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Interview With Sen. Rand Paul; Documents Handed Over In Christie Scandal; Former Christie Aides Pleads the Fifth; Is Clinton Repeating 2004 Mistakes?; Worst Month for Air Travel in Years

Aired February 4, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, Obamacare drive millions form the workforce. A stunning new Congressional report drives the White House and Republicans into spin mode. Senator Rand Paul is here to talk about it. I'll discuss it with him live.

Chris Christie fighting back. The governor issuing more denials in the New Jersey traffic scandal as investigators finally get their hands on some key documents.

And she hasn't even declared her candidacy, but is Hillary Clinton already peaking too soon? Why some Obama aides say she's making the same mistakes that cost her back in 2008.

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


BLITZER: Republicans are calling it a bombshell of vindication of their claims that Obamacare is harmful to the health of the U.S. economy. The Congressional Budget Office reports the health care law could pull 2.5 million workers out of the labor force in the next decade. The White House says there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. Suddenly, though, the fight over Obamacare is raging once again.

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's got the latest -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House argues that this law will give Americans more freedom to change jobs or, in the case of this report, to reduce their hours without the fear that they might lose their health insurance coverage. But the report also plays into the hands of critics who have long claimed that Obamacare is a drag on the economy.


KEILAR (voice-over): While President Obama was out trying to sell his agenda --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want America to now invest in you.

KEILAR: The White House found itself playing defense. A new report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimating Obamacare will cause Americans to leave the workforce, emboldening Republican claims that the law is a job killer.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: The CBO report is certainly not pretty if you're interested in creating jobs in America.

KEILAR: The report says Americans may choose to work fewer hours or not at all to maintain their eligibility for Medicaid or federal subsidies or because they can now purchase insurance on the individual market rather than relying on an employer. The report says that will cause a reduction in the labor force equal to more than two million workers in 2017, 2.5 million by 2024.

White House officials are calling the CBO's calculations incomplete saying they ignored job growth the health care law will create.

(on-camera) Is that an admission that there are some winners and losers here when you're talking about people who want to participate in the workforce?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is nothing as documented. There's nothing here that by giving you the option of affordable and quality health insurance. We're not giving you -- that's not a negative thing.

KEILAR (voice-over): The report also finds one million fewer people than expected will sign up for Obamacare by the end of March when the enrollment window closes. Six million instead of the seven million initially projected. But the White House is touting the CBO's finding that the deficit will fall to $514 billion this year, its lowest point since 2007, reassuring news to economist.


KEILAR (on-camera): Now, the president's top economist, Jason Furman, was asked if this reported information about this reduction in workforce isn't a net drag on the economy. He wouldn't actually commit to an answer on that that, Wolf, but White House officials including Furman really emphasizing what they see as the positives of this law that they feel are not included in this report.

They say there will be more job mobility. There will be more productivity and they say more people will be able to strike it out on their own as entrepreneurs.

BLITZER: Good point. Let's get some reaction, though. Brianna, thanks very much. Republicans clearly saying we told you so as they pounce on this latest report. Joining us to discuss this and more, Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Glad to be with you, Wolf. BLITZER: So, what do you think about this report that suggests that now that people can get insurance. They don't have to worry about pre-existing conditions. If they don't have a job they can still get insurance. (INAUDIBLE) to their jobs, they're going to have more freedom, if you will. What do you think about this conclusion from this report?

PAUL: Well, I think, you know, what we've always said is that Obamacare adds a cost to employment and if you increase the cause of employing someone, you will cost unemployment. So, if two million people won't get their jobs because of Obamacare, economists also say another million people may be prevented from getting a job because we have to manage such an enormous debt. So, there's a lot of things going on that makes the economy weak.


PAUL: And we've got 20 million people out of work. It's a disaster out there. And we need to decide, are the president's policies working or they not working?

BLITZER: I spoke earlier today with Gene Sperling, the director of the president's National Economic Council. After this report was released, listen to what he told me.


GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: People who are working more than they want to simply for health care, some of them will have the option of working a little less. And in terms of what the overall impact on jobs will be, I think you have to look at what the impact on productivity is because people are healthier, working harder, having less sick days.


BLITZER: He's making the point that if you have health insurance, you're going to be healthier presumably because you'll be going to doctors. You're a physician. You understand that.

