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Obama Criticized for Changing Stance on Terror Trials; Northrop Grumman Will Not Bid on Refueling Tanker Contract

Aired March 8, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Rick, thanks very much.

President Obama injects anger into his final push for health care reform. Stand by to find out who or what got him all fired up and whether this new strategy is likely to get him across the finish line.

Also this hour, a Democrat Congressman is resigning and he's not going quietly. Eric Massa claims House leaders want to get rid of him, but not because he's facing an ethics investigation.

And she was pulled from the rubble of the Haiti earthquake just two months old. Now she's been thrown into an international custody battle. We'll follow up on the story of a rescued orphan who may not be an orphan after all.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


If you listened to President Obama today, it's hard to tell which he dislikes more -- the political culture of Washington, D.C. or the health insurance industry. They were both prime targets of his remarks in Pennsylvania -- part of his final push for health care reform.

Listen to his opening shot.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you're in Washington, folks respond to every issue, every decision, every debate -- no matter how important it is -- with the same question -- well, what does this mean for the next election?

What does it mean for your poll numbers?

Is this good for the Democrats or good for the Republicans?

Who won the news cycle?

That's just how Washington is. They can't help it.


BLITZER: The president went on to slam private health insurance. He recounted what he says an insurance broker told investors of Goldman Sachs during a recent conference call.


OBAMA: This broker said that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep on raising premiums. But because there's so little competition in the insurance industry, they're OK with people being priced out of the insurance market because, first of all, a lot of folks are going to be stuck. And even if some people drop out, they'll still make more money by raising premiums on customers that they keep. And they will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with it.

I mean, this is no secret. They're telling their investors this -- we are in the money.


BLITZER: In the end, the president tried to get voters as fired up about passing health care reform as he is.


OBAMA: And I'll be honest with you, I don't know how passing health care will play politically, but I do know that it's the right thing to do. It's right for our families. It's right for our businesses. It's right for the United States of America. And if you share that belief, I want you to stand with me and fight with me. And I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these next two weeks.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is watching all of this.

Is this a new tone on the part of the president?


When you talk to some of the president's top aides, Wolf, what they say are two big things going on.

Number one, you heard the president talking about politics there. He's trying to reframe this debate. There are so many nervous Democrats looking at the mid-term elections thinking health care is a loser for them and trying to say, look, regardless of what you think about the politics winds, this is the right thing to do and in the long term, it will help you.

Secondly, I just talked to a White House aide who was saying basically they feel that -- you mentioned that Goldman Sachs investor call, where there was this analyst basically saying that even if they lose people and more people lose their coverage, they'll make up the money with -- with the insurance premium hikes. This White House aide was saying, look, the insurance companies are handing us a gift. It's sort of a weapon right now -- one story after another about insurance premium hikes. They are saying this will be a major part of what they're calling the closing argument in this debate now.

And what I found most interesting, though, is that after this big rally where the president no doubt was very fired up, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, now a Democrat running a tough race in Pennsylvania, said he thought the president was very strong today, but he wishes he had been more fiery, say, at the State of the Union a couple of months ago.

And that makes you wonder, is this too little too late -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because there have been a whole series of deadlines that have sort of come and go, Ed, as you know. They missed quite a few of those deadlines -- early August of last year. Labor Day came and went; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. New Year's -- still no final health care bill.

This year, the goal was to get reform passed by the president's State of the Union Address. That didn't happen. Recently, the White House has been pushing for a bill by St. Patrick's Day, before the president leaves for Asia.

Democrats desperately hope this is all said and done before Easter.

Here's the question -- will it be?

HENRY: A good question. And, you know, yesterday, when the president's Health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was on NBC, she was dancing around whether there really still was a deadline of March 18th, as Robert Gibbs said last week.

Today, I noticed the president did not mention any sort of a deadline at this big rally in Pennsylvania. So I just pressed a White House aide, is this deadline of March 18th still alive?

And they said, absolutely, there is still a firm deadline from this White House for Democratic leaders to get it done by March 18th.

