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Deadliest Strike of Ground War/Urgent Efforts to Halt the Fighting/Would-Be Senator Turned Away/Senate's Musical Chairs/Obama on Gaza

Aired January 6, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news -- Al Qaeda's number two man speaks out on the fighting in Gaza and he's lashing out at Barack Obama, as the deadliest incident of Israel's ground assault takes a devastating toll near a United Nations-sponsored school.

The new Congress is sworn in, but the man picked to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat is shown the door. And it's described as a tank with windows -- Secret Service agents call it "the beast." We're going to take a closer look at the new presidential limousine.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But first, breaking news -- the deadliest incident since Israel began its Gaza ground assault. In the latest developments, at least 40 people died -- many of them children -- when Israeli shells hit near a United Nations school in Northern Gaza.

Israel says it returned fire after Hamas militants inside fired mortar rounds, an account reportedly confirmed by residents.

Hamas kept up its rocket fire today. In the deepest strike yet, one fell on the Israeli town of Gedera. That's nearly 25 miles north of Gaza.

The rising civilian death toll is driving an international cease- fire push. The United Nations Security Council getting ready to meet in emergency session right now. And at the same time, Al Qaeda is speaking out on the conflict, as well. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the terror network's number two man, vowing revenge for Palestinian deaths and pointing the finger of blame directly -- directly at President-Elect Barack Obama.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office. And Hosni Mubarak, that traitor, is a main partner in your siege and killing. This is Obama, the American machinery that flies in hypocrisy -- trying to portray him as the savior who would come and change the American policy.

Here he is, killing your brothers and sisters in Gaza, without mercy and even pity.


BLITZER: Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

He's on the border between Israel and Gaza with more on this. All of a sudden Al Qaeda weighing in -- an audiotape, as we just heard from Ayman Al-Zawahiri -- Nic, what's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I don't think anyone should be surprised by this. There's a lot of themes here that strike cause with Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Number one, it allows him to get digs, as we just heard, against the new president-elect -- President-Elect Barack Obama -- before he takes office. That's number one.

Number two, it allows him to get digs at Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president. Ayman Al-Zawahiri was from Egypt, was in jail there, has a big grudge not only against the Christian world, but against Hosni Mubarak. And what he's doing is saying that Hosni Mubarak is partly to blame and partly responsible for the situation in Gaza -- that he won't allow, through the Egyptian border crossing that he won't allow goods to flow through there. And he's calling -- Zawahiri is calling for Egyptians to protest, to strike and to otherwise force the government into doing something to support the Palestinians.

And, again, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, to talk about the Palestinians and try to raise them as a cause for Muslims around the world, is nothing new. So no surprise there.

I think what we can see here, the fact that he got this message out so quickly -- we've seen with a picture of a wounded child from Gaza and a weapon on the photograph -- is an indication that he's got this out within 12 days. That's very fast. It's because there's many issues there that are dear to him.

But it is -- it is vintage Al Qaeda. And it's not really clear if anyone is really going to rally to his message or if he's appealing to kindred spirits in Gaza at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Nic is going to monitor this situation. Those rockets still coming in to Israel and the Israelis showing no sign, Nic, of accepting any sort of truce or a cease-fire, at least not now, is that right?

ROBERTSON: That's right, Wolf. The issue today, with the bombing of a -- the rockets hitting a school that was -- that the U.N. Set up in Gaza as a refugee site, where more than 40 people were killed. But Israelis say Hamas was using it to fire mortars at Israeli troops.

That is -- that is a huge indication that the situation just set to continue. The tensions just as they were this morning. We're still hearing the rocket fire, still hearing the missiles go in. And I was in the town Israeli town just very close to here at lunchtime today, when a rocket -- three rockets came in close to the market. And it was incredibly lucky. No one was injured. People just managed to scramble to the shelters in time.

So it's rockets being fired from both side and accusation and counteraccusation traded throughout this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Be careful over there, Nic.

Thank you.

Happening right now, the United Nations Security Council about to start a meeting on this crisis. The secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will be there.

Our senior U.N. Correspondent, Richard Roth, is watching what's going on.

What are the prospects that the U.N. Security Council -- the 15 members, including the five permanent members, the United States being one of them -- will agree on a cease-fire resolution?


