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House Passes GOP Budget Plan; President Obama's Open Mike; Vouchers and Vulnerability; Rebels Go to Next Level; Should U.S. Keep Running Tab on Libya?; Starving for Jailed Family's Freedom; Trump: Running or Not?

Aired April 15, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a dramatic overhaul of Medicare -- trillions of dollars in spending cuts. Republicans ram their bill through the House of Representatives. Democrats say that's as far as it will get.

President Obama uses blunt language to describe his budget meetings with the Republicans. He thought he was speaking privately to campaign donors, but you'll hear it, as well, because someone left his mike open.

And if Donald Trump enters the presidential race, he may be relying on the advice of a key aide with zero presidential experience -- campaign experience. You might call him a political apprentice.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama has just signed that 2011 budget deal that keeps the federal government running. But vowing to get serious about America's fiscal crisis, House Republicans today pushed through a blueprint that would slash spending by trillions -- trillions of dollars in the next decade. At the core, a dramatic overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid.

Democrats are now vowing to dig in and defend what they are calling "the sacred contract with the American people."

Let's go straight to Capitol Hill.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by -- this all promises, Dana based on the early rhetoric, to get pretty ugly.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It already is. Republicans are saying that they should be rewarded for offering bold ideas to tackle some issues, like the deficit, that Congress has let spiral for years.

But dealing with Medicare, trying to overhaul that, that is rough political terrain for Republicans. And Democrats are happy to play there.


BASH (voice-over): You didn't even have to go inside the Capitol to know where the day's political battle lines were drawn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hands off my Medicare.

BASH: Democrats enlisted seniors like Josephine to help rail against the Republican budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are out to destroy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. There is a time to draw a line in the sand and fight.

BASH: The House Republican budget calls for trillions of dollars in spending cuts and deficit reduction, in part by overhauling Medicare -- creating a new system where seniors buy their own subsidized private insurance.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R)-WI), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: The biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo. Medicare goes bankrupt in nine years.

BASH: House Budget chairman, Paul Ryan, argued vigorously for his plan.

RYAN: Let the 40 million seniors in Medicare be in charge of their Medicare program. And, more importantly, we save Medicare, prevent its bankruptcy.

And what does the other side do?

They sit by and watch the program go bankrupt.

BASH: Every single Democrat voted no.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The Republican budget breaks the promise that this country has made to seniors, that after a lifetime of work, they will be able to depend on Medicare to protect them in retirement.

BASH: The GOP plan explicitly says no one 55 or older now will be affected. Still, Democrats are practically giddy about the politics of this, calling it the defining vote. They've already written TV ads to run against vulnerable Republicans.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: We're going to use robocalls, Web ads, television, radio. We're going to remind the American people that today they voted to terminate Medicare with all the tools in our toolbox.

BASH: Their targets -- Republicans like freshman, Patrick Meehan, who voted yes.

(on camera): Any trepidation about voting for this Republican budget?

REP. PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, certainly. Everybody -- you think about the implications.

BASH (voice-over): His Pennsylvania district has a big senior population -- and seniors vote. He already has multiple events scheduled back home to beat back Democratic charges.

MEEHAN: Shame on them if they're going to turn this into that kind of a debate instead of seizing the opportunity to really make things better for this next generation.

BASH: Bob Schilling is another GOP for so many bracing for a Democratic onslaught for voting yes.

REP. BOBBY SCHILLING (R), ILLINOIS: Here's what you've got to keep in mind, is the fact that, you know, they've really put nothing out there to help save Medicare, you know. And that's what Paul Ryan's budget is doing.


BASH: Now, Schilling told us that he is well aware he is going to have to continue to defend and explain this for the next year-and- a-half -- this vote for the next year-and-a-half, until election day.

Wolf, other Republicans who are in swing districts told us the same. But it's worth noting how many Republicans are willing to fight this fight. Only four Republican lawmakers voted no -- far different than from the vote we saw yesterday on cutting spending a lot less, more than a quarter of all House Republicans defected from their leadership -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we can't overemphasize, Dana, that the Democrats, whether the presidential candidate or any of the other Democrats, how much they're relishing this opportunity to accuse Republicans of undermining something that seniors, whether in Florida or California or anyplace else around the country, how much they love, which is their Medicare, their Social Security, Medicaid and all of that stuff. They're really going to go after them on this.

