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Your Cash & Your Credit at Stake; CBC: White House Not Listening; Spielberg, Hanks & The Pacific

Aired March 11, 2010 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, House Republicans make a new claim for voters who are fed up with wasteful spending. And they're trying to one-up Democrats along the way.

Will GOP lawmakers make good on their plans to stuffing bills with pet projects?

Also, this hour, a top former adviser who helped President Obama get elected says he fears the Democrats will be "slaughtered" in November.

I'll ask Steve Hildebrand if he's pulling back from his prediction after meeting with his old pals over at the White House.

And Hollywood comes to the World War II Memorial here in Washington. Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks honor veterans who served in the Pacific with personal tributes and a powerful new TV series.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


All of us who have been following the health care reform debate for more than a year may be experiencing a little deja vu right now.

Remember all those supposed deadlines were never met?

Guess what?

The prospect of getting a bill to the president before he leaves for Asia on March 18th is looking even more unlikely right now.

Listen to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, pretty much brush off that debate -- that date.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: March 18th is an interesting date. We will take up the bill when we're ready to take up the bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- Dan, I take it the White House isn't sounding very optimistic about March 18th, either.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And, you know, that's the danger of having deadlines, is that people focus on that date and if you miss it, it becomes the story. Well, the White House had virtually circled March 18th on the calendar. Robert Gibbs stood behind that number. But today, he appeared to be creating a little bit of wiggle room.

Take a listen to Robert Gibbs just last week and then today.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When I said that March 18th was a time that we believed was doable, that, again, that's based on -- that's not me deciding to make a little cable news. It was based on conversations that we had yesterday, specifically with senior staff at the White House; based on conversations they've had with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid.



GIBBS: Our hope is to get this done as soon as possible. If it -- if it takes a couple of extra days after a year, it takes a couple of extra days.

QUESTION: You're backing off the 18th date?

GIBBS: No, I'm -- I'm -- I'm -- I am -- I am saying that the president wants, as do -- as does everybody here, wants to get this done as soon as possible.


LOTHIAN: So, putting that deadline aside, the White House continues pushing very hard. The president meeting today with members of the Congressional Black Caucus here at the White House. White House aides saying that the president expressed to them a sense of urgency, that he needs not only their support, but also for them to build support in the House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does the White House believe that all the ratcheting up of the rhetoric against the health insurance industry is really changing attitudes out there?

LOTHIAN: They really do, Wolf. You know, that's a very good question. And I asked Robert Gibbs that today. He said that he fell that the rising prices or the health care costs and also this hard push by the administration has helped to crystallize the debate. Also, he said, it's really localized what people are facing and we'll continue to see more of this.

The president heads to right outside Cleveland, Ohio on Monday to continue to push health care reform.

BLITZER: They're pushing and pushing and pushing.

Dan, thank you.

President Obama has said that everything that can be said about health care reform has already been said. But you can bet there are some important discussions going on behind closed doors right now.

Let's get a feel of what they're saying privately inside the White House.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has been talking with the administration officials.

Do they still feel that when all the dust settles in the coming weeks, let's say, they will get health care reform enacted into law?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do. I mean, and overwhelmingly, they do. And overwhelmingly, they think this deadlines and yes, you know, put out a deadline and then the House smacks you back. That's one thing. But they think that's all process; that, in the end, what the American people are going to do is they're going to look at a bill. And in the forefront of that bill will be health insurance reform.

It will be no longer is there a cap on your lifetime benefits. It will be no longer can they throw you off your health care health insurance plan if you get sick. So they think those are the sorts of things that will begin to move the polls.

As you know, they've been -- now the White House is -- is now pointing to some polls that they have internally that show that support for the president's plan is growing. They -- they see that that will go forward. And they also think that, by and large, a lot of what you see in the public polling, when it's against the president, against the health care plan, they think it's a reflection of Washington not doing anything.

So they think just the fact that something gets done and that it does have this health insurance reform in, bodes well for the president.

BLITZER: Are they concerned that if nothing is done, let's say, by the Easter recess at the end of this month and all these members go back to their districts and hear from their constituents, that then it will be even more difficult once they return to Washington, to get it done?

