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THE SITUATION ROOM
Threats To Congress Get Political; Interview With Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Aired March 27, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is trying to convince Americans they'll benefit from the new health care law. But will reform help or hurt? I'll ask the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel about that and much more.
Also, reports of violence and threats of targeting members of Congress including Republicans. The backlash from the health care reform vote growing more intense and potentially dangerous.
New terror threat purportedly from Osama bin Laden. The Pakistani foreign minister tells me why the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader keeps coming up empty.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It's the most important piece of legislation President Obama has signed so far. And the most sweeping change to America's health care system in decades. This week President Obama signed health care reform into law, and Congress gave final approval to a package of Democratic fixes to the bill. I sat down with one of the president's top advisers to talk about this and what's next on the agenda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us here at the White House, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
Thank you very much for joining us.
RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Now that you passed health care, what is the president's number one priority for this year?
EMANUEL: Well, as it has been since he got into office, getting the economy moving again. On the legislative front, there's been a post-health care, in addition to health care, and what's kind of not gotten a lot of coverage, Wolf, is the education, higher education that's part of this legislation.
BLITZER: Is that your top priority?
EMANUEL: That is a top priority. And if you go back to the president's speech at Georgetown, he laid out four things that were part of the new foundation, health care reform, access to college education, the funding for that, which is part of this legislation as well. There's financial regulation reform.
BLITZER: You're going to get that passed this year?
EMANUEL: I feel, well, as you saw probably in the press, even the Republicans acknowledge we're going to get that done. I feel better about it today than before. But the key goal is putting the right types of reform so you have an insurance policy that the kind of problems we had in the past don't repeat themselves.
And you have the clear transparency, the enforcement mechanisms, and the tools necessary to prevent that. In addition to that, stronger education reforms that are necessary to keep America competitive and their kids can get educated. Also dealing with the Supreme Court decision of-
BLITZER: What are you going to do about that?
EMANUEL: Well, there is legislation moving both in the House and Senate to make sure that we deal with a lot of loopholes that were left in that decision by the Supreme Court which allowed corporate money to run rampant over our campaigns.
BLITZER: But in this election cycle that will happen. Do you think that legislation can be passed?
EMANUEL: We're going to make a good effort in making sure that our campaigns are not literally unfettered access by corporate resources and special interest money into those campaigns. So -- but job, one since day one. It will always be true. Is getting the economy moving and working for the American people.
BLITZER: If unemployment is at 10 percent in November, how much will you suffer, the Democrats?
EMANUEL: Look, I don't want to make-it will not be obviously if unemployment is high, more importantly it won't be good for the American people. So there will be no doubt political impact, but the key priority is reducing the unemployment, keeping the-and also making sure the economy is good.
BLITZER: Do you think it is going to go down, unemployment, between now and November?
EMANUEL: Wolf, I think this. We have inherited what is known now as the great recession. When we first got into office, our first task, stabilize the financial system. That has been achieved. The second, we're losing 750,000 jobs a month. We've now gotten about two months where it is at a break even point. The key goal now is to get that into the positive territory. The third task was starting to put our fiscal house in order, which is what this health care legislation was about and we've done that and what you've seen basically reducing the debt.
BLITZER: I know a lot of Republicans think that's going to skyrocket the deficit.
EMANUEL: Yes, but you know what? There is a scorekeeper here. That score keeper is the Congressional Budget Office. They are clear and unambiguous. You can't disagree with them, and if you agree with them only when you like and disagree when you don't like the decision?
BLITZER: Well, they disagree on the assumptions the CBO was given.
EMANUEL: But everybody has acknowledged that in fact, it will reduce the deficit, will strengthen Medicare, and will ensure that we reduce the deficit by a little over a trillion dollars.
BLITZER: How do you strengthen Medicare when you're going to cut over the next 10 years half a trillion dollars in projected growth from Medicare?
EMANUEL: What you're going to do-is you are going to make sure- the projected growth is in the expenses. You're going to make sure it's got a 10-year longer lifespan than it had before. And that's an important piece of entitlement reform. And one other thing-
BLITZER: Because a lot of seniors, you know, are nervous about these Medicare cuts.
