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New Hope to Survive Killer Brain Tumor; Are Afghan Troops Ready to Fight?; African-Americans & Health Reform; "Lesson to African- Americans in Power"; Presidents Reunite in Parody; Crucial Election In Iraq Marred By Violence; Senators Discuss The Merits And Pitfalls Of The Current Health Insurance Reform Bill

Aired March 6, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: A crucial election in Iraq marred by violence. Will U.S. troops wind up staying longer than expected? A frequent critic of the war explains why parts of the withdrawal plan may be a joke.

Also, President Obama lays out his health care endgame. He's ready to move forward without Republicans. But will fellow Democrats play by his rules?

And some of the most famous commanders of chief in comedy reunite for laughs and a cause. If you haven't seen this video yet, stand by for a most unusual experience.

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American people want to know if it is still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They're waiting for us to act. They're waiting for us to lead. As long as I hold this office I intend to provide that leadership. I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it's right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.


BLITZER: President Obama on health care reform. He laid out his strategy this week to finally try to cross the finish line. After recent efforts to reach out to Republicans, he made it clear he's ready and willing to push forward without those Republicans , but there are big questions about whether he has enough Democrats on his side.


BLITZER (On camera): Joining us now, two senators, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator John Barrasso.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us. Both of you attended that Blair House summit with the president last week. Senator Barrasso, like it or not, the president is pushing forward. He says the House is going to pass it with a simple majority. Then it is up to the Senate to pass it with a simple majority. Is there any way realistically, you believe, this won't be enacted into law?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Absolutely, Wolf, because the American people are so opposed to it. Look at the CNN poll. Half of Americans say stop and start over; 25 percent of Americans told CNN, just stop. And only one in four Americans said they wanted to have this passed.

Right now there is still bipartisan opposition to this bill in the House. It is far from being passed. And the thing they're going to have to pass first is the bill that includes the Cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, all of the unseemly deals that were made to get the 60 votes to pass the Senate in the first place.

This is still the bill, in spite of the president's new sales job, it still cuts Medicare by $500 billion, raises taxes by $500 billion, and will cause so many people who buy insurance personally for their rates to go up.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, you're the majority whip, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, do you have the votes?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) MAJORITY WHIP: Oh, I hope we do, because we need to get this done. And let me say this about the polls, you know, God bless the CNN polls, but there was one a week ago that said 58 percent of the people said don't leave Washington without getting this job done. Among those who oppose it are those on the left who think it should be single payer or have a public option. To say there is opposition to it, it comes from both sides. I think we struck the right balance and I think the president is right.

We need to move forward to start reducing the cost of health insurance across America. We know that it is beyond the reach of businesses and families today. The Republicans, for all of their rhetoric, are not supporting our efforts to give people the right to fight health insurance, companies that turn you down because of pre-existing conditions.

BLITZER: Senator, just quickly, walk us through what is going to happen over the next -- you want this resolved before the Easter recess at the end of the month. You want the House to take action first. Walk us through the legislative process.

DURBIN: I can't walk you through it because, frankly, Speaker Pelosi has to come up with her approach on the House side. I don't want to presume how she will approach it.

BLITZER: Do you expect the House to pass the Senate version that passed Christmas Eve?

DURBIN: One option is, of course, to pass this Senate bill. The pass was 60 votes on Christmas Eve, and then pass reconciliation, which will modify that, make some changes in it. I think some positive changes. I would love to have Republican support. The president asked for it today. I don't know if we'll get any support for it.

BLITZER: In the letter yesterday released, Senator Barrasso, he referred to the recommendation you made to him at the summit at Blair House last week. He said, you know what, Senator Barrasso who himself is a physician, has some good ideas, I'll accept them. He's trying to reach you at least partially, isn't he?

BARRASSO: And that's why I would love for the president to say let's go with the ideas that everyone agrees with, and pass those immediately. So that people who have insurance could never be thrown off of their -- out of their insurance, so that there would be no lifetime limits, so that young people age 21 don't get thrown off of their parents' policy and can stay on until they're 25. Pass those things today. Look for the common ground where there is agreement.

BLITZER: But he says you can't do that unless you do everything, it just won't work mathematically, Senator Barrasso.

BARRASSO: Well, I disagree. I think best thing we should do is go in a step by step way, in a positive direction to number one focus on the cost of care. That's what Warren Buffett said on Monday. That the big threat to this is the cost of care. And then get rid of all of the nonsense in the bill, all of these backroom deals that the American people have just rejected.

BLITZER: You're going to get rid of all of the back room deals, the Louisiana Purchase and the --

BARRASSO: He only got rid of one. He only got rid of Cornhusker kickback.

BLITZER: What about the other ones?

BARRASSO: The others are still there.

BLITZER: The one in Florida that Senator McCain complained about, the one in Nebraska. What about that, Senator Durbin, are you going to get rid of all those?

