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New Unemployment Report; Southern Grilling for Romney; Interview with White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger; Romney Grilled, Southern Style; Does Job Growth Hurt GOP's White House Chances?; Gingrich: "I'm Going All The Way To Tampa"; Flight Attendant's Bizarre Outburst; Mormon Church Cracks Down On Proxy Baptisms; One Dead In Dallas Armored Car Shootout; Facebook Co- Founder Buys The New Republic; Activists Re-Enact Selma Civil Rights March; President Obama Calls Putin; Report: Drilling Waste Caused Earthquakes

Aired March 9, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: President Obama and the GOP seize on the latest jobs report. What impact will this new unemployment picture have on the race for the White House?

Also, Mitt Romney gets grilled Southern-style on talk radio. Details of an aggressive interview highlight his challenges in the next week primaries.

Plus, a flight attendant's disturbing outburst forces a plane to turn back. We have the frightening moments caught on tape.

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

The politics of unemployment swirling today as President Obama and the Republicans try to spin the latest jobless numbers to their political advantage. While the president is highlighting new signs of economic strength, the Republicans are spotlighting the unemployment level that remains unchanged despite solid job growth.

CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian has more in Prince George County in Virginia -- Dan.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president came here today because he says Rolls-Royce and its jet engines are helping to boost the U.S. economy, 140 new jobs expected here, another hundred at a plant in Indiana.

But it was also a chance for him to cheer the latest job numbers that he says proves the U.S. economy is on the right track, even though not everyone agrees.

(voice-over): The U.S. employment picture is far from sunny. But the better-than-expected February job numbers seem to have pushed a few more dark clouds out of the way. President Obama expressed optimism. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is getting stronger.

LOTHIAN: The U.S. Labor Department reports 227,000 jobs added nationwide. That's the third straight month of job growth above 200,000.

DANNY BOSTON, GEORGIA TECH: In the past, corporations were experiencing record profits and sitting on record amounts of cash, over $2 trillion. Now they have enough confidence that they're beginning to invest.

LOTHIAN: And 31,000 of those jobs were added in manufacturing alone, yet the unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.3 percent, and across the country, there is frustration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came to Madison thinking that I can get a job quicker and faster, but it hasn't been the case.

LOTHIAN: Republicans were quick to highlight the unemployment number in this e-mail from the RNC, with the subject line -- quote -- "The Big Fail: Your Best Isn't Good Enough." President Obama argues that the economy was far worse than expected when he took office.

As he highlighted recent gains while visiting a Rolls-Royce jet engine facility in Prince George, Virginia, the president made the case for manufacturing as a way to grow the ailing U.S. economy.

BARACK OBAMA: America thrives when we build things better than the rest of the world. I want us to make stuff here and sell it over there. I don't want the stuff made over there and selling it over here.

LOTHIAN: The president is proposing $1 billion in grants to set up regional institutes focused on research and development. And he's pushing in-sourcing, where companies bring jobs back to the U.S.

JAMES GUYETTE, CEO, ROLLS-ROYCE NORTH AMERICA: The work that is done at this facility could be done in a lot of locations around the world. We have found that we can compete because of this model that allows us to be very, very competitive. It allows us to innovate.

LOTHIAN: In a presidential election that is likely to be decided on the health of the economy, there is pressure to make significant gains, even as Republican opponents argue that the administration's policies are doing more harm than good.

(on camera): In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner said the jobs numbers are encouraging for struggling families and businesses, but that the unemployment number is far too high. He called on the Senate to take action on their jobs act -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian with the president in Virginia. Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief economics and business correspondent, Erin Burnett, the host of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

Erin, today's numbers pretty good numbers, very good numbers by some definition, but there could be some pitfalls for the president and for the U.S. economy in the month ahead. What are you looking at?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this is interesting. Last fall, a lot of people thought we might have a double dip recession.

Our economic strike team at the time had said no, things are really getting better, and it turned out they were right. The past few months obviously have been incredibly strong for job creation. A 12-month average, the president has seen 168,000 jobs on average per month, so that is good, but there are some real questions.

And it's not just things like whether Europe gets significantly weaker, which really could affect the United States. Take the Iran situation that is so important and significant and we don't know what will happen over the next few months.