EMANUEL: First of all, there's a lot of waste and inefficiencies. And that is one of the things-
BLITZER: Half a trillion dollars?
EMANUEL: No. There is a lot of misspending and missed priorities. Second, it does strengthen. Third, if you look at the history, usually while Congressional Budget Office has ruled that it will achieve X savings, many times those savings are greater than what Congressional Budget Office originally assumed. The most important thing to know is that this will actually reduce our deficit and begin to put our fiscal house in order.
BLITZER: All right, look, I know there's a big debate on that.
EMANUEL: And that debate will continue.
BLITZER: This new CBS poll says 62 percent of the American public, since the vote Sunday night, want the Republicans to keep on fighting to change this health care bill. John McCain says, and I'm quoting him now, "The one thing that has people enraged is the sleazy backroom deals, sausage making that is going on." And John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, calling this Armageddon, goes on to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: Look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly?
AUDIENCE: No. BOEHNER: With transparency and accountability?
BOEHNER: Without back room deals struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell, no, you can't! Have you read the bill? Have you read the reconciliation bill? Have you read the manager's amendment? Hell, no, you haven't!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you say to John Boehner?
EMANUEL: First of all, I think -- I mean, I've not heard him call it Armageddon. I think that we've had a long debate in this country about health care, this year alone, over a year. But it's been a big debate. Not just this year, about how best to reform health care. I think that is important now to implement this correctly and make sure the benefits get to the American people.
Give you an example. One of the first things that's going to happen is going to be a tax credit for small businesses. About 4 million small businesses that don't provide health care will now have a tax credit to provide that. I don't think that's the right thing to want to appeal or call Armageddon. The next thing, coming up, what we're saying, Wolf, is helping seniors pay for their prescription drugs. I'm not sure I would call that Armageddon, or want to repeal it. It's not a special deal.
BLITZER: You think the positive things this year will help you going into November?
EMANUEL: A, it's not first and foremost, Wolf, about November. Obviously the maybe political benefit, but the primary thing is dealing with the problems in the health care system.
And third, what also will happen quickly is the insurance reforms that will make sure that insurance agencies and insurance companies, rather, do not control access to a doctor and the health care decisions that patients and doctors make.
BLITZER: Big picture. You were there in '93-'94 during the Clinton administration when --
EMANUEL: When I had a full head of black hair.
BLITZER: You were a young guy and I remember covering you then.
EMANUEL: You were, too.
BLITZER: I was a younger guy. But you were a young guy.
EMANUEL: A lot of people say we've traveled many miles but you and I haven't gone very far.
BLITZER: It failed then, during the Clinton administration. It passed now during the Obama administration. Why?
EMANUEL: Well, there's some fundamental-there's some differences. I will say this, as President Obama said to President Clinton when he thanked him, and the secretary of State is, you probably couldn't have gotten to this point if it wasn't at least the effort tried in '93-'94. That was an important precedent. It was part of clearing the air of the debate and also understanding the dimensions of how you do this. There were things that were done different that were important lessons to be learned from that.
BLITZER: You learned those lessons personally?
BLITZER: And you helped this president it passed?
EMANUEL: Well, there's no doubt-I mean, there's simple things like when President Clinton gave-launched health care, he started with a major speech in a joint session. For us, that didn't come until the back kind of third of this process, which is when we hit the impasse, giving a speech and giving new energy to it. The idea of doing a bipartisan conference to begin the process, and a bipartisan meeting at the Blair House that we did just a couple weeks ago, to also give it another sense of energy.
Also-while some have criticized it-the difference of involving the congressional committees writing and drafting the legislation on the front end, rather than giving them a product.
BLITZER: Do you think that was a good idea?
EMANUEL: At the end of the day you've got the legislation-
BLITZER: It took 13 months, though.
EMANUEL: Wolf, it did take 13 months. Do you remember how long it took Social Security from beginning to end?
BLITZER: I wasn't around.
EMANUEL: OK, well, in the history books, I will help you on this one; it was 24 months for that, about 20 or 18 months for Medicare. And so when you look at the frame in historical context, this is kind of fewer-
BLITZER: But the-I know you don't want to talk about politics, but in these 13 months the president's job approval rating went from 70 percent down to the 45 percent, 46 percent, 47 percent. He took a personal political toll on this.
