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Biden Condemns Israeli Decision; New Allegations Against Massa; Catholics Opposed to Health Care Reform; Toyota's Troubles; Education in the U.S.

Aired March 9, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Vice President Joe Biden condemns a new move by Israel only hours after meeting with Israeli leaders, this hour why the U.S. is feeling snubbed and what all this means for Middle East peace.

Also, conservatives have a new and unlikely hero, at least some conservatives. But will they change their minds about former Congressman Eric Massa. Now, wait until you hear the odd things the Democrat is saying about new allegations against him.

And in this era of red hot partisanship, can Democrats and Republicans find common ground for the sake of America's children? The Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett, they're teaming up for a rare and provocative discussion.

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

Vice President Biden is not mincing any words at all. He's boldly, publicly condemning Israel's new plan to build hundreds of homes in a disputed area of Jerusalem, saying it undermines trust. This is a major new thorn between Israel and the United States even as Biden visits Jerusalem, hoping to promote Middle East peace.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by with details. Pretty important story, Dan, and the timing is very significant.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean not good timing at all, Wolf. You know, the settlement issue has really impacted the relationship between the United States and Israel, so the vice president going to Israel, a chance to essentially polish that relationship, if you will, to kick-start the peace talks there, but then this announcement is made, and the vice president then putting out a statement with very strong language saying in part that I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. He went on to say that we must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.

This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict, strong language also coming from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today who says that the U.S. had no advance knowledge that this announcement would be made while the vice president was on the ground. Take a listen.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Neither the substance or the timing is particularly helpful and I think runs counter to the very productive talks that the vice president was having in the region.


LOTHIAN: And that's the irony there because the White House pointing out that these talks were very productive, the vice president, again, reassuring Israel that it's there ready to stand behind it during peace talks to support them on security issues. In particular, Iran, which is a big concern for Israel so talking about that support for Israel being consistent, but at the same time some disappointment, Wolf, that announcement happening while the vice president was in Israel.

BLITZER: Yes, as you point out, Dan, these words are very precise. They weren't expressing concern. They were condemning. I mean I condemn the decision by the government of Israel, Biden says and then he says this is the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now. Those words are pointed, and I think it's in part because Biden was there, he was talking to the Israelis, and the U.S. -- the Obama administration clearly feels blind-sided.

LOTHIAN: They do, and again, having no advance warning that this was going to be done, and those strong words coming not only from the vice president but again reiterated by Robert Gibbs at the briefing here today. I mean this was really seen as a chance to get things moving forward, and now language like this, this announcement only complicates things.

BLITZER: The day after George Mitchell announces the resumption after a year-long effort to get those proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians off the ground. This announcement clearly irritating the Obama administration right now. We'll see the impact on U.S./Israeli relations. Thanks very much for that.

Let's get to the political controversy here in Washington. An allegation surrounding a former congressman named Eric Massa a day after he resigned. This story is getting stranger and stranger. The Democrat is responding to new reports he's been under investigation by allegations he groped male staffers working in his office.

"The Washington Post", which first reported the allegations, say they go back at least a year. Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's been working on this story for us. Brianna, he's speaking out publicly now and he's making some startling statements, Massa.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was on Glenn Beck's show today, Wolf, and he said that there was no sexual misconduct, and he gave a rather bizarre explanation for why it might have been perceived that he was groping male staff members. Here's what he said.


ERIC MASSA (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yes, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context.


KEILAR: Now Wolf, this was a somewhat different explanation than we had heard over the weekend when he was on a local radio station in his former district. He said basically this weekend that he had said something inappropriate and then tussled the hair of a male staffer at a wedding that he went to. But this explanation of this tickle fight, I got to tell you this is serious water cooler fodder here on the Hill and certainly across Washington.

BLITZER: He also, Brianna, made the point in the last few days that this was all a conspiracy, a plot by the Democratic leadership, including Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, to get him out because he was going to vote against the Democrats' health care plan.

KEILAR: And he said today, Wolf, something different. He said that he was taking responsibility and he said that he was not forced out because he was going to vote no to break with Democratic leaders and vote no on health care. This is different from what we heard over the weekend. This weekend he said that he was "set up". That is a quote. From the beginning he said that Democratic leaders wanted to, quote, "get rid of him", so you can see that there is certainly a change in what he said from this weekend to today.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar is up on the Hill working this story. This important programming note to our viewers, our own Larry King will try to sort through some of Massa's surprising and conflicting remarks. Later tonight the former congressman is Larry's guest tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN, "LARRY KING LIVE".

