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Compromise on Bush Tax Cuts?; Sarah Palin Slams Obamacare; Turning Soldiers into Iron Man

Aired November 11, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dan, thank you.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, massive tax cuts set to expire in just over seven weeks. Republicans and Democrats are at odds over what to do next. And now a new hint from inside President Obama's inner circle that he may be willing to compromise big time.

Also, Sarah Palin taking a new swing at what she calls Obamacare, charging that the new health care reform law will lead to more abortions in the United States. We're checking her facts this hour.

And soldiers outfitted like superheroes. We're going to show you the Iron Man suit that could change the way the U.S. wages war.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news and political headlines and Jeanne Moos are all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House is now hinting at a possible compromise on the massive Bush tax cut set to expire at the end of the year. Republicans have called for them to be made permanent for everyone.

President Obama wants only to middle-class tax cuts made permanent while letting the break for the wealthiest Americans expire. Today the president's senior adviser was hinting at a possible compromise in the face of the coming House GOP takeover.

David Axelrod telling Huffington Post, and I'm quoting him now, "We have to deal with the world as we find it. The world of what it takes to get this done." And now Axelrod and the White House insist they're not announcing anything new.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is working the story for us up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, what are you hearing from all sides?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I talked to both Democratic and Republican sources in Congress today. And the compromise that I am hearing today that seems to be the most likely from both sides of the aisle at this point is temporarily extending all tax cuts. That means a temporary extension for those making below and above $250,000 a year.

Now in that scenario Democrats would give a little bit on their pledge to make middle-class tax cuts permanent and Republicans would give on their pledge to make all tax cuts permanent.

Now I should emphasize that talks have not yet begun in earnest at all, but the idea is that the tax cuts could be extended at least through the presidential election and many hope until the economy gets better -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any chance Republicans would actually let all of these tax rates go back to the Clinton era levels including for the middle-class and the wealthy?

BASH: I know it sounds crazy to say that Republicans would let the tax cuts expire, but yes, there could be a chance. I'm hearing more and more, Wolf, from Republicans on Capitol Hill that it could be to their advantage to let the tax cuts expire and then take up the issue retroactively when the Congress convenes in January. And of course Republicans will have a lot more power.

Now talking to the GOP sources, they say this is not their first choice and it very well could be a negotiating tactic right now. But what does seem to be clear, Wolf, is that Democrats know that they have a lot more numbers now and more leverage now, so it behooves them to try to cut a deal before the end of the year.

The question, though, is whether Democrats can even agree among themselves about what to do and how long to extend the tax cuts. Never mind dealing with Republicans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.

Let's go deeper with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. I know you had a chance to actually speak with Axelrod today. But is it likely -- is it possible that even if the president is ready to see - an extension, not permanent, for the year or two of all of the tax rates for the rich and the middle-class that the outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would go along with that?

Because she'd been pretty firm. She doesn't want rich people to continue to get that tax rate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, as Dana was just saying, I mean, you know, you're going to have differences inside the Democratic caucus. And I think what happened today with David Axelrod is that he found himself in the middle of this fight because the liberal base of the party wants to make the tax cuts for the middle-class permanent and not do anything for the wealthy.

And when I spoke with David Axelrod today, Wolf, here's what he said to me. He said, "I simply said what we've said before. The middle-class tax cults should be extended permanently, but we can't afford to borrow another $700 billion to permanently extend cuts to the wealthiest. But we're willing to sit down when Congress returns and figure out a way forward that makes sense." And as Dana is just saying, that way forward is not really clear right now. Each side -- if they do something in the lame duck session, each side going to have to give a little bit and maybe that means making everything temporary for a year or two or three down the road. We just don't know yet.

BLITZER: Well, hold on a moment, because I want to play for our viewers, Gloria, I want to play for our viewers what the president said the day after the election last week about this whole issue.

Listen to this at the news conference at the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My goal is to sit down with Speaker-elect Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Harry and Nancy sometime in the next few weeks and see where we can move forward in a way that first of all does no harm.