EMANUEL: And, as he said repeatedly, which is a sign, he was willing to spend, quote unquote, "the political capital" to get something done that was materially and politically, policy-wise, important for the American people. If you asked him today even, or a week ago, pre the bill, was it worth the political capital spent, he would say yes. Every time he has made that decision he thought this was important for the United States. It was key for our economic competitiveness. It was key for the benefits for the American people, and putting our fiscal house in order. And given that, he would spend more political capital to get it done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the best speakers the House of Representatives have ever had, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mr. Harry Reid.
And one of the unsung heroes of this effort, an extraordinary woman who led the reform effort from the White House, Nancy Ann DeParle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I know you worked really hard over these 13 months. No one in the White House, no one in the administration worked harder. That's why I was surprised when the president was thanking everyone the other day for what they did, he didn't give you a shout out.
BLITZER: Do you care?
BLITZER: Doesn't -- did he give you one of the 22 pens?
EMANUEL: No, I mean, because-
BLITZER: Because you worked really hard-I mean, you had the connections in the House and the Senate.
EMANUEL: First of all, he didn't do it-I didn't do this so I would get thanked at the signing, or anything else. Let me say this, if that's the question, you should know the night that it passed-or the day it passed, he and I-he came by, gave me a high five. I have no doubt of my role in this. And I feel quite good about that sense of it.
BLITZER: The White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been a frequent target of criticism. I'll ask him if he will make it through four years on the job.
There was a day when most Americans had one primary doctor. What if, what if that becomes even less common now that the system is being overhauled?
And did George W. Bush rub bill Clinton the wrong way in Haiti? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: More now on my interview with the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. While the administration is celebrating the health care reform victory, it's facing a sudden and serious strain in relations with critical U.S. ally.
BLITZER: Let's go through some quick issues because I know your time is really limited.
Israel, right now. The president of the United States meets with the prime minister of Israel, comes to the White House, no photo opportunity, no news conference, no statements. Basically he got in, got out. What is going on in the U.S. /Israeli relationship right now?
EMANUEL: First of all, they are solid relationships. This is two people, two countries that have shared set of values. America's committed to Israel's security, as it has always been and will continue to be. And this was a working meeting in the sense of dealing with a particular point, and at a particular time, where there are some differences here to work through. And good friends can have that.
BLITZER: You can't even get a picture with the president and prime minister together? I've covered this story as you know for a long time. It's pretty shocking.
EMANUEL: We're at a point, as you know, the prime minister we had-it is not a hidden secret, a disagreement as related to this settlement in Jerusalem.
BLITZER: Is that disagreement still there, or is there any progress in resolving it?
EMANUEL: We are working through it. There is progress. We're working through the issues. The most important thing is not just work through this issue, is to work through it so we can get the peace process back on track. Because that is a key part of the security interest and making progress in the Mideast.
BLITZER: No chief of staff has served more than one term. What about you?
EMANUEL: First of all, you know, I'm happy doing what I'm doing. We just got done with health care. I'm going to make-this is a decision that the president and I will make. He can make at any time. My intention is to continue to work, and serve.
BLITZER: You want to stay here? You like this job?
EMANUEL: Yes, I do. Very much.
BLITZER: Better than being a member of the House? EMANUEL: Well, that's comparing -- look, here's the deal, Wolf. Congress was a great job and a very interesting job. This gives you a wider scope of things to work on, a much more diverse kind of part of your life. It is at one level, you give up your independence, on the other hand, you have a greater scope of things that you will work on.
It is also nice to have my family in the same city where, while Congress was also a little easier on the family, I was gone four days. On balanced, I am having a great life. I will always look back at the time either in the Clinton White House, or Congress, or here that I had done something with my life where I can look back and say I made a contribution to the country.
BLITZER: Rahm Emanuel, thank you for joining us. Good luck.