PAUL: It doesn't necessarily equate. Now, good behavior, exercise, and diet may prevent illness. Going to the doctor doesn't necessarily prevent illness.

BLITZER: But it can prevent an illness if they can detect some serious illness there in an early stage and deal with it, that's going to prolong your life.

PAUL: But if you look dollar for dollar and you say you spend more on health care, we'll be healthier, there are some preventive illnesses, but it's not dollar for dollar, and often, it isn't even correlated, to tell you the truth. Healthier behavior causes healthier people but not necessarily spending more on health care. But really, we're missing the real point. The real point is is that Obamacare is going to cost two million fewer people to have jobs. The huge advance and increase in our debt also costs us another million, and really, we need the opposite. We need millions of new jobs created. Instead, what we're seeing is an Obama economy with 20 million people really searching for work.

BLITZER: But you like the fact that children can stay on their parents' health insurance programs until they reach the age of 26. You don't have to worry about pre-existing conditions any longer. You can change your jobs, still get health insurance. You like all the positive features of the Affordable Care Act.

PAUL: Well, here's the though, Wolf, it sounds good to keep your kid until 26 until you find out how much is going to cost. I have a 21- year-old and I found out it was going to cost me nearly $500 a month to keep him on. There was a report this morning or yesterday that came out of Pennsylvania showing that some families were going from like $700 a month to $1,300 a month.

So, having those extra kids on your policy sounds good, but they're extraordinarily expensive because Obamacare charges you per individual whereas your old policy sometimes didn't cost you more if you had more children.

BLITZER: So, if you were to redo the law right now and I know you've studied it extensively, what would you keep from Obamacare?

PAUL: The main thing you want to do that's different than Obamacare is you want to expand choice and you want to expand health savings accounts and people's ability to save for their insurance. We did the opposite. We limited health savings accounts and we contracted choice. We really took away the freedom of choice.

So, really, what I would say is you want people to have more choices, more competition and lower prices. And I'd say Obamacare does the opposite. Less choices, more expense. So, there's a lot of things you could do. You could create a market.

Even if we weren't able to repeal Obamacare, which I would repeal it, you could simply expand choice by opening up health savings accounts and allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. That in and of itself would go a long way towards try to bring prices down.

BLITZER: Let me go your thoughts in a couple other critically important issues right now, including raising the nation's debt ceiling by the end of this month. The treasury secretary, Jack Lew, says if you don't do that, if Congress doesn't pass this legislation, it will cause enormous harm to the U.S. credit rating, to the overall U.S. economy. Are you ready to vote in favor of raising the nation's debt limit?

PAUL: Well, the interesting thing is, in 2011, when we did raise the debt ceiling and we added sequester budget caps to try to restrain spending, the S&P said it was inadequate and downgrade our debt anyway. So, we're now giving up on this sequester. So, absolutely, we should tie any increase in the debt ceiling to budgetary restraint. And when the president says he won't negotiate with a gun to his head, well, he won't negotiate without a gun to his head or without a deadline. Absolutely, there needs to be budgetary restraint because it's unconscionable to keep raising the debt ceiling without trying to restrain spending.

BLITZER: When I hear you saying is unless the president is willing to accept some concessions, that the Republican side is demanding you won't vote to raise the nationa's debt ceiling?

PAUL: Yes, but I'm afraid I'm in a minority of the minority. The recent Ryan-Murray budget already gave up on the sequester. So, I jokingly said, are you going to be able to stop the debt ceiling? What would we ask for? Getting back what we already just gave up a month ago? So, I don't have any high hopes for Republicans standing firm and saying we won't raise the debt ceiling. They've already been played.

I mean, they've shown that they're unwilling to stand firm because we gave up the sequester.


PAUL: Do you think they're, all of a sudden, going to get a backbone and say, oh, now, we're going to stand up. And what are we going to ask for, the sequester back? I mean, the sequester slowed down the rate of growth of spending but didn't even make any cuts and we gave up on that. So, I'm kind of discouraged about how things are going around in Washington.

BLITZER: That Ryan-Murray budget as you well know, that basically curtailed the sequester as it's called the forced spending cuts for the next two years, not for all of the next ten years, but you voted against it. You hated it to begin with?

