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The Iran Threat; President Obama Ahead of GOP Hopefuls; Payroll Tax Deal Close to a Done Deal; The President's Rising Poll Numbers; Chinese Heir In Small Town Iowa; Whitney Houston's Vast Fortune; Coins Nickel And Dime U.S. Mint

Aired February 15, 2012 - 16:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Happening now: New polls just in show how the top two Republican front-runners each fare in a head-to-head contest with President Obama.

Also, the Republican ad wars heat up. Even the mudslinging now has its own commercial.

Plus, provocative new images of Iran's nuclear prowess, but some experts say this is not the only threat the U.S. should be worried about.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, a new snapshot capturing the big picture of the race for the White House. A CNN/ORC poll just released shows support for President Obama up slightly from last month in a hypothetical matchup against Mitt Romney. The president was a point behind in January, but this new poll shows a five-point lead over Romney, although still within the sampling error.

And the same poll shows a seven-point lead for the president over Rick Santorum, 52-45 percent. That is up only slightly from January.

We want to bring in CNN's chief analyst, Gloria Borger.

So I look at this and I think maybe a problem for Mitt Romney?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely a problem for Mitt Romney.

As you pointed out, in January, neck and neck. Now President Obama is up. What's Mitt Romney's calling card as he campaigns, is electability. What do Republican voters say they want in all those exit polls we have been taking and all those primaries is somebody who can beat President Obama.

This is a real problem for him because he kind of loses that argument. It's early, this is good news for President Obama. We should say it's February, these numbers can change.

CROWLEY: And he can also say I'm the most electable, I suppose.

BORGER: Absolutely.


BORGER: Even though we all lose, right.

CROWLEY: That's right. That's right.

Why has the approval rating gone up, do you think?

BORGER: I think there's lots of reasons. His approval rating right now is at 50 percent. Disapproval at 48 percent.

First of all, the voters have seen nothing else other than Republicans argue with each other over -- since New Year's. Secondly, they believe, according to our poll that the economy is heading in the right direction, at least more of them believe that the economy is heading in the right direction.

And there's another thing that is very important to the president's improving fortunes. That is independent voters. Take a look at these numbers. We asked of the approval of Obama's handling his job, and then we broke it out with independent voters. You can see here, in February, 50 percent. That's up five points in the last month. So it's clear that independent voters are warming up to Barack Obama again, probably because of what they have been watching.

CROWLEY: I always say politics is about 90 percent perception. And you have looked into these figures and seen some real divides as to how voters perceive these candidates.


BORGER: Right. There is a real divide. It's along the lines of who do these candidates really care about, which is a very important question when you talk about a presidential campaign.

Look at this. Whose policies favor the middle class? You see here that Ron Paul, the anti-big government Republican, does the best, Candy, followed by Rick Santorum, who beats Barack Obama, which is very interesting to me, because Rick Santorum is running as a populist candidate, anti-elite, has a great story to tell, coal miner father, for example.

But who fares the worst in caring about the middle class? You see it right there, Mitt Romney.


CROWLEY: We all know that these numbers are great, but if you can't your guys out to the poll, it means nothing.

There was a lot made last year about how Republicans were more enthusiastic than Democrats seem to be. Has that changed?

BORGER: It has changed. There had used to be as you point out this huge enthusiasm gap, as we call it. Now, if you look at these numbers, you see back in October, not too long ago, there was a 21-point enthusiasm advantage for the Republican Party. Now two points. So again that can change, but so far it looks like the primaries have not really worn well with Republican voters and with independent voters.

CROWLEY: They have got time to erase it from voters' minds.


BORGER: There is. There's plenty of time.

CROWLEY: January snapshot for sure.

BORGER: Exactly.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.


CROWLEY: The new Republican lineup with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney at the front of the race means a new run of ad wars.

Our CNN senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is working that part of the story for us.

Joe, some of these ads are pretty amazing.


The ad wars certainly are just heating up again as the primary schedule compresses, with more contests sort of bunched together in a short space of the calendar, including February 28, Arizona and Michigan, and Super Tuesday, March 6. The contenders really just need to compete in a whole bunch of places at one time.


