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Mitt Romney's New Strategy; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Tea Party Grades GOP Field; Should Kagan And Thomas Recuse Themselves?; GOP Backlash Against Gingrich; Mysterious Object Spotted Near Mercury; Indonesian Immigrants In New Jersey Face Deportation

Aired December 9, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: Mitt Romney adopts a risky new strategy against the new front-runner in the Republican race for the White House -- why his attacks against Newt Gingrich could backfire.

Also, Senator Rand Paul launching his own attack against Newt Gingrich. He says the former House speaker isn't from the Tea Party and isn't even a conservative. Senator Rand Paul is here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour to explain.

Plus, the latest on the congressional stalemate that could mean a bigger government bite out of your paycheck.

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

The lines have been redrawn in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. And after months of focusing his fight on President Obama, Mitt Romney is now going after the newest front- runner, the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Romney's latest assault is the classic campaign tactic of using a candidate's own words against him.

CNN's Joe Johns is joining us now.

Joe, take us inside Romney's latest attack on Gingrich.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now we know that Mitt Romney apparently is not going to sit around and wait for Newt Gingrich to make a mistake, as some people have been suggesting.

Romney's clearly on the offensive right now, but as far as we can tell, the former speaker hasn't exactly launched any kind of counterattack.


JOHNS (voice-over): Down in the polls with weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney makes his move, direct assault on the new front- runner, Newt Gingrich, starting right between the eyes with the former speaker's conservative credentials, reminding Iowa of one of many times when Gingrich's mouth got him into big trouble. That was when Gingrich slammed the now famous proposal by House Budget Chairman and Republican media darling Paul Ryan to change Medicare as we know it into a voucher system.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.

JOHNS: The right recoiled because Gingrich could have just said the plan needed a little work, but instead, he uttered what sounded to many like a crushing attack on a litmus test idea for true conservatives.

Romney followed up his Web video at a town hall, saying he's all for the Ryan plan.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a place where Speaker Gingrich and I disagree. He called this right-wing social engineering. I believe it's a very important step. To -- to protect Medicare and to protect Social Security, we're going to have to make that I make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed.

JOHNS: But the attacks didn't stop there. The Romney Super Political Action Committee posted, and then took down another video suggesting President Obama is smiling because front-runner Gingrich would be such a rich target in a general election race.

NARRATOR: Newt has a ton of baggage, like the fact that Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations or that he took at least $1.6 million from Freddie Mac just before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Then there's the $37 million Gingrich took from health care and industry groups. And on the issues, Newt's been on all sides.

JOHNS: That last line just in case people forgot that Romney is not the only Republican candidate who has gotten criticized for changing positions.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: That's the attack on Romney that's really sold within the Republican Party and really beyond the Republican Party, that he's a flip- flopper, so Romney is turning that on Gingrich.

JOHNS: Gingrich has said he intends to stay positive in the campaign and will try to keep the focus on President Obama, but people who worked in Congress when Gingrich was speaker of the House say the most effective attacks on him could be yet to come if people who serve with them go out in the open with their questions.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: A lot of those members had real questions about Newt's leadership. And I think that once again the people who know Newt the best and served with him in the Congress are the ones who will be the most effective messengers.


JOHNS: The danger is that reminding people of Gingrich's negatives will also remind people of Romney's negatives. We have already heard from a couple members of Congress and former members who were with Newt Gingrich back in the day. They say they can't or won't support him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But there's clearly a sense that the clock is ticking. They don't have a lot of time between now and January 3. They're going on the offensive, the Romney people, right?

JOHNS: Absolutely going on the offensive, very clear with these videos that are out. The question is just how far you go with it.

BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Is it a little risky for Romney and his folks to be attacking Newt Gingrich when it comes to Paul Ryan and his budget given how popular among Republicans Congressman Paul Ryan is?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's risky for a couple of reasons. And I actually think it's very risky.

Don't forget the Paul Ryan Medicare plan turns Medicare into a voucher system. When Mitt Romney proposed his own solutions on Medicare, he didn't exactly hug the Ryan plan. He said he liked it. He would take parts of it, but he didn't totally embrace it because when you look towards the general election, if you completely embrace the Ryan plan, then you're handing Barack Obama a real issue to use with general election voters because they're afraid of the Ryan plan.

