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Insults in Afghanistan; Biden in Israel; Insurance Horror Stories; Obama Insider Turns Critic; Karl Rove Interview

Aired March 10, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, Iran's president in Afghanistan cozying up to a key U.S. ally and lobbing insults at America. This hour Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rant may not be surprising, but his timing certainly is.

Also President Obama draws battle lines in his fight for health care reform, as he's been making his pitch in Missouri, we're hearing new horror stories about medical insurance abuse.

And Karl Rove dives into a controversy dividing fellow Republicans. Should lawyers who defended terror suspects have jobs in the Obama Justice Department? Stand by for his answer and more of my in-depth interview.

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

As U.S. forces step up their campaign against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, there was a startling picture today in the Afghan capital where Iran's hard-line president dropped by for a visit, hard on the heels of the U.S. defense secretary he wasted no time aiming some sharp jabs at the United States. Our Brian Todd has the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an appearance by the Iranian president in Afghanistan sure to cause unease among U.S. officials. The image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad physically and politically sidling up to a key U.S. ally, President Hamid Karzai is one thing, but part of what might make U.S. officials uncomfortable here is the timing.

Ahmadinejad was there literally hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates left Afghanistan. And Ahmadinejad jumped at the chance to tweak Gates. While he was there, Gates said Iran was playing a double game in Afghanistan, wanting to maintain good relationships with the Afghan government but at the same time helping the Taliban. U.S. officials say Iran has done some good things like building schools, funding road and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan but they also say Iran has provided weapons to the Taliban.

It's a charge the Iranians have consistently denied. And today Iran's president had a direct brush back to the double game comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): They are playing a double game. They themselves created terrorists and now they're saying that they are fighting terrorists. This is not possible. They cannot do it.


TODD: And perhaps adding to tension between the U.S. and Iran over Afghanistan, some other symbolism present at that event between President Ahmadinejad and Hamid Karzai. That Honor Guard and Karzai's security detail very likely paid for and trained by U.S. forces so the U.S. may have had at least an indirect role in protecting the Iranian president today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd with that story. Israel's announcement that it will add more homes in a disputed area of Jerusalem surprised and deeply angered the visiting Vice President Joe Biden. Now a spokesman for Israel's government says it, too, was surprised by the move calling it a local zoning decision. But Vice President Biden and Palestinian leaders turned up the heat today. CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Jerusalem.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All sides on Wednesday were feeling the hangover from Tuesday night's announcement from Israel that it was approving 1,600 new units in East Jerusalem. Now we heard from the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden once again this Wednesday. He was meeting with the Palestinian prime minister and with the President Mahmoud Abbas and this issue was very high on the agenda.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations and not to complicate them. Yesterday -- yesterday the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust, the trust that we need right now in order to begin as well as produce at profitable negotiations.

HANCOCKS: From the Palestinian point of view they were angry at this settlement announcement but it was for them the perfect illustration of what they have been claiming for years that Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem were an impediment to peace.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRES. (through translator): The decisions that Israeli government declared in the past two days and the construction of thousands of new housing units on Palestinian territories creates a destruction of trust, deals a strong blow to the efforts that have been established in the previous months to launch indirect talks.

HANCOCKS: Mr. Biden has been trying to push both sides now towards the proximity talks which have been agreed upon. These indirect talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are heavily sponsored by the United States. The U.S. has a lot to lose if they don't work out. It's the U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell (ph) who will be shuttling in between the two sides to try and make these indirect talks into direct talks. Moving on to Thursday, Mr. Biden will be given what has been build (ph) as a very important speech on U.S./Israeli relations. Now analysts have said that it is expected to be very warm, it was almost expected to be gushing. It will be interesting after the settlement announcement to see what the tone is.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: President Obama set his sights on a fresh target today in his final push to pass health care reform. In Missouri just a little while ago he blasted waste, inefficiency and fraud in the government's health care system. It's a complaint even some of his Republican critics agree with. The president also took a renewed swipe at the insurance industry that he's been railing against in recent days.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're proposing is a common sense approach to protecting you from insurance company abuses and saving you money. That's the proposal and it is paid for. And I believe that Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care reform.


