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Ray of Hope for Jobless Americans; Making the Snow Go Away; Terror Threats in New Year; Behind "I'm Not A Witch"; Can Insulting Islam Get You Killed?; Why Public Admires Hillary Clinton; 'Strategy Session'

Aired December 30, 2010 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, a new snapshot of unemployment in America -- it is a Christmas gift for the economy.

But can we expect more improvement in the new year?

Also, security officials are gearing up for the ball to drop in Times Square tomorrow night. Stand by for new information about terror chatter and potential threats on day one of 2011

And they spent 16 years in prison for an $11 armed robbery. But the story of these two sisters gets even more unusual when you hear what they have to do now that their sentences have been suspended.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


Well, at the close of a dismal year for out of work Americans, there is some new hope now to cling to. The number of people filing for first time unemployment benefits fell to a two year low. That happened last week.

Poppy Harlow of is here with the numbers -- Poppy, how do you break it down?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: It's a -- it's a very bright spot in the dismal job market and what we've seen over the past three years.

Take a look at the numbers that came in, Suzanne. Three hundred -- it's actually 388,000 unemployment claims for last week. Economists expected a much, much worse number. And this is significant because this is the first time since July of 2008 that that number fell below 400,000. Four hundred thousand is what we've seen for a long time now. And it's also sort of a psychological barrier here. So that is very significant.

This data, though, economists tell me, can get distorted around the holidays. We had the extreme weather. They say take this as sort of a grain of salt, a good indicator. We need to see this trend continue through at least January to show us that the job market is recovering.

But I want to put this in perspective for you.

Let's pull up the charts so you can see just what this recovery has been like.

Back in March, 2009, it was the height of the crisis. That was also the height of the unemployment crisis in this country. We were getting more than 650,000 unemployment claims every single week. You've seen a pretty steady decline since then. Things are getting a lot better.

But when you talk about this in the context of the overall economy and the recovery, jobs is -- is the one lagging part of that. We have not seen a jobs recovery. And because we haven't, we don't see as strong consumer spending as we need to have in the recovery. So this is all tied in.

I think, Suzanne, a very, very good indicator, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here because we have to see a lot more numbers like this to be in a better place in terms of overall jobs picture -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Poppy, obviously, this is a bit of good news, when you think about it. But it's just -- as you mentioned, it's a weekly number.

Do we really expect to see a big turnaround when it comes to unemployment in 2011?

Do we have any sense of whether or not that's going to happen?

HARLOW: It's -- it's a great question. And even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said it may be four or five years before we get back to a normal unemployment rate, which is about half of -- of where the unemployment rate is in this country right now.

We still have over 15 million Americans that are out of work, unemployed. Many of them have run out of their benefits completely.

Also, when you -- when you look at how long the unemployment rate is going to stay above 9 percent, it's very scary what most economists think. We spoke with one from Standard & Poor's.

Take a listen to his take.

SAM STOVALL, STANDARD & POOR'S EQUITY RESEARCH: Basically, you could you call it a half speed recovery. Our feeling is it will continue at that half speed rate, mainly because unemployment is likely to stay above 9 percent through the middle of 2012.


HARLOW: The middle of 2012 he's expecting unemployment above 9 percent.

And, Suzanne, unemployment in this country has been above 9 percent for 19 straight months. That is the longest span of that high a level of unemployment on record.

And to tell you what we need in terms of a recovery, you need to see 150,000 jobs added every single month just to keep up with population growth in this country. So you need about 250,000 added every single month in order to get back to somewhat of a normalized unemployment rate in this country.

The bottom line, you take a look at this number, it is a good indicator and we need to see it continue throughout the month of January in order to say we are actually seeing that jobs recovery come to life.

And I will say next week -- next Friday, we get the December jobs report. It's expected unemployment will remain at 9.8 percent. However, economists saying we should see an addition of about 111,000 jobs. And we'll get that report on Friday morning. So let's hope --


HARLOW: -- next Friday that we have a much better number than many are expecting -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, well, we're keeping our fingers crossed, obviously. It looks like we've got a long ways to go there.


MALVEAUX: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You've got it.

MALVEAUX: Well, New York City officials are looking into reports now that sanitation workers intentionally -- that's right, intentionally delayed blizzard cleanup efforts. A city councilman says that he was told by five workers that their supervisors had ordered a slowdown because of their frustration over city wide budget cuts.

Now, the president of the sanitation workers union says he's not aware of any planned delays by the workers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about the allegations today.

Here's -- here's what he said.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: I don't think it took place, but we're going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn't. It would be an outrage if it took place, but I just don't know.


