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Students Across Country Protest Education Cuts; Health Care Depends on Swing House Votes

Aired March 4, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Don, thanks very much. Happening now, President Obama has arms to twist and votes to worry about. The day after laying out his health care end game, some fellow Democrats may be refusing to play by his rules.

Also, another shoe drops in the scandal surrounding New York's Governor David Paterson. There's talk that even one of his most ardent supporters may be fed up.

And college students across the country rallying against education budget cuts. We will have a live report from the epicenter of the outrage, California.

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

In the next three weeks, the Cherry Blossoms will start bursting here in Washington, DC. And Democrats hope health care reform will finally become a reality after a paralyzing Winter. House Democrats are pushing to hold a climactic final vote by March 29th, when Congress begins its Easter Break. Or even better, by the 18th, when the president scheduled to leave for Asia.

But that may be wishful thinking because several past deadlines have now been blown, and Democrats aren't sure that they will have the votes they need. So President Obama is meeting today with a slew of House Democrats.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. Dan, president, I suppose, is using some charm and some pressure to try to get the votes.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We saw a parade of those House Democrats coming by here at the White House in two sessions. First, the more liberal Democrats coming here earlier in the afternoon, followed by the more moderate Democrats.

This really was, according to a White House official, the president laying out, trying to build support for health care reform. Characterizing this meeting with these Democrats, the White House official telling me that the president was very blunt, pointing out he needs to have these Democrats on board. Even though it may be politically risky for them, saying that they need to hang in there; this needs to get done.

But also, the president pointing out that they may not get everything that they want in this health care reform, but that it is very important. Now, this is not just the end of it. Not just a one- day outreach. I'm told by a White House official that the president will continue to do this, not only in meetings, but also reaching out to these House Democrats by phone, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's also been meeting with the Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and a bunch of health care executive.

LOTHIAN: That's right. You know, she had this meeting here at the White House today. The president dropped by. Cameras were not there. They were there for earlier in the meeting, not when the president arrived. He showed up with a letter from an Ohio woman, 50- year-old woman, who had cancer 16 years ago. Her cost for insurance has steadily been going up, and last year's spike by more than 25 percent. She's fearful of losing the home her parents built.

The White House using the story to sort of frame the need for insurance reform. The president being very blunt to these executives, we are told by White House spokesman, saying that they need to justify the high costs. I should tell you, Wolf, that we did reach out to the insurance companies that this woman has. No comment yet from them.

In general, insurance companies have been saying the reason they are raising rates is because their costs are also going up.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian is over at the white house. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is very confident about moving forward with health care reform legislation. But she acknowledges the plan to pass legislation with an up or down majority vote is tricky. House leaders need every Democratic vote they can muster, because they don't expect any support from republicans.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Every legislative vote is a heavy lift around here. You assume nothing. Assume nothing in terms of where you were before and where people may be now.


BLITZER: One reason the speaker can't assume anything, House Democrat Bart Stupak says he and 11 colleagues will vote no unless abortion language in the Senate version of the bill is changed. Stupak had fought for abortion language he could accept in the House health care bill that was previously passed.


REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: We will not compromise that principle or belief. There are a number of us that will not go there. We were just asking for the current law.


BLITZER: Let's bring our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, give us a closer look at where things stand in the House right now.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The first thing we can do is look at where the votes were the last time the House voted on November 7th of last year. It was very close. Just take a look at this: 220 yes and 215 no. Since then, Wolf, we know that four are missing from the yes column, and three vacancies from the Democratic side. There's one Republican voted yes that's already saying he is voting no.

So 216 is where things stand if nothing changes. They need 217 to pass. So they are already one down. But things are going to change.

If you look at the column of yes votes, just look at these names. There are names of Democrats who might be willing to and actually eager to vote against this bill in the future, because what we are talking about is the Senate bill, the Senate version of health care, which is different from what they voted on before.

But at the same token, it cuts both ways. Democratic leaders are hoping that there are some people who are in this no column, who they can pull over to vote yes for the Senate bill, because, again, it is a little bit different than what they voted on in the past.