The big push is on for health care reform, today it landed at a Washington hotel where hundreds of activists protested against health insurance executives, accusing them of corporate crimes.

Also a runaway Toyota Prius takes its owner for a harrowing ride.

And the U.S. education system in crisis, could it come down to drastic cutbacks and four-day school weeks? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's a deafening silence emanating from the Vatican. When Pope Benedict XVI recently met with Catholic leaders from Uganda he made not a single mention of the nation's medieval sounding anti-gay legislation. Something nicknamed "kill the gays" a bill is making its way through Uganda's parliament. It calls for life imprisonment for homosexuals and in some cases even execution.

People around the world rightfully have protested the bill, western nations, human rights groups expressing outrage. President Obama has called it odious. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she has called Uganda's president to express her strongest concerns. According to the U.N., the law would prohibit sex between people of the same-sex and would not recognize homosexual relations as an acceptable lifestyle.

It even carries prison sentences of up to three years for anyone who does not report a gay person, not to mention life in prison or possibly even the death penalty for homosexuals. But the Pope said not a word about any of this, instead calling on Uganda's bishops to encourage Catholics to, quote, "appreciate fully the sacrament of marriage", unquote. It's possible the Pope didn't touch this issue in his wide-ranging speech because the bishops may have asked him not to or because of concerns that his weighing in could backfire and lead to the passage of the bill.

Baloney, the Pope is supposed to be the moral compass for Catholics around the world. His counsel is sought and his office respected by people in governments both inside and outside the church. Compassion for human rights and the sanctity of life are cornerstones of Catholicism. Even the archbishop of Uganda's capital says the bill quote, "does not pass the test of a Christian carrying approach to this issue", unquote.

There's an understatement and here's the question. What's the message if the Pope remains silent on Uganda's "kill the gays" bill? Go to; post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Strong question, Jack. Thank you very much for that.

Liberal activists are calling this Washington hotel a corporate crime scene. That's because insurance industry executives have been meeting inside. Hundreds of demonstrators camped out today to vent their anger about rate hikes after marching in support of health care reform.


HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEM. NAT'L CMTE. CHAIRMAN: There are going to be 535 people that vote on this bill, and we're going to check every single one of them, and in November we're going to hold them accountable. I don't care if they're Republicans or Democrats, I want to know did you stand with the insurance companies or did you stand with the American people?


BLITZER: Meanwhile, a surprising divide over health care reform can be found in the Catholic Church. Lisa Sylvester is back with that part of the story. This is a sensitive issue. What are you finding out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know Wolf, for decades, the U.S. Catholic Church has fought for health care for the poor, but now that Congress is close to approving universal health care, some Catholics, including U.S. bishops, are vehemently opposed to the current legislation.



SYLVESTER (voice-over): At St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland, they are united in prayer. But on the health care debate, they are deeply divided, some arguing that language in the Senate bill would allow for federal funding of abortions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are actually totally against it. You know being Catholic, abortion actually is out of the question. And then to have our taxpayer dollars going towards paying for abortion is unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it should be thrown out and start all over.

SYLVESTER: Others saying the need for health care reform overrides any concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real sin is that we have as much money as we have in this country and we spent a lot of money internationally, but yet at the same time, we have people in this country with no health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are this close. We need to get it done.

SYLVESTER: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says the Senate bill that is being used as a blueprint for reform on Capitol Hill violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions. Congressman Bart Stupak is a devout Catholic. Stupak says he has 11 other Democrats, enough to scuttle the health care bill, if the language is not changed.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: We're not expanding their rights. We're not expanding their right. All we're saying is it's a benefit the federal government has chosen not to fund. Let's keep their policy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No government funded abortions, period.

SYLVESTER: Anti-abortion groups are turning up the pressure on the 12 Democrats, running radio ads targeting them and launching a grassroots campaign.

SUSAN MUSKETT, NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE: But we know right now that speaker Pelosi doesn't have the votes for the bill. And so what will determine the outcome will be that in the next two weeks whether members really hear from their constituents in opposition to the bill.


