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Health Care Reform: New Target Date; New Info on Tiger Woods' Crash

Aired March 12, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thank you, Rick.

Happening now, health care reform springs forward and President Obama makes a change in his schedule to be along for the ride. This hour, when the vote may finally happen and what could still go wrong.

Also, it's a legendary high school, a sports powerhouse and the subject of a movie, "Remember the Titans".

Does it deserve to be rated as one of the worst performing schools in the nation?

And anticipation is building for Tiger Woods to make a comeback. A lot is certainly riding on his return to golf and his struggle to repair his image.

Is it still too soon for fans to forgive and forget?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


In the year long push for health care reform, President Obama has crossed off a lot of would-be deadlines on his calendar. But now he's penciling in a new target date -- March 21st, the first full day of spring.

We learned today that Mr. Obama is delaying his trip to Indonesia and Australia until then. And that gives Congress an extra three days to sign, seal and deliver a reform bill.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm delighted that the president will be here for the passage of the bill. It's going to be historic. And it would not be possible without his tremendous, tremendous leadership.


BLITZER: Speaker Pelosi says she's downright exhilarated right now. But we've seen high hopes for reform get dashed before.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by. But let's go to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's up on the Hill -- all right, Dana, walk us through the timetable.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what House Democrats said coming out of their latest meeting this morning was that they believe that they can have a set of votes in the next 10 days, maybe even next weekend, Wolf. They're still waiting for final word from the Congressional Budget Office on how much this health care package is going to cost. But it is absolutely game-on, in terms of the push for the votes.

And although you heard Nancy Pelosi and many other House leaders today sound somewhat optimistic about getting those votes, the reality is that they don't have the magic 216, particularly in the House, we're talking about, 216 Democrats we're talking about yet. And that is why that Nancy Pelosi was so happy the president is staying. They need him to twist arms.

BLITZER: How are they going to finesse, Dana, the whole issue of those Democrats who are anti-abortion, Bart Stupak and about 10 or 12 others, who voted in favor of health care reform, but only as a result of very strict language on -- on abortion?

BASH: At this point, It looks like they're not going to try to finesse it at all. The number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, told me that there are no negotiations going on with Bart Stupak and others at this point, for several reasons. And one is just technical, that even if they do find compromise, the way they are pushing through health care is through this process we talked about known as reconciliation. And technically, anything that is in that package has to do with the deficit. Well, abortion policy doesn't have to do with the deficit.

And, also, some Democrats who I've talked to who are dealing with the vote counting, they say that although Bart Stupak, for example, anti-abortion Democrat, has said flatly he will switch his vote from yes to no if things don't change, others on that list of -- of a dozen may not be as firm and they may be gettable.

And one of the things some undecided Democrats I've talked to say that abortion is just one of the issues. There are lots of other reasons why this is so fluid, namely vulnerable Democrats who are hearing from their folks back home. They're getting hammered and they're worried about voting, yes. They -- they voted yes the first time. And, also, other big policy differences that they have to maybe swallow, like how they are intending to pay for this health care bill, which is quite different from the way the House voted the first time.

BLITZER: And they passed -- let's say they get the 216 votes to pass the Senate version of health care reform, but then they quickly want to pass all these amendments. And now there's talk that some of the amendments won't have anything to do with health care reform, but will try to dramatically change the -- the college student loan industry.

What's that all about?

BASH: That's right. This is something that is another Obama priority. It is, as you say, changing the student loan industry, specifically switching from the private sector -- allowing banks to -- to loan to students -- and taking that over by the government. That is a dramatic change, but it's something that the White House has wanted to do for some time. They have not been able to do it because, somewhat like health, care they don't have the 60 votes in -- in the Senate because of opposition from some Democrats. So, technically, this so-called reconciliation process, it just happens once -- once a Congress, we're told.

So that is why they may add the student loan measure to the health care measure, in order to get it passed, just like they want to try to get health care passed with just 51 votes.

Now, some Democrats say that this is a great thing, that this will save money for students. But Republicans are saying this plays right into their big theme, and that is Democrats want more government intervention. And this student loan program, I mean, it is, point blank, the government taking over this program.

