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THE SITUATION ROOM

Congress Leaves Town; Polls: Voters Want Clinton in 2016; Fallout from Royal Prank Call in Britain; As Fiscal Cliff Gets Nearer, GOP Goes Home; Should GOP Declare Victory on Taxes?; "I Will Not Play That Game"; Asylum for Syria's Al Assad?; Study: Aspirin Coating May Reduce Benefits; Emergency Landing Spurs Questions about Jetliner

Aired December 5, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Congress takes a chance of looking bad by leaving town before making a deal on the fiscal cliff. What's going on?

If you take an aspirin to prevent heart trouble, check the label. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he tells us what a new study says about the effects of coated tablets.

We will also hear what happened during an in-flight emergency during one of the world's newest high-tech planes.

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

With just 27 days to go until all of us are hit with tax increases and federal spending takes an across-the-board a cut of some $55 billion, the people who have it in their power to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff aren't negotiating, they're not even debating right now, so many of them simply leaving town.

But there's more going on than meets the eye. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She has the very latest.

Dana, what is going on?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's so much political theater around here right now, you could sell tickets. One of today's acts was the House leaving.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Lawmakers streaming out of the Capitol Hill, racing to their cars to get to the airport and go home. It's a scene you usually see on a Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, not Wednesday at noon.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning.

BASH: House Republican leaders told members they're free to leave, because they have nothing to vote on.

(on camera): I understand that you all are saying that there's just no legislation to put on the floor. But when it comes to just pure optics of the House leaving with the fiscal cliff right in front of us...

BOEHNER: I will be here and I will be available at any moment to sit down with the president to get serious about solving this problem.

BASH (voice-over): In fact, sending lawmakers home is a way for House Republicans to illustrate their current message. Your move, Mr. President.

BOEHNER: We need a response from the White House. We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves.

BASH: House Speaker John Boehner made a point of expressing dismay that the president still hasn't responded two days after the Republicans sent him a fiscal cliff counteroffer.

BOEHNER: If the president doesn't agree with our proposal and our outline, I think he's got an obligation to send one to the Congress and a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress.

BASH: By trying to keep GOP frustration focused on the president, Boehner appears to be keeping conservative lawmakers off his own back for now.

(on camera): What's mood inside the conference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very united, very supportive with the speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're united.

BASH (voice-over): Multiple sources tell CNN in a private meeting with House Republicans, Boehner got no blowback for proposing $800 billion in tax revenue, despite a very real backlash from conservative groups outside Congress.

(on camera): Any complaints about this new revenue in the counterproposal?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: I didn't hear anything.

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY JR. (R), LOUISIANA: The speaker has full support of the conference to move forward and to get something done for the American people.

BASH (voice-over): So far, rank and time Republicans are allowing Boehner to play out this carefully choreographed high-stakes showdown, trying to look reasonable while the president is intransigent, especially since Republicans privately admit they have been losing the message war to the White House on protecting the wealthy.

BOEHNER: The revenues we're putting on the table are going to come from, guess who, the rich. There are ways to limit deductions, close loopholes and have the same people pay more of their money to the federal government without raising tax rates, which we believe will harm our economy. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But, Wolf, one prominent conservative in the Senate is breaking ranks with his party over the whole idea of raising tax rates for the wealthy. Tom Coburn, the Republican from Oklahoma, he told MSNBC today he would be OK with doing what the president wants, raising taxes on the wealthy, as long as it is coupled with entitlement reform and spending cuts.

The reason we're told is because he believes at this point it's better to do that to get what he and other Republicans want long term, which is a fundamental overhaul of the tax code, and that perhaps they can get that and better chance getting that if they give the president what he wants now.

You remember, Coburn was among the first Republicans a couple years ago to say it was OK to raise revenue as part of deficit reduction. Now he appears to be the first Senate Republican to say he would be OK with raising rates as long as it's part of that broader package I described.

BLITZER: As far as we know right now, a meeting or a phone call between John Boehner and President Obama, is that at all in the works?