OBAMA: The time for talk is over. It's time to vote.


BLITZER: The health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was face to face today with insurance industry executives meeting here in Washington. She warned them that if they oppose reform, they will eventually lose customers and she challenged them to work with the administration to improve reform legislation.

Also today we heard from people who have very personal and very painful complaints about the insurance industry. CNN's Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Kate, you had a chance to listen to some of these horror stories.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And some of them very powerful and very painful as you can hear. Well, as you talked about, the protesters picketed health insurance industry leaders yesterday. Well today more activists took to Capitol Hill piling on the pressure to get health care reform passed. Today's event brought together Democratic members of Congress and self-described survivors of health insurance abuse. People using their stories to try to win over public support and pressure wavering Democrats, people like Kelly Arellanes, who needed emergency brain surgery after a 2004 horseback riding accident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KELLY ARELLANES, HEALTH REFORM ADVOCATE: The day after I came out of my coma my husband received a letter from United Healthcare, the insurance company I had been with for 24 years as of the date of my accident stating they had not been notified and they were refusing and denying any and all payments.


BOLDUAN: Now a spokesman for United Healthcare says they can't comment on this case because the family hasn't signed a privacy waiver allowing them to do so, but the spokesman did say that they have tried to contact the Arellanes family, but they won't return call. Quote, "they're not giving us the ability to talk with them about it or work with them on it." Now the Arellanes' was one of many different stories told today, but all of these activists were pushing the same message, get health care reform passed. And Republicans they stand firmly opposed to the Democrats' bill today calling this final inning campaign a distraction.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think they're trying to distract from the substance of the bill and you know it's easy to pick a symbol that everybody doesn't like, in this case the insurance companies and attack the insurance companies because they don't want to have to defend the substance of their bill.


BOLDUAN: And you can see it right there, but it really seems like kind of in this final end game, Wolf that Democrats and their supporters are trying to make a clear distinction and send a clear message. You're either with the insurance companies or you're with the American people and clearly Republicans and their supporters think that's absolutely inaccurate and that's not the case.

BLITZER: Well this is really "do or die" for health care reform right now in the next few weeks. The president says he wants it done. Not a done deal by any means --


BLITZER: -- but he's going out there to do the best he can.

BOLDUAN: And you've seen it in the past few days. They're really ramping up the pressure, I mean event after event, you know protests -- these are all organized events as well, so I mean people are really -- both sides activists on both sides really trying to ramp up the pressure here in this final, final -- in these final days and possibly week.

BLITZER: Yes, handful of legislators could make the difference right now.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kate, for that report. He helped get President Obama elected, now an outspoken former adviser brings a tough message to the White House and a warning to the Democratic Party.

And remember when President Obama drew cheers by criticizing the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address, it seems the Chief Justice John Roberts is still upset. Wait until you hear what he's saying now.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Despite record unemployment, rising health care costs and sinking home values, Americans shelled out $10 billion plus for cosmetic surgery and other procedures last year. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says there were almost 10 million surgical and non-surgical procedures done in the United States in 2009. Down only two percent from the year before.

At least we all want to look good for the coming collapse, right, 85 percent of the procedures were non-surgical things like Botox, which are cheaper than surgery. There were 2.5 million Botox injections. More than a million procedures with other chemical fillers and 1.3 million laser hair removals done -- I know -- too much information. As for surgery the most popular procedure was breast augmentation, 300,000 of those surgeries were done followed by liposuction and eyelid surgery.

Some insists there's a direct connection to the lousy economy. One plastic surgeon says a lot of people have cosmetic procedures done to increase their chance of finding a job. I don't personally believe that's true, but that's what the doctor says. He says people think if they look better, they're more likely to get the job and beat out somebody who doesn't look as good. He says even the unemployed are getting work done.

