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Health Care Push; Former Congressman Massa; Lone American Held in Haiti; President Obama Fired Up; Election Tragedies

Aired March 8, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama comes out swinging in the fight for health care reform. This hour, is he going after a couple of easy targets, and will it get him closer to victory.

Only one American missionary remains in custody in Haiti right now, an investigation of child kidnapping. She's explaining to CNN why she thinks her colleague was let go today and she wasn't.

And Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz, under fire by fellow Republicans -- did she take an unfair shot at government lawyers who once represented suspected terrorists? We'll hear from both sides.

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

If you listened to President Obama today, it's hard to tell which he dislikes more, the political culture of Washington 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 (D-IL), 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, 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 insurers, 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. There's no secret they're telling their investors this. We are in the money.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. Ed, this certainly sounds like a new tone coming from the president.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. You mentioned it was fiery, Wolf. When you talk about those two arguments, though when you break it down, the president has been talking for months about Washington and gridlock. That necessarily -- hasn't necessarily worked. And the whole argument of telling fellow Democrats, don't worry about the politics, let's just do the right thing.

He still has a lot of his fellow Democrats to bring along. I think it's that second argument that you zeroed in on that really may have some resonance. As one White House aide told me it's almost like the insurance companies keep giving the White House ammunition. You had Anthem, the insurance company talking about raising premiums up to 39 percent. Now as you mention on that investor call with Goldman Sachs investors an insurance broker suggesting that these high premiums really helping the bottom line, the profit margins of these insurance companies.

That's something that might really resonate. The president's been hitting that, but I found it interesting afterwards Democratic Senator Arlen Specter said he was really fiery. But he wishes the president had been this fiery at the State of the Union a couple of months ago. And I think that's the big question out of all of this, is it too little, too late -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well now he wants this done by the Easter recess, the whole thing done, signed into law. That's only a few weeks away, at the end of this month. Is it going to happen?

HENRY: Well that is the big question moving forward. And Robert Gibbs did set the deadline of March 18th. It was interesting and yesterday on NBC, Kathleen Sebelius, the health secretary, seemed to sort of dance around that, would not commit to that deadline. And I also noticed the president today did not talk about any deadline at all, White House aides though afterward insisting that deadline still is firm to get it done by the end of this month, essentially.

But as you know, deadline after deadline has been missed leading back through last year, into the early part of this year. And the bottom line, right now, this president just doesn't have the votes. So they can talk about deadlines, but until they get the votes in the House and Senate, the leaders are not going to call up that vote. They're not going to do that roll call and they're not going to get it done just yet, so it's still an open question --

BLITZER: Yes, he would love it to be done by that time he leaves March 18th for that trip to Asia, if not by then, by the end of the month, by the Easter recess. Let's see what happens. Ed Henry, thank you.

As of right now, Democrat Eric Massa of New York State is a former congressman. His resignation went into effect about two hours ago, but the controversy over his exit may be just beginning. Massa is disputing an allegation he sexually harassed a male staffer and he's accusing House leaders of essentially pushing him out of the door. Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is up on Capitol Hill working the story for us. What do we know, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Massa is really taking aim at the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, saying that he intentionally and maliciously has drawn attention to Massa's ethics woes. Massa went on to say the Democratic leaders want him out of Congress and it all boils down to an impending health care vote. It's expected this vote is going to be very close and Massa was planning to break with Democratic leaders and vote no.


ERIC MASSA, FORMER REP. (D), NEW YORK: 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 the deciding vote in 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, D.C.

KEILAR (voice-over): A spokesperson 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 involve 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 I should be chasing after the bridesmaid and his points were clear, 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 fracking (ph) you and then tussled 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? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes.


KEILAR: Now Hoyer's office, again, insists that he was not intentionally trying to draw attention to these allegations. They say that on Wednesday he was asked point-blank by a reporter if he was aware of these allegations before the story broke, and he said yes. Following that, his office put out a statement saying that when Hoyer was aware of these allegations, when he was made aware, he basically told his staff to tell Massa's that they needed to tell the Ethics Committee, or he, Hoyer, would. Again, Wolf, his office says this has nothing to do with health care reform.

