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Did GOP Score Political Win on Stimulus Debate?

Aired February 15, 2009 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me tell you something what Clay said once. He said, you know, he should be dead. He said he should have died in Vietnam. So, everything since then has been gravy.


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we're learning more about the investigation of Flight 3407, but also learning a lot more about the victims who died on that plane. We've got some of their stories this morning for you.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the surprising political winners in the battle over the multimillion dollar stimulus package. The Republicans couldn't stop it from passing, but the fight over that bill may have rallied the Grand Old Party.

HOLMES: From the CNN Center, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING, February 15th, the day after Valentine's Day.

Congratulations, fellows. You made it another year.

NGUYEN: You made it through.


HOLMES: All right. It's 8:00 o'clock here in our headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia; 7:00 a.m. in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: Yes, good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. Thanks so much for being with us.

All right. So, the biggest bill of his young administration maybe waiting on his desk, but that's not where President Obama will sign the $780 billion stimulus plan. Instead, he is going to do it Tuesday in Denver, where he plans to hold an economic event.

Now, administration officials say Mr. Obama wants to sign the bill in a place that will really feel the effects from it. Also this week, the president will pay a visit to Phoenix, that's where he'll reveal details about a plan to stop home foreclosures.

Meanwhile, though, the stimulus battle gave the Obama administration its first big test. So, who really came out on top? And who's playing catch-up?

To help us take score here is CNN political editor Mark Preston in Washington.

You know, Mark, the Republicans, they couldn't block the stimulus, but it sounds like there's a bit of an upside for them nonetheless?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: There is. You know, in the short term, they lost the battle, Betty, they weren't able to stop this bill from moving through Congress. They weren't able to really alter very much of what was happening to this bill as it was going through Congress.

Except, what they were able to do is they were able to find their voice. You know, since November, Betty, they just seem to be in the wilderness, they didn't really seem to have a leader, they didn't really know how to stop Barack Obama -- really how to stop the trains that are moving so fast through Washington, D.C.

And, in fact, let's listen to House Minority Leader John Boehner on the House floor talking about the bill right before it passed.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) MINORITY LEADER: I just got to say the president made clear when we started this process that this was about jobs -- jobs, jobs, jobs. And what it has turned into is nothing more than spending, spending and more spending. American families, small businesses deserve better from their Congress. I said on the opening day that we would not be the party of no, and we haven't been. We offered an alternative that would have created twice as many jobs as their bill at half the price.


PRESTON: Well, Betty, of course, there was John Boehner, the House Republican leader. Not on the House floor but certainly talking the same message points that we've heard from Republicans in the past couple of weeks. You know, even though they were unable to stop the bill, they certainly were a winner in this fight -- as was the centrist Republicans over in the Senate.

These were the three Republicans who supported the bill. And what they showed is that they have become very, very powerful now in this Obama administration. Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine -- these are centrist Republicans that at times we now see will probably cross the aisle and support Barack Obama on certain legislative issues.

This is important because, right now, Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate. They need these Republicans to come along to help move legislation through and block any Republican attempts to try to stop it. So, those are certainly big winners, as is Barack Obama, Betty, because even though he did get dinged up, he did get a win in this bill. NGUYEN: Yes, but back to those three centrist -- I mean, we're talking about three people there, Mark. And so, you know, when it comes to losers in all of this, is bipartisanship the loser in it all?

PRESTON: Absolutely. And the reason why, is that there was a lot of talk about bipartisanship going -- coming out of the election and now going into this new Congress, about how things are going to change in Washington, there's going to be a new tone. But the fact is, Washington is Washington. This is where politics are fought out every day over all types of issues and certainly, over policy.

Now, Republicans don't always agree with Democrats, and most of the time, they don't agree with Democrats on issues of policy, nor do Democrats agree with Republicans. So, the fact of the matter is, while bipartisanship might be a victim, it might not be a bad thing though, Betty, because the fact is, you need the dissenting voices here in Washington.

NGUYEN: All right. Mark Preston, as always, we do appreciate it. Thank you.

PRESTON: Thanks.

HOLMES: Two U.S. carmakers hitting a bit of a bump in the road with United Auto Workers. The union has slowed down its talks with Chrysler and cut all talks altogether with General Motors. Both companies are in desperate need right now of union concessions so they can keep their government loans. You'll remember they got money from the government, billions and billions of dollars, and on Tuesday, they have to actually show up to Congress and explain how they'll pay those billions back.

