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President Obama Takes Campaign to Late Night; Supreme Court Examines Immigration Laws; JetBlue Flight Hit By Geese

Aired April 25, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama takes his campaign to late-night television. Republicans aren't laughing, and now they're using the appearance against him.

Arizona's controversial immigration law has its day in the United States Supreme Court. Did the justices tip their hands in this major case?

And a JetBlue pilot declares an emergency after large birds hit the plane's windshield. Plus, the wind-whipped landing of another plane, it's one that the passengers will never forget. Wow.

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

It's been an amazing few days in the race for the presidency. Newt Gingrich is about to get out, Mitt Romney winning five more states last night, all but clinching the nomination and the general election campaign clearly under way.

Let's see what is going on. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Gingrich effectively, we knew this was going to happen, but now it will happen for sure, suspending his campaign and Santorum clearly getting ready, maybe reluctantly, but getting ready to endorse Mitt Romney. What's going on over here? This general election campaign clearly under way. We're going to see six months of this now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We are. The first thing we're looking at is Republicans and will they fall in line behind Mitt Romney.

As you know, they're very skeptical, particularly conservatives about him. I think they're still in the process of warming up to Mitt Romney. I have got some tape for you, Wolf, from a focus group that was done for the Annenberg Center by Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

These are Republican voters in the state of Florida talking about what they think about Mitt Romney. Listen to this.


BRENT BENNETT, REPUBLICAN: What we want is someone like Santorum and like Gingrich when he was at his best in the debate to have a position, to stick with the position and not apologize for that position and not shave your answer to a question that matches what you think this particular audience you're in front of might want to hear.

JULIE SAUNDERS, REPUBLICAN: He's trying to please everybody. Make a stand whether people like it or not. At least be strong.

JOHN NELSON, REPUBLICAN: He's got to mature what he believes in and stick by them. If he doesn't, he could get beat.


BORGER: So you see, Wolf, what Republicans want is a consistent conservative or what is it that Mitt Romney called himself? Severely conservative?

They would like to see that. Whether that appeals to the independents in a general election remains to be seen. So he's got a fine line to walk and some work to do.

BLITZER: I thought the speech he gave last night effectively kicking off this new phase of his campaign was very effective, thought he delivered it well. I thought he had some good points in there. To me, it looked like a clear pivot because he avoided some of those sensitive issues that have caused some heartburn for Republicans who are going after moderate independent voters out there.

BORGER: That's right. What I think he tried to do, and I agree with you, I think he did it quite effectively, was that he was trying to frame the larger debate as he sees it for the general election.

There was one point of it that was of particular interest to me. Take a listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice.


We -- we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends' businesses.


We will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing.


BORGER: The campaign has clearly decided to take on the fairness issue. And that has been an issue that President Obama has been talking about, and they have decided they want to go on the offense and not just play defense and say, you know what? Some of the decisions that governments make and some of the decisions that Democrats make, they are inherently unfair. So we're willing to walk on that turf. I think it's a little risky given the public opinion polls about tax cuts, for example, being unfair, but I think it was clear to me that they have decided to just wade into it head-on and that is something we really haven't heard.

BLITZER: As we enter this new phase -- and it's obviously a new phase right now -- we're beginning to get the general message from both of these candidates.

BORGER: We are, and I think what we heard from Mitt Romney last night was a few things. First of all, President Obama is not working. I, Mitt Romney, am a really good guy and here is my vision of smaller government and letting the marketplace work.

What we're hearing from President Obama's campaign is less of Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper and more of Mitt Romney as an extreme conservative going back to the positions he took during the primaries. So that's what we're going to see for the next months.

BLITZER: Do you think it's accidental that Romney last night in his speech, and it's an acceptance speech I guess of sorts, avoided some of those social issues, contraception, abortion, gay rights and stuff like that?