BLITZER: Is he right when he says he's the deciding vote on health care reform?

KEILAR: No doubt this is a good thing in terms of a vote count for Democratic leaders. Because having another no vote that they don't have to contend with, they don't have to match up a yes vote to overcome that, that's good for them, in terms of the count. But it's really too early to tell, Wolf, if he really would have been, you know, the one vote that would have lost this for them.

BLITZER: Brianna is watching it up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

By the way, we're going to hear from Eric Massa tomorrow night right here on CNN. He will be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" that airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, Tuesday.

Now to Haiti, where another American missionary has been released after being held on suspicion of child kidnapping. She walked out of a police headquarters building and headed to an airport. She's one of 10 Americans detained shortly after the Haiti earthquake. Eight of her colleagues were released last month. That leaves just one, Laura Silsby, in custody right now. CNN's Sara Sidner was able to talk to Silsby about her fate.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, Sara Sidner from CNN. I just want to ask you a quick question. What did the judge say to you today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't talk about that yet. OK?

SIDNER: You're the only person left of all the missionaries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very happy that Charisa went home today, very happy for her, for her freedom and I expect that mine will soon follow.

SIDNER: Why are you the last person left though? Why do you think you're the last person --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I am the leader of the team. And they're still finishing their process.

SIDNER: Did you do anything wrong? Did you try to kidnap these children?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, of course not. I came here to help the children.



SIDNER: What's happening right now is Laura Silsby is being taken back into custody. She is now the only remaining American Baptist missionary who is accused of basically kidnapping these 33 Haitian children and trying to take them over the border without permission. She is now being taken into custody, back into custody.

She has been in custody for more than a month now. She is literally the last person left here in Haiti, because Charisa Coulter has been finally set free. She was set free by the judge today. He signed her orders. She was heading to the airport and sent home. That's the latest on the situation here. We do understand that Silsby believes that she is going to be set free herself very soon, as you just heard her say.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


BLITZER: A flash of anger from the president of the United States, is he now adding the news media to his list of culprits accused of holding up health care reform? David Gergen, James Carville and Ed Rollins, they're here to tackle that one.

Plus, the U.S. calls Iraq's election a success, but many Iraqis are paying a very heavy price for trying to exercise their right to vote. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The time for debate is now over. When it comes to health care reform, President Obama is keeping Washington and the news media right in the crosshairs. Let's listen to the president -- he was all fired up talking outside Philadelphia today.


OBAMA: Who won the news cycle? That's jut 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. And you've seen all the pundits pontificating and talking over each other on the cable shows and they're yelling and 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 politicians.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It is and 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 if we -- 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.


CARVILLE: But we're here, and been here for quite a while and probably be around for a while.

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

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I've been -- I've been -- I was in the White House when we didn't -- when cable was in its infancy. But it certainly has had an impact. The bottom line is 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's pamphlets in the early days of George Washington or whether it's cable television today. I have found that presidents usually 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. And I think if things are going well, there's no staff dissent. When things are not 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. And I think at the end of the day he needs to toughen up. He picked the agenda, he ran with the agenda. He's had a year to try and sell his health care. He's not made the case to the American public and at the end of the day he can't whine about it.

BLITZER: And David, if there was ever a president who had favorable media attention over the past year or two, 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 in the early days of his presidency. And listen, I think some of the points he's making are well taken. I think he and a number of his aides have been making these points now incessantly for a period of weeks. But I think Ed Rollins has got 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 and this is -- you know it's terrible politics in Washington today. We all agree the political culture is poisonous. But the point of being president is to learn how to master it so that you -- so it responds to you. And that's what -- you know I think they ought to stop talking about these things and just get on with leading.

