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THE SITUATION ROOM
Angry Protests Erupt In Rome; Israel Bars Palestinian Firefighters; Richardson's North Korea Mission; Hundreds Stranded in the Snow; Awaiting Senate Vote on Tax Deal; Spending Bill Has Loads of Earmarks; Afghanistan After Holbrooke
Aired December 14, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Brooke.
Happening now, stranded in the snow -- military teams are now struggling to rescue hundreds of people who are now stuck on a highway. Now, this is from Canada to Florida. There is brutal weather and it is taking its toll.
A top level review of the war in Afghanistan takes place without America's diplomatic point man for that conflict. The late ambassador Richard Holbrooke's final words were about his final mission.
And he's accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents. But he's wanted on sex charges. Now WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, has been granted bail.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Well, it is a deep freeze in the Deep South. There is heavy know in the Northeast. And just across America's Northern border, an ongoing nightmare. That's right. As military aircraft are brought in to rescue hundreds of people who are stranded in a highway whiteout. Now, for some, the ordeal has lasted 24 hours or more.
I want you to take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANDON JUNKIN, STRANDED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM FOR ABOUT 24 HOURS: I called and just let them know that we were here. And they said that there's just too many people out right now and that there's too much going on and that it would be at least 12 hours until they could get to us. And -- but on the radio stations and all the local media, when you're turning it on, like I was turning on my satellite radio and even local radio stations, all they were mentioning was Highway 402, Highway 402.
But meanwhile, you just felt, you know, almost disheartened, because the police had turned you around 21 hours earlier, sent you off the highway into the middle of the country, in the middle of nowhere, and said sit here. And now you're sitting there and it's just whiteout. And it's one thing to be I need a whiteout -- I've been in a whiteout before where it's like, you know, a 10 second gust of wind that came over. But this continued for 12 and 14 hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: I want to go straight to CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, in the CNN Weather Center.
But we're going to take that in a minute.
We're going to turn direction now. We're waiting for a final Senate vote on the tax deal between President Obama and Republican leaders. There was furious debate, a lot of anger, a lot of anxiety on both sides of the aisle. But the last procedural hurdle was cleared easily.
However, the sound and fury is continuing on the House side.
That is where Democrats have a lot of misgivings about this compromise. President Obama is urging them to go along.
I want to go to our CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, who is joining us -- Dan, what is the latest when it comes to this wrangling here with this bill?
How far along are they?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, I can tell you that here at the White House, top aides telling me that there is a sense of optimism that House Democrats will, in fact, embrace this agreement. But the president is still applying, if you will, his presidential pressure on those House Democrats, who still have reservations about fully embracing this agreement because there are concerns about the fact that millionaires and billionaires will be rewarded. There's still concern. They believe that a better deal could have been negotiated.
So the president has been working the phones throughout the day. We saw the same thing yesterday -- again, applying that pressure. But there's optimism here, despite the fact that some have called it a revolt up there on the Hill.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So I think if you look at a number of public opinion polls that have come out that demonstrate broad bipartisan support. And I think the president believes that, in the not too distant future, we'll have an agreement that he can sign that -- that preserves those tax rates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: Now, the White House realizes that they won't get everyone in their party on board.
But White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs says that he still believes that they can afford to lose a -- a few Democrats and still have a wide enough margin to have this passed in the House -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Dan, do they think that they're going to be able to get this done fairly soon, within the lame duck session?
He'll still be able to go to Hawaii for vacation?
LOTHIAN: They certainly hope so. I mean the president, obviously, based on what Robert Gibbs told us yesterday, will not be sticking to the original schedule, which was taking off this weekend. So perhaps some time into the middle of next week before he'll leave. They still say that the president plans to go to Hawaii. But, of course, there's still so much on his plate here. And they want to make sure that he gets all that done before he heads out there.
MALVEAUX: All right, Dan.
We'll be following every step of the way.
Thank you so much, Dan.
Well, once an ax on the tax deal, the Senate has another piece of urgent business -- and that is urgent to some, at least. Majority Leader Harry Reid says debate is going to begin as soon as tomorrow on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START.
Now, the nuclear agreement with Russia must be passed by the Senate before it can take effect. A two-thirds vote is needed. But Republican Senator Jon Kyl says it would be a big mistake to bring it up now. Now, he won't say if he has the votes to block the ratification.
We want to go back to another top story that we are following.
Let's go back to our Chad Myers.
He's at the CNN Center.
There are hundreds of people, I understand, who are stranded in a highway whiteout -- Chad, I guess we should show our viewers some of the video as we -- as we talk about this major storm.