BORGER: No. This was a well-thought-out speech in which he was taking the turn to the general election, trying to talk to independent voters as well as conservative Republicans and say, this is where I can take America. And my America is just as fair as President Obama.

BLITZER: All right, this campaign is just getting started. We have got six months to go. Gloria, thanks very much.

Romney's primary sweep sounds the death knell for Newt Gingrich's campaign the Romney vs. Obama battle for the White House clearly shifting into a higher gear right now. Today the campaigns are firing fresh rounds at each other.

And our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is following all of this for us.

What are you seeing out there today, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you were just talking about this. With the Republican race now over, there are only two men left standing, President Obama and Mitt Romney, and they are throwing some hard punches. It's only April.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Obama's visit with college students in Iowa may have been about financial aid, but it was one more sign that school is in session in the race for the White House.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of them suggest that students like you have to pay more so we can help bring down the deficit. Now, think about that. These are the same folks who ran up the deficits for the last decade.

ACOSTA: The president has been doing his reelection homework basically ever since he got in office. From February 2009 on he's made by CNN's count 126 visits to 14 battleground states.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is it easier to make ends meet?


ACOSTA: Mitt Romney was just in one of those swing states, New Hampshire, to declare victory in the Republican race and focus a Clinton-like laser beam on the economy.

ROMNEY: It's still about the economy and we're not stupid.


ACOSTA: With Romney fund-raising behind closed doors over the next couple of days, one of his top surrogates and potential running mate, Marco Rubio, delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Putin may talk tough, but he knows he's weak.

ACOSTA: That offered a contrast with the president's open mike session with the Russians.

OBAMA: This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.

ACOSTA: Adding to the political overtones.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: A rising star in the next generation of America's foreign policy leaders.

ACOSTA: Joe Lieberman appeared with Rubio, a reminder that the Democrat-turned-independent senator backed John McCain last time.

And the Romney campaign is trying out a new line of attack on taxes. Consider this column in "The Wall Street Journal" from former George W. Bush-turned Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard who writes that President Obama's higher spending will require raising taxes for all Americans.

The president who has only proposed increase for wealthy Americans seems ready for that one.

OBAMA: First of all, these guys ran up the deficit. These are the same folks who voted in favor of two wars without paying for it.

ACOSTA: Now that Newt Gingrich has all but dropped out, Republicans are eager to combine forces and poke holes in the president's image. Take Mr. Obama's slow jam of the news on "Jimmy Fallon."


OBAMA: I have met him, but we're not friends.


ACOSTA: It's now a new RNC ad that ends with the Twitter hashtag "notfunny."


ACOSTA: Back to Newt Gingrich. His campaign officials say the former speaker will formally get out of the race perhaps as soon as next week.

But, as we all know, the speaker for all intents and purposes has been out of this race for weeks. And he took a call from Mitt Romney according to a Gingrich spokesman earlier today. That call was described as gracious.

Again, Wolf, these are words we don't normally hear from Newt Gingrich when it comes to Mitt Romney. It's also a sign that the wounds from the bruising primary season are now starting to heal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Jim -- I certainly did -- last night Newt Gingrich started giving his speech and Ann Romney and Mitt Romney they didn't even wait until he was finished. After a few minutes they just went out there, they bigfooted him, as they say, and we certainly dumped out of Newt Gingrich's speech and went to Ann Romney and Mitt Romney.

I don't think that was an accident that they decided to do that at that moment. It just raised an eyebrow because normally these candidates wait for another candidate to finish their speeches on these election nights before they go out and address the world, if you will.


BLITZER: Did you get that sense?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

I will tell you I was around a lot of people with the Romney campaign last night and that was not lost on them either. So whether or not this was an overt sort of stepping on Newt Gingrich, it's not really clear, but safe to say a lot of times behind the scenes before they make their entrances for these types of speeches, they are watching what is happening on the cable networks and on the news coverage.

There are people with the Romney campaign who were pretty well aware that Newt Gingrich was starting to talk last night. I think they felt this was their night and they didn't want anything overshadowing it.

