Return to Transcripts main page


Protecting Secrets; Department of Justice Won't File Charges Against Ensign; GOP Accused of Holding Senate Hostage

Aired December 1, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Drew, thanks very much.

Happening now, the Obama administration going to new lengths to try to punish the founder of WikiLeaks and prevent the Web site from spilling more government secrets.

This hour, why wait until now to put someone in charge of protecting the nation's secrets?

Also, Republicans are accused of holding the Senate hostage. They're demanding action on important money matters, or else.

And America's debt clock is ticking right now, but a new plan to slash spending may -- repeat -- may be dead on arrival. I'll ask the chairman of the president's debt commission what went wrong.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But up first this hour, the president names a new point man to try to stop the damaging leaks of diplomatic secrets. The administration clearly taking the WikiLeaks security breach more seriously than ever after the latest document dump. The White House under enormous pressure right now to do more to crack down on the whistleblower Web site that's been working for months and months and months to expose classified information.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

He's working the story for us.

The White House named someone today to take charge of dealing with these security breakdowns.

Why now?

Why did it take so long to come to the realization that they've got an enormous problem?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, Wolf, first of all, to the person that the White House has named. His name is Russell Travers. He's the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. His job will be to figure out, investigate these gaps that led to the leak of this classified information. He'll be working very closely with the National Security Council to come up with reforms, to try to make sure that something like this does not happen again.

In addition to that, the president's Intelligence Advisory Board will also be looking overall at the executive branch to see how this classified, sensitive information is handled.

But one of the big questions that was asked of the White House today is why have they waited so long for this big push, having known about the WikiLeaks scandal for so many months? Here's what Spokesman Robert Gibbs had to say about that.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I -- I don't think it's accurate to say that we somehow read the paper over the weekend and started to do this. I just don't think that's...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think they working on this for months?

GIBBS: This is an ongoing effort to, as we talked about here on Monday, to ensure that we have the type of information sharing that we understand is important.


LOTHIAN: Now the Department of Defense and Justice, also the State Department, they've had reviews, also conducting investigations, to get to the bottom of this. But, you know, White House officials and other administration officials have been unwilling to even confirm some of the details that have been out there in these documents. But they will say they believe it is criminal. And obviously what's happening here today is they want to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you get a sense, behind the scenes, Dan, that top officials there are embarrassed by what's going on right now?

LOTHIAN: There certainly is an embarrassment factor because, at least based on the information that's out there, there -- there are a lot of private conversations that are had that are very sensitive. And now it's out there and there is this embarrassment that these foreign leaders see this out in the open. They know about it. They know that these things are said privately. But then seeing it out in the public forum, it certainly is an embarrassment.

But I think when you talk to officials here at the White House, they're more concerned about the possible danger of this information getting out there, putting potential lives at risk. And that is what they're most concerned about.

BLITZER: And I know they're deeply concerned that more of these leaks are on the way, as well.

LOTHIAN: That's right. BLITZER: All right, Dan.

Thanks very much.

A major new blow to WikiLeaks, though, today. It's been ousted from the I thought server space it rents from The Senate Homeland Security chairman, Joe Lieberman, says Amazon cut off WikiLeaks after being contacted by his aides. The State Department says its offer to provide protection to human rights activists who may be in jeopardy right now, after their identities were revealed in some of these leaked diplomatic cables.

And Turkey's prime minister is threatening to file a lawsuit, saying he was slandered in one of those leaked diplomatic messages. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey reportedly alleged, back in 2004, that the prime minister had canceled his wealth in some Swiss -- concealed. Excuse me -- concealed his wealth in some Swiss bank accounts.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen, who's trying to digest this. All of us are right now.

They name a guy to be in charge of security, protecting the secrets today -- but, David, this has been going on for months and months and months, and only today they say, you know what, we're going to come to grips with this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Very surprising, Wolf. You know, there may be more to this story inside. They may have a lot of things that they have actually done very privately and we don't know about yet.

