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THE SITUATION ROOM

Sarah Palin's New Reality Show; Uproar Over Airport Security Measures

Aired November 15, 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: And that's got the homeland security officials on the defensive.

In Florida, there are nearly half-a-million foreclosure cases, half-a-million. Judges have been hired to cut through the backlog, but critics say they're giving many of those cases just two minutes and giving the edge to banks over homeowners.

And grizzly bears, dogsleds, and freshly caught salmon. Sarah Palin's new reality show is bringing in the viewers. Will it also bring her closer to a 2012 presidential run?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As we move toward the busy holiday travel season, many air travelers are already furious over the revealing body scans and intrusive body searches now going on at the nation's airports. Homeland security officials today defending the stepped-up security measures, but hint that some adjustments may be made.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here. She's looking into this for us.

What's going on, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a full-blown grassroots revolt is under way against TSA body imaging machines and the new more intimate pat-downs being conducted at airport checkpoints.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Traveler John Tyner didn't want to go through the advanced body imaging machine at the San Diego Airport last Saturday, but the option of an enhanced pat-down galled him even more. Audio of his face-off with the TSA has become a YouTube sensation.

JOHN TYNER, AIR TRAVELER: If you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested. OK, I don't understand a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not considered a sexual assault. TYNER: It would be if you were not the government. I would like only my wife and maybe my doctor to touch me there.

They have explosives detective equipment -- or explosives detecting equipment that's capable of detecting very minute traces of explosives. So, if that's the major concern, why aren't we using those machines? Why do we have to view people's naked bodies?

MESERVE: Some pilots, flight attendants, and travelers rights organizations are up in arms over what they regard as invasive, offensive, over-the-top security measures.

One group is telling members to opt out of the full-body scanners during the busy holiday travel period and insist on a private screening with witnesses.

KATE HANNI, FLYERSRIGHTS.ORG: Well, many people have concerns about radiation and they're very concerned about the impact, especially of cumulative radiation, and even more people are concerned about having their naked bodies witnessed by a TSA agent in a back room who they can't see and they don't know who they are.

MESERVE: But there's a flip side to the story. This is what PETN can do to an aircraft. PETN is what the Christmas Day bomber had sewn into his underwear. The secretary of homeland security says the best available way to find something similar is to use body scanners and enhanced pat-downs.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know, we're not doing this just to do it. We're doing it because we need to keep powders and gels and liquids off of planes that are unauthorized, just as we need to keep metals off of planes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The TSA has not been able to tell us how many complaints they have received about these new screening procedures, but the U.S. Travel Association says since last Wednesday, it's gotten over 1,000 unsolicited comments from travelers complaining about the new screening protocols.

Today the secretary of homeland security and the head of TSA said they are listening and they may adjust protocols in the days and weeks ahead. Meanwhile, the TSA is investigating John Tyner for refusing to complete the screening process. He could face a civil fine of up to $11,000.

Their concern, Wolf, that people may come to screening checkpoints and probe them and see how far they can get, that terrorists could do that. That's why they have those fines -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But if somebody doesn't want to go through the procedures, they don't have to let them go through the security gate, right?

MESERVE: No. And he didn't. He turned around and left the airport. You have to go through some kind of screening.

Now, the TSA says a very small number of people are getting subjected to these pat-downs, these intensive pat-downs.

BLITZER: The new, more robust pat-downs.

MESERVE: Exactly. It's the people who either refuse to go through the body imaging machines or they find an anomaly in the body imaging machines or people who set off the metal detector or people who are picked for random screening. They say the number is relatively small. It is not every traveler.

BLITZER: A lot of people are going to be flying on Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas. How worried should they be that the lines are going to be horrendous?

MESERVE: We just don't know. It depends on these opt-out campaigns that are being conducted telling people not to go through the imaging machines, to take a pat-down. These pat-downs, because they're more intrusive, will take a little bit longer. It depends how many they have to do. There's the possibility it could mean longer lines over what will already be a very crowded holiday travel season.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. It's not too pleasant. Thanks very much for that, Jeanne.