DURBIN: Change is going to be made.

But let me tell you something, if that's the worst thing you can find in this bill, for goodness sakes, we extend health insurance coverage to 31 million Americans. That is a significant historic accomplishment. We give people the right to battle these insurance companies when they say no because of pre-existing conditions. And to ignore all of that, to ignore all of that because of one small provision in the bill, these are trifles.


BLITZER: Are you saying that special treatment for Florida, the special treatment for Nebraska will stay in the legislation when the dust settles?

DURBIN: I don't know what the final version will be. I can tell you most of these will be addressed through reconciliation. I am supporting those changes and reforms are being made, there is no final product.

BLITZER: What about the fact that the president stated today, Senator Barrasso, I don't think you disagree with him, the Democrats plan will bring in 31 million Americans, they'll be able to get insurance. The Republican plan brings in 3 million Americans. That's a huge gap.

BARRASSO: He ignores the fact that part of our plan is to allow people to buy insurance across state lines, and you would have 12 million more Americans insured today, Wolf, if people, like in California, could shop around when they see those rates going up, to shop in other states. That's what we need.

But the president offers to provide coverage, which is different than care. He's going to put 15 million more people on Medicaid, a program where half the doctors in America won't see those people because the reimbursement rates are so low, even lower than the cost of even keeping the doors open.

BLITZER: Is that true, Senator Durbin?

BARRASSO: The Mayo Clinic won't see Medicaid patients. The Mayo Clinic won't see them. They say we can't afford to stay open with Medicaid rates.

DURBIN: Millions of Americans receive medical care through Medicaid. Many of those who will be covered by this bill are walking into hospitals with no insurance and no payment whatsoever. My hospital administrators in Springfield, Illinois, say we would welcome Medicaid reimbursement from people who are paying nothing.

Let me just also say about buying across state lines, we support it. Here's the difference. We believe there should be basic requirements in health insurance so you don't end up buying a policy that is worthless when you need it. Say you can buy a policy from faraway state, that isn't there when you need it, is no comfort to the family involved and an added burden to society and the government.

BLITZER: On that note, we'll leave it. We'll continue this discussion. A few weeks the president says he wants it done. I hope both of you will come back several times. Lots more to discuss, Senator Durbin, Senator Barrasso, thanks very much.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Up ahead, Iraqis voting in a crucial national election. But could fresh violence force U.S. troops to stick around longer than planned?

And a top Muslim scholar decrees suicide bombers are destined for hell. We'll look at the possible impact.

And a Democratic Senator keeps her distance from President Obama and says she doesn't answer to her party. James Carville and Ed Rollins, they're here, they are all over that one. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM


BLITZER: Could U.S. forces end up staying in Iraq longer than planned? All combat troops are supposed to be out by the end of August. But Iraq's crucial election is already being marred by violence. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki says he may ask the U.S. to stick around for awhile based on the security situation. Listen to this.


NOURI AL MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ (through translator): This depends on the future, on whether the established Iraqi army and police would be enough or not. So this issue is depending on the developments of the circumstances, and regulated by the strategic framework agreements between the United States and Iraq.

DAMON: So just to clarify, if the situation dictated it, you would be willing to have U.S. forces extend their stay in Iraq?

MALIKI (through translator): Absolutely.


BLITZER: So should the Obama administration rethink its exit strategy? Let's talk about that and the elections with Tom Ricks, he's a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and the author of two best-sellers, "Fiasco" and "The Gamble."


BLITZER (On camera): Tom, thanks for coming in.

You've been a frequent critic of the way this war was conducted in Iraq over the years. Yet you wrote a piece in "The New York Times", the other day, which sort of I said-I jumped back and I said, "Whoa! Tom Ricks is saying don't just keep the schedule for withdrawal, but keep the troops longer there. Keep them there longer than the Obama administration wants them in Iraq." This is a dramatic change for you.

TOM RICKS, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Yeah. Don't think it is a great idea to keep the troops in Iraq. I think it is the least bad idea. I worry that if you leave too quickly, that you could have the conditions of a civil war that could become a regional war. And I worry that by trying to keep to a timetable the Obama administration is repeating one of the mistakes of the Bush administration, rushing to failure. We have done it again and again in Iraq and I worry we may do it again.

BLITZER: You're saying keep the troops longer, unknown how long. Because they're all supposed to be out by the end of 2011, and all combat forces out by the end of this August. RICKS: The combat forces thing is a joke. They're going to have six or seven combat brigades in Iraq but they'll call them advisory and, like, and help brigades.

BLITZER: Trainers.

RICKS: Yeah, I mean. And I actually think we're going to have 30,000 troops there for many, many years to come.

BLITZER: Really?

RICKS: Yeah.

