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Perry Drops Out, Endorses Gingrich; Pres. Digs At Congress From Disney; Herman Cain Interview; Ship Captain Ordered Dinner Amid Chaos; Ex-Wife: Newt Gingrich Wanted 'Open Marriage'

Aired January 19, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the countdown is on to one of the biggest debates of this election season. The Republican field now down to four candidates. Who will shine on the stage tonight?

Plus, while the Republican candidates duke it out, President Obama is on a mission to prove he isn't living, in quote, "the fantasy land," they say he is ahead. What his trip to Disneyworld is all about?

And shocking new details about what the captain of that doomed cruise ship reportedly did just minutes after that crash.

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



BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the debate hall here in Charleston, South Carolina. CNN's Southern Republican presidential debate is now less than three hours away. On the stage tonight, four candidates instead of five. This voter showing one podium taken just moments after the Texas governor, Rick Perry dropped out of the race.


GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat. So, I will leave the trail, return home to Texas, wind down my 2012 campaign. And I will do so with pride, knowing I gave fully of myself of a cause worthy of this country.


BLITZER: Perry going on to say he's now endorsing Newt Gingrich, a move which could help the former House speaker close that shrinking gap with Mitt Romney, the frontrunner, but now, an explosive new cloud of new allegations may stand in the way. Let's bring in CNNs Joe Johns. He's been out on the campaign trail, working his sources. What do you got? JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the pressure is really on for Newt Gingrich right now. We saw him out in Buford, South Carolina today. It was as if they got some of the very best news and the worst news all at the same time.


JOHNS (voice-over): For Newt Gingrich, it should have been a great day. He'd already been surging in the polls, and then, Rick Perry got out of the race and threw his support behind the former speaker.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was very honored and very humbled to have Governor Perry speak so well about endorsing me just a few minutes ago as he withdrew from the campaign.


JOHNS: But if the Gingrich camp was feeling any joy at the direction the race seem to be taking, it was muted at best as his colorful past had once again surfaced as a big factor in the campaign. Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, gave an interview to ABC News that was set to air Thursday just after the CNN debate.

And in an advanced excerpt from that interview, the second Mrs. Gingrich said her then husband wanted a special arrangement between himself, her, and Callista Bisek, with whom he was having an affair and who would later become his third wife.

MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S EX-WIFE: He was asking to have an open marriage --

JOHNS: In advance of the airing of the interview, damage control, the two daughters, the former speaker had with his first wife, put out a statement saying, "The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved. Anyone who's had that experience understands. It is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes, differing memories of events."

After the town hall in Buford, I asked Gingrich about his ex- wife's assertion.

NEWT GINGRICH: Look, I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. My two daughters have already written to ABC complaining about this as tawdry and inappropriate. Both of my daughters are prepared to speak on the record with any of you who'd like to talk to them. Several other people who knew the situation are prepared to speak on the record. I'm not getting involved.

JOHNS: Earlier, a man in the crowd questioned Gingrich about his personal life, and the former speaker said judgment will be up to the voters.

NEWT GINGRICH: Look, I think this is a decision you have to make. I've been very open about my life. I've been very about mistakes I have made. I've been very open about needing to go to God for forgiveness and to seek reconciliation.

JOHNS: South Carolina votes on Saturday. There's not a lot of time for voters to sift through the newest information.

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It will have some impacts, but when the details start coming out as they always do, it will have less impact than I think, perhaps, the former Mrs. Gingrich would have hoped.


JOHNS (on-camera): She's given interviews before about the former speaker, but I would say never at a more critical time in his political career -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see how this shakes out over the next few days here in South Carolina, and then, in Florida, January 31st, the primary there. See if it comes up in the debate later tonight. Thanks very much.

The other huge political story today, an early morning surprise for Rick Santorum, the unseated Mitt Romney is the winner of the prize Iowa caucuses more than two weeks after the contest. I asked him in an exclusive interview earlier in the day whether he had been officially given the news.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got an e-mail at 4:51 this morning saying that the certified vote, we won by 34 votes. If they include these other very, very small precincts that have not been officially certified, but were phoned in election night, actually I won by more than 35 -- 34 votes.

So, either way you tally it, we were successful, and we feel very good about that. We have a strong plan to continue that momentum and take it here to South Carolina now and off to Florida.