EMANUEL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also weighing in on the passage of health care reform. As first lady, she spearheaded a failed attempt at universal health care during her husband's first term in the White House. At a women's history event on the capitol this week, the secretary could not conceal her emotions. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I was so thrilled when that vote finally closed. I don't know, Nancy. I mean, I kept thinking, oh, Lord, what might happen next. And I know what a challenge this was. I have the scars to prove it. And they're fading fast now they know I will have universal quality, affordable health care.
But this bill which will finally see its last action in the House, after coming over from the Senate this afternoon, this bill means so much to our country, but it is particularly important to women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It was an historic moment, indeed. President Obama signing health care reform into law this week. But what? What happens if there aren't enough family physicians to treat the newly insured?
Also, we'll take a closer look at the state of black America right now. You might find some of the details very disturbing.
BLITZER: It was history in the making, President Obama signing health care reform into law this week. But what if there aren't enough primary care physicians to treat the 32 million new people who will be getting health insurance in the years to come? Our Chief Medical Correspondent Doctor Sanjay Gupta investigates. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They are part of American lore, the country family doctor. Primary physician, making house calls, fixing whatever's broken. That version of the primary care doctor has long since faded away.
(On camera): The thing is the modern-day version may also be close behind, which makes the woman you're about to meet, Nakato, an even more rare breed.
DR. NAKATO KIBUYAGA, MOREHOUSE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Hi.
GUPTA: How are you doing?
KIBUYAGA: Nice to meet you.
GUPTA: Part of the reason I wanted to come meet you was because you're going into primary care. I guess there are fewer and fewer of you. Why aren't more of your colleagues choosing this as a profession?
KIBUYAGA: Well, I think there are several reasons. One of the main reasons is that the prestige, the spotlight is just not on family medicine physicians. We don't have the same reputation like some of the other doctors do in sub-specialties.
GUPTA: Which is going to make finding doctors to fill rooms like this, even harder. It's been 17 years since I finished medical school. Over that time the number of medical students choosing primary care has slipped by more than 50 percent.
If you want more of a scale of reference, at the nation's largest medical school, the University of Illinois, they graduated 314 medical students last year. Only 20 chose primary care.
(voice over): Last year the American Academy of Family Physicians predicted a shortfall of 40,000 primary care doctors. And that was before the signing of the health care bill. So what will health care reform look like without enough primary care doctors?
LORI HEIM, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF FAMILY PHYSICIANS: We have nowhere near the number of primary care, or family physicians that we need to take care of the public. Simply having an insurance card may not guarantee that there is a physician whose practice will be open to new patients.
GUPTA: So why is that happening? One reason is plain and simple, it's money. The average primary care doctor makes $173,000 a year. Compare that to $419,000 for cardiologists or $335,000 for oncologists, treating cancer.
(On camera): How much of this is about money, just compensation? KIBUYAGA: I think that's a major reason why a lot of medical students aren't choosing family medicine. The potential for financial gain is just not the same as those other fields.
GUPTA: Now, the health care bill does try to fix that. There's a 10 percent pay bump to family physicians through Medicare. And the add-on bill, which is now being considered in the Senate, has an even bigger increase for doctors making Medicaid and low-income patients.
The bill that passed has other incentives as well. It expands the program to forgive loans to some medical students who go into primary care. Even before all of that goes into effect, there have been some signs of change. In fact, last week when medical students around the country picked their specialties, the number picking primary care was up, for the first time in 13 years.
HEIM: We've had a huge debate about health care reform. What do we need to do to get this country on a healthy track? Well, the foundation of that is primary care and family medicine. Students took notice of that. They became excited thinking about that primary care was once again a viable career choice for them.
GUPTA: A viable career choice, because, it may be attitude, more than money. That's the real hope for fulfilling the promise of health care reform. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.
BLITZER: Some members of Congress say they're living in fear because of vandalism and threatening phone calls to their offices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congressman Stupak, you are one big piece of human (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And think about this, there are millions of people across the country who wish you ill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Just ahead, the ugly aftermath of the health care vote in our "Strategy Session". And the state of black America under the first African-American president. Disturbing findings in a new report on the disparities between the racial and ethnic groups.