JOHNS (voice-over): There they go again. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future as expected comes out of the blocks with a negative ad targeting Rick Santorum, whose surge in the polls suggest he's the guy to beat right now.

NARRATOR: Rick Santorum, big spender, Washington insider.

JOHNS: The Santorum campaign in self-defense returned fire with a humorous ad depicting a guy who looks a lot like Romney spraying what looks like a machine gun with what is supposed to be mud.

NARRATOR: Romney and his super PAC have spent a staggering $20 million.

JOHNS: It's funny, all right. Even Mitt Romney laughed about it in an interview. Still, from a political perspective, what matters is whether the ad works. Brett O'Donnell is an independent political strategist who just finished a stint with the Romney campaign.

BRETT O'DONNELL, STRATEGIST: I think it's a different strategy on Santorum's part to try to rebuff the attacks from the Romney folks. And, so, you know, we will see how it works. In times past, humor has been entertaining, but it hasn't necessarily been politically effective. Telling them the truth about issues is what seems to be the most effective.

JOHNS: It's a complex problem, how to respond to the pro-Romney super PAC attacks. Newt Gingrich didn't do so well. Attack ads all but buried the former speaker's campaign in Florida in what he described as carpet bombing. He has yet to recover.

The pro-Romney super PAC and the Romney campaign proper have up until now achieved near total dominance in the campaign air wars. The latest buy, eight states, about $1.5 million.

KEN GOLDSTEIN, CAMPAIGN MEDIA ANALYSIS GROUP: Every state so far, Romney and Restore Our Future have absolutely dwarfed all the other candidates and all the other groups in terms of spending.

JOHNS: The ad battles partly reflect how hard it is to reach voters in a bunch of states at a time when there have been fewer and fewer debates and fewer opportunities to get unfiltered messages out.

O'DONNELL: The debate I think next week will be critical for both candidates,, because it will really be the first time that Senator Santorum has stood in the center of the stage as the front- runner, and so the pressure will be on him to occupy that role and to see how that debate goes down between he and Governor Romney.


JOHNS: As we approach that debate, the question for Santorum is how he can compete against an organization that has a lot of money. He appears to be looking for creative ways to have an impact, even though he doesn't really have the resources to match Romney -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Iran is flaunting its nuclear capabilities. State television showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad loading what state television said were fuel rods into a nuclear reactor. The state announced a goal of producing enriched uranium, but some still see a more pressing threat than Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here with us.

Hard to imagine there's a problem more pressing than Iran getting nuclear capabilities.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. But in this case, there is, in that U.S. military officials are preparing for Iran to fight an asymmetric war. What that could mean is Iran declares a military exercise zone that infringes on the oil shipping lanes or instigates riots during the Islamic pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, even raiding some desalinization plants that other nations Middle Eastern nations use to get drinking water.

It's not as dramatic as Iranian subs blasting away at American aircraft carriers, but U.S. military officials say it's a lot more likely.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): They look like suicide speedboats, Iran's small, nimble boats that could be use to ram larger ships or tankers. A U.S. Navy official says the threat from these has been overblown, but it illustrates how Iran has been developing its ability to wage low-level war, bomb-less battles where it doesn't have to go toe to toe with the U.S. Navy.

(on camera): A lot of people think that Iran has to start blowing things up to be effective, but we have seen that's not always the case with their speedboats harassing vessels in the Gulf. Could be done to shipping lanes.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The folks that are conducting this type of activity understand what the limits are for U.S. and international vessels, wartime vessels in terms of their engagement profiles. They will stay out of that engagement profile, but will keep everybody else very attentive to what they are doing.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Retired General James "Spider" Marks says Iran could disrupt the world's oil supply by mining the shipping lines with new capabilities.

MARKS: Iran and its support from China, maybe from Russia, could drop into the Gulf capabilities, trigger mechanisms that heretofore WE have not seen.

LAWRENCE (on camera): We believe they may have smart mines that could detect say the size of a tanker and then go off?

MARKS: Oh, absolutely, proximity types of passage, disruption, water type of movement, signals, absolutely.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Iran can deploy Revolutionary Guard troops from several islands in the shipping lanes. Nations like Saudi Arabia get 60 percent of their drinking water from desalinization plans in the Gulf. Those could be prime targets for Iranian sabotage in a region where water is so scarce.