But normally, in this kind of situation, if you're in the White House and you've got something bad coming and you know it's coming, you try to prepare for it in advance. So that the day it happens, or even days before it happens, you go to the public and say, we've done the following five things. We've severed the State Department from all of its communications from anybody who's a private first class sitting over in Baghdad to make sure this never happens and nothing like this ever happens again. We've had a point man working on this for the last three months. He's done -- he's recommended the following five things. We've had our intelligence advisory board working on this for three months, knowing this was coming. We -- we have communicated to all the foreign embassies and, by the way, we've done what Joe Lieberman did today, which was to get WikiLeaks off Amazon.

You know, so, there -- there were a series of things you would have think they would have packaged and said, boom, we are on top of this. We're going to get this SOB if we can, but know that your security is in good hands, rather than this sort of sense of scrambling.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's the -- the impression you get. Pete Hoekstra, the Republican ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, he said very bluntly. He said this. He said: "I think there are still other government databases out there, that are out there that have similar types of materials that may be vulnerable to penetration," meaning even right now, some 23-year-old young guy working for the federal government can start downloading thousands of thousands of secret documents, that they haven't necessarily cleaned that up yet.

GERGEN: Well, that is a worry. And I think that the -- the country is due an explanation on that. But, of course, the -- the additional worry is that there are higher level secrecy documents that -- it doesn't take much, in a big organization, to have a couple guys who are really, really alienated or hostile and want to bring the organization down. If they have access to this kind of stuff, especially at a very high level, it can -- it can cause huge problems for this government.

So they -- I -- I'm -- I'm appreciative of the fact of how hard this is, the technology, and how hard they've been working to make State Department documents more available to DOD people and -- and vice versa. They've been doing -- trying to do the right thing. But somehow in the computer side of this thing, they got it really screwed up.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got to really work that -- that part of the story.

I know for a fact that foreign governments, some of them not necessarily friendly governments to the United States, but even some so-called friends of the U.S., they're going through all of these cables that relate to their government and they're trying to find out the individuals who may have had sensitive conversations with U.S. diplomats and other officials in their countries and they may retaliate. And I know this is a source of grave concern to U.S. officials.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And Bill Clinton was here in North Carolina last night. And he said, look, this could cause some -- cost some lives and it will definitely cost a lot of careers.

BLITZER: I'm -- I -- I know a lot of people are really worried about that, the first part...

GERGEN: As they should be.

BLITZER: -- because careers are one thing, but lives, obviously, much more serious than that.

GERGEN: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: All right, David.

Thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Also, today, President Obama is touting a powerful ally in his bid to finalize a new nuclear arms deal with Russia. The former secretary of State, Colin Powell, appearing with Mr. Obama over at the White House and declaring his position on the new START treaty.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I fully support this treaty and I hope that the Senate will give its advice and consent to ramification of the treaty as soon as possible.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the absence of START, without the new START treaty being ratified by the Senate, we do not have a verification mechanism to make sure that we know what the Russians are doing. And they don't know what we're doing. And when you have uncertainty in the area of nuclear weapons, that's a much more dangerous world to live in.


BLITZER: If the START treaty isn't ratified this year -- before the end of this year by the U.S. Senate -- and they need 67 votes for ratification -- it could face even tougher going in the new Senate, with more Republican members. We're watching this story for you. Republicans are proving just how much they want to vote on the Bush era tax cuts -- the power play that could paralyze the Senate's final lame duck session. We have new information.

And what did a top Republican mean when he prescribed President Obama as urban?

Roland Martin and Ed Rollins, they are here in our Strategy Session for that.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is pondering some hard financial questions today and he's here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: If -- if somebody in Washington doesn't wake up and do something meaningful about America's deepening financial crisis, it could be the end of the road -- and not very far away, either -- for this once great nation.

