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Power Shift in Congress; White House Spokesman Gibbs Leaving

Aired January 5, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the new Congress is sworn in, and the GOP takeover of the House clearly shows the midterm shellacking that the Democrats suffered.

Democratic chairman Tim Kaine is here. I'll ask him what his party and what the president need to do differently.

Also, the move toward the exits continues over at the White House. The White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, one of the president's closest advisers, tells all of us why he's leaving.

And we're learning how spilled coffee in the cockpit of an airliner set off an urgent warning and a chaotic series of events.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The 112th Congress is now in session, marking a seismic shift in Washington. The Vice President Joe Biden today swore in the new Senate where Democrats still hold an edge, but the real change is in the House of Representatives, where Republicans formally took control, though it took a while.

Ohio Congressman John Boehner was elected speaker, and true to form, he grew emotional as he made his way up the aisle to the podium. Then he waited as the outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at length about the accomplishments of the previous Congress.

When Boehner took the oversized gavel he noted scar tissue -- his words -- has built up on both sides of the aisle, but the new speaker promised Democrats a reasonable opportunity to get their views heard.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: My belief has always been that we can disagree without being disagreeable, and that's why it's critical that this institution operate in a manner that permits a free exchange of ideas and resolves our honest differences through a fair debate and vote.


BLITZER: Speaker Boehner and the new House just finished, by the way, passing a new set of rules.

Let's go live to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's on Capitol Hill.

Tell us and it, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is lots of energy and really anticipation here on Capitol Hill. The 87 new Republicans who were sworn in, many of them have never served in government before, even those who have understand the expectations are very high that they change the way that they do business here in terms of policy, cutting government, cutting spending, but also in terms of keeping the whole idea of Congress open and transparent.

So you mentioned those new rules. They were approved. It was the first formal move of the new Republican majority, and they did things like making clear that bills would have to be posted online for 72 hours before there would be a vote.

And also, something that was a clear nod to the Tea Party, Wolf, saying that any bill that has to -- that comes up will have to show that it has constitutional authority -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There was, Dana, a promise that the Republicans initially made to cut $100 billion from this year's fiscal budget, but they are backing off of that?

BASH: Very interesting. I want to show this to you. This is the "Pledge to America". This was the campaign document House Republicans released in the fall. And in it, I can show you, it's on page 21, it says very clearly that they promise to cut back spending to pre- stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving at least $100 billion.

That was something that Republican leaders repeated over and over again from John Boehner on down. It really became a central part of their promise coming in and taking over the majority, but now Republicans are backtracking. They say that they probably will do about half of that, $50 to $60 billion, they say, because the calculations have changed since President Obama's budget that he submitted last year never got enacted.

I talked to Kevin McCarthy. He is now the majority whip. He actually wrote this pledge and I asked him about it.


BASH: So you wrote this, $100 billion in the first year alone?


BASH: Now we are being told by several Republicans that it's probably not going to be that. Maybe half that, $50 to $60 billion?

MCCARTHY: But what you're taking there is, because of the way the fiscal year works. We said within the year. Don't -- and because half the fiscal year is over, they can't get to the point.

BASH: When people hear that well, maybe it won't be that's the number that's in black and white here -- BASH: Look. We have a $1.3 trillion debt. $100 billion is not where we're going to stop. That is just the start. You're going to find this turnaround. We are going to find ways the government to be more efficient. And we were going to cut, but more importantly, we are going to grow. We're going to grow this economy and grow these jobs.


BASH: Now obviously in addition to the overall number, meaning how much overall are the Republican going to cut, the big question, what are they going to cut? What programs in the government are they going to cut?

We don't know the answers to that yet, but that is going to be one of the central things that everybody is going to be looking at this new Republican-controlled House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Today's swearing-in ceremony in the House was clear is evidence of what President Obama has called the shellacking that the Democrats received in the midterm elections on November 2nd.

Let's bring in the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the former Virginia governor, Tim Kaine.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in. It was a shellacking, what, about 85 freshmen Republicans were sworn in today, only nine Democrats freshmen were sworn in today. That is a debacle, if you will.

What is your party, the Democratic Party, going to do differently to make sure this doesn't happen again?

TIM KAINE, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, Wolf, you know a couple of things. As you know from history, when there's a shift in either House, usually both Houses go. That's not what happened in November. We took bad losses in the house but we actually did better than most people thought we would in the Senate.

Here's how we interpret it. The American public were saying to Democrats, you're not able to get anything done anyway just with Democratic votes, and they were saying to Republicans, you're now going to have to get off the sidelines and bear some of the responsibilities for governing.