No way. There are several proposals and a few resolutions floating around. But there are still major differences between Arab countries and the United States. We see a meeting about to begin inside the Security Council. Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon talking with some of the diplomats.

Basically, the differences could go about international monitors for that Egyptian/Gaza border. That's a major point of contention -- who's going to watch that?

The United States also doesn't want just an immediate cease-fire, it wants something more lasting and durable. A lot of nuance in the language there. The U.S. preferring not to have a strong resolution aimed at Israel. It would like Israel to still do what it feels it has to do in self-defense from the Hamas rockets.

Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of State, is here. She will be speaking, along with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian people, who doesn't have any control anymore of what goes on in Gaza -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard will stay on top of this part of the story for us.

Thank you.

While the United States and other countries label Hamas a terrorist organization, Syria is a major backer of Hamas. In an exclusive interview in Damascus with CNN's Cal Perry, the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, said Israel's war with Hamas will only lead to more violence in the region. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA: The people will be more against Israel. They're going to pay the price of this violence in the near future and in mid-term. Israel will pay the heaviest price for the next generation.

We can see the results of what's happening even on the young children three years old or four years old. They see this killing and they know that Israel is doing so. And you cannot explain to the young people what's happening.

So that will make accumulation of feeling. That's what I mean -- some day, it will explode.


BLITZER: The Syrian leader met today with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who asked him for help in trying to halt the conflict.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: President-Elect Barack Obama really didn't need this -- Roland Burris came out and declared that he's the senator from Illinois, despite the controversy surrounding his appointment.

He was picked by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama.

But when Burris made his way to Capitol Hill this morning, the Senate refused to seat him. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it's because of incomplete paperwork.

Burris' certificate of appointment was signed by the Illinois governor, but not by the Illinois secretary of State. And it's really oh so much more than that.

Burris said his lawyers will handle it and hew has a private meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Senate leaders.

Now, Burris said he didn't want to make a scene on Capitol Hill, but he did. Actually, it was more like a circus.

People are speaking out on Burris' behalf, saying that his appointment is legal and he should be seated. And they may have a point.

But this whole thing smells. There are criminal charges pending against the Illinois governor who appointed Burris. And those charges include trying to profit from naming Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. It's sort of like letting Bernie Madoff run a hedge fund while he's awaiting on charges on stealing $50 billion from investors. Anyway, here's the question -- when comes to Roland Burris, the controversial Senate appointee from Illinois, what should the U.S. Senate do?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

You know, Harry Reid put himself in a little bit of a trick bag on this by speaking out -- perhaps prematurely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think that it looks like this train is about to arrive at the station and Roland Burris is going to be the junior senator from Illinois. But it's not a done deal yet, but looks like it's going to happen.

CAFFERTY: And the train may run over Harry Reid when it gets to the station.

BLITZER: Well, they're obviously very frustrated, a lot of those guys, as you well know, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, well, yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.


BLITZER: So what if we put politics aside -- does Roland Burris have any legal ground to force his way into the U.S. Senate?

Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin -- he knows all about this and the Supreme Court. Stand by for that.

Also, desperate companies aggressively going after your business -- we have details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now of the unusual steps some of those companies are taking to lure you in.

Plus, musical chairs with Senate seats -- why the bodies sworn in today could look very different in just a matter of weeks. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The controversial appointee to Barack Obama's Senate seat turned away by the secretary today, who told Roland Burris his credentials are not in order. The Illinois secretary of State is refusing, at least so far, to certify Burris, joining many top Democrats who say the appointment is tainted because the, Governor Rod Blagojevich, is accused of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

So what do people in Illinois make of Roland Burris and the scandal that's surrounding him right now? Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen.

She's in Chicago looking at all of this.

I know you've been speaking to a lot of folks out there -- Susan.

What are they saying?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying this guy, you know, has had his ups and downs -- mostly downs lately. But most of all, people are saying, Wolf, that this is the wrong guy at the wrong time.



ROESGEN (voice-over): Magic man maybe, but Roland Burris is seen as both an opportunist and a victim snubbed by the U.S. Senate. Before Mr. Burris went to Washington, Illinois voters knew him as a politician from a different age. He broke the race barrier in the state when he became the comptroller in 1978. Since then, he's been Illinois attorney general and he's been defeated once in a race for Chicago mayor and three times for governor.