BLITZER: So it will be health care, student loans.

Any other stuff they want to throw in there, as well?

BASH: So far, not. But I wouldn't be surprised if that changes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by on the Hill.

Let's go to the White House right now.

Dan Lothian is covering the story for us.

We learned earlier the president is going to delay his departure from next Thursday to Sunday.

What are they saying about all of this over at the White House -- Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is a critical moment for health care reform. This White House realizes it. Top aides here saying that the president was not pressured by the Democratic leadership to stay here, but in -- but had conversations with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and that they all determined that it was best for the president to spend an additional few days here on the ground to work with those Democrats who still have a lot of questions.

You were just talking about that with Dana -- concerns about what will end up in that bill; concerns that costs. So they felt it was important for the president to delay his trip. And -- and, you know, Wolf, one of the important things here is that the president has been working very hard behind-the-scenes with these Democrats already, working the phones, also having meetings here at the White House. And they do believe that they can make -- make some progress by spending additional time here on the ground, Wolf.

Now, having said that, there are those Republicans who are criticizing this delay, saying this is just an attempt by this administration, the president, to just twist more arms to force this health care reform on a country where many Americans simply don't like it.

BLITZER: You know, Dan, this postponement of this trip or at least the delay for a few days, not the first time he's done that because of health care.

LOTHIAN: That's right. You know, we saw it over the Christmas break, remember, right before departing out to Hawaii. I was here for that, when the president delayed for a few days because he wanted -- he was waiting for the Senate -- that critical Senate vote on health care.

And, you know, what's interesting is that the president really doesn't have to be here on the ground. And Robert Gibbs even acknowledged that today. He can get all of this work done on Air Force One. He has communications devices there. He could communicate even at his destination in secure lines.

And -- but they do feel that, yes, while he can do that, it is very critical for him to be here, to be involved, hands-on, to get this moving forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian watching it at the White House for us.

Thank you, Dan.

People are asking what if -- what if Tiger Woods plays in The Masters next month and wins?

There are several new reports out today about Woods -- Woods' plans for a comeback. I'll ask a sports business analyst about the risk that Tiger Woods may face if -- if he returns to golf too soon.

And President Obama has praised the work done by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Some senators are now demanding to know why the non-profit group is spending so much money.


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

CAFFERTY: All right. After months of hiding out, the implosion of his personal life, the absolute destruction of his squeaky clean reputation and lots and lots of therapy, Tiger Woods might soon tee it up again. The Associated Press reporting Woods will likely play for the first time at The Masters in April. There are other reports he could even play at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Classic Invitational later this month.

Imagine the television ratings if and when he returns to golf. During the past couple of weeks, Woods has been working on his game near his Florida home, working with his swing coach. Woods hasn't played competitive golf professionally for four months, since November the 15th, when he won the Australian Masters. And his troubles sort of began with reports that circulated out of his visit to that country.

Less than two weeks after his 82nd career victory, he crashed his SUV into a tree near his home in the middle of the night and that launched an avalanche of truly creepy revelations about his infidelities -- many, many of them.

When Woods made his first public appearance last month in that tightly scripted, awkward event at PGA headquarters, he said he'd play golf again and he didn't rule out this year, but he just didn't say when Meanwhile, it's more than his golf swing that needs work. Tiger is also working on his image, which was more badly damaged than his SUV. He lost a boat load of valuable sponsors, not to mention the respect of a lot of fans. There are reports now that Woods has hired former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who owns a P.R. sports firm, to help plan his comeback and reburnish his image.

You can't make this stuff up -- a former Bush press secretary.

The Masters could be a pretty good place to do all this. Tiger has won there four times. Plus, it's the only tournament where the media is not allowed inside the ropes.

Here's the question -- if Tiger Woods returns at the Masters, what kind of reception will he get?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

The other question that will be interesting to see is whether or not he'll agree to do interviews, because most of the players at the Masters, any of the big majors, they do interviews after their rounds.


CAFFERTY: It will be interesting to see, one, if he'll agree; and two, if he'll answer all the questions.