What are we looking at?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's part of a storm system that is a lake effect event. And lake effects usually happen in Buffalo or south of Buffalo or Cleveland.
Well, this lake is Lake Huron. And Lake Huron, with a wind out of the northwest, dumped snow right to the east of Sarnia, Ontario, which is just east of Port Huron, which is just northwest of Detroit. And for hours yesterday -- literally 28 hours -- the snow came down so hard, the wind was blowing so hard, it was simply a whiteout. So, for a while, when this is first starting, the police said, OK, get off the highway -- Highway 402. It's a big, big, big interstate. It's basically a U.S. interstate that goes from Port Huron almost over to Buffalo. It would be a big cut across, if you didn't want to go all the way around and through Cleveland. It would be kind of a shortcut across.
And so they said get off the highway, it's closed. Get onto these little highways. And so they dumped people and little cars and trucks onto smaller highways. And then the whiteout continued and they couldn't move. They couldn't move for, in some spots, 14 hours of blizzard conditions. And people stayed in their cars. And thank goodness they did, because that was a life-saving decision.
The visibility was literally down to 15 or 20 feet during the blizzard. If you were out there, out trying to get out and about during the blizzard, you literally, you would have got stuck, you would have gotten stranded. You would have been dead in no time.
There's the lake. There's Lake Huron. Here's Sarnia. Here's Detroit back here. And right across this 402 -- people have been saying they can see -- they can see the lights of the airport, but they knew they couldn't get there, because, simply it was just absolutely too treacherous...
MALVEAUX: That's amazing.
MYERS: -- to go outside for hours and hours and hours.
MALVEAUX: Very dangerous conditions -- Chad, do we think -- you know, we saw last winter -- boy, I tell you, it was pretty rough, at least here in Washington, DC.
MYERS: It was.
MALVEAUX: -- had three feet of snow a couple of times.
What are we looking at this winter?
Does it look like it's going to be even worse?
MYERS: Well, we're not in winter yet.
MYERS: It's still...
MALVEAUX: What are you...
MYERS: It's still fall.
MALVEAUX: What do you think, Chad?
MYERS: I don't know. MALVEAUX: If this is fall, what's winter going to be?
MYERS: It looks like it (INAUDIBLE). Well, that's exactly right. That's why the shoppers are out there buying gloves and hats. It does appear that the eastern part of the United States could be much colder than normal, if this trough continues in the East.
It's been hot out West. And, in fact, it was hot enough out West to make a tornado that hit on the ground in Oregon. That's not a place you think about as Tornado Alley. Here are some latest pictures, literally just minutes ago coming in, KPTV, our affiliate out there, from Portland, flew up near Salem, Oregon. This is Aumsville, about 25 maybe -- or 15 to 20 miles to the southeast of downtown Salem proper.
But the tornado came through. It was confirmed by witnesses looking at the thing. The Weather Service will be out there tomorrow to see how big it is.
But does it really matter when you've lost your roof or lost your livelihood?
We'll have to keep watching this. This storm is -- that storm that was spinning and caused the tornado has died and the tornado warning has expired. But this was only just a few hours ago.
Chad, thanks for following all those details -- those developments.
MYERS: All right.
MALVEAUX: Well, a well-known U.S. governor gets an invitation to North Korea and it's heightened tensions with the South and concerns about the country's nuclear capabilities. We'll show you why.
Plus, President Obama discusses the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team. But one key adviser didn't live to see it. Ahead, the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke's dying wish for the region.
And a critical development in efforts on Capitol Hill to keep the government running.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: An emotional member of Congress is on Jack Cafferty's mind.
He is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack, it's good -- good to see you. JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Thank you, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: You're kind of an emotional guy.
CAFFERTY: Weeper of the House is what -- Weeper of the House is what Joy Behar has dubbed incoming speaker, John Boehner, after his teary- eyed performance on CBS's "60 Minutes." Boehner got choked up multiple times during the interview with Lesley Stahl, including when he talked about the nation's children.
He also teared up toward the end of the piece when his wife Debbie was at his side.
Now, this "60 Minutes" interview isn't the first time that we've seen John Boehner get choked up. On election night, when it became clear that the Republicans had won the House, Boehner got teary-eyed talking about how he spent his whole life chasing the American dream.
Boehner describes himself as a pretty emotional guy.
He told "60 Minutes" he's comfortable in his own skin and that people who know him know that he gets emotional about certain topic.
But not everybody is so comfortable. Barbara Walters said Boehner's got, quote, "an emotional problem," unquote. And others are now questioning the emotional stability of a man who would be second in line to the presidency.