Quote, "that's their stimulus spending money trying to get into the workforce." What a country. As we told you yesterday in "The Cafferty File", almost half of all Americans have saved less than $10,000 for their retirement but millions of us are running off to the plastic surgeon.

So here's the question: What does it mean that despite the worst recession since the Great Depression Americans spent more than $10 billion on cosmetic procedures last year? Go to and post a comment on my blog. Did you have any procedures done, Wolf?

BLITZER: No, no, not -- can you tell? No procedures --

CAFFERTY: Me either obviously.

BLITZER: All right. I think it's obvious for both of us, Jack. Thank you.

While President Obama was in Missouri today, an old friend and ally slipped into the White House with a rather blunt message. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is joining us. Ed what's going on here?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is Steve Hildebrand, one of the architects of the Obama victory in 2008. He's not inside the White House. He's outside, lives most of the time in South Dakota, but he came back to Washington today. He was meeting with one of the president's top aides to send a blunt message, as you said that he believes people here in the White House, but also Democrats on Capitol Hill need a wake-up call.


HENRY (voice-over): Steve Hildebrand was one of the top advisers that helped put President Obama in office but now he has a stark warning for his old friends.

STEVE HILDEBRAND, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: I think that there's a real shot that we're going to get slaughtered in elections this fall if we aren't leading the efforts to reform Washington. It's what we campaigned on in '06 and in '08 and if voters don't see that change, we haven't lived up to our promise.

HENRY: Hildebrand who helped deliver Iowa for the president is now an outside consultant pushing issues like campaign finance and lobbying reform. He came to the White House Thursday for a quiet meeting with the president's senior adviser David Axelrod to express a fear Republicans are seizing the high ground on cleaning up Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charlie Rangel stepped down after breaking ethics rules.

HENRY: Hildebrand is baffled his party is allowing Republicans to capitalize on scandals the same way Democrats did in the last two elections.

(on camera): Is the president doing enough on this?

HILDEBRAND: I don't think anybody in Washington is doing enough on this.

HENRY (voice-over): Hildebrand is known for speaking his mind. Last summer he told Politico he was losing patience with the White House and the president needed to be more bold in his leadership, but a few weeks later the president praised Hildebrand at a White House reception celebrating gay rights.

OBAMA: Somebody who helped ensure that we are in the White House, Steve Hildebrand, please give Steve a big round of applause.


HENRY: Hildebrand who is openly gay gives the president --

HILDEBRAND. You know the -- when the president signed the bill, the hate crimes bill last fall, it was the first piece of legislation ever in the history of Congress to affirm the rights of gay people in this country.

HENRY: And overall he says the president deserves a B-plus for his efforts to stabilize the economy and reform health care.

HILDEBRAND: I'm thrilled that we're on the cusp of passing health care reform. This is something that we've waited for, for so long and it's so important, it's so necessary and so, you know, I'm thrilled that the president has not given up and that he's been persistent.


HENRY: I just spoke to David Axelrod, one of the president's most senior advisers, he said this was a good meeting because he understands that some of Mr. Hildebrand's criticisms are fair, but he tried to point out in this meeting that the president has already taken some steps to reform how lobbyists do business, especially in the executive branch. They realize there's more that needs to be done but David Axelrod said they're just as committed now as they were on day one of this administration with finishing that agenda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well I guess the good news for the Democrats is they still have some time between now and November but that clock is really ticking.

HENRY: It is and what this is a symptomatic of, Steve Hildebrand represents you know not all liberals but some liberals out there who believed in the change message. They still believe in the president I want to point out. Steve Hildebrand said that over and over again, but they are worried.

They're nervous that without a course correction both the White House and Democrats on the Hill could be in for a bit of a shake-up in November and you're right, that's a point Hildebrand mentioned as well. There's still time for Democrats to make that course correction, but he and others are saying it's really time to make sure they do it --

BLITZER: I think -- in that interview with you I think he said -- used the word slaughtered unless they make those course corrections --

HENRY: Right.

