of principle. The had -- he had an interesting exchange, very dramatic, on the Senate floor, Dana, with the majority leader, Harry Reid.

Let me play a little of that for you and our viewers.


REID: You need to vote. I would -- I say to my friend from Kentucky, you've made your point, you've made it well. I understand how you feel, that this should be paid for. The majority of the Senate disagrees with you. Let us either vote on that or withdraw your objection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection?

BUNNING: There is. I object and let me...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.

BUNNING: That was a bipartisan bill that was set aside for a very partisan bill that Senator Reid brought to the floor and rammed through.

And the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection?

REID: Madam president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The majority leader.

REID: Reserving our right to object, Madam President, I'm sorry that my friend from Kentucky has made this so personal, because it really shouldn't be the case.

So I -- I would think that my friend from Kentucky should get a different historian to help him with his facts, because they're simply wrong and I object.

BUNNING: And the question I've been asked mostly is, why now?

Well, why not now?

And I have the same right that he does. He was elected by people in Nevada with fewer people than the people in Kentucky.

REID: Madam President, I can't match now or ever, in the past, my friend's fast ball or his curve ball or his 40 grandchildren. But I do have 16 grandchildren.


BLITZER: And we condensed that 20 minute exchange into just about a minute or so -- Dana, the -- the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, where is he in all of this?

BASH: In a word, nowhere. It was almost to the point of comedy, Wolf, at the -- at a stakeout when he was talking to reporters. He wanted to talk about health care. All of us wanted to ask about his position on Senator Bunning, obviously, a member of his -- his caucus, but more importantly, as you said, a fellow Kentuckian. It is no secret that the two of them have a pretty horrible relationship.

He simply would not answer the question, Wolf, even on whether or not he supports the principle that Jim Bunning is pushing, which is if you're going to spend $10 billion, you've got to pay for it.

He wouldn't go there at all. He repeated over and over something to the effect of they're in the process of working it out. Hopefully, it will be resolved in the future.

The most vocal Republican on this has actually been somebody who opposes her fellow Republican. That's Susan Collins, who actually went to the Senate floor during that exchange that you played today. And she said that she wants to get this done because of people back in Maine. She said 500 people in Maine, for example, have already lost their -- their unemployment benefits at this point.

BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands of people are affected with their unemployment benefits.

You'll keep us informed, Dana, if we get any developments. We'll check back with you.

BASH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Senator Bunning has a long history of stifling opponents. Before his political career, Jim Bunning pitched 17 seasons in the major leagues, playing for the Tigers, the Phillies, Pirates and Dodgers. In 1964, with the Phillies, he pitched a perfect game -- a feat achieved only 16 times since 1900. That later helped earn him a spot in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Bunning switched to politics back in 1986, when he was elected to the House of representatives from Kentucky, where he grew up. He served 12 years before being elected to the Senate in 1998. He easily won reelection in 2004, but decided not to run against this year.

With all his accomplishments, Bunning says his high point in life is his family. He and his wife have nine children, 35 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Bunning's defiance against Democrats and fellow Republicans is getting mixed reviews in his home state. Check out this protest outside of the senator's Louisville office. It was organized by one of the Democrats running to replace him in the Senate. Both Democrats -- both Democrats vying for the nomination have condemned Bunning's actions, but both candidates for the Republican nomination are cheering him on.

Beyond the politics of all of this, some Kentuckians are facing the loss of jobless benefits and they're not happy with their senator.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been rough. I mean there's not a lot out there. I've put out maybe 87 resumes and I'm not getting any response. It's really bad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I may end up homeless. I may -- I don't know what -- what the future holds for me right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unemployment was all that was keeping the mortgage going, so we're really concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to have to sell your house, maybe?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we're looking at -- thanks, Bunning. We're looking at foreclosure.


BLITZER: All right, we'll have more on this story later.

But let's move on to some other important news.