BASH: As far as we know, no. Whether it's in the works, we could only hope, but at this point we do not have any indication that it is scheduled right now. Never mind the principals. We don't have any word that there has been communications between their staffs at all. What's playing out of the public still appears to be playing out in private, which is not a lot.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the members are going home for a nice long weekend. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

For his part, President Obama isn't negotiating either, as we just heard. He's using events like today's meeting with business leaders to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to raise the tax rates on the rich right now as a down payment on a larger deal to come later as far as taxes are concerned and Medicare is concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's allow higher rates to go up for the top 2 percent. That includes all of you, yes, but not in any way that's going to affect your spending, your lifestyles or the economy in any significant way.

Let's make sure that 98 percent of Americans don't see a single dime in tax increases next year, 97 percent of small businesses don't see a single dime an increase in taxes next year. And by doing that alone, we raise almost a trillion dollars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, right now. The president also had a specific warning for members of Congress, the Republicans on the issue of raising the debt ceiling. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes, and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation, which, by the way, we have never done in our history, until we did it last year, I will not play that game, because we have got to break that habit before it starts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Easy to say I will not play that game, but if the Republican majority in the House says they're not voting to raise the debt ceiling, he says, I won't play that game, what is he going to do?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The president has a lot of leverage here, Wolf.

Look, he just won this election. It's not like the debt ceiling debacle in 2011 went over well with the American public. The American public was disgusted by it. It was brinksmanship that people do not like to see in a recession. They thought it endangered the economy, and Republicans also know that if you look at the polls -- and they look at the polls -- that the public would blame them if we go over the fiscal cliff by a 2-1 margin.

So I would say that, right now -- and I think even Republicans would stipulate this, Wolf -- the president has the leverage here. I mean, Republicans also know that if they were to go over the cliff that the tax cuts on the wealthy would increase. You could come back and undue the tax cuts on the middle class expiring.

But the president's in a pretty good bargaining position here, which is why you see him sort of hold firm.

BLITZER: What leverage do the Republicans have?

BORGER: Well, look, I think it -- they understand that for some liberals going over the cliff is OK, because liberals will say, oh, you know what, we get those defense cuts we wouldn't get otherwise, and they believe that the public would not like to see that.

And I think at some point, Wolf, you have to say, I don't know when it is, but at some point the president and his people as Dana Bash was just talking about need to get to the negotiating table. Let's be fair to the House speaker. He put a plan on the table that included revenues, substantial revenues, not raising the rates.

I mean, that's the big problem. But he did do that. Lots of outside conservative groups are now railing against him. But he did put something on the table that was a serious plan, and the White House is not dealing with him on it. So the president has leverage, but at a certain point they all have to behave like grownups, you would think. BLITZER: The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich knows something about going eyeball to eyeball with a Democratic president. That happened back in the '90s with Bill Clinton. Listen to what he says about the fiscal cliff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that no deal is better than a bad deal. I think going off this cliff is less dangerous than letting things build up for a year or two years to have an even bigger cliff.

I think that the president clearly has staked out a position of non- seriousness, and I think it's very difficult for the House Republicans right now to find any practical way to get his attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's saying go over the cliff rather than accept what the president wants right now.

BORGER: Yes. I don't need to remind you that this is the House speaker who shut down the government.

BLITZER: Twice.

BORGER: Right. And that didn't work so well for the Republicans. Going over the cliff is something I don't think they want to do, as I was saying earlier.

Some liberals may want to do it. As I keep saying, Wolf, the irony to me here is that the larger issues are things they really understand how to resolve, if you look at all their proposals. They just can't get there, because they can't agree on this revenue issue.

Where does the revenue come from? Do you raise the rates on the wealthy? If you do, how much? And that's actually in the whole realm of things a sticking point that one would presume if they actually got in a room, they could get over.

And don't forget, Wolf, these people invented the fiscal cliff. They invented it, brought us to the fiscal cliff because they knew when they were up against it, that they might be forced to act. The thought now that they would actually push the cliff off again is ridiculous.

BLITZER: We will see what happens, if the ridiculous happens. All right, thank you, Gloria.

BORGER: It might.