BLITZER: Because at the end of your article, you write this, "The best argument against keeping troops in Iraq is the one some American military officers make, which is that a civil war is inevitable, and that by staying all we are doing is postponing it."

RICKS: My response to that is, OK, it buys you some time. That's not a bad thing if the alternative is a civil war. Maybe you can't avoid a civil war forever, maybe it is inevitable. I don't feel like gambling to find out.

BLITZER: General Odierno is in charge of all U.S. military operations in Iraq. He's hinting that maybe troops will have to stay a little bit longer. They won't be able to make this withdrawal schedule. But I interviewed the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Chris Hill, the other day. And I asked him if that schedule can be met, the schedule the Obama administration has put forward. Listen to what he told me.


CHRIS HILL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: We're working this every day. There say lot of transition involved and a lot of things going from military to civilian, military to Iraqis, but we're on schedule.


BLITZER: "But we are on schedule," he says. He seems to think that schedule will happen.

RICKS: Something will happen. They'll get a lot of troops out this year. There is a lot of fancy footwork going on that his comments kind of put a smoke screen over. General Odierno has made it clear to the president and the secretary of Defense he wants an additional combat brigade passed August 30 deadline. Odierno also would like, I think, a larger military presence. I think we have a real gap right now developing between the military and civilian officials in this country about the nature of the future American presence.

BLITZER: The split between Odierno and Chris Hill? Is that what you are saying?

RICKS: Between Odierno and Chris Hill, I think also between the uniformed military, generally, Obama officials that say look this president was elected to get us out of Iraq and that's what he wants to do.

BLITZER: The elections are this Sunday. And a lot of people are going to be wondering will these be free and fair democratic elections, or not? What do you think?

RICKS: I think there will be a lot of accusations of fraud, especially from the Sunnis, a lot of accusations of Iranian interference. The real thing that worries me is not so much election day, as the three or four months that follow it when they try to put a new government together. Remember after those purple-finger elections, back at the end of '05, it was the period of government formation in '06, when the civil war began then. You have all the same conditions now except one big change, the Americans won't be around to stop the civil war this time.

BLITZER: So you think a civil war is still possible despite- "Newsweek" magazine, I don't know if you saw the cover of the new issue, they think it is a done deal, it is going to be a positive democratic, excellent Iraq that moves forward.

RICKS: I don't know what they're smoking over at "Newsweek" these days.

BLITZER: You saw that cover of "Newsweek" magazine. It was a very upbeat piece, the surge worked, stuff is really moving in the right direction. When I take a look at Iraq and I deeply worry about that Iranian influence among other factors.

RICKS: So does General Odierno. I was struck by some of the comments that he has made. In a very good column by David Ignatius in "The Washington Post" the other day, that listed the Iranian acts, including meeting with Ahmed Chalabi to discuss the various Shiite candidates, and who they would support.

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi all of a sudden re-emerging as a player in Iraq now to the dismay of a lot of officials here in Washington.

Tom Ricks, thanks very much. We'll talk next week maybe.

RICKS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on Sunday in the elections.


BLITZER: Ahead of Iraq's elections, suicide bombers have stepped up their slaughter of innocent people. Even as the top Muslim scholar declares that terrorists are, quote, "enemies of Islam."

And back from the war zone, CNN Atia Abawi was just on the front lines in Afghanistan with Marines. Now she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to brief us.


BLITZER: In the run up to Iraq's election on Sunday three suicide bombings shattered the city of Baquba alone, this week, causing dozens of casualties. Those attacks came just a day after a top Muslim scholar in London issued a religious decree saying suicide bombers are destined for hell, not paradise.


BLITZER (On camera): And joining us now from Baghdad, CNN's Arwa Damon and from London, CNN's Paula Newton.

Arwa, what is the latest the aftermath of these bombings?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these bombings have really resonated throughout all of Iraq. Tragically they come as no surprise. The entire nation was bracing itself for pre-election violence. Iraqi security forces have been out there trying to prevent these very types of attacks from taking place. But the reality is that there is no technology that exists that can accurately and repeatedly detect explosives in the type of open air environment that we have in Iraq.

Add to that, the threat that was issued by the Iraqi -- by the Islamic state of Iraq, the umbrella organization that is headed by Al Qaeda, that has vowed to derail these elections. So very disturbing, especially since we're only a few days away from that critical vote on Sunday, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Arwa, there is lots of concern here in Washington, potentially depending on what happens on the ground in Iraq, the U.S. troop withdrawal schedule could be derailed. What are you hearing about that?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, that most certainly is a reality that authorities on both sides here are having to confront. Here is how the elections play into the U.S. troop role. These elections will truly determine whether or not Iraq stays on this path of democracy, if that is what we want to call it, becomes a more secular nation, or if it moves toward being more fundamentalist and authoritarian.