It's been clear for some time that we cannot continue in the direction we're going. And yet Washington sits on its collective hands and does nothing. Our lawmakers continue to spend money we don't have. They refuse to make any serious cuts anyplace.

Here's a little look at where we are today. For starters, this Deficit Commission was supposed to come up with some solutions. They've issued their final report, but they've pushed back the crucial vote on the recommendations until Friday because they don't have the necessary votes in that commission to get anything meaningful done.

The -- I lost my place here.

After promising to ban earmarks -- remember that -- the Senate voted not to ban earmarks, which is typical. These are people who are total strangers to the truth. Nothing yet from Congress on the Bush tax cuts. We are hurdling toward the biggest tax increase in American history on January the 1st.

Meanwhile, the polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans want at least some of those tax cuts extended.

Unemployment benefits began expiring today for two million Americans, since the Senate failed to renew them. And if people can't find jobs, well, what happens to them now?

President Obama wants to freeze federal wages for two years -- a drop in the bucket. He says nothing about cutting the size of the federal government.

The states are facing a collective $41 billion in budget gaps.

As the war in Afghanistan drags on, it's looking like Korea or Iran could be next.

Where is the money for that supposed to come from, if it happens?

For all of these reasons and more, the national debt now tops $13 trillion. Some estimate it's growing at the staggering rate of $5 billion every single day.

Here's the question, then -- is anyone serious about tackling the nation's deepening financial crisis?

Go to and give us your thoughts.

If you have a name, please share it.

BLITZER: A great question, Jack.

Stand by.

We want to go right to Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent. There's a new development involving a United States senator and the U.S. Justice Department -- Dana, what are we learning?


Senator John Ensign of Nevada, he, if people remember, a couple of years ago, got into hot water because of the fact that he allegedly helped his former chief of staff get a job, essentially with some impropriety, after he was having an affair with Senator Ensign's wife.

Well, there have been -- has been an Ethics Committee investigation and apparently -- apparently, an FBI investigation.

Well, John Ensign is now saying, through his lawyer and through his spokesman, that he has been told by the Department of Justice that he is -- has been cleared of all charges. That is what he says, he is no longer the target of any investigation. Now we should be very clear here, this is coming from the -- Senator Ensign's office.

The Justice Department is not commenting on any of this, so we cannot verify that this is actually the case. But this is what we are being told by Senator Ensign's office.

BLITZER: All right. Well, I'm sure we'll get some more information on that shortly, Dana.

But let's make the turn now to a rather dramatic development today up on Capitol Hill.

Only yesterday, they came out of that bipartisan meeting at the White House, the president and Republican leaders, saying all sorts of wonderful things about bipartisanship, a good meeting, they're going to work together. All of a sudden today, the Republican leadership drops a bombshell. Tell us what happened.

BASH: That's right. Well, they certainly did drop a bombshell. The president, actually just moments ago, Wolf, called it lingering politics on both sides of the aisle, but to be clear, what Republican said wasn't just lingering, it was political hardball.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just spending more time will help us find some many common ground.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People came to it with a spirit of trying to work together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was useful and frank discussion.

BASH (voice-over): Bipartisan negotiators on tax cuts arrived for their first meeting. Compromise talks formed out of Tuesday's White House meeting to try to bridge the divide between Republicans who want to extend all Bush era tax cuts permanently and Democrats who just want to extend them for the middle class.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: We had a very civil constructive discussions, very much in the spirit of the need of the White House yesterday.

BASH: But even before the bipartisan talks started, a decidedly bipartisan move by Senate Republicans.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: It is time our constituents' priorities become the Senate's priorities.

BASH: All 42 Senate Republicans signed this letter, vowing to block all legislation, until the Senate acts on funding the government and extending The bush tax cuts.

MCCONNELL: At the moment, every taxpayer in the country stands to get a massive tax increase and a cut in pay on December 31st. We need to show the American people that we care more about them, and their ability to pay their bills than we do about the special interest groups legislative Christmas list.

