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White House to Oppose Keystone Pipeline; Gap Narrowing in South Carolina?; Search For Cruise Ship Survivors Suspended; Under Siege Syrian Town Cries Out For Help; Christie To Romney: Release Tax Info; Gingrich Closes The Gap; Is Gingrich Playing The Race Card?; Cruise Captain: How Tough A Job?

Aired January 18, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: A very rough primary battle in South Carolina suddenly getting a lot more interesting. All eyes will be on our brand-new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll. And it shows the gap may be narrowing.

Newt Gingrich answers charges from a rival who accuses him of arrogance, and former colleagues who say he's going rogue. I will go one on one with the Republican presidential candidate.

And the search of the capsized cruise liner is suspended. Rescue divers face new difficulties while the ship's captain may face years of prison.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Charleston, South Carolina. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But just releasing right now our latest poll showing a tightening race only three days before what could be a make-or-break primary here in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich is charging ahead, trying to keep the fight for the Republican nomination going, and the new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll shows him closing the gap here in South Carolina.

Mitt Romney remains the front-runner with 33 percent. Gingrich up now, though, to 23 percent. Rick Santorum third, 16 percent, Rick Perry treading water 6 percent. Ron Paul 13 percent, we should point out as well.

Joining us now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Gloria, let me start with you.

When we say the gap seems to be narrowing in these most recent days between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, what evidence do we see?


When you go back to our poll we did January 4 to January 5, there was a 19-point difference between Mitt Romney ahead of Newt Gingrich. Now, in our current poll, there's a 10-point gap. I think we can explain that by the fact quite honestly Mitt Romney hasn't had a good week. Newt Gingrich had a great debate the other night.

And Mitt Romney has been playing defense on the questions of Bain Capital and on the social issues and they're throwing it at him, not only Newt Gingrich, but also Rick Santorum. I think he's been really under attack here. I think that's what we're seeing in this poll.

BLITZER: You see a narrowing of the gap because you have been on the ground here for a while?

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": I think people think it's even closer than this. Some of the private polling has it that way.

And Mitt Romney is behaving as if it's a lot closer than this. He's putting up an ad, not one of those special ads by his allies, but the Romney campaign itself is putting up an ad attacking Newt Gingrich today.

BLITZER: Not from the super PAC, but from his own campaign.

KLEIN: Not from the super PAC. That was the word I was looking for.

BLITZER: Yes. I have only been here a little while. You can't turn on a TV without seeing it get rough and tough out there. They're all getting very...


KLEIN: And also they're bringing John Sununu, former Governor John Sununu, down from New Hampshire, because he's a very excellent attack dog, and they're going to go after Gingrich because it's getting closer.

BLITZER: He supports Romney. He used to be a co-host of "CROSSFIRE." We know how he can talk.

BORGER: This is the Newt Gingrich, by the way, that we know.

When he was Mr. Positive in Iowa, I was kind of scratching my head about that, saying, is this the Newt Gingrich I have covered for all those years? But there's no better attack politician, for lack of a better phrase, than Newt Gingrich, because he's really managing to sort of cull out things about Mitt Romney, whether it's the question of release your taxes, I'm going to release my taxes, what do you have to hide, you pay the 15 percent, I pay the 31 percent rate.

So it's clear that Newt Gingrich is getting under Mitt Romney's skin here.

BLITZER: I spoke with Newt Gingrich today. He thinks he can win on Saturday. He's got three days to turn things around.

Let's take a closer at these poll numbers. We asked born-again Christians here in South Carolina who do you support? Romney got 26 percent, Gingrich 23, Santorum 20, Paul 12, Rick Perry 9 percent. Then we asked Tea Party supporters who do you support? Gingrich doing better there, 31 percent, Romney 26, Santorum 20, Ron Paul 13, 5 for Rick Perry.

What do these numbers say to you?

BORGER: First of all, what is interesting is that the born-again Christian support is split, and that really helps Mitt Romney.

But it seems to me that Gingrich is doing pretty well with born- again Christians.

KLEIN: Yes. I think there's a significant battle going on in the hearts and minds of Santorum supporters.