Medicare is a very potent issue for senior citizens, who vote, so by running to the right of Newt Gingrich, Romney could actually hurt himself if he does become the nominee.

BLITZER: Because the Democrats will argue and they have argued that what Paul Ryan has done would be ending Medicare as we know it. That's their line.


BORGER: And turning it into a voucher system. That's very, very potent for Democrats.

BLITZER: What about the line that the Romney folks are saying, that Newt Gingrich is a career politician and a flip-flopper?

BORGER: Well, first of all, as Newt Gingrich himself pointed out, Mitt Romney might have been a career politician had he been elected to any office that he ran for aside from governor.

He ran for the Senate and he ran for the presidency. He didn't get elected to those offices. As for the notion of flip-flopping, the problem is that Romney himself, as Joe pointed out earlier, Romney himself is a flip-flopper, so he could say, OK, Newt Gingrich has changed his mind on climate change and now he is more liberal on immigration.

What if the issue of health care mandates come up? Newt Gingrich used to be for health care mandates and Mitt Romney used to be for health care mandates. That's very easy for Gingrich to turn around on Romney. Actually, I think a more lucrative line of criticism would be how was Newt Gingrich as leader of the House? Why was it that after he engineered the Republican takeover, within a few years, people were planning a coup against him?

BLITZER: Republican conservatives, I know you have been talking to a lot of them. How are they feeling right now?

BORGER: I have. They're very nervous.

Newt Gingrich is reaching out to them, which they like. He met with a large group of them in Virginia earlier this week. They said it was a very, very good meeting, but there's a lot of areas in which they're going to have to agree to disagree. They're worried about his personal life, and so they have got a couple of leading candidates there that they don't really embrace.

And that is why I think we need to be keeping our eye on Ron Paul in the Iowa caucuses, because he could really surprise us there and do very, very well with those conservative caucus goers.

BLITZER: His son Rand Paul is going to be joining me live this hour.

BORGER: Well, ask him about it. I bet he's going to be out there working for him.

BLITZER: And he's really going after Newt Gingrich big time. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Working Americans will soon see more of their paycheck disappear to taxes unless Congress can reach a deal on extending the payroll tax cut, but right now, the battle is at a stalemate.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is standing by.

What's the latest, Kate, on extending the payroll tax cut? Because only about 150, 160 million Americans are about to be affected one way or another.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Wolf, it sure seems like there's a bit of here we go again going on up here right now, another showdown between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill up against another holiday deadline.

Right now, there is no clear path to compromise.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Just one week before Congress' target adjournment date for the year and despite calls for action from both sides to extend the payroll tax cut, the Senate wasn't in at all today and the House left for the weekend after being in session after all of two minutes, something House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took advantage of, holding a rare Friday news conference in a Capitol hallway occupied by more tourists than staff.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Families will soon be sitting around their kitchen table making decisions as to whether they can buy holiday toys for their children, if they're going to be able to pay for them come January when the bills arrive. And what are we doing? We're out.

BOLDUAN: House Republican leaders plan to vote next week on their proposals to extend the employee payroll tax cut and unemployment assistance set to expire.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I feel confident about our ability to move ahead.

BOLDUAN: But Republicans are also spoiling for a fight with congressional Democrats and the president over an issue unrelated to the payroll tax, demanding any tax cut extension also include a measure to speed up approval of the Keystone oil pipeline project.

President Obama warned this week he would reject such a move, which aides say actually helped Republican leaders rally support among conservatives lukewarm on the payroll tax cut.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: And, frankly, the fact that the president doesn't like it makes me like it even more.

BOLDUAN: Republicans called the Keystone project a job creator. The White House delayed it saying the project required further environmental study, the issue now a key sticking point in this payroll tax battle.

PELOSI: We're trying to make sure the American people understand that this payroll tax cut is being held hostage to issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the payroll tax cut, absolutely nothing to do with the unemployment insurance extension.

BOEHNER: It's pretty clear that the president's decided to push this decision off for a year conveniently until after his next election. And at a time when the American people are still asking the question, where are the jobs, I think this is a bipartisan proposal that the president ought to endorse.


BOLDUAN: Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a statement today accused Republicans of wasting valuable time with this Keystone provision because he says it will not pass the Senate.

