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THE SITUATION ROOM
Awaiting Health Care Repeal Vote; President Obama Forced to Apologize; Water Pipes Failing Across the U.S.; Interview With Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele; Anger Behind the Diplomacy; House Votes to Repeal Health Care Reform
Aired January 19, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Happening now, the House votes soon on repealing health care reform after a stunning breach in calls for civility in politics.
Plus, some embarrassing gaffes over at the president's news conference today with the Chinese leader. Now it's party time. We're standing by for the arrival ceremony. The Obamas and their guests getting ready for a glitzy state dinner.
And a deadly gas main explosion drives home how America's infrastructure is falling apart. This hour, CNN investigates how the system is breaking down -- get this -- every two minutes.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, the new Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are about to face the first big test of their campaign promises. Members are nearing a vote on undoing one of President Obama's major accomplishments -- health care reform. Lots of questions about whether this debate is all for show and whether lawmakers are staying on the high ground.
Let's go to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, the vote was delayed a week because of what happened in Tucson. But now, momentarily, they're getting ready for the roll call.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We expect it to happen, likely within the hour, Wolf. And all day long we've heard from Republicans what we heard from them on the campaign trail -- their reasons why they believe that this health care law is bad for the economy. There are philosophical reasons why, that they think it's bad for the government and for the American people.
And from Democrats, we've been hearing them talk about things that we didn't hear very much on the campaign trail. They shied away from this, for the most part, defending the health care law. They did not today. And they also did something that many Democrats admit they didn't do enough of, which is make people understand why this matters to them in a personal way. Democrat after Democrat did that by telling some personal stories about friends or constituents.
And I want to show you some parts of the debate to illustrate it, but starting with Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She did this by tying it to the Tucson shooting, talking about one of Gabrielle Giffords' constituents, Patricia Maisch, who was actually shot while trying to talk to the congresswoman about health care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Pat wanted to tell Congresswoman Giffords that the health reform law will help them provide insurance for this employee. She wanted to ask Gabby to stand up to attempts to repeal health reform.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: We must protect the American people from the Republican no care agenda -- no care if you lose your job, no care if you or your child has a preexisting condition, no care if you are a senior in the doughnut hole.
REP. TODD ROKITA (R), INDIANA: This law doesn't solve the problems in our health care system. Its solution, to destroy the best health care system in the world and replace it with even more inefficiencies, government controls, loss of personal freedom and trillions in new costs to the taxpayers, will fail.
REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: Another entitlement program financed through a Disney fantasy of accounting, it will add to the current entitlement fiasco in Washington, exploding the budget for many generations to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Dana, despite all the talk of a more civil, more polite tone in the aftermath of Tucson, one Democratic Congressman didn't exactly have that, did he?
BASH: It certainly seemed to be a glaring exception, Wolf. Steve Cohen, Democrat from Tennessee -- he was actually speaking after the formal health care debate ended last night, when pretty much everybody was gone. But he did talk about the Republicans in very stark terms, effectively comparing them and what they have been saying about the health care law to the Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie. Just like Goebbels -- you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And, Wolf, I spoke to Congressman Cohen by phone this afternoon to ask him about this. He said he doesn't take it back at all. He did say he didn't think that he was saying Republicans are akin to Nazis. But he said he does believe that it is important to point out when he says people are lying. And he said that there's nothing wrong with making a comparison to somebody who he said was the biggest propagandist and, from his perspective, liar of the 20th -- 20th century. But he also did say to me, Wolf, that there are no Nazis in Congress. There are some liars, but he said no Nazis.
BLITZER: These guys never learn that you don't -- you don't make comparisons with the Holocaust with Nazis. That's a little bit too -- too far. But they keep on doing it.
BLITZER: And even only a week after what happened in Tucson.
All right, Dana. Stand by.
Tell us as soon as that roll call starts.
BASH: Will do.
BLITZER: We'll, of course, break in and let our viewers know.
Let's get to the pomp and the tension surrounding the Chinese president's visit to the White House. After a formal welcoming ceremony this morning, guests are about to arrive for a posh state dinner. This is only the third of the Obama presidency. Even the president's daughter, Sasha, played a small role in this very important diplomatic event earlier in the day. After private talks, President Obama told reporters he pressed President Hu Jintao on some of the key issues they disagree on, including trade, currency and human rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been very candid with President Hu about these issues. Occasionally, they are a source of tension between our two governments.
