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Interview With Rick Santorum; Interview With Robert Ford; Newt Gingrich Speaks At CPAC; Compromise on Contraceptives Issue; Syrian Violence Moves To Aleppo; Obama's Campaign Playlist

Aired February 10, 2012 - 16:47   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: All right, there he is, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, the Republican presidential candidate, spent more than 30 minutes outlining a whole series of initiatives that he would undertake if he were elected president of the United States.

Key word if, Ron Brownstein, you listened to every word. He took the high road, if you will. He didn't go after any of his Republican challengers.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The key when he said -- early on his speech, he said we've had almost no discernible debate going forward about what we would do. It's all been backward-looking about his records.

And his right that that is the wrong frame for him, he does better in a forward looking debate, but the speech today I thought was a little bit of a state of the union. It went through a whole long list of proposals without identifying one where he's going to draw the line with Romney.

The model is Ronald Reagan, 1976 with his back to the wall picked the Panama Canal, to sharpen his ideological difference with General Ford and recovered. Gingrich has to find the one play he can draw the line in the sand and try to move conservatives to his side against Mitt Romney. He didn't quite do that today although he obviously has some raw material.

BLITZER: Yes, or not. He's got a lot of ideas.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sure I undercounted. I counted 17, none of them small, completely reformed civil service. Completely eliminate a host of taxes on corporations. So good for him, he's clearly trying to be the candidate of ideas.

I think Ron has a point. He still has to draw a central distinction I think with Mitt Romney. I think Rick Santorum did that. I'm not in the room so I don't know, but it seemed a little flat.

Newt is a really good speaker. He knows every erogenous zone for the Republican right and it didn't seem to me that he hit them with the same effectiveness sometimes, but it could be because I'm not there. So I'd rather hear from people --

BLITZER: Mission accomplished for Newt Gingrich, Mary, or not?

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is Newt at his best, in his best form with his greatest hits. I disagree with my esteemed colleagues. He doesn't need to distinguish himself from Romney. He needed to do what made him the biggest challenger to Romney and he did that.

Between the two of them, they course corrected on his other degrading the campaign concept, which was she lit a candle instead of cursing the darkness. When Callista talked about kindness that kind of cleans up the whining about the process and so it was off-putting.

But that was Newt big think. None of those ideas were new. Those were his greatest hits, but they added up to a clear articulation of a conservative contrast to Obama. He's not really talking to you, Paul, or even you, Ron. He's talking to that room. He did a lot more than what he needed to do than Mitt did for what he needed to do with this group.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We have much more to discuss, including a new statement just coming out from the United States conference of Catholic bishops reacting to the President Obama's decision today on contraception. Stand by for that.

Also Rick Santorum doubles down on a controversial remark about women in combat. My interview with Rick Santorum that's coming up as well.


BLITZER: All right. There's some encouraging word for the White House. Reaction now from the nation's Catholic bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic bishops reacting to the president's initiative, the compromise proposal for resolving the issue of Catholic institutions paying for health care, for contraception, birth control, other sensitive issues.

In a statement just released, we just got it in. The Cardinal- Designate Timothy Dolan saying they want to continue a dialogue with the White House. The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all, worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion at issues of faith and morals.

The statement says, but then it goes on to say this, listen to this. Today's decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction.

We hope to work with the administration to guarantee that Americans' conscience and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations. Ron Brownstein, this has to be encouraging to the president and to the Democrats?

BROWNSTEIN: Probably better than they could have hoped for I think going in. You know, the fact is the most religiously observant Catholics like the most religiously observant of any denomination are pretty solidly Republican.

Those who are less observant tend to lean towards Democrats. But if you want to get to the absolute swing voter at the center of swing voters in the country, Catholics who are sort of intermittently observant, some call them Easter Catholics have to be it.

So the White House had to be worried about how this was playing out. It was pretty clear they were trying to find the solution. This may give them some hope they're on the right stage toward that.

BLITZER: Mary, what's your reaction when you hear what the nation's catholic bishops just said?

MATALIN: Well, Cardinal Designate Dolan is the epitome of a diplomat. First step doesn't mean last step for him would be my guess about this, but no matter. This Pandora's Box has been opened. Obama did not want a conversation about Obamacare as evidenced by how he placed in the "State of the Union."

That's where the cardinal designate started, with erosion of freedom, intrusion of government. Whatever the swing of the swing Catholics are they do not like the church in any way to be imposed upon. It's a Pandora's Box.

This shuts it down for today, but doesn't shut it down for the election. I think the administration will have to do more to placate a newly animated Catholic constituency than this.

BLITZER: It is an opening though for the White House. They've got to be encouraged by this very moderate statement?

