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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman; Court: Gadhafi Son in Talks to Surrender; Energy Dept. Loans Under Scrutiny; Web Ad for Herman Cain goes Viral; Political Analyst Discuss Campaigning on the Internet; Billions in Profits, Billions in Tax Breaks; U.K. Approves Royal Shake-Up
Aired October 28, 2011 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now: Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman slamming his rival, the front-runner Mitt Romney, for alleged flip-flopping, calling him -- and I'm quoting Huntsman -- "a perfectly lubricated weather vane."
Also, a fugitive son of Moammar Gadhafi wanted for crimes against humanity now talking to international prosecutors about a possible surrender.
And while the U.S. faces record deficits, one oil company, major oil companies, I should say, major U.S. oil companies, are raking in near record profits, so why are they still getting huge taxpayer subsidies?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He skipped the last presidential debate and he sidelined himself in Iowa saying he wants to focus on the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is betting almost everything on New Hampshire, but he is trailing in that critical state, while rival Mitt Romney is enjoying a substantial lead. And now Huntsman is joining some of Romney's sharpest critics in questioning Romney's conservative credentials.
Jon Huntsman is joining us now from Salt Lake City.
Governor, thanks very much for coming in.
JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. It's an honor to be with you.
BLITZER: Let's first of all talk about Mitt Romney a little bit.
George Will, the conservative columnist, writing in an upcoming edition of "The Washington Post" says this about Mitt Romney. He says: "Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable. He might endanger GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from data."
You agree with George Will on that?
HUNTSMAN: Those are pretty tough words, Wolf.
All I can say is this is a time when this nation wants leadership. We have been looking for leadership for some time in the White House. We haven't found it. This is when the candidates need to stand up and show a little bit of leadership.
You can't be a perfectly lubricated weather vane on the issues of the day, whether it's Libya, whether it's the debt ceiling, whether it's the discussion around the Kasich bill in Ohio where Governor Romney has been missing in action in terms of showing any kind of leadership.
I do believe that the electoral this go-around will be looking for clearly defined presidential leadership and I'm not sure that we're seeing it. We're putting out our own economic proposals, our foreign policy proposals. Next week, I will have an energy speech that I will be giving in New Hampshire. We're calling for clear-cut leadership positions for the United States to be taking that will get us back on our feet and secure the American century for the people of the United States.
BLITZER: So, when you say he's a perfectly lubricated weather vane, or when George Will says he's a recidivist reviser -- we're talking about Mitt Romney -- basically, you're both saying he's a flip-flopper on some of these most important issues.
HUNTSMAN: Listen, you don't get any more important than the issue of life. That is central to a lot of people's core beliefs and political philosophy. And when you have an epiphany on something that central to one's world view, that's going to strike a lot of people as being highly political.
BLITZER: You're talking about abortion rights for women.
HUNTSMAN: That's right.
BLITZER: What is your exact position on abortion rights for women? Are there any exceptions from your standpoint for a woman getting an abortion?
HUNTSMAN: Incest, rape and the life of the mother are the exceptions that I can live with.
BLITZER: Let's move on to talk about New Hampshire because you're basically ignoring Iowa. You're throwing all your eggs into that New Hampshire basket.
Our most -- CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll has Romney way ahead. He's almost living there. He's got a second home there. He's at 40 percent. Cain, 13 percent. Paul, 12 percent. You're at 6 percent. But Herman Cain, he's intriguing. He's basically spent very little time in New Hampshire or Iowa, for that matter, but he is doing pretty well in both of those states, even better in Iowa.
And he comes up with these crazy ads, including this one. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HERMAN CAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
MARK BLOCK, HERMAN CAIN CAMPAIGN: We can take this country back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, that's his chief of staff who had a little puff of his cigarette there. But he's at 13 percent. You're at 6 percent in New Hampshire. You spent a lot of time there. He hasn't. Why is he doing so well?
HUNTSMAN: Well, oftentimes, you can spike for the moment. You're the flavor of the week or the flavor of the month. I remember when Governor Perry was at 20 percent in New Hampshire.
