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THE SITUATION ROOM

Syria Communications Blackout; Palestinian Status Upgraded at U.N.; New Twist to Egypt Crisis; Blame Game in Fiscal Stalemate; Syrian Rebels Gaining Ground; Palestinian Status Upgraded at U.N.; Life After Losing a Presidential Race; Could 9/11 Mastermind End up in U.S.?

Aired November 29, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Syria's rebels make major gains, but the Assad regime may be striking back with an Internet and cell phone blackout. We're on the ground inside Syria. Arwa Damon is there.

The most important man in the Middle East may be Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi. With protests raging and a constitutional crisis brewing, he's now speaking out.

And we're learning more about the two winning tickets in the half billion dollar Power Ball lottery.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are signs the United States may be getting ready to recognize the newly united Syrian opposition as the official representative of the Syrian people.

CNN's Jill Dougherty is standing by.

But first, let's go to Syria.

Fighting around the capital has forced the closure of the road to the Damascus international airport and flights have been halted.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is inside Syria right now and says the rebels are making major gains, but the regime may be striking back with a communications shut down.

And Arwa Damon is joining us from Northern Syria once again.

What are you seeing today -- Arwa?

What's happening on the ground?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you right now, the area that I am in is in a complete electricity blackout, including no cell phone reception, no Internet and no land lines, even. And the people are reporting that these types of Internet and total blackouts have been occurring pretty intensely over the last 24 hours, that large swaths of the country are going without cell phone reception and Internet.

They're saying that this is the Assad -- the Assad regime's way of trying to prevent people from communicating with one another, sometimes (INAUDIBLE) from communicating with one another.

But what's been quite interesting is that driving through vast parts of Aleppo Province, the very villages and towns that, two months ago, were under the control of the Syrian government are now under the control of the rebel fighters.

And in some of these areas, we're even beginning to see signs of life coming back. Civilians are finally beginning to open up shops, and even, in some areas, children going to school.

And it's a clear indication of how much territory this rebel fighting force has been able to gain, despite the fact that, by and large, they are doing this on their own.

BLITZER: And you've seen, obviously, some dramatic changes on the ground in Syria this time, as opposed to the last time you were there, which is, what, a few months ago.

Describe some of those changes.

DAMON: Well, the big change that we're seeing, really, is in how much territory the rebels are controlling, and, also, the tactics that they're using against the Assad forces. There are now able to launch offensive attacks on significant locations, like the (INAUDIBLE) base that they managed to capture a week ago -- the military base, rather, where they were able to get their hands on those vital surface to air missiles that they have been using to bring down fighter jets and helicopters over the last few days.

We're also seeing them trying to organize themselves, although they do admit that they are greatly struggling with that because there are some elements of this rebel fighting force that do not want to adhere to a chain of command.

But (INAUDIBLE) everything painstakingly, they are gaining more territory. They are able to hold more territory and they are beginning to slightly organize themselves and get their hands on somewhat better weaponry, not because it's coming in from the outside -- very little still trickling in -- but because of what they're able to capture from government forces themselves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon now watching what's going on.

Be careful over there.

We'll stay in close touch.

Thanks very much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The resolution introduced by the Palestinian Authority has now passed the General Assembly. Those in favor of declaring Palestine a nonmember observer state, 138 yes, nine no, including the U.S. and Israel. Forty-one abstentions.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is speaking on behalf of the U.S. right now.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The United States voted against it. The backers of today's resolution say they seek a functioning independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel.

So do we. But we have long been clear that the only way to establish such a Palestinian state and resolve all permanent status issues is through the crucial, if painful, work of direct negotiations between the parties. This is not just a bedrock commitment of the United States. Israel and the Palestinians have repeatedly affirmed their own obligations, under existing agreements, to resolve all issues through direct negotiations, which have been endorsed frequently by the international community.

The United States agrees strongly.

Today's grand pronouncement will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.

The United States, therefore, calls upon both the parties to resume direct talks, without preconditions, on all the issues that divide them. And we pledge that the United States will be there to support the parties vigorously in such efforts.

The United States will continue to urge all parties to avoid any further provocative actions in the region, in New York or elsewhere. We will continue to oppose firmly any and all unilateral actions, in international bodies or treaties, that circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only be negotiated, including Palestinian statehood. And we will continue to stand up to every effort that seeks to delegitimize Israel or undermine its security.

Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall, nor does passing any resolution create a state where none, indeed, exists or change the reality on the ground.

For this reason, today's vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for U.N. membership. It does not.

This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.

The United States believes the current resolution should not and cannot be read as establishing terms of reference. In many respects, the resolution prejudges the very issues it says are to be resolved through negotiation, particularly with respect to territory. At the same time, it virtually ignores other core questions, such as security, which must be solved for any viable agreement to be achieved.

President Obama has been clear in stating what the United States believes is a realistic basis for successful negotiations. And we will continue to base our efforts on that approach.

The recent conflict in Gaza is just the latest reminder that the absence of peace risks the presence of war.

We urge those who share our hopes for peace between a sovereign Palestine and a secure Israel to join us in supporting negotiations, not encouraging further distractions. There simply are no shortcuts.

Long after the votes have been cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other and listen to each other and find a way to live side by side in the land they share.

Thank you, Mr. President.

BLITZER: Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, delivering a very strong statement condemning this U.N. General Assembly resolution declaring Palestine a nonmember observer state.

The vote in favor, 138 delegations; nine opposed, including the United States and Israel; 41 abstentions.

Richard Roth is our U.N. correspondent, watching what's going on -- Richard, practically speaking, as far as the U.N. is concerned, what is this resolution that has now passed?

And we're looking at live pictures coming in, also, from the celebrations in Ramallah on the West Bank.

What does it mean for the Palestinians?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It means they get to call themselves a state in certain aspects of the United Nations organizational system. But it doesn't give them all the rights of being an officially recognized state, with their own territories, borders, flag, voting rights.

The Susan Rice appearance was interesting, Wolf. I know sometimes people cringe when everything turns political, but she's squarely in the middle of this looming nomination fight, potentially, as secretary of State of the United States. And having observed her here for four years, this was a very passionate, strong speech to come out, to be clear that this was a bad resolution.

She hasn't always been present, for various reasons, on big U.N. moments. The U.S. had the right, listed the first country to explain their vote. The U.S. one of just nine other count -- of nine countries to vote against this resolution. Susan Rice calling it "unfortunate," a "counterproductive resolution." You're not going to get anything by pushing a green button here.

For Susan Rice, the Wa -- and Washington, the efforts -- the diplomatic efforts to stop this non-state observer state title from being granted really failed. Rice's veto threat kept the Palestinians, last year, from obtaining what they really want, full statehood -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that veto threat is in the Security Council. The U.S. clearly does not have a veto in the General Assembly.

General Assembly resolutions don't have the obvious political impact that a Security Council resolution has.

Explain the difference here -- Richard.

ROTH: Well, under the U.N. charter, the Security Council passes laws, resolutions, which are legally binding. When they set up this U.N. shop nearly 60 years ago, people thought the General Assembly, which we are watching the action today, was really going to be the place to be and that no one would really want to be on the Security Council.

But over the years, it became the place.

And the Security Council controls the sending of U.N. troops, military, once voted on. The General Assembly sometimes symbolic or it does give the weight of the world message.

However, I think people knew already the weight of the message of the General Assembly membership is strongly behind the Palestinians. And we heard fiery speeches from Turkey and other countries backing President Abbas, who received several standing ovations.

He said enough is enough, now is the time for this measure. The Palestinians said they're going to abide by all measures of the U.N., but everyone will be watching to see if they challenge Israel in the International Criminal Court and request prosecutions of Israeli soldiers or politicians.

Israel says it could also do the same. The Israeli ambassador says, why doesn't President Abbas act like President Sadat, sit down and make peace?

We heard very similar themes here. If you've been following the Middle East over 60 years, you didn't miss much in the Middle East speech here -- speeches today. But the vote was definitely symbolic and maybe more. We'll know down the road.

BLITZER: Very symbolic, very important -- 138 in favor, nine opposed, including Israel, the United States, Canada, by the way, and Panama among those who voted against this resolution. Forty-one abstentions -- Richard, before I let you go, some have equated this new status that Palestine has at the United Nations to what the Vatican, the status of the Vatican at the United Nations.

Is that a fair comparison?

ROTH: It is a definite legal comparison. I stood yesterday in the back of the General Assembly, which is where the Palestinians will sit -- continue to sit, one of the last rows. They sit right next to the Vatican. They are now of equal status, this nonmember U.N. observer state.

