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Countdown to GOP Presidential Debate; Loose Lips on Iran?; Sources Say Gingrich's Paid by Freddie Mac; Who's on Freddie Mac's Payroll?; Giffords' Amazing Recovery Revealed; "I'm Getting Stronger, Better"; Candidates to Debate National Security; Clock Ticking on Debt Super Committee; Energy Secretary: No Apology for Solyndra; Putin's Sexy "Get Out The Vote" Ad

Aired November 19, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: National security takes center stage in the GOP Battle for the White House. We're just three days from now. The candidates go head to head in a debate moderated by me. Will it be a game changer? We'll have a preview.

Also, GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich firing back amidst swirling questions about whether he was paid more than $1 million by troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

And Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords breaking her silence this week for the first time since being shot in the head. Just ahead. Her emotional trying road to recovery and the dramatic new message she has for her constituents.

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

But first, in the battle for the White House where the issue will be national security right here on CNN. I'll be moderating a debate Tuesday night right here in Washington with the Republican presidential contenders.

And with the spotlight getting brighter on those at the front of the pack, they could have the potential to - the potential to be a game changer.

Joining us now for a preview, Danielle Pletka. She is Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies with the American Enterprise Institute. James Carafano, he's deputy director for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation and Norm Orenstein with the American Enterprise Institute. He also writes a weekly column for "Roll Call."

I just want to point out the debate will be co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Thanks to both of your organizations for helping us with that as well.

Let's get to what you're looking for, Danielle. First to you. What's the single most important national security foreign policy issue you want clarified Tuesday night?

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: There are two things that are really important, but I think the American people need to hear what is the next president or the next want to be president going to do about Iran? And what is the next president or want to be president going to do about Afghanistan? Those are two huge challenges.

BLITZER: Those are big challenges. Are those on the top of your list?

JAMES CARAFANO, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It is, but it's all about character. Every president winds up facing a challenge nobody thought of before they get elected. And the policy positions they have now may not be relevant a year from now. So what you're really concerned about is what kind of commander in chief is this person going to be? That's the big issue.

BLITZER: How big is national security and foreign policy? I know the economy is issue number one. But voters out there want clarification on who's going to be a good commander in chief.

NORM ORNSTEIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INST.: This is really important for the country. For voters right now, it hasn't been as important. But I think James has a very good point, which is we do in the end look at candidates through that prism, commander in chief.

Remember that ad in 2008, the 3:00 A.M. phone call. If you have a candidate who woken up at 3:00 a.m. and says I don't know anything about that, go back to the national security adviser, you're going to have some misgivings even if in every other particular the voters like him.

BLITZER: So it's a big deal.

I want to play this report. Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent prepared it. You say Iran is a big issue. She's taking a look at this very subject. Watch this and then we'll discuss.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mystery continues. U.S. Intelligence now believes Iran was mixing highly volatile rocket fuel when it exploded killing this powerful Iranian general and more than a dozen others. Two U.S. officials tell CNN the fuel was for a large ballistic missile, the kind of missile that Iran could eventually use to carry a nuclear warhead.

The facility is part of Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. Many sites are deep underground. If President Obama were to order a strike, the Air Force has a new weapon. These 30,000 pound bombs carried by B-2 or B-52 bombers with more than 5,000 pounds of explosives, it can penetrate 200 feet underground before detonating.

CAPT. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: It gives us a far greater capability to reach and destroy an enemy's weapons of mass destruction.

STARR: The Pentagon doesn't want to say publicly it's all about Iran.

KIRBY: The system is not aimed at any one country.

STARR: While the administration plays its not so subtle message, Republican presidential candidates have been talking tough as well. Some wonder if they're going too far.

NEWT GINGRICH (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program and including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems.

MITT ROMNEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And working a covert basis to encourage the dissidents.

RICK SANTORUM (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope that we've been doing everything we can covertly.

STARR: Retired Army Intelligence General James Mark says it's a bad idea to talk openly about secret actions.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE CENTER: We don't have to talk about that, nor should anyone who wants to go into public office. So what we see with current debates and discussions about covert operations specifically against Iran or other potential nations or entities should be eliminated. That needs to stop.