But will they?

They're not sure yet. They don't have the votes yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In that speech he gave the other day, he said in the next few weeks. He wasn't specific with a deadline, as...

HENRY: That's right.

BLITZER: -- as you recall.

Let me move on to another issue, because there's an intriguing development that happened at the White House today. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, all of a sudden shows up, what, with Chuck Schumer at the White House, to meet with the president to discuss immigration reform?

HENRY: Absolutely. You know, sort of unexpected you'd see this political odd couple. But what's interesting, we just got a development in the last couple of moments, Wolf. It turns out the meeting did not go forward and it's not for political reasons. It turns out there was a flight delay for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. So he ended up not making this meeting.

But the story behind it is that Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham, Democrat and Republican, have a bipartisan immigration reform bill that they're trying to push through Congress.

The president had vowed in the campaign he'd try to tackle this issue during his first year in office. He didn't get to do that, obviously -- health care and the economy crowding it out.

But there's this big rally planned in a couple of weeks here in Washington, from immigration reform advocates saying the president hasn't done enough.

So I think the back story here is the White House was trying to put this meeting to try to show they're going to get some momentum on the issue when they're facing so much criticism.

A White House aide just told me they're going to have a meeting now with some of these rally folks who are upset about the president's efforts so far, this Thursday with the White House staff. And they're trying to reschedule this meeting with Senators Schumer and Graham, as well.

A big development, because they're trying to get the ball moving on immigration reform while they're trying to do a whole lot else, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's a pretty sensitive issue, as we all recall, as well.

HENRY: No doubt.

BLITZER: Ed, stand by.

As of right now, Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York is a former congressman. His resignation went into effect at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, just a few moments ago.

But the controversy over his exit may just be beginning. Massa is disputing an allegation he sexually harassed a male employee and he's accusing House leaders of essentially pushing him out of the door.

Our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following this story for us up on Capitol Hill -- all right, Brianna, what's going on? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on local radio over the weekend, Massa really took aim at the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, saying he intentionally drew attention to his ethics woes.

Now, Massa says the Democratic leaders, they want him out of Congress and it has everything to do with health care reform.

This is a vote that's expected to be very close and Massa was planning on breaking with Democratic leaders and voting no.


ERIC MASSA (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I was set up for this from the very, very beginning. If you think that somehow they didn't come after me to get rid of me because my vote is a deciding vote I the health care bill, then, ladies and gentlemen, you live today in a world that is so innocent as to not to understand what's going on in Washington, DC.

KEILAR: (voice-over): A spokesman for Hoyer's office says that's completely false and there is zero merit to that accusation.

Massa is facing an ethics inquiry for making one of his male staffers uncomfortable, according to a senior Democratic aide, who says the allegations involved a sexual implication. Massa has acknowledged: "My own language failed to meet the standards that I set for all around me and myself."

But on a local radio station in his Upstate New York district, he said the incident in question took place at the wedding of one of his staffers -- painting a picture of lewd, locker room banter.

MASSA: A staff member made an intonation to me that maybe that I should be chasing after the bridesmaid. And his points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that.

And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, "Well, what I really ought to be doing is fraking (ph) you and then tossed the guy -- tousled the guy's hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn't right for me to be there.

Now, was that inappropriate of me?


Am I guilty?



KEILAR: Hoyer's office denies that his acknowledgement of these ethics issues has anything to do with health care. His office says he was just trying to do the right thing, that if leadership knows about an ethics concern, it is incumbent on them to make sure the Ethics Committee is aware -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he right when he says he was the deciding vote on health care reform in the House?

KEILAR: You know, it's really too soon to tell right now, to have an accurate vote count. But what you can say is that with having one less no vote, Wolf, that's certainly a good thing for Democratic leaders, because it means they don't have to match it with a yes vote. But overall, would you say he is the deciding vote?

It's just really too soon to tell.

BLITZER: Eric Massa will be a guest of Larry King tomorrow night here on CNN. We'll hear what else he has to say then.

