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Obama Meets With Romney; Interview With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

Aired November 29, 2012 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: A historic vote prompts massive celebrations on one side, harsh condemnations on the other. CNN has it covered like no one else can.

Plus, Mitt Romney has lunch at the White House with President Obama. We're getting new details of what they talked about.

Plus this:


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You get fat just walking through this store.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden goes shopping at Costco. And he needed to phone for help.

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

A historic vote at the United Nations in the last hour, the General Assembly voting overwhelmingly to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority. It goes from non-member observer entity to non-member observer state, an implicit recognition of Palestinian statehood. The vote was 138-9, 41 countries abstaining. The U.S. and Israel were among those voting no.


SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why 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.


BLITZER: Secretary of State, by the way, Hillary Clinton also issued a statement calling the vote unfortunate and counterproductive.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is getting reaction in Ramallah on the West Bank.

They were celebrating. We saw the live pictures, Fred. What is going on now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the celebrations are still going on, Wolf. However, they have moved here from central Ramallah from Arafat Square basically to the streets. I'm not sure how much of it you can hear, but there's a lot of cars going past here, there's a lot of honking going on here on the streets and the celebrations are very much ongoing, but they're sort of decentralizing, if you will, on to the streets.

But when the vote came down in the United Nations General Assembly and of course they had the big numbers in favor of the Palestinian U.N. state bid, the place here just absolutely erupted. People were screaming and people were shouting and, obviously, there was a lot of celebratory gunfire that went on for several minutes. The people there that we have been talking to -- and I was actually just down in the crowd just a couple minutes ago -- say they believe this is absolutely significant and they believe that this could be a first step for them to a Palestinian state in the future.

So, certainly, they believe that this is very, very important and by no means counterproductive, Wolf.

BLITZER: The celebrations continue. You're talking at these live pictures, the fireworks going on.

I assume in part what will happen is the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, their status will go up as a result of this in the Palestinian community, maybe at the expense of Hamas, which recently negotiated a cease-fire thanks to Egypt with Israel, but there are political ramifications of this -- of this step within the Palestinian movement.

PLEITGEN: Oh, absolutely huge, absolutely gigantic ramifications. If you will recall in the past couple of weeks also with the armed conflict between Gaza and Israel, between Hamas and Israel going on, it seemed as though Mahmoud Abbas was becoming an insignificant political figure here in the Palestinian territories.

There were a lot of people here also in the West Bank that said Hamas was now essentially the strong kid on the block, the one that stands up to Israel. Mahmoud Abbas was seen as very weak. If you look at the several few days before this U.N. bid in the run-up to all this, his poll numbers have really increased. He has gotten a lot more popular here in the Palestinian territories.

So, certainly, in many ways, this speech that he gave before that vote was a make-or-break moment for Mahmoud Abbas. It seems as though he carried some momentum from that. It's unclear, however, Wolf, how long that is going to last because of course tomorrow people are going to wake up and they're going to notice not much is going to change. No checkpoints are going to go away. The actual status of the Palestinian territories really hasn't changed very much on the ground. That is something that Israel has been saying as well.

They say in the end, this is a piece of paper. However, this is by no means something that can place direct negotiations between the two sides if there is supposed to be a two-state solution. We will wait and see how that carries over, but, certainly, this was very, very important in determining the balance of power within the Palestinian community -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's after 1:00 a.m. out there in Ramallah right now. They're still celebrating. These are live pictures we're showing our viewers.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, Fred, he also stood up to President Obama, who strongly encouraged him not to go forward with this dramatic move at the United Nations General Assembly. I assume standing up to the U.S. will further strengthen President Abbas, at least in the short run, but give me your thought.

PLEITGEN: Yes, so, absolutely. That's something the Palestinian Authority has been saying over the past couple of days again and again. They have been playing on the fact that the U.S. was against this bid actually even going to a vote in the U.N. or the Palestinians putting that to a vote. They kept saying that, yes, the United States is on the wrong side of history. They hope that the United States will -- quote, unquote -- "correct" its position in all of this.

