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President Speaks on Tax Vote; Holbrooke: Critical But Stable; Renewed U.S. Worries About Karzai; RNC Chair Expected to Reveal Decision Today; When Liver Donations Go Wrong

Aired December 13, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a vote of confidence in the presidential's controversial tax cut deal with Republicans. We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States about the Senate's move and the opposition he still faces -- serious opposition -- in the House of Representatives.

Plus, a legal smackdown to one of President Obama's biggest accomplishments -- health care reform. This hour, what the first of its kind ruling could mean for your coverage and the prospect of a long fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And it may be the last place in the nation you can't find a Walmart. The retail giant is renewing its fight to reopen stores in New York City.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But first, the breaking news -- we're standing by to hear from President Obama now that his controversial tax cut deal with the Republicans is moving forward in the Senate. It cleared an important test vote just a little while ago, getting the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. A final Senate vote could come as early as tomorrow. But the package still faces major opposition among House Democrats and some House Republicans. It would also extend all the expiring Bush era tax cuts for two years, including those for wealthier Americans. It would extend long-term unemployment benefits for another 13 months.

The deal includes a 2 percent cut in the payroll tax for one year and it would raise the estate tax exemption level to $5 million. The compromise would cost about $858 billion without a plan to pay for it.

Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, as we await the president.

He's going to be satisfied that the Senate is now moving forward. But he's still got a struggle in the House of Representatives.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Let's start with the Senate, Wolf. If you look at the floor of the United States Senate, the vote is actually still going on. You mentioned that we do know by our unofficial account that the Senate has gotten those 60 votes. But now, we have up to 73 -- 73-10 and still counting, though it's been going on for two hours, in part, because of the bad weather. The Senate majority leader decided to keep this open.

So we're still waiting for a final vote. But that vote count, 73, is part of the reason, you bet, the president is going to come into the Briefing Room and say that he hopes that this is a signal to America, but specifically a signal to the House of Representatives, that the vast majority of the Senate is -- is OK with this, at least as a test vote phase. And so that he hopes that the House is going to move forward pretty soon.

BLITZER: That's 70 percent of the Senate approving. It's sort of like the recent polls of the American public. About 70 percent of the American public, at least according to some of these polls, approves of the deal the president struck, as well.

What about the House side?

There's still some serious problems for the president there.

BASH: There are. There's no question. You remember last week, the House Democrats voted in their caucus that they're not going to take up the very package that they're starting to vote on in the Senate, the president's deal that he cut with Republicans, as is.

What we are told is that they want to change the estate tax provision.

And I want to put on the screen specifically what we're talking about.

In the president's package, the one that the Senate is voting on, it exempts estates for individuals up to $5 million. And the top tax rate, once that kicks in, would only be 35 percent.

But, Wolf, what many Democrats prefer is something less generous to wealthy Americans, exempting individual's estates up to $3.5 million, the top tax rate, higher of 45 percent.

This is what one of the Democrats who is leading this fight, Chris Van Hollen, told us earlier today about that.


REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: We will bring a tax bill to the floor in some form. We find the Senate bill, in its current form, unacceptable. And there will be changes made, especially as they relate to the most egregious provisions, like the estate tax, which puts a $25 billion hole in the deficit -- $25 billion over two years to benefit the wealthiest 6,600 estates.


BASH: Now, Wolf, House Democratic leaders met earlier today to try to figure out their way forward.

I'm told by two senior House Democratic aides that what they might do is bring this package up as is and offer an amendment with what I just described to you, something that is, again, less generous when it comes to the estate tax. I would not be surprised if, when President Obama comes out in a short while, he will urge the House not to do this, because both he and the vice president and others have said that any changes in this would -- would potentially make this whole deal unravel.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. We're standing by. Momentarily, the president will go into the Briefing Room and make his statement. We'll see if he answers any reporters' questions.

But let's turn right now to what could be a first step toward undoing what Republicans call Obama Care. It's coming from the courts instead of the political arena.

A federal judge in Virginia ruling today that a key part of the health care reform law is unconstitutional. He struck down the provision requiring most Americans to buy health insurance by 2014, saying it violates a Virginia law that says the government can't force people to buy a product they don't want.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by.

The Obama administration is going to have to fight this, presumably, maybe at least all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What's been the reaction there?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, legal experts believing that this will end up in the Supreme Court. But the White House here really downplaying that there's any negative impact to this, saying that there was no surprise, that this is all part of the legal process. And they began -- believe that, in the end, they will prevail because they have a very strong case here.