CROWLEY: Time is always the enemy of legislation, because these Congressmen do go home and they get an earful. It -- the airwaves are open for people to shape what they think is in the bill.

But I hear a lot more concern on Capitol Hill about not doing it before the Easter deadline, simply because they believe that they've to get health care done and turn to jobs, because when these members go home, they hear a lot more about the jobs and the economy than they hear about health care.

So they want to get this done, because after Easter, they want to come back and focus on jobs.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, let's see what they can do. They've got a couple of weeks or so. The President is going to be gone for several days, as he heads off to Indonesia and Asia.

Thanks very much, Candy, for that.

Over at the Capitol today, a political version of can you top this?

House Republicans promise they won't stuff spending bills with any of the -- their pet projects for a year. This comes a day after Democrats pledged a more limited ban on those pet projects, known as earmarks.

Both parties are responding to anger among so many Americans, who think lawmakers are way too quick to spend and sometimes waste taxpayer money.

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who has been working this story for us.

A ban on so-called earmarks, let's get some perspective, though, on this. It's billions of dollars. But in the scheme of things, it wouldn't really change all that much dramatically.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you do look at total government spending, it's true, it is just a fraction. In fact, if you look overall, you'll see that most of government spending, $2.2 trillion of it, goes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. And earmarks aren't attached to this.

But look at this purple chunk over here. This is discretionary spending. You know, this is what funds the Energy Department, the Education Department and the Defense Department. That's $1.4 trillion. This is where earmarks go.

See that little sliver, the yellow sliver?

$10.2 billion amount so -- or about. So in the scheme of things, you might say, hey, that's chump change, Wolf. But, actually, it's very significant, because critics of earmarks say that this is what makes things ripe for corruption, that lobbyists can put campaign donations toward candidates and they can get earmarks in exchange.

BLITZER: And $10 billion is still, when all is said and done, $10 billion...

KEILAR: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- is nothing to sneeze at.

Explain the difference between what the Democrats are proposing in terms of earmark reform and what the Republicans are proposing.

KEILAR: Well, first off, the ban that Democrats proposed yesterday that we discussed, this would be a ban on earmarks that go to for-profit companies. But then today, Republicans came out and they said we want a ban on all earmarks. So it would be for for- profit companies, but it would also be for, you know, non-profits or money that goes to states for public works projects, money that goes to universities and the like.

BLITZER: And these proposals are in the House right now.

What about the Senate?

KEILAR: Yes, in the Senate, it's a different story. In fact, Democrats -- for instance the top Democrat on the spending committee in the Senate, Daniel Inouye, he completely panned this idea. And then you have Republicans who are kind of split on this. Some of them may want to see earmark reform like this, but others say, you know, this is our prerogative and this is also a check that we have on President Obama's budget.

Actually, one Senate Republican aide said to me, this is a political ploy on the part of Democrats and Republicans in the House. And even though we talk so much, Wolf, about how there isn't a lot of bipartisanship on the Hill, as you know, there's certainly a bipartisan love of these earmarks.

BLITZER: Yes. They like that money.


BLITZER: OK, thanks very much, Brianna Keilar.

Vice President Biden went to the Middle East to talk peace, but he wound up in a bit of a diplomatic spat with Israel.

As he wraps up his trip there, will there be any lasting damage to US-Israeli relations?

And the harsh realities of war in a new TV series from the superstars who produced "Band of Brothers".

Just ahead, Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks -- they're here in Washington to pay tribute to World War II veterans and to promote their compelling new drama, "The Pacific."


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

CAFFERTY: There's a little quote here, Wolf: "The time for talk is over. It's time to vote."

Those are the words President Barack Obama about health care reform, which has consumed almost the entire first year of his presidency. And it may not be time on vote yet at all. As this thing moves toward some sort of resolution one way or another, it seems that it's destined to leave an indelible mark on Mr. Obama's legacy. After nearly a year of debates and town hall meetings and angry Tea Partiers, closed door meetings in Washington, thousands and thousands of pages of proposed legislation and a televised daylong summit, is not clear if the Democrats have the votes yet to turn the president's signature issue into law.