If that remains just tense, you already have $10 to $15 per barrel in crude oil prices. We all know prices are just shy of $4 a gallon nationwide. That is something that takes a real bite out of consumers' pockets.

We did some analysis today. If that situation gets worse, remains tense, the Straits of Hormuz where 20 percent of the world's oil goes through for example are shut down by Iran as tensions rise, you could see oil prices go back to their highs of $150 a barrel. That's $5 a gallon in the United States, and if there were real strikes, any sort of military conflict, you could see, even if only briefly, oil prices to $200 a barrel and that would be $7 at the pump.

These are real questions marks. The Iran situation has very, very real economic implications and that matters for the president's reelection prospects.

BLITZER: Erin, stand by for a moment. I want you to join me in the questioning to Alan Krueger. He's chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. He's joining us live from the White House right now.

Alan Krueger, react to what Erin just said, that there are these enormous potential pitfalls in the months ahead.


We have faced risks all along in this recovery. There have been headwinds coming from natural disasters in Asia, from turmoil in the Middle East last year. Nonetheless, the recovery has been resilient. We have had economic growth for two-and-a-half years. We have now had 24 straight months of private sector job growth, 1.3 million jobs added in the last six months, which is the most since 2006. So the economy has been resilient. The increase in oil prices, gasoline prices is difficult for families who were already having difficulty with their budgets. I think, for that reason, it's fortunate that Congress followed the president's request and extended the payroll tax cut, which is putting more money in people's pockets.

BLITZER: All right, but just listen quickly to what Mitt Romney said today out on the campaign trail. Listen to this. We will get your reaction.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president, how many months ago was it, 37 months ago, told us that if he could borrow $787 billion, almost a trillion dollars, he would keep unemployment below 8 percent. It has not been below 8 percent since.


BLITZER: Does he have a point?


The economy was in horrific shape when President Obama walked into the Oval Office. GDP was falling at a much greater rate than had been announced. At the time, we thought GDP was falling at a 3.8 percent annual rate. It turned out to be 8.9 percent at the end of 2008.

All of that conspired to cause such a deep recession, but the unemployment rate has been coming down, and we have had private sector job growth for 24 straight months. Since the president's policies were put in place, the economy is looking much, much better. And the president is going to stay at it.

He's pleased that the economy has been expanding, that job growth has picked up, but he's going to keep at it until everyone who is looking for a job can find one.

BLITZER: All right, Erin, go ahead.

BURNETT: Mr. Krueger, I just wanted to ask you about one thing that stood out to me in the report this morning, and that was earnings, or the lack thereof in terms of earnings growth for average American workers.

I guess, according to the numbers, up one-tenth of a percent, so, for the past year, that means the average American income went up by about 1.9 percent. That is below inflation. And obviously that means people's standard of living actually has gone down, rather than gone up.

How big of a concern is that for you? I know, first and foremost, you have to be focused on this job growth, but this issue of a lack of wage growth has got to be considerable. KRUEGER: Well, we certainly like to see more income growth. And because more people are finding jobs, and because hours have increased -- since the end of the recession, the increase in work hours is the equivalent of adding about two million new workers, full-time equivalent workers.

That's helped to raise income. There are headwinds for wage rates. When you have a recession, such a deep recession as we saw in 2008, early 2009, that does constrain wage growth, and those factors have been at work.

But I think it's most important that we continue the policies that have helped to strengthen job growth over the past several months.

BLITZER: Are you doing anything special to help minorities right now?

I will put some numbers up on the screen. As far as Hispanics are concerned, a year ago, the unemployment rate for American Hispanics 11.6 percent. Now it's down to 10.7 percent, but that's away above 8.3 percent, the national average. Among African- Americans, a year ago it was 15.4 percent. Right now, it's 14.1 percent.

There's still some major issues, major problems not only for all Americans, but for minorities especially.

KRUEGER: It's an excellent question, Wolf, and even before the recession, the unemployment rate was too high for minorities, especially for African-American and Hispanic workers.