Of course, there's some stereotypes at work here. You may recall, back in 2008, Hillary Clinton revived her presidential campaign when she started blubbering in a New Hampshire diner. The voters saw those tears as showing her human side. But if a man cries, typically, it's seen as a sign of weakness.
When outgoing speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was recently asked about Boehner's crying, Pelosi said she cries about a personal loss, quote, "But when it comes to politics, no, I don't cry," unquote.
Where Pelosi is concerned, it's the taxpayers who usually cry, but then that's a story for another day.
Here's the question -- did John Boehner's crying on "60 Minutes" diminish his credibility?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack.
Well, once the tax deal is out of the way, Senate Democrats want to take up a vital government spending resolution. Now, this would keep the government running after the current spending authorization runs out at the end of the week.
Well, guess what? The bill provides for plenty of spending on lawmakers' pet projects.
Our CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been looking into that -- Dana, I thought those were done with?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You did, didn't you?
Well, guess what?
MALVEAUX: What do we know?
What -- what the Senate Democrats just released this afternoon is one spending bill, Suzanne -- huge. It's almost 2,000 pages. And it wraps together the 12 spending bills that Congress was supposed to do all year long but never got done. And tucked away inside this massive spending bill is about $8 billion, we are told, in earmarks. That's right, earmarks, those pet projects.
And they're not just from Democrats. They are also from Republicans, including, Suzanne, including the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell.
Now, historically, he has been known for spend -- sending millions and millions back to his home state of Kentucky. But last month, he famously reversed himself and said that he would abide by a no earmark band.
But there are earmarks from him -- tens of millions in this bill.
You're looking at some of them -- $18 million for a Fort Knox railhead upgrade for the military; $2.5 million health facilities at Western Kentucky University; $3 million to widen a road at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Those are just some of them.
Now, to be fair, McConnell actually put in for these earmarks before he changed his mind and before he reversed himself. And he actually, earlier today, just a short while ago, said that it doesn't matter if they're in there because he is going to fight hard against this massive spending bill.
Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I am actively working to defeat it. And I think there are many members of the Senate who have provisions in it for their states who are also actively working to defeat it. This -- this bill should not go forward. We didn't pass a single appropriation bill. And regardless of whether members had some input in the bill much earlier in the year, when the bills could have been moved to the floor bill by bill by bill, it is completely and totally inappropriate to wrap all of this up into a 2,000 page bill and try to pass it the week before Christmas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And just to underscore, Suzanne, we are told by a Senate Democratic aide on the appropriations committee, McConnell could have taken this out, but he's saying there's no point because he wants to defeat this bill in general. More broadly, we should also point out that, again, it's not just Republicans who have earmarks in here. It is democrats, too.
And it is Democrats, they are the ones pushing this bill. You know, the fact to the matter is that Republican have said they don't want earmarks next year. It's going to be a whole different ballgame game next year, and Democrats themselves might have a harder time getting earmarks into spending bills. So, perhaps, this is sort of a last gasp for Democrats, including Republicans to try to sneak in some earmarks. We will see what happens with this overall bill. It is very controversial.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And we think this is going to pass, Dana, do we know, we have a sense of that?
BASH: It is very controversial. We don't know. The chairman of the appropriations committee told our Ted Barrett today that he thinks he does have 60 votes to do it. But you heard Mitch McConnell, other Republicans, too, said that this is outrageous. This is exactly what voters said that they didn't want to do, not just the overall spending, but the fact that Democrats are trying to do this huge bill, all of the work that they were supposed to do all year long in just a few days before they leave for the session.
MALVEAUX: All right. Dana, I know you're going to be very busy over the next couple of weeks. Thanks again, Dana.
BASH: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Well, there are new concerns about North Korea's nuclear capabilities and a potential war with the south. We'll tell you why a popular U.S. governor has accepted an invitation to the region.
Plus, what prompted violent protests to erupt on the streets of Rome. Details ahead.
And they're the biggest winners in jeopardy history, but can they beat Watson? We'll explain.
MALVEAUX: CNN has just announced its first presidential primary debate on June 7. The network will team up with the New Hampshire union leader and WNUR Television to produce Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire, the country's first primary state.
Well, angry protesters have erupted in Rome. Our own Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and the other top stories that are coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey, Kate, what are you working on? KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot going on. Let's start first, in Italy, the violence that, Suzanne was talking about, was prompted by a controversial parliament vote keeping Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi in office. The confidence vote is the latest of its kind evaluating Berlusconi's leadership following his dispute with a former ally last summer. Italy is suffering serious economic troubles. And the opposition Berlusconi faces from lawmakers could make governing more difficult going forward.