LAWRENCE: You start thinking about a shortage of drinking water or perhaps a few oil spills that contaminate the water and cause a disruption in the food supply. It's one of the reasons, Candy, why the U.S. is rushing to get this mother ship out to the area.

It's where they can quickly deploy special operations forces, get the mine sweepers out there. Those aren't the kind of assets you bring to some big battle like we saw in World War II in the Pacific. It's what you use for that low-level warfare that they're preparing for.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you something. Is there some muscle flexing going on here on either side? You think, OK, the U.S. goes there. Is a lot of this really at the precipice of some sort of conflict? Or is this just don't -- thus far and no farther sort of stuff?

LAWRENCE: At this point, no farther.

But the one thing I keep hearing from sources at the Pentagon is the lack of communication, and how when you don't have that line of communication, even very small incidents can quickly mushroom.

CROWLEY: We have seen that happen. Thanks so much, Chris Lawrence. Good to see you.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

CROWLEY: Right now lawmakers are working on something that impacts the paycheck of every working American. We will get the latest on efforts to extend the payroll tax cut.

Also, the Obama campaign finds itself embroiled in a chimichanga controversy. I'm not kidding. Is an apology to Hispanics in order?

Plus, American coins -- nickel-and-diming the U.S. government. Now there are plans to change our change.


CROWLEY: Jack Cafferty is here with -- and this is going to surprise you -- "The Cafferty File."

Jack, it is always good to see you, even from afar.

JACK CAFFERTY FILE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's a pleasure to have you with us, Candy. Thank you.

President Obama has broken a promise to the American people to cut the deficit in half. His latest budget forecasts a $901 billion deficit for 2013. If you add in the trillion-dollar-plus deficits he's run in the first three years in office, and the estimated $200 billion in economic stimulus, that's about $5 trillion in red ink during his first term.

George W. Bush set the previous record, $3.4 trillion in deficits, but it took him eight years to do it. President Obama is on track to add $5 trillion in deficits in just four years. This is part of the reason why our national debt now tops $15 trillion.

"The Weekly Standard" crunched the numbers and found out that deficit spending, just under President Obama now equals more than $17,000 per person in this country, about $70,000 for every family of four.

In February of 2009, shortly after he took office, President Obama pledged to cut the $1.3 trillion deficit he inherited from President Bush in half by the end of his first term.

Quote here, "I refuse to leave our children with the debt that they cannot repay and that means taking responsibility right now in this administration for getting our spending under control," unquote. Right.

Meanwhile, a quick look at what's happening around the world might provide a glimpse of what our future holds. Greece saw more violent riots this week following their government's approval of austerity measures, and the credit rating agency Moody's downgraded six European countries, including Italy and Spain amid concerns over the continent's debt crisis and sluggish economy.

So, here's the question: where is the United States headed if President Obama is adding an estimated $5 trillion to the national dead in his first term?

Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

Candy, my guess is after the election, taxes are going up big time.

CROWLEY: You know, maybe so. I tell you what, Jack? I love you, but you are always a little depressing. We will come for --

CAFFERTY: It's just my nature.

CROWLEY: I know. Thanks, Jacks.

We are following developments on Capitol Hill that directly impact the paychecks of 160 million Americans. Right now, House and Senate negotiators are trying to put finishing touches on a deal that would extend the payroll tax cut for the rest of the year. They're also working to extend unemployment benefits and avoid a fee cut for Medicare doctors.

CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan joins us live.

Kate, where are we in this process?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Inching closer, every closer, Candy. They are close, I'm told. I'm even being told by some of the key negotiators -- 99 percent there.

Just take a listen right here to one of the key negotiators brokering this deal, Democratic Senator Max Baucus.


SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), FINANCE CHAIRMAN: We're there. What really counts is to get the job done, that we provide the unemployment benefits and payroll tax cut for Americans. We're there. There are just a couple little wrinkles that sometimes get in the way, but I think they'll be ironed out today.