PAUL: Well, the thing is, it's the only thing believable in Washington as about two years where the budgeting -- here. The sequester was a ten-year plan and we adhered it for two years. So, really, nothing in the out years is believable. In fact, I tell people in America, don't send your money to Washington. They're not good with money. They're not to be trusted.

So, try to keep the money in your states and in your cities and in your pocket but don't send it to Washington because they misspend it, misallocate it. We don't know where $100 billion is. We lost $100 billion last year and we can't find it. So, don't send money to Washington.

BLITZER: Two other issues before I let you go. You're ready to accept a compromise to extend unemployment benefits for at least three months for more than a million, maybe a million and a half workers out there, many of whom are in desperate need of that money?

PAUL: Yes. I'd like to give them jobs. And so, what I'd like to do is let's do something to create jobs. And so, I have an economic freedom zone package that would dramatically lower taxes in areas of high unemployment and areas of long-term unemployment and this would be going at the source of the problem instead of trying to put a Band- Aid on the problem.

The Band-Aids aren't working and they're trapping people in long-term unemployment and then employers don't want to hire the long-term unemployed. They want to hire the guy that's been out of work two months, not two years. So, we have to be careful about it.

Even though I know people's motives are correct, they want to do the right thing, they want to help people, but you don't want to trap people in an area where they can't get out from under long-term unemployment and they never go back into the workforce. That's really the wrong result.

BLITZER: Well, you have a long-term solution, but over the next three months -- three-month deal to help these people over the next three months and then you can start talking about these longer term issues, are you with those Republicans and Democrats who are ready to accept such a compromise?

PAUL: Well, I think the deal ought to be part of this. If we're going to extend unemployment benefits, I can vote for it if it's paid and if we do something good to create jobs. I'll give you another example. There's $2 trillion overseas. It won't come home because we tax it twice at 35 percent the second time.

Tax it at five percent, hundreds of billions of dollars will flow home creating jobs at home and that money will come from overseas. But why don't we do something good instead of just putting Band-Aids on things. Let's try to bring some of that money home and create jobs.

BLITZER: Sometimes you need a Band-Aid, though, as you well know. You probably have some Band-Aids in your medicine closet. You need those from time to stop the bleeding, shall we say. All right. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, while Republicans are all fired up once again over Obamacare, what's the impact of this new report on President Obama as he tries to move ahead with his agenda?

And Chris Christie digs in his heels on the Bridgegate scandal as this called, but are investigators now armed with brand new information? We have new developments. That's coming up.



BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story this hour. A stunning Congressional study -- non-partisan Congressional study, warning that Obamacare could reduce the overall workforce by more than two million people. Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, the chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. You heard the points that Rand Paul made a lot of Republicans, Gloria, or making the same point saying that this vindicates them. Obamacare is a disaster. Though, when you read the fine print of this Congressional Budget Office study, it doesn't say you're losing all these jobs. It's going to reduce the workforce, the number of workers which potentially could be good if Obamacare gives them the opportunity to retire or do other stuff, not worry about getting health insurance.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You can hear the republican ads, job killer, this costs two million jobs, and the Democrats are saying, and the White House is saying, look, this just gives you more freedom to choose. So, if you can get health care subsidies and then maybe you'll decide to work a little bit less. So, they say it's about freedom of choice.

Republicans say it's about lost jobs and, you know, where you stand depends on where you sit. It's the argument we've heard over and over again. It's not a new argument. Job killer versus job creator or something that gives you more freedom.

BLITZER: And you've been getting reaction on the Hill. Republicans are pouncing right now. Democrats, there've been on the defense.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I just have to tell you a funny story. I just came from Capitol Hill. I was in the elevator with the couple of Democratic Congress people heading to the White House and I said, "is there buzz on the floor about this new CBO report?" And the answer was, "We're not sure. We're going to go with our talking points for the White House and we'll tell you what the buzz is."

Now, they were talking tongue in cheek, of course, but it does speak to where things are right now. Not that Congressional Democrats necessarily trust the White House, but they are relying on them to push back on exactly what you said substantively. It's not about killing jobs. It's at least the way we're looking at it. The report says that it allows people to leave their jobs voluntarily. A big difference. But that gets lost --

BLITZER: And you heard Gene Sperling, the White House -- I played that clip, say this gives the average worker out there a lot more freedom.

