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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hillary Clinton's Health; Boehner Under Fire

Aired January 2, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And a look at a political conspiracy theory from the right sparked by Hillary Clinton's series of health crisis.

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

This image sparked some high hopes for Hillary Clinton just a little while ago, high hopes for her fans around the world, the ailing secretary of state emerging from a New York hospital building with her husband, the former president, and daughter, Chelsea.

But reports of her release were premature.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is over at the State Department, joining us right now.

Jill, I'm hearing the secretary of state is still a patient at the hospital, even though we saw her leaving that building, getting into that van a little while ago.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's been a bit confusing, because we haven't had any official comment, official explanation coming from the State Department.

But our understanding is, she is still a patient in that hospital and that she has not been released. Now, why did we see her getting into that van? Well, it is possible, we understand, that she may have been moved to another part of the hospital for some testing.

After all, she has been undergoing testing, and the doctors are trying to figure out precisely whether they have given her the proper dose of medicine, those blood thinners that are supposed to be getting rid of that blood clot in her head, so that might be part of it.

But it has been confusing, but I think if you look at that video, she looks quite good, she's walking under her own speed. And today in a briefing here at the State Department, Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson, did say she's been on the phone, she's talking with her staff, and her family has been there. So there are some good signs, Wolf.

BLITZER: She's still being treated for that blood clot in her head, outside of the brain, near the skull, if you will, behind her right ear. I guess they're trying to determine the blood thinners, to make sure they're working to keep that blood clot from growing. DOUGHERTY: That's exactly right. In fact, it is actually in a vein. And I think it's important to point that out. It's not really, you know, in the brain, it's not on the edge of her brain, it's in a vein that's between the skull and the brain.

So, what they're trying to do is get rid of that, so that blood flows freely out of the brain, you know, comes into the brain, goes out of the brain, and theoretically, again, if they get the right dose, she could have blood thinners and totally function normally.

BLITZER: The bottom line in all of this, even though we saw her getting out of that hospital building into that van, she is still there on the campus of New York Presbyterian Hospital. She's still a patient inside, and we, of course, hope she won't there much longer, she will be able to go home, rest, and recuperate, and get back to work.

We're wishing her obviously the best. We do see a nice smile on the face of her husband, Bill Clinton. We will stay on top of this story, Jill. Thank you.

Other news, including speaker of the House. If the House speaker, John Boehner, was hoping for a moment's peace after that brutal battle over the fiscal cliff, he was certainly disappointed. No sooner had that fight ended than a new one exploded over the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy aid package.

The House adjourned last night without voting on it and Boehner found himself on the receiving end of some very sharp and bitter attacks from both parties.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill, watching what's going on.

What's the latest on this story, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Wolf, is that Boehner moved very fast to clean up the political storm that he caused by delaying that vote. He had a meeting this afternoon right down there in his office with delegation members from New York, from New Jersey, Republicans and promised that there will be a vote on some of it this Friday. The rest, the bulk of it will be by mid- January.

That seemed to satisfy them, but the question is whether the political damage is lasting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It will be two weeks later than they wanted, but GOP lawmakers from Sandy's stricken states are satisfied they will now get federal aid.

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: I did disagree with delaying this vote. I think we all did, but now that it's done, we have to do the very next best thing. BASH: House Speaker John Boehner scrabbled to set new dates this month to vote on $60 billion in disaster relief and quash a rebellion from the region's Republicans.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: As far as I'm concerned, that was a lifetime ago.

BASH: But the House walls were practically still shaking from the anger directed at the House speaker hours earlier for abruptly canceling a vote during this Congress.

GRIMM: I think it's inexcusable that we did not have this vote.

BASH: And these were Republicans.

REP. FRANK LOBIONDO (R), NEW JERSEY: Absurd. Absolutely absurd. We demand nothing less than when have given the rest of the country. An emergency and disaster means emergency and disaster.

BASH: GOP outrage was pointed and personal.

KING: There is some dysfunction in the Republican leadership. The speaker, for some reason, is taking it out on New York and Long Island and New Jersey, and it's a disgrace.

BASH: So, what did happen?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took the lead on Sandy relief, had promised a vote on the aid package before the lame-duck session ended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is adopted. Without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

BASH: But GOP leadership sources tell CNN right after the toxic fiscal cliff vote, the House speaker yanked the bill.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I was called at 11:20 last night by Leader Cantor and told that authority for the vote was pulled by the speaker.

BASH: The reason? CNN is told the speaker worried it was bad internal politics for him to allow a vote on $60 million in new federal spending after a long day of getting pummeled by his own House Republicans for not enough spending cuts in the fiscal cliff bill.