STARR (on camera): Intelligence experts tell us one of the reasons that candidates should stop talking about all of this, they might inadvertently ruin an ongoing covert operation against Iran if there was one under way.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Let's bring back our panel. Danielle, too much discussion of covert operations potential by these Republican candidates as far as Iran is concerned?

PLETKA: I don't think there's too much discussion of anything. I think the American people need to know. But I think that we also need to recognize, we don't live in a vacuum. The Iranians are listening. Our allies are listening. A lot of people are worried about a country that's going to have a nuclear weapon very soon.

BLITZER: With the exception of Ron Paul, the other Republican candidates basically, correct me if I'm wrong, James, seem to be on the same page as far as Iran is concerned including the potential option if necessary of military force.

CARAFANO: I think that's a fair assessment. But, of course, what makes it tough for these guys is when the next guy puts his hand on the bible, things can be dramatically different. This could be a really critical next 12 months. A lot of things could be very -

BLITZER: Like what?

CARAFANO: -- critical than they are now. We could have an Israeli military strike. We could have a breakout from Iran. We could have the Iranian government, have another green revolution (INAUDIBLE). So a lot of things can happen between now and then. So it's very, very hard for them to say this is what I'm going to do, because, boy, it could be a very different part of the world.

BLITZER: It is true the Republicans -- at least the Republican candidates with the exception of Ron Paul, maybe Jon Huntsman, but the others are much more hawkish than President Obama is right now when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program?

ORNSTEIN: They're certainly much more hawkish in rhetoric right now. But what we do see, of course, is inevitably you're going to have political demands. You want to show that you're tough. Ron Paul is completely outside the scream of the others on that front.

But you got to be a little bit careful for just the reasons that we've been talking about. Not only now, I mean, you know, we've had stocks net. We've had assassinations of scientists. We had an explosion last week. The definition of "covert" is secret and concealed, and you don't want to start talking about things that put the blame right back on us. I don't know who is responsible for those things and I don't want to know.

So there is a little bit of a danger here that really is the clash between domestic politics and the real realities of foreign policy.

BLITZER: You may not want to know, but I'd like to know. I'm a curious guy. I'm sure all of us would like to know, but these are classified operations, whoever is responsible for them.

At that last Republican debate, Danielle, Michelle Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, she is running for president, she said this.


MICHELLE BACHMANN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The table is being set for worldwide nuclear war against Israel. And if there's anything that we know, President Obama has been more than willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street, but he hasn't been willing to stand with Israel.


BLITZER: Worldwide nuclear war against Israel. It sort of jumped out at me. What did you think of that?

PLETKA: Oh, I think what she's alluding to is the fact that once Iran gets a weapon, if they get a weapon, and many of us believe they will, then other countries in the regions have suggested they're going to be next. The Saudis have said it blankly. The Egyptians said it before Mubarak was overthrown. I'm betting they would want one, too. The United Arab (INAUDIBLE) also said it. What about the Turks? Then there is the Syrians. We don't even know who's going to be in power in Syria. But what there is the potential for a real nuclear cascade in the region. And once we see that, all bets are off.

BLITZER: Well, you think that there's no doubt that these sanctions are not going to work and then in the end Iran will have a nuclear weapons program?

PLETKA: I've spent the last quarter century looking at Iran's sanctions and they haven't worked up until now. The Iranians are closer to a nuclear weapon. We've got more and more sanctions. Why would the next nail in the coffin actually persuade them when they're this close?

BLITZER: How close do you think Iran is right now to actually having that nuclear weapons capability?

CARAFANO: Well, anybody that gives you the answer to that question, don't trust them. I think we're living inside the margin of error. I don't think we're going to know when the breakout occurs. And what people routinely forget is that North Korea and Iran routinely share information back and forth. So between the two of them they can speed up the Iranian program in ways that we can't imagine.

BLITZER: Herman Cain, he is one of the frontrunners, although his standing has slipped over the past few weeks because of the sexual harassment allegations, some blunders he's made on national security and foreign policy.

Let me play this clip for you because I want to talk about the Republican brand and national security. Listen to this.


HERMAN CAIN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason - that's a different line. I got to go back. You see, I have all this stuff twirling around in my head.


BLITZER: Is he ready to be commander in chief?

