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Debating Blagojevich's Fate; Wall Street Bonuses 'Shameful'; GOP Turns Back on President

Aired January 29, 2009 - 15:59   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the president and his economic team, they are regrouping after being snubbed by all of the House Republicans. This hour, Mr. Obama keeps pushing his recovery plan forward and promoting hard-to-find bipartisanship.

And we're also getting late word that the president is outraged about something. Stand by for details.

President Obama also signs his first bill and makes a statement about equal pay for equal work. We'll hear directly from the president in his own words. He's talking about one woman's fight and what this new law will mean for all women in the United States.

And the second lady returns to one of her first loves. That would be teaching. What's it like to have Jill Biden at the head of the class?

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

But we begin with breaking news we're following in Springfield, Illinois. The Illinois Senate, they've begun proceedings now to wrap up the potential conviction of the Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich. We expect that roll call vote to be concluded during THE SITUATION ROOM here.

Let's go out to Springfield. Susan Roesgen is watching the story for us.

They need 40 Illinois senators out of 59 in the Senate to vote and convict. And if he's convicted, he's escorted off the state property and he's no longer the governor of Illinois.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Wolf. And he would be escorted off, but he's already back in Chicago now.

What's happening right now here in Springfield, in the state senate, is that each of those 59 state senators is getting up and making a little speech, a few comments, two or three minutes each, because this is an historic event here. This is an unprecedented impeachment of an Illinois governor.

So each of the state senators will make a few remarks. Then they will have a roll call vote. They will have to say yes or no, and then those votes will be tallied up on an electronic screen.

So, again, with each of them speaking a couple of minutes each, it could be a couple more hours before they actually vote. And then if they do vote, as we expect them to vote, the governor will immediately lose power and Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn will come here to the state capitol and be sworn in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the only options before these 59 Illinois state senators would be either to convict or acquit. Is that right?

ROESGEN: Yes, Wolf. That's right.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this story with you. Thanks.

Susan Roesgen is going to be in Springfield for us. We'll get back to that as soon as we get more information on whether he is convicted or whether he is acquitted. Most believe he will be convicted and he will leave office.

Let's move on now to the president of the United States. He had some very, very strong words just a few moments ago about what's going on with big business. He's trying to help, but he feels he's being stymied by some of those corporations that U.S. taxpayers are helping to bail out.

Let's go to the White House. Dan Lothian is working this story for us -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Well, you know, the president met with Timothy Geithner, his treasury secretary, inside the Oval Office, focusing on issues of the economy. But in particular, focusing on this report in "The New York Times" today that some of these big executives from some of the top companies across the country, some of them who have received taxpayer dollars, raked in more than $18 billion in bonuses last year, the president saying that this is simply outrageous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy moving again. And when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses, the same amount of bonuses as they gave to themselves in 2004, at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking poor taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don't provide help, that the entire system could come down on top of our heads, that is the height of irresponsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: The president went on to say that there will be a time to make big money, there will be a time to rake in bonuses, but that this is not the time.

What's unclear though, Wolf, is what this administration can really do to crack down. The TARP legislation doesn't appear to have anything that really addresses this, so it will be interesting. It's a lot of bark, but no bite right now.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Dan.

I want to go to Capitol Hill right now. Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, is also working this story.

He got snubbed big time by House Republicans yesterday. What's going on today as they get ready for the vote to come up in the U.S. Senate?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing much the same thing in the Senate as the House, but with regard to Republicans, here's the reality. Privately, they admit that politically, this was the best thing for them to do, despite the bad economy, despite the popularity of Barack Obama, that it was in their political interest to vote no. The question is whether Democrats made it easy for them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists passing an $800-plus billion stimulus bill in eight days was pure victory.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I take credit for the great action taken by the Congress.