BASH: Translation, Senate Republicans are showing they have the votes to stop Democrats from bringing up key items on their agenda like a defense bill which includes a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and the dream act which allows children of illegal immigrants in college or the military a chance to stay legally.



BASH (on-camera): Hey, clearly, we're having some technical problems with that piece there, but what Harry Reid was saying there is that he believes that this is just transparent politics as usual, what Republicans in the Senate are doing. But another development here today in the House shows that it's not just Republicans playing politics, Wolf, House Democrats announce that they are going to go forward with a vote tomorrow on just legislation to extend permanently tax cuts for the middle class.

What they really want, those for $250,000 and less. And Republicans are saying, wait a minute, that shows that there is bad faith with regard to the negotiations that are going on right now. In fact, they're going to resume in about a half an hour. So, this is going on in both sides of the aisle, in both sides of the Capitol today, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, this lame duck session will last at least about until December 18th or maybe until Christmas Eve. Is that right?

BASH: I would not be surprised if I was standing here talking to you pretty close to Christmas Eve as they're trying to work all this stuff out.

BLITZER: They got a lot on their agenda. They got limited amount of time. The stakes, obviously, are enormous. Dana, thanks very, very much.

BASH: Thank you, Wolf

BLITZER: In the midst of all the wrangling over the Bush era tax cuts, President Obama now saying he's confident a deal can be cut to ensure that middle class families continue to get the same tax rates.


OBAMA: At the end of the day, I think that people of goodwill an come together and recognize that given where the economy is at right now, given the struggles that a lot of families are still going through right now, that we're going to be able to solve this problem. And I think we got off to a good start yesterday. They're going to be ups and downs to this process, but I'm confident we're going to be able to get it done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president speaking to reporters just a little while ago over at the White House.

We're also monitoring some other important top stories, including a new warning for those of us who may snore loudly or have some trouble sleeping. Not only is it annoying but it could put your health at risk. Standby.

And what caused a jet liner like this one to suddenly plunge 7,000 feet. We have new information coming into the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now including some new developments in the case of those three little boys in Michigan missing since Friday. What are we learning, Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf. Hell, everyone. Well, the boys' father is being held on $3 million bail and facing kidnapping charges. John Skelton was arrested yesterday after being treated for a suicide attempt and is now fighting extradition from Ohio. Police say they don't know the children's whereabouts. Skelton said he left them with a woman he met on the internet, but authorities don't believe his story.

And if you snore heavily or have trouble sleeping, your risk of developing heart disease could be higher. A new study finds people who snored loudly were more than twice is likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors in heart disease. The study says doctors can identify those at risk for the condition by evaluating sleep symptoms.

Meanwhile, In New York City, patients who called 911 in cardiac arrest could soon get two ambulances. It's part of a new plan to recover organs from potential donors more efficiently. Under the initiative, when efforts to save a person's life fails, a secondary team will arrive to collect the kidneys or liver. The deceased, however, must first be identified as an organ donor.

And horror in the skies as a 737 jetliner takes a sudden 7,000 foot plunge. A new investigative report reveals that in May, the co- pilot of an Air India Express, like this one you see here, mistakenly hit the control column while adjusting his seat then panicked. The pilot was able to grab the controls, and no one was hurt. The copilot reportedly had not been trained for that kind of scenario. I know that was very frightening for a lot of the passengers on board for that plunge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Fortunately, everybody was just fine, but that could be very, very scary (ph).

WHITFIELD: That's right.

BLITZER: All right. Fred, thanks very much.

America's debt is climbing every second, but there are some real concerns that a panel's work on deficit cutting could be a suicide mission. I'll talk to the co-chairman of the commission. Standby for that interview.

And a scramble by Congress to improve food safety may be falling apart right now, the glitch that could put all of us at risk.


