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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gas Prices Dropping; President Obama Weighs in on Michigan Labor Fight; GOP Asks, "What Went Wrong?"; Broadcasting to Battle- Scarred City; Hillary Clinton's Approval Rating At 60 Percent; Navy SEAL Killed in Daring Rescue; Singer Jenni Rivera Dead in Plane Crash; Hospitalized Mandela Doing "Very Well"; McDonald's Key Sales Figures Up 2.4 Percent; Aussie DJ's "Shattered, Gutted, Heartbroken"

Aired December 10, 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: The president of the United States steps into a very intense political fight in Michigan and he's definitely taking sides.

We're also looking into what's behind the dramatically lower prices showing up at gas stations near you.

And lifesaving television. We have an amazing look at an underground TV channel run by rebel fighters in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

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

We begin with President Obama getting into a new fight with Republicans and it's a fight he may actually lose. This afternoon in Detroit, the president blasted a package of anti-union bills Michigan's Republican governor is pushing through his state's legislature.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we shouldn't do -- I just got to say this. What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Even though the cheering went on for nearly half a minute, it looks like those anti-union bills may, in fact, have enough support to pass Michigan's legislature, despite union threats of massive demonstrations.

CNN's Alison Kosik is in Michigan state capitol in Lansing. She's watching what's going on.

Alison, explain what the fight is all about, why it's so intense.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, here at the Michigan state capitol, it's more about the calm before the storm, because if last week was any indication, those demonstrations of thousands of people descending on the state capitol.

Police are certainly gearing up for what's coming up tomorrow when the votes are expected to happen. What this is all about is the right-to- work law. If this law passes, what it essentially means is that workers would not be required to pay union dues as a condition to hold a job. And this is a big deal to Michigan. You have to remember, Michigan was built on unions. The United Auto Workers union was born here. Unions are really the backbone to this state.

So it would be a huge blow if this law passes, not only here in Michigan but across the country because it could really undercut, has the possibility of undercutting the power and influence of unions. Once again, not just here in Michigan, but across the country. This really goes beyond politics.

Andy Potter, talked with him today, he's in a union, he's actually a Republican, and he's against this Republican-backed measure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY POTTER, MICHIGAN'S CORRECTIONS ORGANIZATION: It's a smoke and mirror attempt to take away the representation that these members and these hard working-class citizens are going to receive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: But those in favor of this bill say, you know what, it does give workers the freedom to choose what they want to do,whether or not they want to join a union and pay those union dues. And they say it also grows jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VINCE VERNUCCIO, MACKINAC CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY: It actually makes unions more accountable and makes them more responsive to their members because now the unions can't take them for granted. Remember, right-to-work doesn't affect collective bargaining in any other way except for taking away the union's ability to fire a worker for not paying them. They workers can still bargain over wages, hours, and working conditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: So the vote expected to happen tomorrow, starting at 10:00 a.m. The House and the Senate will each vote on each other's measures. Also, demonstrations expected to begin, the opening salvo happening 9:00 a.m., down this street right here. Thousands are expected to march, starting here, all the way up to Lansing City Hall. That would be just the beginning of the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alison on the scene for us, thank you.

The president's taking a political risk by getting into Michigan's union fight at the same time he's locked in a major battle in Washington over raising tax, spending cuts and more.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, is it surprising the president decided to speak so publicly today, so vociferously on this right-to-work issue?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House has come out very strongly against right-to-work laws. And the unions have been strong supporters of the president. But it is quite surprising the president was so forceful in his expression of support today, after he had a more muted response during the election, after -- during the Scott Walker recall effort.

Today, the president made his first comments on the Michigan law, and it was indeed a forceful show of support for organized labor. Here is the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You know, these so called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.

What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. You only have to look to Michigan, where workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class, but a stronger America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Now, I referenced it earlier, Wolf, but, remember, back before the president was reelected in November, in Wisconsin, unions were fighting to recall their governor, Scott Walker, after he pushed and passed some anti-union legislation.