Even though the Democrats are poised to use a procedure called reconciliation to shove this thing through the Senate -- they would only need a simple majority -- it's far from a done deal over in the House. Nancy Pelosi may not have the necessary votes there, either, with some Democrats worry about abortion and others just worry about getting re-elected.

Critics say that President Obama left too much power in the hands of Congress for too long. He didn't step in early enough and assert his leadership. Instead, he waited until the bill had become a mangled mess, with everybody's fingerprints on it except his.

Well, now the president is out there every day giving campaign- style speeches, but it may be too little too late. A large majority of Americans don't want this current bill. There's still more than two years until the president stands for re-election -- if he does. And it's worth pointing out that although Bill Clinton failed to pass health care reform during his first term, he went on to be re-elected and became one of the more popular recent presidents in office.

So here's the question this hour -- how will the fate of the health care reform bill ultimately affect President Obama's legacy?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog.

Somebody stole my wastebasket.



BLITZER: I hope you find it, Jack. Not to...

CAFFERTY: Yes, I'm going to look.

BLITZER: Not to worry. We have other ones there, too.


BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Good question.

Vice President Biden wrapping up a sometimes tense trip to the Middle East right now. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly apologized to Biden for announcing new construction in a disputed area of East Jerusalem during the vice president's visit. Biden welcomed the statement, but he repeated his criticism of the settlement plan that threatened efforts to restart indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad -- men who I've known for a long time -- Israeli leaders finally having willing partners who share the goal of peace between two states and have the competence to establish a nation. Their commitment to peace is an opportunity that must be seized. It must be seized.

Who has there been better to date at the prospect of settling this with? But instead, two days ago, the Israeli government announced an advanced planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. I realize this is a very touchy subject in Israel, as well as my own country. But because that decision, in my view, undermines the trusts required for productive negotiations, I, and at the request President Obama, condemned it immediately and unequivocally.


BLITZER: And he was applauded at that address at Tel Aviv University for making that statement.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

How much of a strain do you think this latest spat has really put on U.S.-Israeli relation, more specifically, relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Wolf, both sides scrambled today to undo some of the damage, because it -- this really has been a botched trip that was undermined by the announcement two days ago, unexpectedly, by the Israeli government of these new settlements.

And I think that Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu recognized how much damage was done. And they -- and they hustled to get this thing put back together today.

But I don't think there's any doubt, Wolf, that one -- once you've gone through one of these experiences, as Joe Biden did -- and he's a veteran, of course, with international travel and diplomacy, then it leaves a -- it leaves doubts in people's minds. It leaves some skepticism, you know, that was this truly an accident or a mistake or was there something intentional here?

Because Vice President Biden went to the Middle East to jump start the talks. And even now, we are only talking about indirect talks. For he -- for more than a decade, the Israelis and Palestinians have been talking directly to each other. So jump- starting indirect talks hardly seems like a milestone. But even that was set back by the -- this flap.

BLITZER: I think the key issue here is confidence -- has the Obama administration lost a lot of confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu, specifically, even though his aides say he, too, was blindsided by this announcement from the interior ministry in Israel. There are plenty of officials here in Washington who simply don't believe that could have -- that could have happened that way.

GERGEN: Well, I...


GERGEN: It -- it -- it seems about as -- the fact that they put the announcement out while Joe Biden was on his trip was about as accidental as Joe Biden showing up 90 minutes late for a dinner with -- with Mr. Netanyahu. I think both sides say, oh, yes, well, we didn't mean it. Well, neither side believes that.

But, Wolf, I think the truth is that neither side had a huge amount of confidence in the other going into this trip. As you'll recall, early on, President Obama essentially gave the Israelis an ultimatum, saying you've got to freeze all settlements. And even good friends of the United States and Israel say you're demanding more than any Israeli prime minister could deliver.

And then when Prime Minister Netanyahu said, no, we're not doing that, President Obama seemed to back down. He seemed to cave in the face of that, saying, that, well, it's no longer an ultimatum.

And coming out of that, there was a sense that the Americans didn't think -- you know, they saw Netanyahu standing up to him and they didn't thing they could necessarily trust him. And Netanyahu's people thought, you know, if we put pressure on -- on the Americans, they -- they'll buckle.