So what we're going to do is what the president did during his first two years, but especially, was on great display in December, put common sense items out on the table whether it was compromising on taxes, a far-reaching nuclear nonproliferation treaty with Russia or the elimination of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

BLITZER: But is there anything different --

KAINE: And finally --

BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting you, Mr. Chairman. But what -- KAINE: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you going to do that's different, that's going to -- that's going to change things going ahead over the next two years?

KAINE: Well, I think you'll see the president and Democrats do what they did in December which was, look, put good proposals out on the table and find Republicans who are willing to cross the line and vote to do strong things.

None of those accomplishments at year-end would have happened without Republican votes. There were not a lot of Republican votes, but there were enough to make things happen. And if Republicans are willing to meet the president halfway, then we're going to see significant more accomplishments going forward.

BLITZER: I think you'll agree the most important issue is jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.


BLITZER: The economy. What's the single best way right now over the next year to create jobs? I ask you the question not only as the chairman of the Democratic Party.

KAINE: Sure.

BLITZER: But as a former governor.

KAINE: Well, I think the best thing to do is, you know, spur the innovation edge that is America's edge over the rest of the world with smart investments in small business, and also smart investments in the nation's education system. Those are the things that are -- that always work.

The president and his team are doing significant work on educational curriculum and investment and student loans, and with the passage of the small business lending bill at the end of 2010 and the compromise on taxes, there are strategic investments that are going to be made in the small and start-up business space that I think -- well, look, we're already seeing some positive uplift in the economy and I think these steps that are being taken by the administration, you'll continue to see that acceleration.

BLITZER: You're staying on as party chairman?

KAINE: I am. Yes. The president and I have talked and he says, look, I want you to stay in the saddle all the way through the reelect, and I'm enthusiastic to do it, because he's doing a good job and I love being out there, being his advocate and his defender.

BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch, Mr. Chairman. Thanks very much.

KAINE: All right. You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tim Kaine is the chairman of the DNC. Let's bring in the best political team on television. At least some members of that team, once again joining us is our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, along with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin.

They've got their work cut out for them, Gloria, right now, the Democrats. They did take a shellacking. It was a -- it was a huge shellacking. They've got to do something differently at least to explain what they're trying to do.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, actually, Wolf, I think it's a little bit easier for the Democrats right now, because they are not totally in charge, the Republicans have to prove because they are in charge of the House that they can actually get something done as you head into 2012.

The president now doesn't have to defer to Nancy Pelosi anymore or even Harry Reid anymore. So, you know, I think in many ways as far as the White House is concerned, having the Republicans in charge of the House could actually work for them just as it did sort of in the lame duck session while Republicans weren't in charge, the president kind of changed his tune a little bit, started working with them, and came out -- a lot of folks think very well out of the lame duck session. I sure think so.

BLITZER: Yes, Jessica, if we take a look at the White House right now, if in fact they bring in the former Clinton commerce secretary, William Daley, to be the White House chief of staff, he's used to working with the Republicans and that maybe an effort to reach out and say, you know what? It's a whole new world right now.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean he negotiated the NAFTA deal on behalf of the administration, he knows how to --

BLITZER: Which the labor unions hated. A big constituency of the Democratic Party.

YELLIN: Correct. He knows about being willing to burn some bridges with the left, and then reengage and work toward the center. I mean he's been a centrist. And he also though has longstanding relationships with Democrats. So he is a guy who really knows how to navigate these waters.

And also I'd point out, remember he went into the Gore campaign at a time it had been very unsteady and steady it. So he also knows how to go into an unsteady ship which you could describe the White House is -- as right now. He does seem exceptionally well suited for this role and also a guy who is very familiar with campaigning, since he ran a campaign, he'll be able to vet how each issue that could come through the White House could play in a 2012 campaign.

BLITZER: Dana, watch this little clip. I assume you have a TV monitor there, because the Congressional Black Caucus, at least some members, they sat pretty stone faced when John Boehner was talking about Congress needing to cut its own budget.

Watch this.


BOEHNER: We will start by cutting Congress' own budget.


BLITZER: All right. Dana, I don't think they liked that little -- I don't think they liked John Boehner to begin with, maybe personally, but they certainly don't like his policy.

BASH: Well, you know, the very -- the interesting thing about cutting the budget of Congress 5 percent is you're already -- Democrats by virtue of being in the minority now are already going to have smaller budgets, so it's going to be effectively more for Democrats.