BEGALA: I think this is probably more than they hoped for. What they did get was a very strong endorsement from the Catholic health association. The people who are actually run by Sister Carol Quian who is a key player in endorsing Obamacare when the bishops opposed it.

The people are actually running these health institutions will be affected in the Catholic Church have endorsed the compromise position, because they say it protects religious liberty, doesn't force religious institutions to do something against their conscience, but expands health care for women. So I'm highly encouraged. I think the White House -- this was an unforced error from --

BLITZER: -- from Cardinal-Designate Dolan, he says, while there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them. So at least there's going to be a dialogue now between the nation's Catholic bishops and the White House to make sure that maybe they can get on the same page.

BROWNSTEIN: There's legitimate concern for the White House about the reaction on Catholic voters, but there is another side to the ledger, which is that you have Republicans. Mitt Romney today in his speech talked about completely defunding Planned Parenthood from federal funds. For upper middle class white voters who are economically unhappy, but socially liberal this continues to put Republicans in a place where it may be tougher to reach those voters.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Good work all around. Other news we're following. It's like a corporate merger between terrorists. Brian Todd is following an alarming new alliance between two major terror groups. Brian, what groups are joining together?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one group has launched some of the biggest attacks on American interests. The other has recruited some militants from the American heartland. That's the partnership that has got U.S. officials worried.


TODD (voice-over): Dangerous terrorists, some of them have American passports and there are concerns they may attack the United States. Al Shabab, the group fighting chaotic war for control of Somalia. Its leader has now pledged his formal allegiance to al Qaeda. Intelligence sources tell CNN they've expected this, the concern --

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That Al Shabab, this group that's now joined al Qaeda has a direct recruiting network operating in the United States, recruiters on American streets. No other part of al Qaeda has this capability.

TODD: Dozens of Americans Somalis many from the Minneapolis area have gone missing in recent years, believed by U.S. officials to have been recruited by Al Shabab to fight in Somalia. Some have been killed.

When we investigated those recruiting cases, we spoke with a Minneapolis activist, Abdirizak Bihi, who lost his 17-year-old nephew.

(on camera): Do you know about their methods? How do they do this? Do they come in and talk to these young men inside the mosque, outside? Do they call them on cell phones? I mean, do they kidnap them?

ABDIRIZAK BIHI, NEPHEW KILLED IN SOMALIA: They kidnap them in the sense of mental kidnapping, not physically, but they play a role of a mentor.

TODD: While some alleged recruiters have been arrested. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King says Al Shabab still has recruiters operating in Minneapolis as well as Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Washington, Columbus.

Experts say the group also has supporters in Toronto. There are two concerns. That Al Shabab might simply get its supporters already in those cities to attack or --

J. PETER PHAM, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: We have a group that's recruited from Somali community in the United States places like Minneapolis, and brought these young men to Somalia, where they have been trained by extremists in terrorist training camps in militant tactics, become more militarized, and now with their U.S. passports they can re-enter the United States and go wherever.


TODD: And experts say Al Shabab now has a strong motive to attack America. It's recently suffered military setbacks in Somalia, pushed from the capital by government and African Union forces. It's suffered drone strikes and analysts say Al Shabab leaders blame the U.S. for all of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, Al Shabab also could partner with another al Qaeda affiliate that's launched recent attempts on America as well.

TODD: That's right. Officials are worried that Al Shabab might deepen its cooperation with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. You remember that's the group the launched the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard the airliner headed for Detroit in 2009.

And the plot to send bombs on cargo planes bound for the U.S. in 2010, both of those plots, of course were foiled, but that group does have some dangerous capability.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

To our viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now: Rick Santorum is not backing down from a startling comment that he made that his critics say insulted women. Wait until you hear what the Republican presidential candidate is now saying about women serving in combat. Also, my full interview with Rick Santorum. That's straight ahead.

Plus, Syrians vent their frustration over endless carnage at the hands of government troops. This hour, the United States ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, shares inside information about the brutal crackdown.

And Team Obama releases the president's campaign playlist. Will the Democrats musical choices rock voters or surprise them?

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



BLITZER: On a day one, Republican presidential candidates are appealing for conservative activists, Rick Santorum, potentially, could be hurting his chances with a broader group of voters. He's under greater scrutiny right now after his three contest sweep on Tuesday. And a remark he made right here on CNN about women serving in the U.S. military in combat rolls has stirred up controversy.

Standby for my interview with Rick Santorum, but first, listen to what he told CNNs John King last night about the prospect of female troops serving closer to the front lines.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that could be a very compromising situation where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.

I think that's probably -- it already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat. And I think that's probably not in the best interests of men, women or the mission.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. Lots of reaction, Senator Santorum, to what you told our own John King on your opposition to women serving in combat units in the U.S. military.