BLITZER: -- and he's a very smart guy.

HENRY: That's right. And that's not the kind of message you normally here from the White House podium, from Robert Gibbs or others. They try to say look, were (ph) they still confident about the elections but when people like this, smart Democrats are saying look they could be slaughtered in November, that's a wake-up call -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report. Ed Henry our senior White House correspondent. Thank you.

A TSA insider is indicted for allegedly trying to sabotage a computer that contained a database for screening potential terrorists.

And as a new feud divides Republicans whose side is Karl Rove on? I'll have some tough questions for the former top adviser to President Bush. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary, what else is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a Colorado man is facing charges for attempting to intentionally damage a protected TSA computer. According to the indictment the 46-year old worked for the TSA at its Colorado Springs Operation Center. The Operation Center is responsible for loading sensitive data from terror screening centers and the U.S. Marshal Service into its computer services. If convicted, he could face 10 years in federal prison.

Pakistani intelligence officials tell CNN a suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least 12 people in northern Pakistan today. They report the drone fired at least five missiles into a vehicle and when suspected militants came to help, the drone fired again. The officials say it happened in a village believed to be a haven for Islamic extremists near the border with Afghanistan.

And President Obama is reaching out to the president of Haiti. As the two leaders stood at the White House Rose Garden following an Oval Office meeting, Mr. Obama pledged America's commitment to help the embattled nation recover. Mr. Obama emphasized that the crisis there has not passed and warned a second disaster could strike as Haiti enters the rainy season. Many people are still without homes after January's deadly earthquake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We wish those folks only -- only the best, good luck to them, thanks Mary.

Even some Republicans are now asking if Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, has crossed the line. I'll ask Karl Rove if he's siding with or against Liz Cheney in her criticism of Obama Justice Department lawyers who once defended terror suspects. And House Democrats want to try to show they're serious about ethics and saving money so they are proposing a new ban on something near and dear to their hearts.


BLITZER: Karl Rove is opening himself up to tough questions now that he's out promoting his new book. We spoke earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM about the biggest -- some of the biggest controversies of the Bush era including the Iraq war, the hunt for those weapons of mass destruction. Now we turn to the current political climate. Here's more of my in-depth interview with the former adviser to President Bush.


BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the current issues under way right now. Who do -- who are you with? Are you with Liz Cheney or her critics among those conservative lawyers, including Ken Starr, who say she's going way too far in accusing some of the Bush -- excuse me -- the Obama Justice Department lawyers who previously defended Guantanamo detainees as the "al Qaeda Seven" or calling the Department of Justice the Department of Jihad. Who do you agree with? Would it be Ken Starr or Liz Cheney?

KARL ROVE, FORMER ADVISER TO PRES. BUSH: My view of it is -- is that I am concerned about -- we need to have full information. Who are these people within the Justice Department and were they involved in fundamental questions of detainee policy. That is to say (INAUDIBLE) everybody is entitled to a legal defense, and if you're going to have people in civil courts or criminal courts they're entitled to having the best legal representation possible.

But I'm worried about people -- look, would we take somebody who was a lawyer for Enron and feel fully comfortable if we then put them in a role at the Securities and Exchange Commission where they had involvement in policy questions that might affect situations like Enron. I think we need to know more about this before coming to a conclusion. I think the Department of Justice has unfortunately been less than forthcoming and congressional requests for information about who these people are and whether or not they're involved with questions of detainee policy.

BLITZER: But so many of these Bush/Reagan lawyers who have written this letter with Ken Starr, people like David Rifkin (ph) and Brad Barrison (ph), John Ballenger (ph), Ken Starr, Larry Thompson (ph), the deputy attorney general, they say she has gone simply way too far in what they call a shameful series of attacks. Do you believe Liz Cheney has gone too far?