But I think this is a good time to get a bit of a reality check. Five percent is not a lot when you look at the big picture. It's $35 million with an M, overall to the budget. I think it's .001 percent. It's about $75,000 per office. And any member of Congress can choose to do it anyway they can.

They can cut paper, they can cut water or food that comes to the office or they can cut personnel. So it is very much symbolic and that -- but that is something that Republicans said they wanted to do to set an early tone.

BLITZER: And watch this lighter moment, Gloria. I want you to react when you see what's going on. Watch this photo opportunity.


BOEHNER: Yes, just pick her up. All right. We are all here. Right here. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go get them, tiger.


BLITZER: And the little girl didn't want to cooperate necessarily with the new House speaker.

Hold on one second, I think, Dana, what's going on over there? Dana. I think you've got a special guest.

BASH: I have a very special guest. Thank you for stopping, Mr. Speaker. First time we can call you that. First, you got emotional. I don't think that's a big surprise as you begin walking in, but you gave a very deliberate speech about going forward.

How do you feel right now? BOEHNER: I feel good. It's just time for the Congress to do what the American people expect of us. It's time for us to listen to the American people. They're the ones in charge. And we will. Nice to see you.

BASH: Nice to see you. Thank you for stopping this time.

BLITZER: All right, Dana --

BASH: That was a surprise.

BLITZER: I know you have been trying -- at least earlier in the day I was badgering you a little bit -- to get the speaker when he was walking behind you going in, going out, finally he went -- what happened? He just walked up to you, saw you there and came over and said hi?

BASH: That's right. I think as I mentioned earlier in day, his office is down there, so he's been walking back and forth in this corridor to get into the House chamber. He's got a lot of receptions to go to. His family is there. And so I just -- you know what? Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. This time we were lucky.

And he walked by -- and he walked by. Obviously, he's in a good mood so he came up and shook my hand and agreed to stop when I told him that we were live.

BORGER: Can I just say Dana is lucky and good? OK? Just for the record.

BLITZER: She did a good job. She was there. She's at the right place at the right time, she followed up. We got a little sound bite from the new speaker of the House of Representatives.

He does have an amazing story. An amazing story when you think about it, Gloria. Coming from where he came, one of 12 kids. His dad had a bar.

BASH: Wolf, Wolf?

BLITZER: His grandfather had a bar in Cincinnati. It really is an amazing personal achievement.

BORGER: You know, it really is. He's somebody with real working class roots. He's somebody who's emotional and not ashamed of it. And he's -- you know, he's somebody that American people can relate to.

I will say however that today was probably the easiest vote he's going to have, and that he really has a very difficult job navigating between those Tea Party conservatives, the more moderate folks in his party, and some moderate Democrats.

You know, this is somebody -- there are a lot of high expectations set for the Republican Party right now. Barack Obama's people know what that feels like. And he's got to try and manage those expectations, Wolf, as they head into the new session.

BLITZER: A lot of goodwill on this day. But, Jessica, who knows how long that last. Could last a day, could last a week. Who knows?

YELLIN: Yes. I doubt it last very long. You know one of their first orders of business is going to be taking on the health care reform bill, but some of -- some ill will could be coming his way, as Gloria points out, the internal war with Tea Party activists could rise up just as soon as they take on this issue of the debt ceiling which is about, you know, the good faith and credit of the U.S. government. But leads to more spending.

And John Boehner has already indicated that he is not necessarily standing where the Tea Party wants him to be. And that is going to be a test of his leadership very early. And it'll be a tough one if he doesn't do what the Tea Party activists want.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very, very much. Thanks to all of you.

Dana, you've been working hard all day. You see at the end of the day, it pays off a little bit to be at the right place at the right time. Appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: In just a few minutes, we're expecting the release of a shocking investigation into medical research on autism. Research that drastically changed some parents' decisions about their children's care.

Stand by. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will have the latest.

Also the latest high-profile departures over at the White House. What's going on today and who is next?


BLITZER: What kind of changes do you have in mind for the New Year? Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Instead of the traditional New Year's resolutions -- losing weight, hitting the gym -- how about getting your financial house in order in 2011?

According to a recent survey, 70 percent of consumers say their top financial resolution is to decrease their debt. That's followed by improving their credit score relying less on credit cards and saving more.

"USA Today" looks at five easy financial resolutions that could save you big money. First off, order those free credit reports. It's especially important because a damaged credit report can hurt your ability to get a job, for example. Next up, get a physical, a medical exam. Preventive health care can help your doctor identify problems before they get serious. That reduces future health care costs. And thanks to changes in Medicare and new health care laws, millions of Americans can now get free physicals. Here's another. Update the beneficiaries on your insurance policies, pensions and retirement plans. The excerpt say people often forget to do this and then if they unexpectedly die, the money doesn't go where they wanted it to.