And in Cuba, Cuba is launching its own version of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The site known as ecured already has 20,000 entries, one of the longest being about Cuba's former leader, Fidel Castro, probably no surprise. All internet users in the country will have access to the site, and approved users will be able to update entries.
Israel has refused to allow four Palestinian firefighters across the border from the West Bank to attend a ceremony praising their role in helping extinguish the worst blaze in the country's history. The decision is prompting outrage in the region and has -- the ceremony has been canceled in protest. Palestinians were part of the worldwide effort battling this month's deadly fire. Israel is expressing regret over the incident.
And finally, this one is pretty interesting. The popular game show "Jeopardy" is taking competition to a whole new level. Starting in February, the show is planting a series of match-ups, pitting two of its all-time most successful contestants against, one of them you see here, against an IBM computer system known as Watson.
The showdown will test the computer's ability to operate faster than a human. IBM says Watson has already scoring with other former jeopardy players. If the computer system can function faster than a human, I think it's the other way around we have to be worried about. Humans is virtually (ph) faster than an IBM>
MALVEAUX: I love that show. I had a chance to ask a question on "Jeopardy." (INAUDIBLE) asking questions that actually answered --
MALVEAUX: It was a campaign question. Just a campaign.
MALVEAUX: It was fun. It was a lot of fun. Yes, but I wasn't on the other end. Thank, God.
BOLDUAN: Do you want to be against an IBM?
MALVEAUX: No, no. I think I'll just let the computer do its thing.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Kate.
A dying diplomat's final words. Richard Holbrooke appealed for an end to the war in Afghanistan. We're going look at America's next steps.
The man accused of leaking classified U.S. documents has been held on sex charges. Now, Julian Assange has been granted bail.
And former White House aide, Rahm Emanuel, answers challenges to his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. Is he really a Chicago resident?
MALVEAUX: In the midst of heightened tensions, New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, is heading to North Korea. The invitation came from the North's top nuclear negotiator, and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is a veteran global troubleshooter with a history of reaching out to the North Koreans, hosting them here, and making diplomatic missions to the communist nation. This will be Richardson's eighth trip to North Korea in that role.
His last year visit -- his last visit, rather, in 2007, that's when he returned with the remains of U.S. servicemen killed in the Korean War. In 1996, he played a major role in securing the release of an American held in North Korean custody. The Richardson's trip comes as a crisis atmosphere hangs over the peninsula. Now, both Koreas may be on a hair trigger after last month's bloody bombardment by the North which has also unveiled a sophisticated nuclear facility. Our Brian Todd is here. Brian, tell us what should we make of Richardson's visit now?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it may very well be a mission to relay North Korea's readiness to work some kind of new deal with the U.S. and its allies, but we won't know specifically until later this week. Kim Jong-Il has recently been successful in getting two former American presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to come to Pyongyang on diplomatic missions. Bill Richardson's visit comes at a particularly dangerous moment.
TODD (voice-over): For someone who runs such a closed country, his methods of communication are often very public and sometimes lethal. Recently, Kim Jong-Il and his North Korean military machine have launched a deadly attack on a South Korean island, killed dozens of sailors in sinking a South Korean warship. And now, U.S. officials say they're enriching more uranium in more nuclear sites than previously thought.
The atmosphere is as tense as it's been since the Korean War. If there's one more provocation from North Korea, former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, says South Korea wouldn't launch full-scale war but --
DENNIS BLAIR, FORMER DIR. OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: (INAUDIBLE) against North Korea.
TODD: Enter Bill Richardson who's entering North Korea for the eighth time. He's not going on behalf of the U.S. government or in his capacity as New Mexico's governor. This is a private trip. He was invited. A source with knowledge of the visit tells us Richardson assumes the regime will relay some kind of message to him to pass to U.S. officials. Mike green spent four years in the National Security Council dealing with North Korea.
He was invited by the country's chief nuclear negotiator, but what hand does Kim Jong-Il have in this and what does Kim hope do accomplish?
MIKE GREEN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: What Kim hopes to achieve, in effect, is a deal with the U.S. wherein we acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear weapon state. We lift sanctions. We push Japan and Korea to give them aid, give legitimacy to the regime. And in exchange, they promise not to give their nuclear weapons to anyone else and perhaps to cap or control one part of it.
