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New Poll Numbers Out; Interview With Dennis Kucinich

Aired December 29, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Talk of the Obama comeback? Well, it looks like it was just that -- talk. A new poll suggests it did not register with the public, but Republicans don't you start gloating yet because it also looks like that shellacking, the public doesn't see it will make a difference either.

Let's look at CNN's new numbers and ask what they mean for the president and his strategy in the New Year. CNN's senior White House correspondent Ed Henry joins us from Honolulu.

Hey, Ed, the White House, we know they like to dismiss poll numbers, but these actually reflect a real challenge for this White House, don't they?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it, Jessica. When you look at these new numbers from CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll ask whether or not they believed President Obama's policies will succeed or fail, only 44 percent now saying they will succeed. 47 percent saying they'll fail. Obviously the margin of error three points, so it's pretty close.

But it's clearly divided on whether or not he's going succeed moving forward as he enters the next two years of his at administration. It's important to note that these numbers were collected from December 17th through 19th and the White House would argue that since then the public has had time to digest what happened in the final days of that lame-duck session of Congress.

What we saw was the president not just rack up victories, but get Republicans to work with him on some of these big issues, on foreign policy, the new START Treaty, on domestic policy. This new tax plan that a lot of economists around the country are saying is probably going to inject a lot more economic growth in 2011 than they were already forecasting.

And so when you talk to senior White House aides, some of them on this trip to Hawaii, they say the president has already started work on his big state of the union address. We expect that in late January and they say there will be a lot in there about how he believes you can build on what happened in that lame duck session of Congress.

And specifically pushing Republicans to say look, now that you run at least half of Congress, you've got a responsibility to try to work with this Democratic White House to make some progress, get some things done and move the country forward, Jessica. YELLIN: Do you sense any conflict within the White House whether the president should be more oppositional with Republicans going forward or try to work with them the way he did during lame duck?

HENRY: Well, they're certainly going through that right now and I spoke to one senior White House aide this morning who said look, there's no doubt that there's going to be some big fights in the year ahead.

Specifically, let's look at the fact that they kicked the can down the road on getting a long-term budget deal. That means pretty early after John Boehner becomes speaker of the House, they're going to have to go through some of these spending priorities. What are you going to cut?

The Republicans talked a good game in the last election, for example, because of the Tea Party in part about how they're going to really reduce the size of government. They haven't put a lot of spending cuts on the table. By the same token, this president had a debt panel that said much the same. He has not yet put a lot of spending cuts on the table.

And so they're going to have sharply different priorities about what to cut, what to invest more money in. This White House aide will say look, there's going to be big battles with the Republicans, but they do hope they can pick off some issues, specifically on the economy, where as we saw in that tax cut deal, a lot of liberals unhappy, a lot of conservatives unhappy at the price tag.

But at the end of the day, the president was able to work with the Republican leaders. He'll pick some fights, but they also think there'll be some cases where they'll be able to work together.

YELLIN: All right, Ed Henry. Thanks so much from Hawaii. We know you'll be anchoring the show Friday so we look forward to that safe trip home.

HENRY: Look forward to a happy New Year.

YELLIN: Happy New Year. So what should President Obama do if the public likes him personally, but doesn't think he'll succeed? Ed talked about the debt. There's tax reform. There's energy reform, so much on the table to talk strategy with us from New York, Republican strategist, CNN political contributor, Ed Rollins who's been with us all week. Thank you, Ed.

And here in Washington, our CNN contributor and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, political strategist Penny Lee who's a former executive director of the Democratic Governor's Association and a former senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Robert Traynham, the host of "Roll Call TV" and a former senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign. That was all a mouth full. Hi, guys.

OK, so Cornell, I want to start with you. One of the more positive numbers for President Obama is his personal popularity. He's still enormously popular personally, 73 percent of Americans like him as a person. How does he use that to help him going forward?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, a couple of different things. One is I love CNN polling. We all love CNN polling. When you ask will the president's policies succeed because to me that has two different meanings.

Does it mean he'll get his policies through or does not get his policies through? Do you think it will be a success? When you ask a similar question like a week ago, do you think the president's policies will move the country in the right direction?

You'll have 55 percent majority saying the president's policies will move the country in the right direction and 44 percent saying GOP's policies will move the country in the right direction. So it's a different kind of a question and we get poll crazy here.

YELLIN: This week we do. There's not much going on.

BELCHER: But being personally liked is a good thing politically because people tend to vote for people they like. If people don't like you, they will not vote for you.