But what I believed is the same thing that I think seven previous presidents have believed, which is, is that we can engage and discuss these issues in a frank and candid way, focus on those areas where we agree, while acknowledging there are going to be areas where we disagree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some embarrassing moments, though, during that news conference over at the White House between the U.S. and Chinese presidents. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now -- Jill, tell our viewers what went wrong.
I think you can put a headline, "lost in translation," if you will.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was kind of lost in translation or maybe lost between translations, Wolf, because it was a little unclear what was going on throughout the entire press conference.
You know, there are two ways to do it. You either translate, you know, simultaneously, as they say things, or consecutively, after they say a bit, then it's translated.
And it really got into a -- a mess. And, in fact, at the end, the president himself, President Obama, had to apologize for the technical problems.
Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: All right, everybody, thank you so much for your patience. Due to the technical difficulties, President Hu, once again, we appreciate your visit. We appreciate the dialogue. And we are looking forward to having dinner with you later this evening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: And on one of the big issues, human rights, that's where it really showed, because a question was asked of both President Obama and President Hu about human rights. President Obama answered that question, but President Hu did not. And at that point, it was unclear whether he'd actually heard it. They went on to another question and it -- it was pretty confusing.
So here's what President Hu said. He was asked the question again and this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT HU JINTAO, CHINA (through translator): First, I would like to clarify, because of the technical translation and the interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: All right, so then he did -- he eventually did answer that. And, you know, had -- you had these moments where both leaders were standing there, really kind of awkwardly, uncomfortably, as there was a lot of translation in Mandarin going on. In fact, it really felt like a lesson in the Mandarin language.
And then, finally, a Chinese reporter got up and -- and basically said hey, I want to make sure you're going to translate my statement correctly.
And here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Because of the on and off interpretation from the simultaneous booths, so I would like to ask the Chinese consecutive interpreter to interpret my two questions correctly and accurately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: Yes, so, Wolf, I guess at this point I know a little bit more than my very basic Mandarin questions and kind -- and words that I know. So at least my vocabulary was increased by this experience.
BLITZER: Yes. I know you speak Russian fluently. But you lived in Hong Kong for a while --
BLITZER: -- so you probably know a little Chinese as well, right?
DOUGHERTY: Yes, like niho and sheshe (ph).
BLITZER: Right. That's a little bit more than I know.
All right, Jill.
Thanks very, very much.
DOUGHERTY: All right.
BLITZER: We just got a sneak peek of the glamorous setup for tonight's state dinner. Two hundred twenty-five guests will seat at tables adorned with bouquets of pink, purple and green flowers. The dinner actually is being held in three rooms -- the Blue Room, the Red Room and the State Dining Room, where President Obama and President Hu will be seated. The White House just released, by the way, the official guest list, which includes the designer, Vera Wang, and the entertainer, the great singer, Barbra Streisand.
Another big milestone in the remarkable recovery of the Tucson shooting victim, Gabrielle Giffords. The Congresswoman's office confirms plans to move her to a rehab center in Houston, Texas scheduled, for now, at least, on Friday. That would be this Friday. And that would be just under two weeks after a bullet tore through her brain.
Congresswoman Giffords is slated to work with a team of experts who specialize in brain injuries. Her husband, Mark Kelly, says she's getting stronger every single day.
He told our CNN affiliate KTRK about when he heard the false reports that his wife was dead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KTRK-TV)
MARK KELLY, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: I just got up and walked into the bathroom. I just couldn't deal with it, you know, for 30 seconds or for a minute. And I came out and gave the kids a big hug and my mom and, you know, and lived with that for about -- probably about 15 minutes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Kelly is getting through the ordeal with the help of family members, including his twin brother, the fellow astronaut, Scott Kelly, who's on board the space shuttle right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT KELLY, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' BROTHER-IN-LAW: I would prefer to be there with -- with Gabby and my brother and other friends and family. But I don't get easily frustrated. And I -- I recognize that, you know, the best thing I can do in my situation, which is here on the Space Station, is to just continue to do my job, do it as best as I know how and -- and then to support my brother in -- in how I can support him from here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As you heard, he's actually aboard the International Space Station, not aboard a space shuttle.
The suspect in the Tucson shooting, Jared Loughner, is now set to make another court appearance this coming Monday in Phoenix.
Giffords' husband may not necessarily make his next shuttle mission because of the tragedy. And now, NASA has another astronaut staffing issue to worry about. We'll tell you what's going on.