He came in with great fanfare. Now he's in the low single digits. We're just trying a steady, gradual, substantive rise in New Hampshire based upon real support, based upon 80 events we have done so far. Wolf, we did a telephone town hall meeting yesterday. We had 3,000 people on the line.
Our town hall meetings are packed these days. So I say we have got a couple of very, very important months ahead in New Hampshire and the vibe that I'm getting, the way in which we are connecting with our message about rebuilding our manufacturing muscle in this country and getting people back to work is resonating with the all-important people in the first primary state.
BLITZER: Would you feel comfortable if Herman Cain were the Republican presidential nominee?
HUNTSMAN: I think Herman Cain is an outstanding person. I have gotten to know him. He's a friend. He has a lot of the right prerequisites for understanding how the free market works.
Beyond that, that's why these early primaries are so very, very important, because, ultimately, the people get to decide. And whoever they decide is the nominee for my party, I will stand behind that person.
BLITZER: So, you would feel comfortable if Herman Cain, on national security issues, because he's stumbled on many of these questions so far -- you would feel comfortable?
HUNTSMAN: Well, as I say, anyone who gets through this very rigorous primary process, I think our chances are excellent for getting through this primary process -- I'm going to stand behind. They deserve it because it's not an easy process to endure. You have got to win over the will of the people and by the end of that process, you're pretty much up to speed on a lot of issues that matter.
BLITZER: You have got, among other thing, a business background, the economy still struggling, but 2.5 percent growth in the last quarter. The stock markets are doing well, above 12000. It was what 6500, 7000 when President Obama took office.
Do you see a trend that a double-dip recession now is unlikely and things are at least beginning to move in the right direction?
HUNTSMAN: Wolf, I think we're going to muddle along until such time as we're smart enough to actually put forward some bold, visionary proposals that attack the structural elements that are standing in the way of knocking the cover off the ball of our economic growth.
And when I say that, I look at the jobs proposal package put forward by the president and it amounts to half-steps and half-measures. It's going to be incomplete, it's going to be a temporary fix. We need a long-term fix and that means tax reform. That means regulatory reform and really hitting on the issues that the investor community is looking at being cleaned up, like health care reform, Obamacare and like Dodd-Frank and ensuring that as we go forward, Wolf, we can begin to build manufacturing plants and power plants in this nation that will be able to fuel our manufacturing revival.
It can be done, but until you get to the structural fixes, you're not going to have the confidence in the innovator class, in the entrepreneurial class, in the investor class, and indeed in the global economy to be able to get this -- to be able to get this country moving in a direction that is long-term sustainable.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but very quickly, you're the former U.S. ambassador to China. China's played a very important role in the U.S. economy. They have a lot of U.S. debt. Most recently this week, they played a significant role helping the Europeans bail out Greece and some of that enormous debt crisis there.
Our viewers in China our watching. We have a lot of viewers in China as you probably know having lived in Beijing. Say something to the people of China in Mandarin right now, then translate it for us. What would you say to them given this opportunity?
HUNTSMAN: (SPEAKING IN MANDARIN)
I basically said that despite our challenges, the China-U.S. relationship is the most important relationship in the world today. And it is incumbent upon the leadership in both countries in order to ensure the economic and -- security of not only our two countries, but the region and the world as well.
Having a president who can actually understand those issues and who knows intimately well our most significant economic challenge and opportunity, as well as our most significant security challenge, would be a great thing to have in the White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in. Your Mandarin's pretty good, I must say, not that I understood what you said, but it sounded pretty good.
HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be with you.
BLITZER: Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, the former U.S. ambassador to China, and now wants to be the Republican presidential nominee. Thank you.
Let's talk about what we just heard from Jon Huntsman with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
A perfectly lubricated weather vane, that's what he called his rival Mitt Romney. Those are pretty strong words.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Do I have to answer in Mandarin or can I answer in...
BLITZER: No, in English.