Because there have been two other similar cases -- one in Virginia, the other one in Michigan -- where courts ruled that their law is Constitutional. And so that's what's driving this optimism.

As for Americans out there who are asking, what does this mean for them, what will happen if they have a child who is insured under their coverage up to 26 years of age?

What happens to preexisting conditions?

Well, the top health care adviser here at the White House says not to worry.


NANCY-ANN DEPARLE, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF HEALTH REFORM: I've already had some friends ask me, gee, I'm now able to have my child on my policy until they're age 26.

Is that in jeopardy?

And it's not.

Those provisions have already been implemented. And we're working every day to implement more benefits of this new law.


LOTHIAN: Now, she also pointed out that there are -- she pointed out that there are 20 other additional cases out there. And so this is no surprise here, these -- there's this only one case. There are two that have been quite positive for them. And she says, you know, "I don't get too excited about the ones we win and I don't get too upset about the ones we lose" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, stand by, because I'm going to be coming back to you.

We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States. He's about to go into the Briefing Room over at the White House in the West Wing, make a statement on the Senate vote on the tax deal he worked out with the Republicans. We'll see if he answers reporters' questions.

Also today, a kickoff for a group aiming to be a voice of moderation in politics and an anecdote of sorts for the Tea Party movement. We're getting an inside look at this new movement and whether it's likely to take off with any steam.

And concerns within the U.S. that President Hamid Karzai is potentially a dangerous wild card, as the White House prepares its review of the Afghan war.

And new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now about an apparent suicide bombing in Sweden. U.S. officials are now getting directly involved in the investigation.


BLITZER: The fate of health care is on Jack Cafferty's mind.

Jack is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Obama's signature issue of health care reform could be headed for life support.

In a stunning blow to the administration, a Virginia federal judge ruled today that a key part of the law is unconstitutional -- the individual mandate. The judge said an individual's personal decision to buy health insurance is, quote, "beyond the historical reach of the U.S. Constitution."

The ruling will likely set the stage for a long, drawn out legal battle that will probably wind up one day in front of the Supreme Court. And at the end of the day, if the government cannot force people to buy insurance, well, they're pretty much left with an empty sack on this particular piece of legislation.

Critics, who call the law Obama Care, say it's a form of socialized medicine and say it will only result in bloated government, bureaucracy, higher taxes and worse health care.

About two dozen challenges have been filed in federal courts around the country.

Meanwhile, "Politics Daily" reports that the hot button issue for Republicans next year will be health care reform and the existing health care law. The incoming speaker of the House, John Boehner, has pledged to repeal or replace it. Republican lawmakers in 40 states have introduced bills to block all or part of the law. And the Republican governors around the country are resisting implementing the health care law in their states.

But some warn that Republicans could make the same mistake the Democrats did, and that is to focus on health care and make it their top priority instead of focusing on the economy and jobs.

Also, in their push to repeal it, Republicans risk alienating Independents and moderates, who may like certain parts of the law.

Here's the question then -- is President Obama's health care law history?

Go to

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very, very much.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, a new group made up of well-known Democratic, Republican and Independent leaders, is setting out to find solutions to some of the country's most critical problems and potentially make a mark on Congress. The organization, known as "No Labels," launched today with a series of panels.

Our own senior political analyst, David Gergen is joining us now.

He watched what was going on -- David, is this a sort of moderate version of the Tea Party movement?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It is, Wolf. And I will tell you, I did speak there today, as well, as did John Avalon, from CNN, who is one of the organizers.

And this is a group that -- it -- it's new, it's nascent, it's small, but it's trying to give voice to the many disgusted Americans who just have watched our politics, see it as hyper-partisan, paralyzed and they worry about the future of the country and would like to give a -- a fresh voice to the middle. People saying, look, it's fine to be conservative, it's fine to be liberal, but sometimes you guys have got to meet it -- meet and -- and agree upon things and get the country moving. We simply can't be paralyzed.

BLITZER: When you say you spoke there, are you help organizing this, David?

Are you getting involved in this movement?

GERGEN: Well, Wolf, they asked me to help organize it and I -- I thought it probably was not appropriate, given my relationship with you and CNN. But I did agree to speak. And we had several other journalists there. David Brooks was there to speak from "The New York Times." Joe Scarborough was on a panel that I was on, as -- as was Evan Bayh, the senator from Indiana, just outgoing, and the new senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin.

BLITZER: He was there, as well?