BLITZER: Right now, a new plant to cut federal deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years may, I repeat, may be dead on arrival. The 18 members of the Bipartisan Debt Commission are due to vote on the blue print on Friday. Chances of getting the 14 votes necessary to pass it, send legislation to Congress are right now, iffy at best.

About 26 percent of the deficit reduction would come from an overall of the tax code and tax increases about 76 percent would come from cuts in domestic and defense spending. The report outlines weighs to sure up Social Security by reducing cost of living increases and benefits for the wealthy and by slowly raising the retirement age from 67 to 69 by the year 2075.

And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the two co-chairman of the president's Debt Commission, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Guys, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Simpson, you have 14 votes in favor of your recommendations.

ALAN SIMPSON, DEBT COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: We don't know. We will kind of go out and check the trap line tomorrow and see where they are, but we could be very close to that. But, for our purposes, we've accomplish the basic reason why we started and that's the awareness of the American people of the situation we (ph) have.

BLITZER: But if you have 14 votes, Mr. Bowles, then it becomes legislation. If you don't have 14 of the 18 members on board, it just becomes a recommendation and it can collect dust somewhere.

ERSKINE BOWLES, DEBT COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: You know, Wolf, it will never collect dust. That's the one thing I can guarantee you. You know, the era of deficit and denial is over. The American people are aware of the fact that this deficit is like a cancer. It's going to destroy our country from within, and I am positive they are not going to let the elected people put this on any dust pan.

BLITZER: But why didn't you insist -- you've been working on this for a year, and I'll let Senator Simpson respond. Why didn't you insist that you were going to work until you could get 14 members on board and have that in the bag?

SIMPSON: I guess you don't understand. We didn't care if we got two holes. It was going to be the first time in our lives, where there wasn't going to be some goofy whitewash where everybody was covering the fanny and decided to do something. You've got three guys on this commission from the house. One of them is going to be chairman of the ways and means, one of them will be chairman of the budget. The other is the third ranking member the house and this wonderful chap. Paul Ryan will put about 85% of this in the budget in the house. If that ain't progress, then I'm on the moon.

BLITZER: All three of these Republican House members, Senator Simpson, will vote against them.

SIMPSON: That's correct. I don't care what they do, as long as they take 70% 80% of this stuff and put it in the House budget because the ball is not going to stop. The stink bomb has been lit and is not going away. You may wish it but it ain't going away.

BOWLES: You know, Wolf, we've got seven votes today. Three Republicans, three Democrats, one independent. We've got the head of Senate budget committee, former head of Senate budget committee, ranking member, Republican and Democrat. We've got real momentum going. We've got some more votes that we're confident we'll get. This game is not over by any stretch of the imagination. The American people really want this done.

BLITZER: When I interviewed both of you back in February, I think you might remember the interview. Senator Simpson, you're known for colorful language. At the time you told me this is a suicide mission. But when the president of the United States calls you and asked you to do it, you accept. Was it a suicide mission?

SIMPSON: It started that way. Like the old ad, piano ad said they laugh when I started to play. Then of course the guy bought the piano and said now they're not laughing now. Let me tell you, nobody is laughing now. It was a suicide mission but this gentle giant from North Carolina and I visit with these people. Kept everybody in the room. Jan and I don't concur on things, I admire her. She put in her own plan. We kept civility. I think people are always talking about civility. We saw comedy, civility, and bipartisanship. To me, those things are worth more than anything.

BLITZER: You guys call it the moment of truth right now. Do you have reason to believe the president of the United States will accept your recommendations?

BOWLES: Yeah, I can't believe that if we get 14 votes he wouldn't accept it. I think he'll accept a large part of it. If we don't get another vote. Again, Wolf, this is something the American people are going to demand, they know this debt is like a cancer that will destroy our country from within. The people get it, the era of debt and denial is over.

BLITZER: When you say that, explain to the viewers why you are so, so gloomy. How much time do the American people have to deal with this?