BLITZER: I think that's an excellent point, James, because isn't that why there are David Axelrod's or Robert Gibbs in the White House so they can whine about the media coverage, but is it beneath the president to do so? CARVILLE: Well, he's got 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 you know unemployment and collapse in housing market. He's got enough (INAUDIBLE) about a bunch of us flapping our jaws. But the truth of the matter is, is he's in a pretty good position to succeed here.

I mean I think they're awfully close to having the votes on this health care thing, which is going to be utterly historic and for all of our carping and everything, if he gets this thing to his desk, it will cover this thing like you've never seen. I think the economy, a lot of people think (INAUDIBLE) start creating jobs here before long and so look, Mr. President, if you coming in September and you've got health care legislation, and the economy is on the mend again, then you'll be doing pretty good. Don't -- just give it a little time. Maybe this thing will play out your way, but we're not your problem.

BLITZER: Yes and you know what, there's a lot of focus right now, Ed --


BLITZER: -- on Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. Some people are saying the president should have listened more to him, others are saying he's you know way out on the sides right now. How do you read? What do you interpret this little battle over Rahm Emanuel right now?

ROLLINS: I've been on the opposite side of Rahm for a long, long time and he's one of the most able guys I've ever 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 you're Dick Cheney, 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 is there's a little bit of profile problem here, and when you start getting front-page stories saying how great you are, how smart you are, then there's a bunch of people in the background who want to make sure that they know you're not quite so smart. And David and I have both fallen victim to this and probably did a little bit of it. At the end of the day, Rahm has got a tough job and I think he's been a real asset to this president.

BLITZER: David, you worked with him in the Clinton White House?

GERGEN: I agree with Ed Rollins' assessment. I do think these profiles are damaging in part not because they're building up Rahm, but because they're doing so at the expense of the president. You know 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.

Well that clearly is not helpful. I think what the president did the other day apparently was to call in his aides and say stop this. I think he has to be -- slam the gate shut on this kind of conversation coming out of the White House and then put his arm around Rahm Emanuel and his other aides and say you're my guys, you're my team, let's go.

BLITZER: All right. Wrap this up for us, James. And I say that --


BLITZER: -- you're one of his best friends, we know that.

CARVILLE: Right, right, right and you know what, he doesn't like these stories any more than other people in the White House like them. I mean (INAUDIBLE) in the morning. You know he can't eat breakfast. He knows they're not any good. I don't know how you stop them. They've taken on a life of their own.

And the truth of the matter is that Rahm is a compelling guy and people like to read about him, write about him and talk about him. And that's just the way it is. You know just get -- 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, we're told, including --


BLITZER: -- next Sunday's "New York Times" magazine has a major article on Rahm Emanuel by Peter Baker (ph). All right guys, thanks very much.

Tomorrow, by the way, we're going to have a major discussion on education here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Arne Duncan, the Obama education secretary and Bill Bennett who served as education secretary for Ronald Reagan, they will both be here together, a discussion on education, a critically important issue, serious discussion. That will be tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, cutting calories in the lunch room, former President Bill Clinton has some encouraging news on what the nation's children are now drinking at school.

And an answer tens of millions of years in the making, scientists finally say they agree on what killed off the dinosaurs. Stick around for the answer.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been tracking this breaking news. A tornado has touched down in far western Oklahoma, causing structural damage in at least one town. No reports of injuries yet, although there are reports of emergency vehicles and downed power lines. You can see them there in that picture there, in the tiny town of Hammond (ph) where about 500 people live. We will continue to monitor this story and bring you the latest developments. In other news, President Obama has a new pick to head the TSA, retired Major General Robert Harding has 33 years of experience in the Army and a career in intelligence. The president's original pick for the position, Errol Southers, withdrew from consideration in January when it became clear he would have a tough Senate confirmation battle.

A Kansas 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 a 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'll hear the father's appeal during the court's fall term.

The beverage industry says drinks sold in schools are getting healthier. Former President Clinton gave the update today saying the number of beverage calories shipped to schools dropped by about 88 percent between 2004 and 2009. The voluntary program replaces full- calorie soft drinks with lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverages.