So its...

GERGEN: Speaking.


BLITZER: So is it -- is it the goal to try to organize in the sense of endorsing candidates, raising money for candidates, doing sort of what the Tea Party movement has done?

GERGEN: In some similar ways. It's not going to become a party, but it is going to try to -- a thousand people signed up from 50 states. And the notion is that the organizers will go out and raise money and help to support candidates who -- who are essentially putting the country first, as many said there. And I can't tell you whether there was a uniform view across the board. It included people from the Clinton administration. It included Republicans, Republican consultants like Mark McKinnon, who was a big organizer, and others who sort of feel that our politics is broken and that the way to restore it is to make sure we have a -- a vibrant middle and -- and those that -- who are willing to cross the aisle in a brave way, especially, say, on the deficit that's coming up, that instead of being punished, as they are being now, that they be supported and saluted for their bravery.

BLITZER: We're waiting for the president, David.

He's going to be making a statement in the White House Briefing Room momentarily.

But is there any way to look at this other than to see this as sort of an -- at least an indirect slap at the Obama administration?

GERGEN: Well, it certainly -- I don't think it's intended to be that. There are a number of people there from what you know as the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, which was the Clinton group. And I -- you know, Bill Clinton just endorsed, of course, the tax cuts. I don't think people see that. They welcome President Obama reaching out to Republicans in a more constructive way. I think people there would love to see him have Republicans come to Camp David and for people to sit down and see if they can't work out their differences on the -- on the deficit side.

BLITZER: All right. David, stand by.


BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.

We're waiting to hear from the president. Momentarily, he'll be walking into the White House Briefing Room to make a -- a statement on the -- on the vote in the Senate that just occurred, allowing the tax deal to move forward. We'll have the president's remarks shortly.

Also, new concerns about the stability of Afghanistan's president -- could there be dangerous implications for the success of the U.S. strategy in the region?


BLITZER: The president will be walking into the White House briefing room,.we're told, momentarily, to make a statement to reporters on the tax deal that the U.S. Senate has just passed.

In fact, allowing it to go forward for a final vote. A key procedural vote, key procedural hurdle has just been overcome on the floor of the Senate. We'll hear what the president has to say, presumably be happy, although there's still a lot of work to be done on the other -- on the other chamber House Of Representatives where it's by no means a done deal. Standby, we'll all hear from the president in the next few minutes.

Meanwhile, Samantha Hayes is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including a new payment program being implemented for some of the people in businesses affected by the BP oil spill. Sam, tell us what's going on.

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Wolf. Ken Feinberg who is the point person overseeing Gulf Coast claims has announced a quick pay program, which will pay individuals $5,000 and businesses $25,000 without submitting any further documentation. There is a catch, though, they must waive the right to sue. The program is available to those who have received an emergency payment from Feinberg's claim facility.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is replacing his foreign minister, according to state-run media. The official was a key figure in the international debate over Iran's nuclear program. The country's nuclear chief will reportedly serve as interim head to the foreign ministry. Well, some Western countries including the U.S. are concerned the program is being used to produce nuclear weapons, but Iran denies that.

Students taken hostage at a school in eastern France has been released unharmed. About 20 children, ages 4 to 6 were in a kindergarten classroom today when the hostage-taker, allegedly armed with two swords, entered. Five of them and a teacher were held until the incident was resolved. The 17-year-old suspect is now in custody and no word on a motive. Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is fighting for his political life ahead of a critical vote, which could boot him out of office. Tomorrow's confidence vote in parliament is the latest of its kind to evaluate his leadership following a dispute with a former ally last summer. Berlusconi says the, quote, "crisis is the last thing Italy needs right now." But the country's unemployment is the highest it's been in seven years. Wolf --

BLITZER: Standby, Samantha. We're going to get back to you with some more top stories. We're standing by for the president of the United States. He's going to be in the briefing room. I just want to alert you. We'll have live coverage as soon as he walks through that door up to the podium. He's going to be making a statement on the tax deal that he worked out with the Republicans that has just moved forward in the U.S. Senate.

The first lady is getting something she wanted for America's young people and joking about the -- what would've happened to her husband if she didn't.

Plus -- we're waiting for the Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele's big announcement tonight. Will the controversial GOP chief fight to keep his job?

And many people across the nation love to go to Wal-Mart, but New Yorkers are fighting a new attempt right now to bring the store to the Big Apple.