BORGER: It's clear that, first of all, that's not a phrase that just comes to you off the cuff, perfectly lubricated weather vane. This is -- this campaign now has to differentiate between themselves and Mitt Romney and they're going to do it by talking about how Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper, blows in the wind, whatever you want to say.
They have just put out an ad minutes ago, Wolf. I just looked at it on my computer, a new Web ad called "Backflip," which has a mechanical monkey doing backflips.
BLITZER: This is a Huntsman ad?
BORGER: Yes, and clips Mitt Romney changing his opinion on things.
Look, he's 34 points behind Mitt Romney in our poll in New Hampshire that you showed him. And that's a lot of ground to make up. So he's now got to go on the attack and that's exactly what he's doing.
BLITZER: But it's not just Jon Huntsman. I quoted earlier George Will, the conservative columnist. He called him a recidivist reviser, a fancy phrase for flip-flopper as well.
BORGER: I have to tell you this is all grist for the Barack Obama campaign because they can take a look at these clips. They can read George Will's column, a conservative Republican, and say look at what Republicans were saying about Mitt Romney if he becomes the nominee.
BLITZER: His tax plan, his economic ideas were praised by the editorial page writers at "The Wall Street Journal," but his campaign really hasn't gotten much traction. The question is, why?
BORGER: Well, it hasn't gotten much traction because those conservative voters, while they may like the tax plan and "The Wall Street Journal" certainly did, they don't believe that he is conservative enough.
For example, Wolf, he was the only Republican presidential candidate to say he actually supported the debt ceiling agreement. He supports civil unions and then he's got one other big strike against him, which is that he used to work for Barack Obama, and not some time way back in the past, but actually until last spring, when he was the ambassador to China. So, of course Republicans are kind of looking at him and saying, can we trust you? Big problem.
BLITZER: He's got a lot of work ahead of him if he's going to be able to survive this campaign. We will see what happens.
Thanks very much, Gloria, for That's right. .
This note, by the way -- in our next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will speak with another Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann. She will join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk about her campaign and also some calls from some Tea Party activists for her to actually drop out of the race. Michele Bachmann here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.
They're not ready for prime time, they're not even meant for TV. These campaign Web ads are getting away with things no traditional commercial can, so why do they go viral? Stand by.
Also, details of talks between the fugitive son of Moammar Gadhafi and prosecutors who accuse him of crimes against humanity, and now a surrender, yes, a surrender may be in the works. We will go to Libya.
And in our next hour, CNN's Erin Burnett, she will join us as well. We will talk a lot about what's going on -- much more in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.
BLITZER: He's wanted for crimes against humanity and now, Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, is talking about surrendering. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands says informal conversations are taking place. Saif al- Islam was a key player in his father's inner circle and tapped to issue this dire warning as civil war erupted months ago in Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAIF AL-ISLAM GADHAFI, MOAMMAR GADHAFI'S SON (through translator): Instead of crying over 84 killed people will be crying over thousands. Blood will flow, rivers of blood in all the cities of Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And as rebels closed in on Tripoli, there were reports that Saif al-Islam had been captured. Reports he defiantly debunked with a surprise appearance at a hotel full of Western journalists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADHAFI: And we broke the backbone of the rebels, and so, we give them hard time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, is joining us now live from the Libyan capital with more on Saif al- Islam.
Dan, first of all, any word of where he is right now?
DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The honest answer, Wolf, is no. There is a lot of speculation that he is in the south of the country, possibly towards the border with Niger. We have no idea if that is true. Everyone in the NTC that we're speaking to really has no idea either. It is a vast area that we're talking about, huge desert. Akin to I guess looking for someone in Alaska or someone like that. It is massive.
There is no delineated border between southern Libya and Niger. So, it's very impossible he may have crossed over into Niger. He may not even realize he's crossed over into Niger. It is, as I say, a vast, open wilderness, a desert. And frankly, what we think, we guess, he could be hiding out with the tribes from the south, but we don't know.
BLITZER: What do we know about these possible negotiations between Saif al-Islam and the International Criminal Court?