They see Newt creeping ahead, they want to beat Romney. And the question is whether they just take that final leap in the next two, three days, because taken together, the Santorum and Gingrich supporters equal or might even beat Romney.

BLITZER: You think under pressure from Newt Gingrich and others, Mitt Romney will, in the coming days, release his tax returns?

BORGER: I know, Wolf, I can't say definitively, that there are internal discussions going on in that campaign about what they ought to do.

There are a couple things here. I think Mitt Romney wanted to put it off as long as he could, first of all, because he's kind of uncomfortable talking about his own great personal wealth, but secondly I was told by a source involved with the campaign that they wanted to put it off because you would see in the tax returns the large sums of money he's given to the Mormon Church.

The question is, would that play well in the so-called Southern primaries? You know, would that play well here in South Carolina? How would it play in Florida? So just wait maybe until April. But they may not be able to hold it off.

BLITZER: We should also point out our new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll, in Florida Mitt Romney is doing excellent right now, and he's still way ahead in Florida. Even if let's say Newt Gingrich were to surprise a lot of people and win here this Saturday, that's a pretty expensive market down in Florida, a little different electorate as well.

KLEIN: But a lot of this happens in places like this, in THE SITUATION ROOM, on free media. And when the people down in Florida see there's a viable alternative to Romney, they may move. These things move very quickly, as you know.

BLITZER: A lot of undecided voters, even right now, despite all of this. We have a huge debate tomorrow night here in Charleston, South Carolina. That could move that needle as well.

Joe Klein, as usual. Gloria, don't go too far away.

A surging Newt Gingrich is going for broke here in South Carolina, but the front-runner Mitt Romney is fighting just as hard to hold his ground. It all makes for a pretty nasty slugging match.

CNN's Joe Johns is in Warrenville, South Carolina.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the homestretch to the first and the South primary, the urgency of the moment finally starts to show. Newt Gingrich looking strong late in the race was back to making bold predictions again.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we carry Saturday, I think I will become the nominee.

JOHNS: And then this prediction that the race in South Carolina was about to take a turn for the worst.

GINGRICH: I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest for the next four days because they are desperate. They thought they could buy this.

JOHNS: To get the nomination, Gingrich has to go through the front-runner, Mitt Romney, who was hammering away at Gingrich's leadership skills both in new Web ads and a telephone conference call featuring Republican members of Congress who served with Gingrich back in the day.

The former Massachusetts governor went after Gingrich on the stump, too, treating him very much like the last man standing between Romney and an acceptance speech at the convention. He said Gingrich should stop claiming he helped create millions of jobs when he was on Capitol Hill.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A congressman taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.


JOHNS: Gingrich returned fire. He said Romney would lose a debate with the president on health care because Romney's plan in mass wasn't that different from Obama's.

GINGRICH: They both have terrible vs. mediocre.

JOHNS: But one of the main flash points this day was about taxes. Both candidates now expected to release their tax returns, even giving previews. Gingrich said he paid taxes at a 31 percent rate. Mitt Romney said he paid taxes at a 15 percent effective rate.

He almost said he made $400,000 in speaking fees, though to a guy who's worth something like $200 million, it doesn't seem like much.

GINGRICH: My goal is not to raise Mitt Romney's taxes. It's to let everybody pay Mitt Romney's rate.

JOHNS: Romney's low tax rate may sound like a bill deal especially since billionaire Warren Buffett argues rich people should pay more, but Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute disagreed.

KEVIN HASSETT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Warren Buffett said we need to increase taxes on the wealthy because he has a low rate, but really economists all disagree with Warren. The fact is that everyone who studies it understands if you have low taxes on dividends and capital gains, then it attracts capital and increases economic growth.


JOHNS: Gingrich continues to make the claim that he is the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, though at least two other candidates in the race, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, can make that claim as well. Neither one of them, Wolf, is saying they're planning to get out of the race any time soon.

BLITZER: Well, there's three days to go between now and Saturday.

Thanks very much, Joe Johns reporting for us. He's not going too far away either.

