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Bill Clinton Takes Over White House Podium; Marathon Rant Against Tax Cut Deal; Risky Lapse in Tracking Aircraft; 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Anger; 'Strategy Session'

Aired December 10, 2010 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- Bill Clinton comes to the rescue of President Obama's troubled tax cut deal. This hour, a truly remarkable news conference by two former rivals teaming up to try to rally defiant Democrats behind the White House's proposal.

Well, there's not a lot of holiday cheer in the capital right now. The Senate is trying to move forward on tax cuts. But House Democrats are still saying humbug.

And a shocking lapse that may have made it easier for drug traffickers or even terrorists to use aircraft. This hour, how records for tens thousands of private planes fell through the cracks.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

When you're a president reeling from the kind of week President Obama has had, there aren't a lot of people who can really feel your pain. Enter Bill Clinton.

The breaking news this hour, the former president stepped up to the podium at the White House with Mr. Obama just a short while ago. It was truly an extraordinary event. Anyone who's covered the White House remembers this -- sees this as a first. The current president spoke briefly and then left his predecessor to talk -- well, left Bill Clinton to talk at length about why he thinks defiant Democrats should support a tax cut compromise with Republicans.

We're going to talk about it all with our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, along with our chief national correspondent, John King, and the host of "JOHN KING, USA" and senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

But to all of guys, I want to first play one of the more memorable moments from this first ever, maybe -- first that we can remember -- a double president press conference in the Briefing Room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What was your advice to President Obama today about how to deal with the Congressmen in the opposition party?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, 42CD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a general rule, which is that whatever he asks me about my advice and whatever I say should become public only if he decides to make it public. He can say whatever he wants but I mean --

QUESTION: Why do you think?

CLINTON: We --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what I'll say, is I've been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour. So I'm going to take off.

CLINTON: But I -- I don't want to make her mad. Please go.

OBAMA: You're in good hands. And -- and Gibbs will call last question.

CLINTON: Help me.

OBAMA: Thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: OK, John, I've got to ask you first, because you covered Bill Clinton for so many years, that was a remarkable moment. I can't tell if the president was saying wrap up now or it's all yours.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no telling Bill Clinton to wrap. The -- the president of the United States -- the current president made a very smart political calculation, to bring the former president into the Briefing Room. The big political story in Washington all day long has been Bernie Sanders and other Democrats on the floor of the United States Senate ripping this tax cut deal apart, saying the president cut a bad deal, that the middle class gets screwed. And so that was going to be the dominant political story.

This was a little bit of poker -- I'll see you Bernie Sanders and raise you a Bill Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And into the Briefing Room he comes. And he said a very smart line early on. He said there's never a bipartisan deal that a partisan likes. But you have to compromise. And communicating in a pretty compelling way, look, I was the president. We created 22 million jobs. And I don't like a lot of this deal, but I think it's the best deal you can get. As a messenger, it's awkward.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KING: He overshadows the current president to a degree. But as a messenger, that was a pretty strong performance by Bill Clinton.

YELLIN: But, Ed, let me ask you, because you cover this White House. Obviously, we all know Bill Clinton is an extraordinary communicator. It did seem to be a moment where Obama didn't like being seen as the Robin to Bill Clinton's Batman.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think you're right. And -- and John's right, there is some political risk for the current president to bring out someone who is such a great communicator. And, frankly, after four days -- every single day this week, President Obama, you know, beating this story out there, having his own solo news conference on Wednesday and giving remarks every single day of this week, until now, about why this tax deal is a great deal and he couldn't sell it to Democrats. There's a risk now in bringing out Bill Clinton to say, look, you try to sell this, because I haven't had that much luck this week.

On the other hand, though, bringing out Bill Clinton shows, maybe, that President Obama is big enough to share the stage a bit. And what better advocate to go out there and say, look, in the end, as John said, this is a compromise. Not everyone likes it, but it's going to be a net plus, as he put it, for the middle class -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Gloria?

BORGER: Just, he didn't share the stage, he gave the stage --

YELLIN: Right. Bye.

BORGER: -- to him. And the thing about Bill Clinton is he doesn't know when to exit the stage.