BLITZER: Yes, Ann Romney came out within a few minutes after Newt Gingrich started speaking and no one was paying attention to Newt Gingrich anymore and they were listening to the Romneys.

All right, thanks very much.

It's one of the most controversial cases of the year and today the Supreme Court justices seemed surprisingly sympathetic to Arizona as they heard arguments for and against the state's controversial immigration law.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan was inside and she was listening to all of the arguments.

Kate, what happened?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the final oral argument of this Supreme Court term and they're going out with a bang, taking on illegal immigration in the middle of the presidential election season.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The divisive political issue of illegal immigration landed squarely on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think Arizona has done anything that isn't basically common sense.

BOLDUAN: Inside the courtroom, the conservative majority appeared to lean toward upholding at least part of the Arizona law, Justice Antonin Scalia suggesting if the federal government isn't doing the job, states may be justified stepping in, asking -- quote -- "What does state sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?"

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Arizona has a right and I, as governor, I felt was somewhat insured that I had the right to protect the citizens of Arizona.

BOLDUAN: The justices focused on the law's most controversial measure, the requirement police check people's immigration status while enforcing other laws if the officers have reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally.

The White House and its supporters argued that intrudes on what is exclusively federal authority over immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The justices are concerned about a system of mass incarceration that's going to catch U.S. citizens and immigrants who are lawfully in the United States.

BOLDUAN: But for the Obama administration, challenging the state law, it was another uphill battle. Chief Justice John Roberts indicating the Arizona law is meant to help by alerting federal immigration officials to who is in the country illegally, nothing more.

And he questioned Washington's commitment to solving the problem -- quote -- "It seems to me that the federal government just doesn't want to know who is here illegally or not."

Even liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor bluntly told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli part of his argument wasn't -- quote -- "selling very well," adding, "Why don't you try to come up with something else?"


BOLDUAN: And to signal that the justices are aware of just how politically divisive this issue is, the chief justice made a point to ask the government's lawyer even before he began his argument to clarify that the government's challenge has nothing to do with racial or ethnic profiling, instead is solely focused on the narrow question at hand.

The solicitor general agreed. Wolf, the remark seemed designed to head off, if you will, any criticism that the justices may face in an election season.

BLITZER: And eight justices will make this decision, not nine. Elena Kagan would recusing herself because she was once solicitor general.

What if it's a 4-4 vote, what happens?

BOLDUAN: If it's a 4-4 vote, that means that the lower court decision would stand. That would mean practically speaking that the four provisions at question, the controversial provisions in this law would not take effect, Wolf, but it also would mean that this wouldn't set any broad, sweeping precedent and it would also not stop other states with similar legislation, it would not stop them from moving forward with that.

Essentially, it would mean this fight is going to be kicked off to another day.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kate Bolduan at the Supreme Court.

Women and Latinos, should Mitt Romney be looking outside of the box for a running mate? That's Jack Cafferty's question. It's coming up next.

And details of a bird strike that had passengers on one flight fearing for their lives.

Plus, my interview with Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state. She talks candidly about the family secret that changed her life.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: While Mitt Romney is now cruising toward the Republican nomination, he's a long way from cruising into the White House. And the two biggest reasons might well be women and Hispanics.

During the primaries, Romney was forced to the right on issues that concerned both women and immigration, and he now has emerged as damaged goods among those groups. Polls suggest President Obama holds a 20-point lead among women. Many women were turned off by Romney's comments about birth control and getting rid of Planned Parenthood.

But the damage may not be permanent. One of the ways he could recover -- pardon me -- is by selecting either a woman or a Hispanic as his running mate. There's speculate women like New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, also Hispanic, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley could be on Romney's short list. There's a limit, it's a safe bet Sarah Palin probably isn't on that list. One train wreck is plenty for a life time.