BASH: They are relishing it. As I said in the piece, they are giddy. I mean they don't even hide it, Wolf.

Democrats believe that this is such a political gift for them. And they -- because, for obvious reasons. I mean, historically, running on issues like Medicare, running on issues that make seniors very upset, seniors vote work. And Republicans know that. Democrats know that, also. And that's why they are very prepared and, it's sad to say, almost happy about the politics of this.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, the politics are going to be intense.

Thanks, Dana. Thanks very much.

From the start, this budget fight has been bitterly partisan, with both sides using harsh rhetoric. President Obama used some tough language with campaign donors last night in Chicago. It wasn't meant to be heard outside of the room, but someone left the microphone open.

CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us now with more.

It's always dangerous if somebody -- if there's a microphone there, you've got to be worried that somebody is listening.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, beware of the open mike. It really is an oops moment.

The White House is really downplaying this. White House Spokesman Jay Carney saying that it was, quote, "a miscommunication," that it's a problem, not an issue.

But this is not the kind of tone and language that we usually hear from the president in front of an open mike.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): His campaign for 2012 now underway, President Obama pumped up supporters at a Chicago Democratic fundraiser by touting his accomplishment and his hard line during the recent budget battle.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last week, we were able to prevent a government shutdown. And the reason we were able to do it was because we agreed to spending cuts, but we insisted on protecting investments.

LOTHIAN: But at an earlier event Thursday night that was closed to our cameras, a much more candid president. It was a rare, behind- the-scenes glimpse at how the private budget talks with Republicans played out. And it was all captured on audiotape by CBS News.

OBAMA: I remember at one point in the negotiations, one of Boehner's staff people pipes up and says, you don't understand, Mr. President, you know, we -- we've lost on, you know, on health care. We've lost on the EPA. We've given that up. We've got to have something for -- to -- to sell to our caucus.

And I said to them, I said, let me tell you something. I spent a year-and-a-half getting health care passed. I had to take that issue across the country and I paid significant political costs to get it done. The notion that I'm going to let you guys undo that in a six month spending bill?


OBAMA: I said, do you -- you want to repeal health care?

Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel and diming me in the budget.

Do you think we're stupid?

LOTHIAN: The Obama administration didn't intend for this candid moment to become public. But an audio feed that was piped back to the White House press area so reporters who weren't on the trip could hear his opening remarks was accidently left on. It was late in the evening and CBS Radio correspondent, Tokyo Electric Knoller, recorded it.

Among the unguarded comments on the tape, a shot at Congressman Paul Ryan, a vocal critic and the architect of a Republican plan to reduce the deficit.

OBAMA: When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure that we're, you know -- he's just being America's accountant and, you know, trying to, you know, be responsible. I mean this -- this the same guy who voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts, that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill but wasn't paid for.


LOTHIAN: Now Jay Carney says that the president is not embarrassed by this at all, that he didn't say anything last night that he hasn't said before in public.

And I should tell you that a short time ago, I heard from Speaker Boehner's office. A spokesman there, Brendon Buck, telling me that the speaker believes that his private conversations with the president should always remain private. He went on to say that, quote, "Obviously, if the president chooses to share a self-serving version with campaign donors, that is his prerogative." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a tip of the hat to our old friend, Tokyo Electric Knoller of CBS Radio. You know, he was there at the White House when I was the White House correspondent. He's so still there. He's still doing an excellent job for all of us.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: Appreciate what Tokyo Electric Knoller is doing each and every day.

And, Dan, we appreciate what you're doing, as well.

Thank you.

LOTHIAN: Well, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks.

Dan Lothian, our man at the White House.

Democrats painting Republicans as the folks who -- who want to destroy Medicare. The slogans, as you've heard, they've already started. Gloria Borger and David Gergen, they're both standing by live.

Libya's rebels get new equipment and training, but they are beset by some familiar problems. We're going to the front lines. And Donald Trump still hasn't said for sure if he's a presidential wannabe, but he's already taking pot shots at some potential rivals. Candy Crowley spoke to Donald Trump. You're going to hear some of that interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the battle over Medicare. Democrats say they'll use every tool in their toolbox, including a massive advertising campaign, to lash out at the Republicans and what they're now doing.

Our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen, they're joining us right now.