KING: Right. (INAUDIBLE). BORGER: Remember when he left the presidency and he was giving a press conference at the very end at that airplane hangar for what seemed to be an hour?

And -- and in this particular case, he seemed quite at home, should I say?

KING: Well --

YELLIN: Well, he even said I --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: -- I really enjoyed my days governing.

BORGER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And he was philosophical, telling us how much he's been studying the economy and reading economists and how important the payroll tax relief is. And then, the funniest thing was that he called it a stimulus package.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And then he said, oops, I'm not supposed to use that word, but he did.

KING: And he -- he captured the moment. I mean many people have said, will Obama pull a Clinton? Will he pivot to the center? Will he triangulate?

That will be the debate that we have for the next six months, if not the next two years, in Washington, until the next presidential election.

But -- but the former president did make a very important point -- it's not setting politics aside, but it's setting the hourly scorekeeping aside. He said, yes, House Democrats, liberals have to get a message -- the Republicans won the election, you have to compromise. But then he said in his next breath, so do the Republicans -- that the Republicans can't just think, we won, we rule the town, that everybody has to, at times, be partisan, fight like cats and dogs and then every now and then, you're going to have to come together and be grown-ups.

YELLIN: Let me bring in Dana Bash, who's up on Capitol Hill, because, Dana, obviously this is playing -- either playing to the media and the public, but one of their real audiences is -- are -- are the Democrats on Capitol Hill.

How will this go over with them?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I was trying to e-mail some Democratic sources as Bill Clinton was talking, to say, is this working?

Are you convinced?

One senior Democratic source e-mailed me back saying, "Well, I'm convinced. Look at him. Look at the way he just stands up there and makes it understandable. And -- and, certainly -- I mean it certainly will help. And that is something that I think that is really fascinating. You have President Obama, who is the commander-in-chief; today, Bill Clinton was the validator-in-chief. That is definitely what his goal was. There is no question.

Now, look, I mean, the reality is, also, that you have a lot of Democrats who may not hear him and if they hear him, they're not going to care. They are angry and that's the bottom line.

But the fact of the matter is, you have this man, who was the number one pick for every Democrat running for reelection and running for election in this campaign season. They were desperate to have him out there. They respect him and they trust his judgment.

YELLIN: On the other hand, Gloria, you know, President Obama has gone out of his way to say. I don't want to triangulate, I'm not going to be like Bill Clinton, that's not --

BORGER: Um-hmm.

YELLIN: -- or the -- his team has. And yet the signal is something a little different.

BORGER: But -- but you -- what -- what Bill Clinton did was that he didn't come out and get angry at the Democrats who are opposing this. He didn't call them sanctimonious --

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: -- which Barack Obama did --

KING: Not in public.

BORGER: Not --

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Not in public. But he came out and he said, I understand. I understand. I feel your pain. I know where you're coming from. But also understand that this is a much better deal than we would get --

YELLIN: Right.

KING: Yes.

BORGER: -- if we were to wait until January. So he said, essentially, be pragmatic about it.

YELLIN: Let's -- can we play one more moment of sound from this -- from the press conference where President Obama is introducing President Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I just had a terrific meeting with the former president, President Bill Clinton. And we just happened to have this as a topic of conversation. And I thought, given the fact that he presided over as good an economy as we've seen in our lifetimes, that it might be useful for him to share some of his thoughts.

I'm going to let him speak very briefly. And then I've actually got to go over and do some -- just one more Christmas party. So he may decide he wants to take some questions, but I want to make sure that you guys heard from him directly.

CLINTON: Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

First of all, I feel awkward being here and now you're going to leave me all by myself?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, I still spend about an hour a day trying to study this economy. And I'm not running for anything. And I don't have a political agenda. I just -- I try to figure out what to do.

I have reviewed this agreement that the president reached with the Republican leaders. And I want to make full disclosure. You know, I make quite a bit of money now, so that the -- the position that the Republicans have urged will personally benefit me. And on its own, I wouldn't support it and because I don't think that my tax cut is the most economically efficient way to get the economy going again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: OK, Ed Henry, we saw an interesting dynamic between the two men. It cannot be a surprise to the White House that President Clinton was going to speak for a while after President Obama left.