RIVERS: Well, it's very murky. It's not clear. It's not overt and formal. But we did get a slight more bit of information today from Luis Moreno-Ocampo. He's the chief prosecutor with the ICC in The Hague.
Here's what he said when asked whether there were talks underway for Saif al-Islam to surrender himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTL. CRIMINAL COURT: There are conversations. I think they are exploring the possibility to appear before the court. We offer them, of course, we can help you to surrender to the court and if he is considered innocent, he has all the right to present his argument for the judges. We have evidence. We believe he was part of the crimes against humanity committed in Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RIVERS: There's no real idea whether this is just the ICC saying, look, we would like you to come in and we would like you to answer these charges or whether there genuinely is some direct, you know, conversation for an intermediary or third party. You know, informal conversations to me doesn't sound like they have his phone number and they are talking to him regularly. I'm guessing there may be proof the government or the tribesmen in Niger or elsewhere who may know of his whereabouts.
BLITZER: Well, we stay on top of this story with you, Dan. Thanks very much, Dan Rivers on the CNN Tripoli.
Coming up -- one of America's largest banks announcing its verdict on a controversial new fee. You're going to find out which bank has now decided not to charge you when you make a purchase with your debit card. That and other stories coming up next. Also, the question he's asked may vary, but the answer Herman Cain often gives is the same. Is it OK for a presidential contender to say, quote, "I don't have all the facts"? Stand by.
BLITZER: Shots fired outside the United States embassy today.
Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a terrifying scene outside the U.S. embassy in Bosnia. A man with an automatic weapon and firing several shots that hit the building's walls. Police shot the man and the hospital spokeswoman said he was wounded on the leg but not seriously injured. A police officer was wounded, but there are no reports of injuries among embassy personnel.
Here in the U.S., JPMorgan Chase has decided not to charge customers who make purchases with their debit card. Eight months after testing it out, Chase joins other large banks that are saying they won't charge monthly fees on debit card transactions. Bank of America is under fire over a plan to charge customers $5 a month if they use a debit card to make purchases.
And Lady Liberty is marking her 125th birthday. You can get an up close look at her even if you aren't there. Web cams are streaming live footage showing the Statue of Liberty's torch, crown and a view of the harbor. The statue will close tomorrow for year-long renovations to base and interior but the island remained open -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Love the Statue of Liberty and what it stands for. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
The fallout continues over a half billion dollar loan from the U.S. government to an energy company that failed. The White House is ordering a review of just what happened. We have details coming up.
Presidential campaigns aren't just battling for votes. They're also for battling for clicks. Why they're making videos for the Internet, not for TV.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.
Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour:
Residents in the Northeast better get ready with their snow shovel. We'll show you where forecasters are now saying more than a foot of snow is forecast to fall.
Saudi Arabia names a new heir to the throne. Just who is the man who will be king? And is it time for Michele Bachmann to actually bow out of the Republican presidential race? One Tea Party group thinks the answer is yes. She'll respond live. That's coming up one hour from now.
Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The White House is now ordering an independent review of Energy Department loans in the wake of the scandal over Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after getting more than half a billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer money.
Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is working the story for us.
All right. Jessica, what are you picking up?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
In the wake of the Solyndra loan mess, White House chief of staff Bill Daley has ordered an outside review of the clean energy loan program. In a statement, Daley said that "the president is committed in investing clean energy because he understands that the jobs developing and manufacturing these technologies will either be created here or in other countries."
So, he said today, "We're directing that an independent analysis be conducted of the current state of the Department of Energy loan portfolio, focusing on future loan monitoring and management."
"Herb Allison," he says, "has agreed to manage this outside review," and he says, "He is exactly the right person for this important project because he is tough, always tells it like it is," and he says, "we look forward to his thorough and candid assessment."
Now, Wolf, Allison has a background in finance and experience working in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He actually worked in the George W. Bush administration as well.
BLITZER: So, how will all of this work, Jessica?