MALVEAUX: Now, Mayor Bloomberg has acknowledged that the city has not done a good enough job cleaning up this blizzard.

Our CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, she's got an update on the struggle to make this snow go away -- Susan.


They've been going at it all day and they will be going at it into the night, getting rid of all this snow -- the snow you're seeing as far as the eye can see from a New York City street. They're using this to sort of stockpile everything that they're bringing in from Times Square.


Because they've got to get it cleared out in time for all those revelers to arrive. Bringing it in by the truckload. Look at this one here. You see it's the latest one. And one keeps coming -- one truck right after the other, as they dump their load to create these piles that go, I'd say, at least 20 feet high.

They had been allowing know stand right next to the piles, but they said, sorry, too much action going on with three front end loaders that are then picking up all this snow. Look at it. Look how high it goes. I'm five feet tall. That's about 20 feet high -- dumping off the stuff.

How are they getting rid of all of it?

Well, take a walk down the street. They've got a couple of these snow melters that they use every time they've got a big -- a big snowstorm here in New York City, especially designed for these front end loaders to drop the stuff in. And they get rid of about 60 tons an hour using this process.

The water then comes down this specially designed drain and into a manhole that are -- that is able to accept this particular fitting. And all that goes into the New York City sewer system.

Of course, there's a filter down there to catch all the large gunk. And there's a pile of it down there. That's what they've picked up so far.

I mean, you can imagine what's in that pile. You've got everything you could possibly imagine.

But they have a lot of work to do in order to get Times Square ready for all the people that are going to be arriving tomorrow night. And the workers here insist they will be working around the clock to make sure they can get rid of all of it. And imagine, all of this is just from Times Square. They promise they'll have it all cleared up by the time the big party starts tomorrow night to watch that ball drop -- Suzanne, back to you. MALVEAUX: All right. That would be an amazing feat in Times Square. Right now, they're gearing up for the big New Year's Eve celebration and the famous ball drop. It's the kind of major event, of course, that also raises fears about a potential terror attack.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, she's looking into the yearend threat level and what we can expect in 2011 -- Jeanne, what do we know?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, there is every indication that the coming year will be a tough and busy one in the war against terror.


MESERVE (voice-over): This week, there were terror arrests in Denmark; last week in Britain. The week before, suicide bombings rocked Sweden. In the U.S., law enforcement stings recently disrupted purported plots to blow up a recruiting station in Maryland and a Christmas tree lighting in Oregon.

A top counter-terrorism official says the pace has been relentless.

MICHAEL LETTER, NATIONAL COUNTER-TERRORISM CENTER: And I can tell you that the past 13 months have been as intense, if not more intense, because of the variety of threats, than any time since 2001.

MESERVE: And no one sees the tempo slowing.

DON BORELLI, TERRORISM EXPERT, THE SOUFAN GROUP: We've seen all of these various threat streams kind of coming together and -- and kind of hitting a confluence at the end of December here. So I think that trend is going to continue into 2011.

MESERVE: Al Qaeda Central remains a threat. So is the Pakistani Taliban, which launched the attempted Times Square bombing. And Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They dispatched the Christmas Day bomber and the toner cartridge cargo bombs.

In the past two year, nearly 50 American citizens have been charged with serious terrorism offenses. And experts say homegrown radicalization will continue to be nurtured by the Internet, including the online preachings of US-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, and English language jihadi rap videos from Somalia's Al-Shabaab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It all started out in Afghanistan, when we fight the oppressor straight off the land.

MESERVE: This September, the U.S. will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Some experts believe Al Qaeda may also be watching the calendar.

BORELLI: I think they are likely to step up their game to be able to have a successful, significant attack prior to the anniversary. (END VIDEO TAPE)

MESERVE: And Borelli and others believe that terrorists don't want to hear any American officials say they have kept the country safe for 10 years.

But separate and apart from that, the diversification of the threat and the new emphasis on small scale attacks makes plots harder to detect. It has created a bigger challenge for law enforcement and the intelligence community. They are braced for a tough year ahead -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And we certainly hope it's a safe one.

Thank you, Jeanne.

Well, most Americans know Christine O'Donnell for declaring she's not a witch. Well, now, the failed Senate candidate is denying that she's done anything criminal. Stand by for that.

Plus, new moves by Pope Benedict to keep dirty money out of the Vatican Bank.

And the U.S. military may evacuate Americans from a hotbed of post-election unrest, where concerns about genocide now are growing.


MALVEAUX: Failed Delaware Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, is trying today to downplay reports that she is under criminal investigation.