Increase your 401(k) contributions. Many workers reduced their retirement savings during the economic downturn when companies froze the matching contributions. Now many of those companies are starting to match once again.

And finally rebalance your 401(k) portfolio. Financial advisers recommend reviewing the portfolio at least once a year and say that ignoring changes in the market can cost you a lot of money.

So here's the question. What are your financial resolutions for the new year? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Those are excellent recommendations, Jack. Excellent indeed.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

New details of a reported hostage crisis at an Arizona mall. We're learning more about the gunman. Who he might be. Stand by.


BLITZER: The story we've been following for the past few hours is a shooting over at a mall in Arizona.

Lisa Sylvester is here with that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolff, a standoff with a gunman at an Arizona mall has -- appears to have ended. The man was holed up inside a restaurant, but there are conflicting reports about whether he actually had hostages.

It all started when law enforcement agents chased the gunman who they thought was an escaped fugitive into the mall. Shots were fired and the building was locked down.

Radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is back in Iraq after four years of exile in Iran. His Shiite militia had deadly clashes with American and Iraqi forces before being routed in 2007. Al-Sadr went to Iraq where he's studying to become an ayatollah. He's now aligned with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who helped oust al-Sadr and then later paved the way for his return.

And new details, well, they are out about Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding. The British royal family announced today Queen Elizabeth will host a reception at Buckingham Palace, following the April 29th wedding at Westminster Abbey.

And then later than night, Prince Charles will host a private dinner, followed by dancing. It all sounds all very lovely. The palace also said the processional route will include many public areas so the crowd can catch a glimpse of the couple. And there will be a lot of people tuning in. A lot of folks out there very interested in another royal wedding.

BLITZER: Do you think -- do you think there'll be a lot of people watching?

SYLVESTER: Well, just a few. I remember -- I remember --

BLITZER: A few. A few hundred --

SYLVESTER: -- when Princess Diana got married.

BLITZER: A few hundred million.

SYLVESTER: Yes. It'll be lovely affair.

BLITZER: There'll be high interest. All right. Thanks very much.

The new Congress is vowing to slash spending. Is defense on the list? We're asking a top Republicans in the House. Stand by.

And we're also getting some shocking new information on a new medical study on autism. Study that changed the decisions parents made regarding the medical care of their children. Now new information coming out. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has it. Stand by. This is information you need to know.


BLITZER: there's been a steady move to the exit doors over at the White House. Someone, though, may be about to enter.

Let's go live to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

What can you tell us, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you're talking about Bill Daley as the possible choice for the chief of staff here at the White House, according to senior Democratic officials. He was here meeting not only with the president but others.

They do caution, though, that no job offer has been made, but he remains a top contender for the job. This is what one aide describes as part of a major retooling here at the White House -- Wolf.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): White House spokesman Robert Gibbs sometimes wrestled with the press.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And you lack the information. It's under-sourced? The end of this discussion, guys, tonight. I answered this yesterday.

LOTHIAN: And had an all-access pass to the president.

GIBBS: It's important to be able to walk into his office and say, sir, I need to -- I need to get your opinion.

LOTHIAN: That close relationship was borne in 2004 when Gibbs worked with Mr. Obama in the early days of his Senate race. He became a trusted adviser and his fiercest defender, rarely taking a break.

GIBBS: When's the last time I took a vacation and didn't take my BlackBerry? It's been -- it's certainly exceeded, exceeded -- it's been probably almost seven years.

LOTHIAN: Gibbs plans to take a break from the West Wing treadmill in early February. Who will replace him? On the short list, Jay Carney, Vice President Biden's spokesman and a former journalist. And Deputy White House spokesman Bill Burton, who has stood in for Gibbs in the briefing room and on the road.

Also mentioned as a possible candidate, John Earnest. Another deputy White House spokesman.

Gibbs wouldn't say what kind of counsel he would offer the president on his replacement, but from the outside, he will still have plenty to say.

GIBBS: I hope to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and this president.

LOTHIAN: Especially as the White House strategy shifts.

GIBBS: The president has always looked at the first two years as a period of legislation and a -- at least the next year as a period of implementation.

LOTHIAN: In a short written statement, President Obama called Gibbs, quote, "one of my closest advisers and an effective advocate from the podium for what this administration has been doing."