Do you know anything about how this came together, the stagecraft, why they planned it, when they planned it?

HENRY: They had not been expecting that they were going to do this. And I think it was a bit of a -- of a last minute decision, based on what I've been told so far, that they were not planning some big roll out, if you will. And we should point out that President Obama is still going to be selling this all next week. And we've got some new information that next Wednesday, the president is going to have a CEO summit across the street from the White House, at Blair House, bring in a lot of business leaders and try and sell this to Capitol Hill.

But he's also going to maybe use some of more of Bill Clinton. At the end of this news conference, a reporter asked whether Bill Clinton would be willing to make some phone calls. And he said, look, I've been busy, but I'm willing to do it if President Obama wants. And remember in the health care fight, they did bring in Bill Clinton. He talked to lawmakers from Arkansas, for example, where he had some sway. And he helped put it over the top.

So they're -- they're going to use him more, you can bet, in the coming days.

And it's funny. I just got an e-mail from a senior administration official who jokingly said, you know, President Obama was going over to the East Room to -- for this holiday party, to take some pictures with White House staff. Then there's a media party later tonight. And this senior official said, do you think maybe Bill Clinton is going to have his own line in the East Room, maybe do some photos?

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: I mean that's not out of the realm of possibilities.

YELLIN: One of the -- one -- somebody e-mailed me, it looks like he's moving back in. KING: Right.

YELLIN: Is this the beginning, do you think, of a changed relationship with these two men, John, who seemed like such rivals --

KING: No, they're --

YELLIN: -- not too long ago?

KING: One, if -- if you're interested in government, you would hope so, in the sense that the former presidents are a club. And when they're with the current president, they have a special relationship. Jimmy Carter has always been a bit of an outcast. There's always been some tensions between the Clinton group and the Obama group.

One of the other things that makes this such an interesting moment today is that some of the White House people -- and Ed can speak to this, as well -- have been saying under their breath that the -- the loudest liberal criticism has been coming from people who were never with us. They were Clinton people to begin with -- Hillary Clinton people -- back in the campaign. So they didn't like us to begin with and now they're out there and they've been just looking for an opportunity to whack us.

So having Bill Clinton on your side is -- is a smart maneuver, smart optics in a number of ways.

But remember, whatever you think of Bill Clinton's politics, he was the president when the economy was roaring along. He raised taxes on the rich. That was his singular middle tax cut proposal -- I'm going to raise them on the rich and give money to the middle class.

So now that when all the Democrats are saying, why won't President Obama to raise taxes on the rich, to have President Clinton say, it's OK for now -- I don't like it, but it's OK for now, helps the president.

BORGER: You know --

YELLIN: OK --

BORGER: -- and don't forget, President Obama is facing a new reality. It's an old reality for Bill Clinton.

And who better to come into the White House to talk President Obama about what it was like?

I think, in fact, when Bill Clinton lost control of Congress in '94, he was probably a little bit more blindsided by it than President Obama was. The Democrats were expecting it.

But it took him a couple years to go through the stages of grief and finally come out of it with, for example, welfare reform or declare that the era of big government is over and get the economy on track.

So what better person than Bill Clinton to say to Barack Obama, don't worry, don't worry, there's light at the end of the tunnel?

YELLIN: And let me show you how it's done.

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: Maybe a little bit of that.

KING: And to --

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: And to let him know his hair is going to --

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: -- his hair is going to turn just like that.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes, that's life down there.

YELLIN: Right.

All right, thanks to both of you.

And we're going to continue talking about this throughout the hour -- the next two hours.

And also coming up, a new reason to be concerned that America is not as secure as it could be from terrorists. We'll tell you about a stunning gap in the government's ability to track private planes and what's being done to fix it.

And a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, growing outrage in the region and the threat of legal consequences.

And the Treasury secretary lands in the hospital.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Right now one U.S. senator is venting the anger that many allies of the president are feeling towards him right now. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent who votes with Democrats and he's been tying up the floor for hours and hours in the U.S. Senate, blasting the president's tax cut deal with Republicans with a little help from his friend.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: You recall what I'm doing today whatever you want. You can call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech.