Guys, listen to some of the rhetoric from Democrats warning of the dangers of Republicans' efforts to reform -- to reform Medicare.

Listen to this.


REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Medicare would become little more than a discount card. This plan would little be a death trap for some seniors.

PELOSI: House Republicans are going to break that promise, jeopardizing the health and economic security of America's seniors.


BLITZER: Jeopardizing the health, a death trap for some seniors -- David, Republicans are already saying the Democrats are going over the top. You can debate the merits of this proposal, but to accuse the Republicans effectively of killing -- wanting to kill or wanting to see seniors die, that's a -- that's a pretty serious charge.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it is, Wolf. And it was not many months ago, you can remember how Democrats yelled and screamed when Republicans started talking about death panels with regard to health care. And now here, we have Democrats talking about death traps with regard to Medicare. And of course the Republicans are screaming.

We're going to hear a lot more of this rhetoric in the months ahead.

BLITZER: Is it over the top, right now, Gloria, this debate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think -- I think it is over the top. And I think it's too bad, because we've had a couple of months of, actually, Republicans and Democrats working together, both in the lame duck session and in trying to solve the shutdown crisis, heading into an issue over how to raise the debt ceiling. And I think we've seen it all essentially fall apart before our very eyes after Ryan introduced his budget. And the president gave a very partisan speech the other day.

And we're in 2012 right now full bore.

BLITZER: Full bore, indeed.

And, by the way, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the incoming chair of the Democratic Party, she was asked on "AMERICAN MORNING" here on CNN yesterday if she stands by that phrase, "death trap," and she -- she said she did. And she elaborated even here on CNN.

But here's the political question, David, for you.

Forget about the rhetoric.

Does all of what the Republicans are trying to do to Medicare right now, the Paul Ryan proposals, does it open them up?

Are they vulnerable in 2012 because of their support of this change in Medicare?

GERGEN: Yes, they are. And I think that Democrats rightly see this as potentially the biggest gift they could have in the campaign.

Once again, Paul Ryan has proposed something that's bold and I think it's courageous. But it -- it just is -- when the Clinton health care plan was proposed back in the '90s, it was open to a sort of demagoguery and people tore it apart.

In this case, essentially what Barack Obama is arguing -- he's making this argument to American voters -- would you rather pay more for Medicare in order to protect the rich or would you rather have the def -- the rich pay more in order to protect your Medicare?

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: And when it comes down to that choice, if it gets to be that raw, if the Democrats can get people to believe that's really the choice, that's a winning argument for Democrats.

BORGER: Well, and the polls right now, in fact, make it very clear that the public is on the Democrats' side in this. And don't forget, in the mid-term elections, the Democrats, who had proposed cost-containment of Medicare as part of the health reform package, lost seniors in an awful lot of key states. And seniors generally didn't like Barack Obama in 2008 anyway.

So this is a way for Democrats to get back those senior voters that have been such an important constituency for them, you know, going back to the '80s. So this is key. If Democrats want to retake the House, they need 25 seats and they think they can do it.

BLITZER: And seniors vote. Even though Paul Ryan, David, has said no one 55 and older is going to have to worry about any changes, that these changes will only affect people 55 or younger, seniors vote in disproportionately high numbers compared to middle age and certainly compared to young people, who don't vote that much in these kinds of elections.

GERGEN: That has -- I think it's been lost in the arguments, Wolf. But, you know, when the Republicans had the high ground when they were arguing about spending --

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: -- excess spending, too big government, if the argument gets over about protecting Medicare, that's very good ground for Democrats.

I -- I do want to say this caution, though. Even though the Republicans have to, I think, from a Democratic point of view, vote on something which is really important in 2012, the president is not as in good shape as I think we thought he was. These new Gallup numbers that have come out, a three day rolling average, showing that his overall approval rating is down to 41 percent, the worst in six months, tying the worst record in his -- in his presidency, two of the three nights, coming after he gave that speech about his -- about the budget, the one Gloria calls sub-partisan. And most of all he's lost support among Independents. He's down to 35 percent among Independents. That has to be sobering news even as the Democrats watch. They've still got -- they've got their problems, too.

BORGER: Well, you know, the deficit is a key issue for all voters, including Independents. And I think what Independents want is some progress. And you saw President Obama's numbers go up. They didn't skyrocket, but they went up a little bit when they started getting some things done in the Congress.