There are groups currently who are not a part of the political process, that have already said that if the government that emerges is more sectarian than this one, there will be more violence. And that will have a direct impact on whether or not America can draw down to the 50,000 troops that it wants to see here by the end of August, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Arwa.

Paula, in London, as you know, a Muslim scholar has now issued what is called a fatwa, a religious order, saying that suicide bombings are against Islam. Listen to what he said.


SHEIKH TAHIR UL-QADRI, MUSLIM SCHOLAR: The terrorists are the biggest enemies of Islam. Someone should stand up, and the group of scholars should stand up, to condemn it absolutely, to declare that terrorism is terrorism, and no good intention can make -- provide any justification to the act of terrorism. No pretext, no discussion of foreign policy of certain country.


BLITZER: All right, Paula, is this going to have an impact on the terrorism out there?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: The skeptics will say no, people in Iraq, people in the Arab world, people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, they're not going to listen to what amounts to 600 pages of a fatwa, but people here in Britain, throughout Pakistan, Wolf, this is significant. People have been waiting for this.

They want those in the Muslim community to stand up and have an impact in their communities. And what is different about this fatwa is it goes through the Koran, the Holy Book of Islam, and piece by piece says, look, there is no justification for violence, suicide bombings, or terrorism, no matter what you're trying to do in your own country, in your own situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: This Muslim scholar, Tahir Ul-Qadri, how influential is he?

NEWTON: He is very influential. He's influential here in Britain. He's Pakistani. He's influential in Pakistan. Nobody should be under any illusions, though. They have had fatwas like this before.

This one is different. It was categorical, Wolf. It was strong. I think from what I hear from a lot of different people on the ground, and I mean, young men who are quite angry about the situation in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, specifically the situation in the Middle East, and Palestine. It kind of allows them to not feel as if they have some kind of shame for not standing up for the Muslim world.

There is somebody they can look up to that says, look, it is OK to protest these kinds of things. Work through your communities, your political movements. But do not resort to violence. You know, Wolf, we're not going to find out if this works not today, but in the months and years to come.

BLITZER: It is interesting that only last week a Saudi cleric also issued a similar edict against suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia.

Let's go back to Arwa Damon in Iraq right now. The suicide bombings are continuing. Here is the question, these edicts, these fatwas, are they likely to have an impact on the terrorists inside Iraq?

DAMON: No, Wolf. They most certainly are not. Let's remember that Al Qaeda here has already been largely rejected by the majority of the Sunni groups because of those utterly gruesome and brutal tactics that they used. And here is another thing to point out as well, though. Is that people here, even though everyone is talking about how much security has improved in Iraq, Iraqis still live with that same sense of fear and anxiety, even though the number of attacks have gone down, the impact that the attacks that do take place have on the Iraqi people, that has not diminished, in the least.

And so as we head into these elections, Iraqis still have security as their number one priority for whatever government that comes into power. And that, of course, then followed by things like basic services, and unemployment. Very much an echo of the things we have been hearing in 2005 now being repeated in 2010, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon back in Baghdad, covering the elections this Sunday. Thanks, Arwa. Paula Newton, thanks to you as well. We'll continue to watch both of these stories.


BLITZER: From terminal illness to a chance at surviving the odds, there is new hope for patients with a killer brain tumor, that involves a potential breakthrough that works inside the body like a smart bomb. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has our report.

And if health care reform passes, will Democrats pay a political price? Our Republican strategist argues yes. But wait until you hear the price he says you will pay. Is he right? Even as our Democratic strategist argues he's wrong.


BLITZER: A Democratic senator set for a tough re-election race wants you to know she's, quote, "one tough lady". Joining us now CNN political contributors, the Democratic Strategist James Carville and the Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Look at this TV ad that Blanche Lincoln, Democratic senator from Arkansas, has now released. And then we'll discuss.


SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D-AR): This is why I voted against giving more money to Wall Street, against auto company bailout, against the public option health care plan, and against the cap and trade bill that would have raised energy costs for Arkansas. None of those were right for Arkansas. Some in my party didn't like it very much, but I approve of 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 on the one hand the Democrats but also these issues. The president had asked her to vote yes on these issue and she said no way.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. Well, first of all, in the interest of disclosure, I'm (INAUDIBLE) and supporting Senator Lincoln. I think I've sent out a - a fundraising e-mail and - and that kind of thing. And, look, she's in a tough battle. She's faced the political realities and so she's sort of stepping up and - and this is what - what you do in - when you - when - in a state like Arkansas, in a year like we're facing, she's - she's putting a record out there and probably a pretty effective spot for her.

BLITZER: You think that's an effective spot, that that's going to help her, Ed?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think she has to run more Independent. I mean, obviously if you ran as an Obama Democrat in Arkansas, you probably wouldn't do very well. I think at the end of the day, you know, she's in a tough race. Primaries never help.