New Jersey's popular Republican governor:

CHRISTIE: On a political chess board of internal palace intrigue politics, our people were played last night as a pawn.

BASH: Chris Christie eviscerated the House speaker.

CHRISTIE: I called the speaker four times last night after 11:20, and he did not take my calls.

It is why the American people hate Congress. It's why they hate them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Wolf, I contacted Governor Christie's office to see if he has anything new to add now that the speaker has promised a vote on this Sandy relief within the next two weeks. A spokesman for the governor told me that the governor has -- quote -- "nothing else to add."

BLITZER: He's only promising a vote, Dana, but there's no promise it's actually going to pass. What's the head counting suggest?

BASH: They will probably lose some Republican votes for the reason that Boehner didn't bring it up in the first place last night, because there are Republicans who simply don't want to vote for anything, any new federal spending that isn't paid for.

But there are certainly a lot of Democrats who are going to vote for it. And remember, in the next Congress, which begins at 12:00 tomorrow, there are more Democratic seats, 201 Democrats. So it should have no problem passing.

BLITZER: Yes, OK. Good to know that. Dana, thanks very much.

Kate Bolduan is back in THE SITUATION ROOM after a little R&R. Good to have you back, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You have got more on this part of the story.

BOLDUAN: Yes, let's continue talking about kind of the Sandy fallout, not just the politics, but really the reality of the situation still.

People in the Sandy disaster zone really took this very personally, even though it really hasn't been in the news much. The situation there is still grim and for many victims, desperation is a daily reality.

CNN's Mary Snow is in a hard-hit section of Staten Island for us.

Mary, what are you hearing, what are you seeing and more specifically, what are you hearing from residents tonight?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, to say that there is anger here would be putting it mildly.

As you can see behind me, there is still so much work that remains to be done here. Many residents here feel forgotten, and they're questioning why Congress was able to pass emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina within days, and yet, it's been more than two months since Sandy struck, and New York and New Jersey are still waiting for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Nine weeks after superstorm Sandy, 76-year- old Frank Giese (ph) relies on the Red Cross for meals. Just this week, he was able to return to his home on Staten Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water was coming through walls, through the brick.

SNOW: Giese shows us photos of his house that needed to be gutted, and while he is grateful to be back home, he is furious with House Republicans for failing to vote on the $60 billion aid package to help Sandy victims.

(on camera): If you were on Capitol Hill today, what would you say to lawmakers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You stink. All of you stink. You have no compassion, and you don't have blood in your veins. You have got ice cubes.

SNOW (voice-over): While Giese has returned home, many people on his block haven't because of the extensive damage and he worries about whether they will come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cried for two weeks when I lost this house. If I could cry again, I would cry again. I have no use for them in Washington. I have friends on the block here that lost more than me and they are living in shelters.

SNOW: This area of Staten Island was so hard-hit that President Obama visited New Dorp Beach with city and state officials back in November. In fact, he was right down the street from Gerry McClellan's (ph) home that was destroyed here. McClellan spends his days trying to salvage what he can as he waits for the insurance money. He remembers the president's promise to never forget, but McClellan says he is a realist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all politics. Everything is politics.

And, you know, just look out here right now. Everybody left. There is only like a couple agencies just hanging around. But in two more months, there will be nobody here and all these houses are still going to be vacant and gutted and waiting for help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, some of the residents we spoke with say they're relieved to hear that the House plans to hold a vote Friday on one aid package and another in mid-January. But they say they hope that House Republican leaders will keep their word -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It sure is amazing to see the devastation still there behind you, still everywhere in Staten Island and beyond. Mary Snow, thank you so much.

As you mentioned, Wolf, though, aid could be on the way, but they have two votes in the House to get through to get that aid package heading toward the Sandy devastation.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If it does pass the House, there will be a lot more Democrats voting for it than Republicans. Republicans want those offsets. They want to cut spending elsewhere to pay for the $60 billion. And Peter King and other Republican congressmen from New York and New Jersey, they point out, look, disaster relief from Katrina, other places, there was no offsets then. Why have a double standard for people?

BOLDUAN: It often changes when the devastation is in your district.

BLITZER: Of course it does. Thank you.

The $60 billion Sandy aid package would be the second largest, by the way, in U.S. history, surpassed only by the more than $62 billion spent on recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The next largest aid package was $21 billion in the wake of 9/11, followed by $11.6 billion for Hurricane Charley way back in 2004. Almost $9 billion for the 1994 Northridge earthquake out in California. More than $4 billion for the Midwest floods of 1993.