YELLIN: So Bill Daley, the chief of staff, has called for a 60-day review, Wolf, that will look at how the companies that receive these loans are doing. The reviewers will recommend ways to monitor and manage the loans and set up what the administration is calling an early warning system to alert the department of energy if the companies are headed for trouble.
Keep in mind, the total department of energy loan that went out, the total figure, is $35.9 billion in clean energy loans. To loan to Solyndra was worth $535 million. But they're going to look at that total, $35.9 billion worth.
Now, in terms of timing, 60 days from now mean that is the results would come in right around Christmas. And you know what else is happening then? The results of the votes -- the results of the super committee, possibly a budget fight and the run up to the Republican primaries, so you can be sure we're paying attention.
BLITZER: We don't know at this point of the total $35 billion, how much of that was lost, do we?
YELLIN: We don't, but we also haven't heard of other bankruptcies. Solyndra is the one that everyone's focusing on, so at this point it's a $535 million loss out of the total of $35.9 billion.
BLITZER: I think there are some other losses as well. I'm not sure how much, but it's worth checking out. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is generating a lot of buzz with a bizarre web campaign ad that's gone viral. And while everyone debates what Cain's ad is really all about, there's no question that candidates are using the internet that ways they could never use on television. CNN's Joe Johns is watching all of this, watching the web, watching TV. What's going on, here?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Watching, watching, yes. We know that the web has been revolutionizing politics, but now more than ever the candidates are realizing the full potential. This is a way for a candidate to do an ad, get instant feedback and even raise money without spending so much of it.
JOHNS: You may not like it, you may not understand it, but if you've seen it, you probably remember it. Herman Cain's web ad featuring his "smokes-person," as one radio host put it, is a real buzz builder, over a million views on YouTube. Even for people who think it's weird, especially the part where Cain chief of staff Mark Block takes a puff on a cigarette.
CNN political analyst Alex Castellanos has spent most of his career coming up with campaign ads. He says it's actually a very effective message to Cain's target audience.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's the kind of message the Tea Party wants to hear, that you can't tell us what to do, THAT we'll stand up to Washington, we won't play by your rules. Good message for the Tea Party.
JOHNS: A lot of political web ads are funny or cynical or sarcastic and just edgy enough to give a TV ad manager a bit of heartburn. Take another Herman Cain ad with actors playing cowboys and subtle political themes that are at work in his campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why has it always got to be about color?
JOHNS: Then, there are the more traditional web ads. Mitt Romney's attacks on the president's economic record. It actually looks like something Romney might run if he were the Republican nominee.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.
JOHNS: But what's really different about this are that these ads incur a fraction of the cost of big budget TV ads and can end up on TV anyway in news reports like this one, if they ever go viral. Remember the John McCain ad making fun of Barack Obama's celebrity status?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the world shall receive his blessings.
OBAMA: This was the moment when the rise in the oceans began the slow and our planet began to heel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He pulled his mighty hand --
JOHNS: And who can forget the Obama girl? Part political statement, mostly music video. While the tendency may be to predict the end of TV political advertising, Alex Castellanos says that would be premature.
CASTELLANOS: TV didn't replace radio and the Internet didn't replace TV. Web ads add something to the communications mix. It's TV, but with a return envelope.
JOHNS: And Wolf, we've just gotten another weapon web ad, this one from Republican candidate Jon Huntsman. His daughters, they've been having fun with Herman Cain and this new ad is basically a parody of the commercial we ran at the top with Herman Cain's chief of staff smoking a cigarette. But instead of smoking cigarettes, they actually blow bubbles at the end of it. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow is Friday, one day closer to the weekend. We strongly believe that our dad has the experience and proven track record to revive America's economy and create jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Huntsman's three daughters have made quite a presence for themselves. I should say his three oldest daughters. They're on social media, mainly Twitter. They call themselves the "Huntsman 2012 girls."
BLITZER: Popular following. That's an actual Jon Huntsman campaign, little viral ad. Very cute. Very funny.
BLITZER: Blowing bubble is better than smoking.