BLITZER: This is what the long fight over health care reform has suddenly turned into. More and more House members coming forward to reveal they've been targets of threats and vandalism including some Republicans. Leaders of both parties are accusing the other side of fanning the flames for political gain. Listen to this audiotape of a phone call to the office of the anti-abortion Democrat Bart Stupak after his vote for health care reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stupak, you low life, baby-murdering scum bag pile of steaming crap. You are a cowardly punk, Stupak. That's what you are. You and your family are scum. You ought to jump in the Potomac, punk. That's what you are, Stupak, you're a piece of crap. We hate your guts here. We despise you, every punk like you, Stupak. Get out of office. Get off our property.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Wow. Let's discuss this and more with our CNN contributors, Donna Brazile and Roland Martin. You know, you hear that kind of voicemail, you know, you get nervous. I can understand why the Capitol Hill police right now, the leadership, the House leadership, they're very worried about what's going on.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, I was a congressional staff back when we debated the first Gulf War. I was on Capitol Hill when we had many other debates, but I've never seen anything like this. And I believe that what Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn say today along with the statement that Mr. Boehner put out, it's time that lawmakers come together and raise the level of civil discourse on Capitol Hill and across the country.
BLITZER: Roland, give us perspective on this. The Republicans have issue, John Boehner, the Republican leader, has issued a strong statement saying there's an opportunity to debate all these issues, protests, but the violent threats that's out of bounds?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, but you also have to go beyond a sheet of paper. You have to also check your own members of Congress who yell you lied during the State of the Union address. You have to check somebody when they yell baby killer on the floor of the House.
I took exception Sunday night when we were on the air when you had Republicans, Representative Nunez, who says communism and socialism, as if the Soviet tanks were somehow going to be rolling down the streets of the United States. And so they contribute to this climate when they ratchet it up and then when they play into these base fears of these folks out here of who obviously have no sense of self control whatsoever.
I would hope that people who are Republicans or Tea Party activists who say we're here to protest civilly, they will look and say, we're not going to allow that kind of language that kind of behavior here on our protests, get out. A lot of them won't do it, Wolf.
BLITZER: This is a very worrisome. I've been in Washington a long time. I don't remember when the rhetoric heats up like this and the Capitol Hill police, they get involved. So it's a worrisome development which we'll cover thoroughly.
But let's talk about what we invited you to talk about, the state of black America 2010. Let's take a look at some of the snapshots from the new study by the National Urban League. On the economy, the unemployment rate for white Americans stood at 8.8 percent last month compared to more than 15 percent for African-Americans. More than 12 percent for Latinos. Look at medium household income in 2008. More than $55,000 a year for whites. More than $34,000 a year for blacks. More than $37,000 a year for Latinos. All right. This is pretty disturbing. I don't think we should be very surprised, Donna, by this but it's still disturbing to see these discrepancies in the year 2010.
BRAZILE: What's even more disturbing is that we don't have the policy prescription that can help to reduce the level of unemployment across the country for blacks or whites, Latinos. And you know, just recently there was a debate on the Senate floor where the senators were finally putting forward some good ideas about job creation and small businesses.
And one senator, of course, you know, said, no way, we're going to put money for youth unemployment. Black youth unemployment is almost approaching 50 percent. That's another concern. If we're worried about the future, we're worried about the next generation, then we have to put some money behind some of these programs.
BLITZER: Look at these numbers, Roland. As far as Americans without health insurance, whites 10.8 percent, blacks 19.1 percent, Hispanics 30.7 percent. Are you surprised by those numbers?
MARTIN: Not surprised because you have to tie insurance or lack of health insurance to lack of jobs. I was in D.C. today speaking to the Department of Transportation's Small Business Summit. Forty-six billion dollars spent on the stimulus program, 1.7 percent went to Latino businesses, 1.1 percent went to African-American businesses.
And so I challenged them on that notion, not just the DOT but also unions. Huge Democratic supporters but African-Americans and Hispanics are routinely shut out of those kinds of jobs. And so here you have the Department of Transportation trying to push transportation dollars to the states. Well, when these people have the contracts, who doesn't get hired? And these are jobs making between $50,000 and $70,000, providing benefits, sending kids to school. So I challenge these same unions who want black and Hispanic votes, how dare you lock people out of those particular jobs? So it goes beyond government. It's also private industry plays a critical role in these numbers.