BOWLES: Well, if we don't do something pretty quick, you know, within the next ten years, we're going to pay a trillion dollars of interest costs out there, which over half will be going to foreign countries. We'll have deficit to GDP ratio in excess of 90%. Cost of debt will increase. Cost of everything else in America will go up. We'll be in the same situation that Ireland or Spain or Portugal is today or Greece for that matter. We've got to take this on and we've got to take it on now. Fortunately we have time to take it on and do it in a responsible manner.

BLITZER: The immediate issue right now before Congress Senator Simpson is whether to keep the Bush tax rates going for everyone, including the wealthy. Is that a good idea?

SIMPSON: I stay out of that game, Wolf. I got enough problems working the guys on the commission. I have no idea where that is going.

BLITZER: 720 billion dollars over 10 years, if those made more than $250,000 a year get to keep the same tax rates.

SIMPSON: We've done something that's never been done before. I wouldn't worry so much about things like that if you know that 1,100,000,000 per year goes out through loopholes, gimmicks, deductions and it goes to about one percent of the top income people in the United States. We get rid of all of them and take tax rates to 8, 14 and 23. If anybody can whine about that, I don't know but I don't know where they're going with that. Don't want to comment on it. We'll adjust to anything they do. We'll adjust to that.

BLITZER: Other thing you don't get into is this whole issue of Obama health care. Because Republicans say their immediate priority right now is to repeal it, reject it. It's too expensive. What do you think?

BOWLES: We agree it's too expensive. We put forward $400 billion worth of deficit reduction by bringing down the cost of the health care in the next nine years. We set up a global health care cap at the end of the 10 year period at GDP plus one and we put fourth fall back positions exactly what Paul Ryan has said of premium support plan. We talk about robust public option. All of those things have to be on the table, if in fact we can't bring healthcare down with the tools we put out to there today to GDP plus one.

BLITZER: And the 18 members vote this Friday, right?

SIMPSON: That's right.

BLITZER: Good luck. I know you guys worked really hard and you described it as a suicide mission. Let's hope it wasn't a suicide mission because so much is at stake right now. You guys hopefully will be around for a long, long time. Appreciate it.

BOWLES: Thank you.

SIMPSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congress put a measure to improve food safety for the American people may be in jeopardy right now. And the Obamas are putting Christmas spirit on display inside and outside the white house.


BLITZER: The safety of our food supply could be at risk because of a technicality in Congress. Legislation just approved by the Senate is supposed to protect us from contaminated food, like bad eggs, e. coli, now it's all in jeopardy. Our Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is working the story for us. She's got details. It passed the Senate yesterday, earlier passed the house. What's the problem?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's usually partisan grid lock that stalls a bill like this. In this case, it seems to have more to do with someone failing legislative 101. This bill passed the Senate with 73 votes. It was headed to the house. Didn't seem to be any problems. It's something that would give FDA more authority in recalling food. The bottom line it's supposed to prevent these very scary food contaminations scares. Here's the thing. There's something in this bill that's unconstitutional. It contains a tax provision and tax provisions have to start in the house, not in the Senate. We heard kind of a sarcastic comment from Steny Hoyer, the number two, Democrat in the house saying the Senate knows this rule. Nobody ought to be surprised by this rule. It's in the constitution, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Senate version is different than the house version that passed earlier. They would have to reconcile that. Can't they do that quickly since there's overwhelming support?

KEILAR: The house is expected to pass the bill and send it over to the Senate but the Senate would have to fast track it. That would require every senator signing off on it. That's the rub. The Republican Senator Tom Coburn objects to this bill. He'll object to this fast tracking process. That means hours more debate on this bill in the Senate, when moving into the holidays and the new Congress the Senate's already up to its eyeballs with the lot of work that it's to get done. I do have to say, I've talked to some Democratic sources who say don't count us out. We are trying to get this through. We think we can.

BLITZER: This isn't the first time the Senate screwed up on a parliamentary issue like this, is it?

KEILAR: No. Just in recent months, by our count this is the third time.