BLITZER: And these numbers may not be necessarily precise. But when -- before the scandal, when -- when he wasn't playing golf, maybe CBS would get about four million people watching. When he was playing, maybe 10 million people would be watching. You can only imagine what kind of ratings The Masters will get if he's right in the middle of things.

CAFFERTY: He has had the same impact on the ratings for televised golf that you've had on the broadcasting of televised news.


BLITZER: I think he's done quite -- quite a bit better than that.

Jack Cafferty, thank you.

I know I'll be watching.

Let's get to another big comeback right now. After a year of many, many delays, we possibly could see final passage of health care reform a little over a week from now. Key word -- possibly, if all goes as the Democrats and the White House would like.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David, just tie up this whole notion on this so-called reconciliation bill, the amendments, the chains, the Senate version. They're now going to throw in revising student loans.

What does that have to it with health care reform?

Is this something we should be concerned about?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it's a very significant program, Wolf. And -- and it...

BLITZER: Very significant, but should it be part of this package?

GERGEN: Well, that's something the Congress is going to wrestle with in the next few days. There are Democrats -- just looking at the pure politics of it -- that think that the reforms are popular in the country and that they will be -- help the voting for the Democrats in the House, where it's a really close vote, but that they may lose Democratic votes in the Senate.

It's going to be strongly opposed by Republicans in both chambers, as well as some centrist Democrats.

We might step back, Wolf, and just explain a little bit about what this is all about. The student loan program is a gigantic program. There are about 19 million students in this country who get federal student loans to go to college. And most recent numbers that I've seen are about four million of them get those loans directly from the federal government. The vast bulk of them, about 15 million students, get their loans through private lenders. There are about 2,000 lenders around the country, many of them banks, some non- profits.

And what happens is that the federal government, in effect, subsidizes those banks to originate the loans and to service the loans. So the banks make money doing it and the students then work with their, in effect, their local bankers, in cooperation with their colleges.

Well, what Democrats are saying is, wait a minute, we're paying a lot of -- we're subsidizing the banks here. We're paying money to middlemen. Let's just cut the middlemen out. We'll have the U.S. government make the loans directly and we'll take that money that we save and we'll spend it now on Pell Grants, which are an additional form of college assistance.

And -- and that's got a lot of Democrats excited, because it will mean more money going to college assistance and they don't like the banks to start with, of course.

Well, along come Republicans and say, that's a terrible idea about -- to -- to do that you're only centralizing, as Dana Bash reported a little while ago. You're going to -- you're putting -- concentrating yet -- yet more power in Washington, DC, just like you're trying to do on health care. It's just a -- it's not a good philosophy. These are local jobs that are at stake. These are private companies that help to do this. They do a very good job. A lot of students like them. Some are -- some actually provide a lot of services to students, such as counseling and career counseling and college counseling.

And so there has been this epic battle that's gone on for over a year now in Washington...

BLITZER: So is it going to happen?

Is it going to pass, do you think?

GERGEN: I think...

BLITZER: The student loan -- should the change in the whole campus student loan program?

GERGEN: Let's put it this way, Wolf, they -- they didn't have the votes to get it passed unless they attached it to health care. There was a filibuster looming in the Senate and they simply didn't have the votes to get past the filibuster. This is the only way they think they can get it passed.

It's not totally clear whether it's going to help. There is going to be this argument, this is yet another backroom deal.

BLITZER: All right...

GERGEN: And we don't know how that's going to play. At this point, clearly, the Democrats think it enhances their prospects and they're willing to take the bet. They're willing to take -- they're putting all their chips...


GERGEN: -- on -- on -- on this health care bill. And now they're shoving student loans into it. It's going to complicate the argument. I think some Americans are going to think it's terrific and some Americans are going to think we don't want the president have the -- the government federalize all student loans. We like the current system.

BLITZER: Well, we'll watch it together with you, David.

Thanks very much. GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: David Gergen with some good analysis.

Millions of cars under recall and the legal wrangling for Toyota is far from over. And now, a California District Attorney is taking on the Japanese auto giant.