LOTHIAN: Now Gibbs said that the bruising midterm elections played no role in his decision to step down, but again this was about taking a break and stepping back. Look for other moves later in the week. On Friday, President Obama is expected to announce the next director of the National Economic Council. That's Larry Summers' old job. Gene Sperling over at Treasury is the top contender for that job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know there's always some changes after two years in any presidential administration, but are they saying these are more significant now than normal?

LOTHIAN: No, they say this is the usual, the burn-out rate after two years working 24/7. That this is typical in an administration. And, you know, one question that was asked of Robert Gibbs today is, do some of these moves have to do more with perhaps unrest or unhappiness with the particular people who are leaving, or more of just the attrition that happens here at the White House and Gibbs said the latter.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian over at the White House. Thank you.

Now let's get back to our top story right now, the power shift here in Washington. The 112th Congress has sworn in, putting Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives.

Taking the gavel from the Democrats' Nancy Pelosi, the veteran congressman John Boehner of Ohio, he is now speaker of the House, and he's promising hard work and tough decisions ahead. Between the lines showdowns are likely with President Obama and the Democrats.

Let's discuss what's going on with the GOP's new chief deputy whip of the House, one of the Republican so-called enforcers, Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: But you've got a lot of -- congratulations, first of all, not only on getting yourself re-elected, but other Republicans becoming the majority. But there's some confusion. You promised that in this current fiscal year, you would cut $100 billion in spending, but now it's gone back to, what, $50 billion? What's going on? Why have you decided to cut that in half?

ROSKAM: Well, here's what's going on. It's not being cut in half. At the time that commitment was made, it was the roll out of the Pledge to America, which was a result of the Americans speaking out after the House Republicans launch. That was basically an invitation to Speaker Pelosi to bring these things up, at the end of September.

So since the end of September and today, there's been a great deal of spending going on. So if you move what we have proposed and do it today, then you'll save less money, because it's happening today instead of September.

BLITZER: So how much do you hope to save?

ROSKAM: Well, I think between $50 and $60 billion.


ROSKAM: Well, I mean, it's completely across the board.

BLITZER: Education?

ROSKAM: It's going to be -- there's going to be a lot of things.

BLITZER: Pell grants, scholarships for students?

ROSKAM: Look, I think if you rewind the tape and look at the nature of the spending that has gone on in the past two years, it's gotten to the point where a House majority was completely squandered (ph).

BLITZER: The Education -- the Department of Education budget is going to be slashed?

ROSKAM: Well, I think there's going to be thoughtful cuts all the way across the board.

BLITZER: If you get your way, it's got to obviously go through the Senate, as well, although you have the votes in the House right now. The president has to sign all of this.

ROSKAM: That's right.

BLITZER: What about the Department of Transportation, infrastructure, highways? Is that going to be slashed, as well?

ROSKAM: Well, I think that there's, again, going to be thoughtful types of cuts that are going to be well reasoned. And there's nobody that's going to go in with a meat ax on these things, but if you take a -- take a step back and look at the number of new federal employees that have grown under this administration. There's 158,000 new net federal employees, not including Department of Defense or Homeland Security.

BLITZER: Why not include the Department of Defense? Because there are projects, as you well know, huge billion-dollar projects that even the Defense Department says they don't need?

ROSKAM: Wolf, I think the Department of Defense is going to be visited, and part of this whole...

BLITZER: So the Defense Department will be cut?

ROSKAM: Look, I think when it all comes down to it, what you're going to be looking at is a House Republican majority, and I think Democrats that are going to be joining on, saying we cannot afford what we've been currently operating under. It is simply unsustainable.

BLITZER: Can the U.S. afford $5 billion a month spent in Afghanistan?

ROSKAM: Well, I think you've got to ask President Obama that question.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ROSKAM: I think the president made a good decision when he ordered the surge.

BLITZER: Sixty billion dollars a year that could be spent on education?

ROSKAM: Wolf, what's the alternative? We lose Afghanistan and it becomes a staging ground, then, for terror? We -- we know what that's like.

BLITZER: So you think the money spent in Afghanistan is money well spent? And you wouldn't cut any (ph)?

ROSKAM: No, I'm not necessarily saying that. What I'm saying is that you've got to be thoughtful in how you approach this. The Department of Defense is going to be an area that people are going to look at for savings all across the board. So I think, on balance, there's going to be a thoughtful group that's trying to say, "Let's prioritize." And my hunch is, when push comes to shove, there's going to be plenty of Democrats that will join on.

BLITZER: Do you know this freshman congressman, Joe Walsh from Illinois?