ORNSTEIN: You know, it was interesting that Michelle Bachmann actually has attacked him frontally saying you got to be ready on day one to be commander in chief.

And I think, you know, what his campaign said afterwards is, well, he was operating on less than four hours of sleep. That takes us back to the 3:00 A.M. phone call. Are you going to say I've only had four hours of sleep? Call me again in four hours? I think it's something that he is going to have to deal with in a fashion much better than he has. And this debate is going to be a challenge for him and I think may be an opportunity. BLITZER: Because, you know, Danielle, over the years, national security, that's been a strength of the Republican Party over the years. Is he hurting the Republican brand?

PLETKA: I don't think any of these candidates are hurting the brand. I think what we're providing, all of us, is an opportunity for these candidates to talk more and more and more. It's really up to the public to decide exactly who has the medal to be the next candidate to face Barack Obama.

And I hate the idea that we're going to spend all of our time, you know, fixating on little snippets where people make mistakes. It is about character as Jim said. It isn't about knowing what the capital is at a particular moment.

BLITZER: This was not just the capital of a particular moment. This was basically a simple question about Libya.

CARAFANO: But Tuesday night is really different. Tuesday night is an open book test. It's 90 minutes just on foreign policy, national security. These guys have had plenty of time to get ready. So I don't think anybody is going to have an excuse that - that they're getting caught blindsided on this one.

BLITZER: As far as Iraq is concerned, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this year, by the end of December. This was a deal that President Bush made before he left office.

And now that President Obama is being criticized because residual force of a few thousand is not going to be able to remain in Iraq. I want you to listen to what the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told our Brianna Keilar on the road this week.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The military is gone. As I said, that agreement dating from 2008 has been implemented. The only way we can defend our people, protect them, is through private contractors.


BLITZER: Thousands of American diplomats, AID workers, others remaining in Iraq. They're not going to have the U.S. Military to protect them and they have some Iraqi military to protect them, although I'm not sure the U.S. Police is ready to accept all that Iraqi military support. They're going to be a lot of private American contractors on the scene. How's that going to play out in this debate between the Republicans and the Democrats?

ORNSTEIN: Well, there's a little bit of delicacy here because it was an agreement made by President Bush. Of course, we know that basically these troops are coming out because the U.S. couldn't reach a deal with the Maliki government about whether we would have protection for those.

BLITZER: Immunity.

ORNSTEIN: Immunity. But I think, you know, frankly, the reality is the impact of this on the election is going to come on the ground. What's going to happen after those troops are gone? Will we see Iraq descend into something that is a really bad problem that will redound against President Obama? Just as the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is going to have an impact. It's event driven, I think, more than anything else.

BLITZER: All three of you will be with me at that debate. Constitution Hall, Tuesday night, 8:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN. Thanks very much for coming in.

PLETKA: Thank you.

ORNSTEIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A surge in the polls has Newt Gingrich in the spotlight right now. Now he's facing serious questions about his very profitable ties with the backdrop mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

And Gabrielle Giffords long and challenging road to recovery. We'll hear the congresswoman in her own words.

Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The political hot water for Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich who shortly after making his dramatic jump to the top of the polls is now facing some serious questions about his ties to a number of big companies. There are new reports this think-tank has collected tens of millions of dollars from the health care industry. We also learned this week he was paid more than a million dollars by the troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Let's bring in our own Brian Todd, who has been investigating this part of the story for us. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this new information about Gingrich's compensation at Freddie Mac and what he did for them presents tough new questions for the candidate, especially considering his campaign rhetoric in recent days.


TODD (voice-over): Newt Gingrich has had some harsh words recently for politicians who dealt with troubled mortgage companies.

Listen to his comments at a "Washington Post"/"Bloomberg News" debate.

GINGRICH: And if you want to put people in jail, I want to second what Michelle said. You ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. And let's look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment and the politicians who put this country in trouble. CHARLIE ROSE, HOST: Clearly, you're not saying they should go to jail?

GINGRICH: Well, in Chris Dodd's case, go back and look at the Countryside deals. In Barney Frank's case, go back and look at the lobbyists he was close to that - that - at Freddie Mac.