BLITZER: Third time. They got to start getting their act together in the United States Senate. Thanks very much Brianna. Brianna Keilar up on the hill. Republicans and Congress stand ready to block the Democrats agenda and get accused of holding the Senate hostage. Will the strategy work?

And a Republican Congressman labels President Obama, and I'm quoting, urban. That story and more coming up in our strategy session.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get right to the strategy session. Joining us, our CNN political contributors Roland Martin and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Ed, is it wise for the Republicans in the Senate to be doing what they're doing now the Republican leadership? Basically they have all agreed nothing is going to pass until they deal with the Bush era tax cuts and until they deal with the current fiscal year spending.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They control enough votes they can do that. The bottom line is the government won't shut down in three or four weeks if they don't pass this. There's a whole new Congress just got elected. Come January they can do whatever they need to do. I think from their perspective why give it up now when this Congress had four years of Democratic control to do whatever and coming down to the closing weeks why should we roll over and play dead for them?

BLITZER: All 42 Republicans in the Senate Roland they're on board. They need 60 votes to break a filibuster. If they want to filibuster, everything else extending unemployment insurance, start treaty, whatever else they want to do they can do that.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wow a shock. Are you telling me Republicans are actually saying they'll say no. Is that a news flash? They've been saying no for the last two years. We shouldn't be shocked. I'm saying this. American taxpayer are paying you to work. Get your butts to work. Whether Republicans or Democrats and so if you right now are unemployed, the last thing you want is see these Republicans and Democrats getting a taxpayer check while you're sitting here stuck with no unemployment benefits when you have a tough economic situation. I say get to work and stop being an obstructionist.

BLITZER: How do they answer that charge, Ed?

ROLLINS: They're working on it. The whole unemployment thing is offsetting something. It's another expenditure where you have to borrow money again. They've argued for the last year that you need to offset that. You need to cut spending somewhere else. Now they're prepared to do that. Democrats aren't prepared to do that.

BLITZER: Let me move to another sensitive issue.

MARTIN: Wolf, I've got to say how can make argument you want to extend tax cut for the richest people in this country but then you don't want to extend unemployment benefits. You want to offset? Try that offset.

BLITZER: They say they do. They're ready to extend unemployment benefits for those who everybody on unemployment for more than 99 weeks. They want to cut other spending so you don't increase the national debt as a result of doing that.

MARTIN: I agree.

BLITZER: You're on board with the Republicans on that? MARTIN: I agree. Don't give the richest people in the country, a tax cut and help those folks unemployed.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

ROLLINS: I'm certainly not -- I would be willing to split my income with him he's so rich. I just take his tip money. The wine he spills in the course of the year, I can live well.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the federal government is done with African-American farmers who have been discriminated over the past many decades. There was a settlement. Steve King, he's a Republican Congressman from Iowa and is very opposed. And he said this. I'll play the clip. Roland we'll get your response then I'll bring in Ed.



REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Figure this out Madam Speaker. We have a very urban Senator Barack Obama who has decided he's going to run for president and what does he do? He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.


BLITZER: The Pigford claim is the settlement now past after so many years of trying. Very, very -- what I guess is controversial, explain why you think it's so controversial when he talks about a very, very urban senator.

MARTIN: First of all, what is very urban? Why don't he say black? What that meant you don't buy advertising on radio station targeting African-Americans. Why doesn't Steve King say it? That they would be concerned of black formers denying opportunities for our federal government. But again, these are farmers, you would think Steven King would figure that out. Again he's played with racial language before. This is no different. He is an embarrassment to the people of Iowa and Congress.

BLITZER: Should he apologize?

ROLLINS: No. Calling someone urban doesn't mean calling them black. He knew more about HUD programs and urban areas than he did as someone representative of a rural area. Great discrimination was done to African-American farmers. They deserve to be paid. Critical thing are there more people laying in claims who have rights, if they don't prove it they shouldn't get more resources.