And a team of scientists has agreed on what killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago -- the culprit, a single giant asteroid. Researchers say it was likely six miles in diameter, traveling thousands of miles an hour when it slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. One member of the team says the asteroid's impact was quote, "more powerful than all the atomic weapons on the planet going off at once". That is something else to think, so an asteroid apparently did in the dinosaurs, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sixty-five million years ago, I hope another one isn't on the way --

SYLVESTER: You know I read -- when I heard that story that was the same thing, like let's pray that another one's not coming anytime soon.

BLITZER: Yes, we don't need those asteroids. All right thanks very much.

U.S. officials say Iraq's election went very well, so why did many Iraqis pay a terrible price for trying to exercise their right to vote. We're going to Baghdad.

And some say she's even more politically combative than her father, but now Liz Cheney is taking some serious heat from fellow conservatives.


BLITZER: They're counting the ballots in Iraq right now a day after millions of people turned out for the parliamentary elections. The outcome will determine Iraq's next government as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw. But the vote was marred by some serious violence, and many Iraqis are still paying a bitter price for democracy. CNN's Arwa Damon has the story from Baghdad -- Arwa. ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while many are celebrating Iraq's historic elections, for some it was a day of sheer tragedy. At least 38 Iraqis were killed in election violence. This is one family's story.


DAMON (voice-over): Five-year-old Hassan is dead, killed on Election Day along with his mother, aunt, and her two children. Insurgents blew up the building they were living in. Hassan's brother, 8-year-old Hussein, survived.


DAMON: "I was just standing on the balcony when it happened, he says. I didn't feel anything. I was just lying on the ground and my apartment had collapsed."


DAMON: His great-uncle Kadam Sul Mon (ph) says Hussein was thrown from the building.


DAMON: "When I arrived, I just saw him on the ground screaming for help, and for his parents", he tells us.


DAMON: Relatives gather under the mourning tent while others made the trip to the southern city of Najaf to bury the dead. Among the mourners, many who voted hoping for a government that will bring an end to senseless deaths like this one. Abdul Kadom (ph), a relative was actually an elections volunteer, now hanging a banner to commemorate the dead.


DAMON: "We participated in these elections because we want to change the situation, he says. We've been living for seven years with no future, no hope. So we decided to vote to get change. While Election Day is widely considered a success, for these families it came at a heavy price. Two buildings in this neighborhood were destroyed. According to residents and police, at least 25 people killed. 19 others wounded. I heard my mom saying, I will go vote tomorrow morning, Hussein says. But she never did. His aunt who died along with her two children was only spending the night in the apartment because she was registered to vote at the neighborhood's polling center. These elections will surely go down in history as one of Iraq's defining moments. And for some families, also a day of mourning. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa Damon watching all of this in Baghdad. The big winner in last night's academy awards including the Oscar for the best picture is "The Hurt Locker," troops who disarm bombs and booby traps. What do real explosive ordinance disposal technicians think of the movie? That question was put to some of them now serving in Iraq.

STAFF SGT. JOE HERNANDEZ, U.S. AIR FORCE: Before this movie came out, it was -- you talk to somebody, tell them you're in the military and that's what you do. I'm in the OD and still had to further explain it. And now somebody's like, oh, like the movie "The Hurt Locker." Yeah, kind of like that.

SR. MASTER SGT. KYLE WALLER, U.S. AIR FORCE: At the end of the day, it's fiction. So knowing that, it's still portrayed us in a positive light in some respect. But I think it could have been better.

CAPT. NICK VAN ELSACKER, U.S. AIR FORCE: There's usually modest people and that's why you're not going to hear them embellish the movie too much. Most of them are going to say it exaggerates what they do, even though every one of these guys is a living hero in one aspect or another. But they kind of draw the line at wanting to set themselves as being special in any way. They don't want to seem like they're any more special than your average soldier.