ROSKAM: I know Joe Walsh from Illinois.

BLITZER: He's -- he's announced something very dramatic. He said, even though his wife has pre-existing conditions, he will not accept the federal government's health-care insurance plan, because he thinks that would be hypocritical for him to accept it. He's going to try to find other ways.

Yesterday, I asked Representative Steven King of Iowa, who strongly opposes the Democrats' health-care law, the president's health-care law, whether he's going to accept the federal government's health insurance program. He said he would, and he's being criticized now as being hypocritical. The question to you, do you accept the federal government's health-insurance program?

ROSKAM: Yes, I mean, it's a Blue Cross/Blue Shield program, and it's an employer based system. And what a lot of us are arguing for is the continuation of that employer-based system.

BLITZER: But even though it's a government-run health insurance program, as some people would call it, the public option?

ROSKAM: It's not a public option. And that's a mischaracterization of it by those people...

BLITZER: It's run by the federal government.

ROSKAM: No, it's actually run by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

BLITZER: But the government oversees all of that.


BLITZER: There are other insurance companies that can be used, as well?

ROSKAM: It's a mischaracterization. The federal government is an employer who is employing and giving that as a benefit to an employee.

BLITZER: So -- so is Joe Walsh, your freshman from Illinois, is he wrong not to accept that federal program?

ROSKAM: No, he's got -- he's got a decision to make for him and his family, the nature of this campaign. BLITZER: And you've accepted that. And you don't think it's hypocritical to go against the federal government's getting involved in health insurance for employees? Because a lot of people think it is.

ROSKAM: That's a mischaracterization. It is not -- the great debate, as it relates to the whole health-care drama that we've had is the nature of federal involvement, and what we've seen is an over promise, and under delivering on a health-care law that is killing jobs in this country.

So the question that I think that has to be asked and answered is how do you actually go in and create a system where costs come down and pre-existing conditions are dealt with in a thoughtful way? And the Obama health-care law just simply didn't do it.

BLITZER: One final question: Darrell Issa, the congressman from California, he says the Obama administration is corrupt. Do you agree?

ROSKAM: I think he said that some of the nature of the subsequent actions have been corrupt. I think he walked back from that statement. I think ultimately what we've got to do is pursue and evaluate where different funds are going. There's going to be an appropriate oversight role of Congress, and I think that that's the role of the oversight...


BLITZER: You don't think it's corrupt?

ROSKAM: No, I mean, I don't think it's any more corrupt than other -- other administrations.

BLITZER: Than the Bush administration?

ROSKAM: Listen, everybody over there is not pure as the wind-driven snow, as we all know, but by the same token, I think what most Americans say is this Congress and this administration have to be about the job of creating jobs, creating economic prosperity, and we can do it.

BLITZER: And your job as the new deputy whip is to count those votes.

ROSKAM: We'll be part of the solution.

BLITZER: You've got a big majority, so it should be a little bit easier.

ROSKAM: We'll see.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

ROSKAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck. Just into CNN, shocking new information on a medical study now being called an elaborate fraud. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is looking over the details right now. Stand by. This is information every parent, every grandparent needs to know.

And spilled coffee triggering chaos on an international flight and forcing the plane to land thousands of miles from its destination.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Not only breaking, but shocking news right now about a study on autism that was once seen as a landmark. The "British Medical Journal" has now come out blasting that study, and I'm quoting now, saying, "It's an elaborate fraud." It claimed to show a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, which researchers now say is a flat-out lie.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is here with more. Sanjay, what are the researchers specifically saying is a lie?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, for some time now these -- this paper, which came out in 1998, has been under a lot of scrutiny. In fact, it was -- at one point the science, the methods was questioned. It was subsequently retracted earlier last year in 2010.

Now they're saying it wasn't just that this was shoddy science. They're saying this was deliberately misleading people based on falsifying facts; creating dates, for example, that simply didn't exist.

Let me give you a couple of examples, Wolf. The paper is about vaccines and their connection with autism. And specifically, what they were saying in the paper was that a child would get a vaccine shot, and then within a few days start to develop symptoms that were some symptoms of autism.

When they went back and looked at the dates the child -- the child actually had symptoms. Sometimes it was before the vaccine was ever given. Sometimes it was, in fact, months after the vaccine was given.

So it was just falsified data to try and draw this association between this vaccine and autism. And now they're saying again, not just shoddy science, but downright falsified data.