Now, a source confirms to CNN that federal authorities have launched a probe of possible misuse of O'Donnell's campaign funds. The Republican was backed by the Tea Party. And she says only -- she only learned of the apparent investigation through the news media. O'Donnell contends this is all part of a politically motivated complain that's been circulating for months.


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), FORMER DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: Keep in mind that we upset the Delaware political establishment and -- and we beat their so-called untouchable incumbent. There's a vendetta to stop this movement in its tracks, because if the citizen politicians continue to rise up and put the career politicians on notice, we are going to opinion continue to put the political establishment on notice.


MALVEAUX: O'Donnell faced repeated questions about her finances during the Senate campaign. And she acknowledged using some funds to help pay the rent on her home, which she says doubled as her campaign headquarters. But she insists she has done nothing wrong.

Well, most Americans know O'Donnell best for her famous campaign ad declaring, "I'm not a witch."

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, spoke with the produce of that unconventional ad, Fred Davis.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's pretty amazing when you consider one man is behind some of the most memorable political ads and films of the year.



O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.


YELLIN (voice-over): Delaware Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, now says she regrets that ad.

Fred Davis made it.

FRED DAVIS, REPUBLICAN AD PRODUCER: My goal was -- was to give people the same impression of Christine O'Donnell that I had the first second I met her. She didn't sound crazy. She didn't sound like a witch. She didn't sound like any of those things. And I wanted the rest of the world to hear that, as well.

YELLIN: And to you critics, that's not smoke in the background.

DAVIS: It's a -- it's a projector, a very simple little projector projecting the light on a black background, actually.

YELLIN: Davis' ads helped elect all these Republicans and a few more this year, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama is the worst president in history.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And complete the danged fence.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for a nerd.

(END VIDEO CLIP) YELLIN: Davis lives in Hollywood, California. This is his office. He says ideas often come to him in bed.

(on camera): In the middle of the night?

DAVIS: In the -- often in the middle of the night. I sleep with a legal pad every night. I'm very exciting.

YELLIN (voice-over): The nerd ad helped unknown Rick Snyder win his primary for Michigan governor and it came from a first impression.

DAVIS: I shook his hand and I said, "Well, hi, Rick. Nice to meet you."

And he goes, "Hey, hi. Good to meet you."


DAVIS: And, you know, your heart sinks.

YELLIN (on camera): That's not the voice you want?

DAVIS: It's not the voice you want. And -- but then I started talking to him and he's just a really, really bright guy. And so I think instead of trying to make him sound differently, let's use what he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FCINO -- fiscal conservative in name only. A wolf in sheep's clothing.


YELLIN (voice-over): In his most famous video, Davis turns a moderate Republican into a wolf in sheep's clothing.

DAVIS: I didn't think five people would ever see it and millions have seen it. And for the rest of my life, I will be introduced as the demon sheep guy.

YELLIN (on camera): Is there an essence to a good political ad, what -- what it needs to have?

DAVIS: Well, to me, it has to stand out. And you have to talk about it. And the thing that makes you talk about it, I think, is it being different.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's one tough nerd.


YELLIN (voice-over): Davis says he expects and even enjoys it when his spots are criticized, because he says that means the public is noticing them, which is what matters most to him -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks. Jessica.

Well, now back to the political fallout from that monster snowstorm that has many residents outraged in the Northeast.

Joining us now, someone who had to contend with some similar issues just last winter, the outgoing Democratic mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty.

Adrian, I guess we'll call you Adrian now, not Mr. Mayor, and a couple of days away.

MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY (D), WASHINGTON D.C.: Either one, really, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: You saw the snow out there that they're dealing with in New York and New Jersey.

FENTY: Sure. Yes.

MALVEAUX: The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and New Jersey Governor Christie, both of them under tremendous fire for the way that they are handling that.

And that's tough job. It's a big job. It can make or break a public servant.

What do those guys need to do?

You've been under there. You've been under the pressure.


MALVEAUX: You've been under the criticism.

FENTY: Well, you know, the first thing I want to say, Mayor Bloomberg, especially, this is his tenth year in office. He's one of the best mayors ever to serve, not just New York, but the country. He's probably had tons of snowfalls that have happened in New York and all of it handled well, or else he wouldn't have gotten reelected.

He admitted that there's probably some things that could have been done differently.

But I think in -- in large measure, snow and politics don't always mix so well for mayors. And -- and he's doing the right thing by saying, OK, we're going to figure out what happened. We should have -- should have made -- should have done things differently. Let's learn going forward.

But what you don't want to do is be out of town like the governor. That's an unfortunate situation. It's sometimes inevitable, but --

MALVEAUX: That's a mistake. FENTY: You know, snow politics are the worst type of politics and you see that right now in New York.