In Chile, they're trying to put battered lives back together. After that devastating earthquake, Chile still shakes. Look at this -- another aftershock, one of at least 12, experts say, recorded in the past 24 hours.

Also, Chilean officials increasing the death toll on this day to 200 -- excuse me, 795.

As for aid, it's slow to arrive. Chile asked the U.S. for field hospitals, power generators, water purification plants and satellite phones. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has some. She gave 20 satellite phones and said the United States will send more.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Chile. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): A fishing boat stranded on the main street. It was washed ashore by a tsunami that fishermen say hit the town of Talcahuano just an hour after the earthquake.

"The boat came crashing up this street against these houses and it was followed by shipping containers," he said.

The tsunami brought a sea of sludge, too. Residents say two waves over two meters, or six-and-a-half feet high, slammed into homes closest to the ocean. Shipping containers were tossed together with cars.

Francisco Rodriguez takes me to where she used to live. "That was my home," she sobbed. "When the earthquake hit, we just got up and ran. When the quake is that strong, you know a tsunami will follow," she said.

But according to her and other neighbors, navy, marines and police used megaphones to ask the townspeople to go home, assuring them there was no danger.

Chile's defense ministry is now accusing the navy of failing to warn citizens about the tsunami threat, thereby costing hundreds of lives.

But in Talcahuano, at least nobody died. They'd learned their lessons from a killer quake in 1960.

(on camera): Now, the inhabitants here say that it's because they followed their instincts and listened to the experience of their fathers and their forefathers that they survived. They say that if they had listened to the authorities and returned to their homes, hundreds would now be dead.

(voice-over): The entire town ran to high ground and is now camped out here. Groups of women take turns cooking for the whole community. "Look at the time. This is the first time we've eaten since we had bread and tea a day ago," she said.

It's the men's jobs to scavenge for ingredients, even if that means ransacking the local fish cannery. "Looting as if we were taking televisions, but how can you call that looting when we need to eat?," he says.

Some drag their cans of mackerel off through the sludge, looking forward to the next meal. A street away, others are looking back, salvaging a few precious memories spared by the tsunami.

Karl Penhaul, CNN, Talcahuano, Chile.


BLITZER: We'll have more on this story coming up later. Meanwhile, some people are wondering if it's time for Governor David Paterson to get a lawyer. Just ahead, the new allegations against the New York Democrat.

Should he rethink his refusal to resign?

And President Obama gives a little something to Republicans before he reveals his new road map for trying to pass health care reform.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Embattled New York governor, David Paterson, insists that resignation is off the table.

Maybe he should think again.

"The New York Times" reports the governor personally directed two state employees to contact a woman who accused his aide of assault. Paterson allegedly told his press secretary to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as non-violent.

The woman accused Paterson's aide, David Johnson, of choking her, smashing her into a mirrored dresser and then preventing her from calling 911.

I guess that's a sort of a violent nonviolent.

According to the article, the governor also asked another state employee to contact the woman before she was to appear in court. That same employee set up a phone call between the governor and the woman -- and it apparently went just like it was supposed to -- the woman never showed up in court and the case was dropped.

Paterson could face criminal charges for his role in all this if he helped lead an effort to influence the accuser, he should.

The governor, of course, denies any wrongdoing, saying he never abused the governor's office -- not now, not ever.

Last week, Paterson announced he's ending his campaign for election. But in refusing to resign and just go away, Paterson says he retains enough authority to govern New York for the next 10 months.

Perhaps he should think about retaining a defense lawyer instead of retaining his job.

Even some top Democrats now are calling on Governor Paterson to quit. Chicago has nothing on us here in the Big Apple. Yesterday, we told you about Charlie Rangel, the congressman admonished by the House Ethics Committee. He remains under investigation for a whole basket of other things, but he won't step aside, either. Rangel is arrogant. In Paterson's case, he's just being dumb.

Here's the question -- why do you suppose Governor David Paterson just won't resign?