By the way, in the next hour, my one-on-one interview with Newt Gingrich. I give him a chance to respond to Mitt Romney, to Rick Santorum. We also talk about Sarah Palin. For all practical purposes, she's now endorsed him. She said if she lived here in South Carolina, she would vote for him on Saturday. What does he say about that? You might be surprised to hear what he actually has in mind for Sarah Palin if -- and it's a huge if -- if he were president of the United States. The interview coming up in the next hour.

Meanwhile, in a politically charged move, the Obama administration has rejected, at least for now, a bid to expand the controversial Keystone pipeline. The project would have carried crude from Canada's oil sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. The battle shaped up as one of jobs vs. environmental risk.

Up against a tight congressional deadline, the State Department says there was not enough time to determine if the project -- quote -- "is in the national interests."

Let's go live to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

All right, Jessica, what happened today?


Well, today, both the State Department and the president have issued statements on this decision, saying, no, they're not supporting the pipeline extension for now, and the president's statement said the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented full assessment of the pipeline's impact. This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline. He said -- quote -- "I'm disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision."

In other words, Wolf, the president is saying he's open to reconsidering the application for the pipeline at another time. So now let's talk for a minute on why this decision now. The politics of it, my sources say, Wolf, are one. Gas prices won't go up because the pipeline doesn't exist yet.

Two, many young people on college campuses have rallied against extending the pipeline, an important constituency for the president in this election year, as have people in communities along the pipeline's path, whether they're in red or blue states.

But the main point on the politics, my sources, they tell me, Wolf, the sense is, is that the president already took the political heat last fall when he delayed the pipeline decision. So the White House knew they were going to say no to the extension eventually. They decided they may as well do it now and get it over with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, though, Republicans, a lot of other folks are saying it will cost Americans tens of thousands of jobs.

You're looking into this numbers. What are you finding out?

YELLIN: Well, the number of jobs the pipeline would have created depends on who you ask.

So, TransCanada, the company that would be building the pipeline, said it would create 20,000 jobs if you include construction jobs to build the pipeline. The U.S. State Department says, no, it was more 5,000 or 6,000 jobs action. And an independent study by Cornell University says it was closer to 2,500 to just over 4,500 jobs.

Let's look at another number. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since President Obama has taken office, 66,000 jobs have been created in the oil and gas industry overall. The American petroleum industry, well, they say if the Keystone pipeline were built, there would be a lot more jobs created. Obviously, this is a fight that will continue not only just for the next few months, but probably over the election year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a huge, huge battle. Thanks, Jessica, very much.

New developments in that cruise ship disaster also unfolding right now -- why the search for about two dozen missing people was suspended. We're going to live to the scene in Italy.

Also, he is one of Mitt Romney's major supporters. The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has some blunt advice for the White House hopeful about issuing his tax returns.

Plus, what former President Jimmy Carter is now saying about Newt Gingrich and -- quote -- "the subtlety of racism."


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a Wednesday without Wikipedia and other major Web sites as they go dark to protest two antipiracy bills in Congress. Critics say the bills amount to censorship of the Internet. While Google hasn't shut down today, a black rectangle covers its famous logo, and it urges people to tell Congress please don't censor the web.

The web wide protest is in response to the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, in the House, and the Protect I.P. Act now pending before the full Senate. The battle lines are drawn with Hollywood and major media companies including CNN's parent company Time Warner on one side, and Silicon Valley on the other.

If the bills passed, copyright holders could seek a court order to force search engines like Google to remove links to sites that are offering illegal contents, movies, TV shows, songs, et cetera. The main targets are mostly foreign web sites.

But Internet companies worry they could be punished for user's actions. Google says YouTube would have to go dark immediately if these bills passed, saying that it couldn't function. On the other side, supporters say that online piracy leads to job losses in the United States, since content creators lose income. They dismiss accusations of censorship, saying that the bills are meant to fix a broken system that doesn't prevent piracy. Supporters say this bill will not hurt the average Internet user.

Many in the tech world agreed that piracy is a real problem, but they worry about the implications of this legislation, that it could become a foot in the door, that mild one day lead to further government controls. Meanwhile, the bills that were once expected to sail through Congress, they've hit some rough waters now. One Senate aide told CNN because of the growing protests, the bill in the Senate might not even make it to the floor for a vote.