SYLVESTER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, herself a Catholic, disagrees with Representative Stupak and the anti-abortion group saying that the Senate bill would not provide federal funding for abortions. But it is complicated because while the legislation would provide federal subsidies for some plans that offer an abortion option, those abortions would have to be paid for separately by the insured. Now the House leadership is planning on sitting down with Representative Stupak and the other Dems this week to try to find some kind of a compromise because at the end of the day, Pelosi needs those votes to get it passed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes and Stupak and 11 other Democrats, without those 12 votes, this measure might not get through the House.

SYLVESTER: Yes, they need those votes in order for this to pass, and everybody knows it and that's why there's so much pressure on these 12 Democrats, to sway them one way or the other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes and the problem is if they accept the House language -- as the final language, a lot of Democrats in the Senate don't like that language --

SYLVESTER: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: -- and so it's a back and forth. It's not an easy issue to resolve. Thank you.

Another runaway Toyota, a driver recounts his terrifying experience, explaining how his Prius went wild -- just ahead, the ride that could have cost him his life, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shares America's hopes and fears for democracy in Haiti after the earthquake.


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

SYLVESTER: Well Wolf, in trying to rebuild his nation, the Haitian president met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, and both leaders emphasized the importance of upcoming voting. Parliamentary elections were postponed in February and it's unclear whether the presidential election set for this fall will go on. Clinton says the United States will work with international partners to aid with the elections. Meanwhile, the USNS Comfort hospital ship will set sail back to Baltimore tomorrow. Today the U.S. Navy released the ship from duty off Haiti where its medical professionals have treated almost 900 people.

As the Senate prepares to vote on extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, it voted down today a summer jobs program for young people. Republicans were unanimous in their opposition with some Democrats joining them. Democratic Senators John Kerry and Patty Murray introduced the amendment which called for $1.3 billion for funding.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Provide those summer jobs and you'll save far more than that money in the criminal justice system and in other social services. This is money well invested.

SEN. JUDD GREGG (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: This amendment cost $2 billion, which isn't paid for. Summer jobs may be good. I'm sure they are good. But why do you want to put the debt for those summer jobs onto the children of the people who are having the summer jobs? If this is a priority, and it is, let's pay for it. Let's take the money out of some other account.


SYLVESTER: And searchers in New Orleans say they pulled the body of a missing Texas energy executive out of the Mississippi River today. Fifty-four-year-old Douglas Schantz vanished after visiting the city's French Quarter. Now video footage showed the executive seemingly disoriented after he left a Bourbon Street bar around 2:00 a.m. Friday. The president of Texas based Sequent Management was in New Orleans to make a corporate donation to Tulane University.

SeaWorld and the family of the late killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau are trying to keep video of her attack from becoming public. Tapes of the death caught by SeaWorld's cameras were given to law enforcement authorities, but under Florida law once the investigation concludes those tapes could be made public. Brancheau's family is consulting the same lawyer who successfully represented late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's family in a similar battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much Lisa. It's happened again, this time a frightening ordeal on a California highway. A driver reaching speeds above 90 miles per hour is unable to stop his Toyota Prius until a police officer pulls alongside. That driver now recounts his terrifying experience to CNN's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're with Jim Sikes. This is the gentleman who was in his 2008 Prius, down here in San Diego County when it went out of control saying that the accelerator, Jim, apparently just sort of took on a life of its own. Explain what happened.

JAMES SIKES, DRIVER: Correct. That's exactly what happened. I was actually heading east on Interstate 8 in San Diego, and I pushed the gas a little extra, in fact, very hard, to pass a car that was coming on the freeway. And as I did that, it just -- the gas pedal felt kind of weird and it just went all the way too fast. I was actually going around cars and came close to hitting one semi truck, and I was speeding up faster, at that time I was in the 80's somewhere. And I kept hitting the brakes, kept hitting the brakes, and it wasn't slowing down at all, it was just accelerating.

ROWLANDS: What was the sensation like?

SIKES: It -- It was an odd sensation. I felt it in my foot. I pushed the pedal and it just kind of felt like it just moved on its own. That's the only way I can describe it. It moved on its own and it took over. It was pushing harder than I was.

ROWLANDS: You didn't try to put it in neutral?

SIKES: No, I was afraid to try to go over there and hit it in neutral. I was holding on the steering wheel with both hands, 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast.

ROWLANDS: Why didn't you turn the car off earlier?