MALVEAUX: And what about the Newark mayor, Cory Booker?

He is Tweeting.


MALVEAUX: I follow his Tweets. He's Tweeting. He's saying, I'm going to shovel your driveway. He shows up with a shovel.

Is it sometimes just as important, maybe even more important, to give publicity about what you're doing, all the efforts that you're making --

FENTY: No question.

MALVEAUX: -- than what you're really doing?

FENTY: No question. I mean there's -- no -- no one is saying, I don't -- I don't think, that New York handled it much different than New Jersey or Philadelphia. What Cory has done, he's great at. He's great at the Tweeting. He's a different type of -- of mayor. You know, Bloomberg is very effective, a great manager. Corey is really a hands-on, out with the people.

You need both in a snowstorm. And I think that's what you're seeing in the two cities there. Again, they both are great mayors. Snow just has a way of kind of --

MALVEAUX: Creeping up on you. FENTY: Yes, it -- it makes people's anxieties really rise up, which is not good for politicians.

MALVEAUX: You took some big risks as mayor of Washington, DC.

FENTY: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Obviously, you took on the education system -- the crumbling education system in Washington. It was in dismal shape. You had Michelle Rhee as the head of the Education Department. And she -- essentially, she fired more than 240 teachers --

FENTY: Right.

MALVEAUX: -- closed more than 20 schools to try to improve the situation.

Was that worth the risk?

Because a lot of people say, look, you know what --

FENTY: You bet.

MALVEAUX: -- it cost you that reelection? FENTY: Yes. More than anything, it -- it just may have. But it was definitely worth the risk. I wouldn't change anything. Hopefully, we have set a -- a pattern or a trend, where other mayors, other governors, you know, people in higher office will come in and say, listen, the school systems have been broken for 30 or 40 years, like they were here in DC. We've got to change things. We've got to end tenure. We've got to hold people accountable. We've got to make them work longer hours.

And to do that, it's going to -- it's going to require some political chits. I put a lot on the line, but I -- I wouldn't trade it.

And now Michelle is going to go out and work on trying to help find other candidates who will do the same thing around the country. And I'll certainly encourage her to do so.

MALVEAUX: Is there anything that, if you were still mayor after this weekend, that you are dying to do, that you know what, D.C. desperately needs this and perhaps Vincent Gray should -- that should be at the top of his list?

FENTY: Education will be at the top of the list, because even though we made great strides -- you know, enrollment is up, test scores are up, graduation rates, they've been going in the wrong direction for 34 years, not just DC, but every city around this country.

So let's -- I would like the politics as usual to -- to end and us to really focus on kids, no matter what it takes.

MALVEAUX: Do you think Vincent Gray is the right guy for that?

FENTY: I think he's going to do a great job. You know, we had differences during the campaign, but I think he'll pick up on kind of the things we were able to do over the last four years. And he's certainly got my support.

MALVEAUX: In 2007, you told a "Washington Post" reporter, famously, and notably, you wanted to run Washington like a business, efficient and purposeful.

FENTY: Right.

MALVEAUX: During the campaign, you got a lot of criticism from folks who said your leadership style was aloof and perhaps you lost credit --

FENTY: Sure.

MALVEAUX: -- from the African-American base, the community there.

Do you -- do you regret that you didn't reach out more to folks?

Were there things that you would have done differently in terms of your leadership style? FENTY: Yes, there are always things you can do differently. But, you know, one of the craziest polls you've ever see in politics was, you know, they -- like more than 65 percent of the people polled said they thought the city was doing great and they gave us, my administration, credit for making the city go forward. Yet less than 50 percent of the people said they would reelect me because of some of the disconnect in communication or personal style.

You can only be who you are. And if, at the end of the day, the city is run much better and we did everything we said we were going to do, especially focused on education, like never before, then I can go on and do whatever is next and -- and -- and sleep at night with peace of mind.

MALVEAUX: All right. Now, How did you know what my next question was, what's next for you?

FENTY: You know, besides, you know, going to the private sector, staying out of the limelight, I do want to stay involved in education reform. I -- I believe that there needs to be more courage from politicians. I believe people get too comfortable. They give into the -- to the special interest groups. If I can encourage politicians to kind of just put all their chips on the line for the kids in other cities and states and in -- here in Washington, DC, I'm going to do it.

MALVEAUX: All right. And I guess a couple more triathlons are probably in the --

FENTY: A couple more triathlons --

MALVEAUX: -- in your future, too, huh? FENTY: -- and let other people clean up the snow.


MALVEAUX: OK. All you have to do is shovel your own driveway this time.