Hispanic workers, especially male Hispanic workers, were hit hard by the over-building of construction and the subsequent bust of residential construction. And the problems are a bit different in the African-American community. If you look at African-Americans, they tend to have relatively long spells of unemployment. And that was the case also if you go back before the recession.

So the types of problems are different, but they both result in high unemployment. So what is the president doing? Well, he's been making a number of efforts to try to revive construction, to help make a transition so that we are on stronger footing in the housing market, also urging Congress to invest more in infrastructure, which would put construction workers back to work right now and help raise productivity in the future.

And in addition to the efforts that the president announced today for manufacturing, there are other efforts to strengthen manufacturing, to raise overall job growth, which help both African- Americans and Hispanics, as well as to focus on people who have long- term unemployment to provide pathways back to work for the long-term unemployed, such as additional training and employment services, which should help both African-Americans and Hispanics.

BLITZER: Alan Krueger at the White House, thanks very much. KRUEGER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin, let me just button up this conversation up with you.

We're talking about pitfalls down the road, and obviously gasoline prices especially could skyrocket if there is a war let's say with Iran and oil shipments are curtailed through the Straits of Hormuz or whatever. But I'm also worried about what could happen in Europe, especially in Greece, and the fallout here.

How worried should we be about that?

BURNETT: It's a really significant concern.

Europe obviously is the crucial trading partner for the United States. So it matters. If they really go into a deep recession, it dramatically affects our companies and jobs in America. Our banks also have a lot of loans out to Europe. So that is something that will come home to roost immediately, really could be a bit hit for the U.S.

But in terms of the Greece situation, it's whether this plan will work for Greece. And beyond Greece, you have got Italy, you have got Spain, you have got Portugal. Europe has a lot of very big question marks out there. And if there are missteps, like I said, that's something that could very quickly come to roost right back in the United States. It is really not a foreign story. It's very much a domestic economic story for us too.

BLITZER: You will have a lot more I'm sure at 7:00 Eastern, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." And we will be watching. Erin, thanks, as usual.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney tries some Southern charm in an effort to overcome his Southern challenges.


ROMNEY: I'm learning to say y'all, and I like grits. And things are -- strange things are happening to me.


BLITZER: Strange, but wait until you hear the Southern grilling he got on an Alabama talk radio show.

Also, a flight attendant's rant about a crash on 9/11 that left passengers shocked and frightened.


BLITZER: The leading Republican presidential hopefuls are focusing again in the Deep south ahead of Tuesday's primaries, in Mississippi and Alabama. But as seen as a difficult territory for the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and today, he got a taste of just how difficult it may be.

CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is out on the campaign trail in Birmingham, Alabama.

So, what's the latest with Mitt Romney and the Deep south, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney has called the upcoming contest here in Alabama and Mississippi an away game, and in that game, he's had some hits, but he's also had some misses, including an appearance on a Birmingham talk radio show that may not have gone as planned.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten minutes to the top of the hour, "The Rick & Bubba Show".

ACOSTA (voice-over): For a candidate in hot pursuit of Southern voters it may have seen like a good idea at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mitt Romney is vying to be the Republican nominee and he joins us now.

ACOSTA: But when he called in to the nationally syndicated "Rick & Bubba Show," he got more than he bargained for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things they're going to come after is your Mormon faith.

ACOSTA: During the program, one of the hosts pressed Romney on the Mormon Church's belief that the U.S. is a land of promise.


BILL BUSSEY, RICK AND BUBBA SHOW: Do you as a Mormon believe that America is the new Promised Land, yes or no?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, you're going to have to go to talk to the church and ask what they think about that. There's no question about the fact that Israel is the Promised Land. That's what the Bible tells us.


ACOSTA: There were also questions about Romney's perceived cultural weakness in newt week's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, contests the GOP frontrunner has called an away game.


BUSSEY: The exit polls are showing that you're not connecting as well as I think you want to with the Tea Party conservatives and the evangelical Christians.

ROMNEY: I'm a pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and pro-gun candidate.


ACOSTA: And Romney gave what maybe most pointed response yet, asked what he would do if Iran developed a nuclear weapon.


BUSSEY: Do you support a first strike against them, either by Israel or by us or a combination of the two to halt that process?