Those numbers, by the way, are not adjusted for inflation.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, echoes from the fiscal cliff vote, they may carry all the way to 2016. We will look at the impact for possible presidential contenders.

Plus, questions are swirling about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Why aren't we getting more information about her condition and do we even have the right to know?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have just learned that the fiscal cliff bill has now been delivered to the White House for President Obama's signature. The dramatic last-minute House vote revealed, though, some stunning disarray inside the GOP leadership.

In the end, 85 Republicans were among the 257 lawmakers to vote for the bill.

BOLDUAN: Among them, the House speaker, John Boehner, who broke with tradition, quite a bit, to cast a vote that evening.

But his number two and number three, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, they both voted against the bill, and other votes may hold some clues about the next race for the White House. We can never talk about that soon enough.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us more with this part of the story.

What are you picking up? What votes are offering some clues? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what everybody was watching, right? This was, besides the votes as to whether or not it would pass, as to who was going to vote what on this. And while much of Washington was peering just over the edge of the fiscal cliff, and looking into the abyss below, a select few politicians were keeping their eyes on the horizon, to the campaign cliff of 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): He was on the GOP ticket in 2012 and is a potential contender in 2016. But Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee was nearly invisible in the run up to the fiscal cliff. Ryan finally voted yes and slipped down to the capital chatting briefly with CNN off camera.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you vote yes?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (D), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: If you want a bill to pass, you should vote for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you want it to pass?

RYAN: I am not afraid of anything. I think it needed to pass.

ACOSTA: One reason for his performance, conservative activists are outraged by what happened. Taxes are going up mostly on wealthier Americans while the automatic spending cuts were delayed.

AMY KREMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: I think there will be consequences because, you know, people have been understanding and tolerant, but at the end of the day, how long can we continue down this path of spend and spend and spend some more?

ACOSTA: So it's no surprise Tea Party activist are touting other possible 2016 candidates like Florida Senator Marco Rubio who stirred up even more presidential speculation by tweeting his opposition saying, "How can Barack Obama call his proposal a deficit reduction package? If it uses tax increases to fund more spending and it increases the debt." Tea Party favorite Rand Paul also voted no with gusty.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You may not get any more revenue and you may not get any more economic growth, but you can say I stuck it to the rich people.

ACOSTA: But those Republicans voting yes may have caught a break. After Congress missed the fiscal cliff deadline of December 31, taxes technically went up on all Americans so when the deal was approved on the 1st, well, listen to anti-tax activist, Grover Norquist.

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, "AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM": So we're not raising taxes. We're actually cutting taxes.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Because the Bush tax cuts have expired yesterday? NORQUIST: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you say? I'm sorry.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope so. I think so.

ACOSTA: What about the Democrats? Vice President Joe Biden is very much back in the conversation for 2016 after a shout-out from the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to thank all the leaders of the House and Senate, in particular I want to thank the work that was done by my extraordinary Vice President Joe Biden.

ACOSTA: But there is one problem. The fiscal mess that is so big even deficit hawk Allan Simpson did the "Gangnam Style" to call attention to it isn't going anywhere.

MAYA MACGUINEAS, FIX THE DEBT: Let me just say that if this is a problem that we have not dealt with before the next presidential election, 2016, nobody should want to have that job because the country will be in such bad shape.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: So the fiscal cliff was just a preview of coming attractions. Votes on the debt ceiling and those spending cuts in the fiscal cliff are just around the corner. And they could, potentially, make or break some of the political careers of some of these potential candidates that we're watching.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: When the president says -- and you know this -- when the president says, I'm not even going to negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, you're just going to have to do it. A lot of Republicans, Kate, you know, you cover the Hill.

BOLDUAN: They are saying, OK, we will talk about that, because that's not true.

ACOSTA: And part of this is about where the Republican Party is headed from here. There are sort of three paths ahead. One is the pragmatic route that the Senate Republicans took on the night they overwhelmingly voted in favor of it.

There's the Tea Party Republican route, which is, hey, wait a minute, we don't want to do any of this stuff, and then there's sort of the mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore route that Chris Christie talked about today. And until we get some clarity on that, we're going to be watching all of these candidates very closely.

BOLDUAN: And make no mistake. Politically, these votes always come back in terms of future votes, future politicians, future presidential runs. These votes always come back to haunt these folks.

ACOSTA: They're watching.

BLITZER: Ask John Kerry. I was for it before I was against it. We remember all that.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, in any case, Erskine Bowles, by the way, of the Bowles/Simpson commission, he will be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. He has some very strong views about what's going on.