A very angry responsibilities from one veteran who writes, co- founder of, an Iraq war veteran, "It's impossible to put into words how infuriating that is to me as someone who has served twice in Iraq with women who were already serving ably in combat, even though the Pentagon didn't officially recognize that up until now."

What's wrong with women serving in combat?

SANTORUM: Well, there's lots of things wrong. There's lots of roles that women can play. In fact, roles that are, in fact, very dangerous, but it's very different than have them out there on the frontlined and into the position (ph) where there are all sorts of physical issues. I mean, that gear (ph) out there, for example, in a group where it just with two people.

And you have some people, because of women have, as you know, with respect to physical capabilities, they have -- they don't have the same requirements that men do in the military and maybe in a position where, you know, someone is injured and has to be brought back. And that's one example.

The other example is just simply the emotions of men in dealing with women in combat and not focusing potentially on the mission, instead of in protecting -- the natural instinct to protect someone who's a female. I mean, these are all reasons that armies throughout the world. I mean, look at the Israeli army, which is an army that has a lot of women in it, and a lot of women in very important positions, but not in combat.

There's a reason for that. We have to look at mission effectiveness. We can't look at, you know, other reasons why people may or may not want to be in combat. We have to look at what the effect of this and safety of those who would deploy in that mission.

BLITZER: Israeli army, by the way, doesn't allow women to serve in combat units, but they do allow gays to serve openly in the Israeli military. I know you oppose gays serving in the military as well. Is that right?

SANTORUM: Yes, I have taken that position. Yes.

BLITZER: Because, I mean, if you're using the Israeli example as far as combat, women in combat, I assume you would except the Israel sample that they don't have a problem allowing gays to serve openly in their military.

SANTORUM: Well, no, that necessarily, but I sort of laid out the rationality that the Israelis used, because they, in fact, do have a lot more utilization of different people in their military, but they have drawn the line here, because they think that undermines - potential undermine the mission that needs to be accomplished.

BLITZER: A lot of women are irritated, though, because under your line of thinking they say women shouldn't serve as firefighters or police officer, because those are jobs that require them to be on the frontlines and could be in danger to -- their lives could be on the line as well.

SANTORUM: Well, it's funny (INAUDIBLE) obviously is the same position of this administration. So, I don't know why they're upset with me. This has been the position of the military from the beginning of our country. So, I don't know why the anger is necessarily focused on me.


BLITZER: The military brass is thinking of formally changing the position right now, just as they recently changed the position allowing gays to serve up in the military. Now, the generals are saying, well, maybe, it's time to formally allow women to serve openly, even though informally they -- if you've been to Iraq and Afghanistan, you know they serve in very dangerous combat roles.

SANTORUM: Of course I do. Now, look, I understand that there may be situations in which they poise (ph) in harm's way and the danger, obviously. But it's one thing to have that happen, another thing to actually have a stated policy to put women in that role.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Mitt Romney. He spoke at CPAC today. You're there. And, he didn't mention you by name. He didn't mention Newt Gingrich by name, but it was over who he was talking about. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Leadership as a chief executive isn't about getting a bill out of conference or giving a great speech. I happen to be the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington.


ROMNEY: I don't have olds scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals that I have to defend. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want you to react to what Mitt Romney just -- because he's clearly referring to you and Newt Gingrich, basically, suggesting you guys are Washington insiders, he's not.

SANTORUM: Well, that's sort of the new tactic. I mean, I'm sure they poll tested this one and trying to figure out, you know, how can we go after Rick Santorum, because he's obviously a very strong conservative. So, we can't really attack him from the right, so we got to use some other tool to try to tear him down and maybe experience in the job that you're actually running for would be a good place to go.

I don't think that works. The fact of the matter is that, you know, experience and doing the job that you're running for is actually probably a pretty good thing. And having the ability to be able to see and learn lessons as I have from how things are -- were missing out in Washington for many years is actually pretty good experience to see how to do it the right way.

BLITZER: Because they're also saying -- you are one of the great proponents of earmarks. That you and former Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania probably got a billion dollars in earmarks for various projects in Pennsylvania. You want to respond to that accusation that they make against you?

SANTORUM: Yes, well, Senator Specter got a lot more than I did, because he was on the appropriations committee, but you know, I believe the time that Congress has a specific authority to spend money, and sometimes, the Congress and the president disagree on how that money is spent. One of the things that I did was, for example, when I was in the House, I fought for the B22 Offspring, which is now is indispensable flat form for our marines in combat right now, air flat form.

And under the Bush administration, Bush 1, they were going to eliminate that, but many of us thought an earmark to make sure that that flat form would be go forward, the predator drone program. There's a whole bunch of things that, you know, Congress and the president disagree on. And sometimes, Congress has something and says no, Mr. President, you will spend the money this way. And I don't think that's necessarily wrong. In fact, I think that's our duty to do so.