And a water pipeline breaks into this country -- get this -- every two minutes. We're investigating what, if anything, is being done to solve this enormous problem.
And I'll speak live with Michael Steele.
I'll ask him if he feels betrayed after his ouster as the Republican Party chairman and whether his career in politics is over or is it just beginning?
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Forget the romance languages, if you really want your child to be ready for the future, you might want him to crack open some Chinese language textbooks. As President Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House this week, there are more and more reasons than ever to believe that China may hold the key to all of our futures.
For starters, China owns a lot of us right now -- or soon will, as they continue to buy up use a -- U.S. Treasury bonds. China is now the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, just under $900 billion worth. The Chinese have a significant financial stake in many other countries around the world, too. It was reported this week that China has lent more money to developing countries in the last two years than the World Bank.
Then there's their military expansion. Chinese military spending up 12 percent over the last decade. A Chinese-developed stealth fighter jet recently took its first flight, they have created a long range missile that can hit U.S. ships in the Pacific, and they are building their first aircraft carrier to launch missions far from China's coastline.
There's more. Beijing has become an integral player in every major international issue, whether it's standoffs with North Korea and Iran or global warming. In fact, one top NASA scientist says that China is the world's best hope in the fight against global warming. He says, our democracy, including the lobbying money from the fossil fuel industry, makes it virtually impossible for the United States to confront the issue of global warming.
Anyway, here's the question. If you were the parent of a small child, would you make him or her learn Chinese? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you.
It certainly looked like a massive blast in a war zone, but it actually was a deadly gas explosion in Philadelphia, and it happened as utility workers were working on a gas main break. One worker was killed, five others hurt, some seriously.
CNN's Alison Kosik has been reporting on the issue of crumbling infrastructure all across the United States. She's joining us now live from New York with more -- Alison.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Year after year water pipes across the country with bursting at alarming rates and now with city budgets being slashed, there's not enough money to do anything more than band-aid repairs and the $10 billion from the Obama administration stimulus package is just a drop in the bucket. Now it's not a question of if their aging pipes will give out but when.
KOSIK (voice-over): It's a common sight this winter, water mains bursting with the changing temperatures. But it's not just the freezing weather that's to blame. All across the country, the network of pipes and pumps that bring water in and out of our homes and businesses is literally crumbling, falling apart.
(on camera): When all was said and done when the water was gushing out, how high did the water get in this basement?
ANITA KRAMER, HOMEOWNER: It pretty much filled it.
KOSIK (voice-over): This summer, we traveled to Maryland to see what happened at Anita Kramer's house almost a year after a 72-inch water main broke open in Dundalk, Maryland blasting millions of gallons of water on to the streets and right into the Kramer's finished basement.
(on camera): Before this flood, this was a finished kitchen, wasn't it?
KRAMER: It was, it was.
KOSIK: And now what is it?
KRAMER: Nothing. It's nothing. It's just a space now, so it's start from square one again.
KOSIK: It's right here underneath this street where the six-foot water main broke here in Dundalk unleashing a flood of water.
The pipe looked a lot like this. Seems pretty sturdy, but over time it became very fragile.
That's because the water pipes sitting underground have to hold up under extreme temperature changes, not to mention the constant flow of traffic running over it.
(voice-over): The American Water Works Association says every two minutes a water main breaks in the U.S., adding up to 300,000 breaks each year.
ERIC GOLDSTEIN, NATIONAL RESOURCE DEFENSE COUNCIL: A large part of this system was built in the decade or two following World War II. Now it's time to replace that system, and we've got to make those investments or we'll suffer the consequences.
KOSIK: And the consequences can be severe. Just look at what happened in Potomac, Maryland. The flow of water from a broken pipe became so fierce people had to be rescued by helicopter.
In Philadelphia, a water main break filled streets with water and flooded cars and homes.
Los Angeles, water from a broken pipe forced people out of their homes and flooded famous Ventura Boulevard.
For cities across the country with failing water infrastructure, it's about tough choices and the pressure is on in Washington, D.C. where the average pipe is 77 years old.
GEORGE HAWKINS, D.C. WATER: We absolutely have an infrastructure crisis.
KOSIK: George Hawkins, the head of D.C. Water, talks to us from one of Washington, D.C.'s five water pumping stations. He says it's not about just patching holes. Many of the pipes should be replaced all together.
HAWKINS: We have aging systems. They are breaking down and we can't keep up with the repairs, and the disruptions that are caused when we have a problem are becoming more significant KOSIK: The American Water Works Association estimated that the cost to repair and replace the country's drinking water infrastructure over the next three decades will exceed $250 billion.