YELLIN: That's almost matters more in an election.

BELCHER: And people don't get caught up in all the policies, they get caught up in sort of who you like and trust.

YELLIN: OK, let me ask you, Ed. If you were advising him and I know he's in the other party, but put on your bipartisan hat, does the president have more to gain from opposing Republicans more often the way Clinton did say during the budget shutdown or cutting deals with them more often the way he did during the lame-duck session?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, to get the economy moving again. He's got to deal with them and they've got to deal with him. I think the key thing here is to continue the communication that started.

The Democrats have had the big majority. The success at the end of the year still has to be attributed very much to Pelosi and Reid running the House and the Senate. It's a new game now. I think to a certain extent, the president wants to reduce deficits.

If he wants to have a new tax reform, then he's got to communicate on an ongoing basis, not once a month, not once every three months, but every week he's got to be sitting down with Republicans and Democrats alike and saying this is what I want, this is what I need. This is how Reagan did it. This is how Clinton did it when they had bipartisan coalitions.

YELLIN: Penny, you were in the room with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid often. Do you think, a, that the president is going to be working with him differently going forward? And does he run a risk of seemingly politically expedient if sometimes - if he chooses different issues to oppose Republicans and different issues to go with them? PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: There's going to be some issue that he is going to have to draw that stark line. On the number one issue facing the American people that is the economy and on the jobs, and what we saw at the end during the lame duck session was that they came together because they knew that they needed to get the economy moving and that's what this tax bill did.

Going forward, there's going to be some other issues as far as what's going out there on energy, on immigration. Yes, there are going to be some stark lines that are going to being drawn and the president does need to hold those lines.

YELLIN: He could even pick lines on these issues?

LEE: Absolutely, and he should because there are going to be stark differences. I mean, he is not fundamentally or philosophically in line with many that just got elected in the Tea Party.

YELLIN: So immigration, energy tax reform?

LEE: But I think where they can come together is on education and that is also an important issue.

YELLIN: You're dying to get in.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, HOST, ROLL CALL TV: Because you know what's going to happen. I know the Obama administration hates this comparison, but this is just like 1995 all over again when the Republicans controlled the House and obviously Democrats controlled the Senate or the White House.

What Clinton did and did it so well is he picked his fights. He cherry picked certain issues popular with the American people and obviously he pushed back with Republicans. What we saw in 1995, the president vetoed welfare reform twice and obviously he signed it into law.

He pushed back on school uniforms and then he signed it into law. So what the president has to do is pick his fights and learn exactly when to triangulate. I know we hate that word too and push back when need be.

What the Republicans are probably going to have to do is they're going to push back and say look, we controlled the House, we passed deficit spending bills, we passed certain things that we got elected to do. The president obviously is going to veto those things. We're going to have a mano mano thing going on in 2011. Well, it's literally going to be John Boehner versus Barack Obama.

YELLIN: Well, let me ask you, Ed -

BELCHER: And to that point real quickly - McConnell has to do on Republican side is different than Boehner has to do - Boehner has a chance to deliver.

TRAYNHAM: Well, the interesting thing about McConnell, he has the best job in D.C. He can push back as much, but he doesn't have to get his hands dirty and the reason why because he has no responsibility except to attack.

LEE: And the rules of the House dictate or allow for Boehner to actually get through some things more agreeable to the right so that they can let the Senate be more of the --

YELLIN: Are you're going to see a triangulation there with the president and Harry Reid.

TRAYNHAM: Every single bill the House Republicans will pass from January on is going to be deficit centric and obviously the president is going to have to decide whether or not he's going to play ball or not.

YELLIN: Well, let's look at these numbers for the House of Representatives, and Ed, if I can put this one to you, the same poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans think that Republicans will do a better job running the House of Representatives than Democrats. More than half think there will be no difference at all. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement or is it just a sign of voter discontent generally?

ROLLINS: I think the country clearly has not been happy with the political process for a long time. They took it out on the Democrats. This was an anti-Democrat incumbent election.

Now the Republicans have the ball and they can run with it or not run with it. If they run with it successfully, if they work well with the president, they reduce deficit.

If they do the things they promised to do, they can get better marks and I think the country will turn around. If not then obviously they'll be building on this low foundation. It's not going to be very effective.

YELLIN: Penny to you, you know, we've already heard from Robert Gibbs that the White House doesn't plan significant changes in the cabinet. But we also know there are changes in White House staff coming and maybe even a reorganization. Is there anything the president can do there and the White House staff that will have - change there that will have an affect with the public?