ROVE: Well I haven't read the letter that you mentioned. I've been out launching a book. But again, I repeat I am concerned about whether or not we have enough information that do -- would we take a lawyer who is representing Enron or WorldCom and be comfortable if they were then put in charge of policy questions at the Securities and Exchange Commission that had to do with the questions that they had represented Enron or WorldCom on?

You know I think that's a -- the delicate balance. On the one hand you want people to have the best possible legal representation, but if you volunteer to represent somebody in a detainee question, do we feel comfortable as a nation and we ought to discuss it. And that's why, you know, knowing where these people are -- knowing who they are and having the Department of Justice be responsive to the inquiries for the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee is entirely appropriate and the Justice Department has not been forthcoming. BLITZER: All right, so it sounds to me like you agree with Liz Cheney.

ROVE: You know what, Wolf? I'd be happy to say it a third time. I would like to see more information. You may want me to pick one side or the other of a dispute, which I haven't even seen the letter that you want me to comment on. I've tried to be forthcoming with you and tell you I think we need to have more information and I hope you would be nervous about taking the lawyer for Enron and put him in charge with policy regarding the same kind of questions he dealt with as a lawyer with Enron at the Securities and Exchange Commission. It ought to be something that in our country we have a public discussion about and there's some light shed on the subject so we can all come to an informed opinion.

BLITZER: Let's move on to some other issues. The Tea Party, is it potentially going to help or hurt the GOP?

ROVE: The answer to that is yes. It will help and hurt. The Tea Party movement is a wide and diverse group. It will hurt the Republican Party if some elements of the Tea Party decide to become third party advocates because it will split the conservative vote. Some members of the Tea Party, however, want to follow that course. The vast majority I think want to remain and are trying to figure out in a decentralized grassroots way how they can remain a force, a movement that holds the feet of elected officials in both parties to the fire over the questions of debts and deficit and spending and growth of government power. I think that's where most Tea Party leaders and members that I talk to are trying to grapple with how they do that.

BLITZER: How is Michael Steele doing as head of the Republican Party?

ROVE: Look, we've had you know a good year. A small dollar fund-raising, not a great year in major dollar fund-raising. We've had a good year in which the urgency (ph) has played a role along with unfortunately (ph) a very robust Republican Governors Association in races in Virginia and New Jersey. You know look, you don't -- you don't get a scorecard until the end of the -- a final scorecard until the end of the election year. We're going to have a good election year. The question is, is it going to be as good as we need and want it to be and that's going to require a robust RNC with lots of money and lots of good voter programs identified and getting out the vote. We have months to go before we will know how well that does. You know, I know there's a lot of consternation out there about this recent finance presentation. I have heard some very negative things about it from people who are major Republican donors and givers and past fundraisers. I wish it hadn't happened. I like the fact that Michael Steele brought new people in the building to help him gear up for the elections ahead and I'm very much looking forward to fall elections.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Should gays be allowed to serve openly in the military? ROVE: I must admit that I'm a proponent of don't ask, don't tell. I want to listen to military leaders and find out what they think the consequences will be for our military but I'm unmoved as of today.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say you're on the fence or you're still opposed?

ROVE: I'm still opposed. I'm unmoved.

BLITZER: Let's talk about gay marriage. Is it time to allow gays to marriage in the United States?

ROVE: I believe in traditional marriage. Marriage is and ought to be between one man and one woman.

BLITZER: Describe the partisanship in Washington right now. Some think it's the worst ever. What do you think?