What happened was that there was an obvious of that process, and when that happened, just like Jim DeMint, who earmarked for many, many years, who is the leader of the reform, we realized that that needed to be changed, and we called for the end of earmarks.

BLITZER: The president today announced a new initiative to try to get over this issue of contraceptive, birth control pills, catholic institutions like universities, hospitals, charities. He says this new formula should be acceptable, and then, he said this. Listen to what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- you're a teacher or a small businesswoman or a nurse or a janitor, no woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decision that affects her own health, period. This basic principle is already the law in 28 states across the country.


BLITZER: Do you have any problem with that?

SANTORUM: I do, a serious problem with it. This is the federal government using his power of coercion to force an employer to pay for things that are morally objectionable to that employer. And, you know, Wolf, we're not talking about a $10,000 procedure here. We're talking about something that is an inexpensive medical, you know, drug.

And the idea that, somehow, the government even has to insure this, period, the government has to force people to even cover this for the first place is a complete -- make some mockery out of the issue of insurance. Insurance is there to prevent you from, you know, from expenses that, in fact, are -- would be threatening to your financial stability.

This is not going to threat anybody's financial stability. And for the government to force that period, plus force it upon folks who find a moral objection to it, is simply rubbing salt in an already really tough wound. This is a president trying to impose his values, rolling over religious liberty, rolling over freedom of conscience, and in the case of the archdiocese and military, rolling over the freedom of speech.

This is a clear indication that the president has war on freedom, not just the freedom of conscience, but the war on freedom, because he thinks he knows best, what people should have and shouldn't have, and that is that should outrage everybody of faith and no faith.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much.

SANTORUM: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.


BLITZER: The Santorum campaign, by the way, says it's raking in donations, a lot of them since the former senator's wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on Tuesday. A spokesman tweeting just a little while ago, tweeting, "Three states, three days, three million. Today is the third consecutive million dollar day." That's what -- just tweeted -- was tweeted by the Santorum campaign.

The Republican presidential race clearly heating up again tomorrow night when we get the results of the Maine caucuses. Our coverage begins 6:00 p.m. eastern with a special edition of the SITUATION ROOM. That's followed by complete live coverage of the caucus results at 7:00 p.m. eastern Saturday night.

Stand by for more of the controversy over the birth control coverage issue and whether President Obama's compromise is making everyone or no one happy.

Plus, I'll ask the U.S. ambassador to Syria about his scary experiences, whether members of the Bashar al-Assad regime actually wanted to kill him and other U.S. diplomats in Damascus before they fled.

And a preview of the songs that will be playing when President Obama hits the campaign trail.


BLITZER: Like a nightmare. That's how one activist describing what is now a constant barrage of shells and rockets in Syria. The death toll reportedly climbing out to 52 just in the last few hours on this day, including five children. Doctors say the wound that are unable to be treated for their injuries and are now simply, and I'm quoting now, "waiting for God's mercy to die."

This as tens of thousands of protesters are flooding the streets blaming Russia for United States veto they say is killing their children. The United States ambassador to Syria says he's watching the crisis on the ground with horror and revulsion, only days after leaving the country and shutting down the U.S. embassy in Damascus.


BLITZER: And joining us from Paris, the United States ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in. You're in Paris, because you had to leave Damascus. Why did you have to leave?

ROBERT FORD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Well, Wolf, thank you for having me on this afternoon. We have to leave Syria, basically, because we faced security threats to our embassy that were putting in danger the lives of our embassy staff, Syrian and American, and even putting at risk the lives of Syrians who worked close to the embassy where there to be another large car bomb as we've seen in Damascus and saw today in the Aleppo, for example.

BLITZER: Did you think elements of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad wanted to kill you?

FORD: I don't know who's been responsible for the car bombs in places like Damascus and the Aleppo, Wolf. We -- frankly, it doesn't matter so much to us who's done it as much as in terms of the safety of the embassy having measures put in place that would protect us from the car bomb whoever sends it.

And unfortunately, the Syrian government did not do the necessary. So, we closed to the embassy after several weeks of ultimately unfruitful discussions with the Syrian authorities. BLITZER: I take it as the ambassador this was your decision, you were fearful for the lives of other diplomats and embassy personnel, including local Syrians who were working for the embassy, and you were fearful of your own life. Is that right?

FORD: The decision is made by the president, Wolf. I made a recommendation to the department of state in terms of the safety and security of the embassy facility and its employees. It's a decision which, frankly, I am sorry we had to take, but ultimately, the risk to our staff was simply too great.

BLITZER: What was it like evacuating the U.S. embassy in Damascus?

FORD: It was a very heart thing to do, Wolf. I've been in the state department for 27 years, and I believe strongly in the value of having an embassy, even in countries that are going through difficult times, it's important to explain to people what the Americans think about the problems. It's important to understand what's going on in a country like Syria.