And a Virginia school praised for taking the lead toward integration is facing a new challenge -- why the inspiration for the film "Remember the Titans" is now struggling to measure up academically.


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

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, severe winter weather during February didn't seem to hinder consumers from getting out and spending. The Commerce Department reports retail sales rose .3 percent despite expectations that there would be a decline. The advance is the largest since November.

Toyota will send an engineer next week to help investigate a suburban New York accident involving a Prius vehicle. The driver in Monday's accident says her Prius accelerated by itself and hit a wall. She isn't sure whether the pedal got stuck. Toyota has recalled more than eight million cars to address gas pedal problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will also send an inspector to investigate.

And in Orange County, California, prosecutors are filing a lawsuit against Toyota. The car company is accused of knowingly selling hundreds of thousands of vehicles with acceleration defects. Toyota is facing at least 89 similar class action lawsuits.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Is making good on his promise to Canada after losing not one, but two bets during last month's Winter Olympics. Gibbs -- there you see him there -- showed up at tonight's White House briefing sporting a red and white Canadian hockey jersey after winning the first bet on women's Gold Medal game, which Canada won. Gibbs went double or nothing with the spokesman for the Canadian prime minister on the men's contest and lost again.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have one official government announcement. We have instructed the embassy -- our embassy and our ambassador -- to make arrangements to deliver one case of Molson Canadian and one case of Yingling Lager from Potsville, Pennsylvania, America's oldest brewery, to the prime minister's office today.


SYLVESTER: But get this. These -- Gibbs later removed the Canadian jersey to a round of -- there you see it there -- a round of ahs and revealed underneath the USA jersey -- Wolf.

Pretty clever, huh?

BLITZER: Very, very clever. A nice jersey, indeed. Team USA, Team Canada -- it was certainly a great game.

There's a new report about the accident that exposed the Tiger Woods scandal. And it comes just as Woods may -- repeat, may be only a few weeks away from trying to make his comeback. We're going to have the latest on that and talk about the stakes for Woods' return to pro-golf.

And Republican leaders share their doubts that Democrats can pass health care reform without them. The House minority leader opens up to our own Candy Crowley.


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

Happening now, the comeback of Tiger Woods may be just around the corner. Scandal rocked his family, his career and his squeaky clean image.

How will the golfing world and his fans respond to his return?

NASA's shuttle is set to be retired this year. But now there's the chance -- the chance that the orbiters may fly a little bit longer.

And it's a very popular charity, serving almost five million children in the United States. Today, why the Boys and Girls Clubs of America stands to lose millions in federal funding.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're learning more today about the crash that exposed the Tiger Woods sex scandal. The Florida Highway Patrol documents show Woods' wife, Elin, gave medical personnel two bottles of pain pills she said her husband had taken earlier in the day. Those documents were released today after a public records request by the "Orlando Sentinel." They also show ambulance crew members had refused to let her ride with her husband to the hospital because they suspected it might be a case of domestic violence.

Woods has strenuously denied his wife ever hit him. This information comes amid reports Woods will return to pro golf within a matter of only a few weeks.

What if that happens? What if that happens?

Will he be able to put the scandal of his personal life behind him?

Joining us now, CNN Sports business analyst, Rick Horrow. He's coming out with a brand new book entitled, "Beyond the Box Score." Rick, thanks very much for coming in.

This is a huge, huge deal, not only for Tiger Woods, but for golf, for business, for -- the interest would be enormous if he shows up at the Masters.

Well, first of all, I haven't finished reading the tabloids, talking about, "I'm sorry."

How do you say I'm sorry 19 times in 13-and-a-half minutes?

He did that. It's hard to do.

And now we're, into when does he come back?

Well, as far as Tiger is concerned, Wolf, let's not hold a bake sale for the guy, because he makes $103 million a year, at least did. And he does have Nike. And he does have EA Sports that will stand by him.

If he plays well out of the box, then remember, he resumes his chase for Jack Nicklaus' major record.

If he doesn't, we talk about his tattered image once again. It's all about what he does between the ropes.

BLITZER: What if he wins the Masters?