However, the Vatican -- well, I don't think the Vatican is saying it's occupied. And the Vatican hasn't been receiving any rockets or missiles or anything. So the Vatican plays it a little bit more low key here. Everyone will be watching to see what the Palestinians do with their newfound status.

But there are limits here inside the General Assembly. They can't even vote. They're always going to be on the minds of the U.N. The Middle East and some African issues predominate United Nations history, in terms of involvement, despite everyone's efforts to come to some sort of peace agreement.

BLITZER: Richard, don't go too far away.

I want to stay with the breaking news right now.

Palestine recognized as a nonmember observer state by the United Nations General Assembly. A lopsided 138-9 vote; 41 abstentions.

Jill Dougherty is standing by over at the State Department -- Jill, that was a pretty tough speech, as we're looking at live pictures from Ramallah, Palestinians celebrating and waving flags in Ramallah on the West Bank.

That was a pretty tough speech against this resolution we just heard the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, deliver. I was a bit surprised.

What was -- were you?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean the body language, the phrasing, was, I think, very, very strong. I mean the U.S. has said, essentially, you know, the same points for a long time, that it felt that this would accomplish nothing for the Palestinians. The situation the next day -- in fact, that phrase "the next morning when they wake up," they've used that phrase before.

So I think it was more of the tone. It was very, very tough. And, you know, this is more complicated after what happened with Hamas and Gaza and the recent conflict with Israel, because, don't forget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just in the region recently. And she met with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinians, you know, the -- the legitimate representative let's call it.

And he was really almost a non-person, a non-player in bringing that ceasefire about. He doesn't have a lot of influence in that area. He's losing influence at home. And Hamas is gaining. So, in a way, he needed to score some points. This could do something for him, of course. But realistically, I think that's the question, does it really change anything for the Palestinians?

And that's what people will be looking for. But nuances, this is a very big symbolic step, I would have to say.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens, the reaction from the Israelis, the reaction from the United States Congress, the Obama administration. We just got that reaction thanks to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. All right. We'll continue to watch the breaking news out of the U.N.

We'll standby, get more reaction from Ramallah on the west bank. Palestinians, obviously, very, very excited by this historic moment. Palestine now declared by the United Nations general assembly a non- member observer state of the United Nations. We'll take a quick break.

When we come back, Rick Stengel of "Time" magazine is standing by just back from Cairo where they had, "Time" magazine reporters, an exclusive sit-down, there you see it, with Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Egypt right now, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is being accused of hijacking the constitution. Islamists dominate the drafting -- the council drafting this new constitution. They're calling for a snap vote that's added to the fury of protesters who accused the president, Mohamed Morsi, of a power grab.

The new president is on the cover of new issue of "Time" magazine, which calls him the most important man in the Middle East. "Time" magazine's managing editor, Rick Stengel, was among the journalists who went to Egypt to interview the new Egyptian president. "Time" magazine's Rick Stengel is joining us now.

He's back in New York. Glad you're back. So, what was your impression, Rick? What did you think about President Morsi?

RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME: Well, President Morsi, as you know, Wolf, is a kind of accidental president. He was, in fact, the number two choice of the Muslim Brotherhood. A lot of people thought he would have been better as a chief of staff to the president rather than the president, himself. He's an engineer by training. He has a degree from USC in engineering.

And he seems very much like an engineer. He's very specific about what he talks about. He isn't filled with enthusiasm, although, he seemed to enjoy talking quite a lot to us. And he talked in English almost the whole time.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, he went to college at, what, the University of Southern California. So, his English --

STENGEL: Southern -- yes.

BLITZER: His English, I take it, must be pretty good. STENGEL: It is pretty good. He had a few lapses here and there. He had a long reference to the movie "Planet of the Apes," which he saw as a parable for peace on earth. And, he's very down to earth, Wolf.

BLITZER: What was that parable from "Planet of the Apes?" I know he liked that movie. I read the interview, but tell our viewers what he saw the connection with "Planet of the Apes," the film, and what's going on.

STENGEL: I guess, he saw the persecution of the apes as being akin to the persecution of some people in the Middle East. And he, as we saw in the Gaza situation, he sees himself as a peace broker and a power broker between the enfranchised and the disenfranchised.