SIKES: Because it wasn't safe. Those were very windy roads, and I didn't know if I turn the button -- if I hit the button if the steering wheel would lock or if the wheels on the car would lock.

ROWLANDS: Is there any doubt in your mind that the floor mats had nothing to do with what happened?

SIKES: The floor mat had nothing to do with yesterday's event, period. The floor mat didn't move.


ROWLANDS: And Jim was eventually able to get control of his vehicle with the help of the California Highway Patrol. He had called 911 and they were tailing him during this ordeal. He put one foot on the emergency brake, the other foot on the regular brake. He said that slowed the car enough so that he felt comfortable turning it off.

Right now the car is at this Toyota dealership in Alcahone (ph), just outside of San Diego. Toyota did release a statement about this, saying that they have dispatched a field technician to San Diego to investigate the report and to offer any assistance, and Jim, Wolf say -- or Wolf, Jim says that he got a call this morning from Washington, D.C. The federal government is also coming out here, sending a representative to not only look at the car but to talk to Jim about his ordeal.

BLITZER: Because I take it this Prius model that he had was not even on a list of recalled cars; is that right?

ROWLANDS: No, it is not. However, there is word from Toyota that they're working on a potential recall for this Toyota model, the 2008, among others, but that recall is steering towards at this juncture a floor mat issue. Now, whether or not Jim's story will change that in Toyota's mind, we have to wait to see. Obviously a lot of people are waiting to get a look at this vehicle and to talk to him to figure out exactly what happened.

BLITZER: Yes, they want to see what happened there because that's a very worrisome development. All right Ted, thanks very much.

The Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls education the most pressing issue facing America. Can it be solved in today's climate of funding shortfalls, teacher cutbacks, four-day school weeks? When we come back Secretary Duncan and former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett, they'll join us for an unusual discussion.


BLITZER: Nothing more important than educating our kids. Let's talk about it in our "Strategy Session". Joining us two special guests, the Education Secretary Arne Duncan and CNN political contributor, the national radio talk show host, Bill Bennett, he served as education secretary under President Reagan.

He also has a brand new book that's just out entitled "A Century Turns" -- gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. Secretary Duncan, what is the single most important initiative just one initiative that the federal government can do to improve the education of our kids?

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I think we can reward excellence. And what you've seen with "Race to the Top" and we have many other similar type opportunities (INAUDIBLE) the best ideas in education are always going to come at the local level. Never going to come from us here in Washington, the more we can build upon success at the local level, the better we as a country --

BLITZER: "Race to the Top" is your version of "No Child left Behind"; is that right?

DUNCAN: Well there are a lot of changes we want to make in "No Child left Behind". It's a piece of it, but yes, rewarding excellence, having a high bar for everybody and making sure that we're measuring growth. Not (INAUDIBLE) test scores, measuring growth.

BLITZER: Is that your most important priority right now as well?

BILL BENNETT, FORMER REAGAN EDUCATION SECRETARY: I think so. Standard is excellent. It really is time to close in on this one. We are getting beat up in international competitions. There may be a new sputnik, which is our kids are college graduates from some of our best schools. They're not getting jobs. They're get -- losing out jobs to kids from other countries, young people from other countries. We are not competitive in the later grades, so I salute the secretary on that. We have our differences, but his recognition of better and higher standards, no matter who that ticks off, is I think very important.

BLITZER: Because if you take a look at these math and science test results, we did some research in 2006, 15-year-old students here in the United States were 23 of 29 among various participating countries outperformed -- they outperformed the United States, and in science, a 2006 test, 15-year-old students were 16 out of 29 other participating countries. Why are American students doing so poorly right now when compared to students in all sorts of other countries?

DUNCAN: It's very simple, Wolf. Our children are as smart, as competitive, as committed to other children in other countries. We've lowered the bar, not because it's the right thing educationally, not because it's the right thing for the economy, and we're saying let's remove that. We need college-ready students, and let's level the playing field. If we level the playing field, our children can compete and compete anywhere in the world.

BLITZER: What does that mean, political pressure?

DUNCAN: What we have seen under the no child left behind, we saw many states reducing standards to respond to that political pressure, that's bad for children, bad for education. We've been lying to children in our country when we've told them they're meeting a state standard, that bar has dumb yesterday down so much, they're barely able to graduate from high school and totally inadequately prepared for college.