BASH: But to some, the fact that it was so partisan, no Republican votes, suggests the Democratic leadership made some major tactical errors. Even some of Pelosi's fellow Democrats say their own leaders robbed Barack Obama of bipartisanship he preaches by adding too much government spending that won't stimulate the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an amazing situation here, a bold, new, idealistic president who stands for change, and an old-fashioned, set in its ways Congress.

BASH: Pelosi bristles at any suggestion that her leadership caused the partisan divide.

PELOSI: I didn't come here to be bipartisan, I didn't come here to be bipartisan. I came here, as did my colleagues, to be nonpartisan, to work for the American people, to do what is in their interest.

BASH: But now, an even bigger $900 billion stimulus bill moves to the Senate, and Democratic groups are already using campaign tactics to make this vote bipartisan, pressuring several GOP senators with these ads...

NARRATOR: Tell Congress to support the Obama plan for jobs, not the failed policies of the past.

BASH: Yet, already, a dozen GOP senators lined up to voice the same criticisms as their House brethren -- not enough tax cuts and too much spending on programs that won't stimulate the economy.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: They can cram down a stimulus package without Republican support, but if that happens, then when, as we believe, in six months or so, when the American people say wait a minute, we're not better off...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the reality is Senate Republicans will have more of an opportunity to make their ideas heard, they actually have votes on them on the floor of the Senate this week. And the Democratic leader insisted today that he does think that he will get Republican votes at the end of the day in the Senate. But again, it's important to note that even in the Senate, Wolf, it's not just Republicans. We're already talking to Democratic senators who say there's just too much spending, things like $75 million for smoking programs.

BLITZER: And we expect the vote on Monday? Is that right, Dana?

BASH: No, we expect the debate to begin Monday. And this could go all through next week, maybe even to next weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So it starts on Monday.

BASH: You bet.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for clarifying that, Dana.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

What do you think? What happens with these Senate Republicans? It looks like the Democrats have the votes, assuming the Democratic Caucus in the Senate stays unified, as they did in the House, but what about the Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. You know, I think this vote in the House puts a lot of pressure, particularly on those moderate Republican senators. And I was told today by a couple of good sources in the Senate that there is a real split right now in the Republican Caucus.

The leader, Mitch McConnell, wants to go with a narrower package, an alternative to Barack Obama that's primarily tax cuts, with some housing money in it. And then there's another rump group, as it was described to me, that includes Susan Collins, moderate of Maine, John McCain, that wants to do a larger stimulus package. But what all Republicans agree on is less spending, and they think the administration's going to have to move a little bit their way and away from the House Democrats.

BLITZER: Is there any indication the White House will do that?

BORGER: No, the White House is talking to these moderate Republicans, courting them, but again, we don't know how much they're likely to move.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Gloria. We're going to continue this reporting on what's going on, but I want to check in with Jack Cafferty now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, the House passed an $819 billion stimulus package yesterday, and now a different version of that is making its way through the Senate. That version includes $75 million to get people to stop smoking. It was sponsored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who says the idea is to ultimately reduce health care costs.

To make his case, Harkin cites reports that show smoking is the leading cause of preventable diseases and costs $110 billion a year in health care costs. It seems straightforward enough. Get people to quit smoking, they don't drain the health care system.

Perhaps that's the same line of thinking that went into the $400 million the Senate included to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The House version of the bill has $335 million allocated for that.

Some of this $75 million to get people to kick cigarettes will go to the Department of Health and Human Services to bolter anti-smoking campaigns that already exist. And another chunk will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for equipment that tests the content of cigarettes.

Do we need this? Cigarette packages plainly tell you that smoking will probably eventually kill you. And I find it very hard to believe we need additional equipment to test the content in cigarettes. Tobacco and carcinogens would seem to cover it.

Here's the question: How does getting people to stop smoking stimulate the economy?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Fair question, Jack. Thank you.

President Obama says the first bill he has now signed into law is about a fundamental principle of equality. We're going to hear the president at length. He's talking about fairness for women and their right to equal pay.