BLITZER: And Donna, turn around, take a look at these numbers. Roland, you can see them behind you over there -- 25-year-olds with bachelor degrees, 25 plus-year-olds, 32.6 percent among whites, 19.6 percent among blacks, 13.3 percent among Hispanics. This in the new National Urban League State of Black America survey that came out today. What's worrisome is that this gap is still very much exists.
BRAZILE: That's why the Urban League for more than 100 years have been championing the issues and trying to close the economic gap, the housing gap, there's so many gaps. Roland has been a strong advocate these last couple of weeks in terms of pushing student aid and the Pell Grant funding. That's important. If we're going to close these gaps, we need more federal assistance. I also want to echo what Roland said about the private sector. We know that the majority of the jobs created over the last three years come from the private sector.
BLITZER: Is the president doing enough right now?
MARTIN: I think the president can do more.
BLITZER: What do you want him to do?
MARTIN: First and foremost I would like for the president to sit here and call his cabinet secretaries together and say, look, we want a fair share amount of dollars going to all communities in this country. And I want the president and the secretaries to lean on these states and say we're not going to send you billions of dollars for you to sit here and ignore disadvantaged businesses, for you not to provide contracts. They need to step up as well. You can't have politicians talk about high crime rate, talk about building more prisons, talk about all of these, you know, negative things in our society, but then turn around and say, well, folks can want get jobs. They have to say if you don't want to do this here, cut the money off, do what Atlanta Mayor Jackson did when he said I understand the power of political power and I combine it with economic power. Having a black president is one thing. But having African Americans with economic equality is a whole different issue.
BLITZER: Is there frustration in the African American community especially the Congressional black caucus? We've been getting conflicting reports as you know, Donna.
BRAZILE: They are advocating for more change, more resources, apprenticeship, I mentioned job programs for young people. At the end of the day African American institutions will have to step up to filling the gap to provide services like the urban league is providing all across the country.
BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation. I just want to point out, Roland Martin, our own contributor has a brand new book that is now out. It's called "The First," President Barack Obama's road to the White House as originally reported by none other than Roland Martin. It's a book with a lot of pictures and you have a DVD in here, the whole nine yards.
BRAZILE: I want to know if Roland put the DVD of the two of us dancing after --
MARTIN: No, no, no. On the DVD is my interview with the president and Michelle Obama. There are photos in the book of the two of us.
BLITZER: I believe I'm involved a little bit there. I think they'll see all of us getting into a little bit of music. It was a moment we'll always remember.
BLITZER: U.S. drone attacks, what do Pakistanis think about these powerful missiles that are taking out al Qaeda and Taliban targets in their country? And Osama bin Laden apparently issuing a strong new threat to the United States. A key American ally weighs in. My exclusive interview, that's coming up next.
BLITZER: New threats this week believed to be from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He's promising retaliation against Americans if the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed is executed.
A key American ally is on the front lines of the hunt for bin Laden. If he's captured or killed in the not too distant future, top U.S. officials believe they are getting closer and closer, it will be in part because of the new level of cooperation with this ally.
BLITZER: And joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Minister, thanks very much for coming in.
SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Very successful talks, by all accounts, that you've had with the Obama administration this week. But let's get to the issue of bin Laden right now, the hunt for bin Laden. You know about this new audiotape that he released today.
Are you any closer -- do you believe you are any closer to finding, to capturing or killing bin Laden?
QURESHI: Well, we are doing our best to get to him. Frankly, nobody has any clue where he is.
BLITZER: Do you feel the U.S. is sharing its intelligence as robustly as it should with you on this issue of the hunt for bin Laden?
QURESHI: I think the sharing of intelligence and the military to military cooperation between the Pakistan and U.S. has improved considerably in the last, I would say, 18, 20 months.
BLITZER: Is it where you want it to be?
QURESHI: It can improve. But it's satisfactory.
BLITZER: And so am I hearing you right when you say there's been no improvement in the hunt for Bin laden? You're no closer to finding him today than you were a year ago or five years ago?
QURESHI: I can't make a value judgment on that.
BLITZER: You believe he's in Pakistan some place?
QURESHI: Nobody knows where he is.