BLITZER: Who do you blame for this failure?

BENNETT: I agree with the secretary there have been a number of states that lowered, something like 15 to 18 states have lowered standards, but there are other political pressures. The pressures of the groups, whenever you introduce a reform, the labor unions get into it, and obvious they react negative. Let me put this in the form of the compliment, Secretary Duncan has said if you're going to evaluate teachers, and you should, because we have to reward excellence, then you've got to make student evaluations, student success, student learning part of that. This has been mightily resisted a "New York Times" story last Sunday showed some of the resistance. You can't do this job unless --

BLITZER: Sometimes you have crummy teachers, but they can't be fired because of the unions.

DUNCAN: You see the unions stepping up and doing interesting things. The idea of higher standards, both national unions are behind that. Randy Weingarten has said publicly they don't want to protect teachers who aren't making it. The vast majority of our teachers are working hard and we have to support them. We need to reward great teachers, help those in the middle improve and those at the bottom need to remove them. Right now we're doing none of those things.

BENNETT: Did you see Randy said about you Sunday? I mean she was very critical of your position. I think you were right. I can't give the exact quote, but they were furious, because the secretary supported, and the president too as I understand it, supported what was going on in providence. 7% of the kids were performing at grade level. The secretary said that was the right thing and I think it is the right thing. You have different unions and locals operating in different ways. We know the cost that the bottom rung of our teachers costs us in terms of student performance. Replace those teachers. The union should be leading the way here. If they're a professional organization, they should honor excellence and reward it.

BLITZER: I want to talk about much more, including school systems scrambling to find ways to cut costs ask t costs and to keep education going. They are considering some very drastic measures. Should kids only go to school four days a week? The answer, stand by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Arne Duncan and Bill Bennett. I've heard some educational institutions are in such financial trouble they're talking about cutting the school week to four days.

DUNCAN: Yes. This is a huge worry. We understand the tremendous pressure the districts and states are under. You have places like Hawaii eliminated Fridays for the rest of the school year. How is that good for children?

BLITZER: In a lot of countries, in Asia, even in Europe, they go to school six days a week.

DUNCAN: We have to level the playing field. If we level the playing field our students would go great. When they're going to school 220, 230, 240 days of school each year, our students are going 180, and now being reduced to 170, 165, what chance do our students have?

BLITZER: But if there's no money, what do you do?

BENNETT: Well there are other things you can do. Time doesn't matter as much as what you do with the time but I think cutting the time is almost always a bad idea. One thing you can do goes against what people what to do but you can do it, you can increase class size, as they do in the Asian countries. Class size has no appreciable effect on learning unless you get down to small numbers. When you lower class size, as in California, they had to drop down into the teaching pool and that hurts performance.

BLITZER: Some places go school year-round.

DUNCAN: They should be open 12, 13 hours a day as community centers, six days a week, 11 12 months out of the year. We don't need any more studies about summer reading loss. We have children who get to a certain point in June, they come back to school in September further behind than when they left. That has to change.

BLITZER: Is that realistic?

BENNETT: If they're teaching the right thing. Back to your first point, when Arne Duncan said it's not our kids in the problem. Our kids in the third and fourth grade do competitive well. They lose ground the longer they stay in school in American. It's a systemic problem. High expectations, time on task, but it has to be on the right tasks, if you increase learning like, but not the right content, you won't get there.

BLITZER: Some say charter schools have done well but they're limited in most urban areas.

DUNCAN: I'm not a fan of charter schools, but a fan of good charter schools. The best charter schools in the country are doing a phenomenal job. There are charters in the middle. There are charter schools that need to be closed, but the best charter schools are doing a great job, particularly in historically underserved countries. Our country needs more great schools. No first or second grader knows when I go to a charter school or a gifted school, does my teacher care about, am I safe in school, does the principle know who I am? We need more great schools, great traditional schools need to replicate, great charters need to replicate. Bad schools aren't working. We need to come back.

BLITZER: We don't hear a lot of talk about vouchers to send some of these kids to good catholic schools, for example. That's something you would support?

BENNETT: Yes, it is, and it's been very agreeable, so one note of discord, I think eliminating the scholarship program, the D.C. opportunity scholarship program in Washington was a really bad thing to do. These kids had opportunity and were learning a lot, but charters are a very good thing, and again I recognize the secretary whose urban prep you started Chicago, 100% of those kids going to college. I think school choice does make a difference, content, but we have to get the pressure up on the standards.