BORGER: It's a little nuance for a political --

BASH: Exactly. But that -- precisely and that just speaks to some of the concern that Democratic sources I'm speaking to say is that, look, we understand, this is never going to be a winning issue for us on its merits like that --


BLITZER: One conservative is putting an ad out there and it's being seen a lot on TV these days going after Obamacare, pretty strong.


BLITZER: Let me play you a clip, an excerpt from that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for Barack Obama for president. I thought that Obamacare was going to be a good thing. Instead of helping me, Obamacare has made my life almost impossible.


BLITZER: That's a pretty tough ad.

BORGER: Yes. And Americans for Prosperity which did this ad has spent over $25 million on ad so far, and we're not even into the height of the political season yet, running against about a dozen House races and about a handful of Senate seats. And they're going to keep pushing on the Obamacare issue not working for you.

Look, it's not popular in this country, right? Obamacare hasn't gained its popularity back. So, they believe it's a waiting issue for them. Democrats say, you know, be careful about being Johnny One note.

BASH: Johnny One note. And also, I didn't realize this. I was talking to a democratic source who tracks this ad. All but one television ad that has been on the air in any of these states, so far, has been about Obamacare. So, talk about Johnny One Note. We're talking about outside groups and campaigns.

But what this democratic source says that they're finding in their internal data is that people are starting to feel fatigued about this fight. They don't want to hear about it anymore. These are even Republican voters in red states, not just the persuadable or swing voter. So, that gives them a little bit of hope, but they understand full well again that their Democratic candidates have to be for changes, not just --

BORGER: Right. What are you going to do to fix it?

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: OK? You know, you try to repeal it. We had the government shut down. That didn't work out so well. So, what are you going to do to fix it? People don't like it, but they don't want it to disappear totally either.

BLITZER: And they like various parts of it.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You can get insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition. Your kids can be insured, all that kind of stuff. All right. Here's John Boehner on another issue, the Keystone XL Pipeline. He's getting passionate (ph) about this. The state department came out with a report, a recommendation that seemed to indicate that it should be a go for the president. He's not committing yet. Listen to Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: You think the Keystone Pipeline is complex? It's been under study for five years. We've built pipelines everywhere in America every day. Do you realize there are 200,000 miles of pipelines in the United States? And the only reason that the president is involved in the Keystone Pipeline is because it crosses an international boundary. Listen, we can build it. There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline. It's time to build it.



BLITZER: He's pretty adamant about that. There are a lot of Democrats who say build it. A lot of other Democrats who don't want to build it. So, the president's got to finesse this.

BORGER: Yes. And he's been finessing it for quite some time or trying to finesse it. And, you know, there was a study that came out last week that was not dispositive one way or another. It wasn't sort of a decision-making study. And I think, look, there are red state Democrats who want to build. So, the president -- but he's got his base. Who doesn't want --

BASH: Right. And which is what the context of that Boehner sound bite was --

BORGER: I loved it, by the way.

BASH: Yes. I mean, you know, -- yes, he's vintage Boehner. But he was asked at least a question started about what Republicans want to try to extract from the president on raising the debt ceiling, which is the fight and Republicans can't figure it out. One of two leading options is the Keystone Pipeline, but they're not even sure they can get enough Republican votes to pass and increasing the debt ceiling even with the Keystone Pipeline.

BLITZER: Yes. I think the president got to make a decision by June or so. We'll see what he does. All right. Guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, as Chris Christie digs in his heels, there's new information in the so-called Bridgegate scandal investigation.

And Hillary Clinton is not even a 2016 candidate yet, but is she already repealing some of the mistakes of 2008? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.




GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: Did I authorize it? Did I know about it? Did I approve it? Did I have any knowledge of it beforehand? And the answer is still the same. It's unequivocally no.


BLITZER: As the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, digs in, there are some new developments in the so-called Bridgegate scandal. A legislator with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN four people have handed over a subpoena documents. Two people are fighting the subpoenas, Christie's former deputy chief of staff and his former campaign manager.

Let's discuss all of this and more with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN "Crossfire" host, S.E. Cupp, and CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. I know you've been doing some reporting, Ryan. What's going on? What are you hearing about this latest developments, documents actually, handed over?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to be totally honest, there's not a lot of information leaking out about what's in the documents? But, I think, overall, what's happened over the last week is the entire nucleus of the Chris Christie operation, the team that was supposed to take this successful second-term governor and turn him into presidential candidate is now further and further wrapped up in the scandal.