BLITZER: All right. So what we're talking about is the so-called Wakefield study that dealt with the connection, supposedly, between a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella and the impact of that vaccine on young kids developing autism. But that study was always controversial. But right now, am I hearing this new study is saying that the original study simply made up these numbers?

GUPTA: Yes, it's hard to believe, Wolf. But that's exactly what they're saying. In fact, the language was even stronger than that, calling this, you know, one of the greatest scientific hoaxes that we've seen. Really very strong language in a very controversial area.

Again, the paper, you know, there were originally several authors on the paper. Most of those authors actually took their names off this paper over the last several years. And again, the paper was retracted back in February of 2010. But at that time it was retracted, because the thought was, well, the methods were not ethical. The children were paid, for example, to give blood. There wasn't a random study. It was -- specific children were picked for the study.

Now they're saying this was actually falsified data, obviously a big charge, but it's based on, you know, a very long investigation, 6- million-word investigation, looking through all of these patient histories and looking at what happened in the hospitals and trying to reconcile it.

BLITZER: So all these parents out there who decided not to give this vaccine to their little kids, because they were afraid the kids could develop autism. They didn't give the vaccine. What are they doing now? How -- how potentially in danger are these kids?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, not getting vaccinated. I mean, you could look at England, for example, where this paper was published, where Dr. Wakefield originally did his work, they did see a decline in vaccination rates after the papers were published back in 1998, and you saw an uptick in diseases, preventable diseases at that time.

In the United States, you saw some of that, as well, not to the extent in England, but you had pockets of children who are not vaccinated and subsequently did develop diseases.

What I will tell you is this, Wolf. Again, what's happened today, I think, is quite shocking in the scientific world. But keep in mind that this data, Wakefield's papers had been discredited and questioned and scrutinized for a long time. And I don't think it really quelled or changed people who were concerned about vaccines. It didn't change their opinions. So I don't know how much what's happening today will change their opinion either.

I think that they will keep saying, well, what exactly causes autism? Can you tell me the answer to that question? And science can't right now, so I think there's still going to be a lot of question marks. But I think with regard to vaccines and autism, this is a -- this is a significant, significant development.

BLITZER: All right. Certainly is. Sanjay, thanks very much.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the latest on this. Wow, what a story.

A scare on a jetliner due to a cup of coffee. What is the airline doing about this? What happened? We'll tell you.

Plus, we first brought you a story that went viral. Now some good news for that homeless man with the golden voice.


TED WILLIAMS, HOMELESS MAN: Thank you so much. God bless you.



BLITZER: New details coming in about a United Airlines flight diverted to Toronto. A coffee spill triggered some chaotic events, including a false hijack alert. Our homeland correspondent Jeanne Meserve is joining us. She has the latest information.

Jeanne, what a story this is.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, a pilot spills coffee in the cockpit. Problems ensue. Real life or a movie? Both, it turns out.


MESERVE (voice-over): The 1964 movie "Fate is the Hunter" features a cup of coffee, a spill and a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martha, get them ready for a crash landing.

MESERVE: In this Hollywood version, investigators recreate the flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You set it right down here.

MESERVE: And determined the spill caused the tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, you see that coffee? It dripped through the seam onto the wire terminal, shorting out not only the radio but the alarm system.

MESERVE: But that was not real life. This is. Monday evening United Flight 940 was en route from Chicago to Frankfurt with 241 passengers and 14 crew members when the pilot had to divert and land in Toronto.

According to authorities, the plane had hit light turbulence, and a crew member's coffee spilled, causing problems with the plane's primary radio system. An informed source says that, when the crew switched to a backup, they briefly and inadvertently squawked an emergency code indicating the plane had been hijacked. United says that was never a real fear, that the flight was in constant contact with controllers. It landed safely.

Mark Weiss flew this same kind of aircraft for American Airlines.

(on camera) Should beverages be banned from the cockpit?

MARK WEISS, THE SPECTRUM GROUP: Absolutely not. You know, the -- particularly on long flights as you dehydrate, you have to have constantly. You have to continually hydrate your body. Otherwise you run into other physiological problems.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MESERVE: And the caffeine in coffee will help keep the pilot awake and alert, but you are supposed to put your drink in a cup holder away from the critical electronics.

BLITZER: Is the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, now investigating?

MESERVE: They aren't, but we're told that the FAA is looking into whether United Airlines had a policy prohibiting the passing of drinks or the placing of drinks on that console, and whether or not they relayed that policy clearly to the flight crew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thanks very, very much.

So what are your financial resolutions for the new year? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

And coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA," some things you might not know about the new speaker of the House. His brother, Bob Boehner, joining John. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "What are your financial resolutions for the new year?"