It's important to have a embassy to help American citizens who are arrested or who have medical problems. We had thousands of American citizens living in Syria. And, so, it's a very hard thing to say farewell to loyal and dedicated Syrian employees of the American embassy. And it was absolutely wrenching to take down the American flag just before we drove out of the embassy. Absolutely wrenching.

BLITZER: We've seen the horrific accounts of what's going on on the ground, but they really don't let us get in there as journalists to see what's going on. You were there. Describe the situation in a nutshell right now.

FORD: If it's all right with you, Wolf, what I would just say is, for Syrians living in Syria right now, the people that we talk to every day, there was a huge amount of fear, fear about what the future held. They know that the violence is escalating. They know it's getting worse. There were big battles just 20 minutes from downtown Damascus.

We could hear it. We could hear artillery. It's quite -- it's amazing. And then, you see these images coming from Homs, Syria's third largest city, a city that I visited last year. It was very prosperous, the economic hub, and now, you're looking at apartment buildings being blown up by artillery shells, bodies in the streets, people can't go out of their homes even to collect the bodies, children, women killed. It's just horrific. It's repulsive.

At the same time, you have that, that escalation of violence going on. The economy is in terrible difficulty. Factories are closing. Companies are closing. People are losing their jobs. Prices in the market for food are soaring. In the capital city of Damascus, they were suffering six, seven hours a day of electricity cuts in Syria's second largest city and its economic capital, sort of the -- well, I would call it the Syrian equivalent of Chicago. Electricity was off 10, 12, 14 hours a day, and you couldn't find gasoline in any of the gasoline stations. They were all shut. You couldn't go to the airport, because you might not be able to find any taxis there to get from the airport to your home or to where you're going, because the taxis couldn't get gasoline.

This is in Syria's second largest city. So, the economy is having a terrible time and getting worse, and the violence is getting worse. And so, there's a sense of fear and foreboding across Syria.

BLITZER: You posted on your Facebook page last night a picture, a satellite image of Homs. We're showing it to our viewers right now, weaponry being brought in, used against civilians and residential neighborhoods, burning building, armed vehicles. First of all, tell us why you decided to post this image.

FORD: Wolf, in short, I find it completely disingenuous for defenders of the Bashar al-Assad regime to say that they are -- well, they're saying that the armed opposition is shelling Homs. I mean, we know who's shelling Homs, and it is not the armed opposition groups. It's the government.

And that's why I wanted that picture put on our Facebook account, so that people can see there is the artillery and that's what's firing at Homs right now. The armed opposition has rifles and has machine guns, and even has a few rocket-propelled grenades, but it doesn't have artillery. Only one side in this has artillery, the kind of artillery that we're looking at the films and they're bringing down whole apartment buildings on the people.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the city of Homs, Wolf, just in the last couple days. It's absolutely horrifying. The international community cannot stay silent about this.

BLITZER: I agree completely. Here's the question. It looks to me, as a longtime observer of the Middle East, that what Bashar al- Assad and his regime are doing at Homs right now is similar to what his father, Hafez al-Assad, did in 1982 in Hama, and there were obviously at the time, and you know this better than I do, maybe 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 innocent people who were simply slaughtered when they leveled virtually that town of Hama. Is that what's going on right now in Homs?

FORD: It bears a lot of resemblance, Wolf. And I will tell you that last spring, in April, I told Syrian officials that the presidency do not think that you can repeat what Hafez al-Assad, that is to say the father of current President Bashar al-Assad, do not think you can repeat the father's tactics in Hama.

I told them the world had changed, that with satellite television, with the internet, with cell phones even, there was no way they could do what the father did and destroy a city without the world really being witness to it. And, as a result now, we fast forward to 2012, the world can see what the Syrian government is doing, and the Syrian government, as a result, is growing more and more isolated. Last weekend at the United Nations Security Council, representatives of governments from four different continents all agreed that what the Syrian government is doing is wrong and had not Russia and China used their vetoes, the two countries that voted against it had veto power, that resolution would have passed.

It was a 13-2 vote. The Chinese and the Russians were very much outnumbered, but they had veto authority.

BLITZER: Is it time for the international criminal court to serve papers, accusing Bashar al-Assad of war crimes?

FORD: Certainly, Wolf, we think that the Syrian officials responsible for the deaths of Syrian civilians, they need to be held accountable. How that is done, I think first and foremost, goes to the Syrian people themselves, because they are the ones who need to determine how to manage their country's affairs as a peaceful political transition, one day goes forward. I don't want to speak for the Syrian people, but I do think that officials that are responsible for these things must ultimately be held accountability.

BLITZER: Robert Ford is the United States ambassador to Syria. He's not in Syria right now, but he is a very, very courageous career foreign service officer in the United States diplomat. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for everything you've done in Syria. We appreciate your effort.