He's been in Congress for four decades, but his political future is on the line. Charged with a long list of rules violations, Representative Charlie Rangel today walked out of the ethics panel trial. His colleagues deliberated for hours over his fate, before adjourning just a little while ago.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She was watching what was going on.

It's not pretty, what's going on, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not. And it's going to continue. The Ethics Subcommittee will continue deliberating tomorrow, Wolf.

But today, Charles Rangel's flare for the dramatic was on full display. He walked into this hearing room. He was smiling and he was all by himself, no lawyer by his side, because he was there representing himself. And he told the committee in essence he wasn't sticking around.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I object to the proceeding. And I -- with all due respect, since I don't have counsel to advise me, I'm going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings, because I have no idea what this man has put together over two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, Rangel said that his lawyers withdrew their representation when he made it clear to them that he may not be able or wouldn't be able to guarantee that he could continue to pay the legal fees.

But a spokesperson for the law firm that had been representing him, Zuckerman Spaeder, told a different story in a statement today, saying, "This law firm did not seek to terminate the relationship and explored every alternative to remain as his counsel consistent with House ethics rules prohibiting members from accepting pro bono legal services."

Meantime, this trial continued, what's really the prosecution here, the Ethics Committee lawyers detailing the charges against Rangel. And he's facing 13 alleged violations of House rules. One of the most serious has to do with not paying taxes on rental income from a villa that he owns in the Dominican Republic.

We have a picture of him on vacation there. Also failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets on his congressional disclosure form. Also misusing a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office and using congressional letterhead and staff to solicit donations for a college center bearing his name.

And some of those companies, Wolf, had some business before his committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, which he did chair before stepping down amid all of these allegations, Wolf.

BLITZER: If the House Ethics Committee, Brianna, finds him guilty, what's the potential punishment?

KEILAR: The worst one, of course, would be expulsion from the House of Representatives. It's seen as unlikely because it normally would happen to a member if they have already been convicted in criminal proceedings, and obviously Rangel has not.

But then there's other varying degrees of rebukes from censure to reprimand perhaps to a fine. What this committee will do is it will determine first if they believe that Rangel is guilty. If so, then they will go to the sanctions process. And they can recommend what the rebuke should be. The full House would have the final say on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much for that -- Brianna Keilar from Capitol Hill.

One of the rallying cries of the Tea Party movement has been a ban on earmarks, those pet projects, spending items which are routinely added to bills in order to get them passed. House Republicans have already pledged to stop the practice and now one of the chief defenders of earmarks, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is certainly feeling the pressure. He says he thought long and hard about it. Now he's joining that campaign. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Banning earmarks is another small, but important symbolic step that we can take to show that we're serious, another step on the way to serious and sustained cuts in spending and to debt.

Earlier this month, voters across the country said they are counting on Republicans to make tough decisions. They gave us a second chance. With this decision, I'm telling them that they were right to put their trust in us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senate Republicans are set to vote tomorrow in a nonbinding moratorium on earmarks.

Meantime, the president says he's all for this trend. In a statement released, he says -- and I'm quoting -- "I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to not only end earmark spending, but to find other ways to bring down our deficits for our children."

How President Obama should spend the next two years in office, that's a question that's on Jack's mind. And Jack here is with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Did you just say they're going to vote on a nonbinding moratorium?

BLITZER: Correct.

CAFFERTY: So what the hell is the point?

BLITZER: It's a symbolic gesture, a statement, a nonbinding statement.

CAFFERTY: It doesn't mean anything.

BLITZER: It means that they're on record.

CAFFERTY: Oh, please.

To be a great leader, President Obama should not seek reelection in 2012. That's according to a "Washington Post" piece by two pollsters who worked for Democratic presidents, Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen. They write that Mr. Obama needs to decide how he wants to govern for the next two years, and they think the only way he can attempt to fix the serious problems facing this country is by putting national interests ahead of his personal or political ones.

By announcing that he won't run again, Mr. Obama -- quote -- "will be able to unite the country, provide national and international leadership, escape the hold of the left, isolate the right, and achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable" -- unquote.