KATHY CHANEY, REPORTER, "CHICAGO DEFENDER": I'm part of the younger generation and I know that there are more younger, you know, candidates that are capable, as well as Burris, to handle the job.

ROESGEN: Kathy Chaney, a reporter for Chicago's oldest black newspaper, also says she might have voted for Burris as a senator, but she doesn't like feeling that he wants to be a senator at any price.

CHANEY: I just think that the timing was wrong. I just don't agree with him, you know, stepping up saying OK, yes, I'll take it right now.

ROESGEN: "Chicago Tribune" columnist, John Kass, says he's not surprised by the Burris saga and you shouldn't be either.

JOHN KASS, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, this is Chicago politics, OK?

So get used to it, because this is how it's going to be.

ROESGEN: Kass sees the Burris appointment as just one more in a long line of crafty moves. It keeps a Democrat in the seat and it lets Governor Rod Blagojevich get some support that might help him stay in office.

KASS: You're going to start seeing Rod Blagojevich -- I would assume within a day or two -- leading gospel choirs singing let my people go.

ROESGEN: That is Chicago politics -- where anything is possible.

(END VIDEO TAPE) ROESGEN: You heard it here first, Wolf -- it ain't over until the governor sings. And John Kass, the columnist for "The Chicago Tribune," said something else. He said when you peel the cover off Chicago politics, you let the sun shine in and sunshine kills mildew.

So he says maybe with the national publicity, some of the arm twisting and eye gouging that is Chicago politics will maybe go away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see.

Thanks, Susie, very much.

So does Roland Burris have any legal recourse right now?

Let's discuss this with our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

Who's right when it comes to the law of the land?

Can the U.S. Senate bar this man from being a United States senator?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: Boy, Wolf, I am going to give you a ringing hedge on this one, because this is a really hard constitutional question.

Let me give you the on both sides.

The Senate says Article 1 of the Constitution says the Senate and the House shall be the judge of the qualifications of their own members. So they are the final authority. Going back to the 1970s, the famous New Hampshire Senator race -- one candidate was ahead by four votes. The Senate said you know what, that's too close, we are going to want another election. So that was an example. Neither candidate did anything wrong, but they said, look, we are not going to accept a winner by four votes.

On the other hand, a famous case from 1969. Adam Clayton Powell was barred from the House of Representatives by the House of Representatives, even though he had won an election. The Supreme Court said you have to let him in. That's not a good enough reason.

So there are precedents on both sides. I don't think anyone knows for sure how the courts would resolve this question.

BLITZER: Are the rules different for the House and Senate?

TOOBIN: Constitutionally not substantively different. I mean, Article 1 deals with both of them. The Senate has somewhat different traditions. Today, there was the issue of rejecting Burris' paperwork because he didn't have the signature of the secretary of State. That, I think, is probably an issue that is going to go away.

The real issue is does the Senate have simply the right to refuse to seat him. And I think that's a very hard legal question. I think the Senate -- certainly Harry Reid and Dick Durbin -- are trying to sort of defer a full-fledged fight over this, hoping that impeachment moves forward, hoping that the political situation resolves it, rather than legally, because legally, it's very much up for grabs.

BLITZER: Well, which raises the question of the United States Supreme Court. You wrote one of the great books on the U.S. Supreme Court, "The Nine."

Do you see, realistically, the U.S. Supreme Court -- the nine justices getting involved in this particular case?

TOOBIN: If this case goes first to the district court -- if Burris sues, I think it will go to the Supreme Court, because this is a classic issue of separation of powers -- you know, can the courts force the legislature to take a member that they don't want?

I think the Senate will -- the Supreme Court will pretty much have to do it.

Now one thing that Byrd and Durbin have going for them is the passage of time. The Supreme Court would wait, certainly for the federal district court, then the court of appeals. This is almost certainly going to take many months. During that time, it is likely there could be a political resolution, like, for example, Burris agreeing to serve only until the end of this term and not run for re- election. That's a political solution which would avoid the whole legal controversy. But if the legal controversy continues, I think the Supreme Court will have to resolve it.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're right. But my gut tells me it will be resolved much more quickly politically and that he'll be a United States senator when the dust settles. But that's just my gut.

TOOBIN: Only the law professors and me want to see this resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Yes, I know you do, so then you'll come to Washington and you'll hear all those arguments...

TOOBIN: Exactly. It would be great.