That extends those tax cuts that are very important for middle- class families. Also extends those provisions that are important to encourage businesses to invest and provide businesses some certainty over the next year or two.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our other senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, is it likely -- because both sides are seeing who's going to blink first, but is it likely that they're going to get a deal on this before the end of the year?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very, almost certain, Wolf. The Congress can't go home and let these tax cut expire, because it will mean an explosion in taxes next year on everybody, including the middle-class.

And at times Congress may seem foolish, but they are not suicidal. And they won't do that. So I think -- I think they're going to work out a temporary deal. I imagine it's going to be for --

BLITZER: Who's got the stronger hand right now? The Democrats or the Republicans?

GERGEN: The Republicans in some ways because they have enough Democratic support, I think as Gloria would say, within their own caucus that they could -- they can block a bill from going through that does not include a temporary tax extension for the affluent.

And I imagine they would exercise that and say, look, you don't want to raise taxes on people in the middle of this continuing recession. You know, that people perceive. And I think they're going to get enough Democratic support to block any kind of -- sort of halfway or permanent extension for middle-income people.

BLITZER: I want to bring in a rising star in the Republican Party in the House of Representatives.

Joining us now is Congressman Eric Schock of Illinois.

Congressman Schock, are you ready to compromise with the president of the United States right now on these tax cuts?

I don't think he's ready yet, but we're going to talk to him in a minute.

Dana, I'll come back to you because you've been following this very, very closely.

There are some Republicans, moderates, pragmatists, whatever you want to call them that certainly are ready to make a deal and move on right now, and get on to some other issues, but there are others who are real true believers and think, you know what, you have to make these tax cuts, the tax rates of the Bush administration permanent, forever right now and don't blink, don't compromise with the Democrats and with the president.

The question to you, Dana, who has the upper hand in the Republican Party?

BASH: Well, those -- there's no question, those who want to make the tax cuts permanent. I think that is by far the overriding feeling among Republicans. It's been interesting to watch the Republican leader in the House, and the Republican leader in the Senate kind of do a good cop/bad cop with whether or not they're willing to negotiate.

But to -- just to go back to what David was saying about the Democrats, there's no question that it could be potentially a kamikaze act to not do this before the end of the year. But I got to tell you, in watching Democrats who still have -- for the most part the same players in place, maybe a different political environment, but the same players, it is going to be very tough for them when they're not even getting along that well right now to figure out a way to make this happen.

When there are very different points of view even within the Democratic caucus on how exactly to do this tax cut extension.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring in Congressman Schock right now. He's joining us from Peoria, Illinois.

Congressman, I understand you're a rising star among the young leadership in the Republican Party right now. If it came down to a vote during the lame duck session to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone -- middle-class and wealthy -- for two years, but only for two years, would you vote yes?

REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: I certainly would vote yes, and I think not only would the majority of Republicans vote yes, but I think Democrats would vote yes as well.

Before we adjourned for the election season, 38 House Democrats came out and publicly said they were breaking with Speaker Pelosi and were going to side with the Republican alternative which was a full extension at all the current rates despite the president and the speaker of the House at that time advocating for an extension for everyone but the top income earners.

Those 38 House Democrats, along with the Republicans, recognize that a large percentage of those top income earners are precisely the small business people that are -- we're hoping that will lead us out of the recovery.

So I think if that were the only vote on the table, I think not only would Republicans vote for it, but an overwhelming of the Democrats would as well.

BLITZER: Well, here's the other option and tell me if you would vote yes for this. Permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of the American public, the middle-class, everyone earning under $250,000 a year for joint filers, $200,000 a year for single filers. Make that permanent but for the 2 percent above that, those making more than $250,000 a year, extending the current rates for a year or two.

Would you be willing to go along with that?

SCHOCK: Well, look, I'm -- I'm willing to negotiate. Let me say that. And I think most of the Republicans on our side of the aisle are willing to negotiate with the president. But at the end of the day, we don't believe that raising taxes on any American right now is a smart thing to do.

And as I say, this isn't just a Republican philosophy. When you have 38 House Democrats, you only need 40 to buck the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and I would argue that if we don't do it before January 1, we'll certainly do it after January 1, because come next week over 90 new congressmen are showing up in Washington, D.C. for their freshmen orientation.