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

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

And Jack isn't the only one wondering about that possible -- a possible Paterson resignation. Some New York lawmakers are also raising questions.

Let's assess with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, a member of Congress: "I asked the governor to end his reelection campaign and he did. If the attorney general's investigation proves that the governor inappropriately tried to influence a domestic violence case or that he abused his office, then he should resign."

The pressure is clearly mounting.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The pressure is mounting. They believe that he's going to have an increasingly difficult time governing.

When you talk to politicians in New York State, a couple of things become clear, Wolf. One is they believe that -- that Governor Paterson has become increasingly isolated. For example, aside from Charlie Rangel in Washington, there aren't many Democrats that he's -- or Republicans that he speaks with who are part of the Congressional delegation.

He's got a real core group of people. Those people met with him and they said he's not giving any indication he wants to resign.

The second thing is some have raised the point -- think back to Eliot Spitzer -- that it may be politically wise for the governor to stay in office so he has some leverage in case there are charges leveled against him about potential obstruction of justice. Remember, Spitzer did that and when the prostitution ring was prosecuted, he was not a part of that prosecution.

BLITZER: Yes, because I mean he -- he may need a criminal defense attorney...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- if they go ahead with -- with charges. It's not just a matter of being governor or not governor...


BLITZER: -- there could -- there could be legal issues involved, as well.

BORGER: Right. So that may be the answer to Jack's question, which is he may be hanging out there because it will be better for him in the long run if he's got legal problems.

BLITZER: All right. Let me move on to -- to Senator Bunning of Kentucky.

What are you hearing about this whole brouhaha?

BORGER: Well, it's interesting. It took a long time for a couple of Republicans -- Senator Jon Kyl and the Republican leader of the House, John Boehner, today to come out and sort of support him. But what I'm hearing -- I spoke with two Republican senators today, both of whom were very unhappy that this is going on.

One Republican senator said to me, this plays right into the Democratic narrative that we're obstructionist. They were getting a head of steam on health care. They did very well in that health care summit. And now, suddenly, they're looking like, oh, my God, the Republican Party wants to take away extended unemployment benefits for people in need during a recession.

The Democrats make the case that, yes, we believe in pay as you go, but this is an emergency.

BLITZER: And the fighting continues on this issue.

BORGER: It will.

BLITZER: We'll see if there's a resolution today or -- or whenever.


BORGER: They're working on it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

It's an idea designed to make sure no one dies in a preventable car accident. Wait until you hear what the Transportation secretary is now recommending, not just for Toyotas, but for all new vehicles.

And Toyota isn't the only car company dealing with a recall. General Motors is also dealing with recalls right now. If you or someone you know drives a GM, you're going to want to hear this.


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

SYLVESTER: Hey there, Wolf. Well, President Obama has unveiled a new proposal he hopes will be as popular as the Cash for Clunkers program. Speaking at a technical school in Savannah, Georgia, Mr. Obama said the administration's Homestar program would offer incentives to people who buy energy-efficient equipment. Now, the program would give those people on the spot rebates of $1,000 or more. The cost of implementing the program is estimated at $6 billion and it would require Congress' approval.

Another unseasonal blast of winter is hitting the South today. Several Southern states woke up to a winter storm warning, with rain and several inches of snow across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas. The weather prompted several North Georgia counties to close school for the day. It also snarled traffic. Hundreds of flights into and out of Atlanta were canceled.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says his department may recommend that all -- all new vehicles sold in the U.S. have brakes capable of overriding the gas pedal. The idea appears to be gaining support as Toyota returns to Capitol Hill for another round of hearings. Toyota has said it will put such a system in all of its cars -- new cars sold in the U.S. It also says that it will give its U.S. and Canadian divisions more authority to decide when to issue future recalls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

Don't go away.