As for the Hispanic vote, Romney is in even worse shape. One poll says he trails President Obama by 40 points. Experts say he's got to get 40 percent of the Latino vote if he's going to win the race. Enter Florida Senator Marco Rubio who has suddenly been campaigning with Romney. A lot of people think Rubio would make the perfect running mate.

On the other hand, it's possible that Romney's V.P., pick would be neither a woman nor a Hispanic. A political piece entitled "Vice President Vanilla," suggests that Romney's best bet maybe a safe, uncontroversial one, someone like Ohio Republican and former Bush budget director Rob Portman. He is described in the article as vanilla, wonky and unflappable and the, quote, "safety school" the GOP needs after the Sarah Palin experiment in 2008.

Here's the question: Which V.P. candidate would benefit Mitt Romney more? A woman or a Hispanic?

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

BLITZER: I think Rob Portman has a very, very good shot of getting that. But we'll see. We got a few months.

CAFFERTY: Lindsay Graham's another name that you hear kicked around once in a while.

BLITZER: Yes, you hear a lot of name. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida who speaks Spanish, a very popular guy as well. Is the country ready, though, for another Bush? These are questions that Romney -- only Romney can answer right now.

Jack, good question. Thank you.

Moments for terror from passengers aboard a JetBlue flight. Its windshield was hit by geese, sparking an in-flight emergency.

Lisa Sylvester has got the details for us.

Lisa, what happened here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a pretty serious thing, Wolf. This is the second time in less than a week that an airplane has taken off from a New York City airport and has had to return to the terminal because birds hit the plane. And you can imagine it was very frightening for the passengers.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Just after takeoff the pilot of JetBlue flight 571 radios the control tower.

ATC: JetBlue 571 contact New York departure 120.8.

PILOT: JetBlue 571, we got to come back. We hit two big geese.

ATC: JetBlue 571, roger, and stand by. JetBlue 571 make right traffic runway 1-6.

PILOT: Right traffic 1-6, 571.

ATC: JetBlue 571, would you like to declare an emergency?

PILOT: We are declaring an emergency.

SYLVESTER: You can see the damage here on the plane's windshield caused by two large geese. The flight headed from a suburban New York airport to West Palm Beach had just taken off Tuesday evening and was about 300 feet in the air.

Laura Echevarria was one of the passengers on that flight. She feared the worst.

LAURA ECHAVARRIA, PASSENGER: The plane started swerving immediately right after the two hits. So he was rocking the plane back and forth. and we knew something was going on. I'm going to die. Like I'm not going to get to my family. I'm not getting home.

SYLVESTER (on camera): Bird strikes are actually common. According to the FAA, between 2006 and 2010, there was an average of two dozen flights reported every day.

(voice-over): Last Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden's plane, Air Force Two, hit birds as it was coming into the Santa Barbara airport. On the same day, a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles birds were sucked into the engine forcing that plane to make an emergency landing.

But the most famous bird strike was the incident now referred to as the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009. Captain Chelsea "Sully" Sullenberger successfully landed his U.S. airplane on the Hudson River after a flock of birds flew into the engine.

Airports will use various techniques to shoo away the birds including sonic booms.

JEREMY NELSON, WESTCHESTER CO. AIRPORT: They're not uncommon. They do happen and we deal with them on a routine basis and most of the time they're just an inconvenience.


SYLVESTER: Now, the JetBlue plane was taken out of commission yesterday and inspected. And you saw the picture of the bird after it hit the plane's windshield, but the strike did not crack the window. The window was deemed OK and the plane is going back into service today.

BLITZER: Fortunately, everything worked out, and that's a big problem, those birds especially, apparently in the New York area.

SYLVESTER: And these aren't tiny little birds. I mean, you know, we're talking geese in this case and you saw the big mark it left on the plane's windshield.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

President Obama's appearance on late-night TV sparking a skirmish of sorts with the Republicans. Our strategy session is next.