The problem is that cities are burdened by debt and don't have the money to fix pipes, and President Obama's proposal to pump 50 billion in federal dollars to fix infrastructure doesn't include water projects.
HAWKINS: You can't have jobs, you can't have businesses, you can't hotels, homes, if this infrastructure isn't in place.
KOSIK: And the EPA says the country needs several hundred billion dollars over the next few decades to truly repair our water infrastructure. The Natural Resources Defense Council says the longer we put it off, the possibility increases that the quality of our water, of our drinking water, could be jeopardized -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report. Thanks very much, Alison, for doing it.
The House speaker, John Boehner, makes a strong statement about Americans' view of health care. We're going to tell you why he said and why he isn't at tonight's State Dinner over at the White House for the Chinese president.
And a former tax official convicted of corruption admits escaping from prison 68 times. This is a bizarre story. We'll have it for you next.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a new Supreme Court ruling on privacy rights.
What's going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Well today the court affirmed the government's right to conduct personal background checks on current and prospective employees under federal contract. The justices unanimously rejected a lawsuit by a group of independent contract workers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California. Those employees claim the government background checks intruded into their personal lives, but the court ruled the forms consisted of, quote, "reasonable job-related questions."
And NASA has announced a replacement for an astronaut who can no longer go on a Space Shuttle mission. Mission Specialist Steve Bowen will replace Astronaut Tim Kopra who was injured in a bike accident last weekend. Liftoff is scheduled for February 24th.
People filled the streets of Tunisia's capital again today demanding better living conditions and an end to government corruption, but unlike previous protests, today's rally was peaceful with no confrontation between demonstrators and police. Weeks of violent protests forced the country's long-standing ruler to flee to Saudi Arabia, and the Unity Government is now in place. U.N. officials say more than 100 people have died in the unrest.
Well, escaping justice is something a former tax official in Indonesia is very familiar with. The official who received a seven- year prison sentence today for corruption admits he previously escaped prison at least -- get this -- 68 times by bribing guards. His case stirred national outrage while he was photographed in Bali watching a tennis tournament when he was supposed to be in custody. The former tax man told authorities he was vacationing in Bali to relieve stress from prison -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's got chutzpah, as they say.
SYLVESTER: Pretty unbelievable.
BLITZER: All right.
SYLVESTER: He's taking it all in stride though, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good for him. Thanks very much.
Stand by for the former Republican Party chairman's reflections on why he was ousted. Michael Steele is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss.
BLITZER: Michael Steele may still be adjusting to his new reality as the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Just days after he was forced out, Michael Steele is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Michael, thanks very much for (INAUDIBLE).
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: What's the biggest single reason you believe why you were ousted?
STEELE: I think there was just a lot of noise and grappling for control of the RNC. I think that I came in with a very clear mandate from the members to move the party in a different direction, to get it out of its doldrums, get us back in a fighting path, and with that comes a lot of contracts and a whole lot of other things that people wanted to make sure that they were at the table with.
And that's part of it. I think also my style is very different, much more engaged on the streets of America, as you saw in the bus tour, I like to be out there with people. So it's just a different approach and a different style.
BLITZER: The new chairman, Reince Priebus, is a very different style.
BLITZER: Listen to what Karl Rove wrote this week. He said, "Priebus has begun an extensive outreach to the GOP's fundraising poobahs to explain there's a new fiscal regime in place. No more bloated entourages, sweetheart deals, and lack of financial oversight."
What an attack from Karl Rove on you.
STEELE: Yes, well, Karl has been attacking me for years. You know, clearly he's --
STEELE: I don't know, you have to ask him that. I think the reality of it is Karl doesn't know what he was talking about.
The fact of it is there were no entourages, there were no bloated budgets. We ran a very lean machine. We took every dollar that came into the building and put it back on the streets where it belonged.
BLITZER: They say the RNC now is 20 million in the hole.
STEELE: As is every other political committee in this town. And we are not the only ones. In fact, we are right in the middle of the pack in terms of where the D -- the D -- the Democratic Party is, the Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as Congressional Committee.
The members asked me to put the money to work to win elections, to spend the money to win. Guess what. We won. Amazing.
BLITZER: So why did they dump you?
STEELE: Well --
BLITZER: I mean, that's what I've had a hard time understanding myself.