Also coming up, why Republicans competing to lead their party could take some tips from President Obama or, for that matter, from Hillary Clinton.

And later, will the president get to see much of the world given the economic crisis right here at home? We have new information for you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now we're follow the breaking news in Springfield, Illinois. The Illinois Senate, they're getting to vote on whether to remove the governor, Rod Blagojevich, from office. The House in Springfield, Illinois, has already voted to impeach him. Now it's up to the Senate to decide whether or not to convict.

These are live pictures you're seeing coming in from Illinois. We'll stay on top of this story and get you more as we get more information. Meanwhile, President Obama is exercising today an important act of presidential power for the first time. He signed something into law that's an important act to further a really important goal.

Listen to how President Obama put it just earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Well, this is a wonderful day.

(APPLAUSE)

First of all, it is fitting that the very first bill that I signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ... that it is upholding one of this nation's founding principles, that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness. It's also fitting that we're joined today by the woman after whom this bill is named, someone who Michelle and I have had the privilege to get to know ourselves. And it is fitting that we are joined this morning by the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

(APPLAUSE)

It's appropriate that this is the first bill we do together. We could not have done it without her.

Madame Speaker, thank you for your extraordinary work.

And to all the sponsors and members of Congress and leadership who helped to make this day possible.

Now, Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good, hard worker who did her job. And she did it well for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work.

Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits. Losses that she still feels today.

Now, Lily could have accepted her lot and moved on. She could have decided that it wasn't worth the hassle and the harassment that would inevitably come with speaking up for what she deserved. But instead, she decided that there was a principle at stake, something worth fighting for, so she set out on a journey that would take more than 10 years, take her all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and lead to this day and this bill which will help others get the justice that she was denied. Because while this bill bears her name, Lilly knows that this story isn't just about her.

It's a story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn. Women of color, even less. Which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime.

Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue. It's a family issue. It's about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care, couples who wind up with less to retire on, households where one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves.

It's the difference between affording the mortgage or not, between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor bills or not. And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month's paycheck to simple and plain discrimination.

So signing this bill today is to send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that's it not just unfair and illegal, it's bad for business to pay somebody less because of their gender or their age or their race or their ethnicity, religion or disability. And the justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it's about how our laws affect the daily lives and the daily realities of people, their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.

Ultimately, equal pay isn't just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it's a question of who we are and whether we're truly living up to our fundamental ideas. Whether we'll do our part as generations before us to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something, to breathe new live into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.

That is what Lilly Ledbetter challenged us to do. And today, I sign this bill not just in her honor, but in the honor of those who came before, women like my grandmother, who worked in a bank all her life. And even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day without complaint because she wanted better for me and my sister. And I signed this bill for my daughters and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams, and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.

In the end, that's why Lilly stayed the course. She knew it was too late for her, that this bill wouldn't undo the years of injustice she faced, or restore the earnings she was denied, but this grandmother from Alabama kept on fighting because she was thinking about the next generation. It's what we've always done in America, set our sights high for ourselves, but even higher for our children and our grandchildren. And now it's up to us to continue this work.

This bill's an important step, a simple fix to ensure fundamental fairness for American workers. And I want to thank this remarkable and bipartisan group of legislators who worked so hard to get it passed. And I want to thank all the advocates who are the audience who worked so hard to get it passed.

This is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap and we will make sure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedoms to pursue their dreams as our sons.

So thank you, Lilly Ledbetter.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Emotional moment at the White House. The president of the United States signing the first piece of legislation into law, a law designed to help women all across the United States.

We're staying on top of this story.

The White House, meanwhile, says President Obama is going places. He's actually set his first foreign trip. You're going to find out where, when, and how it compares to other first presidential trips.

And there's a place at the Capitol that sells souvenirs, but won't be selling certain copies of the Constitution and other historical replicas. They've been banned. You're going to find out why.

