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Newt Gingrich Rising; Senate Showdown Over Payroll Tax Cut; After Landmark Surge, Will Markets Stabilize? Afghan Rape Victim To Be Freed; Clinton Presses Myanmar On Reform; Is iPhone's "Siri" Pro- Life?

Aired December 1, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a sudden and very serious challenge to Mitt Romney by Newt Gingrich. It's an entirely new twist to the volatile Republican presidential contest. So what will Romney do now?

And while that battle unfolds, the Obama campaign is, at least for now, keeping its eyes squarely on Romney. We will go inside the White House strategy.

Plus, Kermit the Frog, he's here in Washington meeting with President Obama and the first family tonight, but he's with me this hour to explain why.

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

He's come unscathed through the rise and fall of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, but this time, it might be different for Mitt Romney. The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now posing an increasingly credible threat to Romney's persistent high polling, opening up a new battle line in the Republican race for the White House.

CNN's Joe Johns is working the story for us.

Joe, what's the latest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mitt Romney has spent most of this campaign in a fairly comfortable position, but his organization is feeling the heat and the question now is how they're planning to respond.


JOHNS (voice-over): Newt Gingrich at the head of the pack a month out from the Iowa caucuses, a thing nobody planned for except maybe Newt Gingrich.

A new poll in the early primary state of Florida showing 50 percent of likely Republican voters say Gingrich is their pick for president. Only 19 percent picked Mitt Romney, who spent much of the campaign behaving like he's already the nominee, focusing on the Democratic president instead of the other Republican contenders. Mr. Inevitable suddenly feeling a bit of Southern discomfort, which was on display in this FOX News interview where he was trying to distinguish himself, but trying to be nice about it.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Speaker Gingrich is a good man. He and I have very different backgrounds. He has spent his last 30 or 40 years in Washington. I spent my career in the private sector. I think that is what the country needs right now. He's a lifelong politician. I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works. And I do and that's one reason I'm in this race.

JOHNS: It's sort of the Murphy's Law of politics. The scenario you don't consider carefully is the one that causes the most aggravation. Democrats discovered this in 1994, when Gingrich and company took over the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Now Gingrich is focusing on a member of his own party with the nomination as the prize. He will be tough and direct.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney.

JOHNS: And Gingrich seems willing to talk about Romney's Achilles' heel, the flip-flop changes in position that make him look, well, opportunistic.

GINGRICH: I wouldn't lie to the American people. I wouldn't switch my positions for political reasons. It's perfectly reasonable to change your position as facts change if you see new things you didn't see. Everybody's done that. Ronald Reagan did it.

JOHNS: By the way, Newt Gingrich once said he wouldn't attack Republicans because he said President Obama is the target, though the question now is whether Romney should attack or keep his fingers crossed that Gingrich's mouth triggers self-destruction for his campaign.

Political strategist Cheri Jacobus:

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He treats the others on the debate more as colleagues and comrades in arms rather than his opponents. I think that works for him. It goes with his managerial style and instills trust and confidence in the voters.


JOHNS: The really tricky question here is what happens if these two candidates really start going at it and driving up each other's negatives. It's the kind of thing that might help a guy get the nomination, but comes back to haunt you during a general election campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich and his folks keep saying they're not going to engage in any direct assaults on Mitt Romney or any of the other Republicans. They're saving their fire for the president. Is that what you're hearing as well?

JOHNS: Well, that's what I have heard from the Newt Gingrich campaign.

However, the speaker himself can use sharp words, as you saw in the piece.

BLITZER: Yes. He's not a shy guy, as we all know, those of us who have covered him, like and you and me, for a long time.

All right, let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's covered Newt Gingrich for a long time as well.

How concerned, Gloria, is the Romney campaign about this amazing rise all of a sudden by Newt Gingrich?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're very rattled by it from my conversations with people both inside the campaign and close to the campaign.

It's clear that they now believe, OK, this is going to be Newt Gingrich against Mitt Romney. They see his polls in Florida where Newt is up, in South Carolina, in Iowa. He's even creeping up in New Hampshire, although Romney has a formidable lead in New Hampshire.

Their problem is that there's not a lot of time before the Iowa caucuses. If this had happened a couple of months ago, they would feel a little more sanguine about it, but they have got four weeks in which to make sure that Newt Gingrich doesn't win the Iowa caucuses and that really has them worried.