BLITZER: These are live pictures you're looking at from the White House press briefing room. The president of the United States getting ready to walk in there, make a statement on the tax deal he worked out with the Republicans that has just moved forward in the Senate.

There's still a major struggle underway in the House Of Representatives where many of the Democrats who support the president want to make changes -- changes that the president fears could unravel the entire deal, since the Republicans have basically said this is a take-it-or-leave-it package.

We'll hear what the president has to say momentarily. He'll be walking through those doors.

Right now, the special U.S. representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, is in critical, but stable condition at a Washington hospital. He's still unconscious two days after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta, the main artery of the body.

A State Department official says Ambassador Holbrooke is getting fantastic care at George Washington University Hospital and is absolutely fighting in an unbelievable way. We wish him a speedy, speedy recovery.

Let's get to the man now who could make or break America's war strategy in Afghanistan. We're talking about the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Renewed worries about Karzai's state of mind are weighing on the Obama White House right now at a critical time for war planners.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us with more on the White House plans to review its year-end strategy in Afghanistan. What have you learned, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as that strategy review is about to be unveiled, here's an interesting question, is anybody getting along these days with Hamid Karzai? As you said, it's important, it's vital to the war effort.


STARR (voice-over): As the White House readies its review of the Afghan war, a critical concern, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. U.S. officials tell CNN that Karzai's behavior is at times erratic and unpredictable and has become a significant concern for both General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander, and Karl Ikenberry, the ambassador.

A recent disagreement over proposed ban on private security contractors entered with Karzai suddenly storming out of a meeting with Petraeus and others. Soon after the meeting, Petraeus, known for choosing his words carefully didn't deny it.

STARR: Did he stomp out on you?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER, AFGHANISTAN: This was not a meeting with me. This was a meeting with the international community.

STARR: Petraeus insists he's on good terms with Karzai, but when the Afghan leader called for downsizing U.S. military operations, Petraeus let it be known he thought relations were strained. Karzai stunned many when he acknowledged Iran gives him bags of cash.

Then it got stranger all around.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Well, they have -- they have asked for good relations in return and for lots of other things in return.

PETRAEUS: I thought it was a pretty forthright response, actually. He actually told the truth, which is, you know, a refreshing thing.

STARR: Bruce Riedel who helped device the war strategy says Karzai may be doing much of this for his own agenda.

BRUCE RIEDEL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He has a domestic audience that he is talking to and that domestic Afghan audience wants to hear that Afghans are ultimately in charge of this war.

STARR: An embassy cable published by Wikileaks reflects the deep uncertainty about the two sides of Hamid Karzai saying, quote, "the first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building. The other is that of an ever shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero."


STARR: But here's the real bottom line, of course, Karzai has to succeed in governing his country. It is the only way this war can end, U. S. officials say and the nearly 100,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan can eventually come back home. Wolf --

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks very much. We'll stand by to hear the final verdict from this administration in the coming days.

Meanwhile, it could be D-Day for the controversial first African- American head of the GOP. Just hours from now, the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is expected to reveal whether or not he'll seek a second term and the potential announcement comes amidst growing calls in the party for his resignation.

Let's bring in CNN's Samantha Hayes once again for more on this story. You've been looking into it. We don't know what he's going to announce, but there's a lot of anticipation building.

HAYES: And, Wolf, there's been a lot of speculation for months about what is he going to do. Is he going to stay or is he going to go?

Well, at 7:30, he's going to hold a conference call with members of the RNC. He may resign or he may stay and run for another term. We don't know. He certainly has been an unpredictable figure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

HAYES (voice-over): Looking for a change, the Republican National Committee chose Michael Steele as its chairman soon after Barack Obama took office early last year. Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says it was the right decision at the right time.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He was, you know, former lieutenant governor in Maryland, is African-American, and really showed a diversity for the -- for the Republicans.

HAYES: But almost two years later, after huge wins for Republicans in the House and Senate, the mood has changed. Steele is now the focus of critics within the GOP ranks.

In fact, just last month, Steele's political director Gentry Collins who wants Steele's job resigned saying the RNC was $15 million in debt and quote, "21 additional U.S. House seats could have been competitive if not for lack of funds."

CNN's senior political editor Mark Preston says Steele's failure to raise money from big donors created a vacuum.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's why we saw all of these outside interest groups come in, these third-party groups who really in many ways funded the Republican victories this year so money, big problem. Second thing for Michael Steele is that he's had a lot of problems just managing his own image.