BLITZER: Nobody has any clue. Why is it so hard to find Bin laden or his number two man in Karachi?
QURESHI: Well, we have, you know, if you look at Pakistan's performance, we have picked up more Al Qaeda people and people associated with Al Qaeda and Taliban than any other country in the world.
BLITZER: And you've done a remarkable job. Especially over the last few months. So, when you interrogate these Al Qaeda operatives that you pick up, they don't have a clue? They can't point you in the right direction?
QURESHI: See, it's not very -- you know, not very hierarchical structure organization as people presume it to be, you know, to be centralized. It seems, you know, different people operating different places. But we are making all efforts. And we have made good progress. And I think the reconstitution of that.
BLITZER: Have you ever thought you had him in your sights and you launched a missile or you tried to kill him only to be disappointed that you failed?
QURESHI: Well, we've been trying, and we'll continue to try.
BLITZER: If you capture him, what will you do with him?
QURESHI: Let's get hold of him first.
BLITZER: Would you give him to the United States if you captured him alive?
QURESHI: We are allies, and we share an objective. And we are working for a similar objective. Why not? We are working in unison.
BLITZER: So, I guess the question is, do you have a plan? Is there a plan in place? You capture Bin laden alive in Karachi some place or along the border of Afghanistan some place in Pakistan. Is there a plan what you do with him?
QURESHI: Let the situation arise first.
BLITZER: You're a diplomat and so you're being diplomatic. But if you had him, you would try him. As far as Pakistan is concerned, Bin laden is a very bad guy.
QURESHI: Well, he's no friend of anyone. A lot of innocent Pakistanis have been victims of terrorism and extremism.
BLITZER: There is, though, among average Pakistanis, as you know, there is some support for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. You have to deal with that. QURESHI: I think if you look at the public opinion of Pakistan today, you will be surprised to see how conversion has taken place the last 24 months.
BLITZER: Because of the terror attacks at the hotels?
QURESHI: Because of the terror attacks, because of innocent people being killed, because of, you know, the true face of Taliban being projected by media. I think today the support for Taliban and the likes of Taliban is at its lowest ever in Pakistan.
BLITZER: Has the ISI, your intelligence service, severed its relationship with the Taliban, or is there still this connection?
QURESHI: The ISI has done a phenomenal job. And I think there's recognition of that. Look at the casualties, ISI itself has suffered. You know, there are -- I don't want to quote a figure. But we have lost quite a few ISI operators catching terrorists. Look at the attacks that ISI has faced. The headquarters were attacked. The headquarters in Lahore, the headquarters in Multan were attacked. Why are they being attacked?
BLITZER: So, this dramatic change, this improvement in U.S./Pakistani cooperation on the terror front, the military front, what is the main reason for this dramatic change over the past several months?
QURESHI: Because people have seen how Pakistan has been affected. People have seen how swat was affected. People have seen how the tribal areas and how the economy is being affected. Today there's a realization, if we need economic growth, if we need jobs, we've got to get rid of terrorism. And we have to contain this menace of extremism.
BLITZER: You still have a problem with these U.S. drones that fly over Pakistani sovereign soil and launch these missiles at Taliban or Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan? Because there have been, by our account, so far this year 22 such U.S. strikes over Pakistan.
QURESHI: Yes. The strikes have been there. And they've also taken out some valuable targets. One recognizes that. The issue of sovereignty is there. And people of Pakistan feel strongly about it. And we've been discussing this issue with our friends in the U.S.
BLITZER: And that's a diplomatic way of saying you are opposed, you just are neutral?
QURESHI: No. What I'm saying is transfer the ownership to Pakistan. Why do we say that?
BLITZER: You want these drones?
QURESHI: Why did you say that? No. We want the ownership. We want the operation that we take the decision when to operate. For example, when we used air power in the last few months against insurgents. And we've carried out hundreds of soldiers, and these soldiers is against militant cops, and, you know, militant, you know, hide outs. Not one Pakistani has complained against them. Why?
BLITZER: Is the U.S. ready to provide you with these military drones?
QURESHI: We're talking about it.
BLITZER: So, you don't have a commitment yet?
QURESHI: I don't think so. BLITZER: You want them. You think that would be a significant gesture?