BOLDUAN: Now, they won't detail what those couple wrinkles are, I'll tell you, Candy. But I am -- but we are told that one issue has to do with how they're going to cover the cost of some of this. You'll remember and our viewers will remember that Republicans already gave in on covering the costs, dropping their demand, if you will, to cover -- dropping their demand that the payroll tax cut extension part of this would have to be paid for. They dropped their demand on that.

But negotiators have agreed that they will still cover the cost of extending unemployment insurance, as well as a voiding the cut to federal money going to Medicare doctors. And that seems to be where quite a bit of the focus is this afternoon, Candy.

CROWLEY: So, Kate, I mean, politically, the House leadership clearly wanted to get beyond this issue, which hammered them late last year. And yet I can't help believe that conservatives, the Tea Party types, are not happy about extending that payroll tax cut without paying for it. I know they met with Speaker Boehner this morning.

What are they saying?

BOLDUAN: They are not happy. You're spot on o that, Candy. I spoke with conservative members last night and after leaving this meeting this morning.

One of them being Congressman Jason Chaffetz, a conservative member, and they're not happy about it. And Jason Chaffetz and other members, conservative members, they say they're not going to be able to support it if payroll tax cut is going -- the payroll tax cut is going to be extended, it would need to be covered, paid for. The cost would need to be covered to get their support.

So, they are not happy about it, but I'm still not seeing the kind of significant blowback amongst conservative members that we have seen in the past that seem to threaten any chance passage that we've seen in the past. I think, I'll tell you, that Congressman LaTourette put it best to me best last night. And you already alluded to it, Candy. He told me that he thought there was recognition, in his words, "This isn't the fight we were winning, and we need to get this issue behind us."

And for Republicans, getting the issue behind them seems to be a victory of sorts. And you can be sure, Candy, Democrats are already privately claiming victory, that they were able to get Republicans to cave on this issue as they push forward on a deal, Candy.

CROWLEY: Yes, when in trouble, change the conversation.

BOLDUAN: Ah, yes.

CROWLEY: Kate Bolduan, we will be back with you later I'm sure. Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course. No problem.

CROWLEY: President Obama's campaign manager tweets about a "chimichanga". Now, there are demands for an apology.

Also, are you being hounded by telemarketers? Federal regulators are moving to restrict a particularly annoying kind of call.

And one official said it was like a firecracker going off in a man's mouth? We'll tell you about an electronic cigarette that exploded.


CROWLEY: Hundreds of people are dead after a fire in Honduras.

Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, a fire at a prison in central Honduras has killed more than 270 inmates. Survivors say many victims were sleeping as the blaze spread. Others were said to be trapped inside after guards abandoned their post. More than 100 prisoners are still accounted for, but authorities say they don't know how many forced their way out of the prison and fled. They say a short circuit or mattress fire may have sparked the blaze.

Federal regulators are making it harder for telemarketers to call or text you. New FCC rules will limit pre-recorded calls known as robocalls as well as automated text messages. One FCC officials says the new rules will close loopholes in the existing regulations. Information calls such as school closing information and flight cancellations will still be allowed.

A Florida man has been hospitalized after an electronic cigarette exploded in his mouth. He reportedly suffered severe burns as well as losing teeth and front of his tongue. A fire official says a battery malfunction appears to have caused the problem and describes it as similar to a firecracker exploding in the victim's mouth.

Candy, these types of cigarettes, I guess they're used to help quit smoking.

CROWLEY: That was my question. What the heck is an electronic cigarette in you answered the question.

SNOW: Yes.

CROWLEY: Wow. Dangerous, apparently.

Thanks so much, Mary Snow. Appreciate it.

SNOW: Sure.

CROWLEY: President Obama's approval numbers are on the rise, but how come? We will talk about that and more with Mary Matalin and Mary Cardona in our strategy session.

Plus, chimichangas and Latinos. Details of the tweet that's causing controversy for the Obama reelection team.


CROWLEY: The president got some pretty good-looking poll numbers, at least better than they look in the past.

Joining me for today's strategy session are Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona and Republican strategist and CNN contributor Mary Matalin.

Mary, first to you. Looking back to November, the president had a 44 percent overall approval rating. He's now hit kind of a magic 50 percent mark. Is this something Republicans have done wrong or something the president has done right?