Thanks very much, Brianna.

In Iraq, officials are preparing to announce initial results from the parliamentary elections in a matter of hours and the top U.S. military commander in Iraq says he's ready to declare the weekend vote a success.

General Raymond Odierno tells me he's pleased with the turnout and he says violence was kept relatively low.

I asked him how that might affect U.S. troops and the timetable for withdrawal.


BLITZER: Does that mean that the U.S. Forces -- the military forces which you command -- will be able to withdraw on schedule?

And just to remind our viewers, by the end of this August, 50,000 combat troops are supposed to be out. And then by the end of next year, 2011, the remaining 50,000 are supposed to be out.

Is all of that on schedule?

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, U.S. COMMANDER, IRAQ: I feel confident that it is. This is an evolutionary process. And we've been slowly turning over more and more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces. And I believe today that by August, we'll be able to be down to 50,000 people. And I believe by the end of 2011, we will leave Iraq.


BLITZER: The interview with General Odierno airs in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- the full interview. Stand by for that.

President Obama seems to be getting flak from all sides these days and he may not find protection inside the walls of the White House. Up next, the drama inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- why some may liken it to an episode of "Lost." Stay with us.



BLITZER: President Obama now has a nominee for a job that's critical to the safety of millions of American travelers. The Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, made the announcement today after many months of criticism for leaving the post unfilled.

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

She has details -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there has been a gap in the government's security team. The Transportation Security Administration has not had a leader since the Bush administration.

Now, a new name has been put forward.


MESERVE: (voice-over): Robert Harding is a retired major general with 33 years of Army service, much of it in top military intelligence jobs.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: If there were ever a nominee who warranted expedited and detailed consideration in the Senate, this is it.

MESERVE: Erroll Southers, the previous nominee, never did get a full Senate vote. He withdrew his name after changing his account of a disciplinary matter when he was an FBI agent. But even before that arose, Senator Jim DeMint put a hold on Souther's nomination over unionizing TSA officers. DeMint says unionization would slow the agency's responsiveness.

But one of the unions involved says it shouldn't be an issue.

JOHN GAGE, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: Those who say that they're going to hold this up and then in the same breath say they're worried about national security, they ought to look at what they're saying. They're hurting national security more by not getting a leader in place for TSA.

MESERVE: It is unclear whether DeMint will hold up the Harding nomination over unionization. For now, he is non-committal, saying in a statement: "I'm interested in hearing how his military experience would inform his leadership of our nation's transportation security."


MESERVE: Nothing in Harding's resume indicates a background in TSA's domain of aviation and transportation. But experts we spoke to today felt his intelligence background is a big plus, especially in the aftermath of the attempt Christmas Day bombing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zany other areas in his background likely to get scrutiny?

MESERVE: I would think so, Wolf. After he left the military, he started up a consulting firm that did intelligence work for the U.S. Government. It's likely those contracts may get a little scrutiny. We tried to ask some questions about those things today, but the Homeland Security secretary wasn't taking any questions on this intent to nominate this candidate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So I'm sure we'll cover the -- the confirmation hearings up on the Hill thoroughly.

Jeanne, thank you.

Now to something new that's brewing in the world of politics -- key word, brewing. It's sort of like the very popular and influential Tea Party movement, but with a twist.

Our Lisa Sylvester is looking into this story for us -- so what is brewing?

SYLVESTER: Well, pull up to the table, Wolf, because there is a new political drink. This one is not about tea. It's the Coffee Party movement.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Coffee with a side of politics -- the Coffee Party is branding itself as the alternative to the Tea Party movement. Sunday, a small group gathered at the One World Cafe for the first meeting of the Baltimore chapter. Among them, Geralyn MacVittie. She says she's tired of rhetoric coming from conservatives.

GERALYN MACVITTIE, BALTIMORE COFFEE PARTY: I don't think the -- the moderate people, I don't think the more reasonable people, whether they agree with me or disagree with me, are being heard.