But, at the same time, she's got to get to the center if she wants to be at all viable. You've got a couple of these Democrat incumbents who basically have to run away from the president if they want to have any success.

BLITZER: A lot of people in Arkansas have already basically written her off, Ed. You know that.

ROLLINS: She's very vulnerable. You know, Arkansas has had some bigger - bigger than life players. I mean, they had James' old boss, Bill Clinton, my old boss, Mike Huckabee. You know, they've had over the years some famous senators.

I don't think she quite fits into that mode, so I think, to a certain extent she has been diminished by the past and I think to a certain extent she's got to run an Independent campaign.

BLITZER: She said - she said in the ad she opposed the - the public option but voted for health care in the - in the Senate when it got the 60 vote super majority. Is she going to vote for health care the next time around, when it needs 51 votes, James?

CARVILLE: I - you know, honestly, I don't know. I hope - I hope that she does and I - you know, in defense, I like Senator Lincoln a lot. She's - she's - let's admit, she's got a tough battle.

But, you know, I've seen people, you know, count out people like Senator Landrieu here in Louisiana, who always tend to bounce back and I'm kind of partial to these - to these southern women in - in the Democratic Party out there, fighting for their seat, and I hope she does well, and (INAUDIBLE) is a fine guys.

I just don't like to see a primary in our party, but he's a man of conscience and I guess he's doing what he think has to do too.

BLITZER: Ed, yesterday, on you wrote a column which I read and among other things you - you wrote this, "If Reid and Pelosi shove this legislation," referring to the 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 wouldn'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: Well, I don't think there is any major reform in it. I mean, it's - it's another new entitlement program that's going to cost us a fortune just as some of the past entitlements have. I think - I think long-term, if - if they would have taken some time, said to the Republicans, we'll give you what you want to give us 10 to 15 votes, you might have had something that was more piecemeal, some of the reform issues.

I think shoving this thing through when obvious the country's turned against it is going to pay a price. Not me (ph), Howard Dean, the former DNC chairman, says exactly the same thing, and I think he may not be James' favorite former chairman, but, at the end of the day, I think there's a lot of Democrats at risk.

BLITZER: All right. James, go ahead.

CARVILLE: Yes, well, I respect that. I agree with him on - I vehemently disagree with him on this, and I mean, when I say vehemently, I mean, vehemently.

I mean, first of all, talking about unfunded entitlements, the only unfunded entitlement in the history of the United States was Medicare Part D, which was under President Bush and I don't like (ph) these Republicans are coming out of the wood work about this.

Second, this thing has been debated to death end on end on end and the CBO estimates it will save $600 billion over 10 years, so why would I be against something that's going to cover more people and save us money, I'm not exactly sure. But I do know this, it has been sufficiently looked at, debated, dissected and everything else and let's just take it to a vote and see where it falls.

BLITZER: Where will it fall, Ed, what do you think when the - when the dust settles?

ROLLINS: I think the president's going to have a hard time getting the 218. He had a hard time getting the votes today on the jobs bill, 216. I think they'll have a hard time getting the 217, 218 votes that they need to get this thing through.

And then, if you go to reconciliation there, I think it's even more difficult.

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



TOM HANKS, ACTOR: I'm sorry.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- with David Paterson. James Carville has some - HANKS: I'll tell you something right now. If you ever get to go to the ball game and they're throwing hot dogs, (INAUDIBLE) hot dogs maybe I'd be upset. But who cares if you get to go to the ball game? For crying out loud.


BLITZER: He does a pretty good James Carville. What do you think?


BLITZER: An award-winner like Tom Hanks portraying James Carville?

CARVILLE: Yes, it's great, and I'd just say this about Tom Hanks. He's one of the really great heroes, and you all - you know he's very involved in our World War II museum that was started by Steven Ambrose. He had just produced a superb film, and I'm dying to going to go see (INAUDIBLE) it but last night something - I wasn't able to - maybe the night before, I wasn't able to go.

But anytime that - he's probably the best actor the last God knows how many years, and, you know, a terrific guy. I've never met him. I hope to meet the great man one day, but I'm honored to have - to be - to have him imitate me.

ROLLINS: There's only - there's only one James Carville, and I - and he's - and I've got great respect for him, and that's plenty. We don't need anybody imitating him or trying to do what he does. He dose (INAUDIBLE).

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

CARVILLE: Bill - yes, Bill Hader. Now, George Clooney did one. It was pretty funny too, so - But I - it - it is.

But Tom Hanks has really, from everything I know - I mean, I know he's a terrific actor. I don't need anybody to tell me that, but he's very involved in this wonderful museum we have down here.

BLITZER: He's a great guy, by all accounts.

All right guys. Thanks very much.

From health care to a disease causing health scares for so many people. Imagine having a killer brain tumor few patients actually survive. Then imagine being told there's a new treatment offering patients the chance to dramatically beat the disturbing survival rate.