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's largely a function of the cycle Obama has been out there campaigning nonstop, and he has a good campaign. He's been campaigning well and that's reflected in his numbers.

Part of his good campaigning is attacking Republicans, and part of the cycle for where the Republicans are right now is they're attacking Republicans. So there's no pushback on Obama in this part of the season.

He's running a good campaign, but he's running a good race on an empty track. I don't think these numbers are sustainable, and they're also not present in the 14 most competitive states where the unemployment is higher and his numbers are lower.

CROWLEY: And Maria, we know that the overall approval rating tells you something. But it does matter how you're doing in those battleground states because we don't take one large number generally an election is divided up by the 50 states in the electoral votes. What do you think is behind the president's kind of steadily rising approval numbers?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what's behind it is that he's actually talking every day about what he's going to do for middle-class families and working-class families, who have been the most hit by this economy.

He's talking to them about creating jobs. He's talking to them about continuing the economic growth path that we are on. He's talking to them about continuing all the good numbers that we are seeing, but telling them it's not enough, we need to continue to do more.

So while Republicans are attacking Republicans, while Santorum and Gingrich are attacking Romney and while Romney is attacking Obama, Obama is actually speaking to the American people, and importantly speaking to those independents, speaking to Latinos, speaking to all of the key demographics that he's going to need to have with him the general election.

While Mitt Romney, if he's still the one who is considered the frontrunner and we'll see if he loses Michigan, that I think is out of the window. But he's tanking among all of those key demographics. So I do think that these numbers need to be of huge concern for the Republicans right now.

CROWLEY: Certainly something the Republicans have done has is seemed to turn off some of those independents, but it is February we should add.

Listen, Maria, I want you to take the first sob at this, Jim Messina, who is the president's re-election campaign manager re- tweeted something from "The Washington Post" this morning, columnist, Dana Milbank, we all know.

This is what Messina said, "Line of the day from "WaPO's" Dana Milbank, 'the chimichanga, it may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos.'" So a step back and I will say that Messina later acknowledged that this has caused a little controversy.

And he said tweeting someone else's words caused a stir, but Republicans are on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter's priority.

Let us go back to the original tweet. "Pretend you are a Republican right now -- I'm sorry -- yes, pretend a Republican and a Republican had said that." Democrats would go after them, wouldn't they?

CARDONA: Well, I think it depends -- it depends, Candy, on the context of this. The reason why I think that the Hispanic Leadership Network, who is the group that's demanding the apology really doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Where was their outrage when the Republicans were filibustering Alberto Jose Jordan, which was the whole reason why Dana Milbank wrote this article? Where was their outrage when Republicans were filibustering an incredibly qualified --

CROWLEY: Isn't -- this is about stereotyping.

CARDONA: No, not really -- yes, and I think -- exactly. I think Jim talked about that in terms of, you know, using some other person's words, and they weren't Jim's words. They were Dana Milbank's words.

But I think the context is important here, Candy, because Republicans have done everything possible to alienate Latino voters and to offend Latino voters, when you have Mitt Romney the supposed frontrunner who is campaigning with Chris Coback who was the author of the Arizona anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law.

When you have Pete Wilson, who is the poster child of anti- Latino initiative --

CROWLEY: I don't want to totally take a trip down --

CARDONA: They don't have a leg to stand on.

CROWLEY: -- memory lane here because I want Mary to get in on this. Mary, do you think a republican would get a rough go over this? Is it a big deal, a little deal, what?

MATALIN: Here's a word for you, Candy -- duh. But Democrats make up and look for reasons to be offended. They charge racism where none occurs so all of that was nice rhetoric, Maria, but not one whit of influence on the electorate and the outcome.

Maria talked about these changing demographics. It is President Obama who is tanking, particularly among key demographics. Let's just take Hispanics. If you look at the most recent research in Republican poll in Florida, Florida Hispanics, a critical case for Obama, a critical state where Hispanics make the difference last election he beat McCain by 15 points.

He is less than 50/50 for his re-election. Hispanics are leaving him in droves over weak leadership, promises not met, policies that they really disagree with, including the Keystone pipeline, the job killing legislation or the HHS.