TODD: But there are new questions about Gingrich's own connections to Freddie Mac. CNN has confirmed from sources in position to know, information first reported by "Bloomberg News" that Gingrich was paid between $1.6 and $1.8 million for two separate stints at Freddie Mac - from 1999, when he left Congress, to 2002, and from 2006 to 2008.

Asked if the money figure was accurate -

GINGRICH: I don't know. We're going back to check it.

TODD: What did the Republican presidential hopeful do for Freddie Mac?

Gingrich said at one point, he offered advice as a, quote, "historian," telling Freddie Mac officials that lending to people with no credit history was a mistake. He later said he was a strategic adviser.

Contacted by CNN, four people who worked for Freddie Mac while Gingrich was there disagreed with his characterization that he was a historian. One said his role was strategic, specifically political strategy.

Bloomberg cites former Freddie Mac officials familiar with Gingrich's work in 2006, saying the former House speaker was asked to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans.

I spoke with Bob Edgar of the liberal group, Common Cause, which advocates for more transparency in government.

(on camera): What does that seem like to you?

BOB EDGAR, COMMON CAUSE: When you're paying over a million dollars to build bridges with Capitol Hill, you're buying a lobbyist. You're buying somebody with your money that can connect you with members of Congress.

You don't hire a historian to do that. You don't hire someone just to give you polite advice. You hire somebody who makes those relationships work.

And that's lobbying. Whether you're registered or not, that's hardcore lobbying and that's what Newt Gingrich was doing.

TODD (voice-over): A characterization Gingrich formally denies.

GINGRICH: I did no lobbying of any kind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you -- GINGRICH: That's all I've got to say about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you accurately characterize it -

GINGRICH: That's all I've got to say about it.


TODD: Now it would not have been illegal for Gingrich to have lobbied for Freddie Mac unless he did it that fist year he was employed by them 1999 to 2000right after he left Congress. We checked federal records and found nothing indicating Gingrich was ever a registered lobbyist.

Freddie Mac would not comment on any of this other than to say that Gingrich was a consultant but did not lobby for them - Wolf.

BLITZER: You are getting some other details, though, on what he did exactly for Freddie Mac.

TODD: That's right. A former official at Freddie Mac told us that at one point Gingrich was consulted about Freddie Mac's efforts to become more transparent about risk and capital management and how those efforts would be received by Republicans in Congress.

This person said Gingrich was also consulted at one point about the company's efforts to bond with the Bush administration, bringing more minorities into homeownership, this at a time when Republicans overall were really against the whole idea of having a Fannie and Freddie there.

Again, important work and important work as far as the political implications with Republicans, but technically not physically lobbying for them.

BLITZER: Never registered -

TODD: And never registered.

BLITZER: - as a lobbyist.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

The eye-popping sum that New Gingrich was paid by Freddie Mac has led to another question. Who else - who else was Freddie Mac paying? Fannie Mae paying for that matter even as both of those operations are in serious financial trouble?

Lisa Sylvester is here with this part of the story giving us a little bit more perspective.


Well, Newt Gingrich has very publicly spoken out blaming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for contributing to the housing crisis. But he has in fact received more than $1.5 million from Freddie Mac. And it turns out he was not the only congressional lawmaker who went through the revolving door and ended up with big checks from Freddie Mac.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The posh scale Alleia Restaurant in Washington, D.C., was one of Freddie Mac's chief lobbyist Mitchell Dealt's favorite spots to wine and dine politicians. Records show Freddie Mac held 85 fundraisers for federal candidates between 2000 and 2003, raising more than $1.5 million for them.

Many of the lawmakers being honored sat on the House Financial Services Committee, a Congressional panel charged with overseeing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The Federal Election Commission found this to be a blatant violation of federal law and fined Freddie Mac $3.8 million, the largest FEC fine ever.

But this was only part of Freddie Mac's strategy to curry favor among federal lawmakers. Freddie Mac at the time was trying to fend of calls for new oversight and regulation. Lobbying records show the federally backed mortgage lender spent more than $50 million between 2003 and 2006 just on lobbying.

MICHAEL BECKEL, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were major political players. They were spending millions of dollars each year on lobbying, if not tens of millions of dollars and they were incredibly well connected organizations.