That's a -- that's huge what if, given the fact that he hasn't played now in several months and golf is so much a game of focusing in. And it's going to be hard to imagine how he can focus with so much else -- so much other stuff going on in his life.

RICK HORROW, CNN SPORTS BUSINESS ANALYST: Yes, but hard to imagine the guy has won what he's won at 34 years old. It might be the greatest sports story in the history of the world, although I know I'm prone to overstatement.

But take a look at what it does, Wolf, in the golf business. A 1 percent decrease in merchandise sales and golf playing. But it reinvigorates again. He was the guy that went from nine millionaires on the tour when he started to 91 now. So everybody kind of wants him back, even though they end up losing to him on a regular basis.

BLITZER: Are you surprised he could be back within a matter of only a few weeks?

Because when he made that major apology only a few weeks ago, a lot of people said, you know what, he's going to be gone for a long time. He has a lot of personal work to do.

HORROW: Well, every pundit has every expert opinion as to when he comes back, from tomorrow to 10 years from now or anything in between.

So I'm not quite sure when he comes back. Nothing would surprise me, except if the stories are true about maybe the Masters, it is going it be the biggest story, as we said. He's only going to come back if his competitive mind thinks he has a shot at winning.

BLITZER: In other words, he's going to be practicing between now and then to see if he's really ready to play -- play a lot of serious golf.

HORROW: Yes. He's practicing now. And remember, corporate America is waiting for him now, because when you look at all of his endorsement deals, endorsers want him back, including the ones that aren't sure whether they're ready to get on the Tiger bandwagon.

And I think, in the future, every deal after he comes back, regardless of how well he plays, will be shorter and smaller and easier to terminate.

Did you hear that Lebron James and Peyton Manning and even Shaun White?

So, $12 billion in endorsement deals, Wolf, it's all impacted by not only what Tiger has done, but what he's going to do.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story with you, Rick.

Thanks very much.

HORROW: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Rick Horrow, our sports business analyst.

Republican senators raise questions about high salaries and big ticket travel. This time, the subject of their scrutiny is not a corporate board of directors, but a rather popular longstanding charity. Which one might surprise you.

And a word of advice to President Obama from someone who's been there. It's time to shed the town hall meetings and mix it up. Good advice? We'll ask CNN political contributors Mary Matalin and Paul Begala in our strategy session.


BLITZER: Virginia high school that won accolades for the inroads it made toward integration became the subject of an inspiring film. It's listed as one of the nation's poorest academic performers. CNN's Brian Todd is at TC Williams high school in northern Virginia right outside of Washington, D.C. Brian, what has happened here? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this school has legendary status. Clearly does not lack for resources. As you just mentioned it is right now struggling to get out from under the label of being a poor performer.


TODD: The midday rush between classes at TC Williams, a vibrant, diverse and legendary high school in Alexandria, Virginia. Its successful efforts at integration in the '70s immortalized in the movie "Remember the Titans."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to command your troops tonight. You understand?

TODD: It's a sports powerhouse. Boasts a $100 million facelift that included a rooftop garden and state of the art water recycling program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The kids added this as a way to track the rain water to see the sprinkler system.

TODD: Every one of the nearly 3,000 kids here is given a laptop. Despite all this, TC Williams singled out as one of the nation's poorest performing schools by state and federal officials. Given the education crises in places like Kansas City, this label has Alexandria City School Superintendent Morton Sherman fuming.

MORTON SHERMAN, ALEXANDRIA SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: We don't deserve that designation. I think it's an overbroad net and it caught us.

TODD: City and school administrators complain that the low achievement label is based on four tests in reading and math. Tests where TC Williams kids, they say, didn't miss the national average by much. They say federal and state officials don't take into account the fact about 80% of the graduates here go on to college and the dozens of advanced placement classes are offered. A state education official tells CNN over the past two years TC Williams has not reduced its failure rate in math and reading enough to qualify for certain federal money. The school has never met all the testing benchmarks covered in the no child left behind law. I spoke about that with an analyst with the independent think tank, education sector. What do you think is bringing TC Williams down here?