So he's losing that demographic while they're running around making much ado about calling each other names and attributing a kind of racism like they always do in lieu of debate. We will see.

It was Republicans in the last midterm that won Hispanics and won in high spots, the governor of New Mexico, the governor of Nevada, and Senator Rubio, et cetera. So the proof is in the pudding, it's not in the tweets.

CROWLEY: Maria, sorry, I got to stop you there. Maria Cardona, Mary Matalin, at the very least they agree this is a very important voting group. Thank you both so much.

Are you one of those people who treat pocket change as just a nuisance? Well, now it turns out that those nickels in your pockets are worth more than a nickel, a lot more.

Also, why is china's vice president spending part of his historic visit in the United States in rural Iowa? It turns out he has connections there that go way back.

And Whitney Houston had some of the best-selling musical hits in history. So how much was she actually worth?


CROWLEY: It's an unlikely stop for the man likely to be China's next president. So what brings Xi Jinping to Muscatine, Iowa? CNN's Ted Rowlands is there for us with the answer.

So those are just words I never thought I would hear in the same sentence, the future president of China and Muscatine, Iowa?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, people living here never thought that they would hear those words, either. The story basically is that he made a trip here 27 years ago, and in fact, he had dinner in the house behind me there.

And he said he's come to the United States and he wanted to know could he come back and visit with the same people that he met back in 1985? It's quite a story.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Cynthia and Dick Maeglin were thrilled when they found out that Xi Jinping is coming back to their small town of Muscatine, Iowa.

CYNTHIA MAEGLIN, MUSCATINE, IOWA HOST: I went upstairs and looked in my photo albums and found these pictures.

ROWLANDS: There he is the likely next leader of China standing in the Maeglin's kitchen back in 1985. He didn't speak much English, but that didn't matter.

DICK MAEGLIN, MUSCATINE, IOWA HOST: He has a smile and a piece of cake, it's not all that complicated.

ROWLANDS: She who met with President Obama on Tuesday wants to see the Maeglins again along with about 17 others he met on his trip 27 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, he had the itinerary from his visit.

ROWLANDS: Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was serving his first stint as governor when Xi came in '85. The two met again last fall in Beijing and Branstad says the next Chinese leader said he wanted to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was so pleased with the warm and friendly welcome he received and he really considers Iowans his old friend.

ROWLANDS: Experts say for years, Xi was known mostly for his famous wife, a Chinese singer. While his lineage runs deep in the Communist Party, he represents a new generation of leaders, former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman believe she could be good for American business.

JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: He's gone out of his way in recent years to bone up on economics and trade, knowing full well that these are the issues that are going to determine whether or not the United States and China are able to get through the years to come.

ROWLANDS: China has been blamed for the loss of thousands of American jobs, some of them here, but China buys soybeans, pork, farm machinery and other products from Iowa. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, the state enjoyed a 1,200 percent increase in exports to China. Governor Branstad wants to expand that relationship and thinks Xi will help.

GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: Personal relationships are really important to the Chinese people. Having this kind of relationship with the next leader of China, I think is very helpful to the state of Iowa.

ROWLANDS: In Muscatine, preparations are being made for Xi's arrival. People here are excited including the Maeglins who say they honored that the man standing in their kitchen 27 years ago wants to come back.

MAEGLIN: Just for a little time, spend an hour or hour and a half in a room with as he says his old friends. That's significant. That's significant if he weren't the president.


ROWLANDS: And Vice President Xi, Candy, is expected to be here for about an hour, hour and a half in that home. He's only meeting with the folks that he met with back 27 years ago, about 17 people although the weather is not cooperating.

It's actually a very miserable day here, I'm sure that the folks, the good folks in Iowa will show the vice president -- future president of China a good time.

CROWLEY: Having lived there, Ted, I can tell you they will. The only solace I can give you, thank you for standing out in the rain. If this were a real winter, that would be snow. So you kind of look at something to be grateful for, thanks so much, Ted Rowlands.

Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news on the CNN Political Ticker.

For the first time ever, the heavy metal band, "Megadeath" makes our political ticker. The founder and lead singer, Dave Mustaine, is endorsing Rick Santorum for president.