The president, he took some heat from Democrats for not doing more to back that recall effort. And now the president's been reelected in part with some strong support of union workers and now he's not holding back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Jessica, what's the political impact here for the president and for his labor union supporters? And they were very instrumental in helping him get elected and reelected this past November.

YELLIN: That's right.

The polling -- the election results tell the story. President Obama won the union vote handily. Nationwide, he won 58 percent of the union vote, compared to Governor Romney who got 40 percent. And unions also contributed heavily to donations and get-out-the-vote efforts; $143 million they gave overall in the 2012 campaign to general candidates and elections in general.

Only 4 percent went to Republicans. The rest went to Democrats and outside spending groups. So, you can see the impact they had across the board it. And, Wolf, while Michigan wouldn't be the first state to pass right-to-work laws -- in fact, 23 other states already have right-to-work laws. So, tomorrow, Michigan could become the 24th state to have one. As the birthplace for the organized labor movement in the U.S., passage for this law in Michigan would be a body blow to the labor movement in the U.S., Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly would be. All right, thanks very much for that, Jessica.

The president's due back here in Washington just in a little while from Michigan. His focus will be back on trying to get a deal with House Speaker John Boehner over taxes and spending cuts.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here to take a closer look at the agreements, the disagreements, I guess there's more disagreements than agreements.

Let's step back and see where these two sides stand, Jessica -- not Jessica -- Gloria.

(CROSSTALK)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's step back from the cliff here for a minute, Wolf. And you will see that on taxes, which is, of course, the crux of this matter, there's a huge difference between congressional Republicans who want to raise $800 billion over 10 years from tax increases, and, of course, the White House that wants to, you know, basically double that.

I mean, the White House says, we need to get more revenue from taxes. If you break apart these tax numbers, take a look, because, of course, we know, the big issue, the theological issue here, Wolf, is raising rates. The White House says let's raise them back to Bill Clinton's days. And the Republicans, of course, say, no way, let's not raise those rates.

Here's what's really interesting to me, though. Both sides say in the future they want to do the same thing. They want to cap deductions and close loopholes on the wealthy. They both want to do that. Now, the Democrats want to increase the capital gains taxes. Republicans say no capital gains changes.

So, Wolf, the point here is that, ironically, if they can get past this problem, you know, and maybe agree to the 37 percent level or so, and can get past the rate issue, ideologically, then the larger issues would almost be easier for them to tackle as they take care of tax reform.

By the way, if they do tax reform, you could raise the rates now and then lower them as part of tax reform, which, of course, would flatten rates for everybody, as you close those loopholes.

BLITZER: Capital gains, they want to increase capital gains taxes and Republicans say no changes.

BORGER: No change, but, again, not that terribly far apart if they can get past this.

BLITZER: If they have got a good meeting here, they're bridgeable, these differences, if there's some goodwill to compromise.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There's some other major differences when it comes to health care spending.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: There are. Again, look at the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. I mean, what the Republicans are saying right now is if they're going to do anything on taxes, and this is some of them, they want to show a little leg from the Democrats about what are you going to do on health care savings.

That would mean, Wolf, doing things which the president has talked about in the past, which is increasing the Medicare eligibility age, say, gradually, from the age of 65 to 67, changing the way we compute increases in Social Security benefits.

BLITZER: Cost of living adjustments.

BORGER: That's right, changing the calculation we use for that.

So, again, there are ways that both of these groups can come together. The White House right now sees its savings largely coming from health care providers and not touching entitlements.

But in the long term, there can be some agreement on this. We know the president and John Boehner have sort of almost been there in the past when they almost did their grand bargain.

BLITZER: Is it going to come down to these two men, the president and the House speaker, working out a deal? Because even if they do, can John Boehner deliver?

BORGER: Well, it's a question, if he doesn't have a revolt on his hands. So far, outside conservative groups are saying don't touch those rates.

But inside the Republican Caucus right now, they're remaining pretty silent. And the Democrats -- the president has the same problem in many ways than John Boehner has, because he's going to lose a lot of his base.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If there's entitlement cuts.