A shocking and potentially lethal discovery at an upscale New York address. We have some surprising new details about the two young people who were arrested there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: It's a volatile explosive that's an al Qaeda favorite, so you can imagine the shock when it turned up along with a cache of weapons in a high-end New York apartment.

BLITZER: But just as shocking, the two suspects now in custody, two young Americans from privileged backgrounds.

CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti is working the story for us.

What are you finding out, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's the kind of case that leaves you wondering, what did this young couple have in mind and what did they intend to do with all kinds of explosive materials and manuals, including one called "How to Make a Booby Trap," and the other, "The Terrorist Encyclopedia."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): It's not the kind of activity you would expect in an apartment in a posh section of Manhattan, but when police raided the home of Aaron Greene and Morgan Gliedman in Greenwich Village, they found explosive material called HMTD and chemicals used to make it, along with two shotguns and a flare gun and high capacity magazines.

RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: The HMTD is extremely dangerous, and that's why the building was evacuated and surrounding buildings as well were certainly put on notice because of the ability of this to just go off at any given time.

CANDIOTTI: As shocking the suspects come from successful families. Erin Green's father is a successful business owner and Morgan Gliedman's dad is a well-known doctor who owns the building where the two lived rent free. Gliedman's mom is a high-end realtor. Green's lawyer declined to comment. A law enforcement source says the two met in rehab and that her family believes Greene was the instigator.

(on camera): What appears to have been going on in that apartment?

KELLY: Well, we are still trying to determine precisely what was going on, but obviously the biggest cause for concern was the explosive.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): HMTD is a signature al Qaeda bomb-making material. It was used successfully in the 2005 London subway bombing attack. Convicted New York City subway plotter (inaudible) tried to use it, but had trouble making it.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a highly unstable bomb-making element and it's so unstable terrorists steer away from it because it's hard to handle and can easily go off.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Police were turned on to the suspects by a tip. The alleged bomb makers here in Washington Square Park invited a couple over to their apartment nearby to use the showers, and that's when suspect Aaron Greene allegedly showed off the weapons and even blew up a small amount of explosives right there in the apartment.

(voice-over): Law enforcement sources say the incident happened six weeks ago and authorities suspect the tipster might have been moved to call the police after the Newtown shooting.

(on camera): Did they have a beef against somebody or any writings? What are you trying to find out about them?

KELLY: Well, we're trying to identify precisely what you said. Was there a target? Was there a cause that they were adhering to, and what was the objective or the goal of having all of this information and this weaponry?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, suspect Aaron Greene has not yet made his second court appearance. That will happen later this week, so we don't know what his plea is just yet.

As for his alleged accomplice, Morgan Gliedman, we have not yet reached her lawyer. She has not had a court appearance yet, because she just gave birth to a baby and she is still under police guard at a local hospital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty disturbing stuff, Susan Candiotti reporting. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: What a wild story.

Still ahead, what's going on with Hillary Clinton? Many are asking. She walked out of a New York hospital a few hours ago, but we are told she has not been released. We're digging deeper next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And it's very good breaking news.

We have just been told by the State Department that the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has been discharged from the hospital in New York, just a little while ago. This is official statement from the State Department, just coming in.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has the statement for us.

Jill, go ahead. Read the statement to our viewers. There's a high interest on the condition of the secretary of state.

DOUGHERTY: OK, Wolf.

Well, it just came out a few minutes ago. "Secretary Clinton was discharged from the hospital this evening. Her medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts and they are confident she will make a full recovery. She's eager to get back to the office and we will keep you updated on her schedule, as it becomes clearer in the coming days. Both she and her family would like to express their appreciation for the excellent care she received from the doctors, nurses, and staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Colombia University Medical Center."

So that's the news, the statement coming out from the State Department after kind of a confusing day. We saw that video of the secretary emerging from the hospital, and then apparently going back into the hospital. But the good news now is that she actually has been discharged, and apparently is doing well, and about to, they expect, make a full recovery -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because when she walked out of that building, we're showing our viewers the pictures, with the president, the former President Bill Clinton, with daughter, Chelsea, she got into that van, but we're told she went to a different location on the campus of that hospital, presumably to get another test or whatever, and then she came back.

She was not discharged formally, but the good news now is she has been discharged from the hospital and according to the statement from the Stat Department, is making good progress on all fronts. And the statement goes on to say, they are confident she will make a full recovery, which, of course, we are happy to hear. We will be watching all of that, closely.

Jill, thank you.