And if he is now --

GERGEN: That was last year -- late last year in a (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: Right. Exactly.


BORGER: So if he is he's now seen as partisan and not willing to get something done -- and, by the way, I think this could undermine the Gang of Six Democratic and Republican senators who want to get some kind of a deal -- if he is seen as undermining any kind of bipartisan progress, it -- it's going to be an issue for him, too.

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: But, you know, in the end, people vote their self- interests, though, so.

BLITZER: All right. We've still got a long time to go between now and November 2012.

BORGER: Yes. BLITZER: But this -- this campaign has started. It is going full bore almost already. The president is going to be doing three town halls in key states as early as next week. So the campaigning has started.

Guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: We'll have a lot more politics coming up, including a new claim President Obama will easily, easily win reelection. Stand by for that.

And some call him a pit bull. Up next, the man on a mission to get Donald Trump hired as president of the United States.

And the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, now telling me he isn't confident that the war in Afghanistan is winnable.

Is Harry Reid right?


BLITZER: Another Friday of massive protests in Syria.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Lisa?


Well, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets after prayers today in another week of demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The gatherings come amidst the release of a new humanitarian report detailing, quote, "torture and ill treatment of protesters over the last month."

You can see here what appears to be armed security personnel kicking and hitting people whose hands are tied. Syria has denied CNN's request to report from I said the country. And we will have more on the developments there in the next hour.

The Japanese government is ordering the owners of that quake- battered nuclear plant to pay up to $12,000 per household to the thousands of residents displaced by the disaster. The president of Tokyo Electric says he hopes to begin distributing the checks by the end of the month. The company has no timetable for resolving the crisis.

And soaring gas prices have prompted inflation to rise at its fastest pace in more than a year. The Consumer Price Index, a key government measure of inflation, rose to 2.7 percent in March, according to today's report from the Labor Department. The price at the pump is now an estimated 27.5 percent higher than it was a year ago. And everyone knows, Wolf, these gas prices have just been going in one direction and that's up.

BLITZER: It's like a regressive tax, because it affects everyone but poor people. The middle class suffer a lot more than rich people, who can afford to pay an extra dollar or two for a gallon. But this is -- this is bad for a lot of working class folks.

SYLVESTER: That is absolutely right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Is the new equipment rebel aiding forces in their battle against the Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi?

We're going to the front lines. Stand by.

And the political turmoil sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa turns personnel for one mother. Why she is now starving herself to try to save her family.

And a CNN exclusive just ahead -- new details about how the TSA spots potential terrorists.


BLITZER: In Libya, we're seeing some subtle but significant changes among the rebel forces trying to oust Moammar Gadhafi. They're now receiving new equipment, but they're still hampered by old problems.

Here's CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "You are now one group. We now work as one division," a rebel commander explains to his men. This is the last word before they move out.

They're preparing to push from Ajdabiya to the outskirts of Brega, hoping to regain the strategic oil town they've lost three times already.

This time, things look different. They have new equipment, including brand new military radios. They say they don't know where they come from. "there is communications between our special forces, our army and the revolutionaries," says Mohammed (ph). "And there's communications with the NATO airplanes."

Some have new boots, courtesy, they say, of Qatar, the Arab state most firmly behind the revolution against Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

Rather than rush ahead willy-nilly, the pickups are lined up, their weaponry ready for when they receive the order to advance. (on camera): This is something we haven't seen much of recently -- a certain level of discipline, organization and preparation that has been sorely lacking among opposition fighters.

(voice-over): Their lack of discipline has left them on the defensive. The front line now seems to surround Ajdabiya on three sides. Around the town, they scan the horizon for signs of Gadhafi forces. The worry here is that the enemy will attack from the flanks, not the front.

The effort to overthrow Gadhafi is taking far longer than any of these men imagined. Tameem (ph) has been fighting at the front for a month, I ask him how long he expects the fighting to continue.

"God knows," he responds. "But we'll carry on because we are right. We are doing this for the civilians, for the children, to end this 42 years of tyranny."

Fatih (ph), a 50-year-old businessman turned soldier, is resigned to a long struggle. "We are prepared to fight for the rest of our lives," he says, "Gadhafi has to go. We don't have a speck of doubt about it. He must go."