BLITZER: General Ray Odierno, the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq tells me he highly, highly recommends the film "The Hurt Locker."

45 years ago this week, a pivotal moment unfolded in the civil rights movement. Demonstrators were beaten and tear gassed in Selma, Alabama. Yesterday thousands returned to remember the day that became known as bloody Sunday. Among them, Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of South African president Nelson Mandela. She spoke exclusively to CNN political analyst Roland Martin about the U.S. civil rights movement and the promise of America's first black president.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Your assessment of President Barack Obama, his historic win as the 4th president of the United States, the first African American, and speak to the expectations of people for someone in his position, not necessarily being bad.

WINNIE MANDELA, FORMER WIFE OF NELSON MANDELA: I think it is the cruel thing to have expected him to have done more than he already has within just one year. Generations and generations of oppression, even though this is one of the longest democracies. I think his task is even more difficult, because I think the African Americans, for instance, would expect more. And countries like the African continent would expect more from him, because he's African American. And realistically, it is unfair.

BLITZER: Winnie Mandela speaking to our Roland Martin.

A runaway bull at a Texas rodeo. We have some home video to show you that captures the chaos as people try to defend themselves. But how did a bull get loose in the first place?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are agreeing to indirect peace talks with the U.S. acting as an intermediary. George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for Middle East peace, says the two sides have begun to discuss the structure and scope of the talks after a 14-month freeze in communications. One of the biggest sticking points is the future of west bank settlements. Mitchell is asking both sides to refrain from actions that could build tensions.

Cars and doorways are charred in Nigeria and stunned villagers are roaming through neighborhoods after rioters armed with machetes slaughtered more than 200 people, including a newborn baby. That's according to residents, and groups in the volatile state. Yesterday's violence centered on three primary Christian communities, just a few months ago a wave of sectarian violence in this region left 300 people dead, most of them Muslim.

An early morning earthquake crumbled homes and killed more than 50 people in Turkey. Government officials say 70 others are hurt after the earthquake, which the U.S. geological survey, registered at magnitude 5.9. Aftershocks have been rattling some of the hardest hit villages in the southeastern part of nation throughout the day.

And rodeos, and bucking bulls, well, they go hand in hand. But usually ticket holders have to wait until they get inside the venue. Not the case in Houston. You can see there, amateur video, a bull got loose, sprinted through the parking lot, sending people running for cover. Two people got a little roughed up before the bull was wrangled. An executive for the rodeo said security measures are now under review. That bull's got some -- a little buck in him. He's definitely going there.

BLITZER: That could be pretty scary if you're standing around and see a bull like that running -- whoa!

SYLVESTER: Yeah. Check that out. Reminds me of a country music song, like it should be a country music song "a bull on the loose" or something like that.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa, very much.

Liz Cheney's backlash from the right, why she's now taking so much heat from fellow conservatives over an ad criticizing the Obama justice department.


BLITZER: She may like a good fight as much as the former vice president, but this time has Liz Cheney simply gone too far. Criticism of Obama department justice department lawyers who once defending terrorist suspects is now leading to a conservative backlash against Cheney's daughter. Brian Todd is looking into this story for us. What are you finding out? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tensions running high among Republicans. It could cause more division within the GOP. Then again, the Cheney faction may be getting just what it wants, more political stir over the Obama administration's record in the war on terror.


TODD: She's her father's close confidante, sometimes thought to be more politically combative than him. Now the heat from her own side of the spectrum is growing more intense for Liz Cheney. Several prominent conservative lawyers, including former independent counsel Ken Starr, are taking sides against Liz Cheney and defending the Obama justice department. It started with an ad posted by Liz Cheney's group Keep America safe. It blasted Eric Holder for hiring several lawyers who had represented suspected terrorists. And accused Holder of stonewalling senators who wanted to know who they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose values do they share? Teller Eric Holder, Americans have the right to know the identity of the al Qaeda seven.