Caddell and Schoen write President Obama would not be a lame duck if he foregoes a second term. Instead, they believe it would give him much more leverage with both parties. If the president showed more bipartisanship, the Republicans would be forced to meet him halfway, and Mr. Obama wouldn't be constantly worried about pleasing the Democrats' base either, people like senior citizens and the unions, in order to convince them to vote for him in two years.

Could make it a whole lot easier to accomplish something meaningful on the tough issues, like the debt and the deficit. The writers do believe President Obama can be reelected if he chooses to run, but in order to win, they say he will have to carry out a scorched-earth campaign, the kind of divisive campaign President Bush ran in 2004 and that Mr. Obama completely rejected in 2008.

Here's the question. Should President Obama not run for reelection in 2012? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

Nonbinding, my foot.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you. A lot of nonbinding stuff going on.

He's a former secretary of state, a retired four-star general. Some people want Colin Powell to add White House chief of staff to his resume. Powell is now speaking out about that. We're going to hear what he's saying.

And why hundreds of outraged people escorted a student to middle school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Sarah Palin makes her reality TV debut, but how many people actually watched? We have got the numbers. They're impressive.

And some people are now losing their homes in just two minutes. Why are judges rushing through as many as 25 foreclosure hearings in an hour? We are going to show you what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A surprising surge in retail sales, up for a fourth straight month in October. Government figures show the increase was nearly double expectations at 1.2 percent. That's the largest gain since March. It was led by auto sales. It shows consumers are opening up their wallets. That's a good sign, since consumer spending accounts for most of the country's economic activity.

But economists say this increased consumption still isn't enough to shift the recovery into a higher gear. We are watching the story closely.

The housing situation is one sign of just how far the economy has to go. Florida has the second highest foreclosure rate in the country. Last July, the state legislature approved almost $10 million to hire retired judges to deal with a backlog of close to 500,000 foreclosure cases, the goal, clear almost two-thirds of them in a year. Critics claim judges rushed through the cases, unfairly favoring banks over homeowners.

CNN Money's Poppy Harlow traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to see a foreclosure court in action.

Poppy is joining us now. She's back in New York.

Poppy, what did you learn?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when we heard those allegations, Wolf, that judges were whipping through foreclosures every two minutes, we had to go for ourselves. We didn't know at first if we'd be able to get into the courtroom. The judges did let us in. CNN's cameras were the first inside these courtrooms.

And we asked them about fraud allegations when it comes to these so-called rocket dockets. The judges insist there is not fraud, but when you ask the homeowners and their attorneys, they think it certainly is. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDGE CHARLES O. MITCHELL, FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT: Today I have approximately 40 cases on the calendar.

HARLOW (voice-over): Judge Charles Mitchell was recently hired out of retirement to deal with Jacksonville's backlog of more than 21,000 foreclosure cases. Critics call it a rocket docket.

CHIP PARKER, FORECLOSURE DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Foreclosure courts throughout the state of Florida have adopted a system of ramming foreclosure cases through to final judgment and sale with very little regard for the rule of law.

HARLOW: Lawyer after lawyer wait for their cases to be heard. Parker's client, Jacqueline Fitzhugh, has a hearing on tomorrow's docket. After a divorce and losing her business, she's been unable to make a mortgage payment in two years.

JACQUELINE FITZHUGH, HOMEOWNER: And I'm stuck with a loan that I cannot afford to pay. Now my American dream is like everybody else's, sitting in front of a judge tomorrow waiting for my house to get foreclosed on.

HARLOW (on camera): So this is the courthouse in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. It's one of the places where the so-called rocket docket is happening, judges signing off on up to 25 foreclosures an hour. That's one about every two minutes. It's also this morning that Jacqueline right inside here will learn whether or not she can keep her house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The case of Deutsche Bank vs. Fitzhugh. HARLOW (voice-over): The attorney representing Jacqueline's bank refuses to let us film her hearing. It lasts 25 minutes. But other cases are over in less than a minute, and most of the time the homeowner doesn't show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you, Judge.

PARKER: What I'm seeing now is an attack upon the citizens of the state of Florida by retired judges. Their job is to reduce the foreclosure backlog by 62 percent.

HARLOW (on camera): Is this a foreclosure mill? Is this a factory?

JUDGE A.C. SOUD, FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT: That's silly.