ROVE: I'm not certain it's the worst ever. We don't see what was being tossed at each party by their leaders in the '90s from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. On the other hand, in one way it's worse than the '90s because at least they didn't pretend they were bipartisan in the '90s. President Obama had a moment last year when he took off. He had the good will of the country. He campaigned on inspiring rhetoric about not red states or blue states but United States and if he sat down and pursued bipartisan resolution, this poison would boil out of the system some. Instead he sought Democrat answers only when it came to writing the stimulus bill it wasn't the white house writing the stimulus bill. They outsourced it to the House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey. I met with a senior white house official who said that the white house never had serious meetings with significant Republican players in the house to adopt their programs. We're seeing the same on health care. The administration says we had an open process because Republicans were at the committee hearings. You don't write bills at committee hearings. You write bills on Capitol Hill or at the white house working over key elements of legislation or talking to each other on a regular basis. When John Boehner said he hadn't talked to the white house chief of staff in months or had a substantive discussion with them, I found it troubling.

BLITZER: How often do you speak with former President Bush?

ROVE: I talk to him every couple days and e-mail him every day or two.

BLITZER: How's he doing?

ROVE: He's got a wonderful life. Deeply involved in his presidential center in Dallas. Life is really good for him.

BLITZER: It must be quite a shock, I guess, or a jolt to go from eight years as president or eight years as one of the top advisers to the president and all of a sudden be out. How have you made that transition? How has that worked out for you? ROVE: I've had a great transition. I left the white house in 2007. You know, I knew when I went there that it would be for a limited period of time. I was grateful that the average tenure of a white house senior aide is 18 to 20 months. I was there for nearly seven years. Being able to serve that long was a great privilege. Life has a way of -- if you move on, if you focus on what comes next, life has a way of providing some interesting opportunities. I'm on fox news. Your competitor. I'm writing each week for "the wall street journal" which is a very challenging thing. I'm writing for "Newsweek." I'm making speeches. I'm doing interesting things inside and outside of politics.

BLITZER: You're 59 years old so what's next as far as politics is concerned? Are you going to get back into that political arena?

ROVE: You know, not like I was before. I'll never get out of politics. I have friends in public office. I have things that I want to do. You can't go back in life. I won't go back to the existence I had before of running a political consulting firm and signing up clients and advising campaigns in exactly that way.

BLITZER: That won't happen anymore?


BLITZER: Karl Rove's book is entitled "Courage and Consequence." Thank you very much for joining us.

ROVE: Thank you for having it. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Third and final part of our interview with Karl Rove.

We'll have the latest in the investigation of Corey Haim's death and the wife of a Michigan Congressman is facing three years in prison.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The 1980s teen heartthrob Corey Haim has died. The 38 year old actor was pronounced dead early this morning at a Burbank hospital after collapsing at his apartment. Police say Haim's death appears to be accidental but could be due to an overdose of some kind. An autopsy is being conducted. Haim's longtime friend and co-star Corey Feldman will be a guest on Larry King tonight. That's at 9 eastern on CNN.

The wife of longtime U.S. Congressman John Conyers is facing more than three years in prison for bribery. A Michigan federal judge sentenced former Detroit city councilwoman Monica Conyers today and refused to set aside her guilty plea. She claims she was the victim of badgering last year when she admitted to taking cash in support of a company contract with the city. She's vowing to appeal the decision. The house has unanimously passed a measure to ban mailings designed to make it look like they came from the census bureau. The vote follows concerns that political groups were using the census names for fund-raising purposes. Mailings marked census have to include the sender's name and address and a disclaimer it's not affiliated with the federal government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton almost got a promotion today from her boss' wife. It happened at the international women's courage award ceremony in Washington D.C. right after Secretary Clinton introduced the first lady. Take a listen.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Thank you. This is indeed a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today. You all look fabulous. This is a wonderful occasion. Let me thank my dear friend senator -- Secretary Clinton. I almost said President Clinton.

SNOW: Good save there. A demotion and then a promotion.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton has fans. There are those that dream she may one day be president. Mary, thanks very much.

Congress is taking aim at earmarks right now but will a proposed ban on the special funding projects end projects like the so-called bridge to nowhere? We're taking a closer look.

And the tension between the white house and U.S. supreme court intensifying. What the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, is now saying.