STEELE: Well, I've been trying to figure that out myself as well, and I think the reality of it is they wanted someone different in there, they wanted someone who probably had a different tone about them than I have, and so that's fine.
I'm looking to move the party in a position -- into a position where we continue to engage with our activist community out there, that we go out and we build off of the successes of this past two years.
BLITZER: Do you feel betrayed?
STEELE: Not so much betrayed, disappointed. Disappointed. The only thing I've ever wanted to do, Wolf, is to do the job. That's all I've ever asked to do. And we did. We went out and raised $192 million. We did it differently because we did have 527s to contend with. We had a lot of folks out there saying don't give to the RNC, give to us, so we adapted.
BLITZER: But that was sort of a competition that was developed.
BLITZER: Whether it was Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie setting up their group, or Dick Armey setting up -- you're basically going after the same fat cat --
STEELE: You go after the same pot.
BLITZER: -- Republicans to get the money, and instead of giving to the RNC they were giving to these other organizations.
STEELE: And the difference is I -- if I've got a million dollars, I can give it to a 527, I can do that, I can get more bang for the buck than giving 30,000. But the RNC still needs that $30,000 to build its grassroots organizations around the country, and we got every dollar we could.
The other thing that we did that a lot of establishment folks like Karl and others don't get is that we not only took our volunteers and got them out there and engaged again, but they actually began to donate to the party. So a lot of small dollar donors came to the table as well.
BLITZER: Were you held to a different standard because you're a black man?
STEELE: That you'd have to ask those who hold those standards. I think --
BLITZER: What do you think?
STEELE: You know, I don't know. I mean, I think it's a hit or miss issue, hit or miss question.
I didn't look at my job in those terms. I looked at my job in terms of what did the members expect me to do -- raise money and win elections. I did, we won, and now I move on to other things.
BLITZER: Because as I pointed out, you get dumped even though you win special elections --
BLITZER: -- in Virginia and New Jersey --
STEELE: New Jersey.
BLITZER: -- even Massachusetts.
BLITZER: You have a crushing landslide in November.
BLITZER: You get dumped. The chairman of the Democratic Party, Tim Kaine, he's a nice guy, good friend of yours --
STEELE: Great -- yes --
BLITZER: I'm sure you like him a lot.
STEELE: I do.
BLITZER: But they do really badly and he gets to stay another two years.
BLITZER: How do you explain that?
STEELE: I can't. There's no -- but that's politics. There's no logic to it. It's only political, and I think the people of in the party, particularly the establishment, are breathing a sigh of relief. They have control of the RNC, now let's see what they do with it.
BLITZER: When you used to get spoofed on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"--
BLITZER: You saw -- seen those --
STEELE: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: -- those little puppets.
BLITZER: I want to play a little clip. I want your reaction.
BLITZER: Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART" FROM COMEDY CENTRAL)
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": What do you make of your successor Reince Priebus?
"MICHAEL STEELE", PUPPET CHARACTER: Reince Priebus? Hs name makes no sense. It's jabibbilris. I left the Republican Party $20 million in debt with virtually no accountability. I'd say it's time for me to head back to the street, Wall Street. Make it rain, Frasier Crane. Woo-woo. It's my birthday. Woo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says he did the puppet thing because you didn't want to go on the show.
STEELE: No. I want to go on his show. I'd love to go on his show. You know, folks a little nervous about my going on his show because --
BLITZER: But you're the boss, you could have gone on his show.
STEELE: Well, look, you realize the boss has bosses. So, you know, at the end of the day you want to make sure that everybody is happy. And look, I'd love to --
BLITZER: You would have done well on that. I think you would have done well on that show.
STEELE: I -- that show, yes, absolutely.
I mean, look, I love all that stuff. It was fun to watch and it's humorous because, guess what, people are talking about the party. Yes, and it's, you know, it's satire. It's comedy. But there's also the fact that people understood that there was a different sheriff in town, there was a different way to do things.
BLITZER: You going to run for governor or senator? You were the lieutenant governor of Maryland.
STEELE: I loved being the lieutenant governor of Maryland and heartbroken the day we inaugurated, re-inaugurated Martin O'Malley. I was hoping it would have been Bob Ehrlich. And so, we'll see what's out for us down the road.
BLITZER: You're leaving that option open?
STEELE: Leave it open, absolutely.
BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.
STEELE: It's good to be with you, buddy.
BLITZER: Will you come visit us often here in THE SITUATION ROOM?
STEELE: You know I will. You know I will.