So, here's the question -- should the U.S. government censor the Internet? Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a huge story today, Jack. Good question. Thanks very, very much.

Other news, the rough often frigid waters on the Italian coast are making it even more unlikely that additional survivors will be found in the capsized Costa Concordia.

The search was suspended today after sensor showed the cruise ship had in fact shifted in the water. These underwater pictures show the dangerous jobs the rescue divers face in the wreckage of the ship. Eleven people are known dead and close to two dozens are still unaccounted for

Take a look at this. An extraordinary new satellite image taken from shape showing the massive liner lying on its side just off the rocky shore.

Let's go live to our senior international correspondent Dan Rivers. He's on the scene for us in Italy. What else is going on today? What's the very latest, Dan?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they've really been hampered by the danger of this wreck, shifting in the water. Apparently she shifted about a foot today, which might not seem like given the size of the vessel, but they're very wide, that because she's so precariously balanced on some rocked, on a shelf of rocks, it wouldn't take much to tip the ship over into much deeper water as she would sink, and possibly that would lead to the rupture of the fuel tanks, which contains about 2,000 tons of heavy fuel and about 300 tons of diesel.

Everybody is now very concerned that the weather is going to deteriorate over the next few days, the wind is forecast to pick up. And they are really worried that this situation is going to get worse while they're still trying to establish what has happened to 23 missing passengers and crew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as far as the investigation is concerned, what about the ship's captain? What's the latest with him?

RIVERS: Well, he remains under house arrest at his home in south of Naples, with details emerging both for and against his claim that he did everything he could to help passengers in the frantic minutes after the ship hit rocks. But this is being disputed from a number of corners. He's being absolutely lambasted in the Italian press, one paper describing him, driving his cruise liner like he was driving a Ferrari. And more damning evidence as well, Wolf, evidence emerging from "Lloyd's List" in London, the shipping magazine, with data showing that the Costa Concordia came almost closer than it did this time back on August 14th, 2011, just 230 meters from the coastline during a festival last summer.

So, suggesting this wasn't the first time he sailed way too close for this island.

BLITZER: Very, very dangerous situation.

All right. Dan, we'll stay in close with you. Thank you.

Meanwhile, the disaster is certainly shining a spotlight on cruise ship captain. What is the job really like? What kind of training do they undergo? We'll take you inside their life at sea.

Plus, one of Mitt Romney's top supporters, we're talking about the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie now telling the candidate what to do about the controversy over releasing his income tax returns.


BLITZER: Major American city is now facing a possible state takeover and bankruptcy. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?


Detroit is closer than ever to financial disaster. Despite the auto industry's come back, the Motor City is facing a $45 million budget shortfall this year, in part because of a shrinking population and tax base. A state panel is reviewing city finances, and could appoint an emergency manager to take over from the mayor, making bankruptcy more likely.

O.J. Simpson is said to be facing foreclosure on his south Florida home. A source familiar with the matter tells CNN Simpson is under water on the 4,000 square foot home near Miami and hasn't made a payment since 2010. Simpson is currently serving a sentence up to 33 years in Nevada for armed robbery and kidnapping. He was acquitted in 1995 for murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

Railroad officials in Jakarta, Indonesia, are trying an unusual, new method to stop people from riding on train rope. They are hanging concrete walls over the tracks, suspended just 10 inches above passing train, almost guarantee to knock off any train surfers.

The balls are being tried out on one line. And so far, officials say no one has dared to test them.

And quite a scare for passengers on a British Airways flight from Miami to London. The plane was over the Atlantic when the pilot apparently hit the wrong button, triggering an automated recording saying, quote, "This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water."

Passengers say there was screaming and panic, but the crew scrambled to assure everyone it was just a mistake. Yikes! I can only imagine being on a flight like that, Wolf, and hearing that kind of announcement.

BLITZER: And didn't it happen twice? Is that what you're saying? Didn't just happen once, it happened twice?