The events, today, though, still raise some questions about the secretary's condition, on top of some already wild speculation that was out there. Kate Bolduan is here with more on this part of the story. And some of that speculation was ridiculous.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: pretty wild, if you will, Wolf. The State Department wasn't already embroiled in enough controversy regarding the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Some are taking it even a step further. Enter controversy and conspiracy theories surrounding the secretary's recent illness.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Monday, December 10, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suffering from the flu, cancels a planned trip to North Africa and the Middle East. Her spokesman telling CNN, "Since she's still under the weather, we'll be staying put this week."

Five days later, the State Department says Clinton had suffered a concussion after fainting earlier in the week, one official insisting the concussion was not severe.

That same day, the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced, due to health reasons, Clinton would no longer be testifying in a much- anticipated public hearing on the attack in Benghazi. That did not sit well with some on the right, from an outgoing tea party-backed congressman to conservative commentators, all accusing the secretary of state of hiding behind her illness.

COL. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: You know, I'm not a doctor, but it seems as though that the secretary of state has come down with a case of Benghazi flu. I think we have to get to the bottom of this.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Apparently, she's suffering from an acute Benghazi allergy, which causes lightheadedness when she hears the word Benghazi or is being asked about it.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEW ANCHOR: If she's in the NFL, I wouldn't let her play. But I think she can make a phone call.

BOLDUAN: "The New York Post" ran the headline, "Hillary Clinton's head fake."

Every former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton piled on.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. : Every foreign service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase I'm about to use. When you don't want to go to a conference or a conference or an event, you have a diplomatic illness. And -- and this is a diplomatic illness, to beat the band.

BOLDUAN: Then Sunday brought news of the blood clot, the State Department announcing Secretary Clinton's illness was something much more serious. Since then, relative silence from her critics. When asked on FOX News about his earlier remarks suggesting an effort to keep Clinton from testifying, John Bolton seemed to soften his tone.

BOLTON: I didn't think that was the effort to begin with. I think that they're trying to walk a fine line, that does not affect the potential presidential candidacy that we expect Senator Clinton to enter into in the near future.

BOLDUAN: And the "New York Post" changed its tune, as well, wishing Clinton a, quote, "full and rapid recovery," in an editorial Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, Melinda Henneberger of "The Washington Post," Democratic strategist, Kiki McLean also joining us.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in. You wrote an intriguing article in "The Washington Post," Melinda. Among other things, you said, "On a matter as sensitive as a head injury followed by denials of any neurological symptoms, I'm not sure why we would or should unquestioningly accept the word of any politician."

So go ahead, explain the point you were trying to make.

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, "WASHINGTON POST": My point was really just that it's normal that there would be questions. After all, it's our job to ask questions of anyone in that situation. And there is a long history of public officials not being completely forth coming about health issues.

Although I back to FDR never being seen in the wheelchair or, you know, we didn't know Edith Wilson was running the White House after her husband, Woodrow, had a stroke.

So given the long history and the sensitivity of it, I just think it's normal that there be questions. I don't think it necessarily means that these are people who wish her ill.

BLITZER: Of course not. And, nothing wrong with journalists asking questions. From a P.R. -- you're a good Democratic strategist. You've worked with Hillary Clinton, you know her quite well. When they put out a statement that raises some further questions, isn't it smart, though, as a public official, a secretary of state, to answer those questions?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, and I think, I think she and her office have done that. I'm trying to figure out: now, I'm a layperson, I'm not a doctor. So maybe there are questions a doctor would have known to ask, some very technical element. But from what I can tell, as a consumer of the news, that we've been told all along, we were told she had the stomach flu. We were told she had fallen and suffered a concussion. And then we were told that she couldn't come and testify, because her doctors had said, "No, you need to be here and you need to recover from this concussion."

You know, I was talking earlier about the fact that I'm the mother of a 10-year-old boy and I come from Texas. I read the NFL stories on concussions. They're serious. But you can heal and be perfectly fine, but they're serious and they need to be addressed. Then we were told she had something checked on. There's a blood clot, but we were told she's going into the hospital this morning. And guess when that...

BLITZER: Because when they say the blood clot, they didn't say it was in her head. They just said she had a blood clot. Twenty-four hours later, we learned, thanks to them, they did tell us...

MCLEAN: I'm going to make a guess at this point, Wolf, because I'm not the person who drafted those statements, that sometimes we read a lot into something negative when somebody is speaking in the present tense and assumes that you knew, oh, well, she had a blood clot...

BLITZER: There was a lot of speculation: was it the leg? Was it someplace else.

MCLEAN: So what...

BLITZER: For 24 hours, we were wondering where that blood clot was.

MCLEAN: But what I'm suggesting is, I don't always think human communication is always a demonstration of conspiracy against it.