So, certainly, that is something that will have given him another little push in his popularity ratings. But, again, the big question is, how long is that going to last? And, remember, the big problem for a lot of people here is not only the political situation, but it's also the economic situation, especially here in the West Bank, where you effectively have a credit crunch and you have a lot of problem, very high unemployment, and gasoline prices are very high, jobs are very hard to come by.

So certainly that is something where this might be a short-term fix. But in the long run, the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas are deeply unpopular and that is certainly something they're very worried about, especially if you look for the popularity competition that they are no doubt still in with Hamas as well.

So, yes, it's absolutely true. He has been playing towards the United States, he has been calling out the United States, if you will. How much that is going to help him in the long run is very much up for debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Ramallah, where they're celebrating right now, thank you.

The upgraded status for Palestinians at the United Nations was certainly widely expected. Just ahead of the vote, I talked about it with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: There is only one route to Palestinian statehood and that is the route that leads back through a negotiating table, sitting with us, just like I'm sitting with you and discussing the issues that divide us, whether it be security borders, Jerusalem.

BLITZER: This isn't full membership as an independent state. It's what they call a nonmember observer state status. So it's just a step towards full independence. But isn't that what you want -- a two- state solution Israel living along side a new state of Palestine?

OREN: It's exactly what we want is a two-state solution, but a two- state solution that's negotiated. Not a two-state solution where one side declares that it's getting the territory without giving us the peace.

BLITZER: It doesn't necessarily stop negotiations from taking place, does it?

OREN: If the Palestinians decide tomorrow that they want to sit down with the same negotiating table with us, they'll find Israel being an eager and serious partner.

BLITZER: So, practically speaking, it really doesn't do anything other than undermining your desire for these kinds of negotiations.

OREN: Well, it doesn't help any. Put it that way. It's a delay. It's a diversion.

We've been waiting four years for the Palestinians to join us at the negotiating table. They have, so far, refused. So, we're saddened by this. We're disappointed. We're frustrated.

But no, we're still the partner. And if the Palestinians want to come back and negotiate with us seriously, we will reciprocate.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on what's going on, get some more on the U.S. response.

Kate Bolduan is here to pick up this part of the story -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is a major defeat for the United States. And the State Department is condemning the vote in strong terms.

For more on this, let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, over at the State Department.

Jill, what are you hearing there?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, they are condemning it and they have condemned what everybody knew was going to be the vote for quite some time. They're saying it's counterproductive.

And you heard what Susan Rice said and that's was pretty much what this administration has felt. You know, this is a very, very complicated balancing act, too, because on the one hand, they had to stand with Israel. There's no question. But, also, they don't want to weaken Mahmoud Abbas.

Right now in Congress you could have people who are quite angry about this move by Mahmoud Abbas. And don't forget money is involved for the United States. There is, I just checked, $200 million up on Capitol Hill in these support funds that are used for the administration of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, the State Department wants those to be used. That is for administering what is considered a relatively moderate, at least in that context, government. And, so, if some in Congress want to pull that money, it could weaken Mahmoud Abbas. Why is that bad? Because Mahmoud Abbas is much more moderate than Hamas. And Hamas' star has been rising after they rose up, hit Israel and then there was a cease- fire.

But they're still -- you know, they are ascendant and Mahmoud Abbas is descendant. And then the other part of this is the peace process. You know, does it help the peace process, does it hinder the peace process? And you have to say what does Mahmoud Abbas really want to do? He says he wants to negotiate, but does that mean negotiating without preconditions or will he take a harder line on this?

There are a lot of really -- Wolf, I think -- well, you both understand the subtleties of all of this. It's really quite balanced. In the long run, it might not be bad for the United States to have Mahmoud Abbas win this, even though, politically, you know, P.R.-wise, it looks terrible to have your friends and a lot of countries in the world totally against you.

BOLDUAN: Jill Dougherty at the State Department for us this evening, a lot of moving parts and a lot going on with this. Jill Dougherty, thanks so much.

Still ahead, another big story we're following, the fiscal cliff talks. President Obama today drew a line in the sand. So what does it mean for the future of negotiations?

Also, we talked to the New York City police officer whose private act of kindness has gone viral.


BLITZER: The positions are getting firmer, the rhetoric is getting sharper, the fiscal cliff is getting closer each day. Drastic mandatory tax hikes and spending cuts will kick in with the new year, unless, unless the White House and House Republicans can reach a debt reduction deal.