BLITZER: Michael Steele is a good guy. Thank you.
STEELE: Thank you. BLITZER: Behind the diplomacy over at the White House today, there's seething anger at China over trade. We're taking a closer look at why the communist nation has so many economic advantages.
And a new warning for Bill Clinton that he may have done some serious damage to his relationship with the African-American community. We'll explain what's happening in Chicago.
BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures. That's the North Portico of the White House. The president and first lady will be walking out fairly soon to receive President Hu Jintao of China for a state visit. This is the state dinner that's going to be taking place, 225 guests. They're beginning to walk in, as well. We're going to have extensive coverage of the state dinner and what's going on, U.S./Chinese relations.
President Obama has been waiting for this for some time. There are a lot at stake right now, both sides working hard to set aside at least some of their differences, at least on this day.
Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd to give us some background -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of differences to address here, Wolf. The Chinese president is here at a time when economic tensions between U.S. and China may never have been higher. It's all about what many believe is a playing field tilted heavily in China's favor.
TODD (voice-over): At the White House, the dignified pageantry of a state visit for China's president, Hu Jintao. But just under the surface, smoldering resentment towards the Chinese in the halls of American government and business, accusations of currency manipulation, unfair barriers to American businesses in China, and American products being copied or ripped off. Bootlegged DVDs of the latest Hollywood releases are sometimes available on Chinese streets before they even open in American theaters. American companies developing electronics, prescription drugs and software have similar complaints.
(on camera): The Chinese government even engages in some of this practice, right?
FRED BERGSTEN, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: The Chinese government has laws that protect intellectual property, but in practice, enforcement is very lax. And in some cases, Chinese government agencies, including military agencies, will sometimes rip off the intellectual property themselves.
TODD (voice-over): Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute says the Chinese steal American intellectual property by reverse engineering, buying American products, figuring out how they're put together. Then they make those parts themselves at a cheaper cost.
Then there are complaints about China's trade rules. Take a company like Marlin Steel Products in Baltimore, where 20 percent of revenue comes from exports. Company president Drew Greenblatt says he'd like to export to China, but the Chinese have a rule that many products sold to government agencies there, or which get tax breaks, have to be made completely in China. Known as the `indigenous innovation policy," it stacks the deck against American companies like Marlin Steel.
DREW GREENBLATT, MARLIN STEEL WIRE PRODUCTS: What's happening is there's so many challenges that they make for American factories that it's very difficult to export to China.
TODD: There's a direct impact, he says, on American jobs.
GREENBLATT: For every million dollars in new exports I get, I'm going to hire about eight more people.
TODD: Chinese officials say their trade policies are not unfair, and they're stepping up enforcement of intellectual property laws. But the list of American complaints may prompt action from Congress, especially newly empowered Republican leaders in the House.
(on camera): What are you and other congressional leaders prepared to do to put more pressure on China to level this playing field?
REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY (R-LA), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We're going to continue to work, looking at our trade law, what we have to enforce trade agreements. We're going to continue to really pressure Chinese leaders, whether it's coming from Congress or from the administration, on this indigenous innovation policy and meeting their agreements under the WTO, World Trade Organization agreements.
TODD: But taking action against China is not risk-free. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute says as the second biggest economy in the world right now, the Chinese have a lot of clout, that they can and they will retaliate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Give us some examples how they would retaliate.
TODD: They can block U.S. exports, he says. They can stop investing so much in American securities. China is America's biggest banker in the world by far right now. They have a lot of leverage. They have rarely hesitant to use it, and they could retaliate in those ways if we take strong action against them.
BLITZER: One of the reasons why there's a huge state dinner going on at the White House about to begin --
TODD: Trying to smooth some of that over.
BLITZER: -- fairly soon. Brian, thanks very much. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, talks gun control, and his words may surprise you. That story coming up.
And a major vote in the House of Representatives is about to start any minute now. How many Democrats will side with Republicans to repeal President Obama's health care reform law?
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a political warning for a former president. What's going on?
SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, one of Chicago's most well-known politicians says former president Clinton hurt himself politically by campaigning for mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel this week. Congressman Danny Davis says African-Americans have long regarded Mr. Clinton as a political ally, but he says Clinton's support for Emanuel's candidacy will cost him support in the African-American community. Davis says an Emanuel victory would benefit insiders, not African-Americans, and he's urging African-Americans to back former Illinois senator Carol Moseley-Braun, who is black.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is suggesting that she may leave her post after just one term. On NBC "Today" show, Clinton was asked if she would be willing to remain secretary of state if President Obama wins reelection. Now, she didn't give a direct yes or no answer, but she did say she is looking forward to returning to private life.