LEE: Well, I mean, the way in which you manage it. That's going to be an interesting thing to do. As you lose some of the key people over to the campaign, they're just a natural metamorphosis and other people are just tired that there are going to be some changes.

And I think what the White House and what others are saying is we want to get stability back into this White House and we want to be able to put together the right people around to be able to articulate a strong vision. And that's what the president needs to do. He needs to -- at the state of union, he needs to have a strong vision.

YELLIN: OK, quickly. TRAYNHAM: The cabinet is irrelevant. It's the senior staff - Robert Gibbs. Get some fresh blood in there to give the president some out of the White House Washington beltway thinking.

YELLIN: He needs a new economic counselor. We're coming to you after the break because up next, five political gaffes you will not want to miss. They're all caught on camera. The top candid camera moments from 2010.


YELLIN: With New Year's approaching, we're taking stock of the memorable moments from 2010 campaigns. Tonight, we look at the top candid camera moments of the year. At number five, Sharron Angle, the Nevada Senate candidate's melting pot moment.


SHARRON ANGLE: I don't know that some of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don't know that. What we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that, I'm evidence of that. I've been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada state assembly.


YELLIN: And that one came closely before the election. OK, number four, in California, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina with a hair don't.


CARLY FIORINA: --saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, God, what is that hair? So yesterday -


YELLIN: OK, that's just so awkward for a woman. OK, number three. A text message moment in the floor to governors' debate between Alex Sink and Rick Scott.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can get notes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First, Alex, you say you always follow the rules. The rule was no one is supposed to give messages during the break and your campaign did with an iPad or iPod.


YELLIN: OK, number two, this one didn't happen during the campaign, but it sure mattered during the campaign. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell on "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher back on October 29th of 1999.


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: I never joined a coven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute - I love this. You're a witch, you're going Halloween's -

O'DONNELL: I was a witch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could you be a witch?

O'DONNELL: Because I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.


YELLIN: And number one, our number one moment, Vice President Joe Biden weighing in at a presidential health care bill signing ceremony on March 23 with this priceless comment.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama. This is a big (expletive deleted) deal.


YELLIN: That was the big f-ing deal. But that's what people love Biden for. I want to ask all of you all. In one way or another advice the campaign, do you have an awkward caught on camera moment in the campaign or yourselves or your candidate? Yes, yes. Go ahead, what?

TRAYNHAM: You want me to say it on camera?

YELLIN: Yes. We're on TV.

TRAYNHAM: Back in 2000, when Senator Santorum was running for re-election, right in the middle of the debate, actually right before the debate, I whispered in his ear something and I thought the camera was not on me. I thought the cam was on him, but I had to blow my nose. And when I blew my nose, it actually was on camera.

YELLIN: OK, it didn't ruin anyone's career.

TRAYNHAM: No -- partially mine.

YELLIN: Do you have any caught on camera moments?

ROLLINS: I got so many it's unbelievable. I think the critical thing and those are particularly commercials and you forget how bad those commercials were, sink really hurt because it was an integrity issue. The others were just idiots and they said idiotic things and just confirmed it. Obviously the witch comment became a dominant issue and took her out. We've all had idiotic moments. The key thing I think - the moment the mike is on, you basically are very scripted and you basically know that whatever is there it's going to be live.

YELLIN: It's dangerous when it reinforces a narrative about you. Penny, you have a moment?

LEE: Well, I have several. In fact that I work for a former governor now Governor Rendell and Harry Reid so there's -


LEE: And as a communications director for both of them -- I think our worst nightmare was always to say, well, what I think the governor meant to say was this. So there was also a constant cleaning up especially in-artful statements just often go with the flow.

YELLIN: It's part of the job.

BELCHER: I used to work for Dean so I had those moments, too.

YELLIN: Howard Dean.

BELCHER: Yes, I think Ed is right. I think that was impactful, but also I think the Sharron Angle thing is impactful, too. If you're going to one for Senate in a state between one of the most largely rising Hispanic population, you better know the difference between a Hispanic voter and an Asian voter. So I think hers also was impacted when I think the way the Hispanic voters vote for the Democrat there because if they had voted the same way in Florida. We might have had a different race.

LEE: The interesting thing about Christine O'Donnell was that she reinforced the negative with her ad.

YELLIN: The ad maker thought it was necessary to address it. I mean, how do you deal with that?