BLITZER: And in New Hampshire especially, because Mitt Romney's counting on New Hampshire. As Newt Gingrich goes up in New Hampshire, here's what they have to worry about, Jon Huntsman, because if he can take 10 or 15 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, that's a vote potentially from Mitt Romney.

BORGER: Right. And they want Herman Cain to stay in. They want to Ron Paul to stay in. They want all those candidates...


BLITZER: Because those are votes that could normally go to Newt Gingrich.

So what's the strategy you're hearing from the Romney folks in dealing with this crisis? And I think it's a political crisis for them.

BORGER: It is. And you just heard in Joe's piece that Mitt Romney talked about Newt Gingrich as a career politician. Well, I'm told they're going to take it a step further, not just that Newt Gingrich was a career politician, but that he has been for the last 30 years what they call an inside operator, that he is somebody who has been selling access, if you will, in the capital, here in Washington, D.C.

They say, OK, pit Romney's experience. He was a governor. But he ran, he ran a business, he saved the Salt Lake City Olympics. That's his experience against Newt Gingrich's experience, which was they believe as a failed politician who -- who was the House speaker, but did resign and then somebody who sold his access.

The problem for them is they can't really use the flip-flop issue really well, because, of course, Newt Gingrich can turn it around back on them. Another problem they have is that the focus groups do not show that the voters really know a lot about Newt Gingrich's past political and personal history, so they're going to have to be out there making sure that the voters know about it.

BLITZER: Is Romney going to play it safe or take the gloves off?

BORGER: He's not going to play it safe anymore. I don't think they feel they have any time.

I think you saw the beginning of him taking the gloves off against Newt Gingrich. He understands he's got to win. One said -- one of his advisers said to me, look, he's ready to fight. But here's their problem and they know it. It's a heart-head problem in the Republican Party. In the Republican Party's hearts, they like someone like Newt Gingrich because he can really take it to Barack Obama.

He's been very tough on Obama. He represents their anger. But in their heads, they have to nominate somebody they believe can win and can beat Barack Obama. And the Romney campaign will say Mitt Romney is that candidate so you have got to in the end go with your heads.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

We're also following developments on Capitol Hill, where the Senate is expected to vote tonight on dueling measures to extend a payroll tax cut into next year. Neither of the bills is expected to pass, but they will open the door to negotiations between Democrats who want to pay for it with a new tax on millionaires and Republicans who strongly of course oppose any such new tax.

Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett, the host of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" that airs on CNN every weeknight 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Erin, here's the question. If the payroll tax cut extension does not pass, what are experts telling you could happen to the overall U.S. economy?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this is something that everybody loves. Businesses like it and obviously employees like it because the tax cut helps everybody.

And it could affect average American families. You get this from the White House, but as I said, people on both sides tend to agree that somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500 a family is how much additional taxes people would end up paying if the payroll tax break were not extended.

And, as you know, Democrats want to both extend it and expand it. Republicans simply want to extend it. Obviously, they would pay for it in different ways, with a millionaire's tax from Democrats, and Republicans through freezing federal salaries. As you said, neither way really going to pass.

But let me just put it to you this way. It's going to cost $110 billion to $115 billion from the estimates I have seen to actually extend that tax. And they're going to find a way to do it, simply because it is so popular.

But one thing you have got to keep in mind is that tax is used to fund Social Security. So long as we keep giving that incredibly popular tax break, someone's got to be very direct and very frank about how we're actually going to be putting money into the future fund for Social Security. Otherwise we're just taking that money today and we're not going to have it tomorrow.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point -- 24 hours ago, you and I were talking about the amazing increase in the markets yesterday, almost 500 points on the Dow Jones. Today it was down about 25 points, still above 12000, but down. Is all of the excitement from yesterday gone? What is going on here?

BURNETT: Yes. This is one of those things where you got that -- whenever you see countries work together in a situation of such dire economic stress, you get that big positive move.

And really, ultimately, that was because Ben Bernanke stepped up to the plate and made dollars, which still is the currency the world wants, available to everyone.

Wolf, right now though, everyone's waiting for the next step because I think Richard Quest said it best on your show. That was just a Band- Aid to try to grease the wheels, but fundamentally the wheels in Europe are not working. They have to make real changes. And the promises that they have made people and how they are paying out pensions, when people are retiring, all those choices and decisions have to be made.

That's really what has to happen. And my understanding today is that you're going to see the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, meeting with the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, as early as Monday for a summit. Europe's going to be meeting next week. We expect a plan out of Italy.