BLITZER: CNN's Shannon Travis is standing by in Des Moines. He's got details. Shannon, so what exactly happened with the vote counted?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, basically what happened was human error and missing votes, Wolf. On caucus night, a lot of the county chairmen across Iowa's 99 counties were phoning in these results, these unofficial results of who got how many votes to the Iowa GOP headquarters here right outside of it.

They were putting it in a computer. And then, there was a process to certify that the Iowa GOP had to certify them, but there was one step that they needed from these county chairmen, something called a form E. It's basically a document that says what you phoned in is actually accurate and put it on this document. The problem was a lot of the numbers as they were certifying weren't matching. There were some keystrokes someone put in 44 when they should have put in 4, what have you. Probably, the most significant was that eight of the precincts, eight precincts here in Iowa didn't turn any documentation at all, attesting to what they phoned in was actually what they're sending in.

So, the numbers changed. And as you mentioned, instead of Mitt Romney winning by eight votes, Santorum, according to these certified results, won by 34 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that's that. Shannon Travis on the scene for us in Des Moines.

President Obama, meanwhile, made a trip to Disneyworld today, not for a family vacation. Instead, he went to the happiest place on earth to talk about how unhappy he is with Congress. And he touted a change to make it easier for visitors from around the world to travel to the United States. Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is traveling with the president.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Disneyworld is a symbol of tourism and Florida is a symbol of politics, both in play here today for the president's visit, which started with him poking a little fun at himself and at Mickey Mouse.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nice to meet a world leader who has bigger ears than me.


KEILAR (voice-over): With Disneyworld as a backdrop, President Obama unveiled a plan to increase tourism to the United States.

OBAMA: In 2010, nearly 60 million international visitors helped the tourism industry generate over $134 billion. Tourism is the number one service that we export. Number one. And that means jobs.

KEILAR: The president's executive order will allow visitors from more countries to travel to the U.S. without a Visa, an increase the number of visas specifically for travelers from China and Brazil. Both countries have a growing middle class with billions to spend on travel. Roger Dow is head of the U.S. Travel Association.

ROGER DOW, PRESIDENT AND CEP, TRAVEL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: Brazil has huge kind of demand, but the potential for China is unbelievable. Last year, we did a million people from China, and the potential is probably 10 or 15 million which will dwarf (ph) any other country down the road.

KEILAR: The spectacle is part of Obama's "We Can't Wait" campaign, a series of job-related actions he's taking without help from Congress as he attempts to distance himself from the gridlock in Washington, but Congress has taken some action on tourism, creating a fund in 2010 to promote travel to the U.S., and recently, funding an increase in state department staff to process more visas in Brazil, but it isn't all about tourism.

It's become a bit of a pattern for President Obama, popping up in states where Republicans are duking it out. GOP voters in Florida picked their candidate to oppose him later this month. On caucus night in Iowa, Obama spoke irtually to his supporters there.

Next week, he heads to Nevada which holds caucuses after Florida's primary. The president's visit to the happiest place on earth didn't escape notice from his opponents.

NEWT GINGRICH: But I have to confess, as I thought this morning about the president flanked on one side by Mickey Mouse --


NEWT GINGRICH: And on the other side by goofy resembling actually sort of a cabinet picture of the Obama administration.



KEILAR (on-camera): And President Obama is one stop ahead of Republicans, so to speak, next week when he heads to Nevada to sell his message after the State of the Union. Nevada holds its caucuses, as you know Wolf, after the Florida primary.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar, thanks very much, Brianna, in Disneyworld with the president.

We told you about Newt Gingrich's ex-wife's claims, but could that spell real trouble for Newt Gingrich with women voters? Stand by. We'll discuss.

Also, former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain. He's here. He's finally made his unconventional endorsement. Stand by for that as well.


BLITZER: Check it out. Some beautiful video of historic Charleston, South Carolina. That's where we are right now, aerial shots. We're counting down to tonight's Southern Republican presidential debate. You'll see it, you'll heart it only here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. eastern. John King is moderating that debate for us. Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's that phrase Republicans are so fond up? Family values. Just two days before the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich's second ex-wife is out with some tawdry details about him that suggest he has the morals of an alley cat. In fact, Marianne Gingrich tells ABC News that Newt lacks the moral character to be president of the United States. The former Mrs. Gingrich who was married to Newt Gingrich for 18 years says that she's coming forward now so voters can know what she knows about him. And here's part of what she knows about him. She says Newt asked her for an open marriage so he could have both a wife and a mistress. That mistress has become his third wife and current wife, Callista.