HAYES: Earlier this year, financial reports showed the RNC spent tens of thousands of donor dollars on what some considered questionable expenses, including nearly $2,000 at a topless nightclub in California.

Add to that Steele's series of controversial comments, including calling Afghanistan a, quote, "war of Obama's choosing." Steele told CNN last year those verbal misfires are part of a strategy.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I'm very introspective about things. I don't do -- I'm a cause and effect kind of a guy. So if I do something, there's a reason for it. Even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there's a rationale, there's a logic behind it.


HAYES: If Steele tells the RNC tonight he's going to stay and run for another term, he's going to be vying against people he once considered in his inner circle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. We should know soon enough. It could be fascinating.

Thanks very much, Sam. Don't go too far away.

All right. Within a few seconds, the president will walk into the White House Briefing Room. You're looking at live pictures right now.

You see the president -- you'll see the president walk through that door. He's going to make a statement to reporters, indeed to all of us, on the Senate vote just a little while ago allowing his tax deal with the Republicans to move forward.

Now you see the president walking in. Let's listen.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am pleased to announce at this hour the United States Senate is moving forward on a package of tax cuts that has strong bipartisan support. And this proves that both parties can, in fact, work together to grow our economy and look out for the American people.

Once the Senate completes action on this bill, it will move over to the House of Representatives for its consideration. And I've been talking with several members of that body.

I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy with certain parts of the package, and I understand those concerns. I share some of them. But that's the nature of compromise, sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on what matters to all of us.

Right now that's growing the economy and creating jobs. And nearly every economist agrees that that is what this package will do. Taken as a whole, the bill that the Senate will allow to proceed does some very good things for America's economy and the American people. First and foremost, it is a substantial victory for middle class families across the country who would no longer have to worry about a massive tax hike come January 1st. It would offer hope to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own by making sure that they won't suddenly find themselves out in the cold without the unemployment insurance benefits that they were counting on. And it would offer real tax relief for Americans who are paying for college, parents raising their children, and business owners looking to invest in their businesses and propel our economy forward.

So, I urge the House of Representatives to act quickly on this important matter, because if there's one thing we can agree on, it's the urgent work of protecting middle class families, removing uncertainty for America's businesses, and giving our economy a boost as we head into the new year.

Thanks very much, everyone.

BLITZER: All right. So there it is, a brief statement from the president of the United States, making the case for this tax deal he worked out with the Republicans, urging speedy passage.

"I urge the House," you saw him say at the end, "to act quickly to protect middle class families." He didn't get into a whole lot of the controversy. He just wanted to express his pleasure that at least on the Senate side, they have overcome the procedural hurdle allowing it to go forward overwhelmingly.

The vote was rather lopsided in the Senate. There could be a different situation in the House of Representatives.

Let's check in, first of all, with Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent.

Dana, in the House side, it's not just liberal Democrats who were opposed. We're hearing increasing numbers of conservative Republicans don't like this deal as well. Tell our viewers why.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right. That is something that the White House certainly needs to be concerned about.

The reason is the price tag. The Congressional Budget Office says that this is going to cost $858 billion. And there are Republicans who are currently serving in the House, all of them, who just saw the election and have heard from -- increasingly heard from some grassroots groups. Even Rush Limbaugh, for example, has come out against this because of the price tag and because of what they say this does to the deficit.

So that is something that the White House does need to be concerned about, because just like in the Senate, even more in the House, they are going to be relying on Republican votes to help push this through, whatever the "this" is that they do in the House, because of the discord among Democrats for other reasons. Namely, the fact that the wealthiest Americans will continue to get tax cuts. BLITZER: We heard Steny Hoyer, the outgoing majority leader, say today they will allow the vote to go forward on the House floor. Do we have any idea when that will take place?

BASH: We don't. It would not be surprising if it would be some time late in this -- late this week. But Senate Democratic leaders say that they're not going to make a final decision until they see a final vote in the Senate, which we do believe, Wolf, will probably happen as soon as tomorrow.

I should tell you that the vote is still ongoing on the Senate floor. They've been holding it open for a couple of hours now. It probably will close at the top of this hour. And it really is overwhelming.

I mean, the president does have momentum from the Senate to push the House. It is so far 80 percent of the Senate. Despite Democratic reservations, 80 percent of the Senate, Democrat and Republican, have voted yes on this key test vote in the Senate.

BLITZER: Interesting. A very lopsided vote in the Senate.