BLITZER: Let's dig deeper. Some of those who voted yes in the very narrow roll call the last time, they might vote no this time?

BASH: That's right. You mentioned abortion, that's one big issue. Democrat Bart Stupak, he thinks he has about a dozen Democrats who simply don't --

BLITZER: All of those, they voted in favor of the legislation last time?

BASH: Correct. He is saying he thinks he has about a dozen who voted yes, who might vote no now because of the difference in the language on abortion.

But there's more than that. There are a couple of other issues. One is there are Democrats who are vulnerable. They're in swing districts, in tough re-election races. And there are some who look, again, at the Senate bill, which has differences, and say they don't like it.

I talked to somebody who actually is in both of those categories today. His name is Dan Maffei of New York. He is vulnerable. He thinks that the Senate approached, specifically to taxing high cost plans, hurts the middle class, even with changes being proposed to address that. Listen to what he said.


BASH: Have you decided yet how you will vote in the coming process?

REP. DAN MAFFEI (D), NEW YORK: Well, I have to say, I was very disappointed with the Senate bill, mainly because it taxed health care benefits. And I -- as much as I want to do health care reform, I don't think you can rob Peter to pay Paul. You are not going to improve the health care system by weakening it on in other areas. so that was a real problem I had with the Senate bill.

People say you members of Congress just vote on things without looking at them. That's not true. We need to see really what the compromise is.


BLITZER: Dana, there may be some who voted -- voted no the last time, who might vote yes this time. Is that true?

BASH: That's the hope among Democratic leaders and certainly at the White House. There are some who are making themselves known. One is Jason Altmire. He is, again, from a swing district in the state of Pennsylvania. He voted no last time because he said that the House bill didn't do enough to contain costs. But he thinks the Senate bill, which again is what will be voted on -- he thinks that looks better. Listen to what he said.


REP. JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I am open. I want to bring down the cost of health care. I'm not going to vote for a bill that I don't think does that. The Senate bill is is much better than the House bill. It had fatal flaws like the Nelson agreement, which everybody agrees can't stay in there. So we have work to do, but the Senate bill is definitely a better starting point.


BASH: That's why all of this really, really comes down to what that compromise is going to be. It is hard for the White House, hard for Democratic leaders to really count the votes until they have crafted this. The way they craft will depend on where the votes are. So it's a very fluid situation.

Jason Altmire, he was one of the Democrats at the White House last night and again today. The White House working hard to switch his vote from no to yes.

BLITZER: They're trying to woo him because every single vote counts. Dana, don't go too far away. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's get to the scandal now surrounding New York's Governor David Paterson. He lost an important ally today, and could possibly lose another one later tonight. Mary Snow has been covering the story for us. Tell us, first of all, about the shake-up in the governor's administration.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a big blow and it happened this afternoon. Governor Paterson's director of communications, Peter Kaufman (ph), resigned today. The statement that he provided is particularly telling. Kaufman mentions he is a former Navy officer, and, in his words, "integrity and commitment to public service" are values he takes seriously.

He goes on to say, "as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscious continue in my current position."

And, Wolf, he's the third administration official to leave the administration of Governor David Paterson in the past week, since this scandal first broke.

BLITZER: This comes just a day after allegations, very serious allegations, that the governor lied under oath.

SNOW: Yes. This was a completely different development. New York State's Commission on Public Integrity found yesterday -- issued a report saying that the governor had lied when asked about getting free Yankees tickets to the World Series. The governor disputes those findings.

But Democratic leaders are growing increasingly worried that these problems keep growing. And this, of course, is this larger investigation looking into whether Governor Paterson intervened in the domestic abuse case involving one of his aides, in an attempt, some say, to cover it up. Paterson denies this, but he won't give any details, saying he can't talk about it because of an on-going investigation by the attorney general.

Some democratic leaders in the state have been urging him to get his story out and to do it quickly. And the fact that he's not is leaving a lot of uncertainty about his future right now.