BORGER: If there's entitlement cuts. And John Boehner is going to lose a lot of his base if you raise tax increases. So both of these men are in the same political position, if you will.

The president clearly has more leverage, won the election. But this is not without political risk for both of them. But, after all, isn't that what leadership's about sometimes, taking a political risk? BLITZER: I think the president is in stronger shape to bring in his moderate or liberal Democratic base than Boehner is in bringing the more conservative base of the Republican Party.

BORGER: We will see.

BLITZER: But we will see. This is a critical week, this week right now. Gloria, thanks very much.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: We're also getting word of a big move by the national Republican Party. They're trying to understand why so many of their candidates lost this year, what needs to change in order for the party to stay relevant. One of the people who's leading the effort joins me next. Stand by for that.

And, later, new details of a daring rescue that saved an American from the Taliban, but cost the life of a U.S. Navy SEAL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Earlier today, the Republican Party announced a major effort to figure out why the 2012 election went so very wrong for so many of their candidates, including their presidential nominee. The eight- part effort will look at failures in the party's ground game, as well as its message, its fundraising and other campaign finance issues. It will also take a closer look at the racial changes in the U.S. electorate, the impact of third party group, the presidential primaries and what the Democrats did right.

One of the co-chairs who will lead the effort is the former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is also a CNN contributor.

Ari, thanks very much for coming in.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The RNC communique or press release, RNC launches new initiative to grow the party and win. All of these were like technical issues though, the eight points that I just point out. I don't se any effort to rethink policy matters on sensitive issues, some of which clearly hurt Republicans, including the presidential nominee this time.

Is your mandate also to look at changes in sensitive policy areas?

FLEISCHER: Wolf, I want to say when you look at overall messaging, that's a technical issue. That's a very important major issue. It's one of the things that either pulls people towards a party or drives people away from a party.

In terms of specific policies, you know, Congress has the lead on that. The Republican National Committee does not. But I think you can assume there's going to be some messaging around the things that conservatives believe in that we need to do better and do stronger. BLITZER: So, for example, on the sensitive issue like same sex marriage, gay marriage, will it be your mandate to take a look and see whether or not Republicans should rethink their opposition to gay marriage?

FLEISCHER: No, Wolf, as I said, that's Congress's purview, is to make the laws and make policies. Parties don't make the policies. And we're not going to go down that road.

But let me give you an example. It's been said in the past that President Bush is the one who said this, family values don't stop at the Rio Grande. That was his approach to Hispanic issues. And then he got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. In this cycle, we got 27 percent.

I happen to believe, Wolf and I think a lot of Republicans do, there's a lot you can do to attract people, to talk to people, to identify with the needs and the concerns of people, in a way that grows a party. You don't have to change your ideology. And the ideological issues are important because the exit polls found out 35 percent of Americans identify as conservative, just 25 percent as liberal.

We remain a center right country. But Republicans are losing elections.

BLITZER: I asked --

FLEISCHER: I think, Wolf, Republicans have -- I think we have an intellectual and political responsibility to examine ourselves and find out why.

BLITZER: Because every four years the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, they have a platform in which they do spell out the Republican Party's position on these sensitive issues. One of the most sensitive, you raised it, immigration reform.

Will -- should the Republican Party, in order to attract more Hispanics, for example, reach out and support comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million or 12 million illegal immigrants here in the United States?

FLEISCHER: Yes, nothing's changed since my last answer. The policy issues are going be to be handled through the Congress and elected representatives the people. We still have an obligation, though, to look at the party mechanics, the voter database, the fundraising, and the overall messaging. That's the charge of this group.

BLITZER: I'll read to you a line from Maureen Dowd's column in "The New York Times" yesterday. She was talking about the future of the Republican Party. And you guys are going to be taking a close look at how to improve the Republican Party.

She writes this, she writes, 'The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world, the GOP universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys." The point she was trying to make is that when it came to Hispanics, African-Americans, women, for example, young people, the Republicans didn't do that well. When it came to white guys, the Republicans still do well.