Gingrich reportedly asked Marianne if she would share him when he admitted to a six-year long affair with Callista, a former Congressional aide. Keep in mind, this was going on around the same time that Gingrich was going after President Bill Clinton for his lack of moral leadership during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Ain't politics grand? Marianne says Newt asked her for divorce a few months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Gingrich divorced his first wife while she was being treated for cancer. Family values.

Meanwhile, ABC News will air the entire interview tonight on "Nightline." Apparently, there was an argument within the network over the timing of releasing this interview given as potential impact on Saturday's primary in South Carolina. The Drudge report first leaked word of the interview last night, 14 years and one day after Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky story.

As for Gingrich, so far, his response to all of this seems to be telling the press to ask his daughters about it. It's all part of that whole family values thingie.

Here's the question, when is the proper time to release a potentially damaging interview with one of Newt Gingrich's ex-wives? Go to, post comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Get ready for a lot of reaction, Jack. Thanks very much.

We're going to dig a little bit deeper right now into this whole story involving Newt Gingrich. Joining us our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Gloria, are women especially going to have a problem as a result of this new allegations?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the jury is obviously out on that. We don't know how much if at all it will affect South Carolina, because it's happening pretty close to the primary, but you have to understand, as we all do that the words "open marriage" are not exactly music to the ears of women. OK? Not a good idea.

But we do know that even before this, women have been somewhat skeptical about the Newt Gingrich candidacy. Take a look at our South Carolina poll that we released this week, and you will see that 28 percent of men support Gingrich, but only 16 percent of women. So, Gingrich has almost twice as much support from men as he does from women. Now, the candidate in this state who does well with women is Mitt Romney. So, this could potentially really help Romney or even help Rick Santorum who, after all, has run as a values candidate.

BLITZER: The winner of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum. Who knew? That was two week and two days later that was going to happen. Dana, you've been covering this Rick Perry announcement today. He's dropping out. We didn't know who he was going to endorse if he was going to endorse. He endorses Newt Gingrich.

Why didn't he endorse Rick Santorum who seems maybe even more in line on some of the social, family issues, if you will, than Newt Gingrich.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does, but there's one word, friendship. I'm told by several sources who are close to Newt Gingrich, in particular, that they've really been friends for years and years and years. Now, I think it's pretty well known by political junkies that Newt Gingrich wrote the foreword for Rick Perry's book.

But I'm told that this decision went down on Rick Perry's part last night that he made the decision to drop out last night, but really overnight, it wasn't clear whether or not he was going to endorse, and it wasn't until this morning that he decided to actually endorse Newt Gingrich. It started out to maybe he was just kind of give him a tip of the hat or so forth.

The question about Santorum, why did he go and actually ask Rick Perry for his endorsement? I asked him that on the campaign trail today.


SANTORUM: I actually never did call Governor Perry. I found out that he was going to drop out of the race this morning, and it was announced immediately thereafter that he was going to endorse Newt, and I thought, well, that's his prerogative.

BASH: Did your camp reach out to him? We heard that maybe there were some calls.

SANTORUM: I think our staff has always been in communication. We're always in communication with the other campaigns. So, no, that's nothing new.

BASH: Let me translate that last part for you. He said that his staff is always in communication. We understand our Mark Preston reported this morning that the Santorum campaign did reach out immediately after they heard that Rick Perry was dropping out, but it was too late.

BLITZER: They would have liked that endorsement, even if he's only polling at five or six percent here in South Carolina. If it's a close race, that could be important. You know, Rick Perry today endorsing Newt Gingrich, and I said to myself, here's why a lot of voters out there, Americans, are cynical about politicians, because even though he endorsed him enthusiastically, today, he's got some flaws.

Here's what he said on December 11th. This is Rick Perry speaking about Newt Gingrich. Listen.


PERRY: If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner or why wouldn't you cheat on anybody for that matter?


BLITZER: He got a stare at that debate from Newt Gingrich, but today, they're best friends. A month ago, not so much.

BORGER: Today, Perry said that Newt Gingrich is not perfect, and there is forgiveness for those who see God. So, he clearly knew that we'd be talking about that, and he clearly wanted to inoculate himself because he knew that this story about Marianne Gingrich was percolating.