SYLVESTER: Yes, I don't know if it happened more than once, but I know that the crew quickly came in and tried to tell passengers, look, false alarm, nothing to worry about, go back to business as usual.

But I'll tell you, that's not going to be fun for those passengers on that flight, not fun at all.

BLITZER: No, you hear something like that coming from the P.A. That's amazing.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

A town under siege are crying out for help as blood spills into its streets. Our own Nic Robertson is on the ground inside Syria. He's got some exclusive reporting. We'll share it with you.

Also, even a key supporter of Mitt Romney is now telling the candidate to make his tax returns public. We'll have the details, that's coming up in our strategy session


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Charleston, South Carolina. Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour.

My interview with Newt Gingrich, we'll talk about closing the gap in South Carolina, the increasingly ugly campaign here, and what he wants Sarah Palin to do in a Gingrich administration. Stand by.

Plus one of the worst maritime disasters in recent years, but an almost 100-year-old law that may keep the cruise line off the financial hook when it comes to the victims' families. Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Syrian opposition group reports at least 13 people killed today in the brutal government crackdown on democracy protesters. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is on the ground in Syria and visited one town that's crying out for help.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Arab League monitors arrive so antigovernment protesters emerge from side streets and shattered stores.

A raucous bands of 100 or so besieging them with complaints of government brutality. This mother shouts at them "they killed my son, kept him in the morgue for a month. I plead to God and to you give me justice. Give me my rights."

This is Kisway a small poor town about half an hour's drive from the capital. Away from the protests, this man tells us why there are so few demonstrators. "This is a small town, 15,000 people," he says.

It's isolated the arm can surround us in 5 minutes. You ask me why no one is here, 500 men ran away, others are arrested. The army has 13 checkpoints, he says. We can't count them, but just down the street we see this.

(on camera): You get some idea of how tight security is here. One checkpoint, another one here, a third over here and down here another checkpoint, sandbag bunkers on the side of the road, four army checkpoints to control this one small traffic intersection. That's how tight security is.

(voice-over): Impossible to verify everything we hear.

(on camera): What's really interesting here, this is a bullet hole we're told was a shot fired by the army down the street at the protesters, but if you look at the other side of the box you can see the exit.

But you can also see this small pepper marks, shotgun marks. They look like shotgun pellet marks. And it gives the impression that the protesters down here were firing back shotgun rounds firing back at the soldiers up the street.

(voice-over): What is clear today is that tempers are frayed. This is a town on edge. A man is caught by the crowd. They turn on him with a vengeance.

(on camera): They're accusing that man of being a policeman. We chased them down the streets, and for a minute it looked like it would be mob justice. People were jumping on him, but he doesn't seem as if he was able to get away.

(voice-over): The writing on the wall, a cry for help, from a town where they say no one is listening. Nic Robertson, CNN, Syria.


BLITZER: He calls it the subtlety of racism, the former President Jimmy Carter speaking out about a controversial remark by his fellow Georgian, Newt Gingrich. Details about what the former president is telling our own Piers Morgan.

Plus, the life of a cruise ship captain, part pilot, part diplomat, even part policeman. One veteran captain reveals the challenges and the rewards.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile along with the Republican strategist, Alice Stewart.

Guys, thanks very much. Alice, listen to what Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, a strong supporter of Mitt Romney said on "Today" this morning about the governor releasing his tax returns.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What I would say to Governor Romney is if you have tax returns to put out, you know, you should put them out and put them out sooner rather than later. It's always better in my view to have complete disclosure, especially when you're the frontrunner.


BLITZER: That got us from one of his closest and most ardent supporters. You agree I assume with Chris Christie that the governor should just go ahead and do it?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, given this has been dragging on for so long, I think the best solution is to go ahead and get it out there, get it over with and move on to the more pressing issues of the campaign.

And having been all over this country campaigning for the past several months, never once did any of the electorate ask about income tax records or that type of information, but if the other candidates want to make an issue of it, get it out there and get it over with.

This is something that's unfortunate that they're using this to try to leverage some point their way for this. Simply they're basically giving the Obama campaign talking points. So my advice would be to get it out there, get it over with and start focusing on garnering more support in South Carolina.