FLEISCHER: That's why I salute Chairman Reince Priebus for forming this committee to take a look at these very heart and soul issues of what makes the party, when. And America is changing. And if you don't change with a country while maintaining your principles and your ideology, but making those principles more sellable, more believable, more heartfelt to people in the middle of the country, all wings of the country, you're not doing your job.

And, you know, Ronald Reagan was able to do that. Ronald Reagan was able to keep a very conservative base and make it attractive to the middle. I think there's room in the Republican Party to be a conservative party that has ideas that sell not only with the conservative base but sells with a group that's much bigger because the ideas are good ones.

So we cannot just be a party of white people. That's not going to cut it. And when Ronald Reagan was elected, 88 percent of the voters were white. Today, it's 72 percent. You do the math.

BLITZER: So, how do you go out and reassure nonwhites out there, whether it's Hispanics, African-American, that the Republican Party is a big tent, all-inclusive kind of party? What, for example, Ronald Reagan, you point out, what he used to talk about?

FLEISCHER: Yes. Well, first of all, you have to have candidates who don't make tragic mistakes. I'll go right to Indiana and Missouri. We repelled women, our candidates there did, with the statements that they made.

BLITZER: About rape?

FLEISCHER: They lost elections that absolutely should have been won by the Republican candidates with the statements they made about rape in Missouri and the statements they made in Missouri. And so, that's a part of this too.

The way Republicans present their ideas, we have the best ideas. We have the ideas that give people a chance to climb the economic ladder and make it in this country. That's our message. That's a message that resonates everywhere.

But you have to let people know you care about them. You have to let them know that their life is important to you. And that the things they're going through, the suffering, are the things you can identify with, and you have the best solution to them.

That's where Republicans -- my issue sometimes is we talk too much like accountants and not enough about people who care about other people's futures. And that's where the Republican Party has got to keep its ears open. We have to learn, Wolf. We lost in 2012 not only in the presidential, but in Senate races we should have won, with both Tea Party candidates and mainstream candidates. On the other hand, we have a huge win in 2010.

BLITZER: When will you come up with new recommendations?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: This new group, when are you going to come up with new recommendations to the chairman of the party?

FLEISCHER: We're going to do this for about three or four months. I think the recommendations are going to be ready to go to the chairman in the late winter/early spring time frame.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to see what you guys come up with.

Ari Fleischer, our CNN contributor, thanks very much.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're watching several developments in Syria right now, including an effort to save innocent lives via a secret television channel that the government can't stop.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Syria's opposition says at least seven more people were killed in fighting today. But as the civil war rages on, a group of refugee journalists now going to great lengths and risking their lives to report the story in Syria's biggest city.

Here's CNN's Ivan Watson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's become a fixture in Syria's largest city, "Aleppo Today", an underground TV channel broadcasting to a battle-scarred city.

FIRAS DIEBE, NEWS DIRECTOR, "ALEPPO TODAY TV": We are the first or the only TV broadcasting exclusive for Aleppo.

WATSON: With its 24-hour slide show of the city in happier times, "Aleppo Today" doesn't look like much but its news ticker is a vital source of information, say residents living in a city under siege.

"AHMET", NEWS EDITOR, "ALEPPO TODAY": It's the local news, what's happening inside Aleppo, on the streets, what's happening, the demonstration, the shell, the bombing, the battles -- everything.

WATSON: The reports are prepared by refugees like "Ahmet", a former baker-turned-journalist.

AHMET: This one is 18 people was dead yesterday in Aleppo and countryside. Those are the names of the people who died in that neighborhood, (INAUDIBLE).

WATSON: "Aleppo Today" broadcasts from an undisclosed location, in a country neighboring Syria.

(on camera): Why do you have to work outside of Syria?

DIEBE: For our safety.

WATSON: You have to be sneaky to put this out.

DIEBE: We have to be sneaky. We have to be undercover.

WATSON (voice-over): To avoid Syrian government jamming, the channel beams its signal to at least two other countries before hitting Syria.