General Motors, by the way, is initiating a recall of 1.3 million Chevrolet and Pontiac models in North America. At issue -- faulty power steering linked to 14 crashes and an injury in the United States. All of the cars in this recall are essentially the same car mechanically and body type. Those affected are sold as 2005 to 2010 Chevy Cobalts and 2007-2010 Pontiac G5 models in the United States, 2005 to 2006 Pontiac Pursuits in Canada, and 2005 to 2006 Pontiac G4s in Mexico. A G.M. spokesman says the couldn't tends to affect vehicles with 20,000 to 30,000 miles on the cars.

President Obama is set to reveal his so-called way forward on the health care reform issue. But first, he's showing Republicans today a little love.

Is it a real example of bipartisanship or just for show?

And a Texas brawl between big name Republicans -- right now, GOP voters are choosing among Governor Rick Perry, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and another primarily challenger. We have a live report from this important campaign battleground. Candy Crowley is in North America.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, losing billions and losing market share -- the U.S. Postal Service announces plans to cut tens of thousands of jobs and considers slashing other services. You'll probably be making fewer trips to the mailbox. Stand by.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announces plans to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. He occupied the governor's mansion before.

Can he win the job again?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The road for health care reform has so many twists and turns, you need a political navigational system just to keep up. Tomorrow, President Obama will map out how he hoes to arrive at the final destination passing a health bill.

Today, we learned Republican ideas could come along for the ride. President Obama wrote a letter to the Congressional leadership, saying he's open to four GOP proposals. And they are allowing undercover investigations of health providers receiving Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs; $50 million for grants to states for resolving medical malpractice suits; increasing Medicaid reimbursements to some doctors and insuring that certain high deductible health plans will be offered in the health exchange.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen to assess what the president has done today. I read that her, I'm sure you did as well. Is it just for show, or will it really bring Republicans into the fold?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, President Obama today offered the velvet glove. Tomorrow he brings the steel fist. This was an outreach to Republicans that they quickly brushed back. But that does not mean we're supposed to support four amendments and now come around to support a 2,000 page bill. So, the leaders -- Republican leaders of the Senate and the House both said no to this. Everybody knew they were going to say no, but it does give the president some talking points to the country and to Democrats saying, look, we tried to be reasonable, we listened, we've taken some of their proposals and we're trying to incorporate some of them. We're not trying to jam this through. It gives him more political talking points than a substantive change.

BLITZER: I like the way the president sort of finessed that in the letter, mentioning names. He said I like the ideas that Senator Coburn, Senator Bure, Senator Ensly, Senator Grassley, Senator Barasa, Senator McCain. He kept mentioning Republican's names. They made good points in that discussion, and sort of trying to win them over, as you say with a velvet glove although it's probably not going to be enough. In fact, is there anything the president can do right now short of starting from scratch that would win over Republicans?

GERGEN: No. The Republicans have made it I think abundantly clear that it's the bill is so fundamentally flawed as Lamar Alexander, the senator who has argued from Tennessee on several occasions now, this is a car that could be recalled and can't be fixed. So that's their view, and we're heading into a bruising battle. Tomorrow, I think, Wolf, you've been hearing, I've been hearing, the president will come out swinging with a steel fist, and he's going to make it clear, look, if you guys aren't coming along, we will use this process of reconciliation, and I think as we get closer to that day, we're learning it will be messier than anybody might have predicted, and it could easily be a long battle, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm told the president will make that statement in the 10:00 A.M. Eastern Hour. We'll have live coverage, of course, here on CNN. David, thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: In Texas, right now a primary race is under way to drive home some of the big divisions within the Republican Party nationwide. It pits the incumbent Governor Rick Perry against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and the activist Debra Medina, a popular figure with the tea party voters. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is right in the middle of all the action in Texas. They'll be closing the polls in a few hours. This has been a pretty wild one in Texas even by Texas standards, right, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It has, and it has pitted basically Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is seen as an establishment Republican, she had the backing of George Bush, the dad, and a lot of the Bush folks around in the Bush camp against sitting Governor Rick Perry, who had the support of Sarah Palin, and that sort of thing. So you had two very different Republicans, and what you saw was really the overall fight that the Republicans are having right now, because you have Perry, who is seen as the more conservative of the two, and you have Kay Bailey Hutchison arguing that we need to broaden the Republican Party. So in that sense, it certainly was indicative of what's going on inside the GOP, but it also is truly Texas as well.