BLITZER: By the way, we're going to have a major debate later this hour. A pair of prominent House members, they will exchange their views on how to avoid the fiscal cliff, whether Republicans should declare they have already won, what's going on. Stand by, big debate coming up. Also ahead, a radio station prank turns into an international embarrassment. You're about to hear what happened when royal impersonators called the hospital where Prince William's pregnant wife, Catherine, is staying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, we're only 1,433 days away from the next presidential election. But, for pollsters, a lot of politicians out there, this isn't to soon to be thinking ahead.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here. He's got some new numbers, numbers that are getting lots of attention, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're getting lots of attention because they're about Hillary Clinton.

In another sign that Potomac fever has no cure, Washington is already buzzing with talk of 2016, just as voters are starting to put the last election behind them. And while some potential candidates are doing little to hide their intentions, one big political star is playing hide and seek.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It could be hers for the taking, at least that's what a new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll finds a healthy 57 percent of Americans would support a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016. And while men are somewhat lukewarm about the prospect, women are fired up, with 66 percent saying, run, Hillary, run.

Despite her many denials that she's in it to win it.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm flattered, I'm honored, that is not in the future for me.

ACOSTA: Supporters are still showering the secretary of state with praise as she found last weekend at a conference on U.S.-Israeli issues.

CLINTON: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the State Department.

ACOSTA: That included this tribute video.

CLINTON: I am somewhat overwhelmed, but I'm obviously thinking I should sit down. I prepared some remarks for tonight, but then I thought maybe we could just watch that video a few more times.

ACOSTA: Until Clinton decides her future, it's widely believed she freezes a potential Democratic field that could include Vice President Joe Biden.

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen has her own prediction.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think she's going to run for president, but we're wasting our time speculating about it, she marches to her own drummer. She's not going to be rushed.

ACOSTA (on camera): Have you talked to her at all about this? Do you know if she's talked to political advisers about this?

ROSEN: Well, I have talked to her about it, and I've been shut down.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Clinton would have company.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Do you know any good diners in New Hampshire or Iowa?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I will not stand by and watch the people of South Carolina ignored.

ACOSTA: All kidding aside, former GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio already appear to be hitting on themes that seem to distance themselves from Mitt Romney's toxic comments on people who receive government assistance.

RYAN: Both parties tend to divide Americans into our voters and their voters. Let's be really clear: Republicans must steer far clear of that trap.

RUBIO: I've heard it suggested that the problem is that the American people have changed. That too many people want things from government. But I'm still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people, they just want what my parents had -- a chance.

ACOSTA: Republican strategists say their candidacies could help hit the GOP reset button and give Hillary Clinton a serious challenge.

(on camera): Does she scare Republicans?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think she energizes Republicans. What we're seeing right now are some very positive numbers for Hillary Clinton now. Let's remember, she's been out of the political fray for four years. When she becomes a politician again, if she goes into the political fray, into that ring, the gloves are off and the bell is ringing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Unlike her last run in 2008 which went all the way through every Democratic primary and caucus, Hillary Clinton would likely see her party rally around her in 2016, giving her a much easier ride to the nomination, one that many in Washington thought she would have four years ago.

And, Wolf, I still have my press pass from 2008. The Hillary Clinton for president press pass. Perhaps they could reissue these if she decides to run again in 2016.

BLITZER: She was the favorite then, she lost out to a relatively unknown junior senator from Illinois. We'll see what happens the next time around if she runs. ACOSTA: That shows you how -- that's right. That shows you how unpredictable these things could be. Even though she would be the favorite, you never know what might happen.

BLITZER: I think after she rests a little bit, maybe writes a book, does a few speeches, enjoys herself a little bit, she'll say, you know what? I'd like to be the first woman president of the United States.

ACOSTA: I think you're right.

BLITZER: I suspect that will happen. Well, we'll see. Thank you.

In Britain, meanwhile, security is being tightened at the hospital where Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge, is being treated for acute morning sickness after her privacy was invaded by a prank call from Australia.

I'm joined now by CNN's royal correspondent Max Foster.