The other piece of news today is that Michael Duham (ph) has not been subpoenaed by any of the investigative bodies looking into this. He's a top Christie political adviser. He was supposed to be someone that would be very important in 2016. He has now hired counsel. He's hired a lawyer. And he has said not the subpoena but he's hiring a lawyer because if he is subpoenaed, he wants to be able to act quickly.

So, this entire pivot that Christie was supposed to be making towards 2016 is just being completely dominated and slowed down because of this investigation. Another aide on Friday, we didn't talk about this this week, another aide of his resigned on Friday and two of his former aides are taking a fifth.

BLITZER: Three if you include David Wildstein. All three associates, deputy chief of staff, his campaign manager, Wildstein taking the fifth. And now, some of them are saying they don't want to hand over documents either saying this would violate their constitutional rights.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. This is a customary fight that prosecutors and subjects have during an investigation which is, do you have a Fifth Amendment right not to produce documents?


It's quite clear you have a Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions before a grand jury or to investigators, but the documents are sometimes a separate question. I think the short answer is, yes, you do have a Fifth Amendment right not to produce it. However, prosecutors or investigators can also go to other sources. They can go to the recipients of the e-mail, the other side of the e- mail and see if they'll produce the documents. But, I mean, these are the kinds of issues that slow down the investigation.

BLITZER: Because Bridget Kelly, I believe, have said a lot of these e-mails are personal, they have nothing to do with any bridges or anything like that, deals with her personal life, she's not going to release it. And there was even one suggestion she might cite the Fourth Amendment, which would be unlawful search and seizure.

TOOBIN: Right. I don't think that's much of an argument on the Fourth Amendment. But I think she probably does have a good Fifth Amendment, self-indiscrimination right. But all of this suggests how slow this process is going to be because the legislature might have to go to court over these issues.

The U.S. attorney who was subpoenaing many of the same documents, he may have to go to court. Once you go to court, things grind to a -- if not a stop something very slow. And so the three key figures here -- David Wildstein, Miss Kelly, and Bill Stepien, the political adviser -- have all taken the Fifth, and unless they get immunity we will never hear what they have to say.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that so many people are pleading the Fifth already?


BLITZER: More to come presumably.

CUPP: It's probably why they're doing it, to get immunity. This is a bargaining chip. It's not -- it's not unique that folks in that situation are lawyering up, even if they are -- feel they are removed somewhat by a few degrees from the heart of the situation because when a federal investigation is opened, you get a lawyer. That's just what happens.

Jeffrey's right. This is going to be very slow. So Chris Christie's opponents need to slow their roll a little bit and wait for the investigation to sort of come to its conclusion. But I think -- I think the good news for Chris Christie is -- and I am just speculating -- the good news --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Nobody has said that phrase in -- long time.


CUPP: Let me offer it up. Let me offer it up.


CUPP: I think the good news for Chris Christie is, if folks like Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein and Bill Stepien had information casting the blame away from themselves and on to someone else, i.e., Chris Christie, you better believe they'd be offering it up and maybe they will and maybe they are. But the fact that they are right now, anyway, saying I'm not going to talk, I'm not going to cooperate, I'm not going to hand over the subpoenaed evidence to me suggests maybe there isn't any linking Chris Christie to that. Again, total speculation.

LIZZA: Yes. Also one other point in Christie's favor here is there was a period a few weeks ago where there was a question about how much he was going to cooperate with the legislature's investigation, right? Some people thought --

CUPP: And he has.

LIZZA: Some people thought, you know what, maybe he's going to fight these subpoenas.

CUPP: Yes.

LIZZA: Maybe he's going to say it's illegitimate. Last night on this radio show, this call-in show in New Jersey, he said he was going to cooperate with the legislature and he's -- both his campaign arm and the governor's office, which have both been subpoenaed, are going to hand over those documents. If there was something incredibly incriminating that he knew he had, Jeffrey as a lawyer, wouldn't he --


LIZZA: Wouldn't he fight it?

BLITZER: I want you -- I want you to answer it, but I want you to read from your blog that you put up today, your "New Yorker" blog. You wrote this, "Events are now firmly out of his control." Referring to the governor. "All Christie wants to do is put this whole matter behind him. It will be increasingly apparent that he has a long road ahead of him."