BLITZER: What do we know about this meeting that the Reverend Al Sharpton is having in Harlem tonight? He is billing it as an emergency meeting.

SNOW: Well, at this point, we know that elected officials will be there from New York State and African-American leaders in New York.

Congressman Gregory Meeks is also organizing it. I spoke with him earlier today. And I asked him if he's going to be calling on Governor Paterson to resign. He said he wanted to reserve his decision until this meeting tonight is held. He says the main question right now, how to move the state forward, how to make sure the legislature is working. Many of the people that are expected to gather tonight also met over the weekend, this past weekend, over in Harlem.

Some Democrats feel nothing should be decided until this investigation is over. It's anticipated it could take about a month. There's some, though, behind the scenes, and there are growing voices behind the scenes, who feel that he should step down.

BLITZER: If there is a break in the story, you will let us know right away, Mary. Thanks very much. The Republican party is going to new lengths, some would say new depth to portray Democrats as bad guys. Will the new Evil Empire strategy pay off with GOP donors?

Owners of Toyotas thought they were getting their cars fixed. Wait until you hear what is still going wrong. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In the long, drawn out debate over health care reform, we talked about the tensions between Republicans and Democrats. Guess what? There's no love lost between House and Senate Democrats. At the same time, our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is joining us to explain what is going on. Jessica, explain.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, Senate Democrats are making life and re-election very uncomfortable for their colleagues in the House. Here is why: remember President Obama promised transformation. He wanted bold action on jobs, on financial reform, on climate change. It would seem very little has become law because Congress has been busy grappling with health care. Right?

Well, actually, the House has been busy passing these bills. The House passed an expensive jobs bill, but the Senate passed much less expensive, smaller measures. Expect House Democrats to get accused of voting to spend money the US doesn't have come election time.

On financial reform, the House passed a bill that the White House wanted. It met tough standards for Democrats. On the Senate, they are still working on a watered-down compromise version that so far has gone nowhere.

And then climate change; the House Democrats have taken a very controversial vote on a bill there and passed it that the White House wanted. It has gone nowhere in the Senate. And this one issue is already coming back to bite Democrats in the House.

Here's an ad I want to show you that was run against Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello for his vote on climate change legislation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Perriello is voting with Obama and with Nancy Pelosi over and over. Call Perriello. Tell him he was wrong to vote for the Pelosi Energy Tax.


BLITZER: Now, Wolf, the Republican Campaign Committee has ran similar ads to this one, slamming several other Democrats for their climate change vote already.

The problem is, Wolf, agree with their agenda or not, over here in the House, they have taken tough votes time and again on measures the president called for. But in the Senate, they didn't follow up. So House Democrat may have walked the plank in vain. And there's plenty of frustration over here that in this election year, Democrats will be done in by inaction of Senate Democrats over here -- Wolf?

BLITZER: They're saying in the House Democrats, trust but verify as far as the Senate Democrats are concerned. Recalling what Ronald Reagan used said about the old Soviet Union. No love lost there. Jessica, thank you.

Get a load of these images from the Republican National Committee. You can see President Obama depicted as the Joker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi portrayed as Cruella Deville, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid characterized as Scooby Doo. It's part of a new strategy to raise campaign money by mocking Democrats and stirring fears among them.

Critics are accusing the party of hitting way below the belt. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. What is the RNC saying about this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they are trying to distance themselves from this as much as possible. Today, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, said it is something I certainly would not tolerate. I wouldn't want it presented to me. And we are dealing with it administratively, which probably means that somebody's job is on the line.

BLITZER: The RNC official who did this sort of power point presentation?

BORGER: Exactly. Because, you know, look at it, Wolf, it is a little beyond the pale.

BLITZER: Michael Steele is not happy with this at all. Does it take it to a new low or is this sort of -- does it happen all the time?

BORGER: Well, look, Wolf, we hear Republicans refer to Barack Obama as a socialist all the time. Barack Obama himself has spoken about that. But, you know, we remember campaigns when the Democrats were trying to retake control of the House. They called Republicans corrupt, right? And that worked for them. We have seen George W. Bush in effigy.