Coming up, by the way, in our next hour, a U.S. congressman is barred from entering Afghanistan even though America pumps $2 billion a week into that country. Details and the controversy and my conversation with Dana Rohrabacher. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us: the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Maria Cardona. There she is. And our CNN contributor, David Frum, who was special assistant to President George W. Bush.

As both of you know, President Obama's been making a big deal about keeping interest rates for student loans -- students loans low. He did it once again today. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then you've got the spokesman for the speaker of the House who says we're -- meaning me, my administration, we're just talking about student loans to distract people from the economy. Now, think about that for a second, because these guys don't get it. This is the economy. This is the economy.


BLITZER: Now, those low interest rates expire in July if they're not authorized. They'll double the interest rates.

And only moments ago, the House Speaker John Boehner said this.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Today, I'm pleased to announce that on Friday, the House will vote on a bill to extend the current interest rate on federal student loans for one year. We will pay for this by taking money from one of the slush funds in the president's health care law. You know, this week, the president's traveling the country on the taxpayer's dime, and campaigning and trying to invent a fight where there isn't one.


BLITZER: All right. David, there was a fight because a lot of House Republicans did not want to authorize a continuation of these low interest rates for student loans. The new leader of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, told them this week, I support it and now Boehner fell in line.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Can we take a step back from politics to policy? We have had now for decades, college tuition massively outrunning the cost of other living. A lot of people who looked at this have said, the driver that allows colleges to do this are the existence of these federal student loan programs. The more money we make available, the more colleges raise their prices in order to get the money.

Basically, they say we want everything you have, plus everything your parents have, plus everything the government will lend you. And if they'll lend you more, we still want everything you have and your parents have.

BLITZER: But this is still a win for the president right now?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, no question. I mean, David's right. The cost of college is a big issue that we should all definitely talk about, but this is a now problem and that's exactly what President Obama is focused on, making sure that these student loans don't go up for 7.1 million students. And what we're seeing from the Republicans and Romney and the speaker is this "me, too" moment, understanding that they're not only in trouble with women and not only in trouble with Latinos, they're in trouble with the youth vote and they need to do something to happen.

FRUM: But the president himself just months ago said his administration was going to have a policy to try to restrain colleges from gouging this way, and that has gone out the window. There's no policy on the cost of college, what there is is a political stunt.

BLITZER: But there needs to be a larger conversation, but let's fix this now for students.

Let's have a larger conversation about young people, students. The president -- and as the whole world knows, he was on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" last night and we got a little clip. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason is it is so important to keep down costs is so we keep college affordable.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": And the president knows his stuff, y'all, that's why they call him the POTUS which means person on top. What is it?

OBAMA: Jimmy, POTUS stands president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the POTUS with the mostess!

BLITZER: Very funny stuff, and obviously, it's getting a lot of play out there.

FRUM: Yes. Let's put it this way, if we had millions of young people watching "The Situation Room" the president would be here today, but he's talking to a target audience. I think there are some dignity issues here. That's a little jarring to see the president doing that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I completely disagree and maybe it's our age difference, David -- just kidding -- but I think that for exactly the audience that President Obama is targeting, which is younger viewers, I think they think that this is exactly the way that you communicate to them about a serious issue, and if you saw the clip, the president is actually serious. Jimmy Fallon is the one who is funny. They have a really great give-and-take on that and it makes him -- it really does respect the office of the presidency, but he does it right.

BLITZER: Almost as good as Brian Williams does that routine over there. All right, listen to -- you say this is undignified. You know what? out there. We put together a little montage.


BLITZER: Senator, have there been any amusing things happen to you since you've campaigning that you can tell me in 30 seconds? We know you did work with the show back then.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I just made an honorary Indian. And I now (inaudible).


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no. I don't think we could get Mr. Nixon to stand still for "Sock it to me."

RICHARD NIXON: Sock it to me?