LEE: One thing you don't do is reinforce the negative I am a witch. I am not a witch, people think you are a witch. I'm not a crook. People think you're a crook. So I mean, she just reinforce it with -

TRAYNHAM: But you know what? It also underscores at least for me and I think for everybody on this panel said, in my opinion, once you leave your bathroom and if you're a candidate, you're always on. No matter where you are.

YELLIN: Where are you going with that?

TRAYNHAM: Look at this. I mean, this is a cell phone, but it shoots in HD and obviously has Wifi. I can upload this Youtube literally in minutes and so even when your mike is not on, your mike is on. YELLIN: The Sharron Angle moment was caught on a kid's cell phone camera.

ROLLINS: You want candidates to be scripted and they're the last ones, they want to be scripted deliberately so they don't do these idiotic moments. I've had presidents do it and obviously lots of candidates do it, but they can be detrimental to a campaign and finish you off very quickly.

YELLIN: But you know they're great for us in the press. When you're looking for something to cover -- 're looking for some levity. Thanks to all of you. Fun conversation.

Next, a new winter storm to worry about even though plenty of people haven't recovered from the last one.


YELLIN: Welcome back. Now that most people on the east coast have managed to dig themselves out from this weekend's storm, a new problem is developing out west. CNN's Casey Wian joins us from southern California where a series of storms has turned the landscape into a muddy mess. Casey, how bad is it?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, it's interesting because it's been raining on and off most of the day here today. By southern Californian winter storm standards, this particular storm has not been that heavy, but when you look over here at this street behind me, it looks like we've been, you know, Noah's ark-type situation.

The ground here is so saturated that any significant amount of rain at all causes flooding like this. We've had crews here. It's quite now, but all day long we've had crews trying to get this situation under control. They started laying sandbags down there. They've had earth-moving equipment out here trying to move things around.

They've also been trying to open up these storm drains to get some of this water out of here, but no luck yet. Many of these homes behind me, and we shot some video earlier that I hope you can show have up to five feet of mud in their backyards. They were just allowed back into these homes yesterday and in some cases today to start cleaning up from last week's storms and then another storm hits.

It really shows how fragile this area is, because of the saturation level. Right now, the rain has stopped. We're expecting the rain to taper off throughout the evening. We're expecting temperatures to drop, snow levels to drop and we're expecting high winds.

Officials here though believe they've been through the worst of the weather, but they're not out of the woods yet because as we can show you, this ground remains really saturated, really fragile, and really dangerous.

So far, in this community in Southern California officials are saying it's a miracle they haven't had any fatalities, no significant injury, but they've had to conduct more than two dozen rescues out of these raging floodwaters over the last week or so, Jessica.

YELLIN: I'm from that area in southern California, I know for personal experience how devastating those mud slides can be so we wish those families well. Thank you.

The storm that's causing all the trouble in California is now heading east. Let's check with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, what should folks east of California expect?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Very heavy rain across the valley of the sun. There wasn't much sun in Scottsdale or Phoenix or Tucson today. Although, the rain across L.A. is just about done, here's where Casey is and what the problem is.

Here's sand - mountain and all of this mud, all of this rain that we had last week like 10 inches of rain up to the mountains has all now washed down into the valleys. And every time it rains, this is going to happen again, until we get weeks and weeks of time where it's not going to rain. I don't see that at all.

In fact, I could possibly see another round of rain, at least as heavy as today on Sunday, four days away or so. Let's move you ahead, show you what's going on. The rain across L.A. does move to the east and then it turns to the north.

It turns all the way up to Fargo so the storm that's affecting California now does not get to New York with the snowstorm. It makes a snowstorm across the upper Midwest.

In fact, warnings, watches and advisories, from anywhere from Minnesota, Nebraska, westward almost every state has something warned for blizzard, for an avalanche, for a winter storm warning, whatever it might be. This is a western storm, not a Midwest storm and certainly not an east coast storm here.

Here's what JFK looks like right now. Airport delays are at two hours at this point, 96 airplanes on the way to JFK right now. That's a pretty good number.

That's a good number because we need to get those people at JFK out of the way and then finally to some other place. There are now what, something like 100,000 people still not where they wanted to be before this snowstorm happened. The snowstorm moves to the upper Midwest. It does not go to the east at least maybe for a while. The east coast airports will get cleared outs, Jessica.