BLITZER: You know, his critics now and there are a lot of them on the streets of Tahrir Square, elsewhere in Cairo and around the country, they're accusing him of trying to become another dictator like Mubarak. You asked him about that. What did he say?

STENGEL: Yes. He's being accused of being a second pharaoh which he laughed at. And of course, some of the people in Tahrir Square, as you know, Wolf, were the same people who are protesting a year and a half ago against Mubarak when he was in power. It's a very complex situation.

I think one of the things that people in the west don't realize is that many of these judges, the judges who are basically trying to declare the constituent assembly invalid are judges who are appointed by Mubarak. That is what he says. These are not progressive judges. These are judges who are trying to restore the old order.

So, he says that he is protecting the constitutional process by in effect preventing the judges from having any decisions about what happens in the constituent assembly. As you mentioned in your earlier report, they're trying to speed that up to try to get the constitution made.

BLITZER: You know, the Obama administration has had nice words to say about him. The Israelis have said nice things about him, his role in achieving that Israeli/Hamas ceasefire last week. Did you get the sense that he is, a, pro-U.S., will maintain that strong Egyptian/U.S. connection that developed over the past several decades, and at the same time, will honor his peace treaty with Israel?

STENGEL: You know, it's a very good question, Wolf. And we asked him that, but I thought he kind of skirted that. He's very knowledgeable about the U.S. Two of his children were born in the U.S. I wouldn't say he was an American of file (ph). Obviously, being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood there were things about American life that he didn't like.

But I do think that he sees Egypt and he wants Egypt to have a very prominent role on the world stage. And he sees Egypt as a broker between east and west, as a broker between the Palestinians and Israel. And he wants to maintain that. And he wants to maintain his good offices as a broker. So, I think he will, in some ways, maintain the status quo in the relationship between Israel and Egypt.

BLITZER: Rick Stengel is the managing editor of our sister publication, "Time" magazine. They have an exclusive interview with the new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. There you see him on the cover, "The Most Important Man in the Middle East." Thanks very much for doing this, Rick. Appreciate it.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, we're taking a look. There've been some important new developments in this battle here in Washington over the so-called fiscal cliff, the negotiations right now. What's going on? Stand by. We have new information for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Little loud for that girl. They're celebrating out there in Ramallah on the west bank. That's because Palestine, its status has now been upgraded at the United Nations. It is now officially a non- member observer state of the United Nations. The overwhelming vote in favor in the general assembly 138 delegations voted in favor, nine, including the United States, Israel, Canada, voting against, 41 abstaining.

We're going to Ramallah right at the top of the hour. Our Fred Pleitgen is in the middle of all of those celebrations. We'll have a live report and get reaction from what's going on from the Palestinians, from the Israelis, also from the U.S., a tough speech from Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. You heard it live here in the SITUATION ROOM just moments ago.

She's not happy with what the United Nations general assembly just did. She explained why. Standby, much more coming up on the breaking news involving Palestine.

Other news we're following right now here in Washington. There are 33 days left before the nation could go over what's called the fiscal cliff, an economic crisis triggered by automatic spending cuts and tax hikes. Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other for the stalled negotiations on what to do about it. Here's the White House press secretary, Jay Carney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, in terms of where we are missing specifics is anything specific politically feasible or substantial from the Republican side on revenues. And while there has been progress of sorts on that subject, more needs to be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our Congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan, is here. She's got more on what's going on. You've been on the Hill all day. It's a fast moving story. What's the latest? KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Another day, another twist, Wolf, simply put. Forget any talk of progress, it seems. And it appears both sides are now playing tough. The nice talk has taken a distinctly nasty turn in this battle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the president's point man in the fiscal cliff negotiations, arriving on Capitol Hill for high level talks, most notably with House speaker, John Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Good morning, everyone.

BOLDUAN: How'd it go? Just listen.

BOEHNER: Despite the claims that the president supports a balanced approach, the Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts.

BOLDUAN: A much gloomier assessment from the initial pre-Thanksgiving huddle at the White House. Boehner described his meeting with Geithner as frank and direct. The same way he described his phone call with the president the night before. And he said, for the past two weeks, there has been no substantive progress.

(On camera): Most public statements have been optimistic, confident, hopeful. We're all sensing a very different tone from you right now. Are you walking away from talks? Have things completely broken down, Mr. Speaker?