SYLVESTER: Among those paid to advise Freddie Mac was former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich he was paid more than $1.5 million by Freddie Mac. He denies he ever lobbied for them and insists he tried to warn Freddie Mac it was headed to a financial disaster.

GINGRICH: I said to them at the time this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.

SYLVESTER: Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae ended up having to be bailed out by federal taxpayers and was put in a conservatorship in 2007. But up until then it had a roster of lobbyists that read like a who's who in Washington.

Former Congressman Vin Weber, former Congresswoman Susan Molinari, former Senator Alfonse D'Amato, former Chief of Staff to Representative Tom DeLay Susan Hershman among them.

Freddie Mac had a number of highly paid consultants like Gingrich. Howard Marlowe with the American League of Lobbyists says often the line between adviser consultant and registered lobbyist can be blurry.

HOWARD MARLOWE, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN LEAGUE OF LOBBYISTS: I can't speak to Mr. Gingrich or anybody else. I have no idea what they were doing. But what we do know that in terms of people who are actually doing lobbying or evolved with lobbyists and planning lobbying that there is a lot that is not registered.


SYLVESTER: Now, I called Freddie Mac for a response and I was told, quote, "We're not discussing past practices that we are no longer engaged in." It was in 2008 when Freddie Mac folded up its lobbying operations - Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story, and it's not going away. Thanks very much.

Almost a year after - almost being assassinated, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is talking about her recovery. We have highlights of her emotional first ever TV interview since the shooting.

And this company received half a billion dollars in taxpayer loans only to face bankruptcy and an FBI raid. Now, lawmakers here in Washington are demanding answers.


BLITZER: Amazing new video of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' long and challenging road to recovery.

In the months after she was shot down during that deadly Tucson massacre, the congresswoman revealed the video and spoke publicly for the first time this week in an interview with ABC News. But Giffords isn't stopping there. Her office also released an audio message she recorded for constituents.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has the story.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Among the most powerful images recorded by Gabrielle Giffords' husband astronaut Mark Kelly is this one.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It -- it's going to get better.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you laughing?

FEYERICK: The video aired on ABC in a Diane Sawyer exclusive interview. Asked how she felt when her husband told her about the shooting that left six dead and 13 wounded?

GIFFORDS: I cried. Cried.


GIFFORDS: It's sad. Oh, it's sad. A lot of people died.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It hurts your heart. GIFFORDS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Tough, tough, tough, tough, tough.

FEYERICK: She tells ABC she remembers nothing from that day.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: That day is gone?


FEYERICK: Nor is she angry about it.



G. GIFFORDS: Life. Life.

FEYERICK: The home movies taken by Kelly in the last 11 months show how much music has helped Giffords' recovery, enabling her to find words after the shooting.

Helping her remember songs.


FEYERICK: Even coaxing her with the help of a therapist to take her first steps.


FEYERICK: The bullet tore through the left side of her brain, which controls speech and language. Giffords spends two hours with a therapist, learning to find words, make short sentences and move her right side.

Asked by ABC if she'll go back to Congress...

GIFFORDS: No, better.

SAWYER: It's better?


KELLY: She wants to get better.


SAWYER: You want to get better?


SAWYER: And so you think to yourself, I'll go back to Congress if I get better?

GIFFORDS: Yes. Yes. Yes.

FEYERICK: Today, in a brief recorded message on her official Facebook site, Giffords tells her constituents she's anxious to get back to work representing them.

GIFFORDS: I'm getting stronger. I'm getting better. I want to get back to work representing Arizona is my honor.

FEYERICK: The message coincides with a hearing on Capitol Hill in which a woman who witnessed the Giffords shooting asked for more stringent gun laws including universal background checks.


FEYERICK: In the interview, Mark Kelly says the couple had been planning to have a baby through in vitro fertilization. Giffords was shot the week before that procedure was to have taken place. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is Herman Cain displaying his inadequacies as, quote, "a badge of honor?" That analysis coming from CNN's Gloria Borger, she and Ron Brownstein, they're stranding by next.