YELLIN: Winter has not been gentle this year. Thank you, Chad. And next, a very prominent member of Congress may lose his seat because the results of the latest census may simply erase his district and he's making it clear. He's ready to fight.

And speaking of fighting, Christine O'Donnell is back in the news and she's pulling no punches.


YELLIN: A very prominent member of Congress may lose his seat without a single person casting a vote. Here's why. Because of the latest census, Ohio will lose two of its congressional seats in the next election and since Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature is in charge drawing up the new map, Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich is afraid his district may simply be drawn out of existence. Is it fair or is it just raw politics?

Congressman Kucinich joins us now. Thank you for being here. Let's start with that point. How confident are you that this could actually be done, your district's drawn fairly or based on politics?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) OHIO: Well, in Ohio, since the Republicans have the pen, the Republicans will make decisions based on Republican politics. And the way it works is they will do what's best for the party.

Had the Democrats had the pen, it would have been to advantage the Democrats. So the speculation has been that my district will be eliminated in a redistricting, since Ohio is losing two seats. What I have told my supporters is, look, we don't have to take it lying down, but we need to start talking about what the options are. Not wait until a map is brought forward, but what are the options?

YELLIN: Well, we will talk about if there's any recourse. But let's look at your district first. It's in Northeast Ohio, near Cleveland. And you have seen some population loss.

KUCINICH: Oh, yes.

YELLIN: And this is based in part on population loss, so is it partially that, that might cause you to lose a seat and not your political views, for example?

KUCINICH: Well, certainly, the area has lost population. There's no question about that. And in the Cleveland area, I represented it in various capacities for my whole life. And it's a great area to represent, but we lost a lot of jobs, people moved out, the sub-prime meltdown caused even more people to lose their homes, left the area. So the area has fallen on hard times.

We lost population, but that's one level of decision making that is made just flat by the census. But in my case, you know, my politics are becoming questioned when people want to take that pen and draw the lines or absorb parts of my district into other districts. The fact of the matter is that it is a political decision. And I can live with the fact that it's a political decision, but what I'm not going to do is wait for somebody to show me a map. And say oh, my gosh, what do I do now?

YELLIN: What is your recourse? I mean, this is written into the Constitution. You can't fight redistricting.

KUCINICH: Oh, no. I'm not talking about fighting it legally. This is a political decision I have to make. Today at, I have asked all my supporters to give me some advice as to what they think I ought to be thinking about. You know, do I try to run in another district in Ohio, if my district is absorbed and eliminated? Do I look for some other options? So this is the point that I am at right now. I am at a point of reflection about the options that are available since wide speculation is my seat may be eliminated.

YELLIN: Right. And that is true, even independent observers think your seat could be one of the ones on the chopping block.


YELLIN: In your letter to constituents, I wanted to quote from it. You say, "We're going to have to have prepare for a different kind of election, possibly in a different place, because my district may be eliminated. We are going to have to organize in a different way now. The question will remain where."

I'm curious, what are you suggesting? Do you want constituents to buy you a house in another district?


YELLIN: Do you want to go to another state? What's your--?

KUCINICH: Well, at the point at which it's broadly understood that my district may be eliminated, all of the possibilities come into play, except asking people to buy me a home.

YELLIN: Would you launch a campaign to keep the district? To pressure the legislature to keep that district?

KUCINICH: Well, it's their decision. See, the one thing I recognize about this is that I really don't have any control over the process in Ohio. I understand that's the way it works. But I have to anticipate that, from all reports, that my district may be eliminated. So instead of waiting until someone says here's the map, Dennis, I'm planning right now. I'm getting people involved. Saying let's look at what the options are. Where do I run? How -- you know, what is the plan?

YELLIN: One of the things that's fascinating is a state like Ohio has on one end of the spectrum, you, as a representative. And another, John Boehner, in the same state. That's in part there's divided government there, it would seem. But this year, Democrats really lost so many seats in state legislatures across the country.


YELLIN: That Republicans have total control of the legislature and the governor's mansion in half of the all the states that will face redistricting. Do you see-this is was a terrible year for Democrats not to run hardener the state level.

KUCINICH: Well, it has been. And the consequences are, such as in Ohio where the Republicans took the state legislature, with that comes the ability to draw congressional districts. That's the way it is. If Democrats had held the state legislature, Democrats would be drawing the districts, and that would be to the advantage of Democrats. So, I'm not complaining about that process. Except that, you know, I wish the Democrats had done better.

YELLIN: You don't think it needs reforming?