This has been for the last 12 months an effort by Governor Perry to frame Kay Bailey Hutchison as a creature of Washington, and it's taken hold very much. This has been a sort of states' rights -- you'll remember that Governor Perry at one time suggested that perhaps Texas should secede from the union, that kind of thing, so it's been very anti-Washington and I think indicative of what we're seeing across the country, which is that incumbents, no matter what office they're running for are in trouble, and certainly that's been the case with Kay Bailey Hutchison who started out a year ago looking like she would beat him handily, and down by double digits as Election Day opened this morning.

BLITZER: The Republican leadership across the country, they're going to be watching this one closely. They want to make sure whoever gets the Republican nomination can then go ahead and win the general election, so there's a lot of stake here.

CROWLEY: There is a lot of stake, and it's been a pretty bitter race here between Hutchinson and Perry, and there's been some fear expressed publicly by some leaders in Texas and I'm sure nationwide looking at this and saying, I wonder if they can bridge this huge gulf that's emerged between the two of them in order to bring the Republican Party together long enough to win an election in the fall. That has not been a hurdle recently. Obviously George Bush, the son, was governor here, elected twice before he went on to run for the presidency. Perry was lieutenant governor, he took over and has since been reelected more times than any other sitting governor in Texas. So it's been held by Republicans for a long time, but the fear here is that this has been such a harsh campaign that it might be hard to bring the two sides together. So that's something that, over the months, we'll be able to see if that will happen.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley will be watching it for us. They close the polls at 8:00 p.m. eastern, right?


BLITZER: We'll watch with you. Thanks very much.

One quick correction. We're told the president will make a statement on the way forward involving health care reform during the 1:00 P.M. Eastern hour tomorrow, not the 10:00 a.m. Eastern hour. We'll of course have live coverage on CNN.

Some critics of the White House's chief of staff saying he's letting President Obama down. Others fear he might drag him down in our strategy session. Should Rahm Emanuel be giving better advice? What's going on?

And is memorabilia from OJ Simpson's murder trial suitable for a national museum?


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

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf. Well, an Ohio jury has convicted a man of first-degree murder in the death of a well- known high school football coach. Twenty-four-year-old Mark Becker was found guilty today of gunning down Coach Ed Thomas. Last June, Becker shot the 58-year-old Thomas six times in front of students. He later said Thomas was Satan and had been tormenting him. Thomas held 292-84 record and two state titles over 37 years of coaching and coached four players who went on to the NFL.

Tiger Woods back at home, a source with knowledge of the golfing great's schedule tells CNN Woods returned to his Florida home after a week of family counseling. That person says Woods returned from Arizona and is now working on rebuilding his golf and workout routine. The source did not say when he might return to the circuit.

And the Smithsonian Institution says, thanks, but no thanks to the suit OJ Simpson wore the day a jury acquitted him of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. The museum rejected the donation after the judge approved it as a solution to a long court battle over the garments. A Smithsonian spokeswoman says it's inappropriate for the collection. Simpson was acquitted October 1995. So apparently the plan is to shop it around and see if they can find another museum to take it.

BLITZER: I'm sure there's some that will take it, but the Smithsonian, not so much.

SYLVESTER: Not a good fit, is it?

BLITZER: I think you're right. Lisa, thank you.

The commander in chief and his chief the staff, complaining about Rahm Emanuel, what's going on here. Should he be doing more to persuade the president? What do our political strategists think? Stand by.