BLITZER: Donna, it looks like it's heating up in South Carolina, with only a few days left to go before Saturday's primary, Gingrich moving up in our new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll. The gap a week ago was 19 points, now it's only 10. There are indications some internal that it might even be tighter. It's not over with yet.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, as you well know, it won't be over with until one of the candidates get enough delegates, but there's no question that Newt Gingrich has picked up momentum after another debate performance.

But it still comes down to turning out your voters. You get people excited to go to the polls on Saturday. One thing we have learned over the last two weeks is Newt Gingrich clearly doesn't have the kind of organization you need.

Mitt Romney has been on the ground a lot longer, but he hasn't had the organization perhaps to take advantage of his new poll numbers.

BLITZER: In Florida our new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll, Alice, has Mitt Romney way, way ahead. The Florida primary is January 31st, Romney 43 percent, Santorum 19, Gingrich 18, Ron Paul 9 percent, Rick Perry only 2 percent.

Look, things can change pretty quickly, as we all know, but Florida is a very, very different market, very expensive, a lot more people than South Carolina, Iowa or New Hampshire, to be sure.

STEWART: No doubt. It's a very expensive state to campaign in. Certainly Romney has the upper hand in terms of the financial backing in order to place ads there, but he also has some strong organization on the ground in Florida so that will go a long way.

On to Donna's point in terms of the South Carolina polling numbers that CNN just released, what's key also is despite the poll numbers, you have to have the organization to turn the voters out on Saturday.

Romney's got strong organization there in South Carolina, but what we're seeing, peel back the numbers in your polling data, you're seeing a lot of the support that Gingrich has picked up has come from the Tea Party Movement.

So that's something that Romney didn't quite shore up like he thought he did. If the Tea Party can engage in that moment to turn out on Saturday, that's going to be key for Gingrich.

As we saw in Iowa, Santorum had the momentum going into the caucuses. It appears right now that the numbers continue this way for Gingrich, he has the momentum going into South Carolina. So the key will be on Saturday having that ground game and organization to turn your people out.

BLITZER: That certainly would help Newt Gingrich here in South Carolina. If Rick Perry, for example, took the advice of CNN contributor Erick Erickson of, who said Rick Perry should even at this late moment do what Huntsman did and drop out.

He writes this, Donna. Rick Perry's campaign has come to an end, but he could leave on an unexpected high note, helping conservatives unite around one not-Romney in a way no one else has been able to.

Rick Perry could be the king maker so many people have been looking for even as other conservatives stood by unwilling to endorse in the face of long odds.

Donna, you're a political strategist. It would certainly help someone like Newt Gingrich if someone like Rick Perry for that matter were to drop out because a lot his votes would probably go to Newt Gingrich as opposed to Mitt Romney.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, Wolf, I'm not a Republican strategist. It looks like they are splitting their vote between three candidates at this point, especially when there's so many Tea Party Republicans who would like to see one truly consistent conservative take on Mitt Romney.

But I think if I was in the Perry campaign, I would say, you know what? Go ahead, complete this weekend, staying on the ground in Florida and then drop at the end of January.

STEWART: I agree with Donna and there's a lot --

BLITZER: Do you think there's any chance that's going to happen, Alice?

STEWART: We'll see. A lot is determined by how much money he has after South Carolina. I think it's disturbing we see a lot of this campaign, faith leaders, Evangelicals, pundits, journalists encouraging candidates to get out.

It's up to the candidate at the end of the day to make that decision. So, you know, let the candidate make those decisions. If he wants to stay in through South Carolina, more power to him.

BLITZER: I just want to leave you with a quick sound bite, our own Piers Morgan is celebrating his first anniversary here at CNN, had a special interview with former President Jimmy Carter.

They had this exchange on Newt Gingrich and some controversial comments he made the other night at the debate here in South Carolina. Listen to this.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Gingrich, in the South Carolina debate I watched part of it, watched the first half of it, I think he has that subtlety of racism that I know quite well, and know quite well appeals to some people in Georgia.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Do you think he's deliberate?