Seventy-two-year-old Ahmed (ph) has sent his family away from Ajdabiya but he's stoic about the cost of this war. "We feel that victory is near," he tells me. "We know when there is change, we must make sacrifices."

The sacrifice is too high for some. A group of Egyptians is here looking for a lost relative, Naslalah Hamran (ph), who joined the anti-Gadhafi forces. He's been missing for more than a month.

"He phoned several times," says his uncle. "The last time, he was in Ras Lanuf, then in Brega. And since then, we haven't heard from him."

Back at the gates of Ajdabiya, the push forward is starting to show signs of falling apart. The discipline displayed earlier starts to collapse.

And then, without any apparent reason, pandemonium breaks out. Wild fire in all directions; the offensive, postponed until further notice.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, outside Ajdabiya, eastern Libya.


BLITZER: As Moammar Gadhafi's forces hammer the city of Misrata with mortar and artillery rounds, President Obama and his British and French counterparts are comparing the situation to a Medieval siege, their words. In a joint op-ed article, they say it's impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi still in power.

Joining us now is the former Republican congressman from Michigan, Pete Hoekstra. He's a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

PETER HOEKSTRA, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Hey, good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we saw Gadhafi this week in a sunroof driving around Tripoli with his hands, he's shaking. You think he's panicking but for any reason having read this joint article by President Obama, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Cameron? Does this scare him?

HOEKSTRA: I don't think so at this point. I mean, he's seen what, you know, the NATO forces have done over the last two to three weeks. Sure, they've imposed a no-fly zone, he's come -- you know, he's circumnavigated that by having his troops go around in the jeeps and these types of things in looking like the rebels.

He's clearly, from my perspective, you know, he's taking the lead, he's taking it to the rebels, and I think -- I think, at this point, he doesn't really think that NATO is going to step it up a notch to ultimately remove him from power.

BLITZER: You've met with Gadhafi a few times when you were in the House of Representatives. You went to Tripoli, you went to his hometown of Sert. Did -- do -- take us in his mind a little bit right now. Based on what you know and, obviously, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, what you knew then, give us a little flavor of what you think is going through his mind.

HOEKSTRA: Well, actually, when you're meeting with him, it's a surreal type of environment. You know, it's typically just him. He is there carrying the -- on the dialogue with you along with his interpreter.

He clearly understands the dynamics of what are going on in the Middle East, the whole threat from radical Islam. I think he understands the West pretty well, what he may and may not be able to get away with. I think he's now -- he's a student, he's watching what's happening to Mubarak and these types of things.

Gadhafi, at this point, is digging in. He's not going anywhere else. I think he recognizes that the resolve of NATO to remove him from power is not there, and as long as it's not there, he's going to push the initiative and try to regain total control of Libya.

BLITZER: So we're talking about prolonged stalemate. Is that what you sense?

HOEKSTRA: It's a prolonged stalemate, unless NATO ratchets it up. Remember, President Obama has said that regime change is not the objective of U.S. involvement in Libya; it's a humanitarian mission. And if the mission is not to get rid of Gadhafi, he will stay in power.

BLITZER: I interviewed the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, this week. And he agreed, he liked the idea that the U.S. should keep a running tab of how much it's spending, how much American taxpayers are spending to try to liberate Libya in cruise missiles, military airstrikes -- at least 600 million so far, $700 million. He says, keep a -- keep a running tab and deduct it from the $33 billion in frozen Libyan assets in the United States.

Is that realistic?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I mean, there's a lot of legal questions. Exactly whose money is that? That's not the U.S.'s money to determine what to use and how to spend and how to allocate that money and say we're going to use it for -- you know, to cover our military expenses. Are we going to cover NATO's expenses?

This money belongs to the people of Libya, and at this point in time, I don't think we, in a legal court or world opinion, have the right to go and claim those funds to pay for our military expenses.

BLITZER: The argument --

HOEKSTRA: It makes, perhaps, for good --

BLITZER: The argument, though, is that this money is being used to liberate Libya and to help Libya become a free nation, a democratic nation. Isn't it money well spent for the people of Libya?

HOEKSTRA: Well, it's -- it's being spent for U.S. military operations. You know, you could probably make a stronger case, Wolf, that this -- the money, that it would be being spent for humanitarian purposes, you know, medical supplies and those types of things. That that could be deducted because that's going directly for the people of Libya. To pay for our military expenses, you know, I think that's a questionable thing.