SYLVESTER: Members lean to the left and share common goals -- stop the shouting and get things done in Washington.

KRIS SIELOFF, BALTIMORE COFFEE PARTY: We want to operate using civility rather than hateful rhetoric.

KEVIN ZEESE, BALTIMORE COFFEE PARTY: I'm hopeful this would be an independent political movement -- independent of the two parties -- and really develop pressure to push the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, in the right direction.

SYLVESTER: The national group has taken off -- weekly meetings around the country, from St. Louis to D.C. to Knoxville, Tennessee. Anabel Park is the partner.

ANNABEL PARK, COFFEE PARTY FOUNDER: We are trying to change our political culture. We're not trying to start a third party. We have to approach the entire process with the understanding that we already are a community. We have shared goals and values and that we can't get divided and separated over our differences, right?

No more grandstanding. You know, that should not be rewarded.

SYLVESTER: But conservative bloggers see the coffee group as a watered down version of the Tea Party movement. They say Park is a political operative who has worked as a volunteer for the Obama campaign in 2008 and before that, for Democratic James Webb's campaigns -- and dismissed the Coffee Party as not populism, but political froth.

JIM HOFT, ST. LOUIS TEA PARTY: It's driven from the top down. It's not a -- it's not a grassroots movement coming from the bottom up.

SYLVESTER: But the coffee movement now has more than 60 groups nationwide. And on Facebook, the number of fans has grown from 9,000 members to more than 90,000 in the last three weeks.


SYLVESTER: Anabel Park's response about being involved with the Obama campaign -- she doesn't see a problem with it. She says there are many people in the group with many different political backgrounds and that, ultimately, it's a group about engaged citizens.

March 13th, they're planning a national Coffee Party today. And this summer, Wolf, they're planning on having a convention.

BLITZER: Tea Party, Coffee Party -- we'll watch them all.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

If that cheap Internet airfare sounds too good to be true, guess what?

It just might be.

Why the Transportation Department is now slapping U.S. Airways with a hefty fine.


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

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, U.S. Airways has been slapped with a $40,000 fine for advertising Internet travel deals that were too cheap to be true. The airline's Web site advertised the price for one way fares without showing the taxes and fees that would be tacked on. The Transportation Department says that's against the rules. Legal documents show the airline blames the violation on an inadvertent programming error.

And a Kansas City church that loudly protests soldiers' funerals will have its free speech case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The protesters carry signs with messages such as, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," saying God is using troop deaths as punishment for homosexuality. The Westborough Baptist Church was successfully sued by the father of a fallen soldier in Maryland, but that ruling was overturned. And the Justices decided today that they will hear the father's appeal during the high court's fall term.

Part of a mountainside came tumbling down in Colorado, punching big holes into a stretch of Interstate about 120 miles from Denver. Now parts of I-70 near Glenwood Springs are closed and construction crews -- well, they certainly have got their work cut out for them. Transportation officials say about 20 boulders smashed into the roadway and at least one of the holes is large enough to swallow an SUV.

You've got to be careful there.

A balloon powered banner landed three Greenpeace activists in trouble with the law. They were arrested for releasing the floating protest sign inside the Senate Hart Office Building. It criticized Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, for her ties to Exxon, Chevron and Southern Company. A Murkowski spokesman says the senator believes the American people deserve a full debate about EPA regulation of greenhouse gases -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

We're going to get back to you, as well.

The political life of health care reform -- what's going on and what's the role being played by the White House chief of staff?

We'll talk about Rahm Emanuel and how he's fighting an army of critics. James Carville and Ed Rollins, they're standing by for our Strategy Session.

And 10 years after John McCain said he was a victim of a smear campaign, former Bush adviser Karl Rove reveals what he says he knows and doesn't know about it.


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

Happening now, the Dubai murder mystery grows, as Interpol widens its search for another 16 suspects possibly linked to the slaying of a Hamas leader.

But are investigators any closer to catching an assassin?