Now, as House Republicans prepare for a vote on their proposal, we're told that Senate Democrats, Senate Democratic aides especially, will likely be working through the weekend on another proposal of their own to extend the payroll tax cut, both sides acknowledging one thing, that next week could be make-or-break on this issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Next week is going to be a tough week for members of Congress and they should get back quickly and start working because a lot is at stake. Thanks very much, Kate, for that.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, she's under fire right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you fundamentally believe she should recuse herself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bottom line is you can't play coach and be referee in the same game.


BLITZER: Why some conservatives want her to sit out of the case on health care reform that is coming before the Supreme Court.

Plus, Senator Rand Paul, he's out with a brutal op-ed slamming Newt Gingrich, saying he's not even a conservative, let alone part of the Tea Party. Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, the son of Ron Paul, joins us live this hour.


BLITZER: Grading the Republican field. The influential Tea Party movement as a whole certainly has not endorsed a candidate yet.

Let's go to CNN's Erin Burnett, the host of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." She's taking a closer look later tonight on who the Tea Party might support when all the dust settles.

I know you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, Erin. What do you got up -- what's going on?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": Well, you know, it's amazing, Wolf. Obviously, there have been a couple of influential Tea Party endorsements for Newt Gingrich just this week. Of course, we have the one in New Hampshire yesterday.

But, you know, as you know, you've got hundreds of groups that identify themselves as Tea Party. Tonight, we're talking to three of them: Tea Party Patriots, the Dallas Tea Party and the Tea Party Coalition, and none are ready to make a formal endorsement yet.

One thing that stood out to me, Wolf, is you have Tea Party registered voters who are going to vote Republican primaries who identify themselves as, quote-unquote, "Tea Partiers," they overwhelmingly, as you know, right now, are supporting Newt Gingrich. Take Florida, 62 percent of supporters favored Gingrich. In Iowa, 42 percent of them.

So, you see that there but not with the overall groups. The Tea Party Coalition's Michael Leahy is going to be on tonight, Wolf, and actually has gone so far as to grade each of the candidates in terms of how they fair his metrics for being a Tea Party loyalist. And most of these are on if fiscal side, not the socialist side.

And he's got Mitt Romney the D-plus, Newt Gingrich at a C-minus. So, not in love with either one of them.

BLITZER: Are they in love -- who are they in love with? Anybody?

BURNETT: Well, you know, what's amazing on this, as you look at this, it's going to say, you know, Michele Bachmann, A-minus, Rick Santorum, B-minus, even Jon Huntsman gets a C-plus, which is the next highest. And these are the people now that obviously the rank and file voters are not leaning towards.

So, we're going to see tonight if we can get any of these folks to say what's it going to take for you to make a commitment between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and are we going to get any of these main big Tea Party leaders to come out and endorse one or the other if that's who it's going to be before we get to the first of this year where we start having all the action going on, caucuses and primaries?

BLITZER: I'll be watching, 7:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." Good stuff. Thank you.

BURNETT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Some conservatives are calling for the U.S. Supreme Court's newest member to sit out one of its most important cases in so many years. We're talking about the Justice Elena Kagan and the challenge to the health care reform law.

Let's go over to the Supreme Court right now, our own Brian Todd is standing by.

Brian, set the scene for us. What is the issue here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the issue is health care reform and the politics around it, Wolf. You know, the Supreme Court has not faced this much political pressure in a case probably since Bush versus Gore and, right now, the pressure is focused not only on Elena Kagan, but also on Justice Clarence Thomas for potential conflicts of interest.


TODD (voice-over): If she wasn't in her current job, she might be gearing up to fight for President Obama's health care law at the Supreme Court, but Elena Kagan is now on the court and there's increasing pressure from the right for her to sit out the health care case.

(on camera): Why do you fundamentally believe she should recuse herself?

CARRIE SEVERINO, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: Bottom line is, you can't play coach and be referee in the same game.

TODD: Severino and other opponents of the president's sweeping health care reform act believe that as solicitor general in the Obama White House, Kagan had more to do with shaping the legal strategy from the law than she's led on. There's one e-mail from Kagan to a colleague during the period when the law was up for a vote in Congress. Quote, "I hear they have a votes, Larry. Simply amazing."

Severino says that's not the problem. She says Neal Katyal, who was Kagan's principal deputy in the White House, kept Kagan close to the process.