(on camera): How do you get the information every day?

AHMET: We have about 40 reporters inside the city and 30 outside. And they gather the information.

WATSON (voice-over): Information, for example, about the location of deadly snipers.

AHMET: So we warn people that in this building there's a sniper. In this neighborhood, there's a sniper. Don't go this way.

WATSON: The journalists here insist "Aleppo Today" is apolitical and funded only by concerned Syrian businessmen who also plan to launch an F.M. radio station.

DIEBE: After two weeks, I can, we will be online by fm air waves.

WATSON: It's all part of a wider war being fought in the streets and over the air waves for the future of Syria.

Ivan Watson, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: As far as Syria's concerned, the U.S. government is expected to declare one of the radical rebel groups in Syria fighting the Bashar al Assad government a foreign terrorist organization. Our Arwa Damon is inside Syria right now. We're going to get her reaction to what's going on. That's in our next hour.

Also, if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton runs for president, is it game over for the Republicans chances in 2016? A former Republican presidential candidate has a scary prediction for his own party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, let's get right to our Strategy Session. Joining us, CNN political contributor, the former Al Gore campaign manager, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile. And also, a CNN contributor, the former Bush speechwriter and the author of the best selling e-book, "Why Romney Lost," David Frum joining us as well. You guys saw this new "Politico"/George Washington University poll in terms of favorability ratings, Hillary Clinton way up there. She's above 60 percent higher than the president, higher than Vice President Biden, higher than any of the potential 2016 Republican candidates out there.

First of all, Donna, do you think she's going to run?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know yet, Wolf. What I know is that she's committed to, you know, closing out her tenure at the State Department, doing a great job at the State Department perhaps resting a little bit.

We'll see what happens in 2014/2015. She has more than enough time to prepare, but let me just say this, as vice chair of the party, there will probably be other candidates who will also seek the presidency in 2016 as well.

BLITZER: We'll get to that. Do you think she's going to run?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have no idea. Every smart person says she will. It sounds like it, but the challenge for Republicans is to stop thinking so much about who and to start thinking more about what.

What will the Democratic message be in 2016 and in the four years leading up and what will the message the Republicans have now? That was such an important message you raised in your last interview, can we start talking about ideas and not just about personalities?

BLITZER: Yes, because most of these -- the autopsy, if you want to call it that, what the Republican National Committee is now going to do, why they didn't win the presidency, why they lost in some of these key battleground states, why they lost in some of these key House and Senate races, is all about sort of process as opposed to the substantive policy issues that they may want to change.

Jody Canter wrote this in "The New York Times," Mrs. Clinton may find that her freedom comes with one huge constraint. The more serious she is about 2016, the less she can do, no frank, seen it all memoir, no clients, commissions or controversial positions that could prove problematic.

Now, I'm one of the so-called smart guys that David was talking about. I think she is going to run. I think she wants to be the first woman president of the United States. She's going to have to be cautious in what she does over the next year or two.

BRAZILE: Well, any candidate has to be cautious.

BLITZER: Well, if she's never going to run for office again, she doesn't have to be cautious.

BRAZILE: You know, she's well known. People know her across the board. Republicans, there are a sizable number of Republicans who like her. The reason why people like her is because they know she's a principled person, somebody who believes in human rights, justice and equality of all people. She'd make a terrific president of the United States. I don't think she has to be confined by those limitations that Miss Canter wrote in her article.

FRUM: The problems we are going to facing when we reconvene here in 2016 are so different from the problems we face now. The last four years were a time of stases. The next four years is going to be a time of dramatic action.

The problems with -- Obamacare law is going to be the law of the land. All the problems in that piece of legislation are going to become visible to everybody. We will be debating about those. We will have an economic recovery, but it probably will be an economic recovery even more narrowly shared than the last economic recovery.

What do we do about stagnating or declining wages for people over the time of economic growth? That's what we're going to see over the next four years. We're going to have debates over carbon and we'll have debates over energy self-sufficiency that are different from those over the past four years.