Plus, growing backlash from conservatives against Dick Cheney's daughter -- why some on the right say she's wrong about the Obama Justice Department.

And a baby heroically pulled from the rubble in Haiti. But now that she's in the United States, complicated questions about whether the infant is an orphan, after all.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama struggling right now to keep his White House focused and united as he plays out his engen -- end game for health care reform. He reportedly urged staffers not to get distracted by any disputes or drama inside the White House.

That may be easier said than done.

Let's discuss with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- Gloria, let me read to you from a new article in the new issue of "The New Yorker." George Packer, a well known writer, saying this: "To be an effective communicator, a president needs a strong world view; a fundamental vision of why things are the way they are and how they ought to be, which can be simplified into a few key ideas and images -- in short, an ideology. For Obama and his advisers, there is no worse pejorative."

Pretty strong words.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it -- it is really strong. You know, this is a group of people who really don't like the ideological typecasting of Washington. You always hear the president talking about the cable chatter, the right and the left. And they wanted to break through that and find the center.

But ironically, by not being able to secure that center, what they've done is they've made this town much more ideologically rigid.

And it -- it's exactly the opposite, Wolf, of what they intended to do when they came into office.

BLITZER: That article was entitled "Obama's Lost Year: The President's Failure to Connect with Ordinary Americans."

Has he failed to connect with ordinary Americans?

BORGER: When you talk to people in Washington, they say, yes, that's it. Some blame the crowded agenda and say he should have focused on jobs from -- from day one, he shouldn't have done health care.

But lots of people say a couple of things. First of all, the Economic Recovery Act. They feel that this president really hasn't explained it well enough to people. They believe the stimulus, the Recovery Act, the bank bailout, are all the same thing.

And it's hard to say to people, look, I really saved a lot of jobs, when it's the teachers that weren't laid off who might have been laid off had they not gotten this money in there in their school districts. There are folks in Congress, particularly Democrats who say, he should have been talking a lot more about that. Then he got off on health care reform, and had a mixed message on that, Wolf, started talking about it as a way to reduce the deficit, then talked about it as health insurance reform. He doesn't communicate with the American people about how this bill was going to make their insurance better. In fact, he didn't communicate an awful lot about how it was going to insure another 30 million more people. So, again, the great communicator, who did so well during the campaign, somehow lost his voice in all of this, and that's what people are scratching their heads about.

BLITZER: He's not only being hit from the right, but being hit from the left as well, this ACLU ad that sees Barack Obama morphing into George W. Bush because of his changing policies at Guantanamo Bay and where to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other terror detainees. It's a serious potential problem.

BORGER: It is a problem for him, and a lot of his left base also doesn't like the health care reform bill, because it doesn't contain the public option, which is something they wanted. I think in this white house from talking to folks there it's very clear they understood that at a certain point they would have part ways with their more liberal base, but what folks are worried about, Wolf, is heading into this midterm election, you have a lot of Democrats whose seats are on the line here. What you need to protect those Democratic seats is an intense turnout. This president was able to do that in 2008. He changed the composition, brought in younger voters, minority voters. The question is will he be able to help the Democrats get their voters out in the fall or whether this liberal base, which is pretty turned off, will sit on its hand and say, you know what? Can't help you now.

BLITZER: We're so happy you made your debut on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend. We've got the clips, we'll show the viewers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We go now live to another part of the studio where senior political analyst Gloria Borger will read a stranger's e- mail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Wolf. This just in, Mike Dagastino from UC Davis writes, "I think the real problem on campus is the food. Why I got to eat turkey burgers every day and why they don't serve dinner at 3 a.m when I hungry? And where my Frisbee at?" Probing questions, Mike. Back to you, Wolf.

BORGER: Well, back to you, Wolf. Anytime Kristin can play me, I'm thrilled.

BLITZER: It was pretty cool.

BORGER: It was a lot of fun.

BLITZER: You're huge.

BORGER: My kids are thrilled.

BLITZER: I know. Good work. Gloria Borger will be back.