Gloria, you're still with us, as well. We heard House Democrats say they want to re-open the deal to change the estate tax provisions.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And the president and a lot of the Republican leaders are saying, you know what? You start reopening this thing, this whole thing could collapse. And that's a problem for the Democrats. They hate that estate tax provision that was worked out between the president and the Republican leadership.

BORGER: Yes. As Dana's been reporting all day, they say it gives a large benefit to very few people, that it's not worth the money that it costs.

But, you know, Wolf, if we sort of step back for a moment, I'm listening to Dana Bash talk about 80 votes for something. When was the last time we had 80 votes for anything in the United States Senate that was a serious piece of legislation?

And the president came out, talked about strong bipartisan support, used the word "compromise," which I might note is a word that incoming House Speaker John Boehner said on "60 Minutes" last night he doesn't like to use. But President Obama used it, and he made the point very clearly that this is the kind of vote that the American public is asking for.

So, yes, you're going to run into trouble in the House, particularly on that estate tax issue, but in the end -- I spoke with a senior White House adviser today who seems pretty confident that they're going to be able to get this through the House, as well.

BLITZER: David Gergen, the magic number in the House of Representatives is 218 votes. And a lot of people think it will be close, but that the president will be able to get over 218 in order to see this passed, signed.

And one of the issues there is a lot of these members, they simply want to get out of town and get ready for Christmas and New Year's, and they want to end this session of Congress. How serious of a factor is this calendar, do you think, playing?

GERGEN: Well, Christmas is a part of it, and the holiday season is a part of it, Wolf, but the other part, of course, is if they don't act and taxes do go up on January 1. I think that is what has moved this whole debate.

And now the president has the wind at his back. He not only the 80 votes-plus in the Senate, but he has polls that show that 60 percent of Americans or more support this deal.

So he's going to get it through and maybe a couple of turns. But when they come back next year, he's just added over $850 billion to the deficit. And they -- this is going to make the problems of, how do you get spending down and taxes up that are going to be humongous next year?

BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go too far away, because we're going to continue our analysis of this.

We have a lot more coming up, as well, including the man expected to be the next Speaker of the House. He's proven he's willing to show emotion, lots of emotion. But did he let his tears flow a little too much on network TV last night? Stand by.

And a CNN investigation of liver donations and complications that can be deadly.


BLITZER: Now to a CNN medical investigation of liver donations. They are usually lifesavers, but sometimes they can go horribly wrong.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us now with more.

What have you found out, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, we hear often about living organ donations. When someone's alive, they donate an organ or part of an organ, and usually it's a happy ending with a happy donor and a happy recipient. But sometimes things do go wrong.

Here's a story about two things going wrong at one hospital.


COHEN (voice-over): This is a risky surgery. Ryan Arnold donated 60 percent of his liver to save his brother Chad, whose own liver had failed. Shortly after this operation, Ryan died. Now CNN has learned Ryan isn't the only liver donor to suffer complications at the University of Colorado Hospital.

LAURA FRITZ, LIVER DONOR: I thank God every day I'm alive because I know that that could have been me.

COHEN: Less than a year before the Arnold surgery, Laura Fritz gave part of her liver to her mother. Laura was fine before the surgery, but says soon after she became deathly ill.

FRITZ: I was really pale, my lips were turning blue. No one at the hospital said I was going into organ failure, but my mom's a nurse and she put two and two together when they couldn't get a read on my blood pressure and they were prepping me for surgery right then. My doctors came to her and my father and said if this infection doesn't clear up within 24 hours, that I'm not going to make it.

COHEN (on camera): You were going to die?


COHEN (voice-over): Laura's surgeon, Dr. Ugal Khan (ph), says after surgery, a section of Laura's intestines swelled, then ruptured, creating a hole. And she developed a raging infection.

FRITZ: Everything I had eaten or drank was basically leaking into my body. I was poisoning myself.

COHEN: Laura needed two more surgeries to repair the hole in her intestines. She spent the next 36 days in the hospital, much of it in intensive care.

According to the hospital, the hole was caused by a condition in Laura's intestines that was impossible to detect. The United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation's transplant system, says, "Significant medical complications occur in the minority of living donations." One large study found in all, living liver donors have a 38 percent chance of having some kind of complication.

Laura's recovered, and despite the complications, says she'd donate to her mother all over again. Chad Arnold, however, has had some setbacks, and he's on the transplant list again to get a new liver.


BLITZER: Elizabeth, you told us about one death, one very serious complication. Have there been other problems, as well?