KRIS AMUNDSON, EDUCATION SECTOR: I think there are certainly student groups that have problems. You have kids who may have never gone to school in their home country who came here not speaking English and not very long ago. You have kids who are living in persistent poverty and may have moved seven or eight times.

TODD: More than half the students here live at poverty level. Administrators say only about a quarter of them bring down the school's average. Still, administrators here say no excuses. Morton Sherman says the fact a fifth of the school's Latino students drop out is awful. Assistant principal Tammy Ignacio tells us they have to do triage.

TAMMY IGNACIO, EXEC. ASST. PRINCIPAL, T.C. WILLIAMS H.S.: Extensive tutoring in math, reading instruction, and working with teachers to provide them with the tools they need or tell us that they need.


TODD: Now that's it's been given this low achievement label, TC Williams can get up to about $1.5 million in federal money, but to do that it has to make one out of four very difficult and radical choices. It can fire half the faculty, it can re-open as a charter school, it can overhaul its academic programs which would include lengthening the school day and school year or shut down completely in which case that money would be dispersed to the school that takes the students. The last option of shutting down is not something he can really do because TC Williams is the only high school in the Alexandria school system. There would be no other high school to take these kids.

BLITZER: Brian Todd at the high school for us, good report.

Let's get a wider look right now. How many U.S. schools and by extension, their students are in trouble? According to the education department 12% of the country's schools produce 50% of its dropouts. 5,000 schools are ranked among the lowest performing schools nationwide. The education department intends to invest $4 billion into its efforts to try to turn these lowest achieving American schools around. The department says there's strong evidence turning schools around is having an impact and significantly higher scores in mouth and reading and significantly more students graduating. Lots of work needs to be done to make that happen.

Let's get back to our top story right now. Democrats reporting what they call a tidal wave of progress on health care reform over the past 72 hours. President Obama has delayed his trip to Indonesia and Australia three days until March 21st on hopes he can be on hand for final passage. Some top Republicans are skeptical the Democrats can get this done at all. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, she's the anchor of "State Of The Union." You had an interview with the top Republican in the house, John Boehner.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He said I'll do anything I can to stop this bill. The question is, what really can you do at this point? He also said, look, let's look at the reality of right now and right this moment. That is they don't have the votes.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: They can pass this all on their own. The only bipartisanship that's involved in this town right now, with regard to health care, is there's bipartisan opposition to what they're attempting to do.

CROWLEY: You don't -- do you think, because you're a pretty good vote counter -- does she have 216? The speaker? BOEHNER: If she had 216 votes this bill would be long gone. Remember, they tried to do this in June and July last year. If they had the votes then it would be law. They tried to pass it in September, October, November, December, January, February, guess what? They don't have the votes.

CROWLEY: That certainly is Congressional 101, the minute you get the votes you go out there and you have the vote. And so clearly they don't have it now, but Democrats will say, listen, it's because we don't have the fixes. You know, it's not so much the Senate bill, but they have to get a package that they will pass in combination with that. That's a bill to fix what the house thinks is wrong with the Senate bill and until they do that some Democrats are reluctant to sign on and as you know they're also not so sure that the Senate is going to follow suit. I mean, there's a lot of distrust.

BLITZER: Listen to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. He spoke about this lack of trust that the house Democrats have with the Senate.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: I think there are a lot of members who have very little confidence in the Senate's ability to do much of anything.

CROWLEY: Which is pretty much how the house sort of always feels about the Senate and the question isn't so much, gee, is Harry Reid up to this, the Democratic leader? But there's so many rules and different things that they can do in the Senate that they can't do in the house, that there is mistrust of the system in the Senate. That's a big hurdle.

BLITZER: You're going to speak to David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser, on Sunday as well. Boehner, Axelrod. Good show. "State Of The Union" airs at 9:00 a.m. and noon eastern Sunday morning. This Sunday and every Sunday.


BLITZER: Candy Crowley.

It's a well-known charitable group that helps a lot of youngsters across the nation. Some Republican senators want to know why executives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America are spending so much money and getting paid so much.