CARTER: I think so. He knows as well that the words you use like welfare mamas and so forth that have been appealing in the past in those days with segregation of the races. I don't think it will pay off in the long run.

MORGAN: That's a serious charge to level at Gingrich that he's being racist.

CARTER: I wouldn't say he's racist, but he knows the subtle words to appeal --


BLITZER: Very quickly, Donna, what do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, Wolf, I've known Newt Gingrich for a long time especially when he served the speaker of the House and worked very well with him in the District of Columbia.

I don't think he's a racist, but I do believe the words he's using and the kind of paraphrasing he's using and describing the president as a food stamp president, it does stir racial resentment among people down in the south.

He understands that, but Newt Gingrich also is something who has fought hard for education reform. He knows how to talk to voters in the south. I'm surprised he's using this language, but at the end of the day, I still believe that President Obama will be re-elected, and all of this will be part of the retro past that we can put behind.

STEWART: Wolf, I will say this --

BLITZER: I'm going to put it behind right now. Very quickly, Alice.

STEWART: It's not the first time he called someone a racist because he didn't agree with what they were saying. Simply what Speaker Gingrich was trying to present at the debate was empowering individuals themselves to take ownership of things in order to get off government dependence. That's simply what he was trying to make.

BRAZILE: But he didn't call him a racist. He said it stirs racial resentment. That's different, Alice, than calling somebody a racist because he's not criticizing behavior. He's talking about the language that's being used that often stirs racial resentment.

STEWART: I understand, but the way the question was asked and the issue was put out there, it's just unfortunate. The point he was trying to make is to make people more independent and not rely on government handouts.

BRAZILE: But you cannot -- we need a longer conversation, but I think African-Americans and other minorities are tired of people denigrating them, confusing their economic status with being dependent on government.

They just want a decent opportunity to make a living to support their family, to get their kids educated. There's no notion that government is aiding one people, one part of the community when government is here to serve all the people.

BLITZER: We'll have a decent conversation on this down the road. Unfortunately, the subject will not go away. We're going to leave it there right now. Donna, thank you. Alice, thank you as well.

So how tough a job is it to be a cruise ship captain? Our own Brian Todd talks with a veteran with decades of experience in the cruise industry.

And Sarah Palin has all, but endorsed Newt Gingrich. Would he reward her with a key job in his administration? My interview with Newt Gingrich coming up in the next hour.


BLITZER: Looking some live pictures of the "Costa Concordia" off the shore of Italy. Right now, let's show our viewers those pictures.

The captain of that doomed cruise ship is now being called a coward. He's under house arrest right now. So how difficult is it to be a cruise ship captain? Our own Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this accident has left many people asking can they count on the captain of a given cruise ship to ensure their safe passage? How tough a job is it? We came here to one of the busiest cruise ports in the world to find out.


TODD (voice-over): Bill Wright remembers the first time he took the helm of a major cruise ship. He calls it a humbling experience.

CAPT. BILL WRIGHT, ROYAL CARRIBEAN INTERNATIONAL: As soon as we left the dock, a departure from Miami, the ship was "The Sovereign of the Seas" and immediately after having left the dock, we had to go back to the dock to take on -- or to evacuate a medical emergency.

TODD: Wright is a captain with Royal Caribbean International. He's piloted at least half a dozen cruise ships in their line over 20 years. Wright says the average captain has four to five years of college-level training then has to build up to 10 years of hands-on sea time as a junior officer before being given command of a cruise ship.

He says most captains make between $125,000 and $225,000 a year in salary. They're pilots, he says, but also diplomats, policemen on what he calls a floating resort. Your average shift as a captain --

WRIGHT: Sometimes we'll be up at 4:00 in the morning for the pilot to arrive in a single port, but there are other activities that take place during the days.

Our training drills and also in the evening time, you obviously have departure. We call a one/one system, meaning the time you spend on board is the equal to the time you have off, in our case, ten weeks on board and ten weeks off.

TODD: Wright says it's not stressful, because you can build in rest time, especially on a so-called sea day when the ship is not coming into port or departing. Others disagree about the stress.