And I would bet that not only the Republicans, but even the Democrats in that freshman class, even more committed to stop any potential increase in the income taxes.

BLITZER: Do you -- do you consider yourself, Congressman, a Tea Party member?

SCHOCK: Well, you know, I'm one of these guys who was in Congress before the Tea Party started, so I'm serving my second term now. And you know, I always got a little nervous when they said throw the bums out, because I had to look in the mirror and say, well, gee, you know, I'm one of the younger ones, but I don't know if that qualify me as one of the bums, so to speak.

But at tend of the day, the Tea Party universally across the country is focused on one issue. Spending and debt. And I think again the Republicans and the Democrats who were elected last cycle come to Washington, D.C. concerned about the rising debt facing the country, concerned about the lack of economic growth and the economic malaise, if you will, that set in.

And so there -- that's what they're going to be focused on. So if you ask me, are you concerned about spending and debt and are going to try and spend the next two years tackling that, and those are the folks of the Tea Party movement, then I guess I qualify. But I didn't receive their endorsement and I didn't really run on that platform because, as I say, I was already an incumbent.

BLITZER: Congressman, Gloria and David both have questions for you. And Gloria first.

BORGER: Congressman, I just wanted to ask you about this notion of letting this slide until January. My colleague David Gergen says that would be suicidal, but I think I heard you say, well, we're going to have more votes in January, so why not wait and then we can do what we really want to do?

Is that a really possible scenario for you to just wait and make them retroactive, the tax cuts?

SCHOCK: Well, let's face it. The House Democrats a year ago and the Senate Democrats were committed to taking action on the estate tax. Both of the -- both chambers, both leaders, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, said under no circumstances would they allow the estate tax to go to zero.

And despite the rhetoric, the reality is the estate tax is now zero percent for this year because they failed to take action. So I don't think you should suggest that -- you know for anyone to say this isn't going to happen, you know, in politics the minute you say something is not going to happen, it will.

But to answers your question, I favor passing something now because I truly believe that capital is sitting on the sideline. The small business people are not making decisions about investing and hiring and expanding because they don't know what the tax environment is going to be.

GERGEN: Congressman, just yesterday, the co-chairs of the president's deficit commission came out and said, look, as we come out of this recovery a couple of years from now the 800-pound gorilla is the debt.

And we've got to come up with a plan to do that, and they propose that we cut $2 in spending for every $1 in tax increases. And the question for Republicans is, are you willing to have any tax increases as part of a reduction program, long-term, after we get back on the road to recovery?

SCHOCK: Well, David, I would say this. I think it's early to start to speculate on what we're going to do in two years. First of all, who the Congress will be, who the president will be in two years, but I will say --


GERGEN: This will be a vote in the next Congress.

SCHOCK: The Republicans today are committed to ensuring that no American receive a tax increase now. I think we're going to have bipartisan support to ensure that, and the more important thing is, what are we going the do to start reining in the deficit?

And you can argue that we need to raise taxes, I would argue that job one is to find cuts. I'm encouraged by the deficit commission's recommendations, although many of the members on that deficit commission have not had the opportunity to weigh in.

Guys like Dave Camp who are going to be the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the tax-writing committee, has yet to be able to weigh in. This is really a proposal brought forward by the Republican and Democratic chairmen. And for any of that proposal to make it to the House floor 14 of the 18 members have to support it.

And I haven't heard any one of the 18, other than the Republican and Democrat chairmen, endorse this proposal. So when they talk about rolling back the domestic spending to 2010 levels the House Republicans said look, we want to roll back domestic spending to 2008 levels, which will save over $1 trillion --


BLITZER: Hold on. Because we're totally out of time. But Congressman Schock, I want to thank you for coming in. We're going to continue this conversation. We have a lot to discuss. Now we know why a lot of Republicans see you as a rising star in the GOP and the House.

Thanks very much for joining us.

SCHOCK: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And thanks to Gloria and David as usual, as well.

She calls it Obamacare, and now Sarah Palin is alleging that health care reform will mean more abortions in the United States. We're checking her facts.