FENTY: There you go.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you very much.

FENTY: All right. Thanks.

Thanks for having me.

MALVEAUX: We certainly appreciate it.

Well, we are monitoring other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, including a dramatic shootout that was caught on tape during a robbery we'll show you right up ahead.

Plus, Pope Benedict now addressing serious money laundering concerns surrounding the Vatican Bank.


MALVEAUX: A new order from the pope.

Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and some other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- hi, Mary.

What do you have?


Well, Pope Benedict is declaring that the Vatican Bank adapt to meet international standards on money laundering and other illegal activities. The changes mark the first major step the Vatican is taking to get on the so-called "white list" of banks complying with the standards. Italian prosecutors recently seized about $30 million in questionable transactions from the bank.

We're also getting the first pictures of that American Airlines 757 which skidded off the runway while landing in snowy Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A spokesman for American Airlines says none of the 181 passengers and crew on board was injured in yesterday's incident. There was no reported damage to the plane. An investigation is now underway.

For the first time ever, Facebook has beaten out Google as the most visited Web site in the U.S. for 2010. That's according to the Internet firm, Hitwise. But when it comes to the majority of online video hits, Google, which owns YouTube, still wins.

Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was also named "Time Magazine's" Person of the Year.

And two suspects may have gotten more than they bargained for when they attempted to rob this Texas store. Luckily, no one inside the store was hurt. The men pulled their guns and took money from the register. Later, you can see the store clerk draw his pistol and start firing. The suspects fled -- and, Suzanne, there's no word on their condition.


OK, thank you, Mary.

SNOW: Sure.

MALVEAUX: The governor of Mississippi is getting praise for freeing two sisters imprisoned for an $11 robbery. But there is a catch here that is raising some eyebrows.

Plus, many Americans have had a change of heart about the war in Afghanistan. Stand by for new poll numbers.

And in our Strategy Session, should Tweeting be taboo on the House floor?


Happening now, they were serving life in prison for an $11 armed robbery. Well, now, in a dramatic move, Mississippi's governor is freeing two African-American sisters. But there is a catch. One of them must donate a kidney.

And a major victory for GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski in her battle to defeat the Tea Party. Alaska's governor has just certified her landmark re-election as a write-in candidate.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, right now, we have new evidence that the war in Afghanistan is growing even more unpopular with the American people. This, as we head into the year when the U.S. military hopes to begin withdrawing troops.

Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 35 percent of Americans support the war, 63 percent oppose it. Now, that is quite a shift from back in March, when the public was pretty evenly split for and against the war.

Well, now to a different kind of war playing out in the region where the U.S. is fighting Islamic extremists. At issue, Pakistan's laws against insulting Islam and a threatened revolution by Muslim clerics.

Our CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now from Islamabad -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Suzanne. There are massive protests and strikes planned all over the country tomorrow for people who are opposing any change to this so-called blasphemy law.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Vunsay (ph) warns the government to keep its hands off Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) have to promise, if someone tries to change the blasphemy laws, we will spread blood everywhere.

LAWRENCE: The others say they have to go.

MARVI SIRMED, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Pakistan does not need any more blasphemy. We are the majority, for God's sake. (INAUDIBLE) majority, over 98 percent. Why do we need them?

LAWRENCE: Marvi Sirmed says it's the two percent Christian population that most needs protecting.

SIRMED: If blasphemy laws should exist, they should safeguard minorities. They should safeguard the religion of the minorities, not of the majority.

LAWRENCE: Asia Bibi (ph) was sentenced to hang for violating the law, which makes it a crime to insult Islam. She's a Christian mother of two girls who was working the fields with her Muslim neighbors.

One of them called some water unclean after the Christian, Asia Bibi (ph) touched it. They got into a heated argument over their faiths and Bibi (ph) was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Critics worry that blasphemy laws are used to settle personal scores, and one Muslim lawmaker introduced legislation to change it.

DR. MOHAMMAD KAMAL, SUPPORTS BLASPHEMY LAWS: I know the people from Karachi to Peshawar, all of them, they are very sentimental about this thing. They count on it (ph). So, I don't know how they can -- they are to do it.

LAWRENCE (on camera): A lot of the clerics have been promising some sort of retribution or repercussions if the government pushes ahead with any plan to try to change the blasphemy law here.

KAMAL: All the people will come on the road (ph). They will go to Islamabad, and I am sure that the government will be compelled and that there will be a revolution against it.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The fight over the blasphemy law comes down to politics. The ruling party is weak and needs the support of hard-line factions to hold the coalition government together.

We tracked down a government spokesman who would only say --

SYED SAMSAM BUKHARI, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, actually, the truth (ph) is that we are not discussing it at this point in time. And there is no -- like, we are not going for it.