HARLOW (voice-over): Judge A.C. Soud oversees this temporary foreclosure court.

SOUD: We will try to schedule as many foreclosures, on the average of 25 an hour.

HARLOW (on camera): But are two or three minutes, is that enough time to look at a foreclosure case and make that final judgment?

SOUD: Most of the cases where you see a property owner not there, that means that property owner has defaulted. So, when that is the case, then three minutes, if the lawyers who we know say that everything is in order, then we feel like that's adequate time.

HARLOW: Those lawyers represent the banks. Doesn't the judge need to look for his or herself?

SOUD: No, we do not. I am not -- I am not there to -- I am not there to check every exhibit.

HARLOW (voice-over): At the end of our day in court, Judge Mitchell ruled on 35 cases. In Jacqueline's case, he denied the foreclosure, ruling the plaintiff didn't submit paperwork on time.

FITZHUGH: For now, I keep my home, but obviously there are some legal paperworks that are at issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Wolf, for now, Jacqueline is going to be able to stay in her home, that is until the bank schedules another hearing, which they could do at any time. The judge we talked to, Judge Soud, insisted, told us time and time again there is no fraud occurring in these special courts. He said there's a difference between fraud and sloppy paperwork.

But the foreclosure attorneys insist homeowners are being victimized by these special courts. And just in the last hour or so, I got this letter from the ACLU. They have submitted this letter to the chief justice of Florida's Supreme Court, arguing that those hearings are not open enough to the public, although we got a lot of access. He says they need to be more transparent.

We will follow up with the Florida Supreme Court, see what they have to say. So far, Florida is the only state in the country operating this way, having these special courts to deal with the foreclosure crisis.

BLITZER: All right, keep us informed, Poppy. Let us know what you find out.

HARLOW: We will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Good reporting.

It had a huge impact at the polls, but what kind of impact will the Tea Party movement have in Congress? I will ask Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. She's a Tea Party icon. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And another state gives the OK to medical marijuana. But you won't believe just how close the vote actually was.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Tea Party movement certainly had an extraordinary impact on Election Day, but it remains to be seen if it can also be a major force when it comes to actually governing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She's one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement.

Thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And congratulations on your reelection.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Tea Party.

Our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll just out today shows this. In October, the unfavorable number for the Tea Party movement was 37 percent. It's now gone up to 42 percent, a slightly bigger number as far as unfavorable attitudes towards the Tea Party.

What is your sense? Why is this happening?

BACHMANN: Well, it's interesting because they were so wildly successful at the polls just a couple of weeks ago. And I think they will continue to be.

And I think it really depends upon how they're being portrayed in the media. I think that will affect polls. But clearly people who are part of the Tea Party recognize it's not a political party. It's really just a set of ideas that have more to do with limited government, making sure taxes don't go up and making sure that government lives within its means. That's essentially the Tea Party.

BLITZER: It was by all accounts widely successful, although there were some significant failures, in Delaware, in Nevada, and some other states where there was a real strong Tea Party candidate who lost.

BACHMANN: Well, you can't win them all. But they are phenomenally successful, considering they are not a political party. They have no money behind them. There's no organization, no hierarchy. It's a random group of people coming together.

BLITZER: Do you see it changing? Do you think it will change?

BACHMANN: In what way?

BLITZER: If the Republican establishment doesn't do what the Tea Party wants it to do, do you see the possibility of the Tea Party emerging as a real political party as opposed to a movement?

BACHMANN: I think, if the Republican Party decides to be big government, big spenders, then you will see a significant shift away from the Republican Party.

I don't see that right now. The vibrancy and the verve of this last election was energized from the Tea Party. And that energy was infused then into the Republican Party, so the people who are disaffected Democrats and independents voted for the Republican because they didn't -- they were rejecting the big-government policies that were coming out of Washington.

BLITZER: Because some have already suggested, you know what? Looking ahead to 2012, a Tea Party candidate, as opposed to a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate is a possibility. In other words, a strong third party.

BACHMANN: I doubt it. I really doubt it. I think that you'll see the two-party system intact. It's just two years from now, the presidential. The clock has already started ticking on that race. I don't think that we're going to see -- you'd have to have a rise of an entire political party in infrastructure. There's so much that goes along with that. I just don't think that we're going to see that happen.