TODD: That's a deal Green says the U.S. will never take. But he says Richardson's visit is a way to keep channels open. Richardson is unlikely to meet directly with Kim Jong-Il, but he may be able to pick up much-needed signals about the leader (ph).
GREEN: Kim Jong-Il at 69 is suffering from the effects of a bad stroke. Reports are he's smoking heavily again and drinking heavily again, and he is trying to quickly build a cult of personality in support for his third son, his young son, Kim Jong Eun.
TODD (on-camera): Green says that's a transition that may well be violent. He says in the 1980s when Kim Jon-Il was preparing to succeed his father, he orchestrated the deadly attack on South Korean diplomats and the bombing of a South Korean jetliner -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Are there any indications that once he's in power, the son is going to be just as violent, just as tough as his father?
TODD: Mike Green says it's very likely he will be. Green and most other experts say there's not much known about the younger Kim, but they say, as the third generation of this family, running this regimen, he's likely to always be on the same war footing as his father and his grandfather and will very likely also keep up the country's nuclear ambitions. All of this, of course, adds up to a very tense backdrop for Bill Richardson's visit there.
MALVEAUX: All right. Brian, thank you.
President Obama and his national security team huddled behind closed doors today to go over the administration's policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, the White House says the review won't change current plans to start withdrawing some U.S. troops next July.
Missing from the meeting, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the administration's point man for the war zone. The veteran diplomat died last night after surgery for a torn aorta. Let's turn to CNN's foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. Jill, we know that Holbrooke's mission was very much on his mind at the very end of his life. JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact, you know, Suzanne, just before he was operated on, Richard Holbrooke's doctors told him relax, and he said, I can't. I'm worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, the doctors jokingly said that they would solve that issue while he was undergoing surgery, and the reply was classic Richard Holbrooke.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): "Take care of ending the war in Afghanistan," among the last words from Richard Holbrooke before a final surgery. If only it were that simple.
AMB. RICHARD HOLBROOKE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN: This is a very difficult assignment, as we all know.
DOUGHERTY: Holbrooke was one of the architects of the Obama administration's AfPak strategy, seeing Pakistan as key to solving the conflict in Afghanistan, mustering all of the civilian tools of the U.S. government, economic, political, diplomatic, in synergy with the military.
This Thursday, the White House presents its Afghan policy review, and that strategy won't change.
PHILIP CROWLEY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We'll make minor adjustments or tweaks, but expect that the review will continue to affirm the policy which Ambassador Holbrooke helped to develop on behalf of the president and has been charged to carry out.
DOUGHERTY: But finding someone with Holbrooke's tenacity and force of personality looks nearly impossible.
JAMES RUBIN, FMR. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think there are going to be some difficult times now finding someone who can do all the things as well as Richard could do them.
DOUGHERTY: General David Petraeus, commander of International Forces in Afghanistan, in a "Washington Post" editorial calls Holbrooke his "diplomatic wingman." And "His sudden death," he says, "is a significant blow."
A former Afghan foreign minister agrees.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FMR. AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I would be hesitant to say who would be the person who would fill his shoes. But I would say that the American policy will continue.
DOUGHERTY: Richard Holbrooke criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai for not cracking down on corruption. That led to a rocky relationship. Corruption, Holbrooke argued, weakened the government, undermining efforts to stabilize the country, a challenge even this consummate diplomat could not solve.
HOLBROOKE: Anyone who doesn't recognize what a daunting task it is misleading, and the American public should understand that this is not going to be solved overnight. It is going to be a difficult struggle.
DOUGHERTY: Now, Richard Holbrooke's death leaves a gaping hole, not in the AfPak strategy itself, but in the way that it's carried out. This job as special representative was really tailor-made for Holbrooke. And at this point there's no word on whether there will be a new special representative -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Jill, thank you very much.
Richard Holbrooke began his career in Vietnam, a war that America came to see as unwinnable. He became known as an architect of peace with the agreement ending the slaughter in Bosnia. The Dayton Peace Accords were signed 15 years ago today.
I want you to take a look at some of the tributes.
Vice President Biden says Holbrooke "helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress." President Obama says he "made America stronger, safer and more respected." And Secretary of State Clinton says, "Few people have ever left a larger mark on the State Department or our country."
America's biggest city and America's biggest retailer, now that's about the battle to open the first Wal-Mart in New York.
And filmmaker Michael Moore offers $20,000 out of his own pocket to bail out the controversial WikiLeaks founder.
MALVEAUX: Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including reassuring news for those of us who use artificial sweeter saccharin.
Kate, what do we understand about this?
BOLDUAN: The sugar substitute.