And President Obama now beginning day two of the G-20 summit in South Korea. He's paying tribute to America's servicemen and women on this Veterans Day. We're going to Seoul.

And a new technology that turns soldiers into virtual superheroes.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Eat your heart out, Tony Stark. I'm Chris Lawrence in Salt Lake City where American troops may be closer than ever to wearing a real-life Iron Man armor. We'll have that story coming up only in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: Sarah Palin is hammering hard at the new health care reform law once again. This time alleging that it will lead to more abortions in the United States.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with details and a reality check.

What exactly is Palin alleging?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She is alleging, Wolf, that the Obama administration is being sneaky with all this, charging the administration with going back on its promise not the make federal government money available for abortions in the new health care plan.


TODD (voice-over): Sarah Palin takes on the president's health care plan in very stark terms.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: The biggest advance of the abortion industry in America has been the passage of Obamacare.

TODD: She's hammered on this for at least a couple of months now and usually to the same anti-abortion crowd. Palin has attacked the Obama team, accusing them of sneaking provisions into the health care overhaul that would make it easier to get abortions. And she says they did it with the help of some willing members of Congress.

PALIN: But they caved at the last minute, many of them did in exchange for a non-binding executive order that was promised by the most pro-abortion president to ever occupy the White House.

And sure enough, just three months after this executive order was signed, the Obama administration broke its promise by making funding available for high-risk insurance pools in some states that do cover in some cases these elective abortions that we talked about.

TODD: What's she talking about? We tried several times to reach Palin's representatives with phone calls and e-mails, and got no response.

White House officials tell us the health care plan makes no federal government money available for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger.

But there is a provision that gives subsidies to low and middle income people to help them buy insurance through state-based health care exchanges. If those people use government money to buy a plan that covers abortion then Palin may be arguing abortions covered in that plan would be paid for in part with government money.

But the law says, abortions in those state plans have to be paid for separately, out of the person's own pocket. But there's also the question of Sarah Palin's political calculations, hitting so hard on the abortion issue when most polls including CNN's put it way down on the list of issues most important to voters.

(On camera): Why does she keep hammering on it?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: Abortion will be important in the 2012 presidential race even though it wasn't so important in the 2010 midterms. And especially in a place like Iowa that holds the opening caucuses in the presidential process. That's a place that has a really powerful anti-abortion movement.


BLITZER: And Brian, by speaking out so much about abortion out there over these past several weeks --

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: -- she certainly is stirring up a key part of her base.

TODD: Absolutely. A key part of Sarah Palin's base is the social conservative faction of the Republican Party. Another key part is the Tea Party faction, the fiscal conservatives. Analysts say that like the Tea Partiers, the social conservatives, Wolf, hold a lot of sway in the Republican primaries.

And the question is, can she transcend all that in the general election cycle if she gets that far. Analysts say the established Republicans are the one who've kind of pushed back on the abortion issues. They don't want to focus on abortion because they says that's not the way to win independent voters.

If Sarah Palin gets to be on the Republican primary, can she hammer hone those messages on abortion, and still be an effective campaigner on the general election? That's a big question in 2012.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

One passenger says it was like "Gilligan's Island." A crippled Carnival cruise ship finally pulls into port after being stranded at sea for days.

And Iron Man may be no match for real life GI Joe's. Suiting up superhero style for the battlefield. Stay with us, we'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's been another suicide bombing in Pakistan. Let's check in with Alina Cho. She's checking that and some other top stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, police say at least 15 people are dead and more than 100 injured after a suicide car bomb attack on a Karachi police facility. A government official says five gunmen on foot cleared the way for the suicide car bomber by firing on security personnel.

The Taliban in Pakistan is taking credit, saying they'll continue such attacks as long as the military targets them. And dramatic drop in home sales to tell you about. According to the National Association of Realtors, home sales plummeted more than 25 percent last quarter. Although housing prices were only down slightly, experts worry that the big drop in volume is not a good sign. They say between low interest rates and low home prices, there's rarely been a better time to buy.