BLITZER: This is what you told Politico, and I'll read it to you, and I'll put it up on the screen. "I have been able to bring a voice and motivate people to, in effect, put that gavel in John Boehner's hands so that Republicans can lead going forward."

All right. Explain how you, Michele Bachmann, the Congresswoman from Minnesota, enabled John Boehner to become the next speaker of the House. BACHMANN: Well, I wasn't claiming sole responsibility. I was saying that I was a part of that effort, and I'm very proud to have been part of that effort. I helped candidates across the country. I probably gave away $1.5 million to be able to elect other people.

BLITZER: From your own...

BACHMANN: Out of -- whether it's my leadership PAC or out of my congressional campaign. And so I was generous in helping others get elected.

I also spoke all over the country, helping other candidates.

But during my time here as a member of Congress, I actively worked to point out the fallacies in the stimulus spending and the government takeover of health care. I also helped organized and bring the energy to bringing top -- tens of thousands of people to Washington when they demonstrated against the government takeover of health care.

BLITZER: But do you...

BACHMANN: That was significant.

BLITZER: But they refused to give you a seat at the leadership table.

BACHMANN: Well, it isn't that they refused. This was an open election. And so in the process of -- I was not the leadership pick, but in the course of canvassing, I saw that my election would not be the one that prevails.

BLITZER: Were you disappointed?

BACHMANN: I would have loved to have been able to bring my energy and my ideas, but I'm not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I called Jeb Hensarling, my competition on the day that I announced I was going to run, and I said, "Jeb, my opinion is this. Whoever wins, whether it's you or whether it's me, the GOP conference will win. Both of us have great strengths." I think he has strengths in areas; I have strengths in other areas. And so I told him, "This will be the friendliest contest you'll ever be in."

It was positive going in. I ran a positive campaign, and it was positive when I left. Because I really believe from everything I've seen from leadership so far, they get it. They want to make sure that we have limited government and that we attack this out-of-control spending. So I have real confidence in what conference...

BLITZER: The last time the Republicans had that power in the White House and the legislative branch, they didn't get it, from your perspective.

BACHMANN: And the American people understood they didn't get it, and that's why they were slapped, you might say, by the American people. But now they've been given the confidence, because people have rejected, out-of-hand, Speaker Pelosi's policies and, quite frankly, President Obama's policies. So now the question is, will Harry Reid listen to the results of election night? And will the president listen to the results of the election?

Because now it should stop being about politics. Now, it needs to be about getting America's financial health in order.

BLITZER: Where -- where, if any place, do you think you can find some common ground with President Obama?

BACHMANN: I think we can find great common ground with candidate Obama. When President Obama was running for the presidency, he abhorred deficits. Well, so do Republicans. Let's have agreement on attacking the deficit. Let's start there. That would be positive.

Also, I think we could agree with candidate Obama, he wanted to drive down costs in health care. Unfortunately, his prescription for Obama care is driving costs up. That's why this weekend, it was reported that the White House has given out over 111 waivers for companies and unions and universities so they can get out of complying with Obama care. That's an admission of failure. If you have -- and also it's picking winners and losers.

It's also a denial of equal protection under the law.

BLITZER: Give me...

BACHMANN: Clearly this isn't working, and I think we can agree with candidate Obama and we can attack the cost structure.

BLITZER: Give me one big-ticket cut that you would make, a billion, 5 billion, 100 billion. Where would you find the money that's needed to deal with the deficit?

BACHMANN: Well, No. 1, go back to the spending levels of '08. That...

BLITZER: Give me a specific example.

BACHMANN: That's 25 percent of the federal budget. Remember, the federal budget was no lean, mean machine when President Obama took over. In his tenure in less than two years' time, he has driven up the federal -- the size of the federal budget almost 25 percent.

BLITZER: Is there a specific cut you would make to...?

BACHMANN: Take every...

BLITZER: Department of Education?

BACHMANN: Every increase that he took, go back to...