This note to our viewers, tomorrow major discussion here in THE SITUATION ROOM on education. Bill Bennett, the Reagan education secretary and Arne Duncan, the Obama education secretary, they're both here together. Is there areas of compromise, areas of bipartisan agreement? Differences? We'll talk about education, a major discussion tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We heard President Obama rail about Washington turning politics into sport. Does he have a point? We'll speak about it with James Carville and Ed Rollins. They're standing by for our strategy session.

The mystery and conflicting information surrounding an alleged al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan. Why there's so much confusion about who this man really is. Yet no one knows our name.


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

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. A man charged with helping a terrorist organization in Somalia made an appearance in a New York courtroom this afternoon. A 13 page indictment unsealed today accused Mohammed Ahmed of training with the group al Shab, and providing material support. The state department lists this as a terrorist organization trying to impose strict Islamic law throughout Somalia. His lawyer says he'll plead not guilty.

A death row inmate in Ohio managed to overdose on pills just hours before his scheduled execution. Now Governor Ted Strickland is postponing the lethal injection for one week as Lawrence Reynolds, Jr. recovers at a hospital. The convicted murderer is said to be in stable condition. Now word on what kind of pills he took or how he managed to get them. An investigation is under way at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.

And if a vaccine gives your child serious health problems, can you sue? The Supreme Court decided today it will take on the case. Parents in Pittsburgh want to sue Wyeth over the serious side effects they say their infant daughter suffered after she took the company's diphtheria tetanus and whooping cough vaccine, but an appeals court says a federal law bars their claim.

He's known by some as Rahm-bo. Are the tough politics of chief of staff Rahm Emanuel helping or hurting his boss's agenda? Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have a good discussion on that with James Carville and Ed Rollins, Lisa. They're standing by for our strategy session.

Plus he started out as a comedian on "Saturday Night Live" so why is Senator Al Franken featured in a new comic book?


BLITZER: A developing story, significant developing story. Let's go back to Lisa.

Lisa, what are you picking up?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, this is a real significant development for anyone who has been following closely the story of the tanker. This is to build whether or not and where the next generation of air refueling tanker will be built, and we are just hearing that Northrop Grumman who was up against competition against Boeing, that Northrop Grumman has pulled out of the competition. We have a quote that we can read, this statement coming in from Northrop Grumman company CEO Wes Bush. He said the contract does not provide adequate value recognition of the added capability of a larger tanker precluding us from any competitive opportunity. To essentially break that down, what that means is Boeing was offering a smaller plane, the 767 as the model of what they would build. Northrop Grumman had a larger plane. Northrop Grumman was actually awarded the contract in 2008, but Boeing protested because they were opposing essentially the conditions, saying the pentagon changed some of the rules and requirements of what they were looking for. Boeing protested. Now in the end, you can see that Boeing is now the only competitor left so that this contract will likely go -- by the way, I should say Wolf, it's a $35 billion contract, really big win for workers in Washington state and Kansas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant story all around. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

The time for debate is over. When it comes to health care reform, President Obama is keeping Washington and the news media in the cross hairs. He was all fired up talking in Philadelphia earlier.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Who won the news cycle? That's just how Washington is, they can't help it. They are obsessed with the sport of politics. And so that's the environment in which elected officials are operating. You've seen all the pundits pontificating and talking all over each other, yelling, shouting, and they can't help themselves. That's what they do.

BLITZER: Let's discuss what the president is saying with David Gergen, our senior political analyst and our CNN political contributors James Carville and Ed Rollins. James, you're smiling like that. In my many years here in Washington, whenever a politician goes after the news media like that, it's a sign of trouble for the politician. JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is. Maybe the president was surprised to find pundits when he came to Washington, but we've been around for quite a while. I don't know, we're probably not deserving of very much, but I don't know if we deserve all the attention we're getting from the president. But we're here and having here for a while and probably be around for a while.

BLITZER: He doesn't like that cable chatter. Ed, you're a part of that cable chatter.