And remember, we're following the breaking news in Illinois. The roll call, it's getting ready to determine whether Rod Blagojevich will be removed from office.

Stand by. We expect the results to come up during our hours right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States, he's getting ready for a presidential visit. It will be his first outside the United States. We've learned where he's going.

Stand by for details.

And how did the president do what other African-Americans couldn't do? The veteran journalist and author Gwen Ifill is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, on the defense. The embattled governor Rod Blagojevich says he's done nothing wrong. Hear his final plea as we await live coverage of the Illinois Senate vote that may remove him from office.

America's new first lady, Michelle Obama, makes her first official public remarks since the inauguration. And it's for the signing of a bill with special meaning for the first lady.

And reaching out to the Muslim world. President Obama certainly has done it, but does former President Jimmy Carter think it's a good idea? He's telling us.

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

So much on his agenda. The president of the United States, he's got a huge economic crisis at home. He's also got major national security issues. And now there's word he's planning a visit to a foreign country, the first of its kind.

Let's bring in Zain Verjee. She's working this story.

Zain, where is he going and when is he going?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the first travels of a new president always have great symbolic value. And the world is waiting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The world wants Obama, the road show.

DARRELL WEST, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It is important for President Obama to travel around the world. Even though our -- his chief focus has to be on the domestic economy, the global situation very much affects that economy.

VERJEE: Only one foreign trip has been nailed down for President Obama: Canada, February 10.

(MUSIC)

VERJEE: President Bush's first trip was to Mexico on February 16, 2001. President Bill Clinton took his first foreign trip in April 1993 to Vancouver, Canada, and met with Russia's leader. President Obama will have to consider going to key world meetings.

Just in April alone, 20 countries meet with the largest economies in London, a NATO meeting in France, the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. President Obama has also promised to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital.

WEST: He's the new kid on the block, so every world leader wants to get a piece of him, find out who he is, what his priorities are. Obama talked a lot during the campaign about how he wants the United States to act differently. And, so, leaders around the world want to see, exactly what does that mean?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Some experts say Mr. Obama's rock star vibe will make his personal diplomacy a much more potent tool. And he's going to be in really big demand overseas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly will be. His personal background, how much of a difference do you think that will make?

VERJEE: It's going to be a critical difference, because, beyond the media attention, beyond the public interest, beyond the potency of his office, he's really considered a world citizen. He has ties to people in places no other president has had.

BLITZER: He certainly does. And he has made a point of that, especially in that interview with Al-Arabiya.

VERJEE: Right. Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Zain, for that.

Canada, by the way, and others around the world are getting ready to see something they never have, an African-American American president. As look ahead to that, we're also looking at how the president managed to make history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Why did he break through when other black politicians before him running for the presidency didn't? And you know the names, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others.

GWEN IFILL, AUTHOR, "THE BREAKTHROUGH: POLITICS AND RACE IN THE AGE OF OBAMA.": And Carol Moseley Braun, and Shirley Chisholm, even.

The -- the truth is that Barack Obama is a creature of timing, in much the same way that this book is a creature of timing. People were willing to hear. It didn't hurt that the economy was in a tough space and -- and the message of change helped him a lot more.

But it also mattered that you had a candidate, who for the first time -- a black candidate -- who for the first time was running in a broader, more coalition-based kind of campaign, appealing to whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and telling them that his election would make him less different from them than they thought, that he could solve all their problems. And people heard that and that and connected to that.

And, more importantly, a whole new generational cohort of people his age and younger really connected with that in a way that none of the previous breakthrough candidates, at least for the presidency, have been able to pull off.

BLITZER: I know you interviewed General Colin Powell for the book. Could he have done it, had he decided to run in '96, when he was thinking about it?

IFILL: He was thinking about it; it's true.

But you know what? I did talk to him about this, and he didn't think he could have done it. He thought there were still some racial barriers. His wife thought there were some security barriers.