So that does not leave you in -- with a strong sense of shoulder to shoulder partnership that we've ordinarily enjoyed with the Israelis that's been important, in the judgment of many past administrations, to American security.

So this is -- this is -- this is an unhappy episode. It's -- it's one that can be cleaned up, but it's going to take some time.

BLITZER: Yes. And the question is, will the peace talks actually get off the ground, even if they're...

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- proximity or indirect talks, as they -- as they're called. We'll watch that closely.

David, thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: After all the controversy over President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, we're finally learning what he intends do with the $1.4 million award money. Stand by to find out who's getting a piece of that money. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Lisa Sylvester.

We're getting some disturbing word on a car accident involving the wife and daughter of the Senate majority leader -- Lisa, what's going on?

SYLVESTER: Yes, Wolf. This information is just in. And CNN has learned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's wife and daughter have been taken to a Washington area hospital after being involved in a car accident.

In a written statement, Senator Reid's office says their car was rear-ended and that they are now being treated. No word yet on the extent of the injuries.

Well, President Obama says he wants to double U.S. exports over the next five years. That goal is part of his National Export Initiative, launched to help the economy. Among other things, it will work to protect American intellectual property and promote high tech industries. The president also announced an export promotion cabinet, which will include the secretaries of State, Treasury, Agricultural, Commerce and Labor.

And a glimmer of good economic news. Americans are seeing net worth increase. The Federal Reserve says household net worth rose 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter, to $54.2 trillion. And that marks the third straight quarter of gains. But, to put it in perspective, those gains would have to rise another 21 percent to get back to the pre- recession peak.

And the White House is revealing where President Obama will donate his Nobel Peace Prize money. The $1.4 million will be divided among 10 charities, including the United Negro College Fund and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. The most money, though, a quarter of a million dollars, will go to the Fisher House, which provides housing for families of patients being treated at military and V.A. hospitals.

And that is a wonderful organization -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I've done some work together with them. And it is, indeed, a wonderful organization. They do important work for wounded troops.

We appreciate everything that they're doing and they could use that $250,000.

SYLVESTER: Oh, that's a lot of money there.


All right, Lisa.

Thank you. A political ally of the president is sending up flares. Steve Hildebrand says the Obama White House better correct course, and fast, or the November elections will be a political bloodbath for Democrats.

Just ahead, Hildebrand tells us how his pals over at the White House responded when he delivered his warning.

And a new effort by the Senate Banking Committee chairman to push ahead with financial regulations. It may sound like just another example of gridlock here in Washington, but this is something that affects all of us right in our wallets.


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

Happening now, toxic air -- could you be inhaling it on your next flight?

Some passengers and crews say they already have had some of these problems and it's causing them some serious health risks.

Broadband in rural America -- communities nationwide are vying for billions in stimulus dollars to wire their communities. But the money may not be going where you would expect.

And it's a spoof on a very real killing -- why an Israeli supermarket is now re-creating the Dubai murder of a Hamas operative.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's one thing for the White House to be criticized and second- guessed by adversaries, but when an old friend who helped the president win the White House delivers the bad news, it's something else entirely.

And joining us now, Steve Hildebrand.

He was the deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama in the campaign. But look at this.

You said to our Ed Henry yesterday, Steve, that the Democrats would be "slaughtered" -- your word -- in November if -- unless they took some dramatic action right away.

Then you went to the White House.

How did that meeting go?

STEVE HILDEBRAND, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Wolf, the -- the dramatic action is Democrats need to put forth a reform agenda. It's something that Democrats campaigned heavily on and in 2006 and 2008. We campaigned against the culture of corruption that we blamed the Republicans for. Barack Obama now, as president, he campaigned dramatically on changing Washington. And I think the voters are going to punish the Democrats this fall unless we live up to those things.

BLITZER: You mean the changing of the political culture here in Washington?

HILDEBRAND: I mean you guys did a long series on Broken Government. I mean, there's no question that Washington is broken.

We've got an opportunity now -- we control both houses of Congress -- to put in a real reform agenda, to do campaign finance reform, to do lobbying reform, you know, ethics reform. We could do all of this and it would help our re-election.