(AUDIO & VIDEO FAST FORWARDED) SANDERS: Sounds like a good idea for working people, it is actually a very bad idea.

(AUDIO & VIDEO FAST FORWARDED)

SANDERS: When is enough, enough? How much do they need?

(AUDIO & VIDEO FAST FORWARDED)

SANDERS: Again, it has to be put within the broad context of what's going on in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Give that man a throat lozenge.

Sanders office says the Senate video server crashed because so many people have been watching his speech and it is one of the most talked about items on Twitter right now.

We should point out, he is still talking live right now and for people who follow such things, there's a raging debate about whether this does or doesn't qualify as a filibuster. We're waiting for an official ruling from the Senate Congressional Parliamentarian on that. It is a long speech, to be sure.

And now back to the breaking news this hour, something we don't think we've ever seen before. Former President Bill Clinton took over the podium at the White House to help Democrats sell President Obama's tax cut deal that he's cut with Republicans.

Let's bring in our senior political analysts, both David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

A pretty remarkable moment. David, I want to start with you because you worked with President Clinton for awhile. Just what are your thoughts watching that press conference?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, President Clinton called other presidents, former presidents. I remember very distinctly, he called in all the presidents when he was trying to introduce NAFTA, which was very unpopular in his own party. And he brought them out and introduced them at the White House. He didn't turn the podium over to them.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: Is that a bad idea? Actually, do you think that's not good for President Obama? Does it diminish him or was it a smart, political move?

GERGEN: Well, Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: No, I don't think he intended to turn it over to him. I'm not sure, because he said, you know, Gibbs, his press secretary will call last question. YELLIN: He never did, did he?

BORGER: Well, we don't know, we don't know. But I think that was sort of a hint call one more question and that'll be it. We won't keep you here all day, Mr. President.

YELLIN: OK, let me --

GERGEN: Yes, but Bill Clinton is irrepressible. And a former president -- sitting presidents sometimes do have issues with former presidents.

I remember Bill Clinton calling Jimmy Carter and asking him to go down to Haiti to help renegotiate and get some people free down there. He went with Colin Powell and Sam Nunn, as you'll recall. But there was a lot of trepidation in the White House, is he going to be a loose cannon. Is Jimmy Carter going to be a loose cannon? Cause once you've been president, you like playing that role again.

YELLIN: And I have to say, I'm with Gergen on this one because you don't invite Bill Clinton to stand by on a podium and not expect him to --

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: -- and filibuster a little bit.

BORGER: But by the way, he did a very good job. Didn't he?

GERGEN: Yes.

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: I mean, he sold it. He sold it the way he needed to sell it. He had the right tone and the right message.

YELLIN: Let me broaden the conversation to look a little bit about -- to look at the question, was this a good or a bad week for President Obama because there seem to be radically different views on that.

There are some dueling op-eds. Peggy Noonan writes that, quote, "We have not in our lifetime seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops." So she thinks it was a very, very bad week.

But David Brooks, writing in "New York Times" says, it was a very, very good week. He says, "The fact is, Obama and Democrats had an excellent week. The White House negotiators did an outstanding job for their side --Moreover, Obama put himself in a position to govern again."

David, your take. Who's right?

GERGEN: I believe that he has come out with an agreement that he would have to reach anyway and that, ultimately -- had they paid for it, I would have been a lot happier -- but ultimately, extending all the tax cuts is a good thing temporarily.

However, the politics, he mishandled the politics of it. So that he got a deal that I think did move him to the center, but at an enormous expense because I think the negotiations were mishandled, as were some of the communications.

YELLIN: And Gloria?

BORGER: I think Peggy's point was also that he had the wrong tone and, David, I think that may be what you're referring to, which is calling his own Democrats sanctimonious, getting really angry at them. There might have been another way to deal with it. And you saw how Bill Clinton dealt with it today, which was a much better way.

And by the way, a new Gallup poll which shows that 67 percent of independent voters actually favor extending the tax cuts for everyone, so long as we're in a bad economy. So, in terms of the independent support that he has lost, I think he had a great week.

GERGEN: And Bill Clinton plays with them well, too.