A frightening new revelation about a New Jersey man suspected of being a member of al Qaeda. Wait until you hear where he worked and the possible damage he could have done.


BLITZER: A CEO's million-dollar salary, millions spent on travel, conventions, lobbying fees, all are raising major eyebrows amongst senators and this time it's not corporate executives in their sights. Rather executives of a very popular and long-standing charity. CNN's Lisa Sylvester is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story for us. Lisa, we're talking about top executives of the boys and girls clubs. This is a pretty shocking story.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. Because, you know, the Boys and Girls Club of America, they've done a lot of great work over the years helping underprivileged kids. 4,000 community centers that help foster character, leadership skills, education and the arts. Last December President Obama visited one of their clubs reading to kids, but now the group's executives are coming under fire. Four Republican senators want to know more about the national group's finances. We'll start here with their 2008 tax records. The president of the non-profit organization has a base salary of $360,000, a performance bonus of an additional $150,000 then on top of that an annual benefits package including contributions to a retirement fund totaling more than $477,000. So total annual compensation for the president, $988,591. You see that number there. Well, the senators are also inquiring about, in 2008, the fact that the group spent a little more than $4 million on travel, nearly half a million dollars on lobbying and more than $1.5 million on conferences and meetings. Senator Chuck Grassley says this is all coming at a time when several boys and girls clubs have had to close because of a lack of funding.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Is it legitimate to be siphoning off a lot of money, taxpayers' money, to high salaries and travel and lobbying efforts when we have needs for keeping the boys and girls clubs open because they serve such a useful purpose? And particularly in poverty-stricken, low-income areas of the country.

SYLVESTER: The group, today, though is defending its expenses. The $4 million in travel, they say that covers 350 national staff members often visiting local clubs. They say lobbying fees and CEOs' pay are comparable with other charitable organizations.

EVAN MCELROY, BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF AMERICA: Our CEO's compensation, her executive compensation is totally in line with similar non-profit organizations. If you look at the lists that are published online about the non-profit sector you would even find that her salary and her overall compensation is lower than many comparable executives.

SYLVESTER: Here's the clincher. The reason why Senate lawmakers are looking into this, it's because it's taxpayer dollars involved. 40% of the boys and girls revenue actually comes from federal funds. They're now seeking a reauthorization of $425 million over the next five years, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people don't understand if a member of Congress or cabinet member, a $1 million a year CEO for boys and girls club which does so important work. That's going to shock a lot of people. No doubt people are going to say why should I give money to them if this money is going to go to these kind of salaries?

SYLVESTER: There's a genuine need for these clubs but there's a concern. Senator Grassley is concerned the money isn't trickling down to the boys and girls who need the money. Instead it's going to high administrative costs. That's why he wants to take a closer look and asking answers before they write out a $425 million check. BLITZER: This is going to cause a lot of consternation out there. Thanks for bringing us this report. Follow-up and see what happens. We'll be interested. Lisa Sylvester.

Word of advice from a former Clinton white house staffer. President Clinton needs to get up close and personal with the people he's trying to win over on the health care reform debate. Can he pull it off? We'll ask Paul Begala and Mary Matalin. The strategy session coming up.

U.S. drones in the air supporting U.S. efforts overseas. The push is on to have them patrolling the U.S./Mexican border.


BLITZER: Getting right back to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is if Tiger Woods returns at the masters next month as it is being reported he might, what kind of a reception will he get?

Simon in Orlando, "Absolutely media mayhem. He should return earlier so he does not distract from the first of the four major tournaments. The game should be more important than any one player, especially the masters."

Beth says, "It depends if the audience watched the news today about Tiger Woods. It says that the wife gave bottles of medicine that he had been taking to the ambulance crew, and the hospital would not give the police the blood tests they asked for three times and then the police wanted an order from court for the blood report, but the D.A. would not issue it, and the whole thing got dropped and issued him a ticket, something is wrong here."

And Mark says, "The same reception that Michael Jackson got from the fans, no matter how weird he acted or what crime he was accused of and the same reception that Bill Clinton gets even though he was impeach and the same people who cheered when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder. If you are a fan, no celebrity can do wrong."