ROMNEY: Yes. And I think you'd have to actually act before they actually had a weapon, a deliverable weapon. They have to understand that we will take military kinetic action if they continue to pursue a nuclear option.


ROMNEY: Strange things are happening to me.

ACOSTA: Since his arrival in the Deep south, the former Massachusetts governor has tried to turn on the charm.

ROMNEY: The governor said I had to say right. Good mornin' y'all. Good to be with you. I got sort of right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits, I'll tell you. Delicious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first big briefing on the economy.

ACOSTA: But Reynolds Romney is also turning to the economy, mocking the makers of a new documentary for the president's reelection campaign. The filmmakers Romney said forgot a few things.

ROMNEY: How about the folks having a hard time filling up their car with gasoline because the price has doubled under this president?

ACOSTA: But Democratic Party spokesman Brad Woodhouse who hails from the South was having too much fun, tweeting doctored photos of a banjo-playing Romney, quote, "pickin' ana grinnin' and shouting hee- haw."

GOV. PHIL BRYANT (R), MISSISSIPPI: He just has a warm comfortable way about it.

ACOSTA: Still Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant says party leaders are still rallying around Romney.

BRYANT: I like to see a man when he's holding a baby, and he looks like he's held a baby before.


ACOSTA: And Mitt Romney was holding some babies here just a few moments ago here in Birmingham, Alabama. Now, if he wins either Mississippi or Alabama, Mitt Romney could have the last laugh as the Republican establishment could look at that kind of victory that Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum may be gone with the wind.

Just a few moments ago, if you'll pardon that film expression there, I just want to let you know that something else just happened that we thought was kind of interesting. Mitt Romney asked Randy Owen, lead singer of Alabama to sing a few verses of the song "Sweet Home Alabama." That happened just a few moments ago. As it turns out, "Sweet Home Alabama" actually a song from Lynyrd Skynyrd but Randy Owen did it anyway and the crowd sure appreciated it, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they did. It's a great song. All of us love that song.

What about Kansas? Kansas has its caucuses tomorrow. What are they expecting there?

ACOSTA: Well, the Romney campaign has essentially looks like given up on Kansas. They're basically focusing on Mississippi and Alabama at this point, and there are some positive signs, if you look at some of the early polling. They might do pretty well down here. They might not win either one of these states but there's a new poll out from ARG, for example, that shows Mitt Romney actually in second place at this point in Mississippi.

And at this stage of the campaign, what the Romney campaign has focused on is gathering delegates. It's not so much about winning victories in some of these Deep south primaries. They know they're not going to run a clean sweep through the South, but if they can keep enough delegates under their belt to keep some distance between themselves and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, they feel like they're going to leave those candidates in a position where they just really can't catch up, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know the endorsement of Mississippi governor almost certainly has helped.

Jim, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now with our chief political correspondent, the host of the "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley.

Candy, as long as he has two non-Romneys in effect, he's got Ron Paul, too. But as long as Santorum and Gingrich are both in the race, that's sort of good for Romney because that divides up the opposition.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Completely. I mean, it's better than having just one, although there are lots of mark-ups you can do that show even if just one of them is in. He's moving right along, that there are some of the votes from each of them that would fall to him.

I think what's really interesting to me now is every time you talk to the Romney campaign, Wolf, they say to you, listen, we've got the best ground game and we have a ground game in all 50 states.

And what's happened is when you look at Michigan and when you look at Ohio, what do you see? You see a ground game that really did push Mitt Romney over the line. There were two states where we thought, ooh, he may not win these, he may not win these. Now he's within spitting distance, as they say, in some of these Southern states. He has a good ground game down there. You know, who knows what he could do this weekend?

But I have to tell you, Jim's absolutely right. Because what you're going to see if he loses these states, which we expect he will, if he loses them, he's going to say, yes, but I picked up this many delegates and now the gap is this much.

BLITZER: Because even if he comes in second, now that there's not winner-take-all, proportional, he could come away with some significant delegates, only a few less than the winner in these two states.

CROWLEY: Exactly. And that doesn't do anything to make that gap smaller, particularly when you see Santorum and Gingrich divvying up the votes that they have.

BLITZER: Does Newt Gingrich need to win at least one if not both of these states on Tuesday to be viable?