Talks continue at Ford, the other of the Big Three. Ford is in better financial shape. They did not receive any federal bailout money.

And we'll turn to California now, just one of a number of states, that's about all of them that are in dire financial straits right now. Lawmakers out there met late into the night, making some difficult decisions. The economy is forcing them to cut their budget, a budget that is facing a $42 billion shortfall.

Kara Finnstrom tells us how these cuts are hitting just about everybody.


BOB TURNER, FURNITURE STORE OWNER: This is what I like the best, the smell of the wood, the feel of the leathers, I mean, the feel of this -- of this -- this is -- just doesn't get any better.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Turner and Avan's Furniture go way back. Turner started working here at age 15 and has owned the store for 20 years. He says his future has never been more uncertain. BOB TURNER: This is uncharted waters. And we've never seen months that were so slow. People just aren't coming in the store, and the ones that do come in, they look around but it's just easy not to buy furniture right now.

FINNSTROM: And Turner says California's proposed state budget could make matters even worse. One key measure: a hike in the state sales tax by 1 percentage point. Turner says that high-end stores like his, it's another deterrent from already skittish customers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just wondering if this was a little bit more money than this one.

FINNSTROM: Avan's, which deliver its own furniture, would also feel the slap of a proposed 12-cent jump in the gasoline tax.

BOB TURNER: The cost of us delivering furniture is something that we can't pass on to the customer. The cost of running these trucks is just huge.

FINNSTROM: Turner's other concern, the budget's proposed massive cuts to education. Two of his four boys are in California colleges.

BOB TURNER: There's fewer classes. There seems to be fewer teachers. And it's difficult to get the classes that they need.

FINNSTROM: UCLA economist Dan Mitchell says the proposed budget cuts are deep and widespread.

DAN MITCHELL, UCLA ECONOMIST: You are a schoolteacher who's laid off, you certainly going to feel the pain. If you are a person with a disability, now you have problems getting healthcare providers. And so, yes, you are going to see -- you're going to see real pain in a lot of these programs.

FINNSTROM: And the pain will be much worse if the federal stimulus package doesn't provide the relief state lawmakers are counting on.

So, Bob Turner and his wife Ann are seeking solutions. She's going back to school to be a chef.

ANN TURNER, RETURNING TO SCHOOL: All of our eggs are in one basket, and the way the economy is right now, if, heaven forbid, something did happen with the furniture store, then, we are just all down the tubes.

FINNSTROM: And he is trimming employee hours, switching to energy efficient light bulbs.

BOB TURNER: And we changed them all out to compact fluorescents.

FINNSTROM: And just hanging on.

BOB TURNER: It's just getting to be an unbelievable quantity of things that we have to deal with and be profitable. FINNSTROM: Kara Finnstrom, for CNN, Lancaster, California.


NGUYEN: Illinois Senator Roland Burris is earning some unwelcome attention. Burris now admits that the campaign for former Governor Rod Blagojevich asked him for fund-raising help. Burris says he refused but didn't mention it to a state impeachment committee. It happened before Blagojevich named Burris to replace President Obama in the Senate. Blagojevich was removed after allegedly trying to sell Obama's seat.

HOLMES: Investigators say they have found the remains of at least 15 of the victims who died in that plane crash outside of Buffalo on Thursday night. They say it will probably take them a whole lot longer to actually get I.D.s on all of those folks. Also, it's going to be at least another three or four days to recover all of those bodies. We are also learning, after initially investigators thought that the plane nose-dived into that house, actually maybe that wasn't the case.


STEVE CHEALANDER, NAT'L. TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: There's been a lot of reports of the airplane coming nose down into the house in the accident. Eyewitnesses reports and so forth. And what we found are all four corners of the airplane, we have found the cockpit, the tail section, both wings, and engines and they are where should be if an airplane was laying flat.


HOLMES: So, they think it now hit on its belly on that house. Again, all 49 people aboard that plane and one person on the ground, the person that was in the house, died in Thursday night's crash.

We want to head now to our Ines Ferre who is live in the city of Clarence Center.