BLITZER: On Tuesday night, I'll be moderating the Republican presidential debate here in Washington, D.C., the subject national security and foreign policy. You can see it only on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

By the way, let's talk a little bit about that and other political news with our CNN senior political analyst and "National Journal" columnist, Ron Brownstein and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, what do you want to see come out of this debate Tuesday night?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I should ask you that question, Wolf, since you're going to be moderating it.

BLITZER: I just ask the questions. You want to get some nuggets.

BORGER: I do. I want to have them elaborate a little bit more on the discussion of zeroing out foreign aid. There was a discussion in the last foreign policy debate about what you do about foreign aid.

And there was some disagreement there. There was also a lot of sabre- rattling I would have to say on Iran. I think I would like to hear more about that. Obviously, I want to hear more from Herman Cain about Libya, which is a question he had a problem with earlier this week.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say a lot of people watch these debates sort of like when they watch a car chase on television. They're waiting for some sort of disaster or whatever? Because there have been 10 debates or so.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's especially true on the foreign policy. On the foreign policy debate, they're not so much debating each other as trying to cross the threshold in the eyes of the public that they're credible as commander in chief.

And some of them are having trouble with that. The one other area I would add is excellent work by my colleague, Major Garrett at the last debate. But one area they did not close the circle on was getting all of the candidates on the record about whether they believe waterboarding is torture.

That was one area where there was a sharp disagreement in the debate. We have several candidates we have to hear from. We sort of gotten answers from Mitt Romney staff after, but I think getting him on the record, on camera talking about those issues is going to be very important point to button up at this next debate.

BLITZER: If you take a look at the differences between these Republican candidates, Ron Paul clearly disagrees with almost all of them, Jon Huntsman to a certain degree, but the others on a lot of these issues, pretty much on the same page.

BORGER: I think there's a question on the Republican Party, if you look at John McCain at one end and John McCain is a hawk, wants to be much more interventionist.

And you look at Ron Paul at the other end, there's a question of just how isolationist the Republican Party has become because intervention has become a fiscal issue. And so, you know, that's a debate they're having internally in the party.

BLITZER: The debate is Tuesday. Now Wednesday is the deadline for the so-called "Super Committee" to come up with their deal. We don't know if there will be or won't be a lot of people are guessing.

Let me read to you what you wrote. I want to discuss. Absent a last minute breakthrough, the 12 member panel won't produce a sweeping grand bargain. Although the committee was still negotiating as this column went to press, most in Washington are expecting either an incremental package or a partisan stalemate that triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, at this point, I mean, you may have the hypocratic oath of do no harm. I mean, they have $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts set up as part of the process that allowed the debt ceiling to be raised last summer.

And they also have, Wolf, I think you have to understand, looming the Bush tax cuts do expire at the end of 2012. And that is $4 trillion in potential deficit reduction over the next decade.

So in many ways as they struggle to the finish line and we were talking about this before, this really is an indictment of Washington's inability to come together to solve problems.

But as they struggle to the finish line, maybe the most important thing they do is not undermine further deficit reduction either by undermining the sequestration of that $1.2 trillion or locking in an extension of those long range tax cuts, which are clearly are going to be a big issue in 2012. BORGER: Here's the problem for Congress though. They have no credibility and what little credibility they have at 9 percent approval rating, they're going to lose it if they can't get something done.

And what we see happening is they're starting to rationalize their own failure with liberal Democrats saying, you know what? These cuts aren't so bad. And Republicans saying, maybe we can undo some of those defense cuts.

And this is not what the public bargained for. They kicked the can down the road after the debt ceiling. They're now trying to kick the can down the road yet again.

BLITZER: When you say kick the can down the road, none of these cuts if there is what's cost sequestration, which is the automatic trigger, they don't even begin until 2013.

BROWNSTEIN: That's right. You know, look, a lot of Republicans are probably thinking President Obama's approval rating is struggling. We have a chance to win the White House. The House, and take back the Senate in 2013 and we can just impose our solution.

We don't have to compromise with Democrats. We can pass the Paul Ryan budget, convert Medicare into a premium support system without accepting any tax cuts.

That's going to be a lot more difficult than it looks on a party line basis to transform a social program that affects as many 40 million people as Medicare does on a party line basis with no democratic support.

I think Republicans are underestimating the value of having a Democratic president bless entitlement cuts.