BLITZER: Based on this conference, Mr. Secretary, there's a lot of room for agreement, maybe not on health care, but on education you may be able to find agreement with conservatives and Republicans out there.

DUNCAN: This is one issue that all of us regardless of politics or ideology, all of us feel a sense of urgency. We have to educate our way to a better economy. It's the only way to get there. We all have to put politics aside and do the right thing by our children. We have to do that for the sake of them and our country. This is the civil rights issue of our generation, and also an economic imperative.

BLITZER: Are conservatives and Republicans ready to work with this secretary of education?

BENNETT: Certainly on some things. Like I said, we have our disagreements but you know what? He's gotten into fights with the right people. As on old Irishman, I think that's a good sign.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett thanks for coming in. Arne Duncan, thanks to you as well. Good luck.

DUNCAN: Thanks for the opportunity.

BLITZER: Our families are all counting on you. Thank you.

David Letterman's admission that he had affairs with staffers. Now the producer who tried to blackmail the CBS host is sentenced to jail.

Why you'll have to keep taking off your shoes when you pass through airport security.


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

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. A suburban Philadelphia woman who allegedly called hers Jihad Jane has been charged with providing support to terrorists and plotting a killing in a foreign country. An indictment accuses of recruiting people on the internet to carry out jihad. She also tried to track her target, a resident of Sweden.

It seems no shoes or no service could be a slogan for TSA screeners at our nation's airports. Homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano said today that the technology still does not currently exist to adequately screen the passenger's shoes while they're being worn. The current shoes off screening policy went into effect after Richard Reed unsuccessfully tried to ignite a shoe bomb aboard a U.S. bound plane in 2001.

And it will be six months behind bars for the CBS producer who tried to blackmail comedian David Letterman. Robert Joe Halderman admitted trying to extort $2 million in exchange for secrecy of David Letterman's extra marital love life. The incident lead to the comic's public admission that he had affairs with female staffers.

And starting tomorrow the public will once again be able to see Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown. It goes on public display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History as part of a collection of first ladies' dresses.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: That day was so hectic for us, and I remember the inaugural parade and how the president and I stood and we waved until every last band walked by. Then we had only less than an hour, ladies, if you can believe that. All of my friends left us in the stands, by the way. See ya. Good luck. Thanks. We have to get ready for the ball. I'm like, yeah, so do I. So at the time I wasn't really focused on what I was wearing that evening. I was really just trying to stay warm. But I'll never forget the moment that I slipped on this beautiful gown. I remember how just luscious as the president and I were announced on the stage for the first of many dances, and I'll cherish that moment for the rest of my life.

SYLVESTER: Mrs. Obama won the ivory slick one-shoulder gown to ten different balls. That gown, Wolf, was actually designed -- it was a 27-year-old American designer from New York, so Mrs. Obama, the first lady, she certainly likes using American designers for very nice things.

BLITZER: You have a gown like that, too, don't you, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: No, but I want to have a knock-off now. She's got great taste, so maybe we'll see if the knock-off starts selling somewhere.

BLITZER: You'll look fabulous just like she did.

SYLVESTER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lisa. Senator Harry Reid knows politics can be dog eat dog. Stand by for what he's saying about being compared to a cartoon canine.


BLITZER: We're just getting the 911 tape into THE SITUATION ROOM. I've got runaway Prius and the driver calling 911. We'll play that for you. Stand by. It's pretty dramatic.

On our political ticker right now, conservative Republican Doug Hoffman says he'll take another shot at running for Congress in upstate New York. His first run as a conservative in a three-way special election last year helped spark a political divide in the Republican Party. And it helped Democrat Bill Owens win a seat in the 23rd Congressional district, a seat his party hadn't controlled for over a century. This time Hoffman says he'll work to unite Republicans and he predicts that will help him defeat Owens in November.

It's official, the son of Senate majority leader Harry Reid is running for Manhattan governor. He filed his paperwork in Las Vegas today. The chairman faces only some opposition in the battle in January. Embattled governor Jim Gibbons faces two challengers in the Republican primary.