BLITZER: And you'll report them to our viewers.

Jeff, thanks very much.

It's one of the best images of the day -- face to face, the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the man, who will soon replace him, Joe Biden.

Were they able to put the harsh campaign rhetoric behind them?

Plus, its nicknamed "the beast" -- we take you inside a one-of-a- kind ride -- the next presidential limo, specially built for Barack Obama.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Hi there, Wolf.

Wall Street is brushing aside bad economic news and regaining some of yesterday's lost ground. Today's session ended up with a moderate advance of 62 points. Now, more details from the Federal Reserve on plans to battle the recession. That helped offset mixed news from the service sector and declines in factory orders, as well as home sales.

Well, it is the first time the annual gathering of Mac users did not hear a keynote address from Apple's founder, Steve Jobs. Apple vice president, Philip Schiller, spoke at Mac World instead, announcing that iTunes will soon offer three tiers of pricing on songs, ranging from 69 cents to $1.29. The record companies will set the prices. Apple offered the pricing flexibility in exchange for selling the songs without copy protection.

And that sweet smell in Manhattan is back. More than 30 people called the city yesterday to report a maple syrup-like smell in the air. This isn't the first time it's happened. The odor drifted through at least twice in 2005. But officials were never able to pinpoint the cause.

Any idea -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, I don't know. A good question.

NGUYEN: You're stumped, too.

BLITZER: I don't know the answer to that.

All right, thanks very much, Betty. Stand by.

Today's swearing in of the 111th Congress was unusual -- with vacant seats, temporary seats and a highly contested seat in the Senate.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us, once again -- Brian, what happened today and what's ahead?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just ahead for this Congress, Wolf, the huge national challenge of helping get the economy back on track. But today was easy to get distracted by all the questions over who was getting sworn in, who wasn't and who would soon move on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will be in order.

TODD (voice-over): In one of his final official acts in office, Dick Cheney presides over the opening of the new Senate.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you solemnly swear... TODD: He swears in Senator Joe Biden, who will take his place in two weeks as vice president. They re-enact the moment for the official photographer, with no sign of hard feelings from campaign trail rhetoric, using a bible that has been in the Biden family since 1893.

Joe Biden will hold his Senate seat until he resigns to become vice president.

Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar also retain their Senate posts until they become cabinet secretaries.

We also see some new faces, including seven Senate Democrats who captured Republican seats.

But outside the chamber's pomp and ceremony, questions swirl over there whether the Senate nominee from Illinois will be sworn in or not. Roland Burris is denied the chance to sign in because of the dispute over his appointment by embattled Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich.

EMILY HEIL, "ROLL CALL": Not a great start and not the way Senate Democrats wanted to start the session.

TODD: And there's a second empty Senate seat, from Minnesota, where the recount is so close, it's headed for a court fight. On the House side, a more casual style than the Senate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Congratulations. You are now members of the 111th Congress.

TODD: Pledges of bipartisanship and awareness of challenges ahead and the burden of leadership for the Democrats now that they control the House, Senate and the White House.

A.B. STODDARD, "THE HILL": Their biggest challenge is to hang together and pass Barack Obama's agenda.


TODD: That is, of course, an agenda that starts with a giant economic stimulus plan that the president-elect hopes to sign soon after taking office. So the pressure on this Democratic Congress now, Wolf, get to work on that and get it on his desk. That's a pretty big task.

BLITZER: Lots of stuff.

All right, what's the latest on the Minnesota senator?

TODD: Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today called on Norm Coleman, the Republican, to concede that race. And the state canvassing board certified that Al Franken had a lead of 225 votes. But Norm Coleman having none of that. He says he's going to take this to court to challenge it. So we'll see where it goes from there.

BLITZER: All right. It's not over with yet. TODD: No.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

The president-elect answering critics who wonder why he'll talk at length about the economy, but not about the violence in the Middle East -- his explanation in his own words, coming up.

Also, the unusual offer some companies are making to get your business in these tough economic times -- are they just gimmicks?

Plus, our own chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- he may be up for a key new role in the Obama administration. Stand by. We have details right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, in more than a week of violence, Barack Obama hasn't said a word of major substance about the situation in Gaza until now. You're going to hear what he's saying in his own words. Stand by for that.