SEVERINO: He copied her on e-mails, inviting her to these meetings. He said he promised he would keep her in the loop on the meetings. He copied her an internal strategy emails and asked her advice on aspects of his strategy.

TODD: And that, Severino says, means Elena Kagan could not be impartial as a Supreme Court justice deciding whether the health care reform law is constitutional, but there's no firm indication that Kagan was actively involved in the health care strategy.

The White House has long insisted that while the law was being shaped last year, Kagan was walled off from the discussions because she was being considered for the high court.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can tell you with regard to, as I said, conversations that occurred on my conference room about the health care bill, I did not remember her being part for any of them.

TODD: Health care reform maybe the most important before the court in a decade, raising the political stakes for both sides. There's pressure from the left for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself because of this woman.

Thomas' wife, Virginia, at a Tea Party rally last year. She's had connections to conservative groups that want the health care law overturned.

VIRGINIA THOMAS, JUSTICE THOMAS' WIFE: I think we need to repeal Obamacare.

TODD: Conservatives say Thomas has never been swayed by his wife's political activities.


TODD: So, what are the chances that Clarence Thomas or Elaina Kagan will recuse themselves from the health care case? Analysts say it's not likely that either of them will. They say that these justices believe it's their constitutional duty to participate in the case and everything from the outside is just political posturing.

The law says it is up for the justice him or herself to decide whether to recuse because of conflicts of interest. The Supreme Court tells us neither Elena Kagan nor Clarence Thomas will comment on any of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But justices, Kagan and Thomas, Brian, correct me if I'm wrong, they have recused themselves from other cases.

TODD: That's right. Clarence Thomas has in the past. And Elena Kagan has done it quite often in just the term and a half essentially that she's been in office here, 28 times total by our count she's had to recuse herself because these cases have dealt with issues that she's dealt with as solicitor general in the White House, 26 last term, two so far this term. So she has recused herself quite a lot from these cases.

But analysts say it's not likely she's going to do that this time.

BLITZER: We'll see. We'll watch together with you, Brian. Thank you. Brian Todd over at the Supreme Court.

A "30 Rock" no fly zone. Why some flight attendants want to ban Alec Baldwin's show from being shown on planes.

Plus, influential Republicans are piling on frontrunner Newt Gingrich. But will voters even care? Stand by.



BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including the latest on the shooting yesterday at Virginia Tech University.

What do you have?


Police at Virginia Tech are trying to learn the motive behind the shooting of a police officer yesterday. Authorities say the gunman had no contact with the officer before the shooting and they are close to identifying the shooter. A second person believed to be the gunman was found dead not far from where the officer was killed.

The National Labor Relations Board is dropping a controversial case against Boeing. A new labor agreement between the airplane manufacturer and its machinist union led to the decision. The union had accused Boeing of opening a plant in South Carolina to punish it for past strikes. The issue was resolved after Boeing agreed to build its new fleet of 737 Max jets in the Pacific Northwest.

Republicans said the case was proof the White House was more concerned with pleasing unions than creating jobs.

And stocks ended the week on the high note, hopes that Europe is finally taking its debt crisis seriously fueled a week ending rally. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 183 points. The Dow was up more than a percent for the week. Investors also feel that prospects here at home are improving as signs point to a growing recovery.

And American Airlines flight attendants are fighting back against Alec Baldwin. They want the actor banned from the airline after being kicked off the flight on Tuesday. The union says he was rude to workers who asked him to turn off his smart phone before a flight. Flight attendants also want the television show, "30 Rock," banned.

For his part, Baldwin has already vowed never to fly American Airlines.

A little dust up there between American Airlines and Alec Baldwin.

BLITZER: Never dull up there. Thanks very much. Lisa, thank you.

Another Republican presidential candidate declined to take part in Donald Trump's upcoming debate in Iowa. Is he losing his influence with the Republican pack? Stand by.

And Senator Rand Paul says frontrunner Newt Gingrich isn't a conservative. Senator Paul is here in THE SITUATION ROOM live. He's coming up. He'll explain what's going on.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Here are some of the stories we're working on in THE SITUATION ROOM for our next hour:

New hotel video from the night Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly assaulted a hotel maid. Who's side does it support?