But with developments in just the past 24 hours, that deal appears to be as far out of reach as ever.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching what's going on.

Jessica, what is the latest you're picking up there?


Well, now it's gone beyond just rhetoric and there are some actual details. The very latest is that Secretary Geithner, the treasury secretary, was on the Hill today and he made a proposal to House Republicans, laid out an offer from the White House and from Democrats that would include $1.6 trillion in tax hikes. That was a surprise to Republicans.

They say this number was greater than they ever expected to get from the secretary. The plan also included about $400 billion in Medicare savings that would be spelled out next year without any detail this year, also frustrating to some Republicans, and about $50 billion in stimulus spending. All of this has Republicans crying foul.


YELLIN (voice-over): They're starting to sound dug-in on Capitol Hill.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: All eyes are on the White House. The country doesn't need a victory lap. It needs leadership.

YELLIN: At the White House.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is available not just here, but to everyone in the world who has an Internet connection. And I know things are done the old-fashioned way sometimes on Capitol Hill, but I believe they have electricity and Internet connections and they can get this.

YELLIN: Speaker John Boehner and President Obama spoke for almost half-an-hour Wednesday evening.

BOEHNER: Well, we had a very nice conversation last night. It was direct and straightforward.

YELLIN: CNN has learned the president told the speaker there's no deal unless Republicans agree to let the tax rates go back up for families who earn more than $250,000 a year, what the president campaigned on. But in recent days, there's been talk of getting revenue by capping deductions or bringing in more money through tax reform.

It's clear for the White House, those proposals wouldn't be enough. It has to be tax rates for the wealthiest.

Speaking to Wolf Blitzer, Goldman Sachs CEO is the latest business leader to say that should not stand in the way of a deal.

LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: I think if that's what it took to make the math work, when you look at the entitlement side and when you look at the revenue side, I wouldn't preclude that.

YELLIN: But Speaker Boehner is pushing back, saying the real debate shouldn't be about taxes. It should be about cutting spending.

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

YELLIN: But wait, says the White House. And they point to cuts proposed in their last budget.

CARNEY: And where are your spending cut proposals? You know, it must be a rhetorical questions because those who ask it know that we have put forward very specific spending cut proposals.


YELLIN: Wolf, if this all sounds a bit familiar from the debt ceiling summer, well, this also is just an opening gambit.

Expect many round of offers and counteroffers. And this evening the White House now has a statement in response to the Republicans' basic rejection or expression of displeasure with the offer from Secretary Geithner. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest says at the White House: "The only thing preventing the U.S. from reaching a deal that averts the fiscal cliff and avoids a tax hike on 98 percent of Americans is the refusal of congressional Republicans to ask the very wealthiest individuals to pay higher tax rates."

This is a conversation we're going to be having for a few weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A few weeks to go, not much time at all. Jessica Yellin, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: In just a few minutes, we will talk to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont about the fiscal cliff talks and what Democrats should give up in order to make a deal.

But first in THE SITUATION ROOM, former President George H.W. Bush in the hospital. We have new information on his health.



BOLDUAN: Some very good news for us. All of us here will be welcoming a new CNN president in the new year.

Jeff Zucker has been tapped to become the next president of CNN Worldwide. Zucker is a longtime television executive who made his name steering NBC's "Today Show" to the top of the ratings. He went on to run the entire network. Zucker says he has news in his veins and he's excited to return to journalism.

And we, you will agree, are excited to be welcoming him.

BLITZER: He will be warmly welcomed here in THE SITUATION ROOM whenever he wants to come.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looking forward to it. Thanks very much for that.


BLITZER: So, where should Democrats compromise to keep the country from falling off the fiscal cliff? Should it be Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security? We are going to talk about it with Senator Bernie Sanders.

Stand by.


BLITZER: We're only 33 days away from the so-called fiscal cliff, a drastic combination of mandatory spending cuts, tax hikes that could plunge the U.S. back into a recession.

BOLDUAN: And there's only one way to avoid it. House Republicans and President Obama and his fellow Democrats need to strike a deal before the end of the year on reducing the national debt to avoid that fiscal cliff.