QURESHI: I think it will help. It will help improve the perception. It will help improve, you know, the feelings in Pakistan.
BLITZER: President of the United States, Barack Obama. What do you think of him?
QURESHI: I think he's a popularly elected President of the United States of America. I think he has a huge international standing. I think his policy of engaging with the Muslim world has been appreciated. I think many of his policies, his statements, have been understood well. He's a great face for the United States.
BLITZER: So, the relationship has improved in part because he is the president?
QURESHI: I think he's -- you know, he's a really likable person. And I've had, you know, one interaction with him. I was very impressed by his humility and by his mannerism. And you know, he is a great communicator. And he puts across his message very well. And the international audience listens to him.
BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thanks very much for coming in.
QURESHI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck.
QURESHI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Former Presidents Bush and Clinton in a crowd and shaking lots of hands. What Mr. Bush does next is hard to miss, but is he really rubbing Mr. Clinton the wrong way? You be the judge.
And if you've ever wondered what it's like to come under attack by the Taliban's most lethal weapon in Afghanistan, CNN's Brian Todd will show us. Simulated IEDs, that's coming up Monday right here in "The Situation Room."
BLITZER: Now here's a question -- did former President George W. Bush rub former President Bill Clinton the wrong way, literally, by wiping his hands on him? You've probably seen the video by now. But let's take a closer in-depth and Moost Unusual analysis thanks to CNN's Jeanne Moos.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Clinton, human Handi Wipe?
With handiwork like this while shaking hands in Haiti, comedians didn't even have to write a joke. They just rolled the video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE," COURTESY ABC)
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST: And -- (VIDEO CLIP)
KIMMEL: President Bush, the first time we've seen him in two months and this is what he does. He's the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: The former president's office had no comment on Handwipegate, though some floated alternate theories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MSNBC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Signaling to Clinton that he was ready to move on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM/MILDYRELEVANT)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check out what some soft core porn music does to the video. And Bush thought marriage should be between a man and a woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Maybe the brouhaha over the back rub he gave Germany's chancellor led to a more subtle affectionate touch when it came to Bill Clinton. Former President Bush is said to be somewhat germophobic.
Who wouldn't be shaking all those hands?
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shall we get on?
MOOS: Barack Obama writes in his book that when he shook President Bush's hand the first time they met, Bush turned to an aide nearby who squirted a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the president's hand. "Not wanting to seem unhygienic," Obama wrote: "I took a squirt."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE," COURTESY ABC)
KIMMEL: And by the way, if you're germophobic, is Bill Clinton the best place to wipe your hands? (END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Speaking of human hankies, remember, that's what they called the stranger whose shoulder Oprah cried on after Obama won the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We saw a nation conquer fear itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW," COURTESY HARPO PRODUCTIONS)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: At one point, I was just sobbing on his shoulder, mascara everywhere. Anyway, thank you, Mr. Man, for letting me cry on your shoulder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Impersonators already tend to portray former President Bush...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FUNNYORDIE.COM)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Charles, may I put the Iraq War on my credit card?
I never dreamed I'd be paying 28 percent in interest rates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: -- as somewhat uncouth.
(on camera): If George Bush wiped his hand on Bill Clinton -- and it's only an if -- it wouldn't be the first time that he used someone as a human tissue.
(voice-over): Letterman loves to show...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY CBS/WORLDWIDE PANTS)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: It's right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: -- the time George Bush cleaned his glasses on a staff member during a commercial break. You've got to hand it to the former president, at least he's clean.
MOOS: Or at least wipe us.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
MOOS: -- New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Another week, another portfolio of compelling pictures, such as firearms on fire. One of the eye-catching images in our "Hot Shots." See more, just ahead.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this week's "Hot Shots." In Nairobi, Kenya, the government burned weapons in its attempt to quell the recent violent in the region.
In Kyrgyzstan, men competed in the traditional sport in celebration of the country's revolution day. In the Netherlands, children fill their backpacks with water bottles to participate in walking for water day. And in the Scottish countryside, check it out. A shaggy cow peered at the camera from inside its enclosure. Some of this week's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, join us weekdays in "The Situation Room" from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.