But when you look at this, this is just kind of silly. It was something that they were using to appeal to their fund-raisers, maybe to get them all rah-rah about this. It is just juvenile. And the message here is no message about the Republican Party. It is just a cartoon.

BLITZER: Well, how is it going to impact Republican fund- raising?

BORGER: Well, it is not going to help, because as part of the power point presentation -- remember, it was made at an internal event for Republicans, for people who are going to go out and raise money. This same PowerPoint also referred to high-level donors as ego-driven, people who liked access. And also, it said be sure to give them a little chachkis (ph), Wolf, which is a technical term you might know for gifts.

And so I spoke with some senior Republicans today who said, look, this is going to turn off our big funders. They're going to be mad about this stupidity. And they're not going to give more money. It is going to bring our fund-raising down.

BLITZER: And it could, in the end, benefit Democrats?

BORGER: Already, Wolf, it took about, what, nanosecond for Democrats to come out with a fund-raising letter, saying that this was part of a coordinated effort at the highest level of the Republican Party; so send us a check.

BLITZER: Check is in the mail. Thanks very much for that.

Will fixed Toyotas still need fixing? Some owners say their cars which supposedly received the parts needed to stop them from unexpected acceleration is are still accelerating unexpectedly. What's going on?

And attention students and parents; there's a warning against going to some cities as many students set out for Spring Break. The message: your safety cannot be guaranteed.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the situation room. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, in what could be a huge step-back for US/Turkish relations, a House panel has approved a resolution declaring the World War I era killing of Armenians genocide. President Obama had urged Congress not to pass the measure, so as not to offend Turkey. Already, the NATO ally is recalling its ambassador from Washington. The resolution now goes to full House.

Even after fixing their Toyotas, some drivers say they are still experiencing acceleration problems. As many as 20 drivers are reporting continued problems. The Japanese auto-maker has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide. And they have been installing special parts meant to stop unintended acceleration.

The US Transportation Secretary says that drivers should bring their vehicles back to the dealer if Toyota's fix is not working.

The House Ethics Committee is looking into a complaint against a retiring New York Congressman. A House aide tells the Associated Press that the complaint is one of a sexual nature from a male staffer. Democrat Eric Massa just announced yesterday that he will not run for second term after a recurrence of cancer. Massa, how is married, dismissed reports that he is accused of harassing a staffer.

Spring Breakers should stay away from Mexican border cities. That's the warning coming from Texas. The state's Department of Public Safety says there's an increase in drug cartel violence in these places. It says, parents shouldn't let their children go to the Mexico border cities, because their safety cannot be guaranteed.

Finally, a stolen silver medallion that belonged to Russia's last czar is back in Moscow. The US ambassador to Russia returned the rare artifact after it was found in an online auction. He says this recovery shows the increasing trust between the two countries. The medallion belonged to the family of Czar Nicholas II. You see it there. It was stolen from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Back where it belongs.

BLITZER: Let's see if the Russians now support the US efforts to impose sanctions against -- tough sanctions against Iran. We will see if that little medallion has an impact.

SYLVESTER: OK. Maybe a lucky medallion.

BLITZER: We will see. Thanks very much.

Students and teachers across the country say they are angry and they won't sit back while education budgets are being slashed. We are following protests in more than 30 states right now. We are going to show you how kids at one school are suffering.


BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, voting, bombings and possible postponings in Iraq. Early voting beginning for the national elections, bombings marring the voting, causing death. And, in a CNN exclusive interview, the prime minister Nouri al Maliki says, he may -- repeat, may ask for some US troops to stay longer than planned.

Our Brian Todd dons a helmet and goggles to stand in the middle of 200 tons of nuclear waste. He is highlighting a radioactive debate: exactly where should nuclear waste go?

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

Right now, for students, you might say GPA isn't for grade point average, but grand protests and anger. Look at this. Crowds of students, parents and teachers in more than 30 states trying to teach lawmakers and administrators a lesson in civil disobedience. They are mad about budget cuts that caused tuition hikes, canceled classes, and temporary layoffs for professors. Slashed funds for elementary and secondary education are also an issue.