A new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Sarah Palin's unfavorable rating at an all-time high. Take a look at these numbers -- 56 percent of Americans now have an unfavorable view of the former Alaska governor, 38 percent have a favorable view of her. Now, you compare that, though, to her numbers back in October, before the mid- term elections, when 40 percent of Americans gave her a favorable rating and only 49 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her.
Former vice president Dick Cheney, a long-time defender of gun rights, says he wouldn't be opposed to tighter controls when it comes to semi-automatic weapons. His comments came in a news interview during a discussion about the Arizona shootings. Cheney insisted the tragedy was caused by a mentally disturbed individual, but he had this to say about the type of weapon the suspect used.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whether or not there's some measure there in terms of limiting the size of the magazine that you can buy to go with a semi-automatic weapon -- we've had that in place before. You know, maybe it's appropriate to reestablish that kind of thing. But I think you do have to be careful, obviously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Cheney has been a staunch ally of the National Rifle Association, and as you well know, he's a long-time hunter, too, Wolf.
BLITZER: Been a great supporter of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. Thanks very much.
Some top members of Congress -- in fact, the two top members of Congress -- are refusing -- get this -- they're refusing to attend tonight's state dinner over at the White House. And one of them goes so far as to call the Chinese president a, quote, "dictator."
And NFL players are teaming up to try to get members of Congress on their side in a showdown off the field. Why you could be the loser. Stand by.
BLITZER: All right, voting has started. I think it's getting almost over with pretty soon. Look at this -- whether or not they should repeal the health care reform law. They've already got a -- they've already got more than 218, so effectively, in the House of Representatives, as you can see, it has been repealed. They only need 218 votes, and 219 Republicans alone, including what, four Democrats. So they've got 222 and 4 -- 226. It has been repealed in the House of Representatives, a fairly important development. I think we can call that breaking news, in fact.
Let's bring our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin.
You see what's going on. They've got the votes. They've even got four Democrats voting to repeal, maybe some more in the time remaining. They got more than enough to go ahead and do it. It's not going to go anywhere in the Senate, not going to go -- certainly, the president's not going to sign the repeal into law, but they've made a statement. They promised they would do it, and they did it.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, it's the wrong priority at the wrong time. The American people are concerned about job creation. They're concerned about the economic recovery. This repeal will make it even harder, if it passed in the Senate and the president signed it, for people with preexisting conditions to get health insurance. So it's the wrong priority. I know the Republicans felt like they had to do it. They used their political capital, this political grandstanding moment. But it is the wrong priority for the country.
BLITZER: John Boehner, the Speaker of The house, he said this earlier today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: (INAUDIBLE) concern for the American people is the cost of health care, and yet what we see with "Obama care" is an increase in cost to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In the most recent Bloomberg poll, on the number one concern for the American people, 50 percent said unemployment and jobs, 25 percent said the federal deficit and spending, 9 percent said health care. So what is he referring to?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's all of a piece health care is a staple, like food, shelter and energy --
BLITZER: The number one concern, though?
MATALIN: It's not -- it -- people have connected -- we saw in all kinds of polls in the last election, have connected the rising costs of a staple to a decrease in jobs. Employers can't afford it. Taxpayers can't afford it. This health care reform, if it's not changed, "Obama care," is going to push up taxes because we have to pay for it someplace along the line. So it's all of a piece.
People understand rising debt connected to lower jobs. It is the number one priority. And as for priorities, I'll say what we both said during the Democratic control. These guys can walk and chew gum. They can do more than one thing. They will not only do this repeal and stay on this repeal, they will replace key things, key elements of it, and they'll work on other priorities.
BRAZILE: But the number one priority, Republicans said last year when they were running against Democrats, was to control the deficit. The CBO estimates that this will increase the deficit by $145 billion.
BLITZER: If they repeal health care.
BRAZILE: Absolutely. So this is a bad priority for the country. But hopefully, it won't go anywhere.
BLITZER: Let me move on and say something -- and play another clip about the two top leaders in the House and the Senate, John Boehner, the Republican, Harry Reid in the Senate. Both were invited to the state dinner tonight for President Hu Jintao of China by President Obama. Both refused to go. Both said, You know what? I've got other things going on. I'm not going. Is that appropriate?