You put all that together and you will get hopefully a little bit more clarity on Europe. And that really matters. But what happens in the U.S. economy is going to become front and center again and extending those unemployment benefits and the payroll tax is going to be a big part of the market conversation for the next few weeks.

BLITZER: We will see if the Democrats and the Republicans can get their act together and do something.


BURNETT: Like I said, don't hold your breath.

BLITZER: I'm not holding my breath, but we will see what they can do -- 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," we will be watching. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right.

BLITZER: The Obama reelection strategy is becoming clearer amid all the twists and turns of the Republican Party race for the White House. We're going inside the president's plan for four more years.

And what are Newt Gingrich's strengths and weaknesses? We will talk about that in our "Strategy Session" with Newt Gingrich's former press secretary and Tony Blankley our own Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: At this point, it seems like a question not of if Herman Cain will drop out of the race, but rather when.

The Republican presidential hopeful insists he's not making any decision until he talks to his wife in person. There's an idea. That's supposed to happen when Cain goes back home tomorrow. Cain says he and his wife have spoken over the phone, but not face to face since the latest bombshell dropped.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Cain also says that he needs to reevaluate his support and the impact that the latest allegation has on fundraising. The latest, of course, is that of the 13-year affair of an Atlanta woman, Ginger White. Cain says White was just a friend, a person that he helped financially. This charge of adultery comes after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, which Cain has also denied.

Cain's wife, Gloria, rarely appears in public, but did do an interview in support of her husband after the harassment allegations surfaced. Interestingly, we haven't heard a single word out of her since Ms. White's claim of a 13-year long affair with Herman Cain.

Herman Cain has been dropping in the polls since this began. He insists he's a victim of character assassination. Nonetheless, he says we can expect a decision in the coming days.

It seems like the decision is pretty clear. Even if Cain stays in the race, it's hard to see how he'd ever win enough votes to be the Republican nominee. Polls show that Cain's support among Republican women has gone off a cliff. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Herman Cain gets only 12 percent support from Republican women voters and you cannot win with numbers that low.

The poll also suggests that Republican women are less likely to think Herman Cain has the right personality and leadership qualities to be president, which brings us to the question. Has the time come for Herman Cain to just go away? The answer is yes.

Go to Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Apparently, his campaign manager had a meeting in Iowa, and a few minutes ago said something to a reporter there that it is full steam ahead and Herman Cain is in it to win it. I don't believe that. I bet he's gone by Monday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know about that, but we'll see what happens. He's got a big meeting coming up with this wife, I think, tomorrow.


BLITZER: The first time they've met face to face since these latest allegations surfaced. They've been speaking on the phone.

CAFFERTY: I just said all that.

BLITZER: I know. I know. Just reiterating what you said. Jack, thank you.


BLITZER: While Newt Gingrich is taking off in the polls, Democrats continue to pound away at Mitt Romney.

Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is here.

Jessica, so, what is their strategy? What are you hearing?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, they believe that while Republican primary voters are focused on the candidates, most of the general public is not and they're trying to define Romney before he can define himself for the general voting public. First of all, they've ruled out this ad earlier this week, Mitt versus Mitt. We've talked about it a lot.

And the first problem with their message is this attempt to define Romney as a flip-flopper. They've also been inundating reporters' inboxes with e-mails that have headlines like this. Mitt Romney doesn't know what Mitt Romney stands for. They've called him a fraud, dishonest, lacking integrity. Quote, "Mitt Romney is a serial deceiver, et cetera."

The other piece of the strategy is to attempt to define Romney as a creature of Wall Street. Of course, Romney's campaign, you've seen how they've responded, is to just stay focused on the economy and they see this as an attempt to distract from the president's record, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why are they focusing still, almost all of their fire on Mitt Romney and not the -- who appears to be the front runner right now, Newt Gingrich?

YELLIN: Right. Well, first of all, it's because they ultimately believe that Romney will prevail. Despite the polls right now, they believe that because Romney has the money, the establishment support and the resources to get through all the primary states, that he will become the nominee. And despite Gingrich's rise in the poll numbers, those things have not followed him to date.

Another point, Wolf, you'll recall that Mitt Romney, his first advertisement in the state of New Hampshire, which is a must-win for Mitt Romney, was an attack ad against President Obama. It wasn't an ad attacking the other Republican candidates. So, he has been running a general election-type campaign.

Now, if Gingrich were to try to single out President Obama with paid advertising, you might see, you would expect to see the Democrats also start going after Gingrich.