BOEHNER: No. No. No. No. Stop. I am -- I got to tell you, I'm disappointed in where we are. But going over the fiscal cliff is serious business. And I'm here seriously trying to resolve it. And I would hope the White House would get serious as well.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi quickly dismissed Boehner's remarks as a negotiating maneuver.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I think they'll come around. It's a tactic. It's a tactic.

BOLDUAN: But you hear a strikingly similar message from other top Democratic leaders saying the ball is in the Republicans' court.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We are waiting for some specifics somewhere from our Republican colleagues to show that they're serious on negotiations.

BOLDUAN: As the country fast approaches the fiscal cliff, the two sides are talking past each other. Democrats say they've laid down their marker, hiking tax rates on wealthier Americans, and it's up to Republicans to propose specific spending cuts they want to entitlement programs. However, Republicans say they've offered a concession, putting revenue on the table. And they say it's now up to the president and his fellow Democrats to feel some pain and propose cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Confusing? We asked Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

(On camera): Where's the disconnect?

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't understand his brain. So you should ask him, OK?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: From Capitol Hill through the White House, Democrats say the major hurdle remains, the tax issue, whether Republicans will agree not just to revenue but to raising tax rates. Republicans, as you will not be surprised, have made clear so far that is a no-go. And so what's next? Well, a top Republican aide told me they look forward to hearing from the White House. A top Democratic aide saying, our door is open.

Read that, Wolf, as a standstill.

BLITZER: They've waited a few weeks before all these bad things are about to happen.

BOLDUAN: Let me -- that is absolutely correct. And they need to get moving absolutely if they want to beat their deadline. But you know Washington, you know Capitol Hill. They love a deadline. The real deadline is January 1st or December 31st, the end of the day. And miracles can happen on Capitol Hill when they get very close to a deadline. But still, they need to get moving.

BLITZER: A lot of folks may be canceling their Christmas vacation plans.

BOLDUAN: Me included.

BLITZER: As you know, members of Congress, they like those vacations so much. Let's see what happens.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: That's right.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

As Syria's bloody civil war grinds on, the rebels are gaining some ground. A top Senate Democrat now wants the United States to get more aggressive in supporting them. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rebel fighters clearly gaining some ground in northern Syria. They are virtually at the gate of Damascus some say. And now a key U.S. lawmaker wants the United States to take a little bit more support, a greater sense of support for those rebel opposition forces in Syria. We're talking about Senator Bob Casey of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's chairman of the subcommittee on the Middle East.

He says, "We're now at a point in the Syria crisis where we've got to have a more robust response to what's happening." The Democrat from Pennsylvania just re-elected is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, what do you mean? The Obama administration should take a more robust stance right now.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, Wolf, I think we need a more focused strategy. And it has to be multi-pronged, obviously. The humanitarian assistance we're providing now is substantial. We should continue that and look for even more ways to be helpful. We've got to figure out ways to support the opposition especially when they've made a lot of progress on the ground.

The military challenge right now for the opposition is they're being punished terribly by air power. And that's one of the biggest difficulties that they're going to face. So we've got to, I think, consider a lot of options. I think the Pentagon, we're seeing in the paper today, the administration considering a whole range of options, whether that's supporting what NATO may do with Patriot missile batteries or other strategies, but the pounding that the opposition groups are taking from the air is not sustainable. In fact -- I should say it's inconsistent with having any kind of military progress.

BLITZER: So let's go through some specific points. You tell me if you like these ideas or you don't like these ideas. Should the U.S. join other countries and formally recognize the opposition now as the legitimate government, the legitimate authority of Syria?

CASEY: I think that's premature at this stage. But I think the United States should set forth a series of conditions or hurdles over which the opposition would have to surmount in order to get recognition. But that's --

BLITZER: Like what? What do you have in mind?

CASEY: Well, that there's a clearly defined effort to make sure that in the aftermath of the Assad regime that you have a country and leadership that's dedicated to democratic principles that will recognize human rights and that will be able to build institutions so that you can have a secure and stable government.

So I think that may happen -- or those conditions may be met. But we have to make it very clear what we expect before we provide that recognition.

BLITZER: Would you want the U.S. and its NATO allies to do in Syria what it did in Libya, establish a no-fly zone and make sure that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad doesn't pound the rebel forces?