The biggest cuts happened in the nation's biggest educational system in California. And it has seen about one billion dollars in state funding cuts between 2008 and 2010.

CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now. He is over at UCLA. This is calling a lot -- causing a lot of anger out there, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Here on the UCLA campus earlier today, hundreds of students, faculty, university employees gathered to hold a rally to protest an upcoming 32 percent increase in tuition. It is all because of California's massive budget deficit. And statewide campuses, from College all the way down to kindergarten, joined in on the protests over cuts in education funding.


CROWD: Save our schools! Save our schools! >>.

WIAN (voice-over): Students and parents joined their teachers outside Maywood Elementary to protest massive budget cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are losing teachers. We are -- class sizes are going to be increased. And it is really going to affect the education.


WIAN: Mrs. Ciznero (ph) used to have 20 students or fewer in her first grade classroom. State funding incentives kept Kindergarten through third grade classes small. California has suspended the program to save money. So this year, her class started with 27 students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Melanie, what are you doing over there?

One of the biggest problems in my classroom right now is going to be the sitting. Just finding a sitting arrangement for all those children.

Are you OK, Bailey? Yes. Can you make a little bit of room for Bailey, please?

All the work that four teachers would do, now three teachers do it. That's been a challenge as well.

WIAN: As you can see, there are no students in this classroom. That's because Maywood Elementary lost five teachers last year. It's now being used as a meeting room. Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District sent out 8,000 layoff notices to teachers and other employees. About 2,000 actually ended up losing their jobs. This year, more than 5,000 additional layoff notices are going out. And by the end of next year, the district will have cut more than $2 billion from its annual budget.

LUPE FERNANDEZ, PRINCIPAL, MAYWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We spent a lot of money out of our own pockets. Sometimes the trip to the teacher's store is $60 to $100. Those books, I purchased them all.

WIAN: Hernandez is Maywood's principal. Presided over four years of rising test scores and she knows some of her best teachers will get pink slips. What's this done to morale for teachers and other staff members here at the school?

FERNANDEZ: You know, our teachers really work hard. Because we have had such great success. It is hard for them. They are staying here longer and they -- fear of what's next.

WIAN: Educating a room full of six and seven-year-olds keeping them safe is not a job for those distracted by the threat of losing their jobs.

FERNANDEZ: Too many students that are -- there will be without an efficient teacher because you are stressed and thinking of the bills you have to pay and your mortgage. You are thinking of your own family. It is very hard for all the children to learn when you have a stressed teacher.


WIAN: Today another setback for education in California. State lost out on a portion of more than $4 billion in federal race to the top education funding. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says that he will push for more reforms in education in California to qualify for that money because in his words the students here desperately need it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Serious, serious situation. Thanks, Casey, for that report. Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen. You know, usually when it starts out in California, spreads out around the -- eventually across the United States. In this education, budget cuts, this is a really worrisome development.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What's happened in California more generally is worrisome and worrisome all the way here in Washington to the white house. I talked to people there that are -- who believe that the -- California's the future of the country that the may be more dangerous than the problem of the desks. I think the students in California have every reason to be protesting. This system, you and I were growing up, the California higher education system, public universities and community colleges were the best in the country. And they made a commitment. Every student that had come in California get a high-quality education at low cost and invested in the higher education. What they found the -- economists found every dollar invested in Cal State University system, over time it produced $4 in return to the state. So it is a good investment. In the '80s '90s we began cutting back so that in -- in the '80s, the -- in California, high education was 17 percent of the state budget. That's now down to 9 percent. Prisons by contrast were three percent of the state budget and now 10 percent. They are spending more on prisons than spending on higher education. And I -- you have latest cutbacks and tuition increases. Coming because of the recession. And you have an explosion on your hands. It is the -- California dream is dying. It needs to be revived.