FORD: Thank you, Wolf. It was nice to be with you.


BLITZER: It's nice to know also he's a fellow graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington, my alma mater.

We keep hearing about the violence in Homs. Now, concerns about brutality in another Syrian city. Our Ivan Watson is standing by to join us with those details.

And the soundtrack of President Obama's reelection campaign. You might hear -- hear the songs that made the cut.


BLITZER: During today's protest in Syria, twin blasts rocked the government buildings in the city of Aleppo, considered one of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's seats of power. Let's go straight to CNNs Ivan Watson. He's standing by in Istanbul. Iva, all week we've heard about the violence in Homs, but now the focus is also on Aleppo. What's the latest?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Syrian state news agency reporting, Wolf, that this was the work of twin suicide car bombers hitting the headquarters of two branches of state security in Aleppo. That's the second largest city in Syria, the commercial capital, a city that has largely been spared the violence that is quite literally tearing apart other cities and towns across Syria, as we speak.

Meanwhile, in many of the opposition areas of Syria, there were protests throughout the day on Friday. This has been a weekly ritual that opposition activists have been doing. The theme of the protests, Wolf, was Russia is killing our children. Many of these opposition activists blaming Russia for giving the Syrian regime the diplomatic cover to increase its attacks on Syrian activists, particularly in that besieged city of Homs where hundreds of people have died this week alone as a result of vicious Syrian military artillery bombardment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There any chance, Ivan at all of some sort of diplomatic solution?

WATSON: Boy, that's the question that many are asking right now. And many of the diplomat have trying to come to some solution conceded that bilateral pressure on Bashar Al Assad hasn't worked, that the Arab league initiatives have not worked, that the United Nations Security Council has last weekend has not worked.

The Turks I've been talking to are talking about trying to avoid foreign military intervention, trying to say you can't have the dictatorship continue, but try to do some third way of bringing political, additional political diplomatic economic sanctions against Syria. One prominent Turkish foreign policy adviser to the prime minister here wrote in a newspaper that it was time to increase support to the Syrian opposition who are being hosted here in Istanbul and in camps along the border with Syria.

We also know that there are plans under way for some kind of international grouping of friends of Syria, probably to take place in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia on February 24th. Even if they bring some great new road map, Wolf, that still going to leave a lot of time for the Syrian military to continue killing civilians in cities like Homs before that.

BLITZER: They seem to be dying by the hundreds. Alright, thanks very much, Ivan. We'll stay in close touch.

Tomorrow night by the way, you'll be able to gain a better understanding of how residents are suffering in Syria through their remarkable voices and disturbing images detailing the crackdown in Homs, a city under siege, CNN Saturday night, this special report at 10:30 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

President Obama's new compromise on birth control coverage may not stop lawsuits against his policies from playing out. We're taking a closer look at the controversy and getting the reaction from catholic bishops in the United States.

See if you like the songs on President Obama's campaign playlist.


BLITZER: A closer look at President Obama's attempt today to defuse a political time bomb. He announced today a compromised plan to allow women to get coverage for birth control even if they worked for religious organizations. This comes after days of angry backlash. Many catholic and evangelicals are against any requirement for contraceptive coverage. The administration's specs made insurance companies offer free birth control coverage for women who work for employers with religious ties.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The result will be that religious organizations wouldn't have to pay for these services and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly. Let me repeat, these employer will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services.


BLITZER: The Obama camp has been concerned this controversy might hurt the president's support with catholic voters in several key battleground states especially.

Mary Snow is looking at the new compromise getting reaction to it. What are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf. One of the people that President Obama breaks about the compromise was New York archbishop Timothy Dolan. And in a statement the archbishop said that he sees initial opportunities, but still has concerns. But legally, groups like the ACLU say there's not already a big difference to what's already provided under current law in some states.


SNOW (voice-over): New York archbishop Timothy Dolan speaking for U.S. catholic bishops calls the administration's revisions on mandating contraception coverage and insurance plans a, quote, "first step in the right direction," but says we reserve judgment on the details until we have them.

Earlier this week, the archbishop called on the federal government to reverse what he called choking mandate.

CARDINAL-DESIGNATE TIMOTHY DOLAN, PRESIDENT, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: So, the federal government should do what it's traditional done since July 4th, 1776, namely back out of intruding in the internal life of a church.

SNOW: While there is a full blown fight over federal regulations, in states like New York, religious institutions already include contraception in their policies. One example, Fordham University, which is catholic, doesn't provide birth control to students, but it says its insurance policies to students and teachers does cover contraception.