LAWRENCE: Pakistan's government has promised to keep the hot- button issue off the table.

BUKHARI: It's not being changed.


LAWRENCE: So, basically, the government seems to have caved under public pressure.

Now, nearly 1,000 people have been charged with blasphemy, but most cases have been thrown out on appeal, and no one has ever been executed. But more than 30 people have been killed on the street after being acquitted or while out on bail awaiting trial -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Chris, what about that Christian woman that was in your piece that you featured who has been sentenced to death? Where does that stand now?

LAWRENCE: She is still locked up, Suzanne, still trying to go through the process of appeal. Most people I have spoken to in the last week say her legal case will take years to wind its way possibly up to the supreme court, which means even if she is not executed, she could spend the next five to 10 years in jail, and even then, when she is out, clerics have put about a $6,000 bounty on her head.

MALVEAUX: Wow. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Lawrence in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Well, Hillary Clinton was known for her share of controversy, but she keeps topping the list of America's most admired women. We'll look at why she is so popular as a politician and as a diplomat.

Plus, we'll take you inside the massive security operation under way in Times Square right now.

And Pennsylvania's governor is getting a lot of attention for complaining about, in his words, about wusses. Is Ed Rendell the kind of guy President Obama could use at the White House?


MALVEAUX: Hillary Clinton has been a polarizing figure in her long career in public service, and yet, a new Gallup poll shows that the secretary of state and former first lady is the most admired woman in America in 2010, beating out such prominent figures as Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Oprah Winfrey.

Well, let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

Jill, this is the ninth year in a row that she has topped the list. They covered her as first lady. She was controversial, but she is always at the top of this list.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it really is striking, isn't it, Suzanne? And that poll is a perfect example why Hillary Clinton, diplomat and politician, is unique.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): As secretary of state, she racked up half a million miles traveling to 77 countries.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is my sixth visit to Pakistan.

DOUGHERTY: She flexed her diplomatic muscles --

CLINTON: The announcement of the settlements the very day that the vice president was there was insulting.

To persuade Iran to forego a nuclear weapons program.

North Korea's provocative and belligerent behavior jeopardizes peace and stability in Asia.

DOUGHERTY: -- and shared a softer side.

CLINTON: How does anybody describe love? I mean, poets have spent millennia writing about love.

CARL S. ANTHONY, HISTORIAN, NATIONAL FIRST LADIES' LIBRARY: People may not listen to all the details, but they are, almost daily, reminded of is her work and her engaging only the world stage.

DOUGHERTY: Historian Carl Anthony, author of "America's First Families," says Clinton's popularity cuts across party and policy.

ANTHONY: There have been a lot of ugly and nasty things said about her, a lot of roadblocks put in her way, but she never loses sight of the big picture and the big goal.

DOUGHERTY: Around the world, she championed her big goal, women's rights.

CLINTON: Girls are entitled to go to school. Girls and women are entitled to get health care.

DOUGHERTY: Almost alone, she took on WikiLeaks and wasted no time trying to patch up the damage.

CLINTON: Good afternoon. The United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions.

DOUGHERTY: Hillary Clinton remained the face of America around the world, an American cultural icon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have never seen Hillary Clinton like this before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What part of "spying on the U.N. don't you understand? I want everything -- hair samples, fingerprints.


DOUGHERTY: One of the unique things about Hillary Clinton is, in spite of being admired, in other polls, like a recent Harris poll, she has high positives, but also comparatively high negatives. She continues to be a figure who elicits some very strong reaction -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Jill, one of the things that I thought was fascinating covering her in the campaign is, like, you ask her a question she did not like, that was really tough, she'd throw her head back and she'd just laugh and laugh. I mean, that was her way of dealing with it. But she disarms people, she disarms her critics.


MALVEAUX: She takes people on. DOUGHERTY: That's true. And I think what's interesting, too, is the president uses her as a politician, even though she's Madame Diplomat for the world. She is able to make the case, like with Karzai in Afghanistan.

She went to him and said, look, I'm a politician, I know how hard it is. You can rise to the occasion, you can be a statesman. Come on. And she can make that case because she has been there and done that.

MALVEAUX: Yes. She also plays the bad cop to Obama's good cop I noticed.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, she's pretty good.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Jill.

Well, he is not afraid to call out a wuss when he sees one. Is Governor Ed Rendell the type of political force President Obama needs in the White House?

And did city workers deliberately slow down the snow removal process in New York City? The latest on those allegations, up ahead.


MALVEAUX: The Constitution could take center stage when the Republicans take over the House in the new year.