CROWLEY: Certainly, he has hinted at that. And it's hard to see. Look, it's interesting. I had a discussion with Dick Gephardt today, talking to him about getting out of a race and how hard that is. And he said, listen, when I was doing it, you know, the tip-off was when you ran out of money and you couldn't pay money. Now, you have folks that are doing these super PACs that keep folks going when they might not have, you know, three elections ago or four elections ago.

But there does come a point when folks who are funding the super PAC and pouring money into it say, you know what? This is a dry hole now. I don't want to do it. Millionaires don't get to be millionaires by wasting their money.

BLITZER: Or billionaires either.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Hard for me to think that.

BLITZER: Billionaires. Who's on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday?

CROWLEY: Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate.

BLITZER: That will be a rare interview that you have.


BLITZER: We haven't had him in a long time.

CROWLEY: I know. You have to be talking with him, that's for sure.


CROWLEY: As well as we are having Gephardt and Steve Forbes to kind of talk about what's that like, when the jig may be up. And you got to figure out if you need to get out or not.

BLITZER: Always good to speak to Steve Forbes after "Forbes:" magazine comes out with their richest billionaires in the United States.


BLITZER: You didn't make the list this year, did you?

CROWLEY: I did not. I'm open for next year.

BLITZER: You're open next year. Thanks very much.

We've got much more on Mitt Romney's attempts to connect with Southern voters. Will a pretend Southern accent, comments about biscuits and grits help or hurt? Our strategy session coming up.

And a bizarre outburst by a flight attendant forces a plane full of passengers to return to the gate just before taking off. She talked about crash, about 911, and much more.

Here's a piece actually of what she said.



BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Right now, joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Maria Cardona, and the Republican strategist, our CNN political contributor, Mary Matalin.

Mary, jobs numbers out today. More good news at least today for the White House, for the Democrats, right track/wrong track, 200,000- plus new jobs this month, last month, the month before. That seems to be the right track as opposed to the wrong track.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's successive quarters of adding jobs, but we're adding them at such a slow pace, and our growth is 2.4 percent, compare that to the most comparable recession, which is Reagan's, by a year earlier, we were growing at 5.4 percent.

But the more politically relevant point is, people aren't feeling it. They don't believe these numbers because they do not count underemployment and what we call labor force participation, people who were disappointed stopped looking for jobs. It also doesn't count what is their budget situation -- higher costs for energy, higher costs for groceries, higher costs for premiums. And that they do blame on the administration.

So, every job is good news for the people. I don't know that it's going to translate to great news, political news for the president.

BLTIZER: And a lot of folks, Maria, are worried about the doubling of gas prices over the past couple of years.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. And that is certainly a concern. And while the numbers are going in the right direction, there's no question about that, there has been more than 4 million jobs added since the beginning of this administration.

There have been 20 months straight of private sector job creation. There are some people who are starting to feel positive about this. The unemployment rate actually didn't go down because some of the folks that Mary just mentioned are jumping back into the economy because they do see the positive.

So there's no question that the numbers are going in the right direction. There's also no question and the president is the first one to say it, we need do more.

He is absolutely focused like a laser in ensuring that we to do more. And as long as the trend continues in this direction, that's good news for the president.

BLITZER: All right, let's see if the trend does continue for the next few months. It's obviously going be a key factor in the race for the White House.

You're in Louisiana. You're in the south there, Mary. I want to play for you some clips because it's causing some buzz. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner in the Deep South. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is now turning me into an -- I don't know, an unofficial southerner and I'm learning to say y'all, and I like grits and there are strange things are happening to me. The governor said I had to say it right. Good morning, you all. Good to be with you.


BLITZER: All right, does that help or hurt -- like Mitt Romney playing in the South?

MATALIN: Serious, serious warning for Mitt Romney. Do not get addicted to cheese grits because they are addictive. Don't have them again.

Southerners are just famously friendly and hospitable and they appreciate the effort and the recognition that they have this unique, open friendliness.

I thought it was cute and authentic and you could see by the response and people's faces behind them, southerners are brought and they like when people recognize it.

I think that's fine and he's closing pretty well in Mississippi, so I guess the proof is in the grits.