Max, tell our viewers what happened.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's extraordinary, Wolf. It's actually very simple. A couple radio presenters from Australia, pranksters, jokers on a comedy show, rang up the hospital, pretended to be the queen and Prince Charles, and asked to be put through to the ward. Just have a listen to the accents here, they're not that convincing, but they convinced the hospital.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, good morning. King (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, hello, there. Could I please speak to Kate, please, my granddaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they putting us through?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kate, my darling, are you there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning, mum, how may I help you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for my granddaughter Kate. I want to see how her tummy bump is going.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

FOSTER: Well, they got through. It's extraordinary. That was the duchess' private nurse. She went on to give some details about Kate's condition. It's a very personal detail. Patient confidentiality is taken extremely seriously in the hospitals in the U.K., particularly here, which is used to handling VIPs. And the radio station quickly realized the error of their ways, it was a joke, but it went slightly wrong. "2Day FM sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience," they said, "caused by the enquiry to Kate's hospital. The radio segment was done with the best intentions and we wish Kate and her family all the best," Wolf.

BLITZER: Did they actually put on the air the details of what her condition is?

FOSTER: They absolutely did. And the hospital has pointed out that they probably broke the law, at least that's the advice the hospital's received. This is a few other things that the chief executive said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN LOFTHOUSE, CEO, KING EDWARD VII HOSPITAL: Technically, I think this was a breach of patient confidentiality, which I very much regret. Having said that, the information which was inadvertently revealed is already in the public domain. I think this whole thing is pretty deplorable. Our nurses are caring, professional people trained to look after patients, not to cope with journalistic trickery of this sort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Max Foster reporting for us. We lost our connection with him. But you get the point what's going on. Those pranksters in Australia, potentially, potentially, could be in some trouble despite their apology. We'll continue to watch the story. We, of course, wish the duchess of Cambridge only the best.

Meanwhile, important new research that could impact people that take aspirin to reduce the risk of hard attacks and strokes. A new study is raising some concerns about a common coating used on aspirin. Stand by, we're going to give you details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've got more on the deadly typhoon that's striking the Philippines right now.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, at least 322 people were killed and more than 400 injured from that devastating typhoon and the death toll is expected to rise, with hundreds more missing. The Filipino government says nearly 200,000 people are living in shelters. And rescuers are struggling to get some of the victims with many of the major roads and bridges damaged by that storm.

And it looks like North Korea is getting for a rocket launch later this month. A new satellite image shows increased activity by workers on the launch pad. North Korea says it is planning a launch between December 10th and the 22nd. And it claims the launch is for science and research. But the U.S. condemns the test, saying it is the same technology use to launch a ballistic missile. The launch would violate two U.N. resolutions.

And former Senator Alan Simpson, you got to take a load of this, he is cutting loose "Gangnam Style".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN SIMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Stop Instagraming your breakfast and tweeting your first world problem and getting on YouTube so you can see "Gangnam Style".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: This is good stuff. Just take a look. Yes, the Republican from Wyoming, he wants to convince young people to get involved with lowering the $16 trillion national debt. Simpson asks young Americans to use social media to get others to sign an anti-debt petition at the cankicksback.org.

I think that's going to be a successful marketing campaign.

BLITZER: Some good move, Senator. So, he's moving like "Gangnam Style".

SYLVESTER: I know. So, soon, Wolf, you'll be doing it, too.

BLITZER: We'll all be doing it.

SYLVESTER: Coming to a YouTube video near you.

BLITZER: Lisa, a billion people will have watched that YouTube Video. All right. Thanks very much.

Two prominent members of Congress, they are standing by to join us live. They're getting ready to debate how to break the stalemate in the fiscal cliff negotiations, whether Republicans should declare victory on taxes and move on. Or are we all going over the fiscal cliff?

Let's see if we can work out a deal right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are accusing each other of not making serious offers to avoid the across- the-board tax increases and spending cuts that people here in Washington call the fiscal cliff.

And with only 27 days left to make a deal, most House members are going home today. Two lawmakers who aren't yet going home -- they're still in town -- California Democratic Representative Xavier Becerra and Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. They are here in THE SITUATION ROOM, working very hard to avoid this fiscal cliff. Thanks so much for coming in.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, R-WASHINGTON: Good to be with you.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA, D-CALIFORNIA: (Inaudible).

BLITZER: For so long, Republicans wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts forever, now for 98 percent of the American people; the Democrats are saying, we're ready. We've given up; we'll let you have those Bush tax cuts for as long as possible. Let's just resolve that; we'll move on to some of the tougher issues later.

But let's make sure that 98 percent of the American families have these lower tax rates into next year. Why not give that to them?