Joining us in today's "Strategy Session" to talk about that and more, two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Happy holidays, guys. Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.



MALVEAUX: Two things that are going to happen here. Obviously, House Republicans say, first, they want the Constitution to be read in its entirety on the floor. Second, they want any new bills that a lawmaker presents, for him or her to back it up and say, you know what? The Constitution supports this legislation.

Hilary, I want to start off with you? What do you think this will accomplish? Do you think it's a good idea?

ROSEN: No. I think it's silly and I think it's a waste with of energy.

You know, the Constitution actually gives Congress very broad authority to enact laws that it deems appropriate. And we have the court system to decide when they are constitutional or not. And, in fact, the court only strikes down, like, one bill a year from Congress. So we're not talking about a Congress out of control here.

What this issue is, is sort of this wild thing that started with the Tea Party out of nowhere out over health care, somehow suggesting it was unconstitutional to provide people with health care. And so John Boehner has decided he's going to make himself look good to Tea Partiers by coming up with this silly rule. So I think it's silly.

MALVEAUX: Mary, obviously you want weigh in on this.

MATALIN: Well, it's political physics. For every stupid action, there's a really pushback reaction.

This is a smart reaction because it's a reaction to 2,000-plus legislative monsters that nobody knows what's in it. It's a reaction to the Speaker, the former Speaker, soon-to-be former Speaker, saying we have to pass this bill to find out what's inside it.

So, people don't like that. And it was -- didn't the Tea Party, in its appreciation for the roadmap that led our country to we're the greatest country in the road, the Constitution, was roundly, regularly being ignored. And the reassertion of it and the reading of it I think is, while symbolic, is a good thing.

And what is wrong with lawmakers saying what their constitutional authority is for each and every piece of legislation? That's what --

ROSEN: There's nothing wrong with it.

MATALIN: It did start with health care. It started with health care because people said -- the public said in election after election, in poll after poll, they didn't just oppose it, they strongly opposed it, and it got passed anyway. It got jammed down their throat.

So that's what this is.

ROSEN: But the fact that it passed doesn't make it unconstitutional. I mean, Mary's argument, I think, while articulate, isn't relevant, because unconstitutional laws shouldn't be passed and can't be sustained in the courts.

So, we don't disagree with that. What we disagree with is whether John Boehner ought to be getting some credit for somehow changing Congress' behavior by making this rule in effect. So I just don't think it's very meaningful.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk about another rule here on the House floor, obviously this big thing over whether or not they should tweet, use their BlackBerry, all kinds of things here. There's an op-ed in "The Washington Post," Ruth Marcus, who writes here that they should keep the electronics off the House floor. She says, "If the Senate is the world's greatest deliberative body, the House is poised to be the world's greatest tweeting one." What do we think of this? Is this a breach of decorum, or is this, hey, let's get up to the 21st century and start communicating with folks who are looking for our support, our votes, and want to push through policy?


MATALIN: Well, call me a geezer of the 19th century, if you will. I think tweeting is for twits. And I think it's perpetual teenage angst.

It's narcissistic, it's self-absorbed. No impulse is un-acted on, no thought is unexpressed.

I don't care. And it's the worst way to do legislation. "I'm eating a bagel. I feel sick."

I think it's ridiculous. Here-here. I don't know why they're doing it.

It's faddish. It's a technology in search of a purpose. It's fine for your teenager to say, "Pick me up at this address," or something like that, but all the angst and the narcissism of it I loathe.

MALVEAUX: Tell me how you feel, Mary.

ROSEN: I love it.

MALVEAUX: Hilary, do you agree? Tell me, what do you think?

ROSEN: Well, I think that good for Boehner for recognizing that technology is a fact of life here. I don't think he is actually changing the rules so that people can tweet. What he's actually saying is, if you have got an iPad, if you've got a BlackBerry, you're allowed to use it on the floor.

And a lot of people use them for things more serious and substantive than tweeting. But many people would agree with Mary.

MALVEAUX: OK. Tweeting for twits. I don't know if I agree with that.

But you guys stand by for a sec.

He is not afraid to call out a "wuss," his words, when he sees one. Is Governor Ed Rendell the type of political force that President Obama needs in the West Wing?

And former Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell slamming allegations that she misused campaign funds. Ahead, what she is saying about the investigation.


MALVEAUX: He is a politician who is not afraid to call out a wuss when he sees one.

We are back with our "Strategy Session," Hilary Rosen, as well as Mary Matalin.

The Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, he called out the NFL. This was last week, when they had to postpone because of snow the game of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. Here's what he said. Here is what he said.


GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We have become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything.