BLITZER: Not just high education. Also elementary and secondary school education and the -- statistics from the department of education here in Washington are not encouraging. We did checking. Fourth graders in math here in the United States rank 11th among 36 countries and beaten by Hong Kong Japan, Latvia, Lithuania a hole bunch of others. In science, fourth graders in United States ranked eighth out of 36 countries president. As they get older, look at this. Math, 15-year-olds, in the United States, lagged behind 31 countries. This is not very encouraging.

GERGEN: It is not. And once again, it is a bigger story. If you go back to the beginning of the -- of the 1900s, America had the best public school system k-12 anywhere in the world. And every generation was better educated than the last generation. Every generation seemed to get two more years of education than their parents. And we remain the best in the world. We had more going to college. More people going through high school. In the '70s and '80s we leveled off. We started lagging. Now we have gradually drifted down. You are seeing in a country large in public education, we have gone down. I want to say this before we leave. People are catching on. I'm going to be on the board for Teachers of America. Arne Duncan, first class reformer. A lot of cities, New York, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Denver, and you are seeing education reform K-12 level. There are signs that we can revive it but right now, there are a lot of kids crunching this in the recession.

BLITZER: Excellent point. Education, I don't know. It is one of the most important if not the most important. What we can do for our kids. Priority number one. David, thanks very much.

This grand protest, anger out there over budget cuts, tuition hikes. That will be part of my discussion with two men who know a great deal about education and one is, as David just pointed out, the current education secretary, Arne Duncan, the other, former Reagan education secretary, Bill Bennett. They will be here together on Tuesday of next week. We will have a serious discussion on education. Arne Duncan and Bill Bennett.

Remember the D.C. sniper killing spree? There is a new message from one of the convicted snipers from his prison cell. The shock when a plane crashes into a house and the relief that came afterwards.


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

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Los Angeles Police say they are sorry for including the clothes the late Senator Kennedy wore when he was killed in an exhibit of high profile homicide cases. They pulled the shirt with what looks like bloodstains, tie and jacket from the Las Vegas exhibit. One of Kennedy's sons had called the display a macabre publicity stunt. Also in the exhibit, items related to Marilyn Monroe, O.J. Simpson and Charles Manson.

One of the so called D.C. snipers sent an apology letter to one a Louisiana shooting victim. Lee Boyd Malvo who was 17 at the time writes he's truly sorry for the pain he caused Henry Gaeta and his family. Gaeta says he plans to forgive Malvo and send him a letter. Malvo is serving a life sentence. His partner in crime, John Allen Mohammed, was executed last year.

Smoking killed me. That's the message on one British man taking to the grave with him. Albert Whitmer, smoked when he was younger, died after battling emphysema. The 58-year-old's dying request was to have this message put on his hearst and grave. He meant it as a warning sign to young people about the dangers of smoking.

And a pilot is dead after his twin engine plane crashed into a house in central Virginia today. Both the plane and house caught fire. Officials say that one person was in the basement of the house and managed to escape. No one other than the pilot was onboard the plane. Federal authorities will now investigate the crash.

BLITZER: Person in the basement is a lucky individual indeed.


BLITZER: Voting and bombings in Iraq. Early voting for the elections of the deadly bombings marring the voting. CNN exclusive interview, the prime minister, Maliki says he may ask for some U.S. troops to stay longer than planned.

Why is Tom Hanks imitating our own James Carville? What's James think about that? I will ask him.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us, Democratic strategist James Carville. The Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. Thanks for coming in. Look at this TV ad that the Democratic senator from Arkansas has now released. Then we will discuss.


SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, R, ARKANSAS: This is why I voted against giving money to Wall Street, against the auto company bailout and against the cap and trade bill that we raised energy costs. None of it was right for ark. Some in my party didn't like it very much but I approve this message because I don't answer to my party. I answer to Arkansas.


BLITZER: Wow. Making it clear, James, no love lost there between herself and one hand the Democrats but also these issues the president asked her to vote yes on these issues and she said no way.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. First of all, in the interest of disclosure, I am doing -- support to Lincoln and fund- raiser e-mail and that kind of thing. She is in a tough balance. She is stepping up and this is what you are doing when you have a state like Arkansas and she is putting her record out there and effective spot for her.