TODD: In response that group of conservative lawyers issued a statement calling the Republicans' criticism of Holder's team shameful and unjust. In addition to Ken Starr, one of the signatories is Bradford Berenson, an attorney in the Bush/Cheney white house.

Where does this ad go out of bounds in your view?

BRADFORD BERENSON, FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION ATTORNEY: I think it's quite unfair to suggest that these lawyers in some way or another sympathize with al Qaeda or with its aims or with its ideology. These lawyers by and large took the positions they did because they had views on some very significant and important legal issues, views that in some cases ultimately were endorsed by the Supreme Court.

TODD: We contacted Liz Cheney for response to Berenson and the others. She declined to go on camera with us, but referred us to a web posting from conservative columnist Bill Crystal, who's on the board of Cheney's group Keep America Safe. Crystal writes, they aren't criticizing Holder for representing the detainees, but for taking months to disclose who those lawyers were and for having them work on U.S. policy tort suspected terrorists. A justice official tells us the lawyers' identities were always public information and the rules don't prohibit them from making detainee policy. Political analyst Craig Crawford said the Liz Cheney spat not only divides Republicans, it may give more backbone to the Obama team over detainees.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: There's wavering on how they try these detainees. This may give them an opportunity not to waver and stick to their original plan.


TODD: Still, you can bet that Republicans, like many on the Senate judiciary committee who have been pressuring the Obama team on this issue, will keep it up. They'll likely make hay out of the fact that holder's team has nine attorneys who have represented suspected terrorists, one of them Neil Kontial for Osama Bin Laden's driver and John Walker Lindh.

BLITZER: The Obama team has a response to that, though.

TODD: They say Neil Kontial has made a formal argument that some detainees, including the ones at Bagram air force base have no constitutional rights and saying Tony West has written several briefs for the department saying that a lot of detainees just should not be released. That's their counter to say what they did then has no bearing on what they're doing now.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

All over the country, state governments right now are slashing budgets because they're strapped for cash. And there are thousands of kids like 8-year-old Carlos whose lives may be changed forever. You'll get a better understanding how every dollar counts when you hear his story.

And Jack Cafferty may be off, but we have the next best thing. Get this, the "Saturday Night Live" version of Jack.


BLITZER: Facing a severe financial crisis, the state of California is now furloughing workers and cutting education budgets. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez tells us those cuts leave some of the most vulnerable with nowhere to turn.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: South Los Angeles, a community of working-class families. Hit hard by the economy. As a parent, I often wonder what I would do if one of my kids need mental health care and I couldn't afford it. I met a boy here who's trapped in that very predicament. This is where he lives. And this is his story.

CARLOS: My name is Carlos. I am 8 years old.

GUTIERREZ: Carlos lives here with his sister and parents. They're unemployed, uninsured, barely scraping by.

CARLOS: I'm going to show you where I sleep. My dad sleeps here and my mom sleeps here. I always want my room to be clean.

GUTIERREZ: Do you want it to be big?

CARLOS: Shiny, big.

GUTIERREZ: You want someone to come and be impressed? By your house?


GUTIERREZ: Among Carlos' many challenges in life, he also suffers from severe anxiety and ADHD. So you were talking about the things that you wish you could change. What would you change?

CARLOS: I would change my life.

GUTIERREZ: You would change your life?

CARLOS: I was going to -- I dream about I was going to change my life.

GUTIERREZ: We caught a glimpse into why at St. John's community clinic in south Los Angeles. This is where he regularly meets with the director of behavioral health. She's trying to unlock the causes of his angst. She's about to begin an art therapy session with Carlos to help him express things that are going on in his life. You might be wondering why a family would allow a camera into a private therapy session like this, but his mother believes it's critical that people understand how important these services are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The family fights. Is that what's happening in this picture here?


So this is my mom.


CARLOS: This is my dad.


CARLOS: Uh-huh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does that make you feel?

CARLOS: Sad. I cry.