But the bottom line here, this is not about the money, it's not about this. It's about what is our goal and objective in Libya. Let's clarify that and we'll figure out how to pay for it at some other point.

BLITZER: Listen to what Harry Reid also said on the -- on the U.S. military operation, it's almost 10 years now, in Afghanistan. I pressed him on this issue, listen to -- listen to what he said.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not confident it's going to work. I'm happy to see that -- I've talked to General Petraeus in the room next door here a couple weeks ago, and he thinks things are going well. I have great respect for him. I hope it's going well.

But this is -- the American people have a -- and rightfully so, a very short attention span. We cannot continue to keep dumping this money.

(END CLIP) BLITZER: And he says, "dumping money," Congressman. Two billion dollars a week, more than a hundred billion dollars a year. The president says he wants to keep U.S. forces there at least through the end of 2014; 100,000 U.S. troops there right now.

Is this a waste of money?

HOEKSTRA: I think we really got to focus on exactly what's the goal and objective. Our goal and objective should not be nation building in Afghanistan. It is not going to become a democracy that we would recognize. We need a -- we need a stronger central government in Afghanistan that will keep the Taliban down, make sure that it's not a safe haven for al Qaeda.

Those are our goals and objectives. As long as that's what we're funding, it's not being -- it's not money that's being wasted. We go beyond that -- that clear objective and I think you could probably have a pretty good argument that that money's not being spent wisely.

BLITZER: It's a hundred billion dollars a year. Just imagine what that money could be spent on here in the United States, given the needs here.

HOEKSTRA: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

HOEKSTRA: Good, thank you.

BLITZER: The situation in Bahrain is also dire, and it's driving one mother to take drastic measures to try to save a loved one's life.

Plus, the face of the Egyptian revolution is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wael Ghonim, the Internet executive, I'm going to ask him what he thinks of the way things are going in Egypt right now.

And Donald Trump's media rampage continuing. Now he's taking on his possible Republican presidential opponents.


BLITZER: The wave of political turmoil consuming the Middle East right now, hitting very close to home for one mother in Bahrain. She's now starving herself in a desperate attempt to try to save her family.

Here's CNN's Amber Lyon.


AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zainab Alkhawaja says she is ready to starve to death unless Bahraini authorities release her father and husband.

ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: READY TO STARVE UNLESS FAMILY RELEASED: If my father is going to be killed, I want to die as well. We've always been taught by my father, dying with dignity is better than living as slaves.

LYON: The 27-year-old is on a hunger strike, even though she has a 1-year-old daughter, Jude (ph).

ALKHAWAJA: She's looking at this picture of me and her dad. That's why she keeps saying bo, bo, bo (ph).

Look at this one. He's always doing funny things to make people laugh.

LYON (on camera): How can you starve to death and leave your daughter to be raised by someone who's not her mother.

ALKHAWAJA: If it was just about my daughter, I would never do this. I would rather spend every day of my life with her and see her grow up. But on the other hand, I'm not willing to stay silent.

LYON (voice-over): A week ago, security forces burst into her home, searching for her father. Abdul Hadi Alkhawaja (ph), a prominent human rights activist.

ALKHAWAJA: They started beating him severely, and they dragged him down the stairs, threw him on the ground, and four or five men were kicking him and punching him. And one of them had his hand on my father's throat the whole time. And the last thing I heard my father say was that he couldn't breathe. He was grasping for air and saying that he couldn't breathe.

LYON: Security forces also took her brother-in-law and her husband. And Zainab's family is not alone.

Human rights Watch says Bahraini police forces have detained more than 430 people in recent weeks, often violently, late at night, using armed, masked security men. Four people have died while in custody in the past two weeks.

Karim Fakwari (ph), a blogger and founder of an opposition newspaper. Human Rights Watch says photos of his body show disturbing signs of torture. Bahraini officials say he died of kidney failure. The U.S. State Department is calling for investigations into these deaths.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We are aware of the death, and we're obviously -- we are deeply concerned by the deaths of both him and several other individuals while in custody of Bahraini authorities, and we would call on the government of Bahrain to conduct complete and transparent investigations into all these deaths.

LYON: The State Department has been quick to denounce regimes in Egypt, Syria, Libya, but its tone towards Bahrain has been much more muted. The tiny island is home port to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. But as the number of detained and dead keeps rising, the kingdom Shiite majority is looking to Washington to take a stand.