BRAZILE: All of those issues that David mentioned, Hillary Clinton I think will come out on top because she has been a strong advocate for climate change, for many values that most Americans support today.

BLITZER: Here's James Carville and Newt Gingrich on what would happen if Hillary Clinton decides to run if she is going to run.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Democrats want her to run. Don't just mean a lot of Democrats. I mean a whole lot of Democrats. Like 90 percent across the country. We just don't -- we just want to win. We think she's the best person.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's very formidable as a person and is a very competent person. She is married to the most popular Democrat in the country. They both think it would be good for her to be president. That makes it virtually impossible to stop her for the nomination I think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Donna, you said other Democrats would challenge her like who?

BRAZILE: Well, look, Vice President Biden may be interested in the post. Governor Cuomo, you have Elizabeth Warren. You have Kirsten Gillibrand. We have Governor O'Malley. There are many other Democrats who I'm sure will take a look at this race. Look, until they know what Secretary Clinton will do, they have every right to begin planning their own campaigns.

BLITZER: You think other serious Democrats like that would challenge Hillary Clinton?

FRUM: Why not? If you're on the list of the 10 or 12 most likely people to be the next president of the United States, how can you say no? Most of us are on the list of the a hundreds or 299 million least likely to be.

I want to pick up on something that Newt Gingrich though said there, when he talked about the popularity of Bill Clinton, that's not because of the color of Bill Clinton's eyes or the cut of his suits, that's because Bill Clinton presided over real economic growth that benefited most people.

If you want to be competitive, you have to keep your eye on that prize. What is going to be our answer as Republicans to the party of raising living standards for most people?

BLITZER: We have no idea what's going to happen between now and 2016. The world could change for all we know. The economic situation would change dramatically. We have no way of knowing, but it's fun to talk about the possibility of Hillary Clinton running for president --

BRAZILE: I'm excited about the prospect that she might run again.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that the president once again today went to Michigan? It looked like a campaign rally. He's out there campaigning now for his position on the fiscal cliff and also campaigning against the anti-union vote that's coming up tomorrow in Michigan?

FRUM: He certainly owes organized labor. And obviously if you're a Democratic president and there's a ballot like this, certainly hard to see why you would stay away, especially in a state like Michigan. But I think what we are seeing is the president applying pressure to the Republicans and looking for wedges.

One of the wedges we're going to see is the Republicans who feel more strongly about the income tax versus Republicans who feel more strongly about the capital gains tax. The president may offer different kind of concession, to those two groups.

BLITZER: The criticism he's getting is instead of going out there and campaigning in Michigan and elsewhere, bring these Republicans and Democrats over to the White House, get in a room, work out this deal this week as opposed to next week and resolve it so the country doesn't go over the fiscal cliff.

BRAZILE: Where's Congress right now? They're home. Where's Congress most of the time, at home. President Obama is going where the votes are. He's going to lobby members of Congress. Where they live and where they work.

So I have no problem with him going outside the White House. Also, he has long opposed right to work laws. He believes they undermine wages for our workers and undermine benefits so he's also right to go to Michigan and stand up for worker's rights.

FRUM: He's not negotiating, he's pressuring. President Obama is working on the philosophy, this line attributed sometimes to Al Capone, you get more with a kind word and a gun then you get with a kind word alone. What he's doing in all these discussions is, he's got the advantage.

He's got the upper hand, putting his gun on the table. This is not about negotiation. He's not interested in an answer with Republicans. He's interested in breaking the Republicans on the tax pledge. That's his goal and he's applying pressure to attain it.

BLITZER: We'll see if he succeeds or fails and see what happens for the country. Much more important on that. Thanks, guys, so much.

A crash in gas prices as Americans hit the roads for the holidays. Up next, we're to tell you what's behind the welcome drop at the pump. Ali Velshi has the information you need to know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Good news for holiday travelers. Gas prices are plummeting, down 46 cents a gallon over the past two months. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is now down to $3.38 a gallon.