KUCINICH: Oh, listen, of course. But you know what, that's not what's going to happen. We're faced with a decision, being made by the legislature, which very well may result in a district that I have represented proudly for 14 years being wiped off the map. I have to- I'm not going to wait for that to happen. I'm getting involved in the discussion right now, with my supporters, saying let's talk about this and think about what, you know, I should be doing.

YELLIN: You're sounding like a real pragmatist right now. Let me talk about someone else who's been a pragmatist lately, President Obama, if we can switch gears for just a minute.

He cut a tax deal that he thought was necessary. Did you consider that necessary, or was it a sellout? Did he sell out his base?

KUCINICH: I could tell you why I voted for it. And voted for it because people in my district, my district, are suffering from the affects of being out of work. They needed the unemployment compensation, and I wasn't going to engage them in a philosophical debate about the rich getting richer, at a time they're worried about putting food on the table. So, now, as far as the larger tax issues? We have an unfair tax system. It needs to be reformed, and it isn't really being done effectively.

YELLIN: Well, there were some on the Left who felt the president should have at least fought harder, longer.

KUCINICH: You know what, it's almost too late to have that debate. The thing is over. But I will say this. That in the next Congress.

YELLIN: That is-yeah.

KUCINICH: We have to continue to ask why we should have a tax structure that helps accelerate the wealth of the nation upwards. I mea, this is-the biggest questions in our society relate to how wealth is distributed. And if people are not really paying their fair share of the taxes, and the middle class ends up with a greater burden of taxation as a result. That's a concern, not just for economics, but it's a concern for democratic governments and democracy.

YELLIN: Are you concerned the president will work too closely with Republicans next year and cut too many deals?

KUCINICH: Well, look, I mean, as a practical matter, with a Republican Congress, he's got to find a way to try to put programs together. But I'll tell you something. It's not going to work out the way people are predicting. For example, on health care, the Republicans will never be able to reform or change President Obama's plan, because if they do, they're going to be unwittingly coming may way towards single payer. If Attorney General Cuccinelli is successful in knocking out health care reform, that came about, then the only alternative we're looking for is a not-for-profit health care system. Which frankly, with Kaiser reporting 50 million Americans today do not have health care, we should still be thinking about that down the road anyway.

YELLIN: A lot of big fights on the table, including your fight for your district. We'll check in with you later as this issue progresses.

KUCINICH: Happy New Year.

YELLIN: Happy New Year to you. Thanks for coming in.

And Christine O'Donnell, she's back in the news. You'll want to hear what she's saying about Vice President Joe Biden.


YELLIN: Welcome back. Let's check in now with Gary Tuchman for the news you need to know right now.


YELLIN: Well, back here on earth there are some pretty horrible horror stories from this weekend's snow storm. And some of the worst come from airline passengers who spent days camping out in airline terminals, or got to their destination, but then couldn't get off the plane.

Well, does the passengers' bill of rights offer any protections against these nightmare scenarios? CNN Jeanne Meserve joins us with more on that.

Hey, Jeanne.


So, as you know, the passengers' bill of rights was supposed to prevent people getting stuck on the tarmac on loaded planes. And you didn't see a lot of that with domestic flights this time around. But some people argue this passenger bill of rights did have a negative impact on some travelers that was unintended, because of big fines. Right now, if an airline does leave passengers in a plane, on the tarmac, for more than three hours, they face a very hefty fine, $27,500 for passenger, per incident. Add that up on a crowded plane and you get a pretty big number.

So some experts tell me today that they believe the airlines made some cancellations because they didn't want to risk getting those fines because of the weather. When they weighed their options, these experts say, cancellations looked like a safer and much cheaper bet.

Now people in the aviation industry are not fans of the passenger bill of rights, but they say this really did not happen very often. Their claim is that cancellations were made because the weather was bad. In some cases, safety was an issue. And others, they didn't want to fly planes into airport where is they might get covered with snow. That, they argue, would have just made it harder to recover, and get the system working again properly, Jessica.

YELLIN: It's an unintended consequence obviously of a law intended to help passengers. The international flights, though, just to clarify. Some were left on the tarmac for much longer. Are they not covered by the passenger bill of rights?

MESERVE: Well, this isn't an easy answer. If you're a domestic carrier and you have an international flight in your rules and regulations, you are supposed to have specified how long you will leave loaded plane on the tarmac. And if you violate that, you could be subject to fines. But it is more than three hours. It's usually four or five hours, depending on the airline.