BASH: It is surprising that he did it so quickly, because other people have dropped out in the race, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, we don't have endorsements from them. But look, if you look back on the history of politics, I mean there are so many famous lines of people within the same party going after each other. Voodoo economics, stop lying about my record.

I mean, look at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, now she's secretary of state. So, it happens, but the fact that it happens so quickly is --

BORGER: I think Perry also made a bet today. You know, it was sort of like he was going to go with the guy that he actually thinks might win in South Carolina, and then, maybe, he would be considered the kingmaker in South Carolina.

BLITZER: If Newt Gingrich were to get the Republican presidential nomination, you better believe the Obama campaign would get out this Rick Perry sat (ph) where he says if you cheat on your wife, if you cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner? Why wouldn't you cheat on anybody for that matter? Strong words from Rick Perry who's now endorsed Newt Gingrich. Guys, thanks very much.

The countdown certainly on to one of the most important debates on the road to the White House. Who's most likely to come out on top.

Plus, shocking new details about what the captain was reportedly doing only moments after that horrific cruise ship crash.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ask ourselves, if we could do anything, what would we really do? One of the things that we lack in our city? What are the things that we would like to do but that we can't and then make them happen? That's exactly what architecture should be all about is to try to make the world a little bit more like our dreams.


BLITZER: Just hours before he takes the stage in tonight's CNN Southern Republican presidential debate, Newt Gingrich is defending himself against a shocking claim by his second wife.


MARIANNE GINGRICH: I said to him, Newt, we've been married a long time, and he said yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was he saying, do you think?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted an open marriage?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: Yes, that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life.


MARIANNE GINGRICH: No. No. That is not a marriage.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what's going on with our CNN political contributor, the democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist, Rich Galen. Paul, everybody knew he was having an affair. This is not news, but to hear her say it like this on television, is it going to have an impact? Is it not going to have an impact? What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, as we say in the business, it's not exactly on message. But, as you point out, it's not exactly new either. And I do wonder -- Newt Gingrich is an amazingly talented debater. And, what he seems to like better than anything else is attacking the media. And I think what you'll tonight is Newt (Ph) bash ABC News which got this interview with his ex-wife and try to pivot it.

He tells a wonderful story of his personal redemption, how he found faith, and he -- you know, I mean, and people like that. So, I don't know it's going to be terribly damaging. It's upsetting personally. You just hate to see anybody, any family -- I'm not a fan of Gingrich and to see either of them drawn into this, it should be a private problem.

BLITZER: You worked for Newt Gingrich. You were his press -- did you have any clue what was going on? RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I never did. And when people tell me, well, he really had to resign, because everybody knew about Callista, and I would say, you think his friend David Banyer (ph) was protecting him and not telling everybody during the Monica Lewinsky stuff? But here's the advantage that Newt really has is that every -- Washington has been covering him for 30 years.

They know this stuff. Mother Jones would be writing that story about his first wife like every three months for 20 years. So, this isn't new news -- if Newt had been the governor of upper iguana and this is sort of new to the Washington press corps, oh, there would be projectile sweat everywhere covering every semi-colon (ph).

But I think, I mean, depending upon what's involved in the actual allegation, if that's what it is, an open marriage, it will cost him some votes here, but I don't think it will stop the momentum cold.

BLITZER: We know debates matter. We know he did well Monday night in the debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Look at this poll number, the new NBC/Marist poll, South Carolina, likely GOP primary voters. Monday, Romney was at 37 percent, Gingrich 22 percent. But by Tuesday after the debate, 31/26, it had narrowed to five points. If you're strategist how are you -- if you're giving Newt Gingrich advice tonight, what does he need to do?

BEGALA: He needs to focus his fire. He is -- I think he's a brilliant guy, but boy, is he ADD. I mean, he's all over the map. One day, he's attacking Mitt Romney for being a closet Massachusetts moderate. OK. Good. If that's your message, go with it. The next day he's attacking him for being, you know, Gordon gecko, a lay-off artist. Well, if that's your message, go with that, Newt.

Another time he's saying he'll lose to Obama, he's taking on the electability issue. Focus your fire, Newt. And that applies to Santorum, too, another very talented debated. Great debater. But in the last debate, he won debating points over Romney, but he beat him on an issue that voters in South Carolina don't care about. Voting rights for ex-cons. Not exactly like the top of mind issue, so focus your fire on the issues that voters care about most.