And, in fact, he described it, he didn't have the fire in the belly to run for president in 1996. And if we know anything about presidential candidates -- and you, Wolf, and I have covered our share -- is you have got to really want to do it. You have got to have the audacity in order to break through. And, if he didn't have it, it wasn't going to be the success he had hoped.

BLITZER: And Barack Obama certainly has that audacity of hope, as all of us know.

Let me read to you from the book "The Breakthrough."

"Once he won in Iowa, Obama began regularly collecting 80 and 90 percent of the black vote. Black voters decided Obama could win once white people did. Only then did his candidacy catch fire" -- because, before Iowa, he was -- and Hillary Clinton were basically splitting the African-American vote.

IFILL: That's true.

And, you know, in that, he had a lot in common with the other breakthrough candidates I talked to in the book. You look at Deval Patrick, who shared campaign...

BLITZER: The governor of Massachusetts.

IFILL: ... advisers with Barack Obama.

The governor of Massachusetts.

Only 7 percent of Massachusetts was black. So, he wasn't relying only on black voters to get him elected. He found a way to appeal to white voters as well, as did Barack Obama.

You look at someone like Artur Davis, the congressman from Alabama, who wants to run next year for governor of Alabama, which, when you think about that, is a pretty audacious idea. But he also has to find a way to appeal to voters in Huntsville, as well as Birmingham, statewide.

The -- the earlier generation of elected black officials more often relied on coming from congressionally -- from small districts which were majority black, which had been carved out in a way to enhance their chances of getting elected -- this new breakthrough generation, not so much.

BLITZER: Yes, and including some of the mayors who were elected in predominantly African-American cities.

IFILL: Right.

Let me read another line, because this jumped out at me when I read it in "The Breakthrough."

"When given the chance to talk about race in the ways most expected to hear, he," referring to Obama, "resisted. Race was worth talking about, he thought, but only in the context of broader issues. You would never catch this black man with his fist in the air. "

All right, let -- I want you to elaborate.

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: Yes.

That's so true. When you think -- think about -- think back, Wolf, to Invesco Field, when he accepted the nomination in Denver. It was the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington. No one would have held it against him if he had made great connections to how far we had come, how Martin Luther King had stood and spoke on behalf of the dream.

In fact, his only reference to King that night was to talk about the Georgia preacher. He didn't bring any attention to that.

I was struck the other night with his interview with Al-Arabiya where he talked about his Muslim up -- not his upbringing, but his background, the fact that his father had been born a Muslim, that he had family members who were Muslims. He didn't talk about that during the campaign either. And he didn't talk that much about his childhood -- or not his childhood, but his heritage in Kenya.

And part of the reason he didn't do it is because, as all politicians, he was trying to narrow the differences between him and the people who he was asking to vote for him. So, as far as he was concerned, it was obvious that he was African-American. He had written about it in his books with far more conscientiousness than most of us ever apply to thinking about our own race.

And, so, he didn't feel the need to talk about it anymore than that, because that would only expand the gulf between him and the people he was hoping to vote for him.

BLITZER: Gwen Ifill is the author of "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. "

Congratulations once again, Gwen, on this new bestseller.

IFILL: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And there's also new insight into Michelle Obama's role in the White House and the tightrope she's already walking. Stand by for that.

And the candidates to be -- to head the Republican Party, they think Hillary Clinton has something right. We're going to explain what they're saying. And we're also standing by for the Illinois State Senate vote on whether to oust the governor, Rod Blagojevich. We're bringing you the breaking news as it happens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama's turning up the heat over at the Oval Office in the White House, Literally. Stand by. We will explain what is going on there.

The Republican Party is about to go under new management. The RNC is meeting here in Washington to elect a new party chairman.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at the story for us.

What do the Republicans think they have to do to turn their party around, given the disastrous two election cycles they have recently gone through?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, one word: Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Hillary Clinton first ran for Senate in New York, she went on what she called a listening tour of the state.