We should do it because it's the right thing, by the way.

BLITZER: How was that initiative received at the White House when you went there yesterday?

HILDEBRAND: It was good. I had a -- I had a very good discussion with David Axelrod. You know, he certainly, and -- and the president certainly shares a lot of this exact same feelings. You know, they're proud. He's proud of being the one who put in the -- the most restrictive lobbying regulations, in his administration, than any president before him.


HILDEBRAND: And he's done a lot of good things.

BLITZER: So I take it what you're concerned about -- there were a whole bunch of Republican politicians in recent years who have wound up in jail. And now there are a whole bunch of Democratic politicians who find themselves in -- in deep trouble right now.

That's what sparked you -- your concern?

HILDEBRAND: Look, I'm -- I'm a partisan Democrat, no question. But I'm also somebody who lives out in the middle of America, who is pretty tired of Washington and their ways. We...

BLITZER: You live in South Dakota?

HILDEBRAND: Yes. We have -- we have a Congress in this country that polices its own ethical behavior and nothing ever comes of it.

BLITZER: And you're blaming Democrats and Republicans?

HILDEBRAND: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: And so where does health care reform fit into this, because it seems that's priority number one for this White House?

They want to get it passed.

HILDEBRAND: Sure. I think part of the -- of a good reform agenda would include the use of -- I'm sorry, getting rid of the filibuster or doing something different with the filibuster so that the minority party can't just hold up everything.

BLITZER: But aren't you afraid the Democrats will be in the minority one of these days...

HILDEBRAND: I think that's going to...

BLITZER: -- and they'll want to stop the Republicans from taking action?

HILDEBRAND: I think that's the risk you take. If you're going to be genuine about this reform, it shouldn't favor one party over the other. It should be done because it's the right thing to do for the American people. Congress is broke. Washington is broke. And we should do something to try to if I can it because the country is in trouble.

BLITZER: Who is to blame? From your perspective on this -- really change from a year ago to now as far as no only the president that's popularity concerned but the Democrats in Congress.

HILDEBRAND: I think that -- I think a lot of us share in the blame. You know, we haven't done a good enough job of telling the American people what we stand for.

BLITZER: Is it just -- communications or have you done a good job doing stuff?

HILDEBRAND: We need to be stronger leaders and I think we immediate to be more aggressive. We immediate to push back when Republicans -- try to describe us in certain negative terms. I don't think that we do that very effectively. And I think we should always be on the offense.

BLITZER: Are you ready go back to work for Barack Obama?

HILDEBRAND: I will always help Barack Obama.

BLITZER: In his re-election campaign.

HILDEBRAND: Some capacity.

BLITZER: You are ready to do that.

HILDEBRAND: I'm not ready to move to Chicago.

BLITZER: But you are ready at some point to help him.

HILDEBRAND: I want him re-elect.

BLITZER: Steve Hillenbrand, thank you very much for coming on.

Any hope of getting Republicans and Democrats to work together on financial reform seems to banish today. Senate backing committee chairman Chris Dodd said he will offer his own version of a sweeping overhaul without GOP support. After a move talks with the Republican senator bob corker they failed to resolve key sticking points today. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is working this story for us. Jessica, explain why this is so significant, not just to Wall Street but Main Street.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a matter that affects every person who is watching this. Their whole financial picture. One reason why is this bill would have a regulator looking out for consumers. This regulator would make sure there are fewer tricks and traps. Your mortgage, your credit cards. But another reason as Washington is taking its time making all of these new rules, banks are holding off on making loans because they are worried what's coming out of Washington and that hurts business and keeps down job growth. The big banks will -- they can basically do the same things they were doing before the meltdown because Washington hasn't come out with any new rules yet.

BLITZER: What are the major sticking points?