What if? What if more people could actually survive this kind of brain cancer?

Here's our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard you also volunteered to do a spinal tap today.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Karen Vaneman. She's bracing for another painful procedure.

You see, she's got cancer. Brain cancer. A killer tumor, called glioblastoma.

GUPTA (on camera): Glioblastoma - glioblastoma multiforme. GBM. This is - this is typically thought of as the worst type of tumor. Why?

DR. ALLAN FRIEDMAN, PRESTON ROBERT TISCH BRAIN TUMOR CENTER: Oh, because left untreated, the patient succumbs to the disease very quickly.

GUPTA (voice-over): Even with aggressive treatment, average survival is barely a year. Chemotherapy, radiation, all the usual treatments hardly slow it down.

VANEMAN: Oh, good to meet you.

GUPTA (on camera): How are you?

VANEMAN: I'm fine, thank you.

GUPTA: You're OK (ph) today?

VANEMAN: Yes, I am.

GUPTA (voice-over): But here at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, Karen found hope - an experimental vaccine.

GUPTA (on camera): When people hear the word vaccine, they think this is something to prevent disease.


GUPTA: But that - that's not what's happening here exactly.

SAMPSON: No, it's not.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. John Sampson helped develop the vaccine.

SAMPSON: Essentially, all the cells in our body have a fingerprint. The fingerprint on your cells are different than the fingerprint on my cells. But the immune system can recognize differences in those fingerprints.

GUPTA: The vaccine has a futuristic name. It's called CDX-110. it uses the body's own immune system to attack tumor cells.

It wouldn't work on every GBM patient, just the 40 percent or so whose tumors make one particular protein. In those patients, it goes off like a smart bomb.

SAMPSON: So, unlike chemotherapy, which really hurts all dividing cells in the body, or radiation, the immune system can be absolutely precise, and so we get a very tumor specific attack with very low toxicity.

GUPTA: Which means the patients don't get as sick.

Now, Karen gets a shot, a painful one, every month. But look at the results.

We were able to pay her another visit, a full year later. Remember, most patients don't even live that long.

VANEMAN: As long as the vaccine works, then I'll be getting the monthly shots. And when it doesn't work, then I'm in trouble.

GUPTA (on camera): What can we say about this vaccine now and what - in terms of educating a patient about it? What do you tell them in terms of what it promises?

SAMPSON: We're always careful not to over promise what something can deliver, and this is still in an experimental stage. But patients are living two to three times longer with the vaccine than we would have expected.

GUPTA (voice-over): As much as six years in some cases, with no signs of returning cancer.

GUPTA (on camera): Well, we know that Duke has been doing this for about six year now and gotten the results that - that you just heard about. But the real key now is to try to duplicate and replicate the same results across the country in many different hospitals, and that's what's under way now, about 100 parents around the country sort of participating in those trials now.

The real question that people want to answer is can you treat this type of tumor, this deadly tumor, more safely and more effectively than we do now? And when those results come to us, we'll certainly bring them to you.

Back to you for now.


BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much. And Sanjay, as you probably know, is a neurosurgeon himself.

Back from the front lines, CNN's Atia Abawi was embedded with U.S. Marines throughout Afghanistan's biggest military offensive. She'll give us a briefing right here on "THE SITUATION ROOM".

And two leading African-American politicians now find their careers threatened by scandal. When things go wrong, do blacks in office face greater scrutiny than white politicians?


BLITZER: U.S.-led forces are wrapping up the biggest military offensive since the start of the war in Afghanistan, a clear effort to try to clear out the Taliban from strongholds, including in Marjah.

CNN's Atia Abawi was embedded with the U.S. Marines, but now she's here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

We saw your reports on a daily basis. You did very, very important, good work for all of us.

Let's talk a little bit about this offensive. Has it succeeded?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a - that's a question that's being asked right now all over Afghanistan. When you talk to the Afghan people, they'll tell you right now they're not sure if it succeeded yet or if it will succeed at the moment because when you look at the operation, it's more than just military operation.

Right now you look at - you have look at the fact that they want the Afghan government right there. They want them to succeed, but we also have to remember, back in May of 2009, the coalition forces went into Marjah, they left into the hands of the Afghan government and the Afghan forces, and the people of Marjah didn't like that. They didn't trust the Afghan forces. Therefore, they welcomed the Taliban back.

The main question is if - if they're going to do the clear hold and build, build being the key issue here. The Afghan people say they want to see the building process, but they're not sure if that's going to happen.

BLITZER: Well, so much of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal eventually will depend on the ability, the reliability of the Afghan forces. Are they up to the job? What was your impression?

ABAWI: I'm going to be really honest with you, Wolf, the team - the team that I was with, the Marines I was with, 16 Alpha Company, the Afghan forces that were correlated, that went parallel with the Marines there, I can tell you right now, they weren't ready for it.