Republican aides describe the tentative White House proposal this way: $1.6 trillion in revenue presented by Secretary Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in meetings today, $50 billion in stimulus in 2013 alone, $400 billion in Medicare and other entitlement savings, a payroll tax cut extension, and a permanent increase in the debt limit.

BLITZER: So, let's get more on the standoff right now.

Joining us, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. An independent, he caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator, first of all, congratulations on your reelection. Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Republicans say, you know what, they will be flexible, but the Democrats have to be flexible, too, especially when it comes to entitlement spending, Medicare, Medicaid, maybe even Social Security reform. Are you open to any of that?

SANDERS: First of all, when Republicans talk about being flexible, we have not heard one definitive word as to what they mean.

Second of all, our Republican friends have got to understand that this issue of the fiscal cliff was debated during the election. And you know what? Mitt Romney lost. Obama won.

The American people are very clear that at a time when the middle class is disappearing and the people on top are doing phenomenally well -- as Warren Buffett reminds us, their effective tax rate is quite low -- you know what the American people have said? The wealthy are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes.

And I am happy to report to you what you already know, is that more and more Republicans are catching on to that fact.

BLITZER: But the Republicans did maintain a significant majority in the House of Representatives, and it takes two to tango.

SANDERS: Absolutely. But I think the Republicans are also good politicians.

They have seen the polls, they have seen the election results, and more and more Republicans have been saying, you know what, we're going to have to ask our wealthy friends to start paying their fair share of taxes, do what we did in the Senate, which is protect the bottom 98 percent.



BLITZER: But you're not open to any cuts in entitlement spending?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, Social Security, as I think most Americans know, has nothing to do with deficit reduction.

BLITZER: What about Medicare and Medicaid?

SANDERS: What you can do with Medicaid, is you can eliminate a lot of the waste in those programs.

For example, right now under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, we can't negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. We can save significant sums of money doing that. There are other ways that you can save money in Medicare and Medicaid.

But will I vote in the middle of this terrible recession to cut benefits for the elderly or low-income people? I personally will not.

BOLDUAN: Well, and Republicans, they're telling me that they are offering a concession. They're talking revenue. John Boehner came out right after the election and said that he's putting revenue on the table. And what Republicans say what they're waiting for...

SANDERS: What do you mean?

BOLDUAN: Republicans say what they're waiting for is for Democrats to talk about what entitlements they're ready to move on.

SANDERS: What does the word "revenue" mean?

BLITZER: Capping deductions for rich people, how about that?

SANDERS: How much money are they going to get? We're talking right now. Let's...

BLITZER: You've got to start some place.

SANDERS: Just because you say revenue doesn't mean much. How much are we talking about? That's not so specific.

BOLDUAN: On the issue of entitlements, though, you know...

SANDERS: By entitlements you mean -- I don't like the word...

BOLDUAN: Let's say Medicare and Medicaid. By -- talking Medicare and Medicaid, at some point it's going to come down to we're either going over the fiscal cliff or we're going to have to make a deal. Are you willing -- are you willing to go over the fiscal cliff or not have changes to Medicare and Medicaid?

SANDERS: First of all, I think the American people are very clear. Every single poll that I have seen says do not cut Social Security. Do not cut Medicare. Do not cut Medicaid. Do away with corporate loopholes and ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes. Take a hard look at excessive military spending.

And, by the way, let's not forget, we have already in the last three years cut approximately $1.5 trillion in programs. This is not a hard -- this is not a fiscal debate. This is a political debate. CEOs from Wall Street, big money interests are there to protect their interests. They could care less about working-class people. Some of us want to defend the middle class.

BLITZER: And, you know if nothing is done by Congress between now and the end of December, everyone's taxes -- the middle-class families in Vermont, everyone's taxes...

SANDERS: That's right.

BLITZER: ... are going to go up.

SANDERS: And that's why we've got to do something. And that's why the Republicans have got to do exactly what we did in the Senate, which is say we're going to protect the bottom 98 percent of the American people. No tax increases at all. We're going to continue the Bush tax breaks. But the wealthiest 2 percent, are, in fact, going to have to help us deal with the deficit.