Also, disturbing hostage video of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran almost five years ago. Why is family releasing the video now? Stand by.



BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. Lots of politics to discuss.

Joining us, Republican strategist Karen Hanretty. She's here in Washington. And in New York, CNN political reporter, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala.

Guys, thanks very much for coming.

Karen, let me start with you. You're a good Republican. Some Republican establishment types and others, they're really beginning to hit Newt Gingrich now that he's the front-runner.

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan writing in the "Wall Street Journal," "Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive -- all true."

What's going on here as far as you could tell?

KAREN HANRETTY, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL MEDIA STRATEGIST: Well, I think, you know, those who know Newt best seem to be most concerned about his rise in the polls. You know, Lindsey Graham, who served with him in the House, he's obviously now in the U.S. Senate.

I think the nicest thing Lindsey Graham could summon up about Newt, hoping that he had matured. Now, Newt Gingrich is 63 years old. So one would hope by the age of 63, a man is mature, but that is the question everyone's asking about Newt Gingrich.

Does he have the temperament to hold through not just a primary, but if he were actually to win the nomination, does he have the temperament to keep his cool throughout the general election, which is going to be very difficult, probably going to be a very ugly election as most elections are.

BLITZER: You know, Paul, you know David Frum, the former Bush speech writer, a CNN contributor, in his latest column on he writes this and I'll put it up on the screen.

Prediction, he says. If Gingrich has emerged as the nominee by then, according to the Republican convention next summer, the mood of that convention will be full of unconcealed panic.

You know Newt Gingrich. You were in the Clinton White House. You worked with him on a nearly daily basis when he was speaker of the House. What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he is perhaps the most partisan conservative I know. I mean, he is a -- but that I think is appealing to the Republican base and David Frum's a very principled guy. I think a brilliant guy.

Peggy (inaudible) a very loyal Republican as well, I think unwittingly they may be helping Newt. I think Karen's point is well taken. People who know Newt not to like him, it's the old joke where he turned to President Clinton said why do people take such an instant dislike.

And President Clinton says, because it saves time, Newt. He appeals to the grassroots who wants somebody radical, conservative, bomb throwing. I mean, in other words, the more the establishment says they don't like Newt, the more I think they may be helping Newt. I could be wrong. It's Karen's party, but at least I see that.

HANRETTY: In part, look, I think what the party wants more than anything is to defeat bBrack Obama. And I think they see the how well Newt has performed in these debates. We've had at least a dozen debates. We have two more, maybe three before the end of the year.

And I think they want someone who can go head to head with President Obama, who has great, who is a great orator, who has excellent communication skills. I think what they fail to realize is in a general election, you get two to three debates at most.

So that gives Newt two to three chances to go head to head with President Obama not a dozen chances like he's had in this primary. You know, they want an outsider. Newt is the consummate insider.

You know, I wouldn't call -- yes, he's partisan, but don't forget this is someone who did TV ads to combat global warming with Nancy Pelosi.

So, you know, I think a lot is going to happen before the nomination process comes and I'm not even sure Newt quite frankly is going to qualify to get on the ballots he needs to get on in order to win the nomination.

BLITZER: Well, he's hoping. I assume he's hoping to have it wrapped up pretty much after the first four of five contests, but we'll see if he can do that. That's an ambitious agenda.

Paul, let me point out these debates. There are two scheduled right now, Republican debates this month. The third, Donald Trump, a News Max debate. It's very much up in the air. There's only two candidates. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have agreed to participate.

As I told Donald Trump yesterday when I interviewed, that's not going to be much of debate. Now it looks with Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, everybody dropping out and saying they're not interested in participating in that debate.

Maybe it won't even happen, but what does it say to you about Donald Trump, that only two of the Republican candidates agreed to join him December 27th in Iowa?

BEGALA: I watched your interview with him yesterday, Wolf, and it was riveting. I mean, Donald Trump brings eyeballs. OK, he is a consummate showman. I thought what he did with the birth certificate and all that was despicable.

I don't like that, but you can't deny the man's talent. One of his great talent is attracting attention. So I think it actually says more about the Republicans. They were clamoring for his endorsement. They were kissing his, as John Hudson said, ring and other body parts.