And I think Melinda's right. I think Melinda's right. I do think you get to ask questions. I think Secretary Clinton, more than anyone on the planet, understands the responsibility to be transparent, given her responsibilities. And frankly, even if she wasn't in this job, she recognizes the role she plays in public life.

HENNEBERGER: Tough enough to take the questions.

BLITZER: All those conservative pundits speculating that she was making it all up so she would haven't to testify. What did you think about that?

HENNEBERGER: I mean, I wasn't surprised by it, was my real point.

MCLEAN: Doesn't it underline their argument?

HENNEBERGER: The first moment when I heard that, I thought, conspiracy theorists, start your engines. So the reaction was not surprising, but neither -- I thought the backlash to the backlash went -- was a little exaggerated, as well.

When you start hearing like Tina Brown wrote, you know, John Bolton has questioned her magnificence. He isn't fit to wipe her floor with his mustache.

MCLEAN: Yes, but you know what?

HENNEBERGER: She's a lot tougher than a lot of people who are so outraged by questions being asked. MCLEAN: She is a lot tougher. But here's the deal. People like John Bolton were not questioning, saying, "Gosh, could you give us some more information," like maybe Melinda would have. They were accusing her of faking an illness to avoid responsibility that she takes seriously. That is what is unacceptable, and that's a big piece of a problem of what's wrong in our public discourse today.

Who cares if it was unfair to Hillary Clinton? She can take it. She's tough. But it's inappropriate. It is impolitic, and frankly, I think it sends the wrong message to every child, every college student, and every person who wants to offer themselves up to public service.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that it undermines -- if they have legitimate questions, as you said, it's our job to question our politicians. If there are legitimate questions, do you think it undermined maybe the conservative argument, because they came out so early, before there was actually real word of what her condition was, and it was more serious than people originally thought.

HENNEBERGER: I think that it's not something I was questioning. But, because I know Hillary is tough and she's a fighter, too. So even though I would never have thought she's scared to testify before Congress, no, she's not.

But would she rather not, should she decide to run, hand her rivals some are tape of, you know, being grilled on the Hill? It crossed the mind of people who are Democrats and like Hillary Clinton. It doesn't have been to be someone who hates her.

MCLEAN: That requires -- that requires so much supposition, so many steps other than, the woman hit her head. And you've got to pay attention, and I guarantee you, she would much rather have been there to testify.

By the way, remind your viewers, she has said she will. And she'll come back and do it. And she's told the Senate that she'll do that. So no one should think tonight that that's not something she's said she'd do. I guarantee you, she would have much rather have been there on the appointed day at the appointed time to answer those questions.

BOLDUAN: Doesn't it also raise the question of, doesn't it always come up, where is the line? And when you're in public office and you're a public figure, yes, there's going to be more information out there about you, and people want to know more information than eight more private citizens. But where is that line?

MCLEAN: This isn't about people wanting more information. This is about people making accusations about the information they had. And that's the difference.

HENNEBERGER: Were all of them, though, accusations "You are faking it," or wasn't it a little bit of a joke? And it turns out it was a joke that was in poor taste, given what we now know, that she...

BLITZER: But some of those...

MCLEAN: You think Bolton -- you think Bolton was joking? I don't.

BLITZER: Some of those conservatives really suspected that she was faking. They weren't just joking about it.

HENNEBERGER: For some of them, I think I heard, at least, a little corner of admiration in it.

MCLEAN: I didn't get it from Bolton or Krauthammer. I didn't get that.

BLITZER: The former U.S. ambassador. Look, the point of the matter is, when you're -- when you're a public figure...

HENNEBERGER: ... a worthy ally; a worthy adversary.

BLITZER: When you're the secretary of state, you know, there's limited -- if you're a private citizen, you're entitled to all the privacy you want. But if you're the secretary of state, and you're putting out a statement, you know, release the information. It's going to come out anyhow. And you know that. You've been in this business for a while.

MCLEAN: I guess we're really talking about two different issues. You're raising a question of time and how much information. I think the bigger issue here, and I think what you were talking about, and what you wrote, was really about what people did with the information. What conclusions they chose to draw.

My point is, she's a public figure. She has public responsibilities.

BLITZER: All of us...

MCLEAN: She should put information out, and she did.

BLITZER: She's gone through a horrible few weeks. She was sick with a bad stomach flu. She was dehydrated. She fainted and then she hit her head, and she had a concussion. We know how serious that is.

And then they had a routine MRI, and they discover a blood clot. That's a dangerous situation. And so let her rest, let her get strong. She's out of the hospital.