BLITZER: Department of Energy. Give me a specific. BACHMANN: OK. But go back -- I am. Go back specifically to where we were with the budget in '08. That was not a paltry budget. Go back exactly where we were, and that will solve a lot of the problem.

BLITZER: So there's no specific cut that you would propose right now, other than just go back to the 2008 levels?

BACHMANN: I would go back to 2008 levels, because one thing, we can do across-the-board cuts, but I don't think that's prudent. Because there are legitimate projects that have to be done. Bridges have to be built. Water treatment systems have to be built. And so I think we don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face. We have to really be smart about this.

BLITZER: So you're basically saying just have an across-the- board cut to the 2008 levels.

BACHMANN: No, no, no, no. Go back -- go back to where the spending priorities were in 2008, start there, to begin with. Because we have to attack the driver of spending. Go back to '08. From there, then we can take the time to go through the budget and find out which priorities we want to...

BLITZER: Is there a priority that you want to cut?

BACHMANN: That I want to cut?

BLITZER: Is there something from 2008 that you would cut beyond that 2008 level?

BACHMANN: I'll give you one example, going back to when President Bush was in office, I disagreed with President Bush on No Child Left Behind. I thought it was a failure and a failed opportunity. And in that Bill, the federal government ramped up spending more than we had ever seen.

BLITZER: For the Department of Education.

BACHMANN: The Department of Education.

BLITZER: You would cut that?

BACHMANN: You could start there. Start there.

BLITZER: All right. And we'll have more cuts down the road we'll discuss. Michele Bachmann, thanks very much for coming in.

BACHMANN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Virginia Thomas, a conservative political activist and wife of the Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, says she will be stepping down as head of Liberty Central, a grassroots political organization she founded a year ago with links to the Tea Party movement. The decision was announced by the Virginia-based group's public relations firm. Ginni Thomas made headlines when she admitted leaving a message on Anita Hill's phone. Hill had accused then-federal judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and her testimony was at the center of his contentious 1991 confirmation to the high court.

Most politicians watch their approval ratings, but Sarah Palin is now looking at a different kind of rating. The numbers for her new reality show. We have them. You might be surprised how many millions of people were watching.

And Colin Powell confronts speculation and speaks out on if he wants to be President Obama's White House chief of staff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The other day, the outgoing Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We spoke about someone who could become the next White House chief of staff. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED RENDELL, OUTGOING PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: I'm not the person to be chief of staff. I've said Colin Powell has got the stature to bring everybody together. He should be the chief of staff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now Colin Powell is turning the tables on Ed Rendell. Listen to what he just told Larry King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I haven't been asked, and I don't expect to be asked. And...

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": If asked?

POWELL: Well, I don't know what I would do if asked, but I don't expect to be asked, because I've -- I've had 40 years of government service.

KING: But you're the kind of guy...

POWELL: I have no interest in government service. Governor Rendell would make a great chief of staff.

KING: You're turning it around now?

POWELL: He's been running around throwing my name out. This is the first chance I've had to suggest that Ed Rendell is an accomplished politician, an accomplished governor, mayor of a great city. I think he'd be a terrific chief of staff.

KING: But you're used to serving your country. If asked... POWELL: I have served my country for 40 years. And I believe that, in my current life, post-government service, I'm still serving my country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: General Powell is going to be Larry's guest for the hour later tonight here on CNN, 9 p.m. Eastern. Let's talk a little bit about this with CNN's John King. He's host of "JOHN KING USA." That comes up right at the top of the hour.

I don't think this is very serious, this notion that Colin Powell would be the White House chief of staff. I don't know what you're hearing.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: No. No. 1, there is a White House chief of staff, Pete Rouse, who was just named for the job after Rahm Emanuel left to go off to Chicago and run for mayor.

No. 2, there has been, from Ed Rendell and some other Democrats, the idea floated that maybe the president needs to look outside his inner circle. Pete Rouse, a long-time advisor, was right there in the White House. There are a lot -- there are a lot of Democrats will tell you, some publicly like Governor Rendell, and some privately, that one of the problems in this White House is that folks believe they're too insular. It's a criticism we heard in the Bush day, when we covered the Clinton White House from time to time, and he did have a big shakeup to bring in some outside voices.