CASEY: It -- we may be beyond the point where a no-fly zone would make sense. But I'd leave that to the military experts to make an assessment. I do know this. That right now unless some step is taken to degrade the Syrian Air Force's ability to hit these opposition groups directly -- they're bombing hospitals, they're bombing civilians from the air. Unless something is done to stop that, I don't think you're going to see any kind of military progress even though the -- the opposition on the ground have been very effective at dealing with just the ground campaign. But the air campaign is terribly disproportionate in favor of the Assad regime.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain on another breaking news development within the past half hour or so. The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly, the final vote, 138 to 9 in favor of granting Palestine a new status, a non-member observer state status, they're celebrating in Ramallah on the West Bank. The U.S. voted against it together with Israel, Canada, six other delegations.

Should the U.S. Senate take any steps now as a result of this?

CASEY: Well, I think, number one, the United States did the right thing. This development is inconsistent with moving forward on Middle East peace. It will create a terribly difficult impediment to Middle East peace. And we were hoping of course that the Palestinians would do the right thing, sit down and have direct talks not with -- not with conditions and work with Israelis to get an agreement.

This will create difficulties. I think the Senate will speak to this. We're not sure what -- in what form that will be. But I think there's a bipartisan consensus that if the Palestinians take the next step especially which would be to try to amplify this by becoming a member of the International Criminal Court and then direct actions against Israel, that would be -- that would create a reaction in this country which I think would be bipartisan and very specific.

We're going to have a big debate about what to do next, but the most important thing right now is to condemn this action and to indicate very clearly how bad this is and how inconsistent this is with achieving Middle East peace.

The Palestinians know that. A lot of people put them on notice ahead of time. But we've got to stand very strongly in great solidarity with our ally, Israel. And I think a lot of folks in the region do. But this is a setback.

BLITZER: Senator Casey, thanks very much for joining us.

CASEY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: From trying to become the leader of the free world to life after losing, up next, what life is like for former presidential candidates. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You have to wonder how hard it was for Mitt Romney to visit the White House today.

Lisa Sylvester is taking a closer look at former presidential candidates after the campaign spotlight fades.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are a hair away from the highest office of the land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please join me in welcoming the next president of the United States.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States of America, Mitt Romney.

SYLVESTER: Then suddenly it's over. Mitt Romney joins the list of the almost but not quite, along with Senator John McCain, Senator John Kerry, former Vice President Al Gore, former Governor Michael Dukakis and former Senator Bob Dole.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: In Great Britain, if somebody like Mitt Romney, you know, after they lost, they would be able to go into a House of Lords, kind of a wise man council. We don't have that in the United States. When you lose, you lose. And I've read about many presidents who once they've been -- you know, said leave the White House -- sitting presidents who get ejected in particular the amount of depression that hits is just unbelievable.

SYLVESTER: Re-invention can take different forms. Senators McCain and Kerry have their day jobs to return to on Capitol Hill. In fact, Kerry's name is now being floated for secretary of state replacing Hillary Clinton. Vice president Al Gore made global warming his calling winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Gore also promoted sustainable investing and co-founded Current TV.

Bob Dole has been a special council at a top law firm but also took a leap into TV commercials touting the drug Viagra.

BOB DOLE, FORMER SENATOR: Like erectile dysfunction, E.D. Often called impotence.

SYLVESTER: Moving from the political life back to civilian life can be tricky. Take Mitt Romney. He had round-the-clock Secret Service protection, a legion of followers, crowds of thousands chanting his name. And then nothing.

Former Congressman Mark Kennedy, who now heads up George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, offers this sage advice.

MARK KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I think what makes the difference is having a focus. You mentioned Al Gore, he focused on environmental issues. You look at John Kerry who's focused on foreign policy issues. If you pick some piece of your message that did resonate with the American people and after a pause come back and start emphasizing that in important ways, that I think is the path to really helping to make a difference after your run.

SYLVESTER: Another good step? Mending fences with your opponent. Romney seemed to do that with this White House lunch with President Obama. Don't cry too much for Romney, though, because he still has three things -- family, faith and financial security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Yes, and remember, Romney is a multimillionaire several times over. So it's not like he needed the job. Right now Romney is subletting a space his son Tagg's investment firm in Boston. He's not joining the firm but he'll be in the same building so I think it's a safe bet, Wolf, that we will be hearing from him again in some capacity or another -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure we will. And he'll do just fine.