JOHNS: Healthier for sure.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Let's discuss what's going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us is Steve Hildebrand. He was the deputy campaign manager for the 2008 Obama campaign. Also joining us is Mary Matalin, our CNN political contributor, Republican strategist, worked on a lot of campaigns over the years as well. Mary, what do you make about all these ads now going viral? Do they actually help these respective candidates?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in the case of the Herman Cain ads, they're effective to conservatives because they go right at the ground zero that unites conservatives, which is anti PC. The nanny state, I'm smoking. Is it always about color, the yellow flower, it's about the liberal race baiting. So that had a very subtle and sophisticated message.
But I think their good at this point in the campaign. All these guys still trying to distinguish themselves from each other, and they aren't designed to get votes as much as to get a look.
BLITZER: They do get a lot of attention, Steve. Did this smoking ad help Herman Cain or hurt Herman Cain's campaign?
STEVEN HILDEBRAND, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it hurts him, Wolf. I wish it would help him, but I think it actually hurts him. These candidates are spending a lot of money producing these ads. And if you're not spending that money to really tell voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, what you're going to do for them, what you're going to do to fix the major problems that our country is facing, you're probably wasting a lot of money doing it. It's not just about getting attention. It's about getting votes. And people are pretty serious in this time about wanting candidates who are going to produce for them.
And the final thing I want to say about it is the Republican field is really in disarray. And one of them has to stand apart, and probably the one who's going to take the most serious approach to fixing the problems in this country and really communicate to those early state voters is probably going to be the one who's going to stand apart, not the one who's got the most cheesy web ad out there.
BLITZER: I will say this. Mary, I want you to weight in. These ads, the ones on the web, they're pretty cheap. Not necessarily the TV ads. Those are expensive to make. But the web ads don't cost a lot of money. I'm sure the Herman Cain ad cost what, not much at all. You disagree with Steve. You think the Herman Cain smoking ad helped him?
MATALIN: Yes, and I'm not surprised Steve doesn't think that, because he doesn't think like this, which is that conservatives are sick and tired of the natty state. And that's what that cigarette was all about. Even conservatives who don't smoke -- I don't smoke, but I'm sick of mayors and the government telling me where and what I can do, how much salt I can use, trans fats, all the rest of that. That was a subtlety in the sophistication of that message.
And Herman Cain is saying something else, which is I'm not like d rest of these guys. I don't play by their rules. I'm a leader. I'm playing by my rules. He was saying something specific about his leadership skills himself, his brand, and something very near and dear to the hearts of conservatives, which is get government off my back, out of my shower, of my kitchen table.
BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment. I want you to stand by. We're going continue this conversation. It sounds like Mary does not like the New York mayor Michael Bloomberg very much. But we'll talk about some other stuff when we come back, including Herman Cain. He certainly has a lot of support among conservatives, but often says he doesn't necessarily have all the facts when it comes to answering some tough policy questions.
So here's the question -- is that OK for a man who wants to be president of the United States to say "I don't have all the facts"? Stick around You're in the "Strategy Session" right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's continue our "Strategy Session" with Democrat strategist Steve Hildebrand, he was the deputy campaign manager for the 2008 Obama campaign, also, Mary Matalin, our CNN political contributor, our Republican strategist.
Continuing to conversation on arguably the front-runner at least in some of the national polls right now, Herman Cain, listen to what he often says when he's asked a tough question on national security and some other issues. Let me play this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things I've always prided myself on is making an informed decision based upon knowing all of the facts.
After I look at all of the information provided by the intelligence community, the military, then I can make that decision. I can't make that decision because I'm not privy to all of that.
I could see myself authorizing that transfer, but what I would do is I would make sure I got all the information, got all the input, considered all of the options.
I as president want to look at the department of education and make that determination when all of the facts are considered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that good enough, Steve, for a presidential candidate to repeat that when he may not necessarily have a great answer?
HILDEBRAND: Not in the 21st century, Wolf. People are looking for real strong, important answers right now.