And then, finally, I'd make this point. There are many Democrats who would be happy to see the Republicans have a very long and drawn out primary fight. And if going after Romney and keeping his numbers down helps to do that or even helps to make Gingrich the nominee, there are plenty of Democrats who would be fine with that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. You got to be careful what you wish for, though, as you often learn in politics.

Jessica, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley.

Newt Gingrich is not running a traditional campaign. He doesn't have a lot of money. He has no ad, advertising, as far as I can tell, but he's doing amazingly well.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is. And, you know, the question is, I think first of all, he's blessed by the calendar. His timing is great. If you're going to peak, now is a really good time to do it because we have less than a month before you move to Iowa.

It's been very clear that Republicans have been dating a lot of people in the field, but right now is the time to be the favorite because it gives you the big mo as you roll into Iowa.

Now, the question is, is in effect Tony Blankley and I who you'll have later were just talking about this. You know, is it that there's a whole new way to campaign now? Can a campaign that doesn't follow the traditional oh, you've got to be in Iowa, you've got to have people to knock in the doors, because there's not much of a Gingrich infrastructure in Iowa and that could hurt him.

BLITZER: They just -- in office, they've got five staffers. But you know what some Republican insiders have said to me -- Newt Gingrich doesn't need to spend a whole lot money in Iowa. He can go, for example, as they point out, last night, he spent an hour on FOX News with Sean Hannity. He got a lot of air time. You know how much he'd have to spend for an air on cable news to get that kind of air time?

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: He reaches a lot of people in Iowa by simply going on the show -- on Hannity show.

CROWLEY: Sure. But we're not talking about town hall meetings. We're talking about a cold night in early January when you need someone in that caucus that's the head of that little group going, here's why you ought to be with Newt Gingrich. Here, Mitt supporter, is why I want you here. You have to have those people. You still have to have the door knockers, except if we're in this whole brave new world. Can you do -- can, you know, the Twitter move things?

BLITZER: Social media.

CROWLEY: Right. You know, and so, you know, it is a bit of an unknown, but at the moment, Mitt -- Newt Gingrich does not have the kind of infrastructure even in Iowa where Romney hasn't played that hard until now.

BLITZER: I suspect he'll have that by January 3rd if I know Newt Gingrich and his supporters. They're very assertive as you know.

Is the White House and the Democrats, the Obama campaign and the Democrats, are they right in assuming as Jessica just suggested, that they believe Mitt Romney will still be the Republican nominee? Because a lot of folks I'm speaking to, including Democratic insiders, and I blog about this on our SITUATION ROOM Web site, they believe that it could easily be the president versus Newt Gingrich.

CROWLEY: Well, I think as Jessica said, there's good reason for Democrats to talk that up. So, they can keep these guys at each other through June. That diminishes everybody's, you know, ability to look forward to the general election. They're still focused on each other as sort of Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama, that they now, obviously. One of them went on to win.

But nonetheless, if Democrats can keep Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney going at each other for months to come, this is a good thing for Democrats. And, by the way, the president's not going to lack for money. If he wants to put up an ad against Newt Gingrich, I imagine they could sort of snap that up by tomorrow.

BLITZER: The president's going to have lot more money, I suspect than the Republicans, because he's raising a ton of money right now. He has no opposition from the Democratic nomination.

CROWLEY: They got and they can spend. And the DNC is doing this stuff now.

BLITZER: Of course.

CROWLEY: And they've got to. So --

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

President Obama -- his insiders are increasingly convinced, at least some of them, in telling me that Newt Gingrich will win the Republican nomination, so what's behind the new momentum? Can it last? That's coming up.

And later, going green for Christmas. My very special guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to enjoy this.


BLITZER: Right to our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist, Tony Blankley.

I want you to look at these poll numbers. This is Florida. This is a poll that just came out. American Research Group. It's a good polling agency. October versus now.

October, Gingrich was at 11 percent in Florida among likely Republican primary voters. He's up to 50 percent right now. Romney was at 28. He's down to 19. Herman Cain was at 34, he's now to 10. Everybody else is in single digits.

But it's very interesting. All of a sudden, Newt Gingrich in this poll, 50 percent.

You worked for him, Tony. You know him. You spent years as his press secretary. How does this happen?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I mean, Newt was saying right after the campaign got off to a slow start, he was hoping to rebuild them by Christmas time, be the alternative to Romney. He's made it a month earlier than that, which is a very important month because it gives hymn extra month to raise money to buy the organization he needs for January.