And take a look at this dramatic video from Ohio where a demolition did not quite go as planned. That's right. Authorities say thousands of people lost power when that smokestack there fell the wrong way during a demolition.

It knocked down several powerlines as you saw and generating buildings. Officials say power has been restored to everyone who lost it.

I'm going to go out on a limb, Wolf. I'm going to thank -- I'm going to tell you that somebody is probably going to lose their job over this one.

BLITZER: Yes, somebody screwed up big time. All right, Alina. Thank you.

CHO: You bet.

BLITZER: Does this sound like your idea of a vacation? Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: It was like "Gilligan's Island" or something. I felt like marooned on a prison ship, I think you can call that, because I was in the dark and I had mayo sandwiches and backed-up toilets.


BLITZER: And he's just one of thousands of passengers who are happy to be on dry land right now.

Plus the high-tech suit gives soldiers super human strength. It's amazing. You have to see this one.

And out of the SITUATION ROOM and on board of the Soul Train. I'll take you along on a really, really fun night.


BLITZER: America's military personnel may, repeat, may be suiting up like superhero Ironmen right now. They're getting ready for a real life battlefield. Raytheon is crafting a revolutionary armor it hopes has all the right stuff.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE (voice-over): Rex Jameson. It's got a Tony Stark's Iron Man sort of ring to it. Stark runs a defense contracting company, Jamison just works for one. But Raytheon's test engineer is no playboy billionaire.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR., ACTOR, "IRON MAN": I have successfully privatized world peace.

LAWRENCE: Married, three kids, but just maybe wearing the prototype for future soldiers.

REX JAMESON, TEST ENGINEER: It doesn't fly. That's seems to be the big thing that Iron Man does.

LAWRENCE: If you're Tony Stark, I mean where's -- where's the sports cars? Where's the scantily-clad women, the penthouse, all that?

SMITH: I roll -- I roll in a minivan. It reacts to the force of your feet. So you wouldn't want it to react immediately.

LAWRENCE: Granted, the XOS-2 is dead weight until it's juiced by outside power. Then the hydraulic fluid starts pumping. Steel and aluminum arms make everything lighter.

(on camera) So to you, this 200 pounds feels like...

SMITH: Less than 20 pounds. The weight of my arms does most of the work. You don't have this immense feeling of strength; just when you go to do something you couldn't do without it. Then that's when you notice it.

LAWRENCE: So this is probably three inches of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), thick enough to hold up the second story of a house.

I'm not even going to tell you how much that hurt.


(voice-over) Well, here is where fictional meets functional. Iron Man can Fly and shoot repulsor rays out of his hands. This suit is still tethered to its power source, and mobile batteries like lithium ion either don't last long enough or can't be strapped to a soldier's body.

SMITH: They are breached, they aren't gentle in the way they explode.

LAWRENCE (on camera): So, for safety, liability reasons they can't power up the seat with me in it. But I've at least got to feel what it's like inside. Without the hydraulics, the first thing you notice is how heavy this is. I mean, it's tough to take a step forward, but I still feel like I've got my dexterity, the range of motion. That's important to supply units where being tethered to a power source wouldn't matter.

SMITH: Logistics personnel in the military typically move 16,000 pounds a day, which is an awful lot of load.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): And the suit can keeps lifting for hours.

SMITH: Things that would just destroy your back, this thing picks it up; no problem.

LAWRENCE: Today's troops are carrying up to 150 pounds in Afghanistan, but the suit can make armor and equipment feel 17 times lighter.

SMITH: That means that you exert one pound, and it exerts 17. That's a major amplification of strength, and that's all load that the person doesn't have to carry himself.


LAWRENCE: Yes, and right now, the best estimate is that the prototype with the motor that can power this suit might be available in about, say, three to four years. Actually getting it, you know, unwired, wireless and ready to go for up to a day, probably eight, nine years away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, it's amazing when you look at that video, what these -- what these guys can do wearing that little iron suit.

LAWRENCE: Let me tell you after trying to punch through that wooden plank, I can tell you, the suit's a lot stronger than I am.

BLITZER: But the key is will it save lives, prevent injuries?