Zainab wrote a letter to President Obama asking him for help. ALKHAWAJA: What's making it so much more difficult for us, and the reason we have to suffer so much more, is because the American administration is standing behind the dictator and giving him the green light to do whatever he wants with the people of Bahrain. All I want from the American administration, I don't want them to save the people of Bahrain. I don't want an intervention. All I want is for them to stop supporting the Al-Khalifa regime, who have proved now, more than ever, that they are corrupt, that they care only about their thrones, that they are willing to kill and torture.

LYON: Amber Lyon, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: The sister of the woman you just saw in Amber's piece is here in Washington, D.C., today, where demonstrations took place against the government of Bahrain. She spoke with our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty outside the gates of the White House.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're here in front of the White House with Maryam Alkhawaja. She is a human rights activist, 23 years old, lives in Bahrain.

But you're here for about a month and a half, right?


DOUGHERTY: Now, the group is marching this way. Actually, from the Saudi Embassy. And now to the White House.

What is the message to the president?

M. ALKHAWAJA: Well, the protesters in Bahrain believe that the U.S. is directly complicit in the violations taking place in the country.

DOUGHERTY: And complicit in what way?

M. ALKHAWAJA: Well, I mean, everyone knows that the GCC countries and Bahrain, in particular, are very close allies to the U.S. government. And the U.S. has yet to take a strong stance against the violations happening.

M. ALKHAWAJA: And Saudi Arabia, when you were demonstrating over there, why exactly were you doing that?

M. ALKHAWAJA: It's because of the Saudi involvement inside Bahrain. I mean, the government of Bahrain likes to say that the GCC forces have only been in certain areas and have not taken part in the attacks or the campaign. But according to testimonies made by the citizens of Bahrain, the Saudis have actually been very complicit in taking part in the campaign of attacks and terror.

DOUGHERTY: And have you had any word of your father? M. ALKHAWAJA: No, none whatsoever.

DOUGHERTY: Well, that must make you very worried.

M. ALKHAWAJA: Definitely. I mean, as a human rights activist, I've documented many cases about the kind of torture that takes place within the Bahraini prisons, and so it makes me very worried about what they might be going through right now. It could be anything from physical, psychological, even sexual torture.

DOUGHERTY: Do you get worried yourself about this? I mean, if you're demonstrating or going back?

M. ALKHAWAJA: Well, I mean, one of the reasons I'm not going back right now is because I know I'm under very high risk of arrest or disappearance. And I think I play a much more important role right here by bringing the message from Bahrain and making sure that the Bahrainis' forces are heard.

DOUGHERTY: OK. Thank you very much.

M. ALKHAWAJA: Thank you.

DOUGHERTY: So, Maryam Alkhawaja, human rights activists from Bahrain.

And back to you, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Jill. Thanks very much.

The trouble in Egypt is far from over. Are Egyptians happy with the military government that's now in charge? We're talking with the man who helped spark the entire revolution. Stand by for my interview.

Plus, Donald Trump hasn't announced he's running for president, at least not yet, but he's already talking trash about some of the other possible GOP contenders.


BLITZER: So what if Donald Trump has already decided to run for president? He's waged a relentless campaign questioning President Obama's place of birth, and he's been taking some potshots at potential rivals as well.

What should we make of all this?

Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, spoke with Donald Trump for her "STATE OF THE UNION" program. Candy is here with us right now.

He's all over the place. You can't turn on the channel without seeing Donald Trump. Here's a little exchange of what you and he spoke about as far as some other Republican potential candidates. Let me play the clip.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION" Let me ask you in terms of a possible presidential bid, what makes you preferable to Mitt Romney? Why would Republicans prefer you to, say, Mitt Romney?

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Well, Mitt Romney is a basically small business guy, if you really think about it. He was a hedge fund, he was a fund guy. He walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn't create. He worked there, he didn't create.

CROWLEY: He did create companies, though.

TRUMP: Well, but, look, he would buy companies, he'd close companies. He'd get rid of the jobs. OK?


BLITZER: A little trash-talking from Donald Trump on Mitt Romney, who has formally announced he is running for president.

Talk a little bit about this. We saw part one of your interview last Sunday, when you went into the whole birther controversy. Now it's a little trash talk.