Listen to what members of the Republican National Committee are saying their party needs to do.

JIM GREER, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: The first thing that the new national chairman needs to do is get out of Washington for about two months, travel the country, and listen to the American voter.

SHAWN STEEL, CALIFORNIA MEMBER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We should be the party of radical decentralization. We're not against government, but we think government needs to be really close, down even below the city, but to the neighborhood.

SCHNEIDER: Republican National Committee members are meeting in Washington to choose a new party leader. They think the party's conservative principles are fine, but they are failing to connect with voters' real problems.

PHIL MUSSER, CO-FOUNDER, REBUILDTHEPARTY.COM: We need to take advantage of the opportunity to play on issue terrain that typically the Democrats have owned and we have simply ceded.

GREER: We need to focus on the issues that are important to the American voter and not obsess about issues that are not.

SCHNEIDER: Like, for instance, social issues?

GREER: They are not what is being discussed around the dinner table each and every night.

SCHNEIDER: These Republican partisans are not unfriendly to President Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's off to a great start.

MUSSER: I think the new president is off to a good start.

SCHNEIDER: One reason why? He's a good listener.

GREER: I think President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to getting out and listening to what the American public is concerned about.

SCHNEIDER: He listens to them.

RON KAUFMAN, MASSACHUSETTS MEMBER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think he did the right thing going out to the House and Senate Republican Caucasuses. He should continue to do that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Obama has mastered the new media. The new media are interactive. Politicians can get instant feedback from voters. And the Republicans I spoke to felt their party has some catching up to do in that area.

BLITZER: They certainly do.

And let's continue on that front, Bill.

Abbi Tatton is taking a look at what the Republicans are trying to do to play catchup when it comes to the -- the Web?

What are they trying to do, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the Republicans know that they got out-organized online last year. So, the candidates for GOP party chair are now bending over backwards to demonstrate how Web- savvy they are.

You have got sites, campaign-style Web sites, like this one from Michael Steele, playing out on Twitter, as their winter meeting and the race -- as updates come in from Saul Anuzis, another candidate. And the current party chair is on there right now as well, Mike Duncan, touting all the advances he says he made in technology over the last couple of years.

There's a site, RebuildTheParty, a collection of young Republicans who have really been pushing new media in the GOP. I spoke to one of the co-founders today, Mindy Finn, who said that she's delighted that it's now front and center in all of these discussions. But she's saying that, hopefully, it's not all just talk. They want to see technology and new media all across the board in the GOP -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. They're playing catchup, indeed. Abbi, thank you.

Recognizing that the Republicans are playing catchup when it comes to the Internet, as I said, the candidates are moving forward on that line. That is a report that Abbi just had.

Condoleezza Rice, as you have rarely heard her, angry and appalled -- she went on a popular program, especially popular with women, to defend former President Bush. We have clips for you.

And take a look at this picture. Can you figure out what's missing, something you always saw in the Oval Office over the past eight years?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Will he be removed from office? We will know very, very soon. We're talking about the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

Take a look at the bottom right-hand side of your screen. You're seeing live pictures coming in from the Illinois State Senate. They're going through the final motions and then the roll call, remove or let him stay in office. We're going to have live coverage for you coming up. Stand by for the breaking news.

In the meantime, let's check in with our CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Let's talk a little bit about the Republicans in the Senate on what we -- on what can you expect. The president reached out to the House Republicans. They didn't exactly listen to what he had to say. Not one of them voted for the economic stimulus package.

Here's the number-two Republican in the Senate, which is going to take up the matter on Monday, Senator Jon Kyl.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: The Republicans have appreciated the president's outreach to present ideas, but we are too often met with this response: "We won, and, therefore, we are going to do it our way."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, does he have a fair point?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's just a little petulant.