And now, they're running away. I guess you don't want to be in a foxhole with some of those folks. I will say this, Newt Gingrich, now the frontrunner, he seems to not be wavering at all on this and at least maybe it's a sign of character of a sort, that there's something Newt will stick with and apparently, it's his commitment to Mr. Trump.

BLITZER: Karen, what does it say to you?

HANRETTY: It says that these candidates woke up finally and realized that Donald Trump is not one of them. This is not a conservative.

This is a man who's given a lot of money to Democrats like John Kerry and Harry Reid and you know, the very Democrats that we worked very hard to defeat, he's given money to.

And I think that you know, they've come to terms with the fact this is not a man who is serious. He's really all about himself, promoting himself. I think they were smart not to agree to this debate.

Newt Gingrich, of course, has nothing to lose by doing it. He's not raising a lot of money. This gives him another opportunity to play to his strong suit.

But if you're these other candidates who've gotten an ABC debate, a Fox News debate, throwing one more in there just takes time away from actually campaigning in Iowa, raising money. I think it's probably just good strategy as far as time management to skip this debate.

BLITZER: Karen Hanretty, Paul Begala, guys, thanks very, very much.

He's a Tea Party favorite with a scathing assessment of Newt Gingrich. Senator Rand Paul standing by to join us live. We'll talk about his father's presidential campaign. Ron Paul, and a lot more. Standby.


BLITZER: The Tea Party favorite Senator Rand Paul is not mincing any words at all when it comes to his assessment of Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich.

Senator Rand Paul is joining us now from Bowling Green, Kentucky, his home state. Senator, I was amazed when I read your op- ed piece in "Des Moines Register."

You didn't mince any words. I'll read a line from it for those of our viewers who didn't read it. You say this, Gingrich is not from the Tea Party. He's not even a conservative. He is part of the Washington establishment I was sent to fight. All right, go ahead and explain.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, you know, I was part of the Tea Party Movement that was unhappy with some Republicans who voted for the bank bailouts and Newt Gingrich was a big champion of the bank bailouts.

So I don't know how he can be considered a conservative or appeal to Tea Party voters when the thing that really made us mad that got us started in this politics business was that we didn't like Republicans who voted for the bank bailouts.

And then it turns out he made millions of dollars from these big government banks while supporting more government bailouts. So I don't just know how once people get to know who is he and what he supported, I don't know how the Tea Party could support him.

BLITZER: You're talking about when he was on the payroll for Freddie Mac, that $1.6 million to $1.8 million he took in over a period of several years.

PAUL: Yes, but even more than just taking the money is that he supported a position that is diametrically opposed to the Tea Party. We in the Tea Party didn't like bailing out the big banks with taxpayer money.

We also were upset that Republicans voted to bail out the big banks and so I don't know how that sits very well. The other big issue that's going to be tough is a big issue for the Tea Party has been Obamacare.

Almost universally despised within the Tea Party and he has been for the individual mandate. That takes away a big issue for us with the president.

The president's going to look at Newt Gingrich and say, thanks for the ideas. Thanks for helping me get started with my health care plan and it's going to be hard to rebut if he's our nominee.

BLITZER: If he's the nominee, could you support him?

PAUL: I think any of our Republican nominees are better than President Obama, but I would like to have a really strong candidate and I would like not to have someone who people say, well, he's a conservative and then it turns out he's not.

That helps to destroy the conservative movement. You know, your previous person you had on just before I came on talked about him being a conservative bomb thrower. Well, half the bombs he's thrown at us. I mean, he's thrown them at us, but also at the conservatives as well.

Being for cap and trade, sitting with Nancy Pelosi and advertising his support for cap and trade, traveling with Al Sharpton and being in favor of the president's agenda on a federal takeover of education, these are just not conservative positions.

BLITZER: So you would hold your nose and go vote for Newt Gingrich as opposed to Barack Obama if that was the choice.

PAUL: Well, you know, we're still early on, Wolf. There's that Ron Paul guy and he's still got a good chance in Iowa, so I'm going to hold out and go ahead support Ron Paul for now.

BLITZER: I want to talk about your dad in a sec, but what about Mitt Romney? Who's a stronger potential Republican nominee? Would it be Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich from your Tea Party oriented, conservative perspective?

PAUL: I'd say they're different. I'd say with Mitt Romney, you get a moderate, pro business Republican that would also be better than President Obama. I think President Obama seriously is the most anti- business president we've ever had.