The Marines were taking the lead. They were the ones fighting into Marjah. They were the ones that are - were battling with the Taliban as the Afghan forces that I was with were actually laying down, relaxing when people were pushing them to get up. They wouldn't get up. In fact, they were annoyed that the people tried to actually get them up to fight.

But, that being said, later on, I did go see other units. I did see other Afghan soldiers with those units who were more willing to fight. In fact, I met a captain, an Afghan captain, who saved the lives of two Marines by pushing them back from stepping on a pressure plate.

That being said, this operation was built up to show the - the force of the Afghan army, and right now, I can tell you that the Afghan people know this, and I'm sure that most of the Afghan soldiers know it too. They can't do it on their own. They don't have the capability. They don't even have the equipment to do it.

We went out in this air strike, pitch black night, it was the Afghan forces who didn't even have night vision goggles. They're not ready. They don't have the equipment, and right now it seems to be more about quantity than quality to build up the troop force.

BLITZER: The Marines you were with, do they trust these Afghan forces who occasionally joined them?

ABAWI: Not the Marines that I was with. They - they knew that they couldn't rely on the Afghan forces.

When they talk to you off camera, when they talk to you without their faces being known, without their names being known, they told me that they don't trust the Afghan soldiers right now. They said that they can't rely on them.

But I did talk to one Marine who said that he sees it as a little brother. It's a little brother that you take to a kickball game, he said. He said they need to see you play, they need to see how you do it and they need to learn from you. And that's the way he described it and I thought it was a perfect way of actually describing what needs to be done.

BLITZER: So what's the next step in the U.S. strategy?

ABAWI: Well, right now many are talking about Kandahar. Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban. This is a place that was the capital for the Taliban regime from '96 to 2001, and I've been to Kandahar plenty of times to tell you that they do have a hold in Kandahar.

Kandahar City is not really run by the Afghan government, even though President Karzai's brother himself is the head of the provincial counsel there. Many people are saying that Marjah was just a starting point and that Kandahar is next.

Right now we're waiting to see exactly when Kandahar will happen and how they'll approach it.

BLITZER: You did a great job. When are you going back?

ABAWI: I'll actually be back in a couple of weeks.

BLITZER: All right. So just be careful when you go back.

Can we just get that picture of Atia when she was embedded with the U.S. Marines? Can we get that up on the screen to show the contrast?

There you are, right there, Atia. Take a look. That's what you looked like at that point. And take a look how glamorous and beautiful you look right now? What a difference a few thousand miles makes, right?

ABAWI: I think it is CNN's makeup people that do a great job.

BLITZER: You did a great job for us. Thanks very much.

ABAWI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Two African-Americans in power come under greater scrutiny when they're touched by scandal. I'll ask a former office holder about the problems facing two top black politicians right now.

And an all-star lineup of presidential impersonators offering advice to the current occupant of the White House. It's "Moost Unusual".


BLITZER: More now on our top story, the president urges Congress to push ahead on the health bill. As lawmakers plot what's next, we're wondering how might one group in particular fare under a sweeping health reform?


BLITZER: Joining us now is Mark Morial. He's the CEO of the National Urban League, celebrating 100 years.


BLITZER: Let's - we'll talk a little bit about that later.

On health care reform, African-Americans suffer disproportionately from uninsurance. We looked at this Gallup poll, June of last year, almost 20 percent, non-Hispanics blacks, do not have health insurance. That compares with non-Hispanic whites of about 12 percent right now.

On the left, some are disappointed that the president has given up on the so-called public option. Are you among them?

MORIAL: I'd like to see a public option, but at the end of the day, what's important is to have a strong bill that provides an opportunity for every American to get coverage, and I think the fact that black Americans and brown Americans are disproportionately underinsured or uninsured, this bill would - would reflect a strong step in the right direction.

BLITZER: Is it a strong bill, though? Is it not as strong as you would have liked?

MORIAL: The good - the good should never be the enemy of the perfect. Maybe there's a more perfect bill out there, but there's not a better bill that the president can get the votes he needs to pass it at this time.

BLITZER: Now, from the perspective of African-Americans, is it going to get the job done?

MORIAL: I - I think eventually it will get the job done. I think -

BLITZER: What does that mean, eventually? MORIAL: That means that the implementation phase for this bill is going to take a number of years, and I think that for uninsured people, the fact that over a period of years they will have insurance, they will have coverage, starts the road to better health.

It's not automatic. Having health insurance is an important component of a healthier community. But more has to be done.

BLITZER: Sensitive issue we've seen the last few days, the governor of New York, David Paterson, facing enormous problems now. He's not going to run for election in November. Charlie Rangel has been in Congress for 40 years. He's stepping down temporarily as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Jill Tubman, writing at says this, "Let this be a lesson to African-Americans in power. If you break any rules or accepted mores, you will get thrown under the bus quicker, most likely, than a non-black politician who does the same thing." Do you agree with her?