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I've been -- I was in the white house when cable was in its infancy, but certainly it's had an impact. The bottom line he's the 44th man to serve in the oval office. Every single president at some point in time has complained about the media, whether it was pamphlet in the early days of George Washington or whether it's cable television in today. I've found the presidents have two great days in the white house, one the day they get inaugurated, and the second day is when they're out having their library dedicated and everything else between is trench warfare. I think if things aren't going well, there's no staff dissent. If things aren't going well, which they're not going well for this president, then there's a lot of staff dissent and they start a lot of finger pointing. I think this president comes off very whiney, and I think it's beneath him. He picked the agenda, he ran with the agenda. He's had a year to sell health care, he's not made a case to the American public, and at the end of the day, he can't whine about it.

BLITZER: David, if there was ever a president with favorable media attention, it was this president. He really did have a nice honeymoon as far as I can recall.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He had an extraordinary honeymoon as a candidate and the early days of his presidency. I think some points he's making are well taken. He and a number of his aides have been making these points incessantly for a period of weeks, but I think Ed Rollins has the bigger point. When you're president, you don't whine about these things, you learn to play the game well, and you master the game so that you get your things done. Everybody inherits politics in Washington that is imperfect. It's a terrible politics in Washington today. We believe the political culture is poison out, but the point is to learn to master it so that it responds to you. I think they ought to stop talking about these things and just get on with it.

BLITZER: I think that's an excellent point. Isn't that why there are David Axelrods or Robert Gibbs in the white house so they can whine about the coverage, but is it beneath the president to do so?

CARVILLE: He has the North Koreans to deal with, he's got the Iranians to deal with, he's got the Congress to deal with, he's got unemployment and collapse in the housing market. He's got enough to not worry about us flapping our jaws, but the truth of the matter is he's in a pretty good position to succeed. I think they're awfully close to having the votes on this health care thing which will be utterly historic, and if he gets this thing to his desk, we'll cover this thing like you've never seen. I think the economy a lot of people think it will create jobs before long, so look, Mr. President if you're coming in September with health care legislation and the economy is on the mend again, you'll be doing pretty good. Just give it a little time. Maybe this thing will may out your way, but we're not your problem.

BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of focus on Rahm Emanuel, the white house chief of staff, some people are saying the president should have listened more, others you say he's way out on the sides right now. How do you read -- what do you interpret this little battle over Rahm Emanuel.

ROLLINS: I've been on the opposite side of Rahm for a long time. He's one of the most able guys I've opposed. He has great skill, they're lucky to have him. At the end of the day when you're the chief of staff, no matter how able you are, whether Dick Cheney who was Ford's chief of staff or Jim Baker who was Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, you get beat up. He's getting beat up today. Part of it there's a bit of a profile problem. When you start getting front page stories saying how great you are, how smart you are, there's a bunch of people in the background who want to make sure they know you're not quite so smart. David and I have both fallen victim to this and probably did a bit of it, at the end of the day, Rahm has a tough job and I think he's been a real asset.

BLITZER: David, you worked with him in the Clinton white house.

GERGEN: I agree with Ed Rollins' assessment. I think the profiles are damaging in part, because they're doing so at the expend of the president. If the president had only been smart enough to listen to Rahm Emanuel, so goes the argument, he would be a much more effective leader right now. That's clearly not helpful. What he did the other day is call the aides and say stop this, he has to slam the gates shut on this conversation and then put his arm around Rahm Emanuel and the other aides, saying you're my guys, you're my team, let's go.

BLITZER: Wrap this up for us, James. I say that, knowing you're one of his best friends, we know that.

CARVILLE: Right. Right. You know what? He doesn't like these stories any more than other people in the white house like them. As soon as it runs in the paper in the morning, he can't eat breakfast. He knows they're not any good. They've taken a life on their own. The truth of the matter is realm's a compelling guy, and people like to write and talk about him. That's just the way it is. You know, just win, baby, get the health bill through, and get this economy on the mend, and you'll be a genius again and everybody will love everybody.