GALEN: I think for Newt, I think the reason he did so well on Monday night was because that was the Professor Newt that people who haven't followed him very closely over the last 15 year or 10 years whatever it is. They like that like that in the early debates. When they saw the angry Newt, they would say, oh, yes. I remember. I don't like that guy.

So, if I were Newt, I would say, do not let this get under your skin. Keep your Professor Newt hat on and just do your thing, you'll be fine.

BLITZER: If Mitt Romney is watching you and you're going to give him some advice tonight -- he might be watching, we don't know. So, what does he do? What does he need to do tonight, because this is an important debate for him? BEGALA: You know, normally, like when I worked for Clinton, the last thing I'd always say, trust your instincts. Actually, with mitt, Mitt doesn't have very good instincts. He seems to have very good team. He has good scripted lines, but I hate to say it, but I would say, Mitt, don't trust your instincts. That's what led him into saying things like, I'll bet you ten grand in one of the debates.

GALEN: That's funny, because what I was going to say was, my advice would be, take a breath before you answer. Take a beat. Let your brain catch up with your mouth, because there's a lot going on in both of those and just make sure that when you do start the answer, it's the answer you want to give so you're not backing and filling to the last --

BLITZER: In my blog today, SITUATION ROOM blog, I wrote that I'm anxious to see if these candidates when there are only four left, if they'll be as tough with each other as they are when the candidate is standing right next to them.


BLITZER: Santorum, for example, what does he need to do?

BEGALA: Right. When you interviewed Santorum, and he unloaded --

BLITZER: Unloaded, but will he do that when he's standing next to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul?

BEGALA: He has to, and I think he will. He does not seem intimidated by Mitt Romney. As I say, I think his problems is, instead, that he's such a good debater in a Senate sort of style that he'll win the point wherever he can get it. And he needs to turn away from all of the minor points and go right at where his central point which I think for him has to be the social conservatism.

I mean, he is a true believing pro-lifer and has been since his first day in public life. Romney has been less consistent on that.


GALEN: But he gets into Senate-speak, and the whole country goes, good night.

BLITZER: With Santorum?


BLITZER: Ron Paul, I mean, he's still a candidate. You know, he's got a solid base here. He presumably will do well.

BEGALA: He will. I think this is less his kind of territory, but he will. He loses altitude when he gets off on to foreign policy, right? Because he has --

BLITZER: With Republican voters? BEGALA: With Republican voters, where he has --


BLITZER: Ironically, a lot of Democrats and liberals would like that.

BEGALA: I have a lot of friends who do. But even for many Democrats, he's a little too far.

But on those Tea Party libertarian issues about limiting government, that's where he's the purist. And again, he should go at Romney.

The thing is, I think one of the reasons Romney has been able to float above it is all his opponents have attacked each other. That's not how you win. If you want to become the king, you have to beat the king.

BLITZER: Do you have any advice for Ron Paul?

GALEN: Ron Paul, he needs to be a little less (INAUDIBLE). I think he sort of glories in being the old kind of curmudgeon. I think if he could throttle that back a little bit, and as Paul said, stick with the Tea Party, the libertarian messages, not the foreign policy stuff, keep it light -- because he's got a good sense of humor -- then I think he sails through this thing with 20 percent, 22 percent, whatever it is.

BEGALA: See, this may be the 17th debate. It's the most important.

BLITZER: We'll be there. We'll be watching.

Guys, thanks very much.

Popular Web sites closing for business to protest legislation before Congress. Now it looks like lawmakers are taking notice.

And a dozen girls from the same high school start showing the same startling symptoms. What doctors are saying, why parents aren't buying it, that's coming up.


BLITZER: We're here in South Carolina. We're counting down to tonight's CNN Southern Republican Presidential Debate. We're only two hours and 25 minutes away. You'll want to see this debate. It's going to be a critically important one.

Meanwhile, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including major gains by an opposition group in Syria.

Lisa, what's going on?

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

The Free Syrian Army, a group made up of former government soldiers, has gained control of a suburb of Damascus. The fighters expect another battle, however, and they are regrouping.

Meanwhile, members of the Arab League's fact-finding mission are in negotiations with the Syrian government to stay in the country longer. The group plans to discuss its findings in the coming days.

And an icon of the photography industry is filing for bankruptcy protection. Eastman Kodak's stock plunged 35 percent at the start of the day before trading was suspended. Kodak says it obtained $950 million from Citibank to maintain operations. The company has struggled to shift from film to digital. Sales dropped by almost half since 2005.