So, you know, Newt also driven -- I mean, you know, you covered Newt over the years, he always drove ideas and that was his concept of how you change politics by changing the minds of people and he never did it conventionally. He upset both the Republican establishment and Democratic establishment.

And the Democrats spent 20 years thinking they could beat him and they didn't.

BLITZER: Are you among those Democratic insiders who are increasingly convinced this is going to be an Obama-Gingrich contest?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't know who they are, but no one knows better than Speaker Gingrich that this can be a very short wave, because the Republicans have shown time and time again that once you capture that wave, unless you know how to navigate all the other political troubles that will come with it, it's short lived. And Speaker Gingrich, who has a reputation for sort of stepping on his own message, this could be a very short wave or this could be something that lasts longer.

BLITZER: What's his major weakness?

BLANKLEY: Well, I don't think he has a major weakness. Obviously, he needs a lot of strategic and tactical opportunities. And anyone who's in a sort of battled maneuver with the way Newt views how you approach things, you can make a tactical mistake.

But I'll give you an example, the difference between Newt and Perry on the immigration issue. Perry destroyed himself because he really -- he didn't have a second act to his discussion. Newt went out there, said I think most people is reality, that we're not going to deport 12 million people. But then he had the ability because he's been at this and he's been talking about this issue since I can remember, to discuss it in a way that an awful lot of even conservatives, Tea Party, to say, well, maybe that makes sense.

So, he -- people initially said, oh, he'd blown himself up. He hadn't. He'd in fact shown himself to be more courageous. So --

BLITZER: You know, there's vintage Newt Gingrich. He just spoke to our friend, Jake Tapper of ABC News. He had this change. And I put it up on the screen.

Newt Gingrich -- he was asked, why aren't you attacking some of your fellow Republicans who are attacking you?

"They are not going to be the nominee. I don't have to go around and point out the inconsistencies of people who are not going to be the nominee. They are not going to be the nominee."

Tapper: "You were going to be the nominee?"

Gingrich, "I am going to be the nominee. It's very hard not to look at the recent polls and think the odds aren't very high. I'm going to be the nominee."

A lot of self-confidence there.

BRAZILE: Well, here's the concern. I'm sure Tony, he should be concerned. Look, Newt Gingrich failed to meet the deadline and filed to get on the ballot in Missouri. He doesn't have a real organization. Mitt Romney has a tight organization.

Can he make all those ballot tests? If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, we can expect a very dirty, nasty partisan campaign because he is a street fighter.

BLANKLEY: Well, look, I mean, both sides --

BRAZILE: Respected. I respect him.

BLANKLEY: Both sides -- both sides are going to accuse each other of running a dirty campaign and I've never seen a campaign from Democrats or Republicans that didn't have a negative component to it. On the other hand, you look back to the Contract with America in 1994, the center piece of the campaign was positive not negative.

BLITZER: Here's Ron Paul. He's going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, tomorrow in an attack ad he has against Newt Gingrich. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to put people in jail? Let's look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment, politicians who profited from the environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich on the defense for taking 1.5 million bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After he left Congress, Freddie Mac paid Gingrich at least $1.6 million.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's $1.6 million some of it just before the housing market collapsed. Newt Gingrich can ridicule Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac publicly, while privately pocketing millions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's hard core lobbying and what Newt Gingrich was doing.


BLITZER: Pretty tough ad from Ron Paul.

BLANKLEY: It's expected. Look, the thing in campaigns. You're talking about negative ad campaigning. If you don't have a strong positive piece of your campaign, then the negatives bring you down.

But Newt has a tremendous positive image of what he wants to accomplish. He's going to talk about lot of policies, lots of things that need fixing in big ways.

Now people are going to hear the positives. They're going to hear the other side's negative criticism of him, but there are two things out there. If you've got nothing going for you, then the negatives knock you down.

BLITZER: Every time I hear Ron Paul going after one of the frontrunners, whether it's Mitt Romney earlier saying there's really not much of a different between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich in this particular attack ad, you know what I think of?

It's a long shot. It's unlikely third party candidate if in fact Ron Paul doesn't get the nomination, does he run on the libertarian party ticket or another third party? I know it's unlikely, but what do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are some Republicans who are telling him right now. You know, get out the race and run as a libertarian so you can begin to build your base.

Look, I've seen the ad twice. I saw it in the middle of the night and I saw it again this morning. So it's very effective because he used Newt Gingrich as the sound bite.