BOLDUAN: As always, Senator, you make your case very passionately.

But I do want to play you some sound, a bit of sound from the White House senior adviser, David Plouffe, in talking about how to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis.

Listen to this.


DAVID PLOUFFE, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: We also need to engage in entitlement reform. You know, Medicare, Medicare, carefully, these are chief drivers of our deficit. We made a lot of progress with Obama care. There's a lot more to do.


BOLDUAN: So he says we need to engage. The White House is acknowledging this. Do you not go along with...

SANDERS: Well, let's get...

BOLDUAN: ... the president?

SANDERS: ... if they are talk -- well, yes, sometimes I do disagree with the president.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that is true.

SANDERS: But if we are talking about making Medicare more efficient, lowering the cost of prescription drugs to Medicare, that's a reform, though, I certainly will go along with. There are other reforms that we could do.

BLITZER: How about this reform, raising the retire -- the eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, over several years?


BLITZER: Why not?

SANDERS: Why not?

Because there are working people out there who have worked 30, 40, 50 years. They're in construction. They're waiters. They're waitresses. These are people who have worked their entire lives. They're exhausted. And they should not be asked to continue working to 67 before they get their health care.

BLITZER: Because even though people are living much longer now than they were in the '60s, when that 65-year limit came into effect.

SANDERS: We're -- that's another discussion. Not quite accurate. If you exclude the fact -- if you're looking at people who have reached the age of 65, unfortunately, in this country, our life expectancy hasn't increased all that much.

BOLDUAN: We interviewed the CEO of Goldman Sachs yesterday.

Let's play...

SANDERS: Ah, yes.

BLITZER: Lloyd Blankfein.

BOLDUAN: Lloyd Blankfein. You know him very well.

Let's play a bit of what he told us and I want to get your reaction.


LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: I think if people get -- as soon as people leave their ideological perch and realize that we have to have a reasonable compromise, I think the better it is for everybody.


SANDERS: Yes, and by a reasonable compromise, what he means is cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And I want to tell you something...

BLITZER: Well, you know, he also said...

BOLDUAN: He also talked about...

BLITZER: ... raising taxes...

BOLDUAN: ... raising taxes...

BLITZER: ... on rich people.

SANDERS: I know. I know. I know.

All right. But here you've got a guy from Wall Street who's making 10, $20 million a year, worth a whole lot of money, who, along with his other CEO friends, helped plunge this country into the worst recession since the 1930s, got a huge bailout. They got hundreds of billions of dollars from the Fed in zero interest loans, billions of dollars from the taxpayers in this country as their bailout.

BLITZER: I don't remember if Goldman Sachs got anything.

SANDERS: Yes, they did. They did. Believe me, they did.

BOLDUAN: But President...

SANDERS: Yes, they did.

BOLDUAN: ... Obama is the one who invited him to the White House...

SANDERS: Well, that's fine. I don't want to be a problem. But I do have a problem with wealthy CEOs from Wall Street who caused the recession now coming to Washington and saying, if you're old, if you're sick or if you're poor, we're going to cut your benefits. I, frankly, think that's obscene. We don't need advice from the people who helped cause this recession through their greed and illegal behavior. BLITZER: Next time you come on the show, Senator, you've got to tell us how you really feel.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

SANDERS: All right, I will.

BLITZER: Don't hold back.

SANDERS: I won't.

BLITZER: Don't be so diplomatic.

SANDERS: I was a little hesitant tonight.

BLITZER: I know.

BOLDUAN: You need to come out of your shell.

SANDERS: All right.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Senator.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: An Israeli leader made a final visit to the Pentagon today. We're taking you there.

Plus, new details of what president Obama and Mitt Romney talked about over their White House lunch. We're taking you inside the meeting between former rivals and, Kate, we know what they actually had for lunch.


BLITZER: It's hardly the White House arrival that Mitt Romney once envisioned.

BOLDUAN: Instead of visiting as president-elect, he came to have lunch today with the incumbent president, who defeated him just three short weeks ago.

BLITZER: Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta is here. He's got details of the meeting, the lunch over at the White House. What are you learning? What happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is not the way Mitt Romney saw himself going to the White House, but it was a friendly encounter, according to aides to the former GOP nominee.