SYLVESTER: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The accused mastermind behind 9/11 potentially closer to coming to this -- the very country he allegedly conspired to attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Max Little says he's found a way to diagnose Parkinson's with a simple phone call.

MAX LITTLE, MATHEMATICIAN: They leave a voice recording, the algorithms would analyze that voice recording, and then a neurologist can get an indication about whether or not they have Parkinson's and the probability associate with that.

GUPTA: How confident can you be that that person has Parkinson's?

LITTLE: To 99 percent.

GUPTA: That's pretty incredible.

Now if he succeeds, he could change the game for Parkinson's patients and for doctors.

On "The Next List."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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BLITZER: Could of the architect of the 9/11 attacks and be more than 160 other terror detainees be moved from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to prisons right here in the United States? There is a new push by an influential senator to shut down the facility at Gitmo.

Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

So what are you seeing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a new report out is bolstering her argument and Senator Dianne Feinstein, the powerful head of the Intelligence Committee, is pushing again for detainees to be transferred from Guantanamo. Republicans say no way. And they point to the case of the highest value detainee of them all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He sits in a cell some 500 miles from American shores. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of 9/11, could be a step closer to residing on the very soil he allegedly conspired to attack. A newly released GAO report says military and federal civilian prisons inside the U.S. would need several operational changes if detainees like Mohammed were to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the U.S.

But to Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the Select Intelligence Committee, the report shows that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security."

The report says there are about 2,000 state, federal and local prisons that could be suitable for those dangerous detainees and six military facilities.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly the most likely place that the prisoners would be sent would be the maximum security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That is set up for maximum security. There has never been any escapes. That's the most likely.

TODD: Some civilian super max facilities inside the U.S. already house well-known convicted terrorists like Khaled Sheikh Mohammed's nephew, 1993 World Trade Center bomber, Ramsey Usef.

(On camera): But Senator Feinstein is running into staunch opposition here on Capitol Hill where Republicans passed a law banning the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo on to U.S. soil.

(Voice-over): GOP Congressman Frank Wolf chairs a subcommittee dealing with funding for the Justice Department.

(On camera): What about someone like with Khaled Sheikh Mohammed at a super max, locked away, isolated, very secure?

REP. FRANK WOLF (R), VIRGINIA: But you would then give him all the constitutional advantages of being an American citizen. You would then have security provisions to bring him here, then you give him years and years of a show trial whereby he could do things and the 9/11 families think this is a very, very bad idea.

TODD (voice-over): Among the changes at U.S. facilities that would need to take place to bring Mohammed and other detainees to America, according to the GAO, the risk to the American public would have to be minimized. Some potential military jails are on bases close to the public. Identities of the personnel working with the prisoners would need to be kept secret. Military prisoners, by law, would have to be kept separate from foreign nationals.

TOOBIN: It seems to me that the likely result is status quo. These people are here -- in Guantanamo now and they'll be here in Guantanamo four years later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And our analyst Jeffrey Toobin says the Obama team has been burned over Gitmo repeatedly after promising early on in the administration to close it down and he doesn't think the president is going to spend any more political capital on this issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The White House spoke out about this, even today, right?

TODD: They did do that. They released a statement today saying that they object to the renewal of the ban on moving prisoners from Guantanamo. But if last year is any indication, it's not going to lead to a veto of the Republican legislation to block those moves. So the Obama administration not willing to go to the map right now to try to get those prisoners moved.

BLITZER: They have -- there's different rules when you're a detainee at Gitmo as opposed if you were brought to Fort Leavenworth in the United States.

TODD: Absolutely. A lot of different rules on the transfer of them. They have to be kept separate from U.S. prisoners. They have to make a lot of accommodations for these people. I don't think they're quite ready to do that yet. That GAO report pretty much states they're not ready to do it yet, maybe they could be later on.

BLITZER: Yes. That presidential promise four years ago during the campaign. He would shut down Gitmo during his first year in office.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: That didn't exactly --

TODD: Tough one to keep.

BLITZER: -- work out for him.

Thanks very much, Brian.

We're going to go back to the West Bank where the celebrations are continuing right now after the historic United Nations vote. You're looking at live pictures from Ramallah on the West Bank. Palestinians celebrating a new status at the U.N.

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