YELLIN: Let me go back to this, let me go back to this. When Bill Clinton was president and he went to the center, he was much more nimble at getting there. He did it in a way that he didn't totally alienate his base. Sometimes they were angry at him, but overall he kept the Democrats with him and he got some Republicans to go along.

This president has gotten to the center on this particular issue, but in a way that seems to have left him weakened with Republicans and has alienated Democrats. That's not great politics.

BORGER: I don't think he's as adept at it as Bill Clinton, cause he hasn't had as much experience as Bill Clinton had. And so, what we're seeing is a Barack Obama we have never really seen before because we've never seen him in this kind of situation.

So, I think he made some missteps here. Did the right thing, but maybe could have used a little better tone.

YELLIN: OK, we have to leave it there. Fascinating day. We'll continue this discussion. Gloria Borger, David Gergen, thanks for being with us.

And we're monitoring our other important top stories this hour, including Prince Charles and Camilla targeted in a violent student riot in the U.K. Find out what's new and now in store for those who are responsible.

Plus, some U.S. soldiers get an unexpected ride home from the war zone and a surprise, all-expense paid night at a major hotel. We'll tell you who is behind it all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) YELLIN: Two of President Obama's top advisors are in the hospital right now. Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hey, Mary, what do you have?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jessica.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special representation for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was hospitalized after feeling ill. The State Department says Holbrooke is being evaluated, no further details on his condition at this time.

Also hospitalized, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He's having a kidney stone removed at George Washington University Hospital. The Treasury Department calls it minor surgery and says Geithner's doctors expect him to be discharged tomorrow. He was forced to cancel several Sunday morning television appearances. Geithner plans to return to work on Monday.

And Britain's prime minister is promising the full force of the law after those violent protests yesterday. David Cameron says the protesters and not the police are to blame. The chaos included an attack on a car that held Prince Charles and Camilla. Students were enraged at the government's move to triple tuition at British universities. Police say 34 people have been arrested, 40 more hospitalized; the royal couple escaped unhurt -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thank you, Mary.

We hear a lot these days about airline security and the fight against terror, but now we're learning about a risky gap in the government's ability to keep track of private planes. We'll look at just how risky it could be.

And Sarah Palin is putting her opinions in print, again. Is she raising expectations for a White House campaign or lowering them?

Plus, bad news for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, just in time for the holidays.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Federal aviation officials are acknowledging a huge gap in their ability to track private airplanes. It's more than a record keeping problem, it's a potential national security nightmare in need of an urgent fix.

Here's our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, with more.

Hey, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, as you know, a car has to be registered every year, but a plane, not so. Not until now, anyway. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Count them, there are 357,000 aircraft in the United States, but the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't have accurate records on one-third of them, 119,000 planes.

MICHAEL BOYD, AVIATION CONSULTANT: This is the equivalent of the IRS losing a couple million tax returns. This is a core part of the FAA's responsibility and losing track of 119,000 airplanes is nothing to sneeze at. It is a very serious problem.

MESERVE: Why so serious? Because that registration can help authorities distribute critical safety information to aircraft owners and can help law enforcement track stolen planes, drug dealers and possibly even terrorists.

Some experts say it is a security concern, but probably not a security problem.

CHRIS DANCY, AIRCRAFT OWNERS AND PILOTS ASSOCIATION: So, they're probably where they are supposed to be, owned by the people the FAA last has record of. They just don't know that.

MESERVE: The records are badly out of date because until now, owners have only had to register their aircraft once at the time of purchase. Many have failed to update the FAA as required when they have moved, sold an aircraft, or scrapped one.

To correct the situation and cleanse the current database, the FAA is requiring that all civil aircraft be re-registered over the next three years. Owners will then have to renew their registrations every three years. The FAA says the changes are necessary in part because of the events of September 11, 2001, and our continuing war on terrorism.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Experts say this isn't going to end the misuse of aircraft and their registration tail numbers. Their tail numbers can still be easily changed to throw off law enforcement, but hopefully this will make it easier to catch it when it does happen.

Jessica, back to you.

YELLIN: Let's hope so. Thank you, Jeanne.