But Mitt Romney slipped in and -- in and out of Washington so quickly and so quietly it was a sign that, yes, he was to accept the president's offer to show some post-election bipartisanship, but perhaps not quite that ready to jump back on the national stage. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It seems the most unexpected moment of the day came as Mitt Romney's vehicle arrived at the White House. As a window was rolled down, an unknown man approached the vehicle and started shouting...


ACOSTA: ... until he was whisked away by the Secret Service. Still, the ever punctual Romney was right on time for his private lunch with the president, and by private, the White House means just that, no reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any chance your briefing might be interrupted by a joint appearance?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you and them together. We've seen other presidents and those that they've defeated in presidential election contests together. Why not something for the historical record visually or...

CARNEY: I think there is some chance we'll release a photograph which will go into the historical record. I think it's a private lunch, and we'll -- we're going to leave it at that.

ACOSTA: The White House released this photo and put out a brief statement on the lunch, saying, "The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership and the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future."

This kind of post-election bipartisanship is nothing new. Four years ago it was then-President-elect Obama and John McCain.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I think that sends a great message to the American people. These two men were involved in a very bitter election to be president of the United States. I think it speaks well of both of them that they will sit down and have lunch together.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the former GOP nominee met with his one-time running mate, Paul Ryan, at this D.C. Hotel, where an aide to the Wisconsin congressman says, "He had a constructive and positive conversation with Mitt Romney this morning. In addition to sharing updates from their families and reflections from the campaign, their forward-looking conversation focused on resolving the critical fiscal and economic challenges ahead." Translation: fiscal cliff.

It's a challenge Romney might have faced, had he won. As one of his strategists said on CBS, mistakes were made.

STUART STEVENS, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: I think we should have done a better job reaching out to women voters. The governor has a great record on women's issues. We should have done a better job articulating that record. We should have done a better job reaching out to Hispanic voters.

ACOSTA: As workers were busy building the seating that will be used in President Obama's next inaugural, Romney slipped out a side entrance of the White House, leaving the capital's focus squarely on the man who won.


ACOSTA: As for that incident that occurred as Romney arrived at the White House, the Secret Service did arrest a man for assault on a police officer. A spokesman says he was combative with uniformed Secret Service agents and interfered with Romney's motorcade, which apparently was just a couple of vehicles.

But we can say that that White House statement also mentioned that, should the occasion arise, they have pledged to reach out to one another in the future. But if you look at that statement and the body language today and the way that Mitt Romney sort of stayed out of the public view for much of what happened today, you know, that statement might be translated into "call me, maybe."

BLITZER: What did they have? Chicken salad? Chili? What'd they have?

ACOSTA: Turkey chili. Apparently, white turkey chili. So perhaps some White House leftovers. We're not sure. But -- from Thanksgiving. I know we made at my house.

BOLDUAN: Several times. Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Israel's retiring defense minister Ehud Barak was honored at the Pentagon today. There was also plenty of time for some serious talk about Iran. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has details on this meeting, as well as more from there.

Barbara, is Israel happy with the current state of sanctions against Iran?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a bit of a difference of opinion. You know, Ehud Barak, as he prepares to leave public life, came here to the Pentagon for one of his last meetings, and that very question of Iran, as always with him, pretty much was front and center.

He's made predictions before, but, again, today he said that he thought, within the next year, Iran could make enough progress in its nuclear programs, its engineering, its design work, burying its facilities underground that Israel could not get to those, and that that might be the real crossing point at which something had to be done.

He's talked about it before, but, again, he says he thinks it could happen in the next year. And he specifically said, Kate, he doesn't think sanctions at the end of the day will be the answer. Have a listen.


EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: I don't believe that these kind of sanctions will bring the ayatollahs into a moment of truth, where they sit around the table, look in each other's eyes and decide that the game is over. They cannot stand it anymore. They're going to give up their nuclear intentions.


STARR: You know, a little bit of humor from the defense minister there. But, actually, he is completely serious. It is a point of contention between the U.S. and the Israelis. The Israelis are pretty skeptical with sanctions, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Not -- not too surprised on that one. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thanks so much, Barbara.