Meantime, Senator Harry Reid is trying to raise capital from a certain cartoon pooch. Reid sent out a fundraiser citing the RNC attacks on Democrats likening the president to the Joker and Reid to Scooby Doo. He has a soft spot saying he caught bad guys. Pretty impressive, even for a dog.

Let's go back to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is what's the message if the pope remains silent on Uganda's "kill the gays" bill.

Peggy in Spokane, Washington, "The same message that came from the Vatican during World War II in regard to the holocaust and the Jewish people. The same message that came from the Vatican for years after the sex scandals were known. Silence. I was raised and educated for 17 years in catholic schools. Their ability to deny by silence the truth set before them just makes me sick."

Greg in Minneapolis, "More catholic-bashing, Jack? The pope is right to consider the backlash of speaking out against this bill and thus end up to some people as endorsing homosexuality. As head of the Catholic Church, Benedict must tread a fine line while at the same time sticking to church teachings."

Jim from Pennsylvania, "He doesn't want to make too much of a fuss since it might draw attention to those priests who take advantage of young boys."

Christina says, "As a German, I would like to remind the pope that he too is a German. He may remember the holocaust and the fact the Arian laws were applied also to homosexuals. More than 100,000 men were imprisoned under that accusation. Does he want to support a repetition of that heinous part of German history in Uganda?"

Ellie writes, "The pope should not be silent. It is tacit approval. He could easily put forth the typical catholic response that homosexuality is not acceptable but that prayer and counseling should be the method for dealing with gays. The pope can stay on message without condoning genocide."

Hagan says, "It's one thing to oppose gay marriage. It is another to say, kill all those that we don't agree with. It's things like that that make me thankful for our constitution."

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

BLITZER: Jack, it's good to have you back. While you were gone, over the weekend Saturday Night Live had a little skit. They took advantage of both of us, but I'll play the skit.


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.


BLITZER: He did a good cranky Jack there.

CAFFERTY: He did, and it was pretty accurate except for the holding hands part. That will never happen.

BLITZER: We only do that when I'm in New York and sitting next to you, right?

CAFFERTY: On a serious note, I worked for 13 years at WNBC in the building where that show is still produced, and I can remember back in 1978 going and watching it with Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner and all the original cast, and to be made fun of on that show is still an honor.

BLITZER: Let's hope he does it again, right?

CAFFERTY: I'm prettier than he is.

BLITZER: A young Jack Cafferty.

Let's check in with Campbell and see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Campbell?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Wolf. This year 14 states will consider legalizing medical marijuana. That's on top of the 14 states where it is already legal. Tonight our CNN special investigation focuses on Colorado where a mother and son have started a pot business that is legal and it is booming. We're going to talk to them.

Also a new study showing Americans could drop five pounds a year just by raising soda and pizza prices. Those findings adding fuel to efforts in at least a dozen cities and states now to try to combat obesity by imposing taxes on sugary soft drinks not only to combat obesity but also to deal with their budget problems. We're going to talk to people on both sides of that issue tonight. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be watching. Thank you very much.

Another runaway Toyota. A driver attempts to control his car as it speeds out of control. We've just received the 911 tapes. We're going to play some of that for you when we come back.


BLITZER: We've been reporting on that runaway Toyota Prius earlier in the day, and the driver made frantic 911 calls from the car as it sped along a California highway, up to 90 miles an hour. A California highway patrol officer got next to him, gave him some instructions, but the man was calling 911. Listen to this tape. We've got an excerpt of what the 911 authorities have just released.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you put the car in neutral, sir?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you tried to put it in neutral?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to control the car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Have you tried to put the car in neutral?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you try that?

Sir? Can you try to put the vehicle in neutral?

Sir? Jim? Jim? Jim?

BLITZER: He was clearly not answering those 911 pleas. Eventually it all turned out okay. He managed to put on the emergency brake as he was told by the police officer he was using his bullhorn to give him some instructions, and at the same time once he pulled the emergency brake up, he also put his foot on the brakes and the car began to slow down, and when he got to a much slower speed, he eventually turned off his engine and moved to the side. Thankfully, everything worked out okay, but that car is now under investigation. Authorities in California, federal authorities, are going to be investigating to see what's going on. It was a very frightening experience for that man. Tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to have a special interview with Karl Rove, the former top adviser to the former president George W. Bush. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss his new book. Lots of questions for Karl Rove here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow twitter on what's behind the scenes in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.