Ines, how is that community going about trying to, I guess, certainly deal with what happened but try to move on from this and also remember those victims?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, T.J. They are trying to cope. They are certainly showing support here. I'm right in front of United Methodist Church here in Clarence. And this is about 10 blocks from the crash site.

And this is a place where they set up a temporary memorial site, where people have shown an outpour of support of sympathy, leaving flowers, leaving notes. One of them saying, "In memory of the 50 people who touched so many lives." Now, this temporary memorial site, we're told, that once the crash site clears up and there's more access, there's access to it, then they'll be transferring these things over there. Now, you can imagine the kind of impact that this has had in this community. I mean, Clarence, when you drive by it, you just feel this town-like feeling here and the residents have certainly felt this. And this is what the town's supervisor had to say.


SCOTT BYLEWSKI, SUPERVISOR, TOWN OF CLARENCE CTR.: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, from the flight as well as on the ground. I would like to offer my thanks to our disaster coordinators, the agencies that we've been working with have been tremendous as well, whether it be the state police, Erie County sheriffs, all local and federal and state agencies and county agencies that we've been dealing with, have been superb in their handling of this devastating tragedy.


FERRE: And there's a couple of events that are going to be happening here for the residents. At 10:45 a.m., they are going to have a service here at this church. That will be very focused on grief and on healing. They'll toll a bell 50 times in memory of the 50 victims. Then later on, in a nearby high school, they'll have a crisis meeting for the residents. And tomorrow, they're going to have a prayer service at 11:00 a.m. at a nearby church -- T.J.?

HOLMES: All right. Ines Ferre for us in Clarence Center -- thank you so much.

NGUYEN: Well, you know, it is a first for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is headed to Asia today and may be packing some advice from a diplomatic heavyweight.


REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm CNN Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf with a quick look at your forecast across the nation. Let's get things started in the east, then make your way to the west.

In the east, we're looking to some scattered showers in parts of the southeast including Florida -- Daytona fans, I know you're planning going to the race, great time for you today. You may have some issues with the scattered showers. Same deal in part of south Texas.

But the big story we have is out to the west. Some snow and big sky country, but for much of the west coast, you're going to be battered by some heavy waves, some strong winds. And check out in the higher elevations, you could be dealing with up to a foot of snow, in some locations, even more, near Mount Shasta, and back into Sierra Nevada, anywhere from two to three feet from today and into tomorrow. Also, the possibility of some flash flooding from San Francisco southward to Monterey, perhaps even as far as south San Simeon along the coast.

And in terms of your high temperatures for the day, from the west, we're going to make our way from the west back to east -- Portland and Seattle mainly in the 40s, San Francisco about 53 degrees into the afternoon, 61 in L.A., not too bad in Las Vegas with 56. A bit cooler for you in Billings with 35, 22 in Minneapolis, 53 in Atlanta, 46 in our nation's capital, and both Boston and New York mainly to the 30s and 40s. Miami check it -- 81 degrees. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

That's a look at your forecast. We're going to have more coming up right here on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.


NGUYEN: Hillary Clinton leaves for Asia today on her first trip overseas as secretary of state. Dealing with China though could be her most important task, but someone who's been in her spot before is offering advice on how to handle it.

CNN's foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has more.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hillary Clinton's first trip as secretary of state is a crucial one. Can she improve relations between the United States and China at a time when the countries may need each other most?

We sat down with the man who made history talking to China -- Henry Kissinger.

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: China and we are probably the two countries in the strongest position to help establish a new international system.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. and China teaming up to save the world?

KISSINGER: I believe that the Chinese, for their own reasons, are very conscious of the importance of having an American partner through the turmoil that is in the world.

DOUGHERTY: Former secretary of state, architect of President Richard Nixon's breakthrough opening to China, set up by his secret mission to Beijing in 1971, Kissinger just back from a recent trip to Beijing says the economic crisis is undermining China's state in the U.S. as a reliable partner in the midst of worldwide turmoil.

(on camera): What does the leadership there want to hear from Hillary Clinton?

KISSINGER: It's exports. It's declining significantly as a result of our crisis. So, I think our discussion with the Chinese should not be about fixing, one problem for ourselves, but to get a comprehensive approach.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): He says American diplomacy usually starts out with specific issues and pounds away at them. The Chinese like to look at the bigger picture first, which is why he tells us don't judge the success of Clinton's trip by some spectacular immediate results.