Major news about one of the best known and, in fact, best doctors in the country. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- he could have a major role in the incoming Obama administration. Stand by.

And the great guarantee that's a sign of the times -- lose your job and you can return your brand new car.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The president-elect is breaking his silence, to a certain degree, on the current crisis in the Middle East. He's taking pains to underscore the current administration is still in charge.

But let's get the latest from our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's following the story for us.

All right, what's the latest?

What's going on on this very sensitive subject -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's very interesting, because tomorrow here at the White House, President-Elect Obama will have his second face-to-face with President Bush since the election. And then they're going to be joined by the three living former presidents. They're going to have lunch in the Oval Office. They'll talk about the economy, of course. But he also could get some really important advice on dealing with the Mideast.


HENRY (voice-over): In his most extensive comments yet on the crisis in Gaza, President-Elect Barack Obama vowed to get actively engaged in the Mideast -- but not until after he's sworn in.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I am deeply concerned about the conflict that's taking place there. The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me. And after January 20th, I am going to have plenty to say about the issue.

HENRY: He's in listening mode until then. Another phone briefing from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And Mr. Obama will be front and center at an historic white house meeting Wednesday, getting counsel from all four of his living predecessors.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: It seems to me the ghosts of the past will be everywhere at tomorrow's meeting. I am just hoping President-elect Obama draws the right lessons.

HENRY: Former Mideast negotiator Aaron Miller believes the incoming commander in chief can learn a lot in particular from the first President Bush and former President Carter.

MILLER: I think the message from Bush 41 and Carter will be, look, you can be Israel's best friend and we are, but you also have to be tough, smart and fair. And if you are, you'll be able to get in the game. That is the lesson it seems to me to be drawn from the last four decades of American policy.

HENRY: In fact, Mr. Obama is vowing to get in the game from his first day in office.

OBAMA: We are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East. That's something that I am committed to. So on January 20th, you will be hearing directly from me and my opinions on this issue. Until then, my job is to monitor the situation and put together the best possible national security team so that we hit the ground running.


HENRY: Now while the president-elect has been under great pressure to get more involved in the Middle East crisis, he just can't yet. Experts like Aaron Miller say, look, first of all, he can't send confusing signals about who is really in charge, who is running American foreign policy now. And also he needs to keep his powder dry for two weeks from now when this whole mess is going to be dumped on his lap.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's going to have his hands full very, very soon. Ed, thank you.

Let's talk a little more about Barack Obama, Gaza and other important issues. Joining us, our CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen, she's editor in large of and republican strategist John Feehery. Is he doing the right thing by staying out of it as much as he possibly can?

HILARY ROSEN, HUFFINGPOST.COM: I think he has to. First of all, I think Ed -- the point Ed Henry makes is exactly right which is you can't freelance at this point and that's what he'd be doing. Secretary Rice is meeting with the U.N. Security Council. You can't have somebody in Washington saying one thing when the secretary -- current secretary of state potentially talking about other solutions. And the really important point, I think, is Barack Obama wants a fresh start on this. He doesn't really want to be sort of picking at the edges of a Bush administration position. He wants to be coming in with a fresh perspective and a fresh start.

BLITZER: Even as we're speaking, we're getting word into THE SITUATION ROOM, John, that the Israeli government has now agreed to set up what's being called a humanitarian corridor to supply people in Gaza. We're getting new information about how this is going to operate. Clearly, they're going to try to do something according to the Israeli government to get supplies, medical supplies, food, water and other assistance to people in Gaza, 1.5 million. There is no subject, and you worked on Capitol Hill for a long time, that is more sensitive than dealing with this Arab-Israeli conflict.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is extraordinary situation. Imagine if Barack Obama started criticizing the Bush administration. How much confusion would that lead to? It could make the situation even worse. I think Barack Obama is doing exactly the right thing by letting one hand on the wheel at a time. Make sure you don't steer the car off the road. Even if you think you might be going the wrong way. You don't want the car to go in the ditch. Keep it going and at the appropriate moment, have the new driver in the seat.

BLITZER: The story we've been following the past hour and a half or so, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent. One of the best. He's a neurosurgeon himself. He's been approached to become the surgeon general of the United States and the Obama administration. He would be pretty good, I think. I think all of us love Sanjay.