BLITZER: Maria, what do you think about that?

CARDONA: Well, I do think that southerners will give him credit for at least trying, but you look at that and you can't help, but cringe because he's just so awkward.

I think he should stick to his economic message, but I guess when your economic plan actually blows the $5 trillion hole in the deficit and you give millionaires a $186,000 tax break versus middle class families of $167.

Then maybe grits are the thing that you can talk about to southerners because you've got something else.

BLITZER: Mary, listen to Newt Gingrich. He was on a radio show, WVNN, and he said this. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to be all the way to Tampa, there's no question in my mind. I think it's important to win Alabama. It's important to win Mississippi, but I also have 174,000 donors, 95 percent of them under $250.


BLITZER: First of all, Mary, do you think he's going to win Mississippi and Alabama just as he won South Carolina and Georgia?

MATALIN: Well, Georgia, was his home state and he won it by significantly less than Mitt Romney won his home state and Santorum is going to win Kansas, it looks like, which is a complicated allocation. But nonetheless, he goes into the south pretty strong and he shows some strength there and he's tied or ahead in Alabama so --

BLITZER: You're talking about Romney.

MATALIN: Santorum is going to do well in Alabama, which is an allocation, a proportional state. He -- Mitt -- Newt has put it on the line in Mississippi. If he doesn't, I don't think it will make him get out, but it's a difficult rationale to go all the way to Mississippi and Alabama. BLITZER: Well, does he actually have to win both of these southern states, Mary, in order to continue?

MATALIN: It's been his strategy and his rationale and the southern strategy. I don't know if he has to win them both. He has to show seriously. The math is against him already.

So if he's not showing at least regional strength and significant regional strength despite his continued funding it undercuts the rationale for continues candidacy.

BLITZER: Let me ask Maria the same question. Go ahead, Maria. CARDONA: I don't think it really matters or Newt whether that's a rational for his candidacy at this point or not. I think as long as sugar daddy Adelson continues to give him money to continue the campaign, he will.

Look. He's really angry at Romney because Romney defeated him in a couple of debates. He's really angry at Santorum because Santorum has taken the mantle that he thinks should have been his.

And as long as he stays in the race, it's actually good for Romney, and I don't think anybody at this point, is going to be able to tell him to get out and have him listen to people who are saying that.

BLITZER: But if he really hates Romney, Mary, and all indications indicate that there are a lot of bad blood between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, wouldn't he hurt Romney more by getting out and letting Santorum pick up a lot of the Newt Gingrich support?

MATALIN: You know, I think we attribute motives that really couldn't be true. Whatever the bad blood is in primaries and it always exists, Newt rightly believes he has made and continues to make an important contribution to the dialogue and to the debate and he is smart and he is a leader in the party.

And he's had an impact. I don't think what's fueling him is any feeling about the other candidates. I think it's feelings that he would be a great president. That is his belief.

You know there's a form in Alabama on Saturday night. Exit polls have shown that voters by 2-1 have cast their votes off the debate performance rather than the ad.

So every time he gets in a form where he can demonstrate his intellectual prowess, he moves in. That's his significant and should be for him.

BLITZER: Mary, let me pick your brain also on the other Republican still in the race, Ron Paul. He hasn't won a state yet, either a primary or a caucus. He's still looking for his first win. He's way behind in the delegate count, but he's making no signs of giving up at all, is he?

MATALIN: No. I'll quote my friend Maria there. I don't think he cares. He's not in it to win it. He never wanted to win it. He stated as such. He's trying to get out a message, which is bringing -- has -- is talking to different people than traditional Republicans or even traditional conservatives.

He's animating a lot of young people and he wants that message to be part of the bigger Republican platform and if he has enough delegates and his people know how to maneuver around the platform committee he'll have the impact. The more delegates he has, the better for him. He's not trying to win states.

BLITZER: Maria? CARDONA: I agree with my friend, Mary. I'll quote her. That he also has a message that he believes is a very important one to continue to take up until the very end.

His supporters are incredibly passionate which, frankly, is something every other candidate lacks so he's not going anywhere either, I don't think.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

A former governor goes undercover posing as a homeless man seeking help and making some shocking discoveries.