GUTIERREZ: He tells her his dad used to drink, that led to fighting between mom and dad. He says at home there was no escape. That was six months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now what do you tell them?

CARLOS: I tell them not to fight. I tell them if you fight, I'm out of here.

ELENA FERNANDEZ, CARLOS'S THERAPIST: He first came to me because he was having lots of problems at home, and mom did not know how to modify his behavior. The teacher was frustrated, did not know how to help Carlos, and was basically just writing him up or sending him to the office or wanting him out of the classroom instead of working with him.

GUTIERREZ: His mom tells me she worried her son was being written off at the age of 8. He felt labeled as a bad kid and rejected by his teacher. Does he have insurance? She says she knew he needed mental health care so she searched for clinics that accepted medical. She tried really hard to get Carlos help and took him to four different clinics and each time she was told he didn't qualify because he wasn't considered an emergency. Carlos would have to be physically violent or suicidal to get help. It sounds extreme, but an official with the Los Angeles county department of mental health told us right now clinics are so overloaded and underfunded, they're having to triage children so that means kids like Carlos who need ongoing therapy are not a priority.

FERNANDEZ: Our session today was very positive.

GUTIERREZ: After a year of searching, she finally found St. John's, a free clinic.

They look like fists.

FERNANDEZ: Like fists. That's what he was able to express. He was able to express the anxiety he feels when his family fights.

GUTIERREZ: If Carlos were not able to come to therapy sessions, would he be at risk?

FERNANDEZ: He would at risk. He would be at risk behaviorally and academically.

GUTIERREZ: But now St. John's and other clinics are facing the budget cuts. Will Carlos be next?

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLITZER: Last May Californians voted down five to six budget deficits, among other things the rejected propositions includes increasing reserve fund and increasing personal income tax on people making over a million dollars a year. Many people point to the pass little of proposition 13 in 1978 as a major reason for California's current budget issues, prop 13 put a cap on property taxes and made it a requirement for state tax hikes to receive a two-thirds majority vote from both California legislative houses.

Let's go to Campbell Brown to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. What are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there Wolf. Tonight, as you know, a lot of our nation's schools facing a very serious budget crisis, and one answer that some are looking at is switching to a four-day school week. We'll talk to an official who says her district has no choice next year other than switching to a Tuesday through Friday school week. Also, a CNN special investigation into one of the hottest new trends in the suburbs, more and more women, middle class soccer moms choosing medical marijuana to relax, to cut stress as well as street much more serious medical conditions. We'll talk about that at the hop of the hour. Wolf.

GUTIERREZ: Four-day school week. In some countries they have a six-day school week. That's a shocking development.

You know what they say about imitation being the highest form of flattery. We're very, very -- we feel flattered by the gang over at "SNL." Stick around to see why.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, Senator Al Franken can add comic book hero to his resume. Blue Water Productions says the comic Al Franken Political Power is due out in May and it 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 the earlier comics include President Obama, President Reagan and the late senator, Ted Kennedy.

Karl Rove said he had nothing to do with the 2000 smear campaign against John McCain. The former aide to President George W. Bush insists he was not the source of the rumor during the presidential campaign that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock. Rove says he was an easy target for the critics. The rumor was false. The McCain's adopted an orphan from Bangladesh. For the latest political news like at

We've said it before, we'll say it again. You know you've made it when they spoof you on "Saturday Night Live." It happened to us once again this past weekend, this time Gloria and Jack Cafferty fans may get a chuckle. Check it out.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've heard from the young and vibrant. Now let's hear from the old and cranky with our own Jack Cafferty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Wolf. I'm reporting live on the scene in the CNN studio sitting right next to you.

GUTIERREZ: Very funny stuff. You want more maybe we'll play more tomorrow.

By the way, tomorrow we have a major discussion, the Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett and the Obama education secretary Arne Duncan will be here and talk about education, where there's agreement, not agreement, are we short-changing our kids tomorrow 5:00 p.m. eastern right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.