JOHNNY CARSON, FORMER HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": How do you balance the budget?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, balancing the budget is like protecting your --

CARSON: You don't spend more than you take in, right.

REAGAN: It's like protecting your virtue. You have to learn how to say no.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: do you know what your drummer said? He said if this music thing doesn't work out You can always run for president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, a lot of folks don't think I can string a sentence together, so when I was able to do so the expectations were so low, all I had to say is hi, I'm George w. Bush.

JOHN MCCAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama purchased air time on three major networks. We, however, can only afford QVC.

FRUM: You have to admit, notice that except for Nixon, all of them were candidates at the time they did those appearances and not president.

BLITZER: So you have a problem with the president going on these late-night shows.

FRUM: I don't have a problem. I have a qualm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I disagree. I think that this is exactly the right thing for this president to do. Times have changed. He's still president, and he's also running for re-election. I think people understand that.

BLITZER: He's the first sitting president to do it. Nixon was a candidate.

FRUM: (Inaudible).

BLITZER: He was a candidate as well, and all of the others were then want to be presidents and they, obviously some of them except for McCain, they became presidents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it clearly works or else not even the candidates would be there, right?

BLITZER: If it didn't work, they wouldn't be doing it. Sort of like negative attack ads.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. you may have experienced turbulence before, but probably not like this. We're getting some new video that gives new meaning to the phrase rough landing. Wow! Look at that.

And one restaurant is trying to change the way you view fast food and why the Humane Society is now applauding one of the nation's largest and most famous burger chains.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories in "The Situation Room" right now. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, Benjamin Netanyahu tells CNN's Erin Burnett, Iran hasn't stopped its nuclear program, quote, by one iota." The U.S. and Europe imposed top economic sanctions with the hope that Iran would scale back new nuclear activity, but a U.N. nuclear watchdog recently found a troubling increase in uranium enrichment. U.N. negotiations with Iran are set to resume in May.

Breakfast at Burger King is about to get more humane. The fast food chain says it will stop buying pork from suppliers who confine pigs to small crates and also transition to cage-free eggs within five years. They're calling it a quote, industry-leading commitment to animal welfare. Burger King unveiled a new menu with healthy options about a month ago.

If you have a fear of flying, well, you might want to turn away. Check out this incredible video of a plane making a very shaky landing in Northern Spain. Powerful winds estimated at 50 or 60 miles an hour actually pushed a plane back up into the air despite coming within feet of the runway. It's a frightening video for air passengers, but fortunately there appears to be some highly skilled pilots flying that plane, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's amazing. They should never left in those kind of winds to begin with. But fortunately it all turned out well. Thank you.

Imagine being raised a Christian and finding out when you're 59 years old your parents were Jewish and they hid that from you. It happened to Madeleine Albright. She's opening up about her family's powerful story or hidden past. My interview with her coming up. Also, there's new hope for a young girl who has been missing for five years.

BLITZER: She's one of the most powerful women in history of the United States, and not only serving as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, but also as the first female secretary of state and now she's speaking about a family secret that changed her life.

Joining us now from New York, Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state. Madam Secretary, congratulations on writing this book. It really is very personal and moving.

I want to get to some of the highlights right now. You begin the book by writing this: "I had no idea that my family was Jewish or that 20 of my relatives had died in the Holocaust." Here's the question, why didn't you know that?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The truth is I don't know why I didn't know it, but my speculation is that my parents were desperate to start a new life in America when we came here in 1948 and to put some of the tragedy and sadness behind them and to try to create a normal life for us and not to dwell and make us all feel that we were a part of it. I think my parents did what any parents would do is to try to protect their children, but I think another reason, Wolf, that I came to as I did research for this book -- because I found a novel that my father had written about all this -- and I think the bottom line is they couldn't find the words to describe what had happened. There were no words.