That's because of a 2002 New York state law which catholic organizations appeal but lost. A spokesman for the New York state catholic conference says contraception is included under protest at institutions such as hospitals and universities. New York says American civil liberties union attorney Louise Melling is one of the 28 states with rules about contraception coverage. She says the difference could come down to co-pay for that coverage.

LOUISE MELLING, DEPUTY LEGAL DIRECTOR, ACLU: What this is about is saying all insurance companies is sort of within as part of the new health care plan for new insurance will have to be provides coverage for contraception. This is a federal law, and this is a law that says its preventive healthcare and it doesn't have co-pay.

SNOW: But one group that's already filed three lawsuits in federal court against the administration's policy says there's a big difference between and state rules in 28 states.

LUKE GOODRICH, BECKET FUND LEGAL COUNSEL: Those states have broader religious exemptions than the Obama administration has announced. There's also multiple ways for religious organizations to opt out such as by self insures or not providing prescription drug coverage to begin with.


SNOW: Now, here in New York some catholic institutions have been able to work around the insurance mandate for birth control by provides their own insurance plans. Now, one of the concerns among catholic organizations is that the administration's compromise didn't doesn't at where those self insured plans would continue to be exempt under these new rules - Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots to dissect and understand a little bit better. Thanks, Mary. Thanks very much.

So, just how badly did the White House handle this whole political firestorm and what's the latest? Will President Obama feel any ripple effects out there on the campaign trail?

Our own James Carville, he is standing by to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM, next.


BLITZER: An Obama compromise on birth control and a Rick Santorum sweep and a stumble a little bit of stumble I should say. A lot to talk with our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville.

James, thanks very much.

Bottom line, how badly did the White House handled this whole catholic issue with birth control, the contraceptives, president came out today to try to fix it.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You know, actually thank God, that I did a current reports said that the vice president and Bill Daly when he was there tried to say, look, this is going to happen. But I actually think that this is going to blow over pretty quickly. I'm not sure that it is going to be slightly helped by. I think it looks like that there was sort of overreaction and the people see to always 98 percent of catholic women use birth control. And I don't think it's going to be as big as Terri Schiavo, but I think there's some chance if probably more chance if this thing is neutral, Wolf, forget about it in a month, but it might help them a little bit. It looks like they're trying to reach a compromise with most people.

BLITZER: Yes. The catholic bishop came out with a statement saying, this is a rights first good step. Although they want more details, cardinal Timothy Dolan saying today's decision to revise how individuals obtain service that are morally objectionable to religious entity and people of faith is a first step in the right direction. So, the White House has to be encouraged by that, but it does have the effect of energizing that conservative base of the Republican Party and sort of amplifying their argument that this is a president who has a war on religion.

CARVILLE: Well, look. If they have been saying it for a long time - you know, Rick Santorum is really committed. I call him an anti- contraception activist. And you know he's certainly going to appeal to people of that persuasion. But I think by and large people really support contraception. I think they saw the president, you know, trying to be reasonable and compromise on this. I don't think that even immediate an immediate term effect of this is going to be very much. And if anything, like I say, I would be - I would likely see that it actually helps him slightly on the margins more than it hurts him.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Rick Santorum. He had that dramatic three-state sweep this week in the Gallup daily tracking poll. He is now ahead of Newt Gingrich just behind Mitt Romney. How real of a threat does he represent to Mitt Romney down the road?

CARVILLE: You know, I've always maintained and continue to maintain, the only person in this feel that has a chance to be the nominee is Mitt Romney. But, you know, that was a bad, bad night for Mitt Romney. And he has got races coming up. And, you know, I was just looking at the CPAC thing today. You know, the conservatives just don't like Mitt Romney, and he has a problem closing the deal. And I think a lot of these wins that has been are as much about Romney is there Romney's opposition here. But, there's no doubt that the Romney people can I know because of the race with Bobby Casey in which he beat Santorum by 18 points. That they can go back and crush him like they crushed Newt Gingrich in Florida, may not resolve as operation to see that. And these guys are sort of pretty ruthless.

However, every time that they do that, they probably take a little bit out of their hide, too, you know. So we'll see what happens. But the real threat here is to Romney. I think Gingrich or Santorum or Herman Cain, Rick Perry, any of these conservatives are looking for anything other than Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: James Carville, thanks very much.

CARVILLE: OK, Wolf. Thank you, man.

BLITZER: We will take a quick break. Much more news right after this.


BLITZER: A big victory in the war on drugs. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf. Well, a huge raid in Mexico may put a big dent in the supply of methamphetamine in the United States. Mexican troops seized 15 tons of pure meth at a ranch near Guadalajara. Drug experts say it could have supplied 13 million doses and it was worth more than $4 billion. It is believed to be the largest seizure ever in Mexico.

Atlanta police say they have identified and issued arrest warrants for two of the three men seen beating a gay man in this ultraviolet video.