YELLIN: Here is where the big disagreements lie. Over a consumer protection agency, this is the thing that would look out for the tricks and traps in your credit cards. There is a debate over where it should be. If it should be a standalone agency or how independent it will be. Then there's a disagreement about how government will set up the authority to dismantle failing firms. And then the big -- another big confusing is risky trades. How must be will they be made in the future? There is a lot of disagreement in those areas. While they are debating them and not getting anything done, here is where we stand. Basically the U.S. is in the same position we were in before. And got led to the $2.3 trillion we spent bailing out the big banks and Wall Street. And that's because Wall Street, as I said, basically can do all the things that got news the mess to begin with. Now, Senator Dodd has spent a lot of time negotiating with Republicans trying to get to a bipartisan bill. While he is focused on the Republicans, he's got his left, progressives, fed up, too. Some in his own party are so worried about compromise, that they seem to be threatening to not support a bill. Let's listen.


SEN. TED KAUFMAN (D), DELAWARE: It is my sincere hope we don't enact compromise measures that give only the illusion of change and false sense of accomplishment. If we do it will have set in place the prelude for the next financial crisis.


YELLIN: That's the senator who took Vice President Biden's seat. In Senate speak it sounds like a warning. All today I spoke with four senators. Democrats or people who vote with Democrats who made it clear that they are open to voting no on financial reform and if they think this bill is too watered down. In other words, Senator Dodd is getting pressure from the left and the right and meantime, Wall Street reform hasn't happen.

BLITZER: Another issue stymied in Washington. At least for now. Jessica, thanks for that explanation.

President Obama invites black law makers to the White House today. Some are deeply concerned that the White House isn't listening to them.

And Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, they are here in Washington as well. You are going to find out how their compelling new drama is honoring World War II veterans.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, former Republican Candidate Mitt Romney's newest book is soaring to number one on "The New York Times" bestseller's list. A source says that the book entitled "No Apology, The Case for American Greatness" is set to debut in the top spot on March 21st. Romney widely believed to be a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is in the midst of a nationwide book tour. You saw him here in THE SITUATION ROOM over the past few days.

Two other potential 2012 presidential nominees are lending their support to a fellow Republican Congresswoman. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will campaign in Minneapolis next month from Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. She's been an outspoken advocate for the tea party movement and facing re-election.

The comedian turned Democratic Senator Al Franken will be taking on a new role this summer. Keynote speaker. Franken will deliver an address at this year's net roots nation convention. Gathering of liberal bloggers. The convention begins July 2nd in Las Vegas. Trying to narrowly defeat the Republican Senator Norm Coleman in 2008. Was not sworn into the Senate until late in July. Following a lengthy recount.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is trying his hand as late-night comedian. Blagojevich, impeached after being accused of trying to sell president Obama's former Senate seat, delivered the top ten list on David Letterman's show last night. He didn't hold back.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: How about my own show? The haircut ref? How come I'm not a governor if Paterson is? Will my hair get along with Trump's hair?


BLITZER: Blagojevich, who will appear in the new season of the NBC's series "Celebrity Apprentice," is in New York promoting the premiere next week. Remember, for the latest political news, any time, you can check out You can follow my tweets as well.

President Obama has gotten his share of tough love from African American lawmakers. Does he have serious problem with Democrats who should be among his strongest allies? Meeting today over at the White House may provide an answer.


BLITZER: Big meeting at the White House. The president meeting with members of the black caucus. Let's discuss in the strategy session. Joining us now are CNN political analyst, Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and Republican strategist, John Feehery. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. This article in politico, I don't know if you saw it but it was tough. Let me read a paragraph from it. House judiciary committee chairman John Conyers told Politico White House officials are, quote, not listening to black lawmakers. Rep Alcee Hastings said there is not enough attention positive poor people. Jesse Jackson Jr. said while I respect President Obama, delivering victories for his political future should be the least of our worries on Capitol Hill. The members of the Congressional black caucus went over to the White House today and Barbara Lee came out, Congresswoman, and she said this after the meeting.


REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm speaking on behalf of the Congressional black caucus. The -- you are hearing gremlins. I don't know where you are hearing gremlins from. We are talking from a black caucus today. You see us all here and majority of caucus members are here.