BLITZER: There were no words. You've written a lot of words in this very amazing book, and I know you've gone through government documents in Prague. You began to suspect something was going on. You were 59 years old, about to become President Clinton's secretary of state, and people who knew your parents during World War II were all of a sudden writing to you, talking about their Jewish heritage and family members who died in the holocaust. When you began to get these letters, what did you think?

Well, the letters at the beginning made no sense. I mean, they basically would say, I knew your father when he was in high school in 1915, when he was actually born in 1909. Or had all of the names wrong or the dates wrong and finally in the fall of 1996, I got a letter from somebody -- and I was ambassador at the U.N. at the time, wolf -- a letter from somebody that had all of the names and dates and everything right.

When I was being vetted to be secretary of state, they asked me all of the normal kinds of questions, and at the end of it they said is there anything about you that we haven't asked that you know, and I said, look, I don't know whether this is true or not, but I have every reason to believe that I'm of Jewish background.

They said so what? Our president is not anti-Semitic. And so it was not until Michael Dobbs from "The Washington Post" went and did all kinds of research and presented me with this horrifying story of the number of people that had died in concentration camps.

And so here I was, secretary of state. I couldn't go and investigate it all myself, and I've likened it to being asked to represent your country in a marathon and then being given a very heavy package to carry and unwrap as I ran.

And so I asked my brother and sister to go to the Czech Republic to begin to investigate the story. And they did, and I've now picked up the threads in this new book.

BLITZER: And you've written, as I say, very emotionally about it, and you get into celebrating Hanukkah, celebrating Christmas with your children and grandchildren. This week the president spoke at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and he said this, I'll play the clip.


OBAMA: When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.


BLITZER: When you hear the president speaking like that, what goes through your mind now?

ALBRIGHT: well, I think that I know that he's got some very hard decisions to make, and what goes through my mind is that we, in fact, as an international community have to do something to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

And I do think that the president and the other members of the Security Council and -- generally are working to tighten the screws. We also are in the middle -- or have just begun a series of talks, and my sense is that a lot of lessons have been learned and that, in fact, we are working as an international community to make clear that this is unacceptable.

BLITZER: One of the most moving parts of the book are the tough choices you write about -- tough choices that world leaders have to make and some very tough choices right now in Syria. How do you deal with those tough choices?

ALBRIGHT: I think that is a lot of what the book is about, is that things that kind of seem very clear in retrospect are very hard to deal with at the time and that often leaders have to look at what the circumstances are and their values and make decisions based on that hoping that they're making the right decisions.

And I think what the lessons are, for instance, I'm dealing with the period around Munich where, in fact, democracies did not work together, when they did, in fact, appease Hitler. They never pushed back on him. They just kept trying to figure out how to feed the beast.

Whereas what is going on now is a very systematic way of isolating and putting pressure on the Assad regime and making clear that the international community is watching very carefully and no option is off the table. I really do think that there is no appeasement, except I'm very troubled by the position that the Russians and Chinese have been taking. But I think there is -- lessons have been learned and there's a huge isolation project and pushback on this.

BLITZER: The book is a beautiful book, well researched and documented. "Prague Winter, a Personal Story of Remembrance and War 1937-1948." Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state is the author. I've written a little review of it on our blog as well at Madam secretary, as usual, thanks very much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is asking which presidential vice president could benefit Mitt Romney more. A woman? A Hispanic? Stand by. Your comments and Jack coming up next.

BLITZER: Jack's joining us again with "The Cafferty File." Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is which vice presidential candidate would benefit Mitt Romney more? A woman or a Hispanic?

A couple of these are priceless. Jennifer writes, the question should not be which token representative he chooses for V. P., the question should be: who is the most qualified to run the country if the president can no longer performs the duties? If that person happens to be a woman or race, but gender or race has nothing to do with competence. Didn't we learn anything from the Sarah Palin situation?

Doug in Massachusetts says I think Romney is going to pick Lindsey Graham because I think Lindsey is the favorite of the military industrial crowd, and they run the show around here. So that's why it makes sense to me.