BLITZER: What do you think, Mary? MATALIN: I think Herman Cain is getting a certain amount of latitude, and there's room for candor as opposed to a canned answer. But he needs to augment each of these "I'm going to gather the information, gather the experts, here's how I make decisions," and he needs to add principles, even if they're simple principles, like clarity, or we don't negotiate with terrorists, but who knows if somebody had their finger on the trigger of a nuke? He needs to say what his principles are in addition to saying I don't make decisions on the fly.
BLITZER: Because it's obviously clear to a lot of people out there he's a very likable kind of guy, Steve. People like him, but they also presumably at some point if he wants to be president they're going to want to know where he stands specifically on all of these tough issues.
HILDEBRAND: It's different Wolf. If you're Mitt Romney, if you've served a state, had to take positions. You've done things. You've been firm on issues. And to now be Herman Cain, we don't really know who Herman Cain is. We don't really know what he stands for. And so it's incumbent on him if he wants votes, to start taking some hard and fast positions.
BLITZER: Now the other front-runner is Mitt Romney. Listen to what Jon Huntsman said about Mitt Romney here in THE SITUATION ROOM right at the top of the hour because it's a sort of variation on the theme that Mitt Romney is only a flip-flopper.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUNTSMAN: This is when the candidates need to stand up and show a little bit of leadership. You can't be a perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, you're going to be hearing a lot of that. We heard a lot of it in 2008. It certainly hurt Mitt Romney in 2008. How much damage does flip-flopping argument going to make as far as Mitt Romney, Mary, is concerned?
MATALIN: Well, so much for the Huntsman high road campaign he promised to conduct. Yes, that's, that is Romney's core weakness. It's not fatal, but he has to address it.
It's a big concern among conservatives and why he didn't exceed other than New Hampshire his 25 percent ceiling. You know, Obama's saying it, everybody's saying the same thing. He's going to have to address that fundamental flaw in his candidacy. BLITZER: You can't help but notice that the Democrats are really going after Mitt Romney on this flip-flopping issue. They sound very much like Jon Huntsman, some of other Republican critics of Mitt Romney.
Is Mitt Romney from the Democratic perspective, Steve, the fear, the top fear as far as challenge to the president is concerned?
HILDEBRAND: Well, I think one thing that Democrats and conservatives can agree upon, Wolf, is that Mitt Romney is a great weather vane, he is flip-flopping. Are we fearful of him? You know, I think we're going to take any candidate very, very seriously, whether it's Mitt Romney or anybody else.
BLITZER: Democrats are spending a lot of time focusing in on Mitt Romney and not so much on the other Republican candidates at least for now. That could obviously change.
Guys, thanks very, very much.
Massive profits fuelled by massive subsidies. Why does Washington continue to help major oil companies while the U.S. faces massive deficits?
Also, details of a major break that will change the future of the British royal family.
And coming up at the top of the hour, a huge snowstorm on the way threatening to bring more than a foot to some parts of the northeast U.S.
BLITZER: The clock is ticking for the congressional "Super Committee" tasked with coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit.
With oil companies announcing billions and billions of dollars in huge profits this week, why not cut some of the billions of dollars in subsidies they've received from taxpayers and the U.S. government.
Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is tracking the money for us. Kate, what are you finding out?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a time when we are facing record deficits and also soaring profits on the part of the oil and gas industry, some may think it's a political no brainer to get rid of -- repeal subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
But the reality is, the political reality is it's not that clean cut.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Big oil posted multibillion dollar profits for the third quarter. ExxonMobil's earnings up 41 percent from a year ago. The surge sparking a familiar and politically charged debate.
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do we keep tax loopholes for oil companies or do we put teachers back to work?
BOLDUAN: The Senate's Democratic campaign on Thursday launched a new round of online ads targeting Republican candidates on this very issue. The oil and gas industry defends the subsidies saying they promote job creation. BRIAN JOHNSON, SENIOR TAX ADVISER, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: To look at our industry and try to raise taxes is a false solution. If you want more money from our industry, let us to what we do. Let us continue to put Americans to work. Let us increase energy security and let us produce our own resources at home.