The musical plays, a former lawmaker from Tennessee says he won't run for a New York Senate seat, while a newspaper owner reportedly could run as a Republican who's independent? How will it all end? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us are Paul Begala, and Democratic strategist, friends with the without chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, they served together in the Clinton administration, and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. I don't know if you know Rahm Emanuel --


BLITZER: Let's talk about -- you saw the front page story in "The Washington Post" today, big, above the fold. This was on the front page saying he's disagreed with the president and she should have been more forceful in convincing the president, don't go for the public option, don't try to close Guantanamo Bay, all these problems. What do you make of all of this?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: When you work in the White House like I used to, you hate those inside basic stories. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, unless you're in there, with the two or three or five, ten people, you don't really know. I did notice, one person not quoted was Mr. Emanuel himself. The truth is what the people want the president focused on is what he's focused on jobs, health care, national security, those kinds of issues.

BLITZER: The fact these stories are coming out in the column a week ago in "The Washington Post," now this story, there have been a few other stories, what does it say about this White House?

CASTELLANOS: Well, there's a division within the White House, and Rahm Emanuel is the pragmatist, a centrist, a common-sense Democrat. When you're in Congress, you don't lose the pulse with the people. This means this is the closest thing the White House has to a Republican. Almost everyone around him is left of center, and I think now it's fairly clear that if Obama had been more pragmatic hi first year, he would have been more successful. Why is that dangerous for Rahm Emanuel? He's a prophet in his own land, and sometimes they're punished, not rewarded.

BLITZER: When you say these stories are coming in, who's right, who's wrong, it says what? Be honest -- about the administration?

BEGALA: It says that, you know, it sucks to be the party in power with 10% unemployment. When the economy is bad, the president's in trouble. When the president is in trouble, the chief of staff is in trouble, but every White House takes on the personality. If this was the Nixon White House, a story like this would send Nixon was spying on people because of leaks. President Obama strikes me as a guy who is uninterested in the inside baseball stories. He even committed the heresy, and this annoyed me, not to watch cable chatter, and as a pundit, you for found that offensive, but I like the idea he's not obsessed with the inside nonsense of that article.

CASTELLANOS: And you can't blame Rahm Emanuel not for making the president do something he should have. Ultimately the president of the United States, it's his decision, and you have to respect his decision. You can give him the best advice, but there's a limit to how far you can push.

BLITZER: Let's talk about New York State, and the former Congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford Jr. He's now not going to run against Kristin Gellibrand the incumbent Democratic senator, and he writes this in the "New York Times": "The party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events. Our elected officials have spend too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda, and not enough time looking out for their own constituents." So even as he announces he won't challenge Kristin Gellibrand, he's taking a little swipe at his own party.

BEGALA: He's a good man, I think he was a good Congressman, but right now just a Wall Street banker with his opinion. It's very hard what he was trying to do. He's from Tennessee, trying to run in New York. Very few people have been elected in two different states. Sam Houston, the only one to be governor in two states.

BLITZER: He lived in New York State longer than Hillary Clinton lived in New York State before she became the senator from --

BEGALA: Harold is a good man, but she's no Hillary Clinton.

CASTELLANOS: She went from Arkansas to national stature to another state. Harold Ford's problem is he's too liberal for Tennessee and too conserve -- and not liberal for --

BLITZER: Too liberal for Tennessee anyway.

CASTELLANOS: And he should have run in a state, may Ohio, something like that, but a lot of folks in the Democratic party thought the first black president of the United States would not be some state senator from Illinois, but Harold Ford. He would get elected from the Senate and there would be a platform. He didn't do that. He's look fog that way back into American politics. He almost got a little desperate, ran the worst campaign that we've ever seen in New York.

BLITZER: What do you think about Mark Zuckerman running as the so-called Republican independent against Kristin Gellibrand. He's a rich guy, owner of "The Daily News" lots of real estate.