And Kyle says, "The TV ratings will skyrocket, and the fans will forgive him when he wins big tournaments and does community service to clean up the image and strives to reconcile with the wife. It will take him three years to overcome this, and that is about how long it took Kobe Bryant."

And Jim in Colorado says, "People go ga ga over watching people watch golf are not about to let broken marriage vows break up the mania."

And Lou says, "Oh for heaven sakes who cares? You are talking about a not attractive dude with the morals of an alley cat. And meanwhile the rest of the world is worried about putting food on their table and worried if they are sick or injured. Please."

If you want to read more on this go to my blog at Wolf?

BLITZER: We have a lot of tweets making that exact point, Jack, who cares, but a lot of people do as you and I know.

CAFFERTY: The "New York Post" must have sold 2 million extra copies of the newspapers when they ran tiger woods on the front page for two straight weeks when the scandal first broke. Somebody was buying those papers.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

One more space shuttle launch is scheduled before the program is put in moth balls, but is NASA thinking of giving the shuttle one more shot?


BLITZER: Let's get right to strategy session. Joining us are our CNN political contributors and the Democrat strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Let me read to you, Paul, from Dee Dee Myers and you worked with her in the Clinton white house who has advice for the president on politico. "Obama is too dependent on the formal speeches and the town halls. His idea of mixing it up is taking off his Jacket. Instead, this president should go spend time with small groups of regular people, and go to where they work and live and talk with them about their lives and their concerns." You read that piece she wrote. What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I read this. And I know her and when my children were babies they called her do-do, so I'm biased but she's brilliant and she's exactly right. I hope team Obama reads her piece today and follows it. The risk for most Republicans is that they look like rich fat cat country club types, but the risk for Democrats is elitists and too good to mix it up with the folks, and this is a risk that the brilliant president has to be concerned with. Dee Dee is right on the mark.

BLITZER: What do you think of the advice?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, do-do was brilliant in the white house, and she is accurate now. I remember when Paul and James were stunned when they got the poll that showed that Americans thought Clinton was an ivy league elitist, and what Dee Dee writes about is that they reconveyed who he really is, and in this case Barack Obama really is and ivy league elitist, and he should not play to a weakness or some place he is not. His problem is not the personality or the town halls. He has a problem with the dogs won't eat the dog food, the policy. People like him, but they give him low numbers on job approval and low numbers on policy. They are intensely opposed to the policy. It does not matter if he went up there to pull up the shirt sleeves, it's not going to make them all of the sudden like these policies and particularly health care.

BLITZER: Because Dee Dee makes the point, Paul, even in the depth of impeachment with Bill Clinton he was getting 60% job approval, because people could relate with him and felt he was feeling their pain.

BEGALA: Right. In fact, 71, not the split hairs, but 71% on the approval of the day he was impeached by the anti-constitutionals in the Republican party, but Dee Dee is right that one of the things she argues in the piece is empathy, and empathy matters. A whole lot of people pooh-poohed that sustainment, but it is authentic for this president. I disagree with Mary, because he was a scholarship kid in a rich kid school, and the father abandoned his mother and had to rely on food stamps. So he knows about the bottom of the pyramid.

BLITZER: And Mary, he went over to see the Senator Chuck Schumer with reform, but he says this, "For more than a year health care has sucked the energy out of the year and reconciliation to push health care through will make it much harder for Congress to come together on a topic as important as immigration." I assume you agree with him.

MATALIN: Well, as Barack Obama said when he was in the Senate, if reconciliation in that case, whatever that piece of legislation was that he was referencing, would change forever the character of the Senate, and Joe Biden when he was in the senate and Hillary Clinton and everyone objected to what is going on now. And so even before they did it, they have changed the character of the Senate, so it would be terrible politics to try to do something further, and further, they are fighting with the Senate and the house chambers at odds with each other in the Democratic Party. Something as large as immigration, and other big national programs that you don't want the house and Senate fighting with each other as they are, and yes, he is exactly right. Obama predicted it, so there you go.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. Have a great weekend, Paul and Mary.