This is very interesting. I mean, think about how many people actually use this.
Well, here is some good news for you on that. The federal government says saccharin is no longer considered a potential health risk and is removing it form the Environmental Protection Agency's list of hazardous substances.
The white powder is an ingredient in popular drinks like diet drinks, chewing gum, as well as even juice. It was labeled a potentially cancer-causing substance in the 1980s, but a re-evaluation found that not to be the case. So there you go.
Also, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is testifying today in his bid to become Chicago's next mayor. More than 30 people have fired legal challenges against Emanuel, claiming he violated residency standards by renting out his home during his time in the Obama White House. Local law states a mayoral candidate must have lived in the city for the year leading up to the election.
And Tea Party favorite Joe Miller's Alaska Senate race challenge is now headed for the state Supreme Court. Miller is disputing ballots awarded to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who challenged him as a write-in candidate. Murkowski launched her write-in bid after losing to Miller in the primary. She has already claimed victory in this race. But a fight continues.
And it's last call, people, for the first saleable Chevy Volt. Just minutes from now, an online auction for the car will end. The price tag on the vehicle is around $41,000, but bidding, get this, has more than quadrupled that.
The Volt is eligible for the $7,500 tax credit for plug-in cars, not that that's helping. Proceeds from the auction will help the Detroit public schools.
MALVEAUX: So maybe you're donating the public schools. Maybe that's the reason why people are putting money out.
MALVEAUX: Should I outbid you, Kate? Have you --
BOLDUAN: You should outbid me, definitely, considering I don't even have the money for the $41,000.
MALVEAUX: Let's just stick with the cars we have, I think.
BOLDUAN: You know, people have to be the first. Yes. I'll stick with my car at the moment.
MALVEAUX: What are you driving these days?
BOLDUAN: A Volkswagen.
MALVEAUX: Oh, see.
BOLDUAN: Not electric.
MALVEAUX: That's sporty. That's pretty sporty.
BOLDUAN: I am sporty.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Kate.
Filmmaker Michael Moore pays some of the bail for the controversial WikiLeaks founder. We're going to talk about it in our "Strategy Session." Plus, the Justice Department prepares to take action against a controversial ruling declaring portions of the health care reform bill unconstitutional.
MALVEAUX: A British magistrate has granted bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange although he won't get out today.
Meanwhile, filmmaker Michael Moore is offering money out of his own pocket to bail the whistleblower out.
Now joining us in today's "Strategy Session" to talk about that and much, much more, two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville, and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.
Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: First and foremost, want to talk about Michael Moore, this offer of $20,000 or so to help Julian Assange with his bail. Here is how he explains it on his Web site.
He says, "We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy."
James, do you think it's right for Moore to support WikiLeaks?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, from what I understand, the release of this is causing people's lives to be in jeopardy. I think we'll just have to wait and let this thing flush itself out.
But if anything could have prevented the Iraq War, I think it would have been a good idea, because it turned out to be just one of the most horrendous things we' ever did. But, you know, the problem here also is you're going to see people are going to start doing this, not just WikiLeaks.
I saw today somebody has got McDonald's customer base. Somebody is going to get into law firms. They'll get into IRS. I mean, we're starting something that I'm not sure where it's going to end here. It's a pretty dangerous, slippery slope we're on to here.
MALVEAUX: Ed, what do you think?
ROLLINS: Well, you know, listen, he can waste his money any way he wants to waste his money. But at the end of the day, he would be pretty outraged if someone stole some early copies of one of his films and put it out there on the street and let people copy it.
This is severe. This is security. And I think, to a certain extent, the point James makes is very, very important in the sense that any government sometimes has to conduct things in secrecy. And the fact that you can't have those secrecies and you put people in jeopardy I think is a very serious charge.
MALVEAUX: James, do you think that this current administration is transparent enough? Do you see this kind of cloak of secrecy that he's talking about has changed at all? Or are they more transparent? What do you make of it?
CARVILLE: You know, I'm not a sort of transparency expert. Look, every government -- some things probably have to be done in secret. But do governments or corporations or news organizations or people do more in secrecy than they have to? Of course, and a lot of people hide behind a veil of secrecy and they tell you it's necessary.
Clearly, on the lead-up to the Iraq War, we knew that they weren't finding any of these materials. And the CIA had real doubts before we started the war. And you saw that in Walter Pincus' story in "The Washington Post."
It would have been helpful if they would have leveled with the American people about this. But, look, I'm first to say that there's some things that the public doesn't need to know. I mean, certainly -- what did Winston Churchill say? Sometimes the truth is so precious, that it has to be protected with a bodyguard of lies.