RODGERS: Right, well, the debate over those top 2 percent, it's really a straw man debate, because what we need is tax reform in America. And we need a simpler, less complicated tax code.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I agree with you on that completely.

RODGERS: And just --

BLITZER: We need a tax reform.

RODGERS: And we --

BLITZER: But why not resolve this one issue, make sure taxes don't increase for 98 percent of Americans, 100 percent of Americans for their first $250,000 a year, let them have that, and then move on to tax reform and some of the other issues?

RODGERS: Well, I think it's important not to confuse a quick fix with a real fix. And what we face right now, we could -- we could increase the top 2 percent their tax rates to 100 percent and it would cover 91 days worth of spending.

It doesn't solve our problem. And this is our moment to take on the pressing problems that are facing America. And part of it is the tax code. And we need -- we need tax reform, but we also must look at the spending side of this equation.

The spending is out of control. We have this record debt and it needs to be -- everything needs to be on the table.

BLITZER: But you think in the next two, three weeks you could revise, simplify the tax code? Is that what you're saying?

RODGERS: We can put together a framework to start those discussions so that we don't find ourselves in this situation again. And that's what the middle class needs. The middle class needs that confidence --

BLITZER: They -- what -- RODGERS: -- so that we don't continue to have this debate a few months from now.

BLITZER: Congressman Becerra, what the Republicans are saying is help them. Help them walk-through this process by coming up with some real significant spending cuts, especially in entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. Are you ready to do that?

BECERRA: Wolf, we're ready to help. In fact, we believe that in these next three weeks, because that's all we have left before the clock ticks to zero, we have to get this done. The American people, every month, they sit down, they figure out at the kitchen table how they're going to balance their books.

We have to be able to do the same thing. And so let us help our Republican colleagues in the House. One hundred seventy-eight Democrats have signed a discharge petition, which simply says this, for the middle class, let's extend those tax breaks so that we know that, come January 1st, they will be OK.

BLITZER: But it doesn't say anything about spending cuts.

BECERRA: But at least we can agree on something. Cathy and I can both agree that we don't want the middle class to take a hit. And so let's at least move forward with what we can agree on, because in three weeks, can we get all of what you said, Wolf, the tax reform and everything else done?

I suspect not, but we can do something. We can move where we agree. And we agree that we don't want the middle class to get hit. So 178 Democrats have already signed a discharge petition. All we need is 40 of the 240 ready to sign --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- signed that discharge petition?

RODGERS: What America needs is for us to use this time to actually get the -- solve the problems. We were in this debate a year ago, and we don't want to just delay the fiscal cliff. We need to avoid the fiscal cliff.

BLITZER: But what's the one thing you want Xavier Becerra to agree to that will avoid the fiscal cliff?

RODGERS: We -- it needs to be -- we need to have the spending cuts. We need --

BLITZER: What? What? Give me an example.

RODGERS: Well, it is looking at the spending, looking at entitlement reform, looking at the growth in government. And do you know what the president put on the -- the president is moving in the wrong direction. He proposed higher taxes than he ever said during the campaign, more stimulus, more spending -- that's moving us in the wrong direction. BLITZER: Go ahead and respond.

BECERRA: Wolf, how much in spending cuts do we want to see? Because I could tally up for you right now, $3 trillion with the spending cuts that we've already enacted in law in the last year and a half, $1 trillion that came from the Budget Control Act that was passed a year ago, that said a trillion dollars has to start coming up now, and that has begun.

Another trillion dollars, which is going to be enacted through the sequester, which we've all elected to change to make them smarter cuts, but we still have them. And we can move forward. That's another trillion, $1.2 trillion -- that's $2.2 trillion.

Let me give you the other $800 billion. We cut -- Democrats without a Republican vote, $716 billion and -- we found $716 billion in savings through Medicare through the Affordable Care Act. That is real savings, but we didn't jeopardize seniors' benefits by doing that. We went after the excess, the waste, and it's real money, $716 billion, that's $3 trillion in spending cuts without having any balance --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Hold on --

RODGERS: That's smoke and mirrors.

BLITZER: -- hold your thoughts. Hold your thoughts, because we're getting into a little bit of the weeds. But I have much more to talk about on what's going on. Let's see if we can work out a deal on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff just ahead.