But Pete Rouse is going to be there for the foreseeable future. Ed Rendell is not going to be the chief of staff. He would have taken the job, if asked. He's leaving the governorship of Pennsylvania. And Powell, Colin Powell, their General Powell, was making the point to Larry King very clearly: "No, thank you. I've done my service."

But it's interesting in that interview. No. 1, trying to -- trying to, a, deflect any talk about him. He did say, General Powell, that this election was a body blow to Barack Obama. And that the president needs to figure out, you know, how to get his momentum back and how to get back into the game.

General Powell, remember, he served on the Reagan White House staff in the National Security Council. He was the secretary of state. He was the chairman of the joint chiefs. He's been around Washington and politics in all of his service for those past 40 years for a long time. He knows a little about what it's like to be in a White House, take a little bit of a bruising.

BLITZER: He's had all those jobs. One job he hasn't had is secretary of defense. And we know that Bob Gates is thinking about leaving. That might be a job he might be interested in.

KING: I don't -- I take him at his word when he says he doesn't want to come back, because he is a soldier first.

BLITZER: Commander in chief. KING: That's why he was -- that's why he was pushing.

BLITZER: All right, John. See you at the top of the hour.

It was a cliffhanger vote. Another state moves to legalize medical marijuana.

And a movie role for the former president, Bill Clinton. What's going on?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The newly-elected Congress is officially beginning to take shape. Let's go back to Mary Snow. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. Senate has two new members. Democrats Joe Manchin and Chris Coons were sworn by Vice President Biden this afternoon. Manchin is the former West Virginia governor, taking the seat of the late Robert Byrd, and Coons is filling the Delaware seat Biden held until his 2008 election. They replaced two other Democrats who were holding those seats temporarily.

Arizona voters have narrowly approved medical marijuana. The secretary of state has released new numbers, showing 51.1 percent voted yes on Proposition 203, while almost 49.9 percent voted no. Only about 4,300 votes separate the two sides. State officials will officially certify the results on November 29.

And finally, Bill Clinton reportedly filmed a cameo in "Hangover 2." "People" magazine says the former president stopped by the set in Thailand, where he was delivering a speech. He reportedly plays himself in a brief appearance. Wolf, as they say in Hollywood, stay tuned.

BLITZER: Did you see "The Hangover?" Did you see the original?

SNOW: I haven't seen the original. Did you?

BLITZER: Well, I did. I'm looking forward to "Hangover 2" to see what the former president does. Thank you.

Should President Obama not run for reelection in 2012? That's Jack's question. He's back with your e-mail.

And Sarah Palin's reality TV debut. So how did she do? The ratings are now in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Grizzly bears, dog sleds, and freshly-caught salmon, Sarah Palin's story in Alaska. It's now a reality show, and it's bringing in viewers. Nearly five million total viewers tuned into the premier of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," making it the TLC network's No. 1 launch ever.

CNN's Jim Acosta has a closer look -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, can Sarah Palin see 2012 from her house? It's too early to answer, "You betcha," but her new show, which debuted last night on TLC, has all the makings of a reality TV presidential roll-out.

The 2008 vice-presidential candidate is portrayed as a gun- toting, rugged outdoorswoman who sometimes travels by sea plane and dogsled. Viewers get to meet the whole Palin family, including 9- year-old Piper, who steals the show in the first episode, eating cake batter right off the whisk and complaining about her mother's use of the BlackBerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I guess I have to leave my BlackBerry here. Oh, boo-hoo.

PIPER PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: Mom is super busy. She is addicted the BlackBerry. She's, like -- "Hang on, Piper. I'll be there in a second."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: There isn't much for political junkies to sink their teeth into, unless they enjoy fresh caught salmon. Palin and her husband do gripe about journalist Joe McGinniss, who moved in next door to the family for a book project on the former governor.

After Mr. Palin and some friends built a 14-foot fence to add some extra privacy, Mrs. Palin compares the project to efforts to secure the nation's border with Mexico.