If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? He's right, the people would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.



MALVEAUX: I don't know if he has a point there or not, but there is a great op-ed here, Margaret Carlson, of Bloomberg today. She argues that maybe the Obama White House needs Rendell and somebody like him.

She says, "The criticism of Obama's West Wing is that it is an elite, inbred crowd -- a little wussy, perhaps -- that fails to connect with people even when it delivers the goods, as it did in the final days of the lame-duck Congress. Rendell, a cross between a steelworker and a linebacker, could be a one-man corrective here."

I don't know. What do you think?

I will start off with you, Hilary? Could President Obama learn a few lessons from Ed Rendell?

ROSEN: Look, Ed Rendell is a great guy, he's a great leader. He's been a fantastic governor in Pennsylvania. But I think President Obama is doing pretty well these days.

And I don't think that you could accuse him of being a wussy. And I don't think the Republicans in Congress feel that way either.

And so, I feel like after this last lame-duck session, we're going to come back next year, and we are going to continue to have pretty strong leadership. And the White House, under the leadership of the new chief of staff, Pete Rouse, I think is doing just fine.

MALVEAUX: What do you think here? I mean, he's obviously -- she's suggesting that the Obama administration, the president, needs a little bit more spine, backbone. I mean, somebody like Rendell, he's an ordinary guy. He comes off very much a man's man. MATALIN: Full disclosure, I grew up in the steel mills, (INAUDIBLE). And our team there was Da Bears, so I get the whole manly man thing. And I've always loved Eddie Rendell.

But they had a guy like that in the West Wing. His name is Rahm Emanuel, and he is going back to Chicago, where men are men and the teams play in the snow.

MALVEAUX: All right.

MATALIN: So, I don't think that is their problem.

MALVEAUX: All right. We've got to leave it there.

Mary, Hilary, thanks. Appreciate it. Have a good holiday.

ROSEN: Take care.

MALVEAUX: Well, the mayor of New York says it would be an outrage if sanitation workers delayed snow removal on purpose. The city is investigating, and so are we.

And a celebrity chef spills the beef on the joys and challenges of serving dinner for the president.


MALVEAUX: When the Obamas are vacationing in Hawaii, there is a good chance at some point you will find them dining at Alan Wong's.

My colleague, Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry, has an inside look at the restaurant and just what it's like to feed the president.


ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alan Wong is a world famous chef who is used to serving celebrities here at his original restaurant in Honolulu. The first time I came here, I saw Elton John sitting in this very chair with a very loud red jacket and matching red glasses. But that's really nothing compared to the couple that's basically regulars here and dine at that very table.

(voice-over): When they dine at Alan Wong's place, the president and first lady always pick this table.

ALAN WONG, CHEF/OWNER, ALAN WONG'S: If you believe in feng shui, this the power seat right here, because you want to have your back to the wall and you want to be able to see everything. But I think -- to tell you the truth, I think the Secret Service picked this place.

HENRY: You learn real fast that security dominates almost everything when you become one of the select few who gets a chance to feed the president.

WONG: It's pretty surreal. You know, you've got to remember, you've got to make the dinner good, you know? First and foremost. But, you know, it literally is like being in the movie when you start to see all the Secret Service, all of the security.

HENRY: Wong surprised me when he revealed he only gets about two hours' notice that the president is on the way, and even then the signal is indirect.

WONG: You start to see little signs. The dogs come around, the Navy chefs coming into your kitchen.

HENRY: The military chefs come to make sure the president's food is safe. And they watch every moment of preparation, adding to the anxiety.

But Wong says the experience is worth every second.

WONG: They're adventurous. They're willing to try different things. He has had a tasting menu before which has, like, five different things on the menu.

I do consider them foodies. They like to eat.

Michelle has a garden. She got the honey thing going. And she got a whole bunch of chefs together this past year to support, you know, the farm-to-table movement.

HENRY: While the Obamas don't dine out much in Washington, they seem comfortable here, because Hawaiians respect their privacy and don't fawn all over them. Well, at least most of the time.

WONG: We've had a family stay and have five desserts, one at a time, so that they could stay and relish the moment.


HENRY (on camera): And you were staring at them to get out of here?

WONG: Well, we don't kick anybody out. So people have their own tricks.

HENRY: Alan Wong does have some advice for his fellow chefs who might be feeding the president -- do not experiment. Just relax and do your thing. And oh, yes, it better be good.

Ed Henry, CNN, Honolulu.



Happening now, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is under fire for the slow snow removal following this week's blizzard, but it turns out that something sinister may be to blame.

Also, two sisters about to go free after serving 16 years for an $11 robbery.