BLITZER: And more articles are on the way, including next Sunday's "New York Times" magazine has a major article by peter baker. Guys, thanks very much.

Dick Cheney's daughter Liz is getting heat from members of her own party. At issue, her group's criticism of lawyers who have represented terror suspects. Did she cross a line and undermine America's legal system? We'll hear what her critics and defenders are saying.


BLITZER: On our political ticker Senator Al Franken will soon be able to add comic book hero to his resume. Blue Water Productions says the comic Al Franken Political Power is due out in May and will trace his career from comedian and writer for "Saturday Night Live" to radio talk show host to junior senator from Minnesota. Other politicians featured in earlier comics include President Obama and President Reagan and the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Karl Rove said he has nothing to do with the 2000 smear campaign against John McCain. The former aid to President George W. Bush insists he was not the source of the rumor during the presidential campaign that McCain fathered a black child out of wedlock, but Rove said he was an easy target for critics. That was a false rumor. The McCain's had adopted an orphan from Bangladesh.

President Obama welcomed the national championship University of Alabama football team to the white house today. He congratulated the Crimson Tide for their undefeated season and even joked about an aid not in attendance.

OBAMA: Welcome to the white house. Congratulations on your 13th -- let me check that -- 13th national championship the first in 17 years. It's safe to say the Tide is back. I've got to tell you everyone was really excited about this team coming today except for my Press Secretary Robert Gibbs because he was born and raised in Auburn. He's hiding in his office right now.

BLITZER: The president received a football helmet and a jersey from the Alabama players.

An orphan pulled from the rubble who may not really be an orphan. We're going to earthquake-ravaged Haiti for the details of a complicated custody battle.


BLITZER: She was believed to be one of Haiti's many orphans. A baby girl dramatically rescued from the ruins of the deadly earthquake and brought to the United States. Now there are questions about whose baby this is. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now, just back from Haiti where you have been investigating. What did you find out?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, this baby is very close to my heart. I was there in January watching as the doctors tried to rescue her. I never thought the story would continue like this.


COHEN: I was at this hospital in Port-au-Prince about seven weeks ago when I witnessed an incredible rescue of a tiny baby. She was just 2 months old when she was pulled from the rubble. She'd been there alone for five days. The baby girl was near death, barely breathing. Doctors from project Medishare at the University of Miami fought to stabilize her so they could fly her to a hospital in the United States. Doctors thought the baby was an orphan and told the ambulance driver they'd name the baby after her if she got to the plane on time and she did. The driver's name was Patricia. I thought it was a simple, happy ending, but it turns out the story is far from simple. A couple from Haiti has now come forward claiming that baby Patricia is their daughter. They say she's no orphan and that her name isn't Patricia, it's Jenny and they want her back.

We're told the parents live here in one of these tent cities. I'm going to try to find them.

What does that mean? It's beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time I think of Jenny, I want to go crazy. I lose my mind.

COHEN: This man and his wife say they are the baby's parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the baby's card.

COHEN: These are her vaccinations, doctors' notes.

You say this is your baby.

NADINE DEVILME: Yes, Jenny's my daughter.

COHEN: How does it feel as a mother to know your baby has just flown off without you to another country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said, I have a lot of problems, she said. I can't sleep. It's giving me a lot of problems. This is a bible I have had since the baby was born and the bible was under the baby's head always. She found the bible.

COHEN: So this baby says "Jenny Alexis born November 1, 2009 at 10:00 p.m." I have told the story to many people and they say this is just a couple in Haiti that wants to get to the United States. They are claiming a baby that's not theirs. What do they say to that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know about that, he said. We just have a baby that they took. They're helping us. They took the baby, but we're here and we're happy that they're helping the baby. But it's a help, but we need our baby.


COHEN: Wolf, I spoke with an official from the state of Florida just this afternoon. And he says there is no question in his mind that these babies are the parents'. He thinks the DNA tests will confirm it.

BLITZER: You will stay on top of this for us. Elizabeth, thank you so much.