And joining us now, our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi in New York. Ali, what's going on with this sudden drop in the price of gasoline?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are three things that are going on. One is Superstorm Sandy took a lot of cars off the road. It really reduced demand for gasoline as you know. Until very recently there have been a number of gas stations in the northeast still without gas.

People after realizing they weren't going to have as easy a time getting gas decided to make other plans and the storm itself took some roads out and took some people off the road.

Number two, there were some refinery issues in California that were going on at the same time. They've been resolved. That's put more gasoline online. The third thing, Wolf, and this one's important, crude oil prices, which are really the underlying feedstock for gasoline, crude oil prices have remained low.

As we are concerned about the fiscal cliff and a slowdown in the world's economy and in Asia and in Europe so these are the three factors that have come together to give us a sustained drop in the price of gasoline almost over the last three weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is this a short-term development? What's in store over the longer term?

VELSHI: Well, we are into that lower driving season. Obviously, spring and summer are bigger driving seasons. You'll see a pickup in demand when we get back into spring. That typically happens. A lot of it depends on the price of oil, Wolf.

That is going to depend on what happens in the world economy. There are two things happening right now that we need to think about. One is the fiscal cliff and the recession in Europe. If things continue to slow down economically, we'll see less demand for gasoline. If there's more tension in the Middle East, we'll see higher prices for oil. Those are two things that could affect the price of oil, which will affect the price of gasoline.

One thing to remember, that over the last ten years or so, Wolf, demand for gasoline has started to drop off, as cars have become more efficient and as we've become better conservers.

So you'll probably see the price of gasoline head up again in the interim, but for the time being you're probably looking at lower gas prices -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll take it, no one's complaining obviously. Ali, thanks very much.

A U.S. Navy SEAL rescue in Afghanistan turns tragic. We have details on the member of that elite SEAL team killed while saving an American held captive.

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BLITZER: A navy SEAL raid in Afghanistan successfully frees an American captive, but the SEALs tragically lose one of their own in the mission. CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now with the latest details from the Pentagon. What do we know about this, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, consider this. If you think the war in Afghanistan is wrapping up, 305 American service members lost their lives this year so far in that war.

Three Navy SEALs in the last six weeks and the latest case is a young man who gave his life for another American he did not know.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): It was a daring high-stakes raid to free American Delip Joseph, who had gone to Afghanistan to help provide medical care in one of the most dangerous regions in the war-torn country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're really hoping that we can instil hope into a country that has been dealing with conflict over the last 30 years.

STARR: Joseph was one of three staffers from the relief organization "Morningstar Development" kidnapped last Wednesday, while returning from a visit to a rural medical clinic in Eastern Kabul Province.

They were stopped by armed men and taken to an area about 50 miles from the Pakistan border. Then, this weekend, Joseph was freed from captivity by the same unit of Navy SEALs that killed Osama Bin Laden.

It's not clear if any of the SEALs on this raid were on the Bin Laden mission, but in rescuing Joseph, tragedy. The 28-year-old Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Checque was killed in the ensuing fire fight. Checque, a 10-year veteran, part of the legendary SEAL Team Six, an elite counterterrorism team specially trained for hostage rescue. Seth Jones was an adviser to special operations forces in Afghanistan.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: These are the kinds of situations that individuals like SEALs have been in, whether it's Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq or off the coast of Somalia. They're putting themselves in harm's way and sometimes they die.

STARR: But it was a risk General John Allen, the top commander, took in ordering the rescue when intelligence showed that Joseph was in imminent danger of injury or death. Jones says there are several things the SEALs would have known before they went in.

JONES: You need to collect intelligence on the target to see where they're at, who's guarding it, what the terrain is like. Second, you've got to look at how you're going to insert into that area and then you're going to look at how to actually get on to the target.

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STARR: But, you know, Wolf, in the coming years, as the number of troops, U.S. troops in Afghanistan, decline, as it goes down, the risk to American civilians of being kidnapped may indeed grow. There will be less U.S. troops available to come help them if, heaven forbid, they do get kidnapped and since 2007, about three dozen civilians kidnapped in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Given the dangers, are Pentagon officials, other U.S. government officials, urging Americans, despite the good intention, to stay away from these very dangerous areas?