Tom in Florida: "I want to get completely out of debt. Debt is slavery. It's why our government's a slave to foreign nations, corporations and banks. I don't want to be owned like that any more. It's not healthy."

Paul in Florida: "I'm doubling up on my lotto belts. I'd rather give my money to the lotto than to the government. At least with the lotto, I have a tiny chance of winning, as compared to the government I have no chance at all."

Michelle in the Bronx: "My new year's resolution is to be debt free. I'm finally able to face my debt, and I'm working toward decreasing it. My ultimate goal is to become a first-time homeowner."

Ken in California: "Get out of the stock market. What goes up must come down."

Gina in California: "My financial resolution: stick to the same one I made five years ago: no credit cards ever. Cash on the barrel head only. Thankfully, I've stuck to that all this time."

Brian writes, "The same as in the previous year: send the maximum amount into my 401(k), catch-up contributions, make use of all rebates, spend wisely. Use my company's medical, dental and vision plans to the fullest and try to have a debt-free retirement."

Lauren writes, "Pay down debt, try to save. Last year, I went against the herd. I spent on an addition to my house. This year (and for several years now) I'll pay for it."

Mike in Texas: "Find a source of income so that next year when you ask this question, I'll have a financial house to put in order."

And Paul writes, "My No. 1 financial resolution is to be able to join the 50 percent of Americans who don't pay any federal income tax."

You want to read more on this, you might check out this blog -- there are a lot of good ideas on it --

BLITZER: Very good ideas, Jack. Thanks very much. And I know our viewers will be interested.

We brought you a story yesterday, and overnight this homeless man's life has now turned upside down, all thanks to his golden voice. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's take a look at some "Hot Shots."

In Japan, artists participate in a calligraphy contest celebrating the new year.

In Germany, during a zoo inventory, a cane toad rests on a toy scale while it waits to be counted.

In Australia, people use boats instead of cars to travel throughout the city of Rockhampton.

And in India, look at this. A boy holds a large kite in preparation for a kite-flying festival.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

When we introduced you to Ted Williams, who would have thought that he'd suddenly become a national sensation? CNN's Jeanne Moos has an update.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hair today, gone tomorrow. But the main thing that changed overnight wasn't Ted Williams look. It was his life.

WILLIAMS: Who is responsible for everything.

MOOS: No wonder he was tearfully thanking folks. The offers were pretty amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a listener call in and offer up $15,000 of her own money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to come to Hollywood?

WILLIAMS: I certainly would. MOOS: All because a videographer for "The Columbus Dispatch" taped this exchange with a homeless recovering alcoholic, holding a sign saying he had a God-given gift of a voice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to make you work for your dollar. Say something with that great radio voice.

WILLIAMS: When you're listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you're listening to Majic 98.9.

MOOS: And like magic, Ted Williams was transported to the world of media interviews and network morning shows, where he choked up at the prospect of a reunion with his 92-year-old mother in New York.

WILLIAMS: She would live long enough for me -- to see me, you know, rebound or whatever.

MOOS: He had offers from a show called "America's Next Voice," from MTV, from "Inside Edition."

WILLIAMS: For the best in sleazy reporting.


MOOS: Columbus radio station WNCI fielded most of the offers. For instance, full-time job doing voiceover work for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And from a company associated with them...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quicken Loans is actually offering to pay a mortgage on a home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. That's it. That's the best deal ever.

MOOS: Not bad for a guy who showed reporters a tent he says he once called home.

(voice-over) Because Ted knows his way around a microphone, some thought he was a phony.

HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Meanwhile, it's a hoax, you know. Listen to this guy's voice. He's a homeless guy. Why would this guy be homeless with a delivery like this?

MOOS: Thanks to booze and cocaine, Williams admits.

It didn't take long for the Smoking Gun Web site to publish "Meet the Felon with the Golden Voice," a roundup of his rap sheet on charges such as theft and robbery. The Smoking Gun interviewed a Columbus businessman who complained about Williams being a nuisance on his property, changing clothes and cursing.

From jail cell bars to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His golden pipes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is a man with some velvet pipes.

MOOS: Now living a pipedream come true.

WILLIAMS: Now batting for the Boston Red Sox, No. 9, Ted Williams.

MOOS: Did we mention he has nine kids?

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

WILLIAMS: And we'll be back with more right after these words.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: What a voice that guy has.

All right, thanks Jeanne. Thanks very much.

Remember, you can follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets: @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

That's it for me today. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.