And Wikipedia's one-day shutdown in protest of a controversial anti- piracy bill may be working. At least two Republican lawmakers are rethinking their support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Missouri Senator Roy Blunt tweeted that the bill is "flawed." That's a quote. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio wrote on his Facebook page that Congress needs to come up with new legislation. Many media companies including CNN's parent company, Time Warner, support that bill.

And a strange story from upstate New York. Twelve girls from the same high school have gone to the hospital for stuttering and twitching symptoms. The girls are in different grades and some don't even know each other.

A doctor who as evaluated 11 of the girls says it's an unconscious reaction to stress, but the doctor has no explanation for why it's happening to a whole group. And no surprise, many parents aren't buying it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very strange. All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

When he was last in THE SITUATION ROOM with me, Herman Cain told all of us he would make a "unconventional endorsement" today. So who is he supporting? He's here with me. He's coming up next.

Stand by.

And forget helping passengers. One crew member now says the captain of the wrecked cruise liner was doing something completely different after -- yes, after -- the ship ran aground.


BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this, some beautiful shots over historic Charleston, South Carolina. We're here in this wonderful, wonderful city.

We're counting down to tonight's Southern Republican Presidential Debate. You'll see it 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Here was the endorsement we were promised. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HERMAN CAIN (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to make an unconventional endorsement. Now, please underscore "unconventional," because I've been an unconventional candidate, I've had unconventional, bold ideas, so I'm going to make an unconventional endorsement the Thursday before the South Carolina primary.


BLITZER: All right. This is Thursday before the South Carolina primary. Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has just made that "unconventional endorsement." He's joining me here on our set.

I was waiting to hear Mitt Romney or somebody. Your unconventional endorsement?

CAIN: Yes, I endorsed the people. We, the people, because Washington is broken, we are broke, and if the people don't get commitments from candidates before they get elected, we're never going to change it.

So it was unconventional because I didn't endorse one of the candidates. I endorsed the American people to help inspire them.

BLITZER: The American people would be helped the most by which of these four remaining Republican candidates?

CAIN: Whoever gets the nomination.

BLITZER: So you're not going to endorse anyone?

CAIN: I didn't say that. I still might endorse an individual.


CAIN: Don't know yet. But here's the thing. Coming out of New Hampshire, the voting was 24,000 less than it was the last presidential election. That speaks to the fact that some of the conservatives, the Republicans may be losing too much of their enthusiasm.

I want to be one of the people to try to keep that enthusiasm up, because if we lose enthusiasm, it doesn't matter who the candidate is. I'm going to support them.

BLITZER: But you like all four of these?

CAIN: I like three of the four.

BLITZER: Not Ron Paul?

CAIN: I like three of the four.

BLITZER: Which is the one you don't like.

CAIN: I like three of the four.

BLITZER: Tell me who you like.

CAIN: Come on, Wolf. You're going to make me sound like a broken record.

BLITZER: I know. But go ahead. Just open up.

CAIN: Let's just say I have a preference for three of the four.

BLITZER: Can I assume the fourth, the one you don't like, is Ron Paul?

CAIN: No, don't make the assumption.

BLITZER: Do you like Ron Paul?

CAIN: He's a very respectable man.

BLITZER: But you don't think he's ready to be president of the United States?

CAIN: That I would agreed with.


CAIN: Because his ideas are too extreme.

BLITZER: All right.

Now, you are going to give response to the State of the Union Address next Tuesday on behalf of the Tea Party Express movement. Is that right?

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann did it last year.

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: How did this come about?

CAIN: We just got a call from the Tea Party people, and they wanted to know, would I do it? And I said I would be honored, and here's why. I still believe in the whole Tea Party movement. I still believe that it is going to have an impact.

It is still growing. So I was honored when they asked me to give the response.

BLITZER: Because you know there will be a formal Republican Party response.

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, will deliver the Republican Party response to the president, but then you're going to give another one. CAIN: I'm going to give one on behalf of the Tea Party movement, Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots. I'm giving the one basically on behalf of the people.

BLITZER: Now, is this something you will you write or they will write for you?

CAIN: Oh, no. Nobody ever writes my stuff. I'm writing it.

I will determine the points. I will react to the president's speech. And so as soon as they release it -- they usually release it just minutes before he gives it, but I can already anticipate some of the things he's going to say.