It -- it -- first of all, Barack Obama did win. And Democrats took big majorities, both in the Senate and the House. But, really, this is about, for the Republicans, that they see this stimulus bill as an opportunity to get more tax cuts for individuals and corporations. And that's not what's going to accelerate spending. This bill is supposed to be an emergency bill to make spending happen and create economic recovery.

BLITZER: John, you worked in the House for a long time for Republicans when they were in the majority. And here's a fair question.

If it were reverse, if there were a Republican president, and overwhelming Republican majorities in the House and Senate, would they be reaching out to the Democrats, or simply do it their way or the highway?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, when we were in the House, we did try to reach out to Democrats on a continual basis. And Nancy Pelosi said, thanks, but we're going to have our own minority, and we're going to be against everything that you do.

Republicans have a position in the House. They wanted a program that would actually create jobs, not create bigger government. And I think that's the biggest distinction. In fact...

BLITZER: But, in fair -- in fairness to the Democrats, though, when the Republicans were the majority in both houses, and the president -- there was a Republican president, they reached out to Nancy Pelosi, and basically said what the Democrats are saying: You know what? Come join us or, you know, don't.

FEEHERY: Well, actually...

BLITZER: But we -- we're going to pass it either way.

FEEHERY: Actually, there were -- there were real efforts, on prescription drugs, for example, to reach out to Democrats.

And Nancy Pelosi told Charlie Rangel, do not talk to Republicans at all.

And there was -- and I was there. And, believe me, that's exactly what happened. And, with John Boehner, he reached out. He said, we have a program. Listen to us and accept some -- you know what? I think that the Republicans appreciate what Barack Obama has done.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It sounds -- it sounds very much like old Washington is still very much in play, despite all this talk about a new post- partisan environment.

ROSEN: There's always going to be partisan differences. And it's clear that Republicans -- the original bailout bill was quite unpopular at home, that members of Congress felt a lot of heat supporting it.

And, then, when we saw the press about how the Bush administration didn't even know where a lot of the money went, that -- government spending can be unpopular, and Democrats are going to take the heat for it. We are now in power. Republicans, I think, don't want to take the responsibility. I think they're complaining the process as kind of an excuse for them not to have to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Listen to this. I want to switch gears because we only have a limited amount of time.

The former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, she was on "The View" today, a very popular show, especially with women. And she was very passionate in defending the president's record on Katrina.

Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE VIEW")

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I felt responsible, also. I was the highest-ranking black official. And it was hard to see.

But what really did make me angry was the implication that some people made that somehow President Bush allowed this to happen because these people were black.

And for somebody to say that about the president of the United States, a president of the United States who I know well, and a president of the United States who is my friend, I was appalled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hilary, what do you think?

ROSEN: I think it's a little unfair that Condoleezza Rice was kind of the only high-ranking black official and that she has to -- had to wear all of that alone.

But this kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, there was Colin Powell, too.

ROSEN: Revisionist -- well, and long gone, unfortunately. And he didn't come to the president's defense.

This revisionist history of Katrina, I think, is disturbing. And I wish that the Bush loyalists would stop it.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN: There was plenty -- there was a lot of warning from the National Weather Service and other places to have engaged effectively in the -- in New Orleans.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Katrina -- Katrina -- Katrina was screwed up. It was screwed up on the state level, local level, and the federal level. There's no doubt about that.

The idea that -- accusing...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Accusing George -- accusing George Bush of being racist was absolutely outrageous. And she pointed it out. And she was right to point it out.

BLITZER: All right, let's leave it on that note. Guys, thanks very much.

Imagine you walked into your community college class, and your teacher was the vice president's wife, Jill Biden. She's back in the classroom.

And we're waiting for the final word from the Illinois Senate. Will the governor, Rod Blagojevich, get the boot? Stand by for the breaking news.

And why former President Jimmy Carter disagrees with President Obama -- at issue, terrorism and Middle East peace.