The debate on high stakes -- the political stand-off will continue right here.

Also, important new research that could impact people who take aspirin. There's new concern right now about a common coating used on aspirin. Stand by. This is information you need to know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation -- which, by the way, we have never done in our history until we did it last year -- I will not play that game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Strong words from the president.

We're back with California Democratic Representative Xavier Becerra and Washington State Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Are you ready, Congresswoman, to push that aside and not play that game anymore about raising the debt ceiling? Will you vote to raise the debt ceiling?

RODGERS: You know, the Republicans, I'm ready, I am ready to have those serious negotiations to solve these pressing problems so that we don't find --

BLITZER: (Inaudible) ceiling from the agenda?

RODGERS: No, I believe it's very important that Congress remain in control of the debt ceiling, because it forces us to address our fiscal situation, which is -- it's critical that we do so.

You know, we just heard a list of all the spending cuts. You know what, the budget, we've been running a trillion-dollar deficit every year under this administration. President Obama has nearly doubled the debt. The spending is out of control. And it's in -- and we have this economy that continues to struggle --

BLITZER: So you're going to use the debt ceiling as leverage?

RODGERS: Well, the debt ceiling is our opportunity to really look at these questions and -- but the Republicans want to negotiate -- Speaker Boehner the day after the election, went to the podium and put tax revenue on the table. We want to -- this is our moment, this is our -- you know, Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Reagan, back in the early '80s, they came together.

They negotiated to save Social Security as well as address the spending. And it was a $3 in spending cuts to every dollar in new revenue. And that's the type of approach we need today.

BLITZER: They never used the issue of debt ceiling in those negotiations. That's a relatively new -- as the president accurately says.

But Congressman Becerra, the president says, I will not play that game. He may have no choice, because the Republicans have a decisive majority in the House of Representatives. If they want to play that game, he's going to have to do it.

BECERRA: Wolf, and what I believe the president is saying is we could get to a big deal, a good, big deal that's balanced.

BLITZER: Right now?

BECERRA: Right now. But he won't do it if -- unless we know that we're not going to face this game again of brinksmanship.

BLITZER: So part of the negotiation right now has to include raising the debt ceiling.

BECERRA: Absolutely. Look, no business in America on Main Street would run their operations the way this government is running their operations. BLITZER: Are you ready to put that in the negotiations right now? Raising the debt ceiling, not wait until February or March when you have to do it?

RODGERS: If we could have some negotiations.

BLITZER: Why aren't they meeting (ph)? Why does the president --

BECERRA: (Inaudible).

BLITZER: -- calling John Boehner --

RODGERS: They're not leading.

BLITZER: They're going to go to Camp David for a long weekend.

BECERRA: This is silly.

BLITZER: -- and lock themselves up in a room and work out a deal.

BECERRA: This is silly. You know this; you probably did negotiate every term in your contract with CNN.

You tell folks what the guts of the deal has to be for you, and then you get your folks to sit down and the president gets his folks to sit down -- Secretary Geithner, his chief of staff, Office of Management Budget and you work out a deal with the speaker and his folks and the leader in the Senate with his folks, and you sit down and do it.

But the deal has to be worked out between the leaders and the president as well. They're discussing -- does the president have to stay in a room looked up with these folks if they're not willing to agree to at least do what everyone agrees with, and that is to protect the middle class?

What's the president going to waste his time, sitting in a room if we can't agree even on that simple point? Let's at least take baby steps and do what we agree on.

BLITZER: Instead of having the 35 percent rate for the highest income earners go up to 39.6 percent, would you settle for 37 percent?

RODGERS: Republicans do not believe that that is the answer. We believe that tax reform, that simplifying the tax code is a too costly, it's too complicated. That's actually --

BLITZER: So under no circumstances will you let the rates go up, the marginal tax rates?

RODGERS: We -- you know, we have put tax revenue on the table.

BLITZER: I know you have.

By limiting deductions, and stuff like that.

But as far as you -- RODGERS: That impacts the wealthy.

BLITZER: -- your vote is concerned, if there's an increase in tax rates for the wealthy, you'll vote against them?

RODGERS: There's other ways to get that revenue that would actually benefit the middle class and the wealthy would be paying more. But we need to have those negotiations.