COHEN: Yes. Earlier this year there was a death at a very well-known clinic in Boston. And that's given many experts that we talked to some pause.

They say what are we doing wrong here? And how can we learn from each other about how to do this better? They say there's not enough effort to make sure that these surgeries are always done correctly.

BLITZER: If someone wants to donate a part of the liver, donate a kidney, for example, is there a way to find out the best place to do so, the safest hospital, for example?

COHEN: You know what, Wolf? There really isn't.

On the Web site for the United Network for Organ Sharing, you can't find that information. So the United Network for Organ Sharing knows exactly how many complications and exactly how many deaths there are at each individual hospital, but they keep that a secret from the public.

They won't tell the public, so the public can't do comparison shopping. You can't say, oh, I like this hospital better because their complication rate is lower. UNOS will not release that information.

BLITZER: OK. Good to know. Thanks very much.

Maybe they'll change that policy down the road.

Elizabeth Cohen reporting.

He's expected to be the next Speaker of the House, and he's not afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Does it work to his advantage? We'll talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." That's next.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributors, Roland Martin and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Guys, thanks very much.

I want to play this little clip from "60 Minutes" last night, Lesley Stahl's profile of John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House. He really shows his emotion. He cries a lot. And I'll play this clip. Listen to this, because he gets emotional.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: There's some things that are very difficult to talk about -- family, kids -- I can't go to a school anymore. I used to go to a lot of schools. You see all these little kids running around -- can't talk about.


BOEHNER: Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream like I did, it's important.


BLITZER: And you see him crying a lot lately.

What do you think about this, Roland? Because he does come -- we have an amazing story. He was very poor, one of 12 kids, his father had a little bar outside Cincinnati. He was sweeping floors and cleaning when he was 10 years old. He worked his way up.

And you know what? Once he's Speaker of the House, he's second in line after the vice president to being president of the United States, God forbid if something should happen. He does have an amazing story.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course. I mean, there are a number of people who have amazing stories in Congress.

And look, you know, I'm certainly a man who has no issue with men crying. But come on, John, pull it together, please. I mean, my goodness!

I hope -- first of all, to stop going to schools, you know what? The condition of some of our schools in this country, he should be crying.

When you look at schoolhouses falling down, needing repairs, when you talk about books and things along those lines, when you look at a lack of equity when it comes to funding, so, yes, it should bring somebody to tears. But now he's in a position to fix the problem. The question is, will he?

BLITZER: Well, Mary, what do you think about this? Does this humanize him, John Boehner? Does it undermine him, his credibility because he is a weeper, if you will? What do you think?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, you and I have known John Boehner for -- a privilege to know John Boehner -- for decades. He's one tough cookie. He's an adult.

He's very empathetic, though. And aside from his incredible personal story -- and he has always been riveted about people achieving and having the opportunity to achieve the American dream.

I think that's how people see it. But what they care about from him, from the president, is not how they say or express themselves emotionally, but what they're going to get done. And keeping the tax rates where they are is a decent start, but they're going to have to cut some of that pork out of the deal once they get back. And he's the Speaker, and that's his job, and that's all that's going to matter.

BLITZER: Another little excerpt from that interview with John Boehner dealt with his rejection of the word "compromise." Listen to this.


STAHL: But governing means compromising.

BOEHNER: It means working together. It means --

STAHL: It also means compromise.

BOEHNER: It means finding common ground.

STAHL: OK. Is that compromising?

BOEHNER: Let me make clear, I am not going to compromise on my principles, nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people.

STAHL: And you're saying, "I want common ground, but I'm not going to compromise." I don't understand that. I really don't.

BOEHNER: When you say the word "compromise," a lot of Americans look up and go, oh, they're going to sell me out. And so finding common ground I think makes more sense.

STAHL (voice-over): I reminded him that his goal had been to get all of the Bush tax cuts made permanent.

(on camera): So you did compromise.

BOEHNER: We found common ground.

STAHL: Why won't you say -- you're afraid of the word.

BOEHNER: I reject the word.


BLITZER: Let me start with Mary this time.

You've got a problem with that? Because is it just semantics, finding common ground, or compromising? Clearly, on this tax bill, this tax deal he worked out with the president, they compromised.

MATALIN: Well, to the extent compromise has come to mean, or to connote to Americans, as he said, either selling them out or the suggestion that these are 50/50 propositions, they're not. And he's right.

These are 80/20 issues. They're 70/30 issues.

People want to cut spending. People do not want their taxes to go up.