ROSEN: It's a fantastic idea. And whoever thought of it in the Obama team should be commended for this reason. One of the major issues you have in the area of public health, really, is communicating. You have to be able to communicate public health crises, whether it's practicing safe sex or immunizing children or whether it's some fairly controversial issues. Somebody like Sanjay who both has the medical experience but really is fantastic at communicating. I think that's a perfect combination for the surgeon general.

BLITZER: He's a brilliant doctor and he's' a great communicator. And I think on the issue of very close to Barack Obama's heart. He can probably convince the president-elect to quit smoking. That's one of his great passions.

FEEHERY: You kind of stole my line. He's a great communicator. Health care, it's a lot about communications. Getting the people to do the right thing, which is not easy to get the people to do the right thing. He's a good doctor, obviously. He's good on TV. I don't know about his political views. So if someone criticizes me for not saying anything about political views. But I think it's essential.

BLITZER: He's a courageous man. I covered the start of the war in Iraq back in 2003 when he was out there with the so-called devil docs, the navy doctors who went out there. He performed surge rye on some of the victims, some people who were going on. He went into really dangerous areas. I remember one night we were in Kuwait and a missile came in not very far away. He ran out there with the crew as quickly as he could. Not only to report on the story but to see if he could help out.

ROSEN: He was both reporting and treating at the same time.

BLITZER: It's amazing. Let's move on to the economy right now. Can Barack Obama do what he says he wants to do, forge this bipartisan coalition and jump-start the economy?

FEEHERY: I think he should. I think he's trying to. I think the complication will be the democrats in congress. I think he's reached out to democrats -- for republicans for one reason. They have good ideas. Pork barrel spending, having tax cuts that will stimulate the economy. Those are good programs, good ideas. I think republicans can be part of that process. For Barack Obama needs to reach out to republicans. He's shown he wants to. The whole question is will democrats let him?

BLITZER: And he said today that there will be no earmarks in this recovery package. Maybe it will be as much as a trillion dollars. $800 billion. But he also said there will be $1 trillion deficits, not only this coming year, but in years to come. Wow!

ROSEN: Well, I think it's that fear of the politics of deficit spending that leads to this decision to make sure that this is a bipartisan bill. You don't want republicans putting seeds of doubt in democrats and making this the only democratic passing of a large-scale spending bill.

There is a frustration, I think, among some democrats that for some reason tax cut spending doesn't get the same scrutiny as to where the money goes that budget spending does. And so I think you'll see some tug and pull about what's the right balance there on Capitol Hill. But I think largely democrats will support his efforts to bring republicans to the table.

BLITZER: We'll see if the republicans and the democrats can come together. This is a critical moment in U.S. history. Thanks, guys, very much.

They are desperate for your business. You won't believe the offers some companies are making right now in an effort to drum up sales. Plus, some compare it to a tank with windows. Secret service agents just call it the beast. We're taking a closer look at the new presidential limo.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's up to the Senate Rules Committee when all is said and done what to do with Roland Burris who wants to be the next U.S. senator from Illinois. Succeeding Barack Obama. Well, right now, the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, according to the Associated Press, has just issued a statement saying that the senate should, in fact, go forward and seat Roland Burris. Senator Feinstein issuing a statement according to the AP saying, however tainted the corruption charges against Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois might be, the man designated to replace Barack Obama, Roland Burris, the former attorney general of Illinois, should, in fact, get the seat. He's qualified to serve. Feinstein saying that blocking Burris would have ramifications for other governors' appointments. There it is. A major split happening among democrats in the senate right now. We'll have more on this story coming up at the top of the hour.

With the country mired in a deep recession, consumers have gone to into hiding. But some companies right now are aggressively going after your business. Let's go to New York. CNN's Mary Snow is watching this for us.

Some pretty strange sales pitches out there, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are, Wolf. Some companies are giving things away. Others are offering incentives we haven't seen before as consumers hunker down.


SNOW: With car sales stalled, Hyundai is trying a first to reel in skittish consumers worried about losing their jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buy any new Hyundai and if in the next year you lose your income, we'll let you return it.

SNOW: Bottom line if you buy one of their cars in the next year and lose your job, you can take it back with conditions. Like making at least two payments and there are limits as to how much money they'll give you. Hyundai turned to an outside finance and insurance company that's run similar programs in Canada.

JEFF BEAVER, WALKAWAY USA, EFG COMPANIES: This is really about peace of mind. It's giving the consumer the confidence to go out and make that purchase.