Well, there is also a lot of anger today and uncertainty over when and if the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy will end. The Senate effectively killed efforts to begin repeal this year unless a bipartisan group of senators is able to raise the issue again. And there's now a greater chance that the order to allow gays to serve openly in the military could come from the courts.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now with this.

And Barbara, we heard today from protesters and from the defense secretary.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jessica. This small but very vocal demonstration here in Washington earlier today by those who support repeal of this ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the U.S. military, they came out and made themselves heard the day after the Senate vote that tried to kill it off.

Now some people are circling back and saying, well, maybe there is another chance. Senator Joe Lieberman, the Independent, introducing a piece of legislation, trying to get it on to the floor of the Senate, trying to get something going. The Pentagon is beginning to express hope that something could be done in the closing days of this congressional session.

Have a listen to what Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to say as he traveled back to the United States from a trip overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I was disappointed in the Senate vote, but not surprised, as I indicated when we were on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln earlier in the week. I was not optimistic. The fact remains, though, that there is still roughly a week left in the lame-duck session, and so I would hope that the Congress would act to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

STARR: And Jessica, just as you pointed out, the reason they still want legislation is there is a pending federal court ruling that looks very likely it will overturn the ban, and that would force the military into very hasty compliance, and the military doesn't like to be hasty about too many things. They want to be able to plan for it.

On that plane coming home, one more detail. We found out that Defense Secretary Gates had four service members from Afghanistan he was bringing back to the United States for the holiday season. One of them -- two of them, actually, were a married couple, a husband and wife in the U.S. military, that were on their way home to be reunited for the holidays with their three small children -- Jessica.

YELLIN: That's a nice holiday surprise. All right. Thanks so much, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

YELLIN: And now new closure for Elizabeth Smart. Almost a decade after her kidnapping and her return home, the verdict in a case that gripped the nation.

And protests against deadly drone attacks by the U.S. give way to a first-of-its-kind lawsuit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: There's a verdict in the Elizabeth Smart trial.

Mary Snow is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, hi. What do you have?

SNOW: Hey there, Jessica.

Yes, and Elizabeth Smart saying she is "thrilled with this verdict." A federal jury has convicted the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. Brian David Mitchell was found guilty both of kidnapping Smart in 2002 and transporting the 14-year-old across state lines with the intent of having sex with her.

Jurors rejected the insanity defense. Mitchell faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. He will be sentenced in late May.

Bank of America says it will resume foreclosures. The bank says it plans to go ahead with 16,000 foreclosures this month. However, it says it will observe a holiday freeze of sales and evictions from December 20th to January 2nd. Now, this comes after a series of sloppy home seizures that caused the bank to reevaluate its procedures.

And on Wall Street, stocks were up today, with the S&P closing at a two-year high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 40 points, to close at 11,410. All three major indices posted gains for the week. Investors reacted to news that the nation's trade deficit was smaller than expected in October and to a dividend hike by General Electric -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thank you, Mary.

And a marathon rant going on right now on the U.S. Senate floor, and it still is happening as we speak. You're looking at live picture now of Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, venting anger that many allies are feeling toward President Obama.

Our question, is it smart strategy?

Plus, a Sarah Palin op-ed slamming some of the president's major policies. Could it help position her for a potential presidential run?

We'll discuss all that in our "Strategy Session," just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SANDERS: -- and the largest corporations. And I want to just mention something.

YELLIN: And let's get back to Senator Bernie Sanders, who continues his marathon rant on the Senate floor. He has been talking all day, with very few breaks, blasting the president's tax cut deal with Republicans. OK. Joining us today to discuss all this in our "Strategy Session," two of our very best political contributors, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Ed Rollins.

OK, guys, good to be here with you. Fun to be here on a Friday. And what a speech by Senator Sanders.

Hilary, let me ask you, will this help keep Democrats unified in opposition, those who are already against this tax cut proposal?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I really don't know. I don't think so.

I think, ultimately, a majority of Democrats are going to come together and support this proposal. But I just have to say just as a citizen, I love the idea that instead of behind-the-scenes maneuvering of stopping things from happening on the floor, that you actually have a senator engaged in a good old, you know, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibuster. It just -- it warms my heart that real debate is actually trying to take place on the Senate floor.