BLITZER: House Democrats think they may have a way to solve two of their biggest problems at once. Today they unveiled plan to prevent hundreds of pet projects from being tacked on to legislation next. They're hoping it will improve their image after some recent ethics embarrassments and limit big government spending as well. Our Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar takes a closer look at the ban and what it will and won't do. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even with this moratorium, some of the most egregious earmarks could still sail through Congress.


KEILAR: House Democrats are purging the pork with a ban on earmarks that go to for profit businesses.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Starting with the first day that I was speaker of the house we began with reforms.

KEILAR: The ban would be for next year's government spending and it's not complete. Earmarks could still go to nonprofits, local government and universities. One watchdog group commended the move. RYAN ALEXANDER, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: The greatest opportunities for corruption in the earmarking process exist where earmarks are being sent to private companies because those private companies can make campaign contributions, can spend a lot of money lobbying.

KEILAR: The house appropriations committee says the new restrictions would have taken $1.7 billion doctors off this year's spending bills. That's just a fraction of the earmark total, $16 billion according to one count. Not to be outdone by Democrats, Republican leader John Boehner announced his party will mull over a prohibition of all earmarks.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's appropriate for our members to have a conversation about an earmark moratorium and I'm talking about a real moratorium. There's no way to be, you know, half pregnant on this issue.

KEILAR: But both bans wouldn't even touch some of the most infamous earmarks. Remember that bridge to nowhere that was never built? That would still be okay because it wasn't tacked onto a government spending bill. It was attached to a highway measure and the money went to the state of Alaska and not a business. And then there's the C-17 cargo jets the pentagon didn't even want. But last year Congress set aside $2.5 billion for them any way. That funding request would still go through simply because the appropriations committee doesn't consider it to be an earmark. The ban isn't a cure all say watch dogs but it's a step in the right direction.

ALEXANDER: Not every earmark will be covered by this but dangerous earmarks where there's opportunities for corruption will make a difference.


KEILAR: This will be a tough sell for Democrats and Republicans who cling dearly to their earmarks. This is just the house. The Democrat in charge of spending in the Senate canned this idea.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail and the president took aim at the Supreme Court. Now the chief justice is firing back. You'll find out why John Roberts is calling the state of the union address delivered recently by the president a political pep rally.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "the Cafferty file." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is what does it mean that despite the worst recession since the great depression, Americans spent more than $10 billion on cosmetic procedures last year?

Beth in Georgia says, "The idea that you can get yourself a job by looking prettier than others is so classically American in its errors it's not even funny."

Judy says, "It's a sign of the time. Baby boomers are driving this herd. We don't want to look our age and now there are procedures to stall the aging process. Many think it's a way to instant gratification. Instead of eating right and exercising, why not pay for a few nips and tucks. Plastic surgeons have to make a buck too."

Jim writes, "It proves that American vanity is not dead particularly if you are wealthy, since most insurance companies will not cover cosmetic surgery."

Ron in St. Louis, "It's not about looking pretty for a job interview. It's about not looking as old. Age discrimination in employment is rampant. People need all the help they can get."

Joan in Atlanta, "The fact that so many people are getting cosmetic procedures while Rome burns is symptomatic of the decay in our values. When big breasts are more important than retirement savings, it's time to say you're on your own."

Chrissie says, "It means that there are a lot of people out there who are desperate for a job. They can't think of what wits' end and can't think of what else to do to make themselves more marketable. They get whiter teeth or get work done to look less tired. Can't say as I blame them."

Barbara in North Carolina says, "They're just like you, Jack, getting all those beauty things done. Sorry yours turned out so badly. You should sue." Lovely. Stop laughing.

You want to read more on this go to my blog at

BLITZER: That is why we need tort reform, medical malpractice.

CAFFERTY: I haven't had anything done so there is no basis for a lawsuit. And that's obvious, isn't it.

BLITZER: You have a very handsome man, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Oh, stop it.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: Goodbye.