SNOW: One auto analyst says in this dismal market, carmakers need to stand out since other incentives like getting cash back aren't working. JESSICA CALDWELL, AUTO ANALYST, EDMUNDS.COM: It's a gimmick to get attention. It's a gimmick to capture those buyers on the fence that would like a new car but are just too scared to buy one.

SNOW: The auto industry has been so hard hit, one dealer outside Miami has been offering a buy one truck get one deal since October. But it goes far beyond cars. Giant Food Stores is offering prescription antibiotics to customers for the next three months. Wegmans announced a similar plan. Marketing experts see it as an aggressive push to compete with Wal-Mart as more consumers return to the discount retailer.

BRITT BEAMER, AMERICA'S RESEARCH GROUP: They say how can we stop Wal-Mart? The one category you can go after are prescriptions because that's the one category people buy on a regular basis. They have to.


SNOW: One marketing expert we spoke with says expect retailers to continue slashing prices since inventories aren't moving. And their big fear at this point is having to sell merchandise to liquidators at 20 cents on the dollar. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Mary, thank you.

The president-elect wants to drum up business for the nation as a whole. His new tax cut proposal would give $500 back to individuals, $1,000 to families. It would show up in your paycheck. Let's go to our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi. He's the author of a brand new book entitled "Gimme My Money Back, Your Guide to Beating the Financial Crisis."

Is this presidential proposal for the tax cut going to really stimulate the economy which is so necessary right now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's a bit of a tax break. It does give people some money back. That's always a nice thing for folks. But it's not going to act as a stimulus. The business side of the tax break actually has some strings attached to it. You have to hire people or claim expenses or rehire people you've laid off. The tax return of $500 to an individual and $1,000 to a family is not going to have the effect like last year's stimulus didn't have the necessary effect.

The other part of the stimulus, the infrastructure and all of that. That might help. The $500,000 is --

BLITZER: You have good advice for people in "Gimme My Money Back." With the stock market going down as it has, people losing 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent of their portfolios, their 401(k)s, people worried about this Bernard Madoff scandal, $50 billion in this ponzi scheme. Is it a good time out there for folks to go out and invest?

VELSHI: Fear always drives people out of the market and that makes it a good opportunity for people to get in. For all of those terrible stories we've heard, most people don't get defrauded. But if you follow some basic rules and you never invest more than 5 percent of anything in one entity. So you invest in mutual funds or if you invest in stocks, make sure it's diversified. The book has very basic tips to make sure you can do that. Stay diversified. If something goes off the cliff, it doesn't take the rest of your investments with it. I understand people are very fearful. We'll miss good opportunities if you don't have a portfolio that matches your risk tolerance. By the way, you can be risk averse or highly -- you can be a high-risk investor. There's something for everyone out there. It's not that hard to do. A few hours and you can set up your portfolio to steer itself.

BLITZER: One question about the title of your brand new book. I want to get that book Jacket up there. The word gimme, g-i-m-m-e. Is that a Canadian word? What kind of word is that?

VELSHI: It's a word people want when they want something back. I had a little pushback from people who said you are a journalist. How can you use a grammatically incorrect word on the cover of the book? It is meant for people who think they followed all the rules, Wolf, and still, still they were cheated out of something. This is the book that's going to help you try and rebuild your portfolio.

BLITZER: "Gimme My Money Back," your guide to beating the financial crisis by CNN's Ali Velshi. Thank you.

VELSHI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's described as a tank with windows. Secret service agents simply are calling it the beast. We're taking a closer look. You'll want to see the new presidential limousine that's been built for Barack Obama.

And one of CNN's own, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a surprising prospect for a very high-profile job in the Obama administration.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: One of the first for the president much the United States, a car unlike any other. Is Jeanne Meserve has more on Barack Obama's new ride.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a 1984 limousine used by President Reagan. It is an antique compared to the new limousine that will be unveiled on inauguration day. Here's an advance peek.


MESERVE: Secret service agents call the presidential limousine the beast. If spy photos are any indication, President Obama's new ride lives up to the name. KEN LUCCI: It's a rolling tank with windows.

MESERVE: Ken Lucci owns a limousine owned by Presidents Ford and Carter, and another that carried President Reagan. Though the doors and undercarriage are armored, it seems quaint next to the high-tech limousine President Obama will use.