Now, at some point, Melinda, I'm sure she will go up, as a private citizen, testify, and tell everyone what she knew, what she didn't know, move on. She is a tough lady, and we wish her the best.

HENNEBERGER: What she's been through, what she's been accused of in the past, this is nothing. This is just keeping her...

BLITZER: We believe I'm worried about -- the four days in the hospital, you know, a blood clot in her head, that's serious stuff.

MCLEAN: We're lucky that she had access to great care.

BLITZER: Yes.

MCLEAN: And we're lucky that she knew to get the kind of care she needed.

BOLDUAN: Kiki and Melinda, thank you. Thank you both so much.

Still ahead, after a shooting that devastated this community, the children of Newtown are getting back -- are getting to go back to school. How parents and school officials are preparing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A civil war far deadlier than anyone realized. Kate's here. She's got more on this and some of the day's other top stories. Pretty disturbing information coming out of Syria.

BOLDUAN: Such astonishing numbers that continue -- continue to climb. The United Nations is now estimating that at least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria's almost two-year-old civil war. That's a far higher toll than previously reported.

The U.N. data specialists came up with the new figure themselves, rather than relying on numbers from opposition groups, whose data has varied quite wildly.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights calls the number, quote, "shocking and shameful, to say the least."

Also, survivors of Newtown, Connecticut -- of the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre return to class tomorrow at a new school. The facility in the nearby town of Monroe was closed back in 2010, but it's being reopened to serve as the new Sandy Hook Elementary. Officials held an open house today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET ROBINSON, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: The teachers have met this morning. The parents of some of the children have been walking through at other times. We have an open house, as they walked through today.

The children are coming in. They are so excited to see their teachers. And the -- and the students coming in completes the circle. That's what's missing right now, is getting our students back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: You'll remember Sandy Hook's principal was among those killed in the massacre. A former principal, who led the school for ten years, is now coming out of retirement to lead the new Sandy Hook Elementary.

As Congress prepares to take up new gun-control legislation, some people are taking steps to buy a firearm now. The FBI says they had a record number of background checks requested last month, nearly 2.8 million, total. It's difficult to know how many sales that led to, since not all sales require a background check, and some people buy more than one gun.

And if you want to win $50,000, the Federal Trade Commission has a contest for you. Who doesn't? It's offering that reward to anyone who can figure out how to block robo calls.

Most robo calls that sell things are illegal, but the technology to block them hasn't kept up with the robo calls themselves. People have until January 17 to send in their solutions, so get cracking, because I think everyone would agree, it would be a very good thing to end robo call.

BLITZER: I hate those robo calls. They interrupt. You're taking a nap...

BOLDUAN: You take a nap? I don't believe that.

BLITZER: I just hang up the phone right away. Hang up the phone.

Thank you.

Coming up, we're getting for information about Hillary Clinton. She's been released from the hospital. Her daughter, Chelsea, is providing some additional information. Stand by for that.

Also, the fiscal cliff bill may be at the White House, but the division over the vote expected to linger. We're taking a closer look at where the Republican leadership is now heading.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. I want to follow up on the breaking news we've been reporting. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has now been released. She was been discharged from the hospital in New York. Her doctors saying she -- they are confident she will make a full recovery.

We just got a couple tweets in from her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, who was seen walking out of the hospital with her mom and with the former president. "Grateful" -- she tweets, "Grateful my mom discharged from the hospital and is heading home. Even more grateful her medical team confident she'll make a full recovery."

She also tweeted, "Thank you to the doctors, nurses and staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center, for taking great care of my mom."

We're all thrilled that the secretary of state is heading home after four days in the hospital. Let's discuss this and more with our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen; the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

Hilary Rosen, goes without saying, you're thrilled that she's heading home. And we hope she'll make a full recovery.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, Chelsea's so cautious, so for Chelsea to get out there now and say something positive is extremely encouraging.

BLITZER: I'm sure she was worried.

And Ari, you're happy, as well, I know.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, of course. Of course. Well, she's our secretary of state, and we want everybody in our government to have good health. Of course, that's the only thing anybody would wish.

BLITZER: We wish her only the best.

BOLDUAN: I'm going to make a big turn to some of the other big news that we were talking about all this week. The fiscal cliff and the fiscal-cliff vote in the House.

Ari, first to you. One thing that is getting a lot of attention is not just the fact that the vote happened finally, but also where the vote break-down ended up terms of the Republican leadership. Are we seeing kind of a crack in the united front of House Republican leadership? Boehner, Paul Ryan voting in favor of support of the bill, but Eric Cantor -- Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy voting against it. Who was right? Who was wrong here?