CUPP: Yes.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, on the radio yesterday, I thought Christie said the right thing. And he said look, all I can do is my job as governor of New Jersey. And I think that's right. I think his people made a mistake with this ridiculous attack on David Wildstein.

LIZZA: Yes. Yes.

TOOBIN: For being a bad kid in high school. Christie smartly did not get -- you know, get pulled into that and he said he's just going to do his job because that's all he can do. This process is going to grind forward.


BLITZER: Yes, remember, Christie started the high school --

CUPP: Well, let me -- well, let me -- OK. All right.

BLITZER: Two-hour news conference -- CUPP: I don't --

BLITZER: -- he was talking about I was president of the class.

CUPP: I don't really care.

BLITZER: An athlete.


BLITZER: And he was --

LIZZA: The subtext there is --

CUPP: OK. But guys -- but, guys --

LIZZA: He's getting wedgies and like -- yes.

CUPP: Like I said, like I said, I don't care if David Wildstein had cooties just like I didn't care about Rand Paul's fraternity, Mitt Romney's dog or Sarah Palin's heels, all of which became centerpieces of Democratic attacks during those campaigns. So every -- I mean, every politician uses this, you know, digging up totally irrelevant personal information on their opponent to try and create a narrative.

LIZZA: Yes, but you've got to -- you've got to --

CUPP: Let's not pretend we are all so shocked and disturbed by Chris Christie.

LIZZA: No --


TOOBIN: But the Democrats have nothing to do with it. The Democrats --

LIZZA: It's one thing for, like, bloggers or something to point out something like that. But an actual governor of the state -- the e- mail coming from the governor's office saying his high school teacher said he wants --


CUPP: I appreciate --

LIZZA: Come on, you're not going to defend that.

CUPP: I -- I don't think it was a -- it was a good tactic and I appreciate your concern, but honestly, this kind of thing has happened in much too much worse degrees.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it on that. We'll see you 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Eastern Time, right? 6:30 in the "CROSSFIRE."

LIZZA: S.E.'s high school teacher. <17:35:00>

CUPP: On "CROSSFIRE." Oh, please don't. Please don't.

BLITZER: We'll leave you -- it is.


CUPP: No, no, no.

BLITZER: Maybe Jeffrey Toobin because, you know -- he was a first row teacher.


All right. Up next, from Chris Christie to Hillary Clinton, the other name creating massive 2016 buzz. But is she peeking a little bit too early?

Plus tens of thousands of flights cancelled in the worst month for air travelling in years. Why some cancellations may actually be good for passengers.



BLITZER: Hillary Clinton was out in public once again today, this time in New York's East Harlem neighborhood. She hasn't even declared her candidacy for 2016 but our new poll shows a big turnaround in a hypothetical 2016 matchup with Chris Christie. She now leads 55 percent to 39 percent.

But is Hillary Clinton already peeking too soon, repeating some of the mistakes that cost her back in 2008?

That's the conclusion of some current and former Obama aides in an article by the BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. Ben is joining us now, along with "New York Times" political reporter, Amy Chozick.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Amy, as a lot of our viewers will remember, wrote the controversial cover story -- I guess it was controversial because of the cover, not the article so much in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine last weekend.

Ben, let me get to you first. Some of these current and former Obama aides think this is really early for all this buzz, if you will, about Hillary Clinton. Give us -- give us an uptick on what they told you.

BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUZZFEED.COM: And I think they're less concerned about the chatter, which is pretty inevitable. I mean, she's the obvious frontrunner, than they are -- that she's building this -- and people associated with her, with her tacit blessing are building and have built this big infrastructure around her, a group to raise large sums of money, a group to raise smaller sums of money and have -- do grassroots organizing. A group to do rapid response.

And basically, you know, they worry that what happened in 2007, really, which is that she built this big machine but never figured out a message or a rationale for a candidacy. It's happening now -- the structure that gets ahead of, you know, what -- and I don't think anybody has really answered the question which is, if she was going to run for president, why would she do that?

BLITZER: Have you seen a message or some sort of structure out there already developing from her supporters, Amy?