SYLVESTER: Wow, that's hard to watch. Brandon White heard slurs during the attack. The FBI is investigating whether it is a hate crime. Atlanta police have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. White was not hurt seriously - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks now very much, Lisa.

Hackers have allegedly just hit the CIA. It's the latest in a string of powerful government nerve centers that the notorious group anonymous claims to be targeting.

Brian Todd has been all over these stories in recent weeks. What's the latest as far as the CIA is concerned?

TODD: The latest is that the CIA Web site it's very -- you can't access it right now. We've been trying get to that for the last couple of hours. Our digital producer, Eric Weissbrod (ph) and I have been trying to get on the CIA's Web site. We can't.

BLITZER: It's open to the public.

TODD: It is open to the public. You have to specify. This is not very likely not the internal CIA computers. Their internal server's probably not being affected by this. This is the CIA's external web site that's available to the public, has general information for the public about the CIA.

Now, this group anonymous has claimed in the past to have disrupted this Web site, the department of justice's Web site, the U.S. Senate's Web site. And what it does is, it kind of loads servers around the world to make requests of this site and essentially floods it with requests and it gets so many requests for access that it gets overwhelmed. And when you try to get on it you're basically told it can't come up.

So people now have tweeted, people affiliated with this group anonymous have tweeted claiming credit for this disruption. Tango down. They're bragging on the twitter sphere or whatever they call it that this has happened. And the CIA says it's looking into this.

BLITZER: Brian, you will stay on top of this story.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: I know you will. Thanks very much. A whole new world out there.

Coming up, music to President Obama's ears. We've got his campaign's play list and we'll play it for you.


BLITZER: What a campaign play list can tell you about a candidate. Why some are unhappy with the president's new tunes. Let's bring back Lisa. She has more on this story. Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. The Obama campaign released its official list of campaign songs. Now, this is the music that's used at rallies to really get the crowd going. The president's campaign office told us this afternoon that this is just a beginning list, that there will be more songs added. Even still there are some who were a little surprised at what didn't make the first cut.


OBAMA: I'm so in love with you.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): President Obama pumping up this crowd of supporters at the Apollo Theater.

OBAMA: whatever you want to do.

SYLVESTER: Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" is a favorite of the Obama campaign to play at campaign stops. The president's official campaign playlist features Motown classics including Aretha Franklin and Earth, Wind and Fire. But also new groups like Arcade Fire to appeal to a younger crowd.

Jennifer Hudson's "Love You I Do" makes the cut.

And so does -- REO Speedwagon's "Roll With The Changes." The music that a campaign plays during a campaign rally says a lot.

CNN contributor, Hillary Rosen, is a former chairman of the recording industry association of America.

HILLARY, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Candidates like music. Need music. I think because it just adds another dimension to the image they're trying to project. Music matches all of those moments in people's lives. And so, it's appropriate for a candidate to think about it that way, too.

SYLVESTER: Not everyone is pleased with Mr. Obama's play list. Hispanic and African-American groups are asking, where's the Latino music? Where's the hip hop? Twenty nine songs and not a single rap song. There's only one Ricky Martin song in English.

BRENT WILKES, LEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN-AMERICAN CITIZENS: We're very surprised to see this. It's I think an example of silos because I know there's other parts of the campaign that are very focused on the Latino vote. Obviously those folks didn't get to talk to the play list people.

SYLVESTER: The other campaigns have yet to release an official play list but they too have their go-to music. "Born Free" by kid rock has become a theme song for Mitt Romney along with Toby Keith's "American why." Gingrich likes "only in America". Santorum is also a fan of Toby Keith with "Made in America."

University of Wisconsin professor, Eric Caspar and Benjamin Schoening, literally wrote the book on campaign music. They say campaign music is really a form of free advertising.

BENJAMIN SCHOENING, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Every time these songs are played on the radio we tend to associate them with that candidate. Now we just don't hear for instance Al Green's "let's stay together," we hear "let's stay together" and we think President Obama and he's got this message of unity that he wants for us.

SYLVESTER: So what was the worst campaign song ever picked? Well, according to the professors, it was Ross Perot's 1992 use of the patsy cline song "Crazy."

Best campaign song? Bill Clinton's campaign used "don't stop" by Fleetwood Mac.


SYLVESTER: Now campaign song selection though, it can backfire. In 2000 Tom Petty did not like it that President George W. Bush used his song "I Won't Back Down." He actually sent a cease and desist letter. More recently, Newt Gingrich had to stop using the song "Eye of the Tiger" after being threatened with a lawsuit - Wolf.

BLITZER: I like all those songs. They're all excellent songs. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Our coverage of the Maine presidential caucuses begins tomorrow night 6:00 p.m. Eastern with a special edition to THE SITUATION ROOM. That's followed by a complete live coverage of the caucus results at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.