BLITZER: The chief justice of the United States John Roberts is still upset of the atmosphere at the state of the union address. You'll recall that President Obama got a standing ovation when he criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling with the justices sitting only a few feet away. Brian Todd is looking into the latest fallout. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president drew cheers that night, Wolf, but it was clearly a moment of tension in the chamber. Our sources says the chief justice has been simmering ever since. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Sources close to Chief Justice John Roberts tell CNN since President Obama ice state of the union address, Roberts has been privately frustrated by this scene.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.

TODD: It was almost unheard of. A biting, face-to-face political jab at the court by the president with the whole world watching. With the exception of Samuel Alito's mouthing of the words not true. The justices sat virtually motionless as Congressmen cheered around them. Sources say that bothered Roberts more than the criticism itself and now he is firing back.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up literally surrounding the Supreme Court cheering and hollering while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there, expressionless I think is very troubling. To the extent the state of the union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there.

TODD: Some may not be there again. One court source says it is a good bet Alito won't go to a state of the union soon and the source says Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy may not either. Our sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they're not allowed to comment officially for the justices say all nine members of the bench, even the liberals were uncomfortable. As for Roberts, the sources don't believe this is personal but the two men clearly have a tense history. It dates back to late 2005 when then Senator Obama not only voted against Roberts' confirmation but publicly criticized him on the Senate Florida, "He has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.

OBAMA: That I will execute --

TODD: Roberts' slip at Mr. Obama's seminal moment was clearly unintentional but became a point of the awkwardness. Roberts tried to smooth the awkwardness hosting the president-elect. CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says the Obama white house has its own problems with Roberts' aggressive pursuit of a conservative justice agenda manifested in the campaign finance ruling.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The white house sees John Roberts as a political opponent. The white house sees the citizens united case as a political opportunity. They think they are on the popular side.


TODD: The political tension is likely to continue. There is speculation John Paul Stevens will retire in the coming months and the president will nominate another liberal leaning justice just like him. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you, Brian. Good report.

Let's check in with Campbell. What are you working on, Campbell?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Wolf. Suze Orman is here with what you need to know to save your financial life, especially if you are a woman. Hear what she has to say about taxes, unemployment and whether she sees some economic light at the end of the tunnel.

Also a booming family business we are going to tell you about. Mother and son pot dealers who are making a bundle and it is all legal. That coming up.

BLITZER: Campbell, thank you.

Senator John McCain has a new political weapon in the tough fight for re-election. You might be surprised who is getting behind him and calling him and I'm quoting now" a proven conservative leader."


BLITZER: Here is a look at the "Hot Shots" from the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Pakistan, a worker decorates artificial flowers for a spring festival.

In Iraq, a worker sorts through ballots caste during the national election.

In Oklahoma, the former Olympic sprinter Marion Jones announces her signing with the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA. Jones won a national championship while playing basketball for the University of North Carolina in 1994.

In an photo released today on the white house flicker page, President Obama and Vice President Biden high five after watching Sasha Obama and Biden's granddaughter play in a basketball game in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our political ticker today, Republican John McCain has a new key endorsement in his re-election bid for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. It's coming from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He calls McCain a proven conservative leader. McCain is facing a challenge on the right from former Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

He is a rising new star in the Republican Party and now he's landed a book deal. Scott Brown the newly elected senator from Massachusetts will publish a memoir early next year. Brown pulled off a surprising victory in January winning the seat held for more than two decades by the Democrat, known as the lion of the Senate, the late Ted Kennedy.

She is known as Granny D. Doris Haddock, the political activist most famous for her 1999 trek across the country in support of campaign finance reform died yesterday at the age of 100 from a respiratory illness. Haddock was an avid supporter of McCain Feingold the legislation enacted by John McCain and Russ Feingold. She attempted a run in the Senate in 2004 but lost to Judd Gregg.

That's it for us. Thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.