I really mean that seriously. Business is afraid to get started, afraid to expand, afraid to hire people because of Obamacare, because of Dodd-Frank. So I do see Romney as a better alternative.

But I see Romney for what he is. I think he is a moderate and he's a pro business Republican and I think he would beat the president. My problem with Newt Gingrich is that he portrays himself and wants to be a leader of the conservative wing of the party.

But he's been on both sides of all of these issues and that's why I like to show the contrast with my father, Ron Paul, who I think has been the most consistent fiscal conservative in recent memory in Congress.

BLITZER: You can explain this to me, give me your explanation. If President Obama's so anti-business, when he took office, the Dow Jones Industrials, Wall Street, around 7,000. It's now over 12,000. A dramatic, dramatic improvement over these past three years. How does that work out if he's so anti-business?

PAUL: Well, I'd say the stock market is somewhat of an illusion. I'm very worried about the stock market. When I talk to investors, I hear a lot of people say they're mostly in cash still.

And 12,000, you know, is obviously better than 7,000. We went through a horrible recession, but we still have 2 million more people out of work since he came into office. He added $100 billion in new regulation on business this year, so there are a lot of things that businesses fear. They mainly fear the uncertainty of these new regulations.

What will Obama care cost every small business man in the country? I think if you interview business and do the survey of business, you'll find that they are concerned with these policies.

BLITZER: I interviewed Donald Trump yesterday in New York. We had a little discussion about your dad, who rejected his invitation to participate in this December 27th News Max debate. Listen to this little change I had with Donald Trump about your dad and others who didn't want to go to the debate.


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: You know, honestly, they're not going to win. But --

BLITZER: Paul does have a big following.

TRUMP: But he's not going to win. He's not going to win. He's, you know, he's a wacky candidate and he's not going to win. It's a joke. And you know it and I know it and that's why he always complains he gets coverage. You cover people that are going to win, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, he calls your dad a wacky candidate and a joke. That was a pretty strong word. A lot of these Republican candidates have gone to his office appealing for his support.

PAUL: Well, here's the funny thing. Last time I looked, Donald Trump has never won any elected office. Ron Paul's won federal office 11 times. So you call that what you think it is.

But the other things is look at Donald Trump. He wants to be this big Republican go-to guy. He's a huge supporter of Charlie Rangel. He's a huge supporter of Harry Reid. He's been a huge supporter of most of the prominent Democrats in the past two decades.

When he was talking and doing all this craziness about the president's birth certificate. I was up in New Hampshire and I told the media I wanted to see a certificate, right? I want to see Donald Trump's Republican certificate because I'm not sure if he is a Republican.

BLITZER: Describe your dad's path to victory? How would you see that? What does he need to do on Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida? Walk us through his strategy.

PAUL: Well, there's a certain amount of the party who are constitutional conservatives and I think he's getting a lot of that vote. He can only win though if he turns out independents. We are looking at independents in Iowa and New Hampshire.

They can vote in the primary. If they come out in a big way, he can win. When you see him, you guys have done, CNN has done some polling where you do Ron Paul against President Obama.

He does better than most of the Republican candidates because he captures a lot of independent vote because on the war issue, he's different than other Republicans.

He thinks we should be reluctant to go to war. We should have a strong national defense, but we should always have checks and balances and Congress should vote before we go to war.

BLITZER: And very quickly, I want you to react to George Wills column this week and suggesting it's not out of the realm of possibility, your dad might when all the dust settles, if he doesn't get the nomination, run as a third party candidate. What do you think?

PAUL: I guess, I have to repeat what my dad keeps saying, that he has no plans to do that and I take him at his word on that. I don't think it's a good idea, to tell you the truth.

I don't think it's a good idea for the Tea Party to break or for my dad necessarily because I think it would just elect the president again and I think we don't want that.

So I plan on staying in the Republican Party. I don't think it's a good idea to have a split away or break away movement. But my dad will make his own decisions. He has a mind of his own and we don't always agree on everything. We'll see what happens. He has been saying he has no plans to do it and I take him at his word on that.

BLITZER: As I've told your father on many occasions, he's very lucky to have a good son and loving, loyal son like you. Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a secret spaceship. We're going to show you a mysterious object near Mercury that's bringing out the conspiracy theorists.