STARR: Well, there have been cautions for years, especially aid workers who typically travel with very minimal security, with a very low footprint because they're out there to do their good works and not to show any inadvertent hostilities. So these aid workers are always at risk. They have suffered a lot over the years in Afghanistan. They are always told to be careful -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They should be. All right, thanks very much, Barbara Starr.

Meanwhile, millions of fans are mourning the death of the Mexican- American singer and reality TV star, Jenni Rivera. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What a tragic death?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Another sad story to tell our viewers about, Wolf. Investigators are trying to determine what caused the plane crash that killed Jenni Rivera and six others in Mexico after a weekend concert there.

The 43-year-old Rivera was one of the top stars of the Spanish language pop music called Banda. She sold millions of records and once told CNN how she sold cans for scrap metal at her family's Los Angeles flea market to help make ends meet. Rivera leaves behind five children. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is said to be doing very well. The 94-year-old leader is hospitalized in Pretoria for a medical issue the government says is consistent with his age. Nineteen years ago today, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights contributions in South Africa where he spent 27 years in prison as retribution for fighting racial segregation.

McDonald's says sales are up and it's credited a limiting time offering, the cheddar bacon onion sandwich. Have you had that one? The CBO, as it's called, there's a Washington joke there, is a big factor, according to the fast food chain, which says key global sales rose 2.4 percent last month.

In October, McDonald's saw its first monthly decline in nearly a decade. The CBO here in Washington is the Congressional Budget Office. I don't think McDonald's was --

BLITZER: I think it was different --

BOLDUAN: They had a different idea in mind.

BLITZER: Although when I first saw CBO, I said, Congressional Budget Office.

BOLDUAN: It's very well respected so I guess it goes well with a hamburger.

BLITZER: Thank you. In a very emotional interview today, two Australian deejays responded to the worldwide outrage over their prank that embarrassed the royal family and apparently caused a nurse to kill herself.

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BLITZER: A tearful apology from the Australian deejays who made that prank call to Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge's hospital. That hoax, of course, is tied to the death of a nurse who took that call. The Australian Radio Network is shutting down their show.

Max Foster is joining us now from London. Max, what are these two deejays saying?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're saying is something deeply emotional. They did a round of TV interviews for the Australian TV media. And it was pretty hard to watch in places.

They finally broke their silence. One of the presenters actually had to ask them if they were stable enough to answer these questions, but they did answer the questions. And here's a bit of sound from one of the interviews that they did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Shattered, gutted, heartbroken, obviously, you know, our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends, of all those affected. And, you know, obviously, Mel and myself are incredibly sorry for the situation and what's happened and -- and, you know, we hope they're doing OK and they're getting the love and support they deserve and need right now. I mean, personally, I'm --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: They are under a huge amount of pressure, Wolf. If you look at the social media comments around them, the comments on the station's Facebook page, it's really, really powerful stuff.

You can see how they've been affected by this. They didn't intend to kill this nurse, but they are a part of this story and they're struggling to deal with it. They're getting the support though, the radio station. The show has been canceled.

BLITZER: Has the nurse's family, Max, reacted?

FOSTER: The nurse's family are asking for privacy, but they did come up to London today. British MP has taken up their case and has been speaking on their behalf. It was another emotional occasion. You saw effectively Keith and the husband of Jacintha and her two children standing there.

And you can imagine what's going through their minds. And he was actually quite tough on the hospital here. The MP talked about how the deejays in Australia are getting a lot of support from their bosses, but the hospital hadn't offered support to Jacintha's family in the same way and they need counseling and support.

They need media help as well, huge amount of media pressure on them. The hospital denies all of this, saying they have offered support. They just haven't had a response from the family. So a big blame game going on here and a lot of people suggesting a witch hunt against the deejays involved here. And a bit of a war of words, I have to say, between the British and the Australian media about this as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: Max Foster, on top of the story for us. Max, thanks very much.