MATALIN: Well, our colleague, Gloria Borger, did some good reporting on Boehner's position on that, so we'll let her speak to it. I'm not sure it had anything to do with China per se. But you know what? Harry Reid, whom I don't usually agree with -- it was impolitic language. He apologized for calling --
BLITZER: Let me play -- let me play the clip.
BLITZER: Here's what Harry Reid said. And later, they had to fix it a little bit. But listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things -- he through the form of government they have. Maybe I shouldn't have said dictator, but they have a different type of government than we have. That's an understatement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, he said he's going to go back to Washington and meet him on the Hill, just like John Boehner said he's going to meet with him on the Hill. But they both pointedly made a decision they didn't want to go to the state dinner honoring President Hu. Was that appropriate?
BRAZILE: I think so. Look, Mr. Boehner, in his case, he doesn't really like to go to state dinners. And I don't know the reason why Mr. Reid decided not to go, Wolf. But look, Mr. Reid had a bad choice of word. He corrected himself. And Mr. -- the president of China will sit down with both men on Thursday, tomorrow.
MATALIN: But it is a horrifically oppressive regime. They shouldn't be having a state dinner. President Bush had a lunch, which was appropriate. They are human rights violators. They are religious rights violators. They torture and imprison the best kind of people. We should have made a statement different from a full-fledged state dinner.
BLITZER: They're also the number one banker that the United States --
BRAZILE: Absolutely. And I give them -- I agree with everything Mary just said. But we need them with Iran, with North Korea, on climate change. So I'm glad that the president is honoring the president of China.
BLITZER: All right, let's get back to the breaking news on Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is our senior certainly correspondent. I take it, it's all official. The votes have been counted. Health care reform, at least in the House of Representatives, Dana, is history.
BASH: That is right. It has been repealed in the House of Representatives, the Republicans keeping that campaign promise which they said over and over again today was important for them to keep.
The vote was 245 to 189. Four Democrats voted with Republicans on this. That isn't surprising because there was a procedural vote a couple weeks ago, where the four Democrats voted the same way, 4 out of only 13 Democrats, Wolf, who are still in Congress who voted to -- to -- voted against the health care law, I should say.
But this is something that Republicans say is incredibly important to make sure that their base, and beyond their base, the people who voted for them and heard them campaign over and over again that this law is something that needs to be repealed, that this I something that they need to do pretty fast.
What happens next? That's a different question, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's not going to be repealed in the Senate. And certainly, even if it were, the president would veto that appeal (SIC). So the statement, though, has been made in the House of Representatives by the Republican majority and four Democrats. Dana, stand by.
We're also keeping an eye on the arrivals over at the White House for the state dinner for the Chinese president. It begins in just a matter of minutes. Stand by for that.
BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour is if you were the parent of a small child, would you make him or her learn Chinese? Jen in New York writes, "I'm the parent of a 6-year-old who attends the 1st grade at a private school in New York. She and her fellow students, 6 years old, study Mandarin five days a week from 1st through 6th grades. It's not optional. I'm thinking of taking the class myself just so I'll know what they're up to when they start chatting with each other in Chinese."
Pete in Georgia writes, "Dream on, Jack. The average American can't even speak English properly, and you're asking these kids to learn Chinese. Yes, right."
Jeff in Virginia, "Our 8-year-old is already fluent in Chinese -- 8. His grandparents and great aunts and uncles on his mother's side live in China, and he talks with them regularly on Skype. He also attends Chinese school on the weekends to learn to read and write the language. We hope it'll help him succeed and compete in the world when he grows up."
Jay in Pennsylvania says, "There's no need at all. Most Chinese kids today learn English beginning in elementary school. Everywhere you go in China, you can find college graduates who are fluent in English and who have studied overseas in Western countries. Chinese people know English is still the most widely spoken language in the world. American kids ought to devote their time and energy to improving in other subjects, like math and physics."
Pat in Michigan, "If I were going to raise a child in these times, I would definitely encourage my child to learn Chinese. Our daughter learned German, Spanish and Latin, and she teaches all three. In the new world economy, communication is key."
Jay writes, "When I watched the opening ceremony at the 2008 Olympics, I believed that my then 6-year-old daughter better started learning Mandarin."
And Ryan in New Jersey, "I for one welcome children and adults learning Mandarin or Cantonese. That way, Hollywood will stop dubbing the martial arts films and we can enjoy them in their native tongue."
If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.