CROWLEY: Now -- well, that, and he just said, look, I've created thousands of jobs, and that's what I've been able to do. He says -- you know, always kind of walks right up to the line, says he doesn't really want to run for president, not his life's dream, but that he feels so strongly about what's going on.

It's hard to tell. And Wolf, you've talked to him a lot of times. He is engaging. He has a way of putting things that I think has -- and one point, I said to him, "You're sort of like an angry populist." Because we talked about Libya, we talked about China, we talked OPEC. He thinks OPEC is responsible for ruining the economy, and that the U.S. ought to be doing a lot more to try to get OPEC to lower its prices.

I said, "Aren't there some limitations to U.S. power?" He talked about taking Libya's oil. He said we're in there for other countries, not for ourselves. He said, in the olden days when you won a war, you took stuff. He's very --

BLITZER: To the victor go the spoils.

CROWLEY: Exactly. And I said, "You're a populist." He said, "I'm common sense. I'm common sense."

So there is -- you can see Donald Trump on the campaign trail, and you could see that there would be some resonance there. How much resonance? I don't know. BLITZER: You know, he makes sense on a lot of substantive issues. I've interviewed him many times over the years. But when it comes to the whole birther controversy, you know, I don't understand why he's decided he's going to try to really go after this.

Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" had some fun with this issue. Let me play a clip from "The Daily Show."


TRUMP: Three weeks ago, when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. And now I really have a much bigger doubt than I did before. I have people that have actually been studying it, and they cannot believe what they're finding.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, "THE TODAY SHOW": You have people now down there searching in Hawaii?

TRUMP: Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they're finding.



JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Really? You paid for researchers to go to Hawaii to dig stuff up?

Let me give you my impression of one of Trump's paid birth certificate researchers in Hawaii.

Yes, Donald, you won't believe the (EXPLETIVE) I'm finding.


BLITZER: And he goes on. He's very funny with that.

Why do you think he's doing this? All of a sudden, he's decided -- you know, he's sending investigators to Honolulu.

CROWLEY: Right. We should say that we did contact his office and say, have you -- "Can you tell us some of what your investigators have found?" They said that that would all be revealed in due time.

Listen, I mean, you can -- it is hard. As you know, the one thing you cannot do as an interviewer is really get inside somebody's head, because you don't want to say, oh, he wants to pump up his ratings. He says, really? Because I've got the number one rated show on his network.

You could say he really likes the limelight. Well, he doesn't have that much trouble getting the limelight.

There is a section of the Republican Party that does believe or has doubts, about 25 percent I think in our latest poll of Americans, either have doubts or believe that the president was not born here. Is he playing to that? Is that a good primary way to go toward the primaries to collect those kind of really hard-core Republican votes? I don't know in the end.

I don't know what he's doing. He says we'll know by June, and then we can sort of stop trying to guess what's in his head.

BLITZER: See the interview on Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" 9:00 a.m. Eastern. We'll be watching.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy.

So what's behind Donald Trump's possible run for the White House? Stand by. You'll meet him, the man who is trying to get "The Donald" hired.

Plus, the possible voice of a serial killer on the other end of the phone line, what the man told the mother of one of the victims.

And an old political issue new again -- term limits. What some senators are now proposing.


BLITZER: Lisa's back. She's got some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, we've got reports of a tornado touching down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and twisters sweeping across a number of states, and doing extensive damage. The weather killing at least nine people.

A new study finds meat and poultry produced in the United States is widely contaminated with a multi-drug-resistant bacteria. The data involves samples of 80 different brands of beef, turkey, pork and chicken, and indicates the bacteria though can be killed by cooking it thoroughly. It's warning consumers, though, about cross-contamination and improper handling.

And the world's oldest man is dead. Walter Breuning, who earned the title from "The Guinness Book of World Records," died of natural causes at the age of 114. You see his picture there.

The retired railroad worker lived in a Montana nursing home since 1980. And a spokeswoman says Breuning's mind, he was lucid until the very end.

And Wolf, you know, he was born in 1896. Can you imagine that?

BLITZER: I want to know what he did. That's pretty good. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: The violence in Misrata, in Libya, is getting dirtier by the day. New information, new allegations against Gadhafi's forces.

Plus, he helped put Bill Clinton in the White House. Now James Carville is joining us on President Obama's re-election hopes.