BLITZER: There are other ways to raise revenue, as she points out.

BECERRA: Elections have consequences. The president campaigned for two years, explaining exactly what he would do to the American people. Saying he's going to let the -- if tax rates expire for the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans so we can protect the middle class. He said it, he's intent on doing it; that helps us resolve this issue.

The Republicans have to come forward with details of what they're talking about in terms of these loopholes, because the last thing we want to hear is that middle class is being hit --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We unfortunately failed --

RODGERS: The president also said he was going to cut spending.

BLITZER: We tried.

BECERRA: $3 trillion. $3 trillion.

BLITZER: Keep working and working and working. But thanks to both of you for joining us. Let's continue this conversation maybe next week.

I think there's still going to be no deal by next week. Thank you.

We're taking a look right now into new reports that the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad may, repeat, may be looking for a way out of the country. Stand by, Brian Todd's got some new information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are reports the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad may be looking for a safe haven outside Syria. Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's little doubt that Bashar Al Assad's regime is in trouble now. He is losing ground on the battlefield. He's isolated, has few friends left in the world. We've now gotten reports that Assad may be casting a net among those friends for a way out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): His army is on the ropes, fighting for its life around Damascus and Aleppo. He may be in the process of making chemical weapons. Right now, everything about Syrian President Bashar Al Assad smacks of desperation.

Now the U.S. State Department is looking into reports that he is looking into the possibility of seeking asylum for himself, his family and their inner circle in Latin America.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do understand that some countries both in the region and elsewhere have offered to host Assad and his family should he choose to leave Syria.

TODD: Syria's deputy foreign minister was recently in Venezuela delivering a message from Bashar Al Assad. The minister was also according to Israel's "Haretz" newspaper, in Cuba and Ecuador bringing classified letters from Assad to leaders there.

We could not get responses from Syrian representatives in the U.S. or from officials of any of those Latin American governments to respond. Multiple sources in the U.S., Europe and the Arab world tell CNN there's no indication Assad is ready to leave Syria.

(on camera): Is he the kind of person that would take asylum or will he go down fighting do you think?

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I think there's a real chance that he will huddle along with his sect. The question is whether his sect will want to want him to huddle with them or not. He's been a failure as a president. He's a very erratic personality.

TODD (voice-over): Analyst Andrew Tabler has met Bashar Al Assad several times, has worked with Assad's wife, Asma. The sect he's talking about are the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, a small minority in Syria that Assad's family is a part of, which dominates Syrian politics. If Assad does leave, could he be investigated eventually captured on war crimes charges?

SCOTT NORTON, INTERNATIONAL LAW ATTORNEY: Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba are countries where he could feel safe for the time being. He has to be concerned about a shift in the winds and any of those governments as well and certainly no one expects the regime in those three states to continue indefinitely.

TODD: Right now, those nations' leaders are more sympathetic to Assad. There's another ally even closer.

(on camera): Couldn't he just go to Iran? Is that a more feasible location for him?

TABLER: It's easier for him to go to Iran, it's a shorter flight. In the end the Islamic republic is the place where President Assad and his family are going to be safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tabler says if Assad goes anywhere else besides Iran, there's a better chance of an assassin getting to him. Exacting revenge for everything the Assad family has carried out in Syria. Not just over the past two years of this uprising, but over the past 40 years covering the rule of his father. Wolf, you knew Assad to be a brutal dictator for many years.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. Brian, thanks very much, good report.

Other news including new concerns about a coating used on aspirin. It's designed to protect the stomach. A study finds it could reduce or eliminate aspirin's effectiveness in reducing heart attacks and strokes.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us. Sanjay, what's going on here because a lot of folks take those baby aspirin or regular aspirin with the coating and now should they be worried?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the story goes typically, they take this and over the last several years, what doctors have sort of been concerned about, is that in some patients it doesn't seem to work.

And what the doctors thought and a lot of people thought is that is due to aspirin resistance. What this new study today was looking at is, what exactly is aspirin resistance? Is it real at all? It could be caused by the aspirin itself.

Wolf, you just saw some images there, but you know, if you take a look, you have -- this is the uncoated aspirin and over here is the coated aspirin. What this study basically says, it's that coating that has been the problem.