AMY CHOZICK, POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think you mentioned the event today. You know, they'd really like us to focus on those events that she's doing. She held an event with Bill De Blasio, talking about early childhood development. She's talking about a lot of those issues. Income inequality, a big buzz word for Democrats right now. And she's talking about those a lot right now and she's probably wishing that those were getting attention instead of some of the polls that are out there.

BLITZER: Because the argument is --


BLITZER: Over the years, Ben, is it's never too early, you can't -- you've got to get -- you've got to get in this process of -- especially a presidential election, you've got to get in there early and you've got to work literally every day until the election.

SMITH: You know, I mean, there's a bit of damned if you do, damned if you don't here. If there was no infrastructure, that people would probably be saying, why aren't you creating, you know, shadow groups to organize on your behalf.

I mean, one of the -- perhaps it's interesting is the fact that people are belly aching is that Obama aides are willing to go on the record taking shots at her organization now.

BLITZER: Are they concerned that maybe she's getting too much exposure, Amy?

CHOZICK: Well, I thought that. And I thought Ben's story was really interesting in terms of them willing to go on record. I also thought -- I mean, this might be a way to -- give her operational lesson but it also might be, you know, some Obama Democrats are still hoping to see some challenger and to have a real debate in the Democratic Party about what they stand for, looking at someone like Elizabeth Warren, someone on the left to challenge her.


BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Ben.

SMITH: There's a real ambivalence -- I mean, I think there's a real ambivalence among the people who beat Hillary Clinton in 2007, 2008, about whether they want her to be the successor, whether they want Obama to be, you know, this president between two Clintons.

I mean, what you hear from people around Obama himself is that he doesn't -- you know, he doesn't care that much. He didn't get to be president by devoting his life to caring about other people's campaigns. But I think -- you know, but I think at some point, you know, if she's the nominee, she -- it'll all kick in, that, you know, she can secure his legacy in a way that Republicans might reverse it.

I think people -- if she's the nominee -- do eventually get on board, but I do think there's a lot of ambivalence around Obama now.

BLITZER: Were you surprised the other day when she had an event? Usually, what, she gives a speech before a trade association or something like that. She -- those speeches are closed doors to the media but she opened it up including to Q&A afterwards.

Amy, were you a surprised by that decision?

CHOZICK: Well, I was surprised at her frankness in talking about Benghazi. That was really the first time since she left the State Department that she really addressed it. Said it was her biggest regret. And I think of course that got a lot of attention.

Also you mentioned the decision to open it up to press. Obviously most of her paid speeches are not open to press so that might signal something, especially that they wanted people to pay attention to that Benghazi reference.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Ben, you have a quote in there from one of her top aides, Philippe Reines, who says this, and I'll put it up on the screen. "Hillary Clinton is not a candidate. Unless and until she is we're not going to act like one. I respect Ben," referring to Ben LaBolt, the former Obama aide. "But I think many of the -- on the president's team would say doing so -- anyone doing so this far out wouldn't make sense."

Do you see any tension developing between Camp Hillary and the Obama team?

SMITH: Well, it's -- I mean, it's actually somewhat more complicated than that. You know, there are -- there are supporters of Clinton who maybe think they're getting out too early. There are certainly supporters of Obama who are working for these new Clinton institutions.


I mean, you know, it's the Democratic Party. It's going to be messy.

BLITZER: If for some reason, Amy, she decides not to run, and it's by no means for sure, she will run, she could decide she doesn't want to go through it once again, then it's a wide open field for the Democrats, isn't it?

CHOZICK: Yes. Then it's going to be really interesting. There was a good story in "The Washington Post" a couple of days ago about Martin O'Malley sort of laying the groundwork to a potential run. He said he wouldn't challenge Clinton but he wants to be ready if she doesn't run.

BLITZER: He's the governor of Maryland. A lot of people in Maryland --

SMITH: The future secretary of Health and Human Services.

BLITZER: There are a lot of people in Maryland know who he is but a lot of people outside of Maryland probably don't know who he is.

Ben, walk us through that wide open field.

SMITH: I mean, you know, there's not so much there. I mean, I do think, you know, the smartest thing anybody has done is Elizabeth Warren, who is the obvious real serious challenger to Hillary Clinton because she's -- you know, she's a stalwart of the progressive left, the real policy person with a real, you know, policy agenda. She's been pushing her whole career.