At times, that's necessary. Unfortunately, government sometimes -- oftentimes do that when it's not necessary.
MALVEAUX: Ed, I want to turn the corner here. Obviously, the president's signature piece of legislation, health care reform, potentially in jeopardy here. We know that a federal judge said that at least part of it was unconstitutional, the mandate for getting health care reform insurance.
The Justice Department says it's now going to appeal. This thing could play out in the courts for quite some time.
Do we think that helps or hurts the Republicans in making their case that they don't think this is a good idea in the first place?
ROLLINS: Well, first of all, I applaud the Justice Department and the decision to move it forward quickly and get to it the Supreme Court, and get them to make a decision on whether mandates are constitutional or not. You know, I think the Republicans are going to attempt to repeal portions of this bill. I think they're certainly going to try to modify some of the regulatory stuff that goes on, some of the funding.
Any bill is alive after it's been passed for a substantial period of time. But I think at this point in time, we need to know the clarity. Is it a constitutional bill? Is it all constitutional? The quicker that happens, the better we are.
MALVEAUX: James, what is the likelihood that the Democrats will be able to fight a repeal of this? CARVILLE: Well, I mean, they're going to fight pretty good that they can stop and need 40 votes in the Senate. I mean, I'm pretty sure they can muster that.
I mean, I don't know if they'll repeal, but Ed is right, look, it's a law of Congress. It's not the Constitution. It's not etched in concrete. And this thing will go on and on, and they'll tweak this and they'll try to do this and de-fund that.
This thing in the courts is interesting. The Supreme Court (INAUDIBLE) against corporate interests, so, as soon as they find out what it is that corporate America wants, they'll be ready to come down with their ruling, I suspect.
MALVEAUX: Ed, do you want to respond to that?
ROLLINS: I love this court.
CARVILLE: Yes. If you believe in unmitigated, unregulated corporate power, there's no reason that you wouldn't like this court.
ROLLINS: Well, I think this court has been a good court, a good conservative court.
MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to leave it there.
Ed Rollins and James Carville, thank you so much for joining us today. Appreciate it.
CARVILLE: You bet.
MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty is asking, did John Boehner's crying on "60 Minutes" diminish his credibility?
Plus, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is granted bail, but he is still in jail. This is all about sex charges, but what about the release of classified U.S. documents?
And a robber makes off with a $1.5 million worth of gambling chips from a posh Las Vegas casino. You won't believe how it happened.
MALVEAUX: Here's a look at "Hot Shots."
In Nevada, a meteor streaks across the sky between the peaks of the Seven Sisters rock formation.
In Bulgaria, people walk through a park after a snowfall in the capital of Sofia.
In Madrid, Spain, colorful Christmas lights line the streets as cars drive below.
And in Oman, an Indonesian woman competes in the wakeboarding event at the Asian Beach Games. "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.
Well, Jack joins us again with "The Cafferty File."
Hey, ,Jack. Great to see you.
CAFFERTY: Speaking of pictures worth a thousand words, did you see "60 Minutes" the other night?
MALVEAUX: I saw it.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Did John Boehner's crying on "60 Minutes" diminish his credibility? He is the incoming Speaker of the House.
Jayne writes, "Mr. Boehner needs to use his solid gold taxpayer-funded health insurance and find himself a good psychiatrist. He blubbers as he talks about the American dream and schoolchildren, but doesn't hesitate to vote no on bills that might make the dream possible. Something just ain't right with this guy."
Bradley in Portland, Oregon, "Boehner's crying makes him seem emotionally unstable. Do we really want someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown controlling the House?"
Gerry in Arizona, "Boehner's tears confirm that he's human, which puts him way ahead of most of his peers. I shed tears when I fill out my income tax papers and cry out loud when I see how the money is spent."
Jeff in Georgia writes, "Dick Vermeil is famous for the being a crier. He's also famous for being a Super Bowl champion football coach. Having said that, I'll take Crybaby Boehner over Botox Pelosi any day."
Mike in Vermont, "I think that Roger Ebert said it best: 'If only Boehner wept as copiously for the poor and the sick as he does when confessing his own greatness.'"
John in Kansas, "I'm more interested in how he pushes good, sound policy through the House than whether he occasionally cries doing it. Crying shows Mr. Boehner cares deeply about what he's doing. And if his only critics are two old, unfunny co-hosts of an unpopular TV show, well that bothers me even less."
George in Pennsylvania, "Jack, you can't lose what you never had."