BLITZER: Roland, go ahead.

MARTIN: I understand code words. Again, I'll say it. In the media business, when they say non urban dictate, people knew exactly what that meant, not to boy ads on radio stations targeting African Americans so I know code words, Steve King knows as well. I'm appreciative. Senator Obama has the guts unlike many southern senators from South Carolina, Mississippi, and places where more black farmers are, they did nothing to help these farmers, at least he stood up. That's why it's important, so Steve King, he should apologize for being an embarrassment to the people of Iowa.

BLITZER: Roland I know you feel strongly in this. Ed, thanks to you as well.

ROLLINS: I don't know as much about the subject, but all I can tell you, Steve King represented his state very, very well. Reelected over and over again. Whatever that is. That means farmers, people that work hard. White or black.

MARTIN: He didn't care about these farmers.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is asking this question, is anybody really serious about tackling the nation's deepens financial crisis and the founder of Wikileaks is now a wanted man. How far will the Obama administration go to find him? How far should it go to find him and punish him? We'll have analysis coming up and a tour of the white house holiday decorations of the United States as the first lady gets into the spirit of the season.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour, is anyone in Washington serious about tackling this nation's deepening financial crisis?

Sheila writes, "First we need to get out of both unpaid for wars and then second be done with the Bush tax cuts for a majority of the people. If they were doing important things as the Republicans tell us, we wouldn't be discussing our financial crisis."

Ben in Boston, "Ron Paul, the president has dozens of czars in the white house. I nominate Ron Paul as the Congressional czar of deficit reduction and give him the power and the title and turn him loose on the House in January."

Ken in California writes, "It is not that they are not serious about tackling the nation's financial crisis, but they don't have a clue how to fix it. Social issues like gays in the military, and immigration and abortion, and et cetera clutter the political landscape in Washington and blur the focus on the most important crisis in our history, the weight of debt is sinking the good ship United States."

Paul says, "This is symbolic of how politics is broken and instead of tackling the big long-term problems through compromise, everyone has a short-term focus. They try to do whatever is easy and popular and point the finger at the other side in order to position themselves for the next election and if nobody is planning to bend, it is chances are that the country will break." Alex in Washington, "Heck no Jack. The Democrats are catering to the base that gets entitlements and the Republicans want tax cuts for rich. The tea party is our only hope and some of them have already flip-flopped on earmarks. And the rest of them will go along and raise the debt ceiling and continue with business as usual."

Ann in Rhode Island writes, "Our current political and financial situation is nothing new, I remember the history classes, the fall of Rome and et cetera, all of them get arrogant and fat and lazy and fall off of the wall."

And Shirley in Ontario writes, "I am not sure that the country can be saved from financial ruin."

If you want the read more on this depressing topic, go to my blog.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Jack will be right back.

The elusive Wikileaks founder is on an international wanted list in the wake of the massive diplomatic document dump but just how far will the Obama administration go to stop the leaks? Stand by. New information.

And the white house getting ready for the holidays, a tour of the decorations coming up as well.


BLITZER: It's World AIDS day, and you see the big red ribbon outside of the white house. They're commemorating and remembering world AIDS day and gearing up for the holidays and now the first lady Michelle Obama is opening the doors for a first-hand look at all of the decorations.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: In many ways, this is really what the white house is all about, and I say this all of the time, it is the people's house. It is a place that is steeped in history, but it is also a place where everyone should feel welcome. Here at the white house we have 19 Christmas trees in every corner of the white house. We have a giant bow made out of pipe cleaners and a white house that took our pastry chef and his team an entire month to create. Over the last few days nearly 100 volunteers from all over the country have been working so hard. They have been making all of the ornaments and hanging the lights and transforming these rooms into breath-taking works of art. That spirit of kindness and generosity is really what the holiday season is all about. And it was the idea behind this year's theme which is simple gifts, because in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing. The time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.