LAWRENCE: Well, when you're talking about taking what took four men to do a mortar team, maybe only one man. Having one man prepare the treads on a tank by himself. And eventually, as it does get more mobile years down the line, perhaps use more as a mobile fighting soldier, Wolf.

BLITZER: And what does it feel like to wear it?

LAWRENCE: It feels bulky, but then when they switch the power on, it just sort of shoots through the machine, and that's when you feel entirely light. It costs about $150,000, so I'm afraid it's a little bit out of my budget right now.

BLITZER: And so when you were in the military...

LAWRENCE: But not out of yours, Wolf.

BLITZER: You didn't have one of those suits when you served, right?

LAWRENCE: No, they gave me a pair of boots. That was about it.

BLITZER: But they were good boots?

LAWRENCE: That's true.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence, our Pentagon correspondent.

One passenger says it was like "Gilligan's Island." A crippled Carnival cruise ship finally pulls into port after being stranded at sea for days.


BLITZER: They planned to return from the vacation tanned and relaxed, but instead, thousands of passengers disembarked from the Carnival Splendor. They were tired; they were hungry and in need of a hot shower after three days on a crippled ship, largely without power. CNN's Paul Vercammen is in San Diego for us. The Splendor is now docked there.

Paul, what are the passengers telling you and what are you learning?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, many of the passengers in a way feel like they were left in the dark in more ways than one. Obviously, they had no power, no elevators, so they were walking around the ship in the dark and just trying to make due with whatever scant food was available to them.

I would say that many of them are also sort of upset, because they said that the word first came down, that Carnival did not make it clear that they were going to be adrift at sea for a while.

Now, I should also say that others felt that Carnival did a good job, because they did not want to create panic. Let's give you a sense, though, for what it sounded like for these passengers when they heard word come out overhead on the ship.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is to show you that this is not anything more than it is, we do not -- I repeat, we do not need you to bring your life jackets. This is not a situation anywhere close to that. It is because we don't want you smelling the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which is going to eventually flow through the aft part of the midship. So if you are smelling it, and it is affecting you, please come up to the open decks.

I am going to sound the general emergency alarm now. And this is so that I can put all our crew members in position, in accordance with U.S. Coast Guard rules and regulations.


BLITZER: Paul, you have been speaking with some of the passengers as they've come off the ship. What are they saying?

VERCAMMEN: Well, basically, Wolf, they're telling us these harrowing tales of having to endure life without hot water and the rest, as I said, many of them in the dark and cramped quarters.

And let me give you a description from one of those passengers, one of the first off the ship. His name is Marquis Horace.


MARQUIS HORACE, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: It was absolutely deplorable. My expectations were -- completely fell through the floor. I expected a really nice time, and it was like "Gilligan's Island" or something. I felt, like, marooned on a -- on a prison ship if you want to call it that, because I was in the dark and I had mayo sandwiches and backed-up toilets. And it was just bad. It was really bad all the way around.


VERCAMMEN: And Wolf, all those passengers now off the ship and headed back home vis-a-vis a shuttle to Long Beach, California, or flying out or staying the night here in San Diego.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they'll get a free trip from Carnival and reimbursed, as well. Thanks very much, Paul, for that.

And here's something you might want to know about. THE SITUATION ROOM meets the "Soul Train Awards." We have the details of a really, really fun night.

And it's the mystery that sparked a mania. Now it's been solved. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.


BLITZER: Let's get the latest on President Obama's trip to South Korea for the G-20 summit. Alina Cho is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What are we learning, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're just getting word, Wolf, that the U.S. and South Korea have failed to reach a deal on a new trade agreement. It's a deal that could potentially mean an additional $10 billion in U.S. exports and 70,000 American jobs. The White House says one main hang-up was American access to Korea's auto and beef market. President Obama says the two sides will continue to talk.

Here in the United States Vice President Joe Biden led a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Biden called the 23 million surviving veterans the heart and soul, the very spine of this nation.

President Obama who, as we mentioned, is in South Korea in that G-20 summit, visited a U.S. Army installation near Seoul. While welcomed there, the president praised both American and South Korean troops who fought in the Korean War.