Lauren writes, "I thought it was strange, but given the current state of our economy, he is merely reflecting how the rest of us feel."
And my favorite is from Bob in Ohio. "Always tan, lifetime career in the same field, willing to take whatever part is available, and able to cry on cue. Are we talking about George Hamilton here? At least we know he's an actor."
If you want to read more on this, we got some great e-mail. You can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: All right, Jack. I understand we've actually got a clip of this that we can watch together. Let's take a look.
CAFFERTY: Oh, John Boehner crying?
MALVEAUX: Crying. I understand that we've got that handy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: There are 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. And you see all these little kids running around -- can't talk about it.
LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES": Why?
BOEHNER: Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream like I did. It's important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And they say, you know, Boehner had a really tough childhood, and obviously he has a lot of emotion around it, so that's how he explains it.
CAFFERTY: Well, I guess. I don't know about you, but it makes me uncomfortable to watch that.
MALVEAUX: It is a little uncomfortable. You know.
CAFFERTY: It creeps me out a little bit.
MALVEAUX: You're not very much of an emotional guy, are you, Jack? Are you much of a weeper?
CAFFERTY: No. I don't know if I'm a weeper. I mean, I had a kind of tough childhood, too, but the world is full of people who have rough childhoods. Take a look outside of the United States if you want to see people who have had a tough time of it.
MALVEAUX: Yes. Yes. Well, that's worth a couple of tears.
Thanks, Jack. Appreciate it. OK.
CAFFERTY: All right. Talk to you later.
MALVEAUX: All right.
Wal-Mart versus New Yorkers. America's biggest retailer battles to set up shop in America's biggest city. Why it's having such a tough time.
And Congressman Ron Paul joins me. He is about to get a key post overseeing the Federal Reserve. I'll ask him why he wants to eliminate the nation's central bank.
MALVEAUX: President Obama meets with a group of CEOs tomorrow to talk about the economy. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about it at today's briefing, and he specifically reminded us not what to call it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: On the CEO summit tomorrow, of the names --
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Can I just say -- I'll say this for, like, the 83rd time when three or more people get into the room. Summits generally happen in Iceland and involve trench coats and nice hats, but this is a working group of -- right, I know. Three people have a beer in the Rose Garden, and all of the sudden, there's like a cable Chyron of all of this stuff.
So, go ahead.
QUESTION: The CEO working group --
GIBBS: I know exactly what you are talking about, Roger (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: He may have a point there. The beer summit, the Slurpee summit, we get it.
Well, many topics are expected to cover trade, clean energy, and the deficit for that meeting group.
Well, you won't see a Wal-Mart sign in New York City. The mega chain is fighting to change that, but New Yorkers, they're fighting out.
Our Mary Snow is watching it all play out.
And Mary, tell us what this is about.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Suzanne.
Well, this has definitely struck a nerve, and it wouldn't be the first time. Today, there was a protest at City Hall against a possible move by Wal-Mart. A city council hearing had been planned for today, but there was so much interest, the hearing was rescheduled to January so it could be held in a bigger space.
SNOW (voice-over): Despite millions of people and businesses in New York City, what you won't find here is a Wal-Mart. The world's largest retailer tried and failed to open stores in the past. Now it's making another attempt, but the city's public advocate still sees stiff resistance ahead.
BILL DE BLASIO, NYC PUBLIC ADVOCATE: And what I think you're going to see in this city is a real revulsion, a real anger at the notion of Wal-Mart coming here. And to me, look, Wal-Mart is a weapon of mass job destruction.
SNOW: Bill De Blasio says small businesses will be hurt. He also echoes criticisms by union leaders who say Wal-Mart pays low wages and doesn't provide enough health care benefits.
But with the nation's unemployment level at 9.8 percent, one state lawmaker who represents hard-hit areas of Brooklyn sees opportunity. This empty lot in Brooklyn is one that Wal-Mart is eyeing.
(on camera): What do you say to critics that say these jobs are not going to take people out of poverty?
DARRYL TOWNS (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: I think that there are, you know, some points to that, but I think that, also, the opportunity to work and start on a path is the thing that I think that these jobs will offer. So, are they career, are they -- no. We understand that. But the opportunity in order to start a path in the workforce I think is a tremendous opportunity, and one which we will be working towards.
SNOW (voice-over): Wal-Mart says it is evaluating potential opportunities in New York City, and says, "New Yorkers want quality jobs and affordable groceries, and it remains our goal to be part of the solution."
Wal-Mart is looking at stores of all sizes, but to improve its chances, it's also considering stores that would be small enough that they wouldn't need zoning approval from the city.