BLITZER: So you will look into that teleprompter and read that speech to the American people, the one that you'll write while he's delivering his?

CAIN: Correct.

BLITZER: That's fast work if you can do it.

CAIN: And I may not have it written out. I may just take talking points. That's normally how I give my speeches. So it probably won't be totally scripted.

BLITZER: Quickly, one final piece of advice for Newt Gingrich. How does he handle the allegations from his second wife? You had your issues, as all of our viewers know as well.

CAIN: The way I would handle it if I were Newt is say, "Next question," because the American people don't care about that. That's the point I've been trying to make. They don't care about it.

The media cares about it, but the American people that I've run into, they don't care about that. They want to hear about solutions, and they can go to if they want to see some of the solutions that I'm going to continue to promote.

BLITZER: But if the American people don't care about it, why did you decide to suspend your campaign?

CAIN: I care about the my wife and the fact that the media kept spinning those false accusations over and over and over. And it was very painful to my wife and my family. That's why I suspended it.

BLITZER: So you said that was it?

CAIN: If the media had gotten off of it, I probably would still be in this race. That's my point. But it was important to the media to continue to spin that story, spin those false accusations. That's why I got out. If they had moved on and not believed that stuff, and wanted to continue to make it a story, I might still have been in the race.

BLITZER: Do you feel badly you're not going to be on the stage tonight?

CAIN: Oh, no. I'm having so much fun, Wolf, with my new organization called where people can sign up and become a part of what I call the 9-9-9 Revolution. 9-9-9 is not going to go away. It's not going to go away.


BLITZER: Why do I laugh every time you say 9-9-9?

CAIN: Because it captivates the public.

BLITZER: The way you say it.

CAIN: Because I'm excited about it. That's why.

BLITZER: Say it one more time.

CAIN: 9-9-9, the revolution.


BLITZER: Herman Cain.

Hey, thanks very much for coming in.

CAIN: Always enjoy it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Days after that Italian cruise ship ran aground, there are now shocking new details about what -- that's next.

And we're less than two-and-a-half hours away from the last debate before the South Carolina primary. Stay with CNN to see who comes out on top.


BLITZER: Dropping from a helicopter isn't the first way anyone thinks about boarding a cruise ship, but it's how rescuers are getting on the sinking Costa Concordia. They're searching for the 21 people still missing.

Meanwhile, we're getting a clearer picture of what the captain was doing after the ship hit the rocks, including dinner with a mystery woman.

Our senior international correspondent Dan Rivers is on the scene for us.

Dan, what are you learning?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It just is unbelievable, Wolf, the details that are coming out apparently about Captain Schettino's actions or inaction after this terrible accident here last Friday.

New testimony emerging suggesting that the captain had ordered dinner and continued to wait for his dinner even after the collision with the rocks here of Giglio Island. A cook on board has given an interview, Rogelio Barista, a Filipino cook, claiming that rather than leading from the front, Captain Schettino was continuing to wait for his meal to be served with a female companion.

Here is what he said.


ROGELIO BARISTA, COSTA CONCORDIA COOK (through translator): The captain insisted on having a meal at around 10:30. He arrived with a woman who I didn't recognize. At that time I was with a colleague, another cook, Jason Valasco (ph), and we wondered what was going on.

At that time, we really felt something was wrong. The stuff in the kitchen was falling off shelves, and we realized how grave the situation was. You would not believe it.

I have had 12 years of experience as a cook on a ship. I've even witnessed fires, so I wasn't that scared. But I did wonder, though, what the captain was doing. Why was he still there?

Anyway, we gave him his drink. After that, he was also still waiting for the dessert to be served to the woman he was with.


RIVERS: Absolutely extraordinary testimony, Wolf, if it turns out to be true.

The ship hit the rock at about 9:41 p.m. And as that cook said, 10:30, the captain was still waiting there for his dessert rather than being up on the bridge and leading from the front.

And that just backs up some of the other testimony that we've heard from the port authority and the Coast Guard, suggesting that the captain had got off the ship before all of the passengers and apparently refused to get back on despite numerous requests from the Coast Guard to do so.

BLITZER: Dan, any word on how much longer the rescue operations will go on?

RIVERS: Well, I think they're winding up now, Wolf. They sadly have not found any more survivors here. There's still almost two dozen missing.