To Haiti now, where the death toll from the cholera outbreak has reached 724 people. Another 11,000 have become sick. Experts fear that the outbreak could last for months. They say the entire nation of 10 million people could be at risk because they have no immunity to cholera. The U.N. says Haiti is facing one of the worst cholera outbreaks in the last 100 years.

The heaviest rains in 18 years have flooded the island nation of Sri Lanka. Officials say nearly 20 inches of rain have fallen there. The bad weather has left some 36,000 families homeless and submerged the country's parliament in four feet of water. The government says it's taking immediate steps to help those affected.

And in Alaska, the dramatic write-in vote count is under way to determine the winner of the last undecided Senate race. And it's looking pretty good for write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski. The unofficial count shows Murkowski getting 98 percent of the vote so far. Her GOP challenger, Joe Miller, getting just .01 percent.

Miller has actually filed a lawsuit to throw out the ballots where Murkowski's name is spelled wrong. A story, certainly, Wolf, that we're watching very closely.

Back to you.

BLITZER: She was only a write-in candidate. He had a regular candidate ballot, as well, so it's closer than those numbers would seem to suggest, but certainly, she's getting almost all of those write-in ballots. She was only a write-in candidate. That's going to continue for some time. We'll watch it closely, Alina. Thank you.

And stand by, Alina, because you're going to want to see this, what's coming up. THE SITUATION ROOM gets aboard the Soul Train Awards last night. I was a presenter in Atlanta, and we'll give you a sneak peek and show you something else.


BLITZER: I want to bring in CNN's Tony Harris. He's got some news to share with all of our viewers. Tony, this is big time because you and I, we've got a picture. I'll put it up there. There it is. You and I were at the Soul Train Awards in Atlanta last night. It was taped last night before a live studio audience over there at the Cobb Energy, so several thousand people.

Did you have fun at the Soul Train Awards?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I -- I had an amazing time watching you. And before I bear witness to the pictures you're seeing here and provide some context and perspective on what you're seeing here, Wolf Blitzer, the great Wolf Blitzer and Doug E. Fresh. First of all, Wolf, what was that experience like for you, before I bear witness?

BLITZER: Well, both of us, we grew up watching "Soul Train."


BLITZER: We loved "Soul Train" and Don Cornelius. And so when they asked me, they said, "Would you like to make a presentation at the Soul Train Awards?" you know what my answer was, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, yes. It was absolutely yes.

BLITZER: Yes. Absolutely, positively. There's a picture, by the way, of Doug E. Fresh. Tell our viewers who Doug E. Fresh is.

HARRIS: He's -- he's the beat box master. Doug E. Fresh. Six minutes, Doug E.. Six minutes, Doug E. Fresh. You're on.

And Wolf Blitzer, first of all, we think you're going to go there and give a nice tribute from some prepared script, paying tribute to "Soul Train," this international brand seen all over the world and pay tribute to the great Don Cornelius, who founded the show 40 years ago. Right?

No. You don't do that. As folks will see when the show airs in a couple of weeks, you decide to give the nation a dance lesson. You -- we saw you a couple of -- what was it, a year ago? -- some of your moves with Ellen. Roll the tape. I believe your team has the tape. Here is the tape of you dancing on "Ellen." Right? Terrific, terrific moves. Right? Here is Wolf on "Ellen." Right? Right?

BLITZER: Not so terrific, but it was fun.

HARRIS: And that's the point. Here's the thing, Wolf. At the Cobb Energy (ph) Center last night, for the Soul Train Awards which will be broadcast on BET, it is clear you've been working out. You're in much better shape. You have new and improved moves. You took the nation through this dance craze called the Doug E. with Doug E. Fresh, the namesake of the dance, and you were terrific. Here's the thing: huge stars. Can we go to it full? We've got some super exclusive backstage video of you.

BLITZER: This is just on a Flip cam. It's not the real video. That's going to be on November 28. But there I was because Doug E., you know, he was going to teach me how to Doug E.. You know? You know how to Doug E..