He says he was impressed by Santorum's decision to leave the campaign trail to be with his sick daughter and how he's avoided attack ads against his rivals. Mustaine says he previously supported Newt Gingrich, but became disillusioned.

Michele Bachmann on "Dancing with the Stars"? The former presidential candidate says don't believe it. Bachmann spoke out about rumors she'll be on a hit show next season. She said she loves ballroom dancing and did once win a polka contest, but she is focusing on her congressional work not "Dancing with the Stars."

For a complete political coverage, be sure to read the ticker on

She made a fortune over her troubled career. How much of it was left when Whitney Houston died?

Plus coins that cost more to make than they're worth, a lot more. Now a push to change the penny and the nickel too.


CROWLEY: Whitney Houston was one of the best known entertainers in the world. She raked in tens and millions of dollars off her musical ventures alone.

But in the wake of her death last week, some are wondering how much money did she actually have left? Our CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into that. Tom, what are you finding?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a lot of people wonder this, and you know -- we both witnessed this in our whole life. When a megastar passes away, two things emerge. The idea that they had a huge fortune or the idea that they were broke.

Both have emerged in this case as well. I've seen estimates as high as $75 million, maybe more. Other people saying she's having to borrow $100, which her camp has said already was not true.

But that still leaves the question hanging out there. How much did she really have?


FOREMAN (voice-over): Measuring the wealth of Whitney is difficult at best, but a good starting place is her 1992 hit movie "The Bodyguard." Over 20 years, it's made almost $411 million.

The soundtrack has sold 17 million copies in the U.S. alone, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, that's the most ever, more than "Purple Rain" and "Saturday Night Fever." Of course, the film also gave us that song.

"I Will Always Love You" sold 4 million copies in its first year alone. That's seven records every minute. It was great news for Houston and maybe even better news for Dolly Parton who wrote it.

Under recording law, Parton not Houston or her estate is the one that gets paid every time you hear that song on the radio. She talked about it recently on Anderson's daytime talk show.

DOLLY PARTON, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: And Whitney did it, and it made all that money. I got the money for the writing and I bought a lot of cheap wigs.

ROWLANDS: Still Houston's music was the cornerstone of her empire, and her records broke records time and again. She produced more number one singles in a row than even the Beatles. Her songs not only climbed the charts fast, but stayed near the top for long periods.

How much she earned from all that is uncertain. But When ABC's Diane Sawyers asked about rumors of using crack, the singer herself suggested she had enormous wealth.

WHITNEY HOUSTON: First of all, let's get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight, OK? I don't do crack, I don't do that. Crack is whack.

FOREMAN: Now, her songs are dominating online sales, just as Michael Jackson's did after his sudden loss. That could be worth many millions. In the two years after his death, Billboard says he sold 16 million songs and almost 11 million albums.

(on camera): Certainly, there have been celebrities who have spent their fortunes as fast as they have made them, but Houston would have had to work at that.

After all, in the mid-90s, she was widely regarded as one of the wealthiest entertainers on the planet. She owned property. She made tens of millions of dollars touring. In 2001, she signed a record deal worth $100 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The show underwent a huge transformation.

FOREMAN: And her appeal continues, the Grammy's packed with references and tributes to Houston scored its biggest audience in almost 30 years.

When her final film "Sparkle" is released later this year, industry experts expect to build even more on the fame and fortune of Whitney Houston.


FOREMAN: So the simple truth is, Candy, we don't know exactly what she's worth now because of her complicating factors. For example, that giant record contract, a $100 million, she didn't fulfill that.

She wasn't able to complete all the records involved, so obviously some of that money will go back to the record company. There all sorts of disputes invariably at times like that between publishers and technicians and producers and a million people who say they should have had a slice of the pie.

That's going to be involved. Then there's this massive question of future earnings because as you know when somebody is this big, the earnings they have after they pass away can be sometimes almost as much as they made in a lifetime.

And she this very tumultuous period particularly from 2000 until right now 2010, 2012 where a lot of strange things were happening in her life, which could have kept her financial affairs in tremendous disarray.

So what will the bottom line be? I don't think we're really going to know for quite some time. Even then it's going to keep moving because of the continued earnings from Whitney Houston.