And a crushed American dream, why one group of New Jersey immigrants may soon be deported.


BLITZER: There's a mysterious planet-sized object spotted near Mercury and some think it could be what, a secret spaceship? Chad Myers is taking a closer look. Tell us what's going on.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, there was a mass ejection kind of like a solar flare, but much more significant. And it throws plasma out into space. It even hit part of the earth. So we felt we had some aurora borealis not that many days ago.

But here it is when it hit Mercury and there's this big fluff of plasma heads towards Mercury and when it gets there, it finds that little object and many think that may be an alien spaceship going around Mercury, but we've debunked that theory.

It looks something like a spaceship. You can maybe see Dr. Spock in there, but not really. This is not what it seems. This is an image of a phantom image of what the computers and how the computers block out other stars.

On a regular day, you would see many, many stars. There would be so many stars on this map you would never see that plasma coming by. So what the computer program does through NASA, it takes all of those bright white spots, if it sees it in two passes, it blacks them out.

So you see one if you take a picture here, another image here, if both bright spots are in the same spot, they black them out. So that lets us see the plasma, blacked out. But guess what? This one right here looks like a spaceship, is not.

In fact, it's the old picture of Mercury from yesterday. Remember I said it would have to have two pictures, two images that have the same images at the space, the image, the computer tried to take away the bright spot, but didn't do a good job. Only took away half. So it looked at least for a while, like a spaceship, but now we know it's not.

BLITZER: Would have been a better story. Thanks very much for that. We'll continue to monitor.

Dozens of immigrants in New Jersey face deportation. Why this man is 99 percent sure he'll get kicked out of the country.


BLITZER: Time is running out for dozens of Indonesian immigrants facing deportation. Advocates step up their fight in a case they say is a classic example of a broken immigration system.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with more. What's going on here, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these immigrants don't hide from the fact that they are here illegally, but after a welcome gesture from the government two years ago, they don't understand why they are now being shown the door.


SNOW: This morning ritual may soon become just a memory of a crushed American dream for this family. They are among roughly among 70 Indonesians in New Jersey facing deportation and a case immigration reform advocate say makes no sense.

(on camera): So, you're 99 percent sure that you're going to be deported?

HARRY PANGEMANAN, FIGHTING DEPORTATION: I've got into what they say, my faith, I said no, they're not. They will not deporting me.

SNOW: Your faith?

(voice-over): Harry's faith is rooted in this New Jersey church, home to a tight knit community of Indonesians. Many of them fled their home land in the late 1990s because of religious persecution against Christians, including Harry's wife, Yana.

That was Harry at an immigration reform rally after nearly being deported in 2009. He was only able to stay in the U.S. after his pastor worked out an agreement with immigration officials.

Because the Indonesians in his community had no criminal records, they could live and work in the U.S. and check in regularly.

That agreement appears to be ending. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it began reviewing all pending cases, but it's not clear why this community is being targeted.

REV. SETH KAPER-DALE, REFORMED CHURCH OF HIGHLAND PARK: I'm deeply angry about this. But more than angry, I'm just despairing the fact that the politics in Washington would lead to the inability of our government to make compassionate decisions to keep families together.

SNOW: Rev. Kaper-Dale says people like Harry are only on the radar of Homeland Security because they did what they were supposed to do following a directive set after September 11th, foreign visitors from predominantly Muslim countries needed to register with the government.

KAPER-DALE: And then because they reported, they became the low hanging fruit for deportation.

SNOW: A glimmer of hope came in June when ICE said because it had limited resources. It was using what it calls prosecutorial discretion to prioritize efforts to remove illegals.

In a statement ICE said there is an ongoing administration-wide effort to focus immigration enforcement resources on those convicted of crimes, recent border-crossers and egregious immigration law violators.

But Harry says he was told those new guidelines can't help him now. As advocates fight for him, he's bracing for the fate he and his wife will be handed just three days before Christmas.

PANGEMANAN: And live in this country that we love, that my daughters love so much. Please.


SNOW: And this week on Capitol Hill, two Democrats, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Congressman Frank Pallone introduced a bill to help Indonesians who fled religious persecution to give them a second chance to apply for asylum, but it would only apply to those who arrived in the U.S. between 1997 and 2002. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.