BLITZER: Captured on camera. Police officer's act of kindness goes viral. We're going to talk to him about the overwhelming reaction.


BLITZER: A private act of kindness has gone public in a big way thanks to a viral photo of a New York City police officer giving a pair of boots to a man who had no shoes, and now we know who that officer is.

CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She has details.

Mary, tell our viewers what you're finding out.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Officer Lawrence DePrimo, on the force for two years, says he only shared his act of kindness with his mother earlier this month and thought nothing of it.

So, he was stunned when a friend texted him this week to not only tell him about the photograph, but that it went viral. He calls it humbling.


SNOW (voice-over): Had it not been for a tourist from Arizona who snapped this photo with her cell phone, Officer Lawrence DePrimo's act of kindness, giving boots to a homeless man, may have gone unnoticed. Tourist Jennifer Foster e-mailed the photo to the NYPD. They posted it to their Facebook page. Tens of thousands of comments followed.

Like this one: "In a time when our hearts are in despair and we are bombarded with bad news, it is the human spirit and acts of kindness who really define who we are. God bless."

(on camera) Are you surprised by all the attention?

OFFICER LARRY DEPRIMO, NYPD: Absolutely. I didn't know this was going to be such a big deal.

SNOW (voice-over): The 25-year-old officer was on patrol in Times Square on a cold night two weeks ago when he saw the homeless man with bare feet.

DEPRIMO: You could see the blisters about the size of my hand, and my heart just went out to this man. I didn't think anything of it. I just went towards him, asked him if he wanted a pair of socks. And he said, no, but thank you and God bless you for asking. And that I found amazing, because you know, here he doesn't even have a pair of socks to his name, and he has the heart to say God bless me. It was absolutely -- it was just inspiring.

SNOW: Officer DePrimo went to this Sketchers to get the man boots and had to run back out to ask him his size. It was a 12.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He offered him this one.

SNOW: Manager Jose Cano offered his employee discount to the officer.

JOSE CANO, ASSISTANT MANAGER OF SKETCHERS: We realize, you know, just a cop on the beat, you know. He's just passing by. And it just -- it came natural for us to want to help, maybe make the best out of the situation.

SNOW: Officer DePrimo never found out the name of the man he helped, but he remembers his reaction.

DEPRIMO: He looked me right in the face, and the smile just went from ear to ear. And again, he said God bless me and be safe. I just couldn't believe it was coming out of his mouth. You know, it's just -- for such a small gesture, you know, he was so appreciative.

SNOW: The officer says he keeps the receipt in his bulletproof vest as a reminder of those less fortunate.

(on camera) With all of the tension, what do you hope comes out of this?

DEPRIMO: If it pushes someone else to go out and do another kind act towards another person, then you know, I'm going sleep well tonight. You know, it's actually amazing to me.


SNOW: Very humbled police officer. And Officer DePrimo says before he left the man, he offered him a cup of coffee. He says the man thanked him, but told him he had already done enough.

BLITZER: I think he's a great, great guy, and he's inspired me. I'm sure he's inspired, Kate, a lot of our viewers, especially this time of the year. Mary, thank you so much for sharing that story with us.

BOLDUAN: What a sweet man. BLITZER: Great police officer. Twenty-five years old and he's done some amazing work. He is a real hero.

BOLDUAN: And we don't talk about those random acts of kindness enough. So that's very -- that's really a great story.

Back to other news we're covering, the fiscal cliff and the situation in the Middle East. Two major stories that Erin Burnett is "OUTFRONT" on tonight. Erin is joining us now from New York. Erin, give us a preview.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Kate, we're going to be talking with the vice prime minister of Israel, Silvan Shalom. He's going to be our guest. We'll talk about this vote. When you lose something 138-9, that's usually called a shellacking. The U.S. and Israel, along with seven other countries, the only ones to say -- not support the Palestinian bid for statehood. This is a big move and a big night tonight. We're going to be talking about that with the vice prime minister of Israel.

Plus, we're going to get the Democratic and the Republican side on the fiscal cliff. Some breaking news now on what the White House, Kate, actually went out and asked for and whether the Republicans are going to give it to them at all. It was a pretty, actually, terrible day for the fiscal cliff. So we're going to talk about that with Peter Defazio and Kevin Yoder, the D and R.

Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's Erin Burnett. We'll be watching you out front, top of the hour. Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Up next, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, goes shopping and eating.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You get fat just walking through this store.


BLITZER: The VP visited Costco, but he needed some help with his shopping list. Jeanne Moos shows us why.


BOLDUAN: That is Bo Obama, the nation's first dog, inspecting the White House Christmas decorations. He sure will have a lot of company in the coming weeks. Ninety thousand people are expected to visit the White House this holiday season.

That song always makes me laugh. Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. I don't know what we're waiting for. Anyway, a lot of parties at the White House. BLITZER: All right. He's a heartbeat away from the presidency, but today, he got out of the office. The vice president, Joe Biden, took a field trip to the grand opening of a Costco's first store here in the nation's capital. And by the looks of things, he came ready to shop. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Say it ain't so, Joe. The vice president invades Costco.

BIDEN: Are we going to cut through the liquor section?

MOOS: Forget driving a sleigh. Joe Biden didn't even drive his own cart. A Costco employee seemed thrilled to do the honors. His consumer confidence was high as the VP flashed his Costco card. Instead of bells, Joe Biden he had the press pack in tow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys, if you'll keep walk backwards, please. You guys, go to the bakery section, please.

MOOS: Imagine shopping for a watch with the press watching from behind every counter as Vice President Biden called his daughter.

BIDEN: Getting some guidance.

MOOS: He looked at a $1,200 watch, but we don't know if he bought any watches. We do know what he ate. Every free sample in sight in the bakery section, where he bought an apple pie.

(on camera) It's a dilemma. Do you want to shake hands or eat?


MOOS (voice-over): He shook and ate and put a package of crackers in his cart. Costco cost the vice president a lot of calories.

BIDEN: You get fat just walking through this store.

MOOS: Vice President Biden came to promote extending middle class tax cuts. It probably didn't hurt that the cofounder of Costco was a big Obama contributor.

Before he left, the V.P. used the phone of his cart driver, Ivy Stewart (ph), to call her grandmother and leave a message. Ivy was so moved by the whole experience, she wiped away tears.

BIDEN: Thanks for shopping with me, and I know you won't tell anybody what I bought for Christmas.

MOOS: Here's a hint from Nat King Cole's classic.

NAT KING COLE, SINGER (singing): Chestnuts roasting...

MOOS (singing): ... on the Duraflame. (speaking) The "Huffington Post" held a caption contest for Joe Biden's checkout photo. Our favorite, "Stopped by for some fire logs. Went home with a flat screen TV." Thirty-two inches.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


BOLDUAN: We should take cameras around when you do your holiday shopping.

BLITZER: I like going to Costco.

BOLDUAN: You do like Costco.

BLITZER: Free food. You get a lot of stuff.

BOLDUAN: Way too many products for me. I can't do it.

BLITZER: Buy in bulk.

BOLDUAN: Buy in bulk. That's absolutely right.

Big news for you. This just in to CNN. The Missouri Lottery will announce the winners of last night's record $578.5 million jackpot tomorrow. Those winners will be splitting the jackpot with a ticketholder in Arizona. That person has not yet come forward. Last night's prize is the largest in Powerball history and yes, Wolf Blitzer flew to Missouri overnight.

BLITZER: I didn't. I wish I would have. But I was there at 10:59 last night. I looked at my, you know, little numbers.

BOLDUAN: And then you wiped away a tear.

BLITZER: Not one.

BOLDUAN: You read them to me several times.

BLITZER: I was hoping I would at least get something. Five dollars.

BOLDUAN: It's OK. I think we're OK.

BLITZER: All right. Here's important news. I don't know if all of you remember, I'm going to be back here in one hour, filling in for Anderson Cooper on "AC 360." Don't forget. Watch us then.

Also, you can also follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. I'm @WolfBlitzer.

BOLDUAN: And I am @KateBolduan. BLITZER: I'm going to follow you.

BOLDUAN: You already do.

BLITZER: You're tweeting about it. I know you are.

BOLDUAN: That's OK. You tweet way more than I.

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.