It's that coating that prevents the aspirin from being absorbed in a way that allows it to do its job. They studied 400 healthy people over a period of time. On some days, they found the aspirin worked pretty well, on others it didn't.

That's why they've come to this conclusion at least in this one study. Maybe aspirin resistance isn't the problem, it's the coating -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So I take it a lot of people take the coated aspirin, Sanjay, because it helps protect against stomach problems, right?

GUPTA: Yes, and that's why doctors recommend it. You worry that the uncoated stuff could cause GI upset or even some bleeding. It's interesting, Wolf. Even as part of the study they looked at that issue. I think this is going to surprise a lot of people.

They found in this one study again that it didn't seem to make a difference. If you had the coating, it didn't seem to give you any benefit in terms of protecting your stomach either. Now, Bear was the company that funded the study, and Bear is a company that makes aspirin.

A lot of it being that coated aspirin, they have a statement specifically about this, we asked them about this, they say they dispute some of the findings saying when it's used as directed, those -- both the enteric and non-enteric coated aspirin provides meaningful benefits safe and effective and is associated with significant side effects.

There are things they say, Wolf, and it's interesting. The company is saying, it just takes longer for the coated aspirin to work. And they say, in the study, they didn't wait long enough to measure its effectiveness, they waited too short a time.

If they had waited a longer period of time, they would find the coated aspirin did a better job. But again, this is sort of new information. And as you point out, a lot of people use this medication.

BLITZER: Bottom line, very quickly, Sanjay, should we take those baby aspirins or not?

GUPTA: I think the baby aspirin can provide a lot of benefit in terms of preventing heart disease. You have to make sure you're taking it. A lot of people say they're taking it, they may skip days. Sometimes it can interact with other drugs.

You got to talk to your doctor about that and as far as coated or uncoated, this is an important issue. If it's not providing any stomach protection and providing longer to work, maybe you're better sticking with the uncoated type of aspirin. But again, talk to your doctor about that.

BLITZER: Well, you're my doctor so I'm listening to you. Thanks very much, Sanjay, for that. Good advice as usual.

Investigators are trying to determine what went wrong aboard a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, if anything is going on, it will be the area behind the wing, the rear of the wing the third door on each side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which wing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In New Orleans, emergency crews scrambled as a Boeing 787, the company's newest commercial jetliner, made an emergency landing. There are no reported injuries, but it's raising new questions about the highly touted new jet known as the Dreamliner.

CNN's Tory Dunnan is following the story for us. What's the latest, Tory?

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this dreamliner just started flying domestic routes last month. Since the summer there have been three reported engine problems, two happened during testing and one during takeoff on a flight overseas. Just yesterday there was an emergency landing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oscar 2, the arriving emergency aircraft is currently about 55 miles north. It will be a Boeing 787.

DUNNAN (voice-over): Even in an emergency situation, there's a lot of fanfare surrounding Boeing's Dreamliner. On Tuesday, a 787 operated by United Airlines made an emergency landing at New Orleans Lewis Armstrong International Airport.

The 174 passengers and ten crew members were on board the flight headed from Houston to Newark when it experienced a mechanical issue.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: That's what I'm trying to tell them, you can pass it along to them. If in fact anything's going on, it will be in the rear of the wing back to the third door on each side, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which wing?

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: We don't know. It might be inside either side, but it's behind the wing where the high load electrical stuff is about back to the rear cargo. We don't anticipate anything. It's where it needs to be.

DUNNAN: Right now, there are only three Dreamliners flying in the U.S., internationally, another 33. Boeing's production of the aircraft was billions over budget and years late. It's the first commercial airliner featuring lightweight carbon composites. That means it uses less fuel, but it doesn't mean fewer concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: We need them to do a visual inspection to make sure they don't see any discoloration or dripping plastic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1146 roger, they did pass and they don't see anything abnormal on either side.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: OK, thank you we're going to proceed to the gate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DUNNAN: It's important to note, there were no injuries during this emergency landing. Also United tells CNN the flight's passengers were rebooked on a different plane to Newark. Wolf, Boeing said that they are going to be troubleshooting and also working with United to try to determine the cause.

BLITZER: Hope they figure it out. Tory Dunnan, thanks very much.