BLITZER: You think that's an effective spot? That will help her?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think she has to run more independent. If you ran as an Obama Democrat in Arkansas you probably wouldn't do very well. The end of the day, you know, she is in a tough race, primaries never help. At the same time, she's got to get to the center and she wants to be viable. You have Democrats that have to run away from the president if they want success.

BLITZER: People in Arkansas already written her off and you know that, Ed.

ROLLINS: She's very vulnerable. Arkansas had bigger than life players. James' old boss, Bill Clinton, my old boss, Mike Huckabee, you know, they had over the years some famous senators. I don't think that she quite fits into that mold. I think to a certain extent she has been diminished by the past and I think to a certain extent she has to run an independent election.

BLITZER: Will she vote for health care the next time ruined when it needs 51 votes, James?

CARVILLE: You know, honestly, I don't know. I hope that she does. You know, she -- she has a tough battle. I have seen people, you know, count out people like Senator Landrieu of Louisiana. Tends to bounce back. I'm partial to these southern women in a Democratic party. Out there fighting four their seat. I don't like to see primary in our party, man of conscience, he thinks he has do, too.

BLITZER: Ed, yesterday object you wrote the column which I read and among other things, you wrote this. "If Reid and Pelosi shoved this legislation, health care legislation, through Congress against public opinion, they and their party will pay a price. Yet, the price Democrats will pay at the polls in November won't be nearly as big a price as our kids and grandkids will pay." Why do you hate this health care legislation so much?

ROLLINS: I don't think there is any major reform in it. It's another new entitlement program that will cost a fortune as some of the past entitlements have. Long term if -- if they would have taken time, instead of the Republicans we will give you -- what do you want to give us 10, 15 votes, you may have had something more piece meal. I think shoving this thing through when -- when obviously the country turned against it, pay a price. Not at me. Howard Dean, the former DNC chairman, says exactly the same thing. I think you may not be James' favorite former chairman but at the end of the day I think there are a lot of Democrats at risk.

BLITZER: James, go ahead.

CARVILLE: Yeah. I respect that and agree with the things -- I was vehemently disagree with him on this. I mean when I say vehemently, I mean vehemently. First of all, we're talking about unfunded entitlements. The only unfunded entitlement in the history of the United States is Medicare part D under President Bush. Republicans coming out of the woodwork about this. Secondly, this thing has been debated to death and the CBO estimates it will save $600 billion over ten years. Why would I be against something that's going to cover more people and save us money? I'm not exactly sure. I do know this. It has been sufficiently looked at and debated and dissected and everything else. Let's take to it a vote and see where it falls.

BLITZER: Where will it fall? What do you think when the dust settles?

ROLLINS: I think the president will have a hard time getting 218. He hard time getting votes today on the jobs bill. Two hundred sixteen. I think they have a hard time getting 217, 218 votes they need to get this thing through. If you go to the reconciliation area it's more difficult.

BLITZER: Here is what Tom Hanks did on "Good Morning America," James, earlier today. I will play a clip with your old pal, George Stephanopoulos.



TOM HANKS, ACTOR: I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Carville this morning.

HANKS: I tell you something, I -- throw in the hot dog. Then maybe I would be upset. Who cares if you get to go to the ball game?


BLITZER: He does a good James Carville. What do you think? Award winner like Tom Hanks portraying James Carville.

CARVILLE: Great. I would say this about Tom Hanks. He's one of the really great heroes in New Orleans, involved in our World War II museum started by Stephen Ambrose. Superb film. I'm dying to see it. I wasn't able to -- maybe the night before, wasn't able to go. But any time that he -- best actor the last -- god knows how many years and terrific guy. Never met him. I hope to meet the great man one day but I'm honored to have him imitate me.

ROLLINS: There's only one James Carville and he -- great respect for him. That's plenty. We don't need anybody imitating him.

BLITZER: There's another one on "Saturday Night Live." who is that guy on "Saturday Night Live" that does an excellent James Carville?