Lindsay knows the issues inside and out, upside down, and would make a great debate partner, which would be very important in this election and he would help Romney in the South.

Knell in Houston writes, the only person dumb enough to take the job would be Rick Perry. The benefits are his Southern roots and support for the Christian right, and there would be a benefit for Texans: he would no longer be their governor.

Bob in Long Island writes, how about a V.P. candidate who is qualified to be president if that's necessary. Seems to me that that would be more important than appealing to one particular group just to get votes. "Game Change" was the scariest movie I ever saw.

Lee writes, how about a gay Hispanic woman in a wheelchair? That would get him the win, no problem. No need to worry if she has any qualifications, and we can all feel good about how diverse we are.

And J.D. writes, it doesn't matter. Mitt's problem is trying to find someone who doesn't outshine him. Now that's a daunting task. They must be scouring funeral parlors. If you want to read more about this, you can go to my blog, file, or through our post on "The Situation Room's" Facebook page. Good stuff, Wolf?

BLITZER: Tough crowd out there. Very tough.

CAFFERTY: They're great.

BLITZER: Thank you. Police drop a bombshell in an old missing child case. They're now saying a British girl could be alive, years after she disappeared.

And the military probe into the Secret Service prostitution scandal. One U.S. lawmaker is furious over what he's calling the Pentagon's totally, totally uncooperative methods.

Plus new information about a confirmed case of mad cow disease. We're going live to the California dairy farm that's at the center of this right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a case that attracts a huge international attention: the disappearance of a little British girl during a family vacation to Portugal in 2007. Now British police are saying there's reason to believe Madeleine McCann may still be alive. CNN's Max Foster is in London working this story for us. Max, do police have any real, solid evidence to back that up?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they seem to have something. About a year ago the British prime minister, after being pressured by the McCanns, asked the British police to investigate this disappearance. And they've gone through hundreds, thousands, pages of evidence from Portugal, from Britain and private investigators, and they say they found up to 200 new leads.

And you've got to consider, Wolf, they've only gone through a quarter of that material that they've got, so more leads will appear. They say that's enough for the Portuguese to reopen this case, but at the moment the Portuguese police are the lead investigators here.

They've closed the case. The British police have really presenting them with extra information.

BLITZER: The police have also released a new image of Madeleine McCann, and I want to -- I want to show -- there it is right there, what she might look like if she were alive today. She disappeared at the age of 3. Now she's 8 years old.

Have the parents seen this new picture? They have, and in fact, they were a big part of the picture. They worked with the police to form this image. Let's hear from their spokesperson because he says it really effectively.

CLARENCE MITCHELL, MCCANN FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: They are very pleased with the new image. They are positive when they see it and Kate, in fact, said to me she felt comfortable looking at it. They see a strong family resemblance in it.

Kate sees not only Madeleine herself in the new picture, she sees Sean and Emily -- her brother and sister -- as well as Kate herself. So the family will draw great strength from this. They do see it as positive, and of course, they're hoping and praying as they have been for five years that this will lead to that breakthrough, and somebody somewhere will recognize her and she will still be able to come home.

FOSTER: At the very least, I think, Wolf, they just want this case reopened in Portugal. That's the first stage.

BLITZER: Are the Portuguese cooperating?

FOSTER: The British police have been over to Portugal. There's clearly some tension, I'd say, amongst British police about why the Portuguese have reopened this case, but officially, they're saying they're working well together.

BLITZER: Officially. All right. Max Foster in London. I know you'll stay on top of this story for us. Thanks very much.

BLITZER: And you're in "The Situation Room." Happening now, the U.S. military is accused of dropping the ball in its investigation of an embarrassing prostitution scandal. Two veteran U.S. Senators say Pentagon briefers wasted their time and now there's talk of subpoenas. A U.S. Congressman has criticized president Hamid Karzai and is asked to stay out of Afghanistan this hour.