Stick -- stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's new word that President Obama is turning up the heat at the White House, literally.

"The New York Times" reports that Mr. Obama has cranked up the thermostat in the Oval Office so much that you could -- quote -- and I'm quoting from the story now -- "could grow orchids in there." The president reportedly hates the cold.

And that's interesting, coming from a man from Chicago who mocked Washington, D.C., schools for closing yesterday because of a little bit of snow and ice.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.

Meanwhile, there's a warm reception for the vice president's wife at her new job.

CNN's Alina Cho has details -- Alina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. She's one of the few second ladies to hold down a job while her husband is vice president, but those who know Jill Biden say, she's a teacher through and through, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

(voice-over): She's best-known as the vice president's wife, but the students of Northern Virginia Community College, Jill Biden is just Dr. B., the school's newest faculty member.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm an educator. I'm Jill Biden. And I feel right at home at a college campus.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CHO: She has been a professor for 28 years and says she's thrilled to return to the classroom, where her students are her heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's never wanted to be a political wife. She wants -- she's a teacher.

CHO: But a vice president's wife working for pay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is unprecedented. And good for her. You go, girl.

CHO: At Northern Virginia, Dr. Biden is teaching English as a second language twice a week. She started on Tuesday. And many students had no idea she was coming until their star professor walked in the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have taken notice of the -- the black cars that are rolling around and the men in black suits that are around campus.

CHO: As the V.P.'s wife, Biden could have taught anywhere, so why a community college? The school's dean says it's in professor Biden's DNA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, by deciding to teach here, she sends a message to the students that they're important. We will open the door for them to get in, but they have to open the door to get out. And we will help them every step of the way.

CHO: So, what kind of teacher is Jill Biden? Those who know her well say incredibly capable and one who occasionally comes with a surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One time, she had a student who fell asleep in her classroom. And she had all the students get up and quietly leave, and they turned off the lights and left that student sleeping in the classroom. But she's -- she's just a great practical joker.

CHO (on camera): Well, it's clear the new job is keeping her business. Professor Biden has already brought home a stack of papers. And, of course, the school couldn't be happier.

The dean told us: "I didn't hire a second lady who happens to be a teacher. I hired a teacher who happens to be a second lady" -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Alina, thank you.

Let's wish professor Biden lots of happiness and success on her new job.

Let's get back to Jack, though, for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, how does getting people to stop smoking stimulate the economy?

The Senate version of the economic stimulus bill has $75 million in it earmarked for stopping smoking programs.

Casey in California writes: "As much as I back President Obama's plans, I think the stimulus bill should not include that kind of stuff typically promoted by Congress. Save this for the health care bill later."

J.W. in Atlanta: "Depends on whether you're an undertaker or a retirement community worker. Depends on whose economy you want to stimulate."

S.T.: "I think it can go both ways. For smokers to stop, that means they have more money to spend on other things. And it could also cut down on health care expenses. I have relatives who smoke. They can't quit, and, at the same time, can barely afford the cigarettes. On the other hand, it could put a lot of people out of work. I live in North Carolina. This could really affect our way of life here."

H.D. in Phoenix: "I do not see how this stimulates the economy. However, as a registered respiratory therapist, I have personally witnessed many ways in which smokers place huge financial burdens on society, in terms of insurance costs and in terms of financial burdens to state-sponsored health care systems. All these expenses are completely avoidable if people simply do not smoke."

Bill in Michigan: "Heck no. Smokers generate millions, if not billions, of dollars in tax revenue on tobacco purchases, not to mention all the jobs they create in the health care industry when they are treated for heart disease, cancer, bronchitis, et cetera. Imagine the loss of jobs and revenue if we actually had a society of health- conscious people."

And Ron in Florida says: "Did we or did we not have a better economy when everybody smoked, including the belching steel mills and factories of the Rust Belt?"

If didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

BLITZER: OK, Jack, thank you.

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

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