BLITZER: All right. I heard grumblings, by name, members of the Congress am black caucus. How big of a problem is this for the president?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, I understand that they had a very frank, a very constructive conversation with the president. The focus of the meeting, of course, was to discuss jobs. The fact that there are so many more African Americans who are unemployed, so many people of color and the black caucus went to stress the importance of having programs to address those critical communities that need resources right now. They also talked about the disadvantaged business programs and asked the administration to continue ton follow the initiatives, ensure money is being targeted to to the communities in need. It could be have been a rowdy meeting but was a constructive conversation.

BLITZER: I do hear grumblings going on from the Congressional black caucus.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRAGEGIST; If I was a member of the CBC, I would be furious with the president. He has not done -- 50% unemployment rate in Detroit. The African American community is well beyond the depression. I don't think he is shying away from it. I don't know what kind of politics he is playing but has to show he is fixing problems. If I were a member I would be angry.

BRAZILE: Action speaks louder the words. The black caucus, Barack Obama as a senator, member of the black caucus. There's no question he's president of the United States and he's not president of black America. What the black caucus is urging the president and administration, same thing they did with George Bush and Bill Clinton, going on, they would like to make sure that this president focuses on the critical areas that can bring jobs, 'principle advertiseship programs, youth training programs, back to the urban areas where people are hurt.

BLITZER: You sense that they really want to get over this health care issue so that the president can start focusing in on jobs? Is that what you are hearing?

BRAZILE: Health care is critical. 85% of the people with health insurance have employer based. When you don't have a job you don't have health insurance. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

BLITZER: The longer the health care hangs over the White House, the less likely he will be able to deal with these other issues.

FEEHERY: The only issue that matters most Americans out of work is jobs. Donna is absolutely right. The president's priorities are mixed up right now. First things should have been jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. He has not been talking about. Fixate order the health care thing. Which I'm not sure is going to help create jobs. Some people say it is. I don't think it will. I think it will be bad for jobs. That's the big -- priority problem for the president.

BRAZILE: Black people need health care. What people, black people. We all need health care. It is not either/or. You need are a job so you can afford it. It is a priority. We believe the priority --

BLITZER: How many will vote against the Democrats' health care bill?

BRAZILE: I know that --

BLITZER: How many?

BRAZILE: Look, I think the speaker has her hands full. I think she - Arturo Davis from Alabama, that's a vote she has to be concerned about. I'm concerned about that vote in Louisiana. We had a member, Republican member, represented a really strong minority district and yet, he is talking about voting against the bill. There's month question, one, two black caucus members.

BLITZER: One or two?

BRAZILE: At the end of the day I hope it is only one. It might be one or two.

BLITZER: Even the real liberal ones, they are going to hold their nose and vote for it even though it does not have a public option.

BRAZILE: I don't want to preempt Jim Clyburn. He has the whip. I this I the speaker will get the votes because he has Jim Clyburn and many others whipping for those votes.

BLITZER: Two hundred sixteen votes in the House, used to count votes in the House.

FEEHERY: No, not yet. I think it is a problem. Big problem is between the House and Senate. Sense of trust. I don't think the Senate will pick up reconciliation, that will be a lot of house members nervous. I work in the House many years and seen how the jam jobs go and how the Senate jam it is house. There's a problem in -- that rule that if there is a bill that comes out of the House, that has to be signed by the president before reconciliation is taken up. That's a huge problem.

BLITZER: Important point. I have been hearing this from a lot of Democrats in the House. They don't trust the Senate. They're calling the Democrats. This is a problem.

BRAZILE: This bill has been dead before and it will come back. Trust me.

BLITZER: I'm not saying it is dead. It is a problem. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty just ahead with your e-mail. Remembering the reality of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I go over and look at that memorial. I get broken up. Look at those gold stars. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are taking us inside a new series to give Tuesday "Under the Helmet View" of World War II.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is: How will the fate of the health care reform bill ultimately affect President Obama's legacy?

Mark in Oklahoma City writes this: "For some inexplicable reason Obama has focused like a laser on forcing the issue of health care reform when all along the number one task should have been creating jobs. We see now that he is going to accomplish neither. His time and energy wasted on trying to slay the dragon and it will cost him when it comes time for the re-election bid."

Chris in Philadelphia writes: "If it fails, he will be remembered as the president who let Nancy Pelosi hijack his domestic priority and lost and he may not recover. If he is successful with the vote, and the bill works as planned, it will be his legacy. He was able to do what others have tried and failed after decades."