BORGER: But, you know, the Democrats did that with health care. That was a real problem.

BROWNSTEIN: And there was a real backlash.

BORGER: No Republicans to support it. The public didn't like. A huge social program like that when it is reformed needs to have bipartisan support, but we don't have bipartisan support for anything.

BROWNSTEIN: And I think you are underestimating, again, both parties have to do this together or it's going to be very difficult to do it all, even with unified control in 2013.

BLITZER: Clock is ticking towards Wednesday. No one seems to be holding their breath that there is going to be a deal.


BLITZER: You had a terrific column on about Herman Cain. Among other things, you wrote this Gloria, "Sure there are always inadequate presidential candidates, but here's where Cain truly distinguishes himself. He defends his inadequacies, even wears them as a badge of honor."

BORGER: Yes, he does. I mean, we were just talking about foreign policy and we're talking his Libya gaffe. He said to a journalist after that, you know, I don't need to know about foreign policy.

I've got commanders who are going to tell me what to do. Well, here's the question and maybe you left it. What if your commanders disagree? What do you then? Presidents need to be informed on detail as well as have a large vision because they're the ones who have to make the decision.

BLITZER: Say what you will about President Obama, when his commanders sort of disagreed whether to go into Pakistan and kill Bin Laden, he was the one that made the decision, kill him.

BROWNSTEIN: First of all, you're going to hear a lot of about that in 2012, especially if it's Obama versus Mitt Romney. They may run a version of the Bush-Kerry campaign where it says you may not agree with me all time, but I made the tough calls and this guy is a flip- flopper.

Real quick on Cain, it's the conundrum of an outsider candidate. When people are disenchanted with politics, the idea of somebody outside the system is really attractive.

But the very thing that makes them attractive, they kind of freshen part of the system ultimately weighs them down. People want some of who is confidence in the biggest job in the world.

BLITZER: Big week coming up in politics and on the deficit. You guys will be with me all week. Thanks very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And that half million dollar federal loan to a solar energy firm that went belly up. The energy secretary gets a grilling on Capitol Hill this week that is making no apology.


BLITZER: An extraordinary video surfaced showing the Taliban preparing for last June's bold and bloody attack on a luxury hotel right in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan. Here's CNN's Nick Payton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of the most brazen attacks to hit Kabul in June, a government conference at the Intercontinental Hotel was attacked by a suicide squad who killed 11 others.

It took Special Forces, helicopters and a drone to suppress it six hours later. President Karzai this week gathered tribal leaders near the hotel for a vital meeting about America's presence here. But now, CNN has gained a unique insight into how that raid was planned. The Taliban have posted online a lengthy propaganda video they say about the seven men behind that attack.

This is a display what they want us to see of their skills and planning. CNN can't prove it's genuine, only that it shows how sophisticated their message and media are after a decade of war.

Ambush somewhere else seems to have insurgents steal in military uniforms. One hotel attacker speaks with his wish to die.

My message is life is too short, he says. You can die of cancer or car accidents. If you want God's blessing, be a suicide attacker. The preparations are elaborate. We think only the faces of the dead visible in front of a model of the hotel, discussing tactics.

Those with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, the tutor says, get on the roof and use it as a control tower so the enemy can't enter easily.

Then, there's footage of the attack itself. In a war about perception and victory, the Taliban have an increasingly sophisticated voice. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kabul.


BLITZER: A very tense hearing as President Obama's energy secretary gets grilled over a taxpayer loan to a solar panel maker that went belly up.


BLITZER: A heated hearing on Capitol Hill with the Energy Secretary Steven Chu defending the government's half billion dollar loan to a solar panel manufacturer that wound up going bankrupt.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin has been working the story for us. Jessica, so explain to our viewers what happened this week.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the highest ranking administration official to testify on this issue told a House panel that the administration, the White House, had no contact with the Energy Department. And that politics played no role in the department's decision to grant Solyndra a loan guarantee.


YELLIN (voice-over): The topic was green energy, but the tone was fiery. The committee's top Republican --

REPRESENTATIVE CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: It is readily apparent that the senior officials in the administration put politics before the stewardship of taxpayer' dollars.