CROWLEY: Yes, none of which brings back a mom for a teenage daughter, but interesting nonetheless. Thanks so much, Tom Foreman.

You are looking at the church in Newark where Houston sang as a child. Be sure to tune in to CNN this Saturday morning at 11:00 Eastern for special live coverage of Whitney Houston's funeral.

We have been told that a camera will be allowed inside the church. Our Piers Morgan, Soledad O'Brien and Don Lemon will co- anchor our coverage, "Whitney Houston, Life, Death and Music."

Now, we're going to go back to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" and some answers for us -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is where is the United States headed if President Obama is adding an estimated $5 trillion during to the national debt during his first term?

Robert writes, "Amazing, the nearly one third of our entire $15 trillion debt attributed to President Obama and the Democrats. We're seeing the wholesale destruction of the American free enterprise system in our lifetime."

Ben writes from Boston, "I guess we're headed for $10 trillion to $15 trillion in addition debt if Mr. Obama is re-elected. And from there, we'll be headed for indentured servitude of a sort in order to pay some of it off through taxes on the middle class since the wealthy will the find the way to escape them. Don't blame me, Hillary won the primary in Massachusetts. She's a confident leader. I wish she was the president now."

Ray in Tennessee writes, "Jack, government spending is traditionally the thing that brings economies out of recessions. Thirty years of Republican economic policies and eight years of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy left President Obama with a crippled economy and empty caucus one he took the reigns of government. His choices were to let us go into a depression or add to the debt. I support the latter because it eventually leads to recovery."

Tony writes, "I must say it's quite astounding how a question like this can get answers that mention former President Bush. It seems no matter what this current administration does or doesn't do, it's always the fault of George W. Bush. Just like little children blame others for their lack of abilities. These folks continue to cast a blind eye on the incompetent of Barack Obama. It's really quite amazing."

David writes, Greece. And Kirk in Minnesota says, "The U.S. is going to pull a Thelma and Louise if we keep hemorrhaging money and don't start bringing some in."

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

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack.

Iran flaunts its nuclear capability to the world, but how close is it to actually making a nuclear weapon? Plus the government's penny problem.


CROWLEY: A possible change in store for pocket change. CNN's Athena Jones has the detail -- Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, you may think it cost as penny to make a penny, but you would be wrong. Just the administrative costs alone add up to nearly half a cent per coin. And then of course, there's the rising cost of the raw materials used to make it. It's that mix that could see a change.


JONES (voice-over): Julian Leidman knows coins. He's been collecting them since he was 11 years old and he's been dealing them for nearly half a century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When cents were first made, this was the size of the cents.

JONES: He says the look and metal content of the coins made in America have changed multiple times over the years.

JULIAN LEIDMAN, COIN DEALER: They started in 1793. There were three different designs in 1793. There was a design that went through 1794 through 1796 then there was a design that went 1796 to 1807.

JONES: You get the point. Now pennies as well as nickels could be set to change again as part of an effort to cut cost. In the latest budget, the Obama administration asked Congress permission to change the metal makeup of pennies and nickels because they've become more expensive to produce than they're worth.

A lot more expensive. It costs 2.4 cents to make one penny, and 11.2 cents to make a nickel as of last year. The reason, the rising prices of the copper, nickel and zinc that go into the coins.

Since 1982, pennies have been made mostly of zinc and are merely copper plated. Nickels on the hand are 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel and at current market rates, the price of raw materials alone is almost six cents per nickel. Add in the minting process and it's more than doubled face value.

(on camera): Does it surprise you it costs so much to make these coins?

LEIDMAN: Well, because of the raw metal, no, it doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is they haven't found something before.

JONES (voice-over): The U.S. Mint is in the early stages of studying an issue, so it's too soon to know what the final mix could be or just how much cost savings could be achieved. But Leidman thinks both coins could be discontinued.

LEIDMAN: My thought as a coin dealer is I'd like to have them. I'd like whatever they make of it I'd like to have them. My thought as a guy on the street is get rid of them, and do the rounding.


JONES: This is just the latest attempt to cut costs at the mint. The decision to stop making the presidential one dollar coins last December is expected to save the mint 50 million dollars a year.

CROWLEY: Athena Jones, thank you so much.