Layne in Illinois says: "It's his Waterloo pure and simple. If he had taken the reigns in the beginning and kept them all of the way through, this would have been resolved, instead, he proved what the rest of the country knew years ago, Congress is so gridlocked, but I hate to think it, but after the next elections, he may be a lame duck."

Annie writes: "It's my hope that he will be the president who got something done for the people against all odds and the millions of corporate dollars fighting against him. We are getting crushed out here with medical costs, seriously."

Peg in New York writes: "Badly, ramming it through is no way to get it through, and yes, I'm a Democrat."

Adam in California: "Big time just like the war was for President Bush."

And Craig in Houston: "President Obama has learned a valuable lesson in the first year in office. He can't point to way. He has to lead the Congress and the country by the hand. I think that his biggest failing is naivete and he thought that the system would work the way he intended it to be."

If you want to read more you will find it on my blog at

BLITZER: Will do Jack. Thank you.

More reason today for Americans to be worried about homegrown terror after the so-called Jihad Jane indictment. We will tell you what we are learning about a New Jersey man under investigation right now.


BLITZER: Now, a powerful tribute to World War II veterans from two of the most powerful men in Hollywood. That is the director Steven Spielberg and actor tom hanks behind the new TV series "The Pacific." They came to Washington to promote the drama and to honor veterans in person at the World War II memorial. We go the Brian Todd over there. Brian, what is going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of buzz around the series which kicks off this Sunday. There was a screening of it tonight at the White House. We caught up with the filmmakers who came here to the memorial today as you mentioned to pay tribute to the veterans who inspired this work.


TODD: What Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are after is for you the feel the fear and the discomfort and the climate of war and with the new series "The Pacific" on CNN's sister network HBO, they feel they have captured it.

STEVEN SPIELBERG, CO-EXEC PRODUCER, THE PACIFIC: It is that the specific war by the very nature of being fought on islands and jungles was a much more inhospitable kind of real estate to fight and die on, and the jungle was just as, you know, pernicious and all-consuming as the enemy we were fighting, so it was a much different war. TODD: Spielberg and Hanks want the viewers to get the under the helmet view of the Pacific campaign in World War II. We were told how they captured most of it captured in Australia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mud is real, the rain is real and the heat and the dust and the fire, and the explosions. It was an immersive environment.

TODD: He plays one of three actual U.S. marines whose stories are intertwined in the series from Pearl Harbor through V.J. Day. None of the three men are alive, but the series is based on books written by two of them. A dedication and replaying in Washington brought the filmmakers came together with hundreds of Pacific veterans and many believe it is overdue. If you talk to the veterans around here, many of them feel that Americans as a whole are not quite getting enough awareness of the pacific theatre of World War II and many are hopeful that this series will change that. Hanks and Spielberg have already produced highly acclaimed depictions of the European campaign in World War II. I asked Hanks about Hollywood's historical commitment to the pacific. Does the pacific theatre in American movies and TV get enough attention in your view?

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Well, it certainly does. It gets a lot of attention, but it ends up running into this basic problem, there is no real geographical logic to the pacific. We never heard of these places. We had heard of Paris and we had heard of Berlin and we had heard of the English Channel in London and we not heard of New Gloucester and New Caledonia and nobody could pick Saipan out on a map on a bet.

TODD: And Freund was ecstatic about the series. He was a radar operator on a destroyer that did convoy duty at the battles at Iwo Jima and Saipan and could barely speak about those he left behind.

JEROME FREUND, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: I think about the war and look at the memorial and I get broken up looking at the gold stars. I'm sorry. Now I know what the hell I fought for.


TODD: Tom Hanks says this project is all about people like Jerome. When I asked hanks if he has properly honored the veterans with the film, he says that depends upon the authenticity, and if they get that right, he believes they have, the honor will come.

BLITZER: And Spielberg, and one cast member, I take it, drawing on the family history?

TODD: They are. Spielberg's father served in the China India Burma corridor in World War II, and one of the cast members Joe Mazela said he had a grandfather in the Philippines and the grandfather was beaming when he got the part.