YELLIN: And top Democrat -- REPRESENTATIVE DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: The majority to date as evidenced by my colleagues' opening statement has focused on firing partisan broad sights at the Obama administration.

YELLIN: With the soft spoken Energy Secretary Steven Chu in the hot seat.

STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY: The final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind. I did not make any decision based on political considerations.

YELLIN: For Republicans that was far from satisfying.

REPRESENTATIVE FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: Who is to apologize for the half a billion dollars that has been -- that's out the door?

CHU: Well, it is extremely unfortunate what has happened with Solyndra, but if you go back and look at the time the decision was being made, was there incompetence, was there influence of a political nature, and I would have to say no.

UPTON: So, no apology?

CHU: Well, it is extremely unfortunate what has happened to Solyndra.

YELLIN: Their charge? The Energy Department did not property vet Solyndra, a company President Obama later touted as a true engine of economic growth. And once it started to fail, put up more taxpayer dollars, but let private investors get preferential treatment if the company went bankrupt.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Do you feel that you owe people an apology for having subordinate with taxpayer dollar to what now it turns to be a very risky venture?

YELLIN: Democrats say the people driving the investigation have political motives of their own.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: House Republicans and their coal and oil industry allies are manufacturing a scandal, trying to discredit you, President Obama, the clean energy companies.

Now, that's a great deal if you're an oil company or a coal executive, but it's unfair to you and a disservice to the American people.


YELLIN: He was also grilled on the Republicans' latest charge that Solyndra officials were asked to withhold news of layoffs until after last year's midterm elections. The secretary said he had no knowledge of that until e-mails about the issue came to light this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know a lot of Republicans and others are asking this fundamental question. Why is the federal government and our taxpayer money even involved in this venture capitalism that these operations underwriting these kinds of companies to begin with? YELLIN: It's great question. Two points on that. One, the Obama administration officials say other countries are doing it and that we as the U.S. don't want to get behind in the race because China's doing it in other places.

Two, the Bush administration also supported this, and they -- the Obama team has released an endless stream of e-mails from Republicans who have also backed this program and asked for funds in their districts from the program.

BLITZER: I suspect that program is going to go away fairly soon.

YELLIN: I think you are right.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jessica.

Prisoners performing dance as a means of rehabilitation in just one of our "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this week's "Hot Shots." In Sri Lanka, prisoners prepare to perform a traditional dance as part of a rehabilitation program.

In Bangladesh, a fire fighter put out a fire in a slum. More than a hundred homes have been destroyed.

In Yemen, a tribe walks in front of school boys demonstrating against the government.

In Australia, look at this. Performers participate in the opening ceremony of a golf tournament. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

A sexy "Get Out The Vote" campaign in Russia. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First Russia's leader couldn't keep his shirt on and now Vladimir Putin's party has a "Get Out The Vote" ad that shows a couple getting it on, getting it on in the voting booth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tag line is let's do this together.

MOOS: Timothy Frye says the ad smacks of desperation of Putin's United Russian Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clearly an attempt to make United Russia look hip.

MOOS: The attempt to go after the youth votes spun Putin's puns. Some say this ad goes hand in hand with Vladimir Putin's macho brand brimming with testosterone, hence the half naked horsy and hunting photos while cleavage bearing supporters calling themselves Putin's army strut their stuff much like Obama girl did in 2008.

At least Obama girl didn't strip as this candidate for Poland's parliament did. You want more, it says? Vote for SLD, but apparently they didn't. The left leaning party got creamed.

But the most orgasmic political ad came ever came from Catalonia in Spain. Voter excitement reaches new peaks in this ad from young socialists when it says when Harry met Sally moment what she savers dropping her ballot.

Voting is a pleasure was a tag line, but the orgasmic ad's spun criticism that it was an attack on the dignity of women and now a new Benetton campaign has had to withdraw an image called the "unhate campaign."

It feature Photoshop pictures of leaders kissing, mostly adversaries like Obama and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Palestenian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

But an image of the pope kissing a Muslim imam that we aren't showing was declared unacceptable by the Vatican. Kiss that one good-bye. We unhate to see that one go. Jeanne moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Don't forget Tuesday night, 8 p.m. Eastern, the CNN Republican presidential debate right here in Washington. I'll be moderating only here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.