But mainly, the show is about the Palins enjoying the great outdoors, which includes one close encounter with a real life mama grizzly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: I love watching these mama bears. They've got a nature, yes, that -- humankind can learn. She's trying to show her cubs. Nobody is going to do it for you. You get out there and do it yourself, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: All of this could soften Palin's polarizing image. Recent polls show about half of all Americans have an unfavorable view of Palin, but those same polls show around 80 percent of Republicans like her. That makes her viable for a run for the GOP nomination.

And her show, we should mention, runs eight weeks, ending in mid- January, just as other Republican contenders are expected to start declaring their intentions -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty Report" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "Should President Obama not run for re-election in 2012?" The idea being if he announced now that he wasn't going to seek a second term, he might create some additional leverage for himself to get some things done that he might not otherwise be able to do.

Linda writes from Arizona, "If he announces he's not running in 2012, he'll be a lame duck, and instead of next to nothing getting done, it will be nothing at all. Anyway, he won't do it, so why bother with this idle conjecturing? Don't agree with the conclusions about uniting the country and providing national and international leadership either. How would a lame-duck president accomplish anything like that?"

Joe in Florida: "Obama will run in 2012, and he might win it. Hillary is the only one that would have given him a ticket back to Chicago, and I don't think she's going to run."

Dave in Cincinnati writes, "As a political maverick who finds his place somewhere between conservative libertarian and Tea Party, I definitely think he ought to run. It will near assure a change in the Oval Office."

T. writes, "What a stupid question. Of course he should run again."

John writes, "He should not run. He's out of touch with mainstream America. Follow LBJ. He knew he wouldn't be re-elected either."

Susan in Idaho, "No. No one will miss him until he's gone. What will we have had with McWrong and the Wasilla wonder? Someone that would have had to postpone one thing on his agenda to tackle another and a quitter. Of course, we might have had Joe the plumber for secretary of state and Wilford Brimley for secretary of war?"

Susan in Florida writes, "Jack, does it really matter, since the world's going to end on December 21, 2012, according to the ancient Mayan calendar? At least that's what the History Channel is telling us, and Jesse Ventura."

And David in North Carolina: "Yes, Obama should run and get a second coat of shellac."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you tomorrow.

A confrontation at airport security goes viral. Stand by.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just getting...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a touching story. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember when junk was something you got rid of? Now another kind of junk has taken off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you touch my junk...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you touch my junk...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: TSA touched my junk, too.

MOOS: It's already being plastered on T-shirts. "You touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

By now you probably have heard how would-be airline passenger John Tyler refused to get into one of those new revealing scanners. He recorded TSA agents telling him he'd have to have an expanded pat- down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, we're going to be doing a groin check. That means I'm going to place my hand on your hip, the other on your inner thigh, slowly go up and slide down.

JOHN TYLER, AIRLINE PASSENGER: But if you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested.

MOOS: And thus, a phrase that was born.

(on camera) Don't touch my junk. Does that remind you of anything?

ANDREW MEYER, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA STUDENT: Don't tase me, bro. Don't tase me.

MOOS (voice-over): Now, the airport brouhaha never got that heated. According to Tyler, the expanded pat-down...

TYLER: It amounts to a sexual assault.

MOOS: He told the TSA...

TYLER: I'd like only allow my wife and maybe my doctor to touch me there.

MOOS (on camera): One possible solution: have TSA personnel wear lab coats like doctors while executing pat-downs. (voice-over) Another online suggestion: "They should just hire models to be the designated gropers. End of problem." We doubt that's going to fly.

"Government in your pants," a Chicago Trib columnist called it, and one commentator for "The Atlantic" challenged another to wear a kilt next time he flies.

For safety's sake, this iReporter offered his junk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the next time I fly, it's OK if they just so happen to touch my junk.

MOOS: Forget government in your pants. What about on your knuckles? A passenger reported Adam Pearson as looking suspicious because of the words "atom bomb" tattooed on his hands. Pearson tweeted he was pulled off the plane until he explained it was his nickname and allowed back on.

The family values Minnesota Majority put their position to the music of The Who.

(MUSIC: "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.")

MOOS: And if it isn't nuns, it's kids.

(MUSIC: "Feel me, touch me."

MOOS: So much for hiding your junk. Now it's out of the closet and onto mouse pads and panties.

TYLER: If you touch my junk...

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will have you arrested.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.