CARVILLE: George Clooney did one, pretty funny, too. It is. Tom Hanks, from everything I know, he is a terrific actor, but he's very involved in this wonderful museum we have down here.

BLITZER: Great guy by all accounts. Guys, thanks very much.

Behind closed doors at the white house, Hillary Clinton just may be inching to tell President Obama I told you so. How the 2008 campaign spat over to tell President Obama, I told you so. And discussing how the Iran policy is playing overseas, and will American troops have to stay in Iraq longer than expected?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: As candidates they argued over it, but now it is a different story now that one is the leader of the free world and the other is the nation's top diplomat. We are talking about President Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton and something they fought over in the past. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has more.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, stretching out the hand to Iran and engagement, and remember that? Barack Obama tried it in the presidential campaign when Hillary Clinton shot it down, and now the hand looks more like a fist. So is Hillary Clinton saying I told you so?


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Spin the time machine back to 2007. Question, would Barack Obama as president meet face-to-face with America's enemies like Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't, and the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration is ridiculous.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is not that you promise the meeting at that high of a level before you know what the intentions are.

DOUGHERTY: Hillary Clinton then blasted Barack Obama as irresponsible and naive and now tough talk on Iran from Barack Obama.

OBAMA: As Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt that they, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.

DOUGHERTY: So, did Hillary Clinton win to an argument? We sat down with the Bush administration's point man on Iran. Okay. So who was right?

NICHOLAS BURNS, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Well, I think they both turned out to be right. The problem that the United States had is that we didn't have enough credibility with the rest of the world, because we had not tried negotiations with Iran. Invariably countries would say to me when I said, please support us on sanction, and they would say, you haven't tried diplomacy yet.

BLITZER: Back to the time machine. You had Senator Obama and now President Obama firing back at Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: I don't want a continuation of Bush-Cheney, and I don't want Bush-Cheney-lite.

CLINTON: I have been called a lot of things, but Bush-Cheney- lite is never one of them.

BURNS: Iran has turned President Obama down, and here you have Secretary Hillary Clinton being effective in recent weeks. She has said that Iran is in danger of being taken over by a military dictatorship and that is the right thing to say.

BLITZER: It is fair to say that Hillary Clinton's policy was vindicated by what has happened?

BURNS: I think that the president has been right all along on engagement, but I also think that secretary Clinton has added some real steel to the administration's policy over the last couple of weeks in her public statements which I think have been right on.


DOUGHERTY: President Obama's policy of engagement has paid off in some ways like winning more support for economic sanctions on Iran from countries like Russia. But the tougher policy is still a hard sell, even as his secretary of state with his blessing turns up the heat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

You may have heard about the controversy of nuclear waste and how to get rid of it. Brian Todd is coming at the story in a different way in the middle of 200 tons of waste.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd inside of a very sensitive and restricted area. This is a spent fuel pool that stores nuclear waste at this nuclear power plant in Illinois. Places like this are at the front lines of the debate in the United States over the storage of nuclear waste. We are going to have a lot more on that coming up.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," one lawmakers' ethics problem is another's opportunity. Michigan Democrat Sandra Levin has been named the acting chairman of the House Ways and Means committee. He's replacing the long time chairman Charles Rangel of New York. Rangel temporarily stepped down as the powerful tax writing committee yesterday with an ongoing ethics investigation.

America's Most Wanted nabs and in demand guest to celebrate the 1,000th episode. The show's host John Walsh interviewing President Obama during the broadcast airing Saturday. The Fox TV network says that Mr. Obama will discuss the show's impact during 22 years on the air and the president will discuss the administration's anti-crime policy as well. Congratulations to John Walsh.

There are reports that Sarah Palin is teaming up with reality TV producer Mark Burnett. But the Palins apparently will not be living their lives in front of the cameras like the Kardashians. A source close to Palin said she and Burnett are pitching a documentary about Alaska. Meantime, Palin's publisher Harper-Collins says she's signed on to write a second book, this one about America's virtues and strengths.

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