Newt Gingrich as the story and whether or not Newt Gingrich understands it or not, like Romney, he has contorted himself into a couple of pretzels as well. BLANKLEY: I'll bet a stake in that Ron Paul does not run as a third party candidate. I'm not saying he will.

BLITZER: I don't think he will, but there are some folks who suspect. Thanks. Sounds like a DNC ad.

BRAZILE: I like it.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys. Hillary Clinton wraps up her historic overseas trip with a special hand delivered message from President Obama and a word of praise and caution for Myanmar.

And the Afghan woman who was raped and thrown behind bars receives freedom today. Finally, what's going on?


BLITZER: Incredible story. An Afghan woman who was raped, get this, then thrown in prison can now go free, but if she does, she could face an angry mob in Afghanistan. This story is certainly outraged so much of the world.

Let's get the very latest from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remarkable news out of Kabul. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree for the release of Gulnaz, the rape victim we've been reporting about for the last couple of weeks.

It is clear that he wants to see her released quote, "into safety." So to be sure that when she comes out of jail with her young daughter, she has a safe place to go to, immune from threats that have been made against her because of the dishonor, which her ordeal has apparently brought some people in the community where she's from.

We also understand from her lawyer that she has a safe place to go to upon release. The other outstanding issue is whether or not she does want to marry her attacker. Now, her lawyer is absolutely clear, she does not want to marry this man at all.

And we understand in the next day that her lawyer will be meeting with her and ministers from the instruction of the president will be meeting both her attacker and her to finally resolve this issue.

But it does appear at this stage that the Afghan president has personally intervened in this case, which has drawn attention globally. The terrifying plight of Gulnaz, who was raped by her cousin's husband, subsequently jailed for adultery because of that rap, had a child from the attack, is spending 12 years in jail because of the attack.

Her sentence is now reduced. She may be released very soon and also faces death threats apparently because the dishonor her ordeal has brought those in her community from where she is from.

So a very terrifying case here, but certainly something, which the Afghan president feels obliged to intervene in and he has ordered her release. Now we understand, of course, at this point, she remains in jail.

And we understand that the earliest she could be released is perhaps at the weekend, but a few bureaucratic hurdles to cross, but certainly at this point, we understand that, A, she has a safe place to go to upon release and her release is what the Afghan president wants at this time so a huge day of change for Gulnaz in this story. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, New York.

BLITZER: Nick deserves a lot of credit. He has reported extensively on this case and finally, finally, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan after an enormous amount of pressure is about to do the right thing and let this woman go.

Let's hope she's safe in Afghanistan after 10 years of U.S. military trying to help that country. Let's hope this woman and all the women of Afghanistan are safe from these kind of outrageous attacks.

Hillary Clinton is in Myanmar with several messages including a hand delivered letter from President Obama. Also, a controversy around the new iPhone's personal assistant, Siri. Why some people are asking this question, is she antiabortion?


BLITZER: It was an historic moment. They earlier have spoken by phone, but today, they met face to face. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hand delivering a letter from President Obama to Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, but Clinton also had a message of her own.

CNN's Jill Dougherty is traveling with the secretary.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Secretary Clinton had dinner tonight with Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate, asking for some pointers on getting back into the public fray.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met living proof that something is changing in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, icon of the country's democracy movement, held in detention by the military dictatorship for almost two decades, freed a year ago, is now candidate for political office.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is also encouraging that --

DOUGHERTY: Just hours before they met for dinner, Clinton called that fact encouraging, but cautioned --

CLINTON: But that, too, will not be sufficient unless all political parties can open offices throughout the country and compete in free, fair and credible elections. DOUGHERTY: The State Department released a letter to Suu Kyi from President Obama, thanking her for inspiring people around the world and pledging the U.S. will stand by you now and always.

Earlier in the day in the capital, Clinton met the man responsible for the first steps toward political and economic reform. Myanmar's president, a former general. She delivered a second letter from Mr. Obama saying he looks forward to hearing the tangible outcomes of Clinton's discussions.

Myanmar's government has freed 200 political prisoners, but Clinton says there are 1,000 more. Restrictions on the media have been eased, but not stopped. Ethnic violence continues and Clinton wants Myanmar to do more including serving military ties the North Korea.

A senior State Department official says in her meeting she was told it's the Myanmar government's policy to cut ties with North Korea, but the U.S. is not sure that mandate is being followed by all officials. For the U.S., that's a no go.