However, international carriers have none of those rules. So there's nothing that would prevent them from sitting on the tarmac, no fines that would be a disincentive. And some people are arguing that is exactly why you saw those international flights being the ones stuck on the tarmacs in those New York airports.

YELLIN: Well, you and I travel so much in this line of work, we know what it's like getting stuck on those planes.

MESERVE: Not pleasant.

YELLIN: Not pleasant. Our hearts go out to them. Thanks, Jeanne.

MESERVE: You bet.

YELLIN: If you've ever purchased your airline tickets online, there's a major legal debate heating up that could impact how much it costs for you to travel. And you'll never guess who's crying foul. That's next.


YELLIN: If you fly, if you like good airline fares, and if you like having competition and choice this story should interest you. A bunch of travel website including Expedia, Kayak and Orbitz, are banding together to try and stop Google from get into the online airfare business and they're asking the government to block the deal.

A little background: When you book an airline reservation online, many of the major travel Web sites use the same software. It is from a company called ITA. Now Google wants to buy that software company. The travel sites say that's anti-competitive and the Justice Department is reviewing the case.

Here to talk about the legal fight that is already, are Adam Kovacevich? Did I say that right?

ADAM KOVACEVICH, GOOGLE: Yes. YELLIN: And via Skype from Gainesville, Florida, Tom Barnett, he is an attorney for Expedia, and he headed up the Justice Department's Antitrust Division in the George W. Bush administration.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

Adam, first to you. Doesn't Google have enough on its hands? Why get into the travel business, too?


KOVACEVICH: That is a good question. Let's imagine that you had some time coming off. And you know that might have $500 to spend. And you want to flight somewhere sunny. If you type that query into Google or any other search engine today, you're not going to get a very good answer. You're going to get what we call the 10 blue links. What we would like to do, in acquiring ITA software, is to provide a better answer for consumers in the form of airfares, flight times, and then send them to sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and other sites where they can actually buy a ticket.

YELLIN: Tom, you represent Expedia. So my question, I can see why this is competition for your client, but it sounds like it could mean more choice for consumers. Having Google get into this business couldn't that actually drive prices down?

TOM BARNETT, ATTORNEY FOR EXPEDIA: Well, Google getting into the business is fine. The question is how they get into it. All the competition you have today between Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Travelocity and others, Bing Travel, has been great for consumers.

And while I readily agree with Adam that more innovation is a good thing and we want that, competition is what's going to drive that. Google can get into the travel space on its own or by licensing the ITA software, which everyone else has done. The issue that we're focused on and that we believe the Justice Department is focused on, is Google purchasing the ITA software instead of licensing it. So they can deny access to that software to all of these sites that depend on it today, like Kayak, and Orbitz, and Hotwire.

YELLIN: Let me ask you this, Adam, because this is a concern that "The New York Times" has raised also. They wrote, "Without strong competitors to keep it in check, Google might offer preferential placement to some airlines or agencies for a fee, or list offers from companies that don't pay up, which could lead to actually higher costs" for all of us.

In other words, maybe you won't give us the best price first, you'll give us the one from the airline that pays you to list them first.

KOVACEVICH: Right. Well, it's important to say we haven't designed this product yet and we won't be able to start designing it until we actually close this acquisition. So, we don't know for sure what these tools will look like. With that said, we're big believers that this is actually going to create more competition. And more competition usually brings down prices for consumers. I think it's also important to emphasize we're not going to be in the business of setting airfares. That's up to the airlines. And we're going to be, you know, sending people directly to sites like Expedia or, where they can purchase these tickets.

YELLIN: But Tom was raising the concern that Google, if they own this software, could then deny it to Web sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, etc cetera, will assure us now, Google would never to that?

KOVACEVICH: Google is not going to do that. We have committed not to doing that. But I think, also, more importantly, Tom and others have argued that ITA is somehow an essential input to some of these companies. And actually Expedia doesn't even use ITA, neither does Travelocity, or Priceline. The top three travel sites don't even use ITA.

YELLIN: They use something else.

I see you raising your eyebrows, Tom.

BARNETT: Yes, there are two points here. One, with all due respect, Adam has misrepresented things. Google has not said it would renew current licenses, that it would license continuing innovations, or that it would do so on reasonable terms. If Adam would like to say here now publicly that Google would commit to do that, to current licensees. That would address one of the concerns presented by the transaction.

YELLIN: Let's pause there, and say are you committing to renewing those licenses?