YELLIN: And Ed, it seems Americans are fascinated, because people are going nuts on Twitter over it. It crashed some server at the U.S. Congress.

What kind of mess -- is this actually damaging for President Obama, do you think?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, to have the one socialist in the Congress basically holding -- attacking the rich is not exactly the worst place for our side to be.

You know, the bottom line is it would have been nice if the president, who had made a very tough decision to move the ball forward, could have had the support of his party. He didn't.

At the end of the day, that will be -- the agreement that they had will be what's implemented, whether it's now or whether it's in January. And the key thing here is, how does it work? Does it make the economy move? Does it get people back to work?

That's what matters. This is all rhetoric, and this is kind of the last of especially the House Democrats, the last hurrah before the Republicans take over.

ROSEN: You know, you can't, though, let that comment go by without really acknowledging that there are a lot of Democrats over the last two days that have come out in support of President Obama. You know, I was looking at my BlackBerry all day on reports from the White House with various senators, progressive senators -- Senator Akaka from Hawaii and other places -- that, you know, really do see that this is the best way to get middle class tax cuts extended, the best way to get unemployment benefits extended. And, so, you know, overall, I think we're going to see a lot of Democrats coming to the table here. YELLIN: You know, Ed, I can't ignore the images we saw today. On the one hand, Sanders, who usually is allied with Democrats attacking the White House, and then President Obama bringing in Bill Clinton, the chief triangialator of the Democratic Party.

President Obama said so often he doesn't want to triangulate, but isn't that exactly what is going on here?

ROLLINS: Well, to a certain extent. I mean, there's a lot of fondness for Bill Clinton. He's the most popular figure in America today, and I'm sure a lot of Democrats today looked at Bill Clinton and admired him for his political skills, which were enormous, and hope that President Obama can learn a little bit from it and move forward.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN: Well, you know, there's so much I want to say about how funny it is to see Bill Clinton looking so darn comfortable at that podium, and as President Obama walks out the door to go do other business. But, you know, the real issue here is this isn't really triangulation.

You know, Democrats are the ones who started this messaging back in the fall. You know, liberal Democrats, we all said it is untenable that Republicans want to extend tax cuts for the wealthy and let unemployment compensation for the unemployed expire. It's an untenable combination of events.

What did they think was going to happen, ultimately, when that argument got sold? Of course that's where the compromise was.

YELLIN: We could talk -- go ahead.

ROSEN: So, you know, it's crazy. And that's why I don't think this sort of a typical triangulation.

ROLLINS: No, this is bipartisan.

ROSEN: This was not an attempt by the president to push the Democrats and Congress aside. This was an attempt by the president to move the ball forward.

YELLIN: OK. Let me --

ROLLINS: This is bipartisanship. This is what has to happen with the Republicans controlling the House.

You're going to have to have more deals like this over the years, and Democrats aren't going to always be happy, Republicans aren't going to be always happy. But the key thing is to make the economy get better.

YELLIN: OK. Let me move on to another topic.

Sarah Palin, she had an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" today, very critical of some of the debt commission's recommendations, sounding very serious in the piece. I will read you one quote in it.

She says -- this is Sarah Palin -- "The CBO estimates that under the current roadmap laid out by Congressman Paul Ryan, by 2058 per- person GDP would be around 70 percent higher than the current trend."

OK. My point is, this doesn't sound like the Sarah Palin we're used to hearing.

Ed, is she gearing up for a presidential run? Is that what this sounds like?

ROLLINS: I don't have any inside information, but I believe she is. And if she wants to be a serious candidate, as I said in a column a couple of weeks ago, she has got to do serious things. This was a serious piece, and I give her credit for it.

YELLIN: Hilary, some Obama allies, some allies of the president, say Sarah Palin is the person they would most like him to run against. They think they can defeat her easily, or at least that they can defeat her.

Are they taking her too lightly?

ROSEN: I don't think it's a matter of taking her too lightly. And I agree that if she's heralding more serious points on the issues, then people are going to pay more attention. But Sarah Palin does one thing that no other Republicans do in facing President Obama.

Everybody else will make the campaign a referendum on him. If Sarah Palin runs, it will be a referendum on her, and that's good for President Obama. So, I don't think that changes no matter how serious she gets.