FLEISCHER: Kate, you are. You are seeing a crack in the leadership. It's not without precedent. I remember when the welfare reform bill was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. Every single member of the Democratic leadership in the House from then since beyond, minority Dick Gephardt on down, voted against Bill Clinton on welfare reform.

What's happening inside the Republican Party right now is the sound of conservatives frustrated because they came to Washington to cut spending, and they're not able to do so. And that's pouring out of Republican members that you talk to. And I think that's why you have leader McCarthy and leader...

BLITZER: Eric Cantor.

BOLDUAN: Eric Cantor.

FLEISCHER: Eric Cantor vote the way they voted. And it's that frustration spilling over.

Now, the one interesting thing is they both waited until the vote hit 218, so I don't think at the end of the day, they'd have tanked the agreement, but they waited to give that courtesy to make sure the vote went over the top. That's important inside the Congress.

ROSEN: It's also a difference now. It's the smell of sort of pure political ambition and calculation. I think Eric Cantor is just waiting for John Boehner to fail at something and, therefore, you know, he wanted to vote differently than -- than John Boehner.

Marco Rubio in the Senate, you know, is calculating his 2016 primary and thinks that there's something there. You know, the problem really is the bigger picture is that the Democrats are the ones who keep becoming reasonable, saving the day, putting the votes over the top.

This GOP leadership is failing the country. There's -- there's -- it's not just that there's no cohesion. It's that there's no strategy or plan, really, to do anything different. And, you know, John Boehner and Eric Cantor had their chance to actually come up with a more reasonable package and didn't.

BLITZER: Ari, I thought that John Boehner showed a little courage there. He was almost a profile in courage, if you will, going against so many of his fellow Republicans and saying, "You know what? There aren't a whole lot of spending cuts, but the country cannot go over this fiscal cliff, because tens of millions of Americans will see their taxes going up."

So he did the right thing in terms of wanting to protect so many millions of Americans.

FLEISCHER: Wolf, at the end of the day, the speaker's job is to be the most reasonable person in the House, and the person has to figure out how they're going to move things forward, even if you're not satisfied with everything that you are doing. And that's the burden of being the speaker. You don't have this liberty that some other members have to just vote on the basis of their ideology.

And certainly, there were Democrats, for example, who voted against this bill. I don't think they did it for pure crass -- crass politics or because they might run for something one day. They did it because of ideology.

Ideology is important. Cutting spending is important. That's that frustration I was talking about before.

But Wolf, you're right about the speaker, that he did have a very difficult role to play. He played it as best he could. I don't know any Republicans who are happy, but we'd all be a lot less happy if taxes had gone up on every American.

BLITZER: I think that's the bottom line on this. Guys, not a perfect bill. A lot of people were not happy with it.

ROSEN: They rarely are.

BLITZER: But the president's going to sign it into law pretty soon. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, it looks like something out of a James Bond movie. A shocking maneuver for extinguishing a massive boat fire. Jeanne Moos is next with that amazing video.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Some surprise help for a speedboat engulfed in flames from another boat and a pretty extraordinary technique. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When a vessel catches fire, the best way to put it out is probably with a hose. But when a boat is aflame on a lake in New Zealand and there's no hose in sight, this is a sight for sore eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?

MOOS: Two men doused the flames with the spray from their speedboat. Hayden Oliver caught it on tape.

HAYDEN OLIVER, VIDEOTAPED SPEEDBOATS: It's crazy.

MOOS (on camera): The maneuver was performed not once, but four times.

(voice-over) Someone called emergency services, but it took 25 minutes for fire trucks to reach Lake Lyndon, and by then, the speedboat had done its trick, impressing even dispatch manager on duty Leroy Griffiths (ph).

(on camera) What do you call that technique that they used?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): I call it ingenious.

MOOS (voice-over): Online admirers said it was as if David Hasselhoff from "Baywatch" were at the wheel or James Bond. Except in his movies, 007 tends to set fires rather than put them out.

The speedboat even towed the burned up craft to the landing. The occupant jumped overboard and made it safely to shore.

Though the boat was a complete wreck, at least its 25 gallons of fuel didn't blow up and start a brush fire. Thanks to the speedboats' spray.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MOOS (on camera): The fire dispatch manager had a message for the mystery speedboaters, delivered in a window of native New Zealander.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just pakipaki, which is like "well done" in Maori, New Zealand.

MOOS (voice-over): Pakipaki, Mr. Bond.

SEAN CONNERY, ACTOR: Where there's smoke, there's fire.

MOOS: In this case, where there's fire, now there's only smoke. S.O.S.: splash our ship. Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Pakipaki.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very ingenious and very smart. I'm impressed.

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