MORIAL: Well, that's always been the case. It's all -

BLITZER: Do you think that's still the case right?

MORIAL: I think it's still the case that African-American elected officials are going to experience a greater degree of scrutiny in many cases.

BLITZER: Because there'd been plenty of white politicians who have gone down, Mark Sanford in South Carolina, Blagojevich in Illinois. They - they were taken down pretty quickly.

MORIAL: If you look historically, certainly what she says is indeed the case.

Let me say this about Chairman Rangel. He's been a great member of Congress. He's been a great leader for Harlem and for New York and for the nation.

I think today he did something that only a person of his courage, only a person of his standing could do in that he put the interests of his party, he put the interests of the nation, ahead of his own personal interests. He could have fought and fought and fought, but I think by deciding to step aside temporarily he demonstrated the type of character he is.

BLITZER: But he faced the resolution of disapproval on the House floor today, including a lot of yea votes from - from not only Democrats, but from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

MORIAL: And there's no doubt that perhaps he - he could not have prevailed with that type of situation. But the most important thing is, let's say that Charlie Rangel put the interests of the nation and the interest of his party ahead of his own political - personal political interest and let's not - even though he's experiencing some difficulties at this time, let's not put that ahead of this distinguished 40-year career as an advocate for cities, as an advocate for the disadvantaged, and as someone who's always demonstrated a great deal of collegiality in the Congress.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, thanks for coming in.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The CEO of the National Urban League, doing important work for 100 years. The former mayor of New Orleans too.

MORIAL: And go to to learn more about the National Urban League Centennial.

BLITZER: What is that website?


BLITZER: Marc, thanks very much for coming in.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.


BLITZER: Think of it as the ultimate "Saturday Night Live" skit, featuring some legendary presidential spoofers. Stand by for this "Moost Unusual" reunion video.


BLITZER: And now, CNN's Jeanne Moos on this "Moost Unusual" presidential parody.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If a get together featuring five real presidents was a big deal -

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an extraordinary gathering.

MOOS: Yes, well, then, so is this.

DANA CARVEY, ACTOR: Now listen Borat.

FRED ARMISEN: It's Barack.

MOOS: The most famous presidential impersonators of all time gathered in one room to offer advice to the Obamas.

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Man, that Michelle has got some legs on her.

ARMISEN: How'd you two get in here?

FERRELL: The security code is still 1, 2, 3, 4 from when I was pres. Only took me five times to remember it. MOOS: "Saturday Night Live" stars like Will Ferrell -

CHASE: Betty, did you change the locks again?

MOOS: -- and Chevy Chase playing Gerald Ford -

CARVEY: Yes, well, if you had listened to me, you would have raised taxes.

MOOS: -- and Dana Carvey doing George Bush Sr. -

CARVEY: Yes, that second term of yours was a real victory lap, wasn't it dubbers?

MOOS: -- topped off with Jim Carrey as Ronald Reagan.

JIM CAREY, ACTOR: To help Mr. Reach Across the Aisles here grow a pair.

MOOS: It was a reunion of the presidents of comedy, says director Jake Szymanski.

JAKE SZYMANSKI, DIRECTOR: Absolutely. It was incredible.

MIKE FARAH, PRODUCER, "FUNNY OR DIE": And they're just as excited as everyone else. I mean, they are - they're all friends and know each other, but they haven't done anything like this before. So everyone's kind of just looking around saying, you know, I can't believe this is happening.

MOOS: The comedians donated their time to make this "Funny or Die" video to push for financial reform in the creation of -

CAREY: The Consumer Protection Agency.

MOOS: The video, shot in a day from noon to midnight -

RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR: Close-up of everybody.

MOOS: -- was directed by Ron Howard.

FERRELL: When I put the Iraq War on my credit card, I never dreamed I'd be paying 28 percent in interest rates.

GEORGE W. BUSH JR., FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank the president-elect for joining the ex-presidents.

MOOS (on camera): Occasionally, the real presidents were unintentionally almost as funny as their impersonators.

MOOS (voice-over): For instance, when George Bush Sr. almost shook hands with his hanky or when Bill Clinton got lovey-dovey about the Oval Office rug.


MOOS: Of course, only the impersonators could bring back departed presidents.

CAREY: I'm dead, but I'm going to be a guest on "Dancing with the Stars" this season.

MOOS: Both the real presidents and the impersonators took a group photo. Should you decide to do what the video says and call your senator, make sure you use the phone, not the glass.

Jeanne Moos, CNN -

CARVEY: President Barack-adal-badominal (ph) -

MOOS: -- New York.


BLITZER: Very funny. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". The news continues next on CNN.