BEGALA: Remarkably successful businessman, certainly knows the media. Owning his own newspaper is probably a helpful thing. All of this suggests even in a blue state like New York, Kristin could have trouble. I think this is a sign that Democrats are in trouble.

BLITZER: If you use the Michael Bloomberg model, he could be very effective in New York State.

CASTELLANOS: He could be very effective in New York and interesting that a newspaper man and newspaper business is now a political outsider. He has been out long enough to comment on it and critique it and come in as a fresh face for change and could be a successful candidate in New York.

BLITZER: It could be an interesting race, let's see what happens if Mort Zuckerman decides to throw his hat into the ring. We'll be watching.

Chile is still shaking after that devastating earthquake. We have the latest from the disaster zone including a new death toll and more details of looting.

And the first lady and children celebrate the birthday of a man who would have been 106 years old.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, the Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is hospitalized in Denver after a bicycle accident. A spokesman says Ritter collided with another cyclist not far from the governor's mansion and broke several ribs. The other cyclist had a minor wrist injury and wasn't hospitalized. We are told that Ritter is in good spirits and laughing and joking with his wife and hospital staff. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Michelle Obama and some young friends celebrated what would have been the 106th birthday of Dr. Seuss. She did what the legendary children's author would have wanted, she read from the Seuss classic "The Cat and the Hat" and she talked about her family's own future in the history books.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It makes you feel very proud, right? Because you think of all of the other people, all of the other presidents, and all of the other families who served in that office, and how many people sat at that desk and the kinds of important things that they made happen and to think that you could be part of that history, and that one day in decades to come somebody will talk about the time that the Obama family was in the White House, so it makes us feel like we have to take our responsibility seriously and do good things while we are there so that we don't embarrass our mothers.


BLITZER: Here is something that the president says he wants to keep secret from his wife. He had a hearty southern-style lunch in his trip to Savannah, Georgia. On the menu, fried chicken and beans and sweet potato and macaroni and cheese. Not exactly health food for a man who has been told by his doctors to lower his cholesterol. The president jokingly told reporters to keep quiet about it. You know that was not going to happen.

For all of the latest news check out New calls for Governor David Paterson to resign. He's not budging. But Jack Cafferty has plenty to say about it. He is back with your e-mail.

And the postal service plans cuts to make delivery of snail mail even slower.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is: Why do you suppose that New York Governor David Paterson won't just resign?

Rhonda writes: "You answered the question saying in Paterson's case he is just plain dumb. The man has no clue and is so out of touch with reality and with New York. We were better off with Eliot Spitzer and I wish we had him back notwithstanding his stint as client nine."

D. writes: "He is suffering from the Charlie Rangel syndrome, you can't touch me, I'm a politician. What a country."

Amy in New York writes: "Paterson will not resign because that would be an admission of guilt."

Jerry in Pennsylvania: "John Wayne's line comes to mind: 'Life is tough and it is a lot tougher when you are stupid.' "

Howard in Chicago: "Two logical reasons why Governor Paterson won't resign, one ego and two, delay in order to start negotiations to avoid prosecution."

Dan in Virginia writes: "Seriously, what does it take to impeach a politician these days. Apparently incompetence, corruption, obstruction of justice, and soliciting sex in an airport men's room and using taxpayer money to hop on a plane to Brazil to be with your mistress without telling anybody where you're going are not enough."

Rebecca says: "It is power, Jack, they won't give up the power. Perhaps we can help them with this come Election Day. At least New Yorkers will be spared voting for Paterson. They get to vote for a whole new set of power-hungry power brokers."

Ed in Maryland says: "Fear I suppose, fear of having to shave in order to get another job."

And L. writes: "I think Paterson is being bribed to stick around not by the Republicans or the Democrats, but by "Saturday Night Live."

If you want to read more on the subject, you can go to my blog at

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, as the death toll rises and aftershocks continue to rattle Chile, quake victims are waiting for aid to arrive, but some are taking matters into their own hands.