I like this. No campaign, no election, instant president. Great.

Lucci notes the new limo's windows are smaller to make it less vulnerable. Some of the body appears to be built of a different material. He speculates it's a tougher composite. Lucci says rubber gaskets could protect against chemical weapons, and he guesses the holes in the door are to lock it like a bank vault.

LUCCI: That door probably weighs as much as a 757's cabin door and the inside of that cab is as sealed as a jet plane.

MESERVE: And that may surprise Obama, says Joe Funk, a former secret service agent who drove President Clinton's limo.

JOE FUNK, FORMER SECRET SERVICE: It's a coon. The everyday noises will be gone. He will be totally isolated in this protect envelope.


MESERVE: When Ken Lucci bought this limousine, he took out the bulletproof glass. As you can see, it's about an inch and a half to two inches thick. It's a number pieces of safety glass sandwiched together and it is very heavy. He said taking out this glass reduced the weight of this vehicle by about 6,000 pounds.

BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you.

The limo, by the way, isn't the only way presidents get around. President Bush sometimes uses a Chevrolet Suburban on weekend biking trips. He also has a custom made trek bicycle complete with presidential seal. Then there are the helicopters designated marine one when the commander in chief is onboard. The president's airplane, air force one, is certainly known around the world. But there's another specially designed military version of the Boeing 747 nicknamed the doomsday plane equipped to keep the government running from the air in the event of a catastrophe. It's believed the plane was ace born on 9/11.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty file.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was the one they flew President Bush to in Nebraska, is it not?

BLITZER: They did fly it at once.

CAFFERTY: He was taken to the interior of the country which I think is standard security procedure. In the event of attack, they move the president to the middle of the country to a military base.

The question this hour and it has nothing to do with that, when it comes to Roland Burris, the controversial senate appointee from Illinois, what should the U.S. senate do? We got a lot of mail on this.

Maureen in Georgia writes, "It seems legally Burris should be seated because Blagojevich is still the governor, as corrupt as he may be. But Burris wants that seat so desperately that he would accept it from a corrupt governor under investigation and that to me is a red flag not to trust him. Burris might not have done anything wrong but where is his integrity?"

Greg in Arizona writes, "Send him back to Illinois for the proper paperwork, just like the dry cleaners, no ticket, no laundry. The Illinois secretary of state has to certify his appointment first and until that happens, everything else is just a dog and pony show."

Mike in Arkansas writes, "The man was appointed according to Illinois law. There's absolutely no reason not to seat him. The democrats are making a big mistake here. As an old trial lawyer myself, I think it's time for Harry Reid to get off his dime and start doing some negotiating."

Mark in Oklahoma, "The governor appointed him and he should be sworn in. We had a president a few years ago who was going through an impeachment process. I don't recall him being unable to carry out his duties during the impeachment trial."

David in California, "Unless there's evidence to show that Mr. Burris is somehow involved in the wrongdoing of the governor, and I haven't seen or heard any such evidence, he ought to be seated as the senator from Illinois. He was legally appointed to the position. He's not personally committed an act that would disqualify him. Sure the governor of Illinois is a scum bag, but it doesn't mean Mr. Burris is incapable of dutiful and honorable service to the people of Illinois."

And George writes, "The idea of Harry Reid being jury, judge and prosecutor in this is more distasteful than the idea of Burris being appointed by a felon. Let Burris stay. Lock the doors on Reid."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog and look for yours there is among hundreds of others. Wolf?

BLITZER: You saw the A.P. reporting Diane Feinstein, chair of the senate rules committee, now breaking with her fellow democrats and saying, seat the guy. Let him be the junior senator from Illinois.

CAFFERTY: What's up with Feinstein? Yesterday she was whining about Leon Panetta, and now she's out talking about Burris. Isn't it Nancy Pelosi's job to utter everything from California on this stuff?

BLITZER: There are many members of congress from California and we hear from them all the time. Jack, thanks very much. We'll have more on what's going on coming up.

It hasn't even been officially announced, but there's already some fallout over Barack Obama's pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA the fallout in congress but now in the intelligence community. We'll update you on new information.

Plus, the United Nations school in Gaza hit by Israeli artillery with deadly results. We have the latest on Israel's defense and the growing death tolls.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.