(on camera): The U.S. is taking steps to reward Myanmar for progress toward reform, but Secretary Clinton made it clear ending sanctions is not yet in the cards.

(voice-over): At the 2500-year-old pagoda, Hillary Clinton marveled at the glistening gold and statues of the Buddha. She says she sees progress in Myanmar, but flickers she says can die out or be stamped out.

Much more reform will have to happen, she says, to turn this solitary visit into a lasting partnership.


DOUGHERTY: There is one thing Aung San Suu Kyi says she misses about those tough times under house arrest, the ability and the time to read more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty on the scene for us. Thank you. History as I said unfolding.

Meanwhile, an American aid worker kidnapped. The new leader of al Qaeda says his group, his terror group is responsible. New information coming in.

Also, the abortion controversy swirling around the new iPhone and one of my more unusual interviews coming up this hour. I'll go one-on-one right in THE SITUATION ROOM with Kermit, the frog. And you look good by the way.


BLITZER: It's called Siri, a popular personal assistant app on Apple's new iPhone 4S that can help you locate phone numbers and addresses, but some customers say Siri's answers are biased against abortion rights. CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She's following the story for us causing a lot of buzz out there. Mary, what do we know about this?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with critics questioning whether a moral message was in play. Apple's come out to deny that blaming technical issues to explain why Siri can't seem to locate abortion clinics.


SNOW (voice-over): Where can I find a supermarket? It's one of the hottest functions of the new iPhones. Siri, the virtual assistant. Ask it just about anything and it finds an answer.

If it can't, it leads you to a search engine. But Apple is having to respond to questions about its new voice activated assistant. Those questions were first raised by bloggers asking why Siri could find anything from strip clubs to Viagra, but apparently draws a blank when asked abortion and contraception.

(on camera): We're standing outside a Planned Parenthood Clinic here in New York. Where can I find an abortion clinic? This is the latest iPhone with the Siri app.

SIRI: Sorry, I couldn't find any abortion clinics.

SNOW (voice-over): Ask the same question in Washington, D.C. and the blog story says Siri comes up with anti-abortion center in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania.

A similar search on Google directs users to several clinics where abortions are performed. The ACLU and abortion right advocates raise concerns, but Apple is blaming it on a technical glitch, saying these are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone.

It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks. Not everyone is buying it. Eli Pariser is the former executive director of and author of "The Filter Bubble."

ELI PARISER, AUTHOR, "THE FILTER BUBBLE": I think it's a pretty damn answer. The fact is that for a long time, many companies have made it more difficult for women to find family planning assistance. This is not the first time that this has happened.

SNOW: One analyst who covers Apple says he doesn't believe there's a hidden agenda since Apple doesn't use its own database, but rather relies on information gathered from partners. But he says the company's culture of silence will likely only add to suspicions.

VAN BAKER, RESEARCH V.P., GARTNER: You see lots and lots of pretty wild theories and speculations about new products and services and you know, hidden agendas and all those kinds of things with Apple more than you do with other companies because they tend to constrain the amount of information they make available to the marketplace.


SNOW: In the meantime, the abortion rights group, Pro-Choice America Foundation posted an e-mail it received from Apple's CEO after writing him. The group says it appreciates the prompt response and says it will monitor Siri until Apple's efforts to work out the kinks are finished -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting story, thanks very much for that, Mary. Let's go back to Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is has the time come for Herman Cain to just go away?

Jack, no relation in Chicago, "No way, the man is a Democrat's dream. Let him energize the economy by wasting his money. He's up against experienced politicians. This pizza maker is the new Sarah Palin."

Jeff in Georgia writes, "Mr. Cafferty, if one of these is not very credible accusers produces a blue dress with Mr. Cain's DNA on it then he ought to hit the road, but until then, I'm all aboard the Cain train."

John in Alabama, "Anytime the message of the candidate gets drowned out by the noise of the candidate's character, it's time to rethink running for the office. Herman Cain might have survived the sexual harassment claims and charges, but a 13-year long affair with proof is another problem. Mr. Cain needs to drop his run sooner rather than later."

Pat in Michigan. "I believe it's time. The problem is he does have some good ideas for a basis of discussion about tax reform. Kind of funny though how tax reform makes skeletons just leap out of the closet, maybe it's just coincidence."

Paul in North Carolina writes, "It was time for Herman Cain to go away until he even started his travesty of a campaign. Baseless allegations aside, he has zero credentials for the presidency. The man is nothing, but a cartoon character in a funny hat. Good riddance."