Also a bizarre rant by a flight attendant. She had to be restrained, the plane had to turn around and all of it was caught on tape.


BLITZER: A totally bizarre and frightening incident aboard an American Airlines flight this morning. The plane was taxiing for takeoff at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport when a flight attendant made some very disturbing remarks over the intercom, forcing the plane to turn back as she had to be restrained.

Our aviation and regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary is here watching this. What an amazing story? What happened here?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: This is a completely amazing story with some pretty amazing audio we've gotten from an I-Reporter.

So this plane was leaving Dallas-Fort Worth. It was going to go to Chicago, and a flight attendant took a hold of the plane's public address system and began to rant.

A passenger on board told CNN that the flight attendant first seemed to be talking to the pilot saying, OK, if you don't hear me then I give up. I'm not responsible if this plane crashes.

She mentioned crashing four times. She also referenced 9/11 and union issues according to a federal issue. I want to play you this sound captured by an I-Reporter, Laurie Grabe.

From the aisle of the plane you can hear a throaty screaming. One passenger called it demonic. Listen closely. You will hear the flight attendant.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get out of the plane! Get out of the plane!


O'LEARY: It sounds like she's saying get off the plane. In that video, you can see several passengers restraining her, which they did with the help of other members of the flight crew. Now this plane was American Airlines flight 2332.

It went back to the gate as Wolf said. The flight attendant in question was taken to the hospital along with another flight attendant who was injured in that scuffle. At first the passengers said everyone was laughing.

It sounded like she accidentally turned on the PA then obviously as this continued, they started to really worry. The airlines say it's investigating. The customers were not in danger at any time. The crew was replaced. The flight took off for Chicago.

A little while later, an airport spokesman said no state criminal charges are being considered at this time. Everyone, of course, probably remembers that incident back in August of 2010 when the Jet Blue flight attendant, Stephen Slater exited dramatically via the inflatable slide. He got some probation about a year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They have no idea what motivated this flight attendant to started screaming like that in the intercom?

O'LEARY: Not yet. There are a couple of anecdotal reports we're looking at what exactly was going on. But obviously this is probably something no passenger ever wants to hear on their plane.

BLITZER: Yes, that could be very terrifying, but at least they were on the ground.

O'LEARY: They were on the ground.

BLITZER: Can you imagine, God forbid, if they were in the air and flight attendants are screaming like that. You'll get to the bottom of this for us.

O'LEARY: I will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lizzie.

The co-founder of Facebook makes a surprise purchase of one of America's oldest news and public affairs magazines. We're going to give you the details.

And we'll also tell you how the Mormon Church is responding to the controversy over some members doing proxy baptisms for dead Jewish people.

And the former governor of New Jersey goes undercover as a mentally ill homeless man. Now he's talking about how he was treated.


BLITZER: Here are some other top stories making headlines right now. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says that it has put in place new measures to block people from inappropriately accessing its massive genealogical database.

Parts of the database have been used to carry out proxy baptisms. The move follows reports that members of the church had conducted proxy baptisms for Jewish holocaust victims and for slain Jewish journalist, Daniel Pearl.

We're getting word of a shoot-out involving an attempted armored car hijacking in Dallas. According to CNN affiliate, WFAA, the suspect was killed and the armored car driver was hospitalized after being shot in the arm.

The suspect reportedly opened fire when the armored car arrived at a check cashing business this morning and the armored car driver returned fire.

The pope is speaking out against gay marriage. Pope Benedict XVI calls the church's stance a question of justice, direct quote from him. He criticizes those who considered gender to be irrelevant when it comes to defining marriage.

The pope called on the audience of American bishops at the Vatican to stand up to those who support gay marriage.

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has bought a majority stake in the 98-year-old public affairs magazine, "The New Republic." Hughes will serve as the publisher and editor in chief. "The New Republic" is known as the key voice of American progressivism, but the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

He's a lawmaker and a former governor who posed as a homeless man.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many shelters --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They all turn you away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many shelters did you go to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we went to -- we called and spoke to all that exist within this county. It's a large county of about 700,000 people, and for the most part, they don't want me.