They have today had a lot more activity on the salvage side of this operation, which is really yet to begin in earnest. But they're saying by this weekend, they're going to have to start pumping that heavy fuel oil off, 2,000 tons of it. They're worried about the weather. And they'll have given this a week now of searching in treacherous conditions inside this ship. Now I think they're going to have to switch gears and switch to the salvage operation.

BLITZER: Dan Rivers, thanks very much.

And this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. Carnival Cruise Line, who is the parent company of the Costa Cruises, just announced they will audit and review all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company's ships. A retired U.S. Navy captain will head that review.

Let's get back to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is as follows: When is the proper time to release a potentially damaging interview with one of Newt Gingrich's ex-wives?

Mark writes, "I've already heard the daughter's speech. It's just more shilling for daddy."

"As for the interview, why wouldn't it be appropriate? Newt plays dirty. He has for 50 years. Why should he get a free pass?"

"I have no idea what impact this will have in South Carolina. They may say they're Evangelicals, but they're pretty selective in what and whom they condemn. Like Jack said, family values."

Jim writes, "The appropriate time to release such information is as soon as it's ready. Running it one or two days before the primary, I think in fairness you need to give someone sufficient time to respond. But that said, it should be a wake-up call for the Christians who won't vote for Romney because he's a Mormon."

"Too many are willing to put on the Christian faith like a coat, something they take off when they get home. Newt's one of those."

Billy in Louisiana, "The thing that bothers me most about the story being released is it's from an ex-wife who has been scorned by Newt and his current wife. How does anyone know fact from fiction with her accusations toward her ex-husband? It just seems to me that she doesn't want the man and woman that she feels destroyed her marriage living in the White House. Whether her accusations are true or false, I'm sure they'll have the negative effect she hopes for."

S. writes, "When a voter has to ask which wife is Marianne again and which daughters from which marriage are defending him, he's got some explaining to do. Air it as soon as possible. Voters have a right to know."

Moses writes, "The damage is already done. This feeds into the electability factor that Gingrich is struggling with for the general election. Gingrich is done. Romney is the nominee." And Charles in Michigan writes, "It doesn't make a bit of difference, Jack. Remember that Newt's born again. He's all square with God and with conservatives until the next time."

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jack.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

All right. We'll take a quick break. When we come back, Jeanne Moos.


BLITZER: An ex-wife makes a claim about Newt Gingrich. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newt Gingrich's second wife says he suggested she share him with his now third wife, Callista, but apparently there wasn't enough of Newt to go around.

(on camera): What would you say to your spouse if they said you need to share me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd want to see a big check.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say what do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would call his mother.

MOOS (voice-over): In an interview with ABC, Newt's former wife says he opened the open marriage issue.

MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S EX-WIFE: He was asking to have an open marriage and I refused.

MOOS: Rush Limbaugh had to defend Newt to a conservative caller for whom the subject was closed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An open marriage? I mean, Callista's going to be the first lady? Are you kidding me?



LIMBAUGH: We've already had an open marriage in the White House. Maybe with the Kennedys. How many open marriages --

MOOS: Speaking of open -- NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been very open about mistakes I have made. I've been very open about needing to go to God for forgiveness.

MOOS: But for some, marriage is one eye-rolling open to far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you get married you end the openness. It's closed.

MOOS: Not necessarily, says psychologist Dr. Lauren Bisk.

DR. LAUREN BISK, PSYCHOLOGIST: At least he's being open about it. He's saying, look, honey, I'm not going to be faithful to you. Can you live with that?

MOOS: Apparently, Governor Rick Perry can.


MOOS: He dropped out of the race Thursday and endorsed Newt Gingrich, even though he recently said --

PERRY: If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner? Or why wouldn't you cheat on anybody, for that matter?

MOOS: But now --

PERRY: And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?

MOOS (on camera): If your spouse said to you, "You need to share me," what kind of response?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was raised knowing that men have a different chemistry. And as long as they support the family --

MOOS (voice-over): We don't know how all the revelations will affect swing voters, but maybe it will help with the swinger vote.

As for Newt's reaction to his ex-wife Marianne's interview --

GINGRICH: I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. I'm not getting involved.

MOOS: -- guess he doesn't want to share.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt trying to share himself?

MOOS: -- New York.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? That ego is big.



BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

We're counting down to the CNN presidential debate just two hours from now. Our own John King will moderate.

Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.