(on camera): One maritime attorney says many cruise ship captains are over work, under paid, not given the support they need by the cruise lines, he says for the bottom line.

(voice-over): Jack Hickey represented major cruise lines for 17 years. He now represents passengers. He says this about captains.

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME ATTORNEY: They work basically 24/7. They're on duty seven days a week and they go out to seas for months at a time, which is something the captains all around the world are faced with. But these are stresses and these are people who are in charge of 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 people.

TODD: I ran that by Greg Purdy who monitors for captains and crew members for Royal Caribbean.

CAPT. GREG PURDY, ROYAL CARRIBEAN INTERNATIONAL: I think again you just have to consider the source. Where I work day to day with the captains, this isn't the message that I hear.


TODD: One captain says most of his colleagues can manage whatever stress they face because of the trade-off. One of the best things about the job, he says, is that every day is different -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

It looks like there may be some room for Sarah Palin in a Newt Gingrich administration. You're going to hear what he says about the former vice presidential nominee. That's coming up in my one-on-one interview with Newt Gingrich in our next hour.

Up next, freak winter storms threatening the Pacific Northwest, they're calling it snowmageddon.


BLITZER: The Pacific Northwest is bracing for even more snow, more snow than they've seen actually in decades as winter storms deliver a one-two punch to the region.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us now from Seattle, where schools are closed, emergency shelters are open. How bad is the situation over there, Thelma?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that the snow is starting to come down, but you know, things have been moving fairly smoothly today, but that's because the city was prepared this time around as compared to the huge snowstorm in 2008.

But anyway, this is an area that used to lots of rain, not lots of snow. Wolf, you take a look over here, you can see about four inches of snow has fallen. That is the most that's fallen so far this year. It's a pretty significant event because of the terrain. This is very steep terrain.

You take a look. We are here on Pine Street in Capitol Hill, which is right off of downtown Seattle and if you look right up that road, it looks more like a ski run than it does a busy street.

In fact, we saw skiers there today. We saw people with snowboards and sleds. In fact, as I said, you know, city officials have really told people stay at home. They've closed schools in the whole western Washington area.

And they've asked people not to go to work. They say that has really been a contributing factor to making sure that these streets stay safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Someone who grew up in Buffalo, New York, looks like a lovely day there in Seattle right now. Thelma, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Four inches of snow? Suck it up, that's no snowstorm.

BLITZER: Parts of Washington State have 16 inches, Seattle 4 inches, not so bad.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but I mean, 4 inch is no snowstorm. As you said, you're from Buffalo.

The question this hour, should the U.S. government censor the internet? We got a couple of bills trying to work their way through Congress that would try to do something about piracy on the internet.

Bonnie in New Jersey writes, "The U.S. government is on so dysfunctional at this point. I don't think it needs to be telling me what I can and cannot see on the internet. I mean, really, censoring the internet, steroids in baseball, bullying what else can they find to makes it look like they're doing something when the country is falling apart."

Tee in Massachusetts writes, "Slippery slope alert. Censorship cannot be conditional." John in Alabama writes, "Taking someone's creative work and then selling it for a profit is wrong. It violates copyright laws. Movies and television productions are protected by case law, and legislative statutes, but the internet makes it easy to steal these creative works for profit. That should be stop."

Pete in Florida, "Absolutely not. Once again some politicians and large corporate interests are trying to control our lives. This country is supposed to be free, but it's becoming more like commie Russia or pre-World War II Germany every day. Will the KGB or the Gestappo kick in your door one night because you visited the wrong web sites?"

Michael on Facebook writes, "Wikipedia cannot function because most of its content is in violation of copyright materials. It isn't censorship to give the Encyclopedia Britannica and others their day in court.

The foot in the door argument is a nonsense since fair use sections would still apply as they do now. The last I checked the internet evolved from the need to keep communications infrastructure alive in times of nuclear war. While it's now mostly private, it's simply ignorant to not recognize that it exist within a governmental environment."

And Mark in Oklahoma writes, "They already censor radio and television. Can't they keep their sticky finger off my internet? I'm calling Al Gore."

If you want to read more on this, you go to my blog, or to our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.