They think that lower taxes and cutting spending are more stimulative than what the president has already suggested, which is manifestly true, because it hasn't created any jobs. So that's not meeting in the middle. There is no middle -- 80/20, cut spending, keep taxes low, create jobs.

And compromises becomes one of those (INAUDIBLE) words. John is -- Speaker Boehner is exactly right there. And he's held to it.

BLITZER: Roland?

MARTIN: This is when we should start crying, because this is an absolutely stupid debate. We all know what compromise is.

Why doesn't Boehner just simply say -- they probably poll-tested the word and somehow it means to a segment of people. It is compromise. Forget common ground, working together. Compromise means you don't get all that you want, the other person doesn't get all they want. This is nonsense.

And so, Mary, stop dancing around it. You know compromise is good. Even in marriage you know compromise is good.

MATALIN: Roland, I'm not dancing --

MARTIN: Do you compromise with James?

MATALIN: -- around anything. You know what? Don't talk to me about compromise in marriage. There are 80/20 issues in marriage.

MARTIN: It's compromise! It's not 80/20.

MATALIN: It is 80/20. It is 80/20.

MARTIN: Now it's 80/20?

MATALIN: People do not want their taxes raised. They want their spending cut, and they think that's the better way to make the economy grow. It hasn't worked for two years.

MARTIN: But it wasn't just about taxes. It's not 80/20. It could be 60/40, 70/30.

So where did your 80/20 threshold come from? This is nuts.

BLITZER: Guys, we'll continue this.

MARTIN: Compromise means coming together.

You can say the word, John. Don't cry about it, just say it.

BLITZER: All right. We'll just leave it at that point, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking this question: Is President Obama's health care law history?

And Sarah Palin's trip to Haiti and the challenges of covering it.


BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Earlier today, a federal judge ruled part of it unconstitutional. So the question is, is President Obama's health care law history?

Steve in Florida writes, "The whole debate is ludicrous. We could insure every man, woman and child in the country for half of what we pay now. All of this malarkey we hear 24/7 about socialism and death panels is about one thing and one thing only -- the health care industry has a golden goose by the tail feathers and has an army of lobbyists making sure it stays that way with the help of their very own political party, the Republicans, as well as a nice, comfy grip on the Supreme Court."

"What a disgusting, traitorous bunch of criminals sit in our hallowed halls. Health care should not be a commodity, period."

Bonnie in New Jersey says, "I hope not. The law is not perfect, but the concept is pretty good. The Democrats should have had a backbone, left in the public option, but the idea that all Americans ought to have health care is a good one."

David in Seattle writes, "Not in the slightest. Obama will run this country into the ground while enjoying the accoutrements of power as he plays the blame game, as if someone else is responsible for his bad decisions."

Dave, in Orlando, "It's history, but if but a footnote. It signifies only that in an effort to pass a health care bill, any health care bill just so he can say he did it, Obama squandered two years. All the while, jobs and the economy went into the toilet."

"All he had to do to eliminate all the constitutional issues that are being asked now would have been to keep the public option. That way we would have joined the rest of the civilized world, which cares for all of their citizens. He's the only Democrat that can make Mother Moose look like a viable choice."

That would be Sarah Palin, I think he's referring to there.

Paul in Florida, "Obamacare is not just about taking two aspirins and calling in the morning. It's 2,700 pages of lost liberties except for crony opt-outs at the whim of bureaucrats. The mandatory purchase of insurance is just the tip of the iceberg. As it is said, the devil is in the details."

And Edwin writes, "If we can't be forced to buy health insurance, why am I forced to buy car insurance?"

I think the answer is because driving is a privilege, but I'm not real sure.

If you want to read more, go to the blog. There's a bunch of stuff there.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we're getting new video of that Metrodome collapse in Minneapolis. Stand by.


BLITZER: A big win for first lady Michelle Obama and her signature Let's Move initiative to fight child obesity. President Obama signed a sweeping overhaul of child nutrition standards designed to give the federal government more authority to set guidelines for food sold on school grounds. The first lady addressed what her husband joked would happen if the bill didn't get passed.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: All kidding aside, my husband worked very hard to make sure that this bill was a priority in this session.

And I am grateful to you.

B. OBAMA: Because I would have been sleeping on the couch.


M. OBAMA: But I am thrilled to be here. We won't go into that. Let's just say it got done. So we don't have to go down that road.


BLITZER: The first lady of the United States. The price tag, by the way, $4.5 billion.