BOLDUAN: The oil industry has been a popular Democratic target before. Remember the summer's debt ceiling debate and the most recent government shutdown fight.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry, making record profits and corporate jet owners will save us tens of billions of dollars.
REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: They're prepared to shut down the government rather than resend one penny of the oil and gas industries $41 billion in tax subsidies. But clean energy sector gets the hammer.
BOLDUAN: But are Democrats trying to have it both ways? Bashing Republicans for protecting big oil at the same time Senate Democrats recently stripped a provision from the president's jobs bill that would have brought in some $40 billion by increasing taxes on the oil and gas industry.
Democratic leaders did this to hold the support of senators from oil- rich states like Mary Landry from Louisiana. Republicans for their part have indicated they're open to ending such subsidies, but only as part of a broader plan to reform the tax code.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan reiterated that position this week.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Eliminating tax subsidies for oil and gas companies would only equal 0.5 percent of the president's planned deficits. Look, I am all for closing tax loopholes, but you can't close the nation's deficits by chasing ever higher spending with politically motivated tax hikes.
BOLDUAN: Now, House Speaker John Boehner and the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, they have both also indicated that they could be open to closing certain loopholes and getting rid of certain subsidies possibly like these, Wolf.
But aides stress only as part of a much broader, big tax reform that would then bring down over all rates. It really does seem one thing is clear that this issue, this fight, is not going anywhere anytime soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: One area right for tax reform on this area right here. I write about it, by the way, on my blog today as well CNN.com/situationroom.
Snow in the forecast for millions of Americans, a major weather alert. That's coming up.
BLITZER: Britain and the Commonwealth are casting aside centuries of tradition with a dramatic change to the rules of succession. CNN's Max Foster has details.
MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is potentially a big moment in British and Commonwealth history. Everyone seems to agree it's a good idea.
FOSTER (voice-over): A historic shift is underway in the British royal family. After 16 Commonwealth leaders agreed on Friday to strike a century's old gender preference law from the books.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been pushing for the change for months now, urging reforms that would treat first born royal babies equally regardless of gender.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Put simply if the duke and duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen.
FOSTER: Queen Elizabeth speaking at a meeting of the Commonwealth heads of state didn't reference the change directly, but did voice her support for gender equality.
QUEEN ELIZABETH: The theme this year is women as agents of change. It reminds us of the potential in our societies that is yet to be fully unlocked. And it encourages us to find ways to allow girls and women to play their full part.
FOSTER: The queen is an example of the only exception to the current rule. A woman has been able to inherit the throne only if there are no male heirs.
FOSTER (on camera): It's often said that most successful monarch in British history have been women. The current Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, for example, so there's no great argument about taking sexism out of the system. The problem is getting the job done.
(voice-over): The issue took on greater urgency following the announcement of Prince William and Katherine's engagement last year.
PRINCE WILLIAM: People are bound to ask you know, it's a bit of an obvious question, children, do you want lots of children? See what comes? What's your --
I think we'll take it one step at a time. Sort of get over the marriage then look at the kids. Obviously, we want a family so we have to start thinking about that.
FOSTER: Prince William's younger brother, Prince Harry, could benefit from the changes as well. For example, if he wanted to marry a woman who's a catholic, he could do so without giving up his place in line. Under the old rules, anyone married to a catholic cannot ascend to the throne.
REBECCA PROBERT, LEGAL HISTORIAN: Reason that's bizarre is because you don't forfeit your fight to the throne if you marry somebody who subsequently becomes a catholic. You could marry a scientologist, a Muslim or a Methodist and that would have no impact whatsoever on the throne.
FOSTER: In order for the new rules to take effect, they'll have to be approved by the individual governments of 16 Commonwealth, which outside Britain range from Canada to Jamaica to Australia, then a new royal baby will have to be born. And take his or her place in line for the throne.
FOSTER: This isn't a done deal yet though, the 16 prime ministers of the Commonwealth need to take this back to their countries now and get it turned into law. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem although it will take some time.
This is, though, a milestone, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.