John in Georgia writes, "Running for president is like being in a boxing ring except the punches are coming from all sides and sometimes, a sucker punch will come out of nowhere. How Herman Cain is handling it just to test to his determination to stay on his feet. The bell hasn't rung yet."

Larry in Denver writes, "You mean he's still around? I thought he left town with his girlfriend and a map of the Middle East. I think after he does a weekend of book signing, he'll be to see his dust."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Matter of time, I think, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens, but Jack, don't go anywhere because guess what? My special guest, my special interview with Kermit, The Frog here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me. That's coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As you probably know we in THE SITUATION ROOM have a lot of great fans out there all over the world, but today, I found out about a new one I never knew we had. We're talking about Kermit, The Frog.

He's here in Washington today for a very important ceremony and he stopped by here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little earlier to tell me all about it.


BLITZER: Joining me here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, our special guest, Kermit, The Frog. Kermit, thanks very much for joining us.

KERMIT THE FROG, THE MUPPETS: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you for having me. There is a situation I think we should discuss.

BLITZER: Let's discuss that situation. You're here in Washington right now for a very special reason. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what's going on, Kermit.

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, folks, breaking news. At Christmas time, sometimes bad stuff can happen if you're not careful.

BLITZER: Like what?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, like for instance, my friends at underwriters laboratory have given me a list of safety tips for you home during the Christmas season. Very, very important.

BLITZER: How many tips are there?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, there at least three. I'm only giving you the Christmas three ones.

BLITZER: All right, can you remember those three tips?

KERMIT THE FROG: I can, because they're important.

BLITZER: Number one, two and three. It would be embarrassing if you couldn't remember number three.

KERMIT THE FROG: I think I got it. Number one, number one, I forgot it already. Only kidding. Number one, water your Christmas tree every single day.

BLITZER: All right.

KERMIT THE FROG: Do not let it go by. Number two, this is very important. Do not keep that live Christmas tree for more than four weeks even if you watered it because they dry out and it could be a fire hazard.

BLITZER: Really?

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes, and it could be a situation.


KERMIT THE FROG: Number three, what's number three? This is very important. Make sure you check those Christmas lights that you put on that tree because they get hot.

And I mean, hot when I say hot. You do not want a fire on your Christmas tree, so check for shorts, check for problems. If there is a problem, buy new lights. Stimulate the economy, folks.

BLITZER: That's very important at this time of the year. I'm really glad because our viewers not only in the United States, but around the world are going the pay attention because they know you and you look good by the way.

KERMIT THE FROG: Thank you very much. It's even more important in those countries because the voltage is higher.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

KERMIT THE FROG: I don't know. Just sounds interesting. I'm trying to sound studious and intelligence.

BLITZER: We have a major show here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Do you watch us in THE SITUATION ROOM?

KERMIT THE FROG: I certainly do.

BLITZER: Every day?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, yes. Yes, every day.

BLITZER: This is the first time you've been a guest.

KERMIT THE FROG: I have never been on your show before, but I'm happy to be here.

BLITZER: I know you're getting ready for something really special.

KERMIT THE FROG: I am. I'm very excited about it. I get to be a part of the tree lighting, the national tree lighting in sort of the backyard of the White House.

BLITZER: And you're going to meet the first family.


BLITZER: Have you met them already?

KERMIT THE FROG: I have not. We've rehearsed without them. They didn't make it to rehearsals. Some sort of a secret service thing. But they will be there. They will be there. I get to read "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" with the first lady.

BLITZER: Wow, you can do that? KERMIT THE FROG: I do. It took me like ages. I mean, the poem is easy, but trying to figure out what -- meant.

BLITZER: I love having a frog here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, listen, I'll just keep coming up with more situations.

BLITZER: You're a good man. You're a good frog. Thanks for those tips.

KERMIT THE FROG: Thank you, sir. It has been my pleasure.

BLITZER: I think you're going to save a lot of peoples' lives. It's very important.

All right, that's it. Kermit The Frog, thanks as much. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM doing an important work.

KERMIT THE FROG: Have a very happy holiday.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures, by the way, here in Washington. They're getting ready to light the national Christmas tree. You can see the White House in the background.

Kermit The Frog is going to be there and the president, the first lady of the United States. You heard Kermit refer to (INAUDIBLE). The president of the United States, they're going to be there.

It's going to be a dramatic moment. We're going to share some of those moments with you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up.