BLITZER: He's speaking about his undercover odyssey in the plight of America's homeless.

And coming up at the top of the hour, new intelligence about the Syrian regime. How long can it cling to power?


BLITZER: Take a look at some of this hour's "Hot Shots" right now. In Kenya, nurses strike for better pay and working conditions. In Pakistan, children stand outside a residence where Osama Bin Laden was suspected of hiding out.

In China, a woman wearing a traditional dress stands in the middle of Tianamen Square. And in London, an Olympic torch security team rehearses an attack scenario preparing for the upcoming relay. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from all around the world.

In Alabama, activists re-enacting a historic march from the Civil Rights Movement. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, this is history unfolding.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. Today is the final day of events revolving around the nearly week-long re-enactment of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

The march earned a prominent place in history books due to the so-called "Bloody Sunday" attacked when police used clubs and dogs to beat back marchers on the (inaudible) in Selma.

The pictures that accounts from that incident shocked the nation and helped galvanize support for the marchers. Current marchers are calling for renewed attention on what they call a modern- day attack on voting rights.

The White House is confirming that President Obama called President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia today. The call reportedly occurred from Air Force One as President Obama was en route to Virginia this morning.

Details of what was discussed have not yet been released. Putin was the victor in last weekend's presidential election. International observers reported widespread voting irregularities.

And a report from Ohio's Department of Natural Resources says a series of recent earthquakes near Youngstown was caused by the practice of injecting fluid waste from gas wells deep into the earth for disposal.

The report says the drilling company followed all necessary regulations. The company calls the report premature, and, quote, "politically expedient."

Bank of America says some customers could see their mortgage balances reduced by an average of $100,000. It's part of a $26 billion settlement between mortgage service providers, the federal government, and attorneys general from across the country. As many as 200,000 borrowers could qualify for these reductions.

BLITZER: That's a lot of money. At least homeowners will be pretty happy if that happens. Thanks very much.

A new report blames the oil and gas industry for earthquakes in Ohio. Also violence raging in Syria. We have some new information by U.S. intelligence on whether the government in Damascus is losing its grip on power.


BLITZER: These days here in Washington, D.C., signs of bipartisanship are far and few behind, but our Brianna Keilar managed to find one area right in the pages of a children's book. Brianna Keilar follows this report.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every week four blocks from the Capitol, lawmakers and congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle read to students at Brent Elementary School.

This is "Power Lunch," a program of "Everybody Wins D.C.," a non-profit literacy group serving schools where many students live at or near the poverty line. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and his Chief of Staff Brian Auberg mentor a first grader.

SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: It's something I look forward to. It's a nice break in my week. They say the kids get a lot out of it. I think we get a lot of it too.

KEILAR: At the next table, Summer Mersinger takes an hour away from her duties as a top aide to South Dakota Senator John Thune.

SUMMER MERSIGNER, READING MENTOR: It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It's amazing to me. She's giving up her recess right now to sit here and read books with me.

KEILAR: The late Senator Ted Kennedy participated in the program for 14 years. His widow, Vickie filled his seat after he passed away in 2009. It's important work when you consider the achieve management gap that exist even before kids enter school.

(on camera): While middle income children enter typically enter the first grade with more than a thousand one-on-one reading hours under their belt. Low income kids go in with just 25 and here in the nation's capitol that's an achievement gap schools are struggling to close.

MARY SALANDER, EVERYBODY WINS! DC: Sadly in the District of Columbia, less than half of the public high school students scored proficient in their reading.

KEILAR (voice-over): The goal here, Everybody Wins reading programs around the country is simple. Get kids excited about reading so they can succeed in school and in life.


BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting for us. A great, great program. I did it myself here in Washington. I got a lot more out of it, I'm sure, than the kids did, but I encourage everyone to get involved.

Brianna Keilar, I think, is joining us now from the White House. Brianna, it really is something that's so worthwhile. I think everybody who's done it has enjoyed it.

KEILAR: Yes, it's actually something I read in the program, Wolf, and I find it to be just really tremendously rewarding. And it's amazing the kids are so into it, so it's really a fabulous program.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar at the White House for us. Thanks for the publicity for this excellent, excellent idea.