KOVACEVICH: What we said is we plan to enter new agreements with the existing contractees, and also to strike new agreements. We're absolutely continuing to make ITA software available.

YELLIN: At a price they can afford?

KOVACEVICH: Absolutely. And you know what the truth is that no company would negotiate a contract over the air on CNN, but absolutely. We have committed -- we're going to continue to make ITA software available.

YELLIN: Tom, you're not buying it? I see your face.

BARNETT: Well, because I know that companies have approached Google privately, not on the air, and Google has -- and ITA have flat- out refused to negotiate extensions for renewals of the license. So, I'm not there yet. But it's also -- it's a more fundamental concern.

Google is the dominant search engine on the Internet right now. It controls well over 70 percent of all Internet searches. Travel search is an area where, because of access to technology like ITA, and my client's Best Fare search, companies have been able to compete and compete effectively with Google. If Google is able to get this, if you will, crown jewel technology and deny others access, or undermine their access to it, you combine that with their overall search dominance, and you now pose a risk that Google comes to dominant travel search as well, which means they can inflict consumer harm if that should come to pass.

KOVACEVICH: I think that's a really important point to make. The competition laws were designed to make sure that consumers have more choices. That's what we think we're providing with this acquisition of ITA software. And frankly, with other acquisitions that we have done, we have a really good track record of acquiring companies like YouTube, and other companies, and then improving those technologies and making them better. In some cases available at lower cost for consumers, for businesses, and that that's what we hope to do here.

YELLIN: Tom, will you put on your larger antitrust hat for a minute here. Because I think Adam has made the point that when Google gets into the place they think they actually innovate better than the competitors. And Google has come to dominate many online services through innovation. But are you concerned that in the broad sweep that Google is simply growing too big?

BARNETT: Well, I am concerned if there's only one company innovating. Google has created many great products and I applaud them for it. And if they're able to develop new ways to do travel search, and new ways to present it to consumers that are better, that's great. It will make us better as well, provided we and other travel sites are not deprived to access to key technology, and that we have a fair access to consumers.

Because one thing to remember here is, you know, most Internet searches today start on Google. Google has the ability to steer folks through various mechanisms where they want to go. That's why companies like Expedia, even though we may not use ITA, still are vulnerable to Google and manipulations that they may engage in. As long as we have fair access and are able to compete, the more innovation, the more competition, the better.

YELLIN: Is this something you hear a lot? Too many companies are vulnerable to Google, but you guys argue you do it better?

KOVACEVICH: It's flattering. But I'm not sure it is really accurate in the sense that this is a really competitive space, online travel. And we hope to bring more competition to that space. But we're just getting started. Like I said, it's flattering, but, you know, we're starting really with sort of-we're starting from the bottom up and hoping to build from there.

YELLIN: Thanks to both of you for being here and having this conversation.

Of course, it is up to the Department of Justice to decide what to do next.

Still ahead, our Pete on the Street is still stuck in the snow. Where he is following the PR and snow removal battles between the Mayors of Newark and New York City.


YELLIN: New York City and Newark, New Jersey were both slammed by the same snow storm this week. But while one mayor is buried in criticism, the other one is finding himself king of the hill. Our Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick joins us now to explain.

I guess, the storm wars. Hey, Pete.


Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, just across the river here, in Manhattan. And of course, Mayor Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City.

Let's take a look at Cory Booker. Let's look at how he's fighting this storm. Look at this video right here.




DOMINICK: There he is, he's out there, Jessica, with a shovel, guiding traffic. He's literally working. He's out there working, doing manual labor.

YELLIN: That's dedication.

DOMINICK: Now, let's get to Mayor Bloomberg and see how he's fighting the storm.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: I have not been out with a snow shovel, but I have been answering e-mails. People that complain and people that are happy. I will say that most of the-not all-but most of the e-mails I have gotten have been from people saying, you know, just keep doing it.


DOMINICK: All right. Jessica, let's look at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) between these two mayors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this corner, and in this corner.

DOMINICK: Look at that, Mayor Bloomberg, he's 68 years old, he's 5'7" and a former fraternity guy. And Cory Booker, a former jock. He's only 41 and 6'3", but he knows how to use Twitter better and that ends up to be the difference. He's tweeting and saving. He's going to put on a cape, Jessica.

YELLIN: He's the younger man with the better back.

DOMINICK: That's true. YELLIN: All right. Thanks, Pete.

Poor Mayor Bloomberg. That's all from us tonight. Parker Spitzer starts now.