And, also, you know, Hillary Clinton's strongest base of support, and the reason she could be a very strong candidate, is among women and Elizabeth Warren could obviously also say I -- you know, it'd no longer becomes well, I can be the first woman president being the determinative thing in the primary.


SMITH: The incredibly smart thing Elizabeth Warren did was say, hey, I'm not running for president.


BLITZER: Yes, she's now -- she's not running. Amy --

SMITH: Everybody is leaving her alone. She can always change her mind. That's not a binding commitment. It's made everybody to leave her alone for a year.

BLITZER: Well, what about the sitting vice president of the United States, Amy? I'm not hearing Joe Biden's name.

CHOZICK: Yes, I think there's a lot of -- of what about Joe Biden, especially among his top supporters. I hear that a lot. And you saw Jim Messina, top Obama operation, go joined Priorities which is, you know, supporting a Clinton -- potential Clinton candidacy. And so I think there is a lot of what about me in terms of Biden.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens. It's still obviously very early.

Guys -- Ben, good article. Thanks very much for joining us.

Amy, loved the cover story in the Sunday "New York Times" magazine as well.

CHOZICK: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney is joining us, by the way, tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll speak with him live. I'll ask him the big question that's been on the mind of some voters out there. Is it possible -- is it realistic to maybe run a third time in 2016? Also, what does the former Olympic chief executive think about security in Sochi?

Mitt Romney here live in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, the worst month for flight cancellations in years. A new storm is coming in the days ahead and it could mean thousands more cancellations.

And I'll talk to the real-life Erin Brockovich about that chemical spill that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands of people. Now it's a subject of a brand new criminal investigation.



BLITZER: More snow and ice are forecast for the northeast tonight and a major winter storm could follow this weekend. And for air traveler it's going to mean more cancelled and delayed flights coming on the heels of one of the worst months for air travel in years, but it turns out as frustrating as they are some cancellations could actually be good for passengers.

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us from Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C.

Rene, what are you seeing over there?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, today so far more than 1500 flight cancellations and already for tomorrow we're seeing nearly 1400. And if you've been in -- in an airport, you've been trying to get to your destination, and you think you've been hearing that C word a lot, cancellation, well, chances are it's because we have been seeing it a lot.

Analysts say this has been one of the worst months when you look at recent years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flight had been cancelled until 6:00 a.m. in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't our first rodeo so, you know, we know about this. We'll get through it.

MARSH (voice-over): This season cancelled flights have become synonymous with the wicked winter weather. In fact, cancellations this January were the worst in five years. Airline data company masFlight says nearly 50,000 U.S. flights were cancelled last month alone, about four times more than the past two years. That's a sizable spike and analysts say there is a reason for it.

GEORGE HOBICA, AIRFAREWATCHDOG.COM: This is probably the worst start to winter that we've seen in several years. And it doesn't look like it's about to end.

MARSH: So what's behind so many cancellations? Well, airlines just don't want to fly in bad weather. It risks planes and passengers getting stuck or snowed in. But some also blame federal rules.

HOBICA: There are some unintended consequences of these rules. The tarmac delay rule, also the new rest rule for pilots. They have to have more rest between flights. And that is causing some cancellations.

MARSH: As of January 4th all pilots are now required more rest time between flights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are trying to get to Chicago. Our flights are a couple of hours delayed. We're just hoping it will actually take off.

MARSH: More airlines are canceling flights earlier but some say that could actually be a good thing.

HOBICA: In past years what happened to us is people would be stuck on the tarmac for three, four, six, eight hours. Personally I'd much rather be stuck at home rather than on the runway or the tarmac.

MARSH: But getting rebooked isn't always easy these days. Analysts say consolidation in the airline industry means fewer available seats on planes already packed.


MARSH: All right. Well, I spoke with several people on Capitol Hills who -- they supported rules like the tarmac rule. And they say at this point it benefits passengers. Anyone saying that the rules are to be blamed for these cancellations, they say it's simply an excuse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh in Reagan National Airport, thanks very much.


BLITZER: All right. A well deserved Super Bowl surge for Bruno Mars. Billboard reporting sales of the Grammy winner's latest album soared 164 percent after his half-time performance on Sunday. That could push the recording back into the top 10 more than a year after it was first released. It's called "Unorthodox Juke Box" and it won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album last month.

Let's listen because you can't get enough of Bruno Mars.