HARRIS: Yes. This is the only move I have. This is the only move I have. But you've got that and many more moves. Folks are going to see that. But the only thing missing, we thought -- first of all, big stars in the house. Right? Doug E. Fresh, Terrence Howard, Anita Baker, the great Anita Baker was there. And you -- you shut down the show. Friends, believe me when I tell you, Wolf Blitzer shut down the show. When you see it in a couple of weeks, you'll know what I'm talking about.

BLITZER: It's going to be on BET and Centric (ph) November 28. But you know what was a lot of fun? This is a picture of it. Show this picture. You see that award I have in my hand there?

HARRIS: Yes. Explain that.

BLITZER: I'm going to tell our viewers what that was. The hip- hop artist song of the year, Eminem, featuring Rihanna.


BLITZER: They got the award, but they weren't there. So guess who accepted? Guess who accepted on behalf of Eminem?

HARRIS: It's the great Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Correct.

HARRIS: Please excuse that unfortunate shot of Biz Markie's armpit there. That's unfortunate.

BLITZER: He's a big guy.

HARRIS: Yes, he's a big guy. But you were terrific last night.

BLITZER: They made the presentation. I got the award. There's the two of us together. We had a good time.

HARRIS: You shut down the show. It was terrific to be there with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When I was growing up on Buffalo, as I told everyone over there, I watched "Soul Train." Black people weren't the only ones watching "Soul Train." White people were watching it, too.

HARRIS: You turned the hippest trip in America on its ear last night. Just know that.

BLITZER: It's going to be fun. I think our viewers will like it November 28 when they see it on BET.

HARRIS: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Tony. We'll have some more fun.

All right. The mystery may be solved, but the lure of that strange sighting still has everyone talking and seeing new unexplained phenomena in the skies. Jeanne Moos will take a "Most Unusual" look.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."

In Indonesia, a man walks across a river covered with volcanic ash.

In China, a worker waters flowers for the Asian Games, which start tomorrow.

In the Netherlands, people celebrate the beginning of Carnival season.

And in a zoo in Switzerland, look at this: a green iguana eats a salad for lunch.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words. It was the strange sighting in the sky had everyone talking and guessing. Was it a bird, a plane, a missile? Maybe the "Most Unusual" mystery of all was how long it took for the Pentagon to tell us what it really was. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three, two, one, we have lift off of a story Jon Stewart dubbed "Missile: Impossible."

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like it could be a launch from a submarine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A missile from a Navy ship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could it be a secret test?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe even a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile.

MOOS: We're surprised someone didn't guess the wicked witch of the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surrender, Dorothy.

MOOS: But now the missile theory has surrendered. From the Pentagon to the Web site, experts agree the plume off the California coast was just a jet contrail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Contrail is a condensation trail.

MOOS: Water coming out of a jet, seen here from a cockpit of another plane, sort of like your breath on a cold day, though the West Coast contrail got an unintentionally phallic make over.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What else could do that?

MOOS: Some say they know exactly what did that.


MOOS (on camera): Are you sort of a contrail connoisseur?

(voice-over) Actually, Liem Bahneman is an aviation photography buff who focused on airline flight paths and schedules, then found a Web cam that captured a similar contrail in the same place 24 hours after the now famous one.

BAHNEMAN: The same daily flight was in the same position, as well. So that was kind of the smoking gun for me.

MOOS: The smoking contrail.

(on camera) Two nights after the West Coast "missile," there was another strange sighting here on the East Coast.

(voice-over) WCBS in New York had the video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bizarre glowing red-hot streak in the sky tonight at sunset, moving briskly behind the Manhattan skyline.

MOOS: Contrail enthusiasts think this one is also from a jet, similar in situation to one in which the plane is visible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trail has been lit by the setting sun.

MOOS: One joker suggests that the West Coast contrail was Iron Man. Jay Leno suggested we follow the trail of the mystery contrail.

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Play it backwards and trace where the contrail came from. See, go back. Oh, there it is. There it is right there.

MOOS: Contrail controversies have happened before, and they'll happen again so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Happy trails to you.

MOOS (on camera): Make that contrails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Until we meet again.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: A lot about contrails.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at, @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

You can also follow THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Go to to become a fan.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.