YELLIN: Ed, does she have a point there? This is a person who -- Sarah Palin has made serious errors a fact in the public domain and will have to do something to be taken very seriously. So it's a real challenge?

ROLLIN: Well, she has to prove her gravitas. I mean, first of all, you're going to have some very important governors running, past and present, who have got much more experience than she has. So she has to prove a credibility gap. And, obviously, she's got a lot of time to do that.

YELLIN: On the other hand, Hilary, you know, it's going to be -- so far, it looks like if Sarah Palin does run, it's Sarah Palin in the Republican field against a bunch of guys. So, in a way -- and she is not shy about saying, I am the reformer woman taking on a bunch of guys who represent the past and the establishment.

Is there some way that message could actually woo Independent women, maybe even some Democratic women?

ROSEN: Well, that was of course the theory when she was nominated for vice president. And she actually widened the gender gap for President Obama. Independent women ran away from her in droves and towards President Obama. There's not a lot yet to see why that would be any different. So, I agree with you, we shouldn't take her lightly, but run, Sarah, run.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: You think it would be a good thing for the Democrats.

All right. Hilary, Ed, thanks so much for joining us. Have a good Friday.

ROLLINS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

YELLIN: And you just heard us talking about an extraordinary and dramatic moment, President Obama turning the White House podium over to the former president, Bill Clinton. I'll speak to one of President Clinton's former speechwriters ahead.

Plus, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner represented by an empty chair. You'll meet him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Here's a look at "Hot Shots" in London. Broken security barriers pile up in front of parliament after yesterday's protests of tuition hikes.

In India, activists march with torches on International Human Rights Day.

In Thailand, an anti-government demonstrator prays for people that lost their lives earlier this year.

And at a zoo in Germany, the famous polar bear Knut plays in the snow.

Cute.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

For only the second time, a Nobel Peace Prize winner was represented by an empty chair at today's honor ceremony in Norway. Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence for what the government calls inciting subversion of state power.

He was not allowed to accept the prize in person. The Nobel Committee chairman is calling for civil rights in the country. China calls the prize a political farce.

CNN International Anchor and Correspondent Jonathan Mann takes a closer look now at the man who received the honor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIU XIAOBO, 2010 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE (through translator): In a dictatorial society, if you want to be a person with dignity, if you want to be an honest person, fight for human rights improvements, fight for freedom of speech, then being in prison is part of what you take on.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Liu took on that burden in 1989 in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. He was a successful author and academic lecturing in New York when thousands of Chinese began their unprecedented challenge to the government.

Liu rushed back to join them and eventually ended up as one of their leaders. Chinese troops and tanks broke up the protest. Hundreds of people were killed. But things could have been worse.

Liu talked some of the protesters out of armed resistance. He convinced the military to give safe passage out of the square to hundreds of others.

But within days, the authorities jailed him, his university fired him. The up-and-coming academic found himself with a new job description, dissident, in and out of jail for the next two decades.

XIAOBO (through translator): Sometimes I joke that a dissident intellectual has to be good at being in prison, the same way a worker has to be good at their work, a farmer has to be good at cultivating land well, a teacher has to be good at teaching. It is the same.

MANN: Liu could no longer publish in China, but he worked to defend other writers. And his words published unofficially or outside mainland China continue to challenge the authorities.

In 2008, he was one of the leading figures behind Charter '08, an Internet manifesto that called on the Chinese government to live up to its own promises to its people. "China has many laws, but no rule of law," it said. "It has a constitution, but no constitutional government."

Liu was jailed even before Charter '08 could be published, sentenced to 11 years behind bars.

PERRY LINK, CHARTER '08 TRANSLATOR: It was a very dangerous thing politically, and everyone knew that. And he said, I'll take the rap. He essentially said, I'll cover for the rest of you, I'll say that I was the main instigator of this, even though in historical fact, he wasn't.

He did that knowing that it would be risky for another prison term. So he went into prison with his eyes open, and his friends admire him for that courage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Both the Nobel Committee chairman and President Obama are calling for Liu's immediate release.

And Bill Clinton to the rescue. More on that dramatic news conference at the White House, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)