(on camera): What do you think she should try to accomplish?

KISSINGER: It should be judged by the degree to which she and the Chinese leaders can establish the conviction that they are dealing with a common problem, and that we try to get some idea of where we want to go together over the next, say, five years.

DOUGHERTY: Secretary Clinton seems to be on the same wave length. In a speech previewing her trip, she said, "The U.S. has not paid enough attention to Asia over the past eight years." And she said she's ready to listen to the leaders of the countries that she'll visit.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, the State Department.


NGUYEN: Well, in addition to his career in government, Kissinger is the founder of an international consulting firm that advises clients on investments and government relations in China and other countries.

HOLMES: Well, late last night, we got word from the White House that the administration will take part in planning a United Nations conference on racism. However, it will decide later whether or not to actually participate in the thing they actually planned. There are concerns that the conference could be used by Arab nations to criticize Israel.

NGUYEN: Well, "STATE OF THE UNION" is coming up with John King, but the question today ...

HOLMES: What's that?

NGUYEN: What's he doing in Phoenix?

HOLMES: What does he doing -- there's a pretty big event happening out there.

NGUYEN: Well, a little game going on there. We'll talk to him about that and politics, of course. Stay with us.


NGUYEN: "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING" is coming up at 9:00 Eastern here.

And, you know, it's been a huge week, especially when it comes to this stimulus plan which finally passed.

HOLMES: It finally did, a lot happening in Washington. But John, for whatever reason, decides to take the show on the road, and decides that Phoenix is the place to be right now.

We'll ask you that first. What are you doing in Phoenix? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm here in Phoenix for two reasons. First and foremost, full disclosure, I have a long-standing relationship with the NBA and the all-star game is here this weekend. And Noah and Hanna King would be disappointed in their dad if he didn't take them to the NBA all-star game. So, that's one reason we're here.

But also, good policy reasons to be here. Barack Obama, the president, is coming here this week. There is a huge immigration battle brewing up here. He wants to come here to talk about his housing plan, his prescription for the foreclosure and the mortgage problem in the country.

This also happens to be the home state of who -- John McCain, his opponent in the last election. And remember after the election, Senator McCain and President Obama promised to get along and, T.J. and Betty, you know they haven't in the big fight over the stimulus. John McCain will be with me right here in just a few minutes to talk about the stimulus fight and the immigration issue and much more looking ahead. So, it's a good time to be in Phoenix.

NGUYEN: Yes, absolutely. And, John, speaking of that stimulus, President Obama is going to be signing that in Denver, not in Washington. And I think people at home when they're watching, they want to know, OK, fine, it's a done deal but when am I going to see the effects of this?

KING: That is the question, Betty. Let's explore that on the show and let's explore it for a minute here because the president himself has said he's going to sign this bill. It's nearly $800 billion in spending. Republicans say it's deficit spending and it won't produce as many jobs as the president promises. So, now, you have the expectations on the new president kicking in, in the sense that he will go on the road to sign this.

He will tell the American people help is on the way. But one of his challenges, Betty and T.J., is to also say, help is on the way but you may see more layoffs, you may see a higher unemployment rate. Essentially, you may see more pain before you get the benefits of this legislation.

So, it's a tough challenge, which is one of the reasons the president wants to get out of Washington and go to the road and directly address the American people as he says this will help but maybe not right away.

HOLMES: You talk about his tough challenge there -- a tough challenge it is right now for the American people, a lot of it has to do with jobs. But there seems to be one job that nobody wants, commerce secretary. When in the -- who is in line? Is anybody in line? Can you find anybody who wants this job?

NGUYEN: Is the third time a charm?

(LAUGHTER) KING: Yes. You know, Governor Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat was in line for that job -- that went away because of something that came up in his background check, they didn't want the distraction. And then president was going to do a big thing and reach out to Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. He decided at the last minute after saying yes, that he had too many differences with the president to come into the administration.

Now, that is a vacancy, we're told they are moving on it as quickly as possible. Traditionally, that job goes to somebody in the business community. Look for a CEO, somebody outside of politics maybe but they're also looking at some political figures as well.

As to when the president has big pressing policy challenges, signing the stimulus bill, moving to a housing plan, dealing with General Motors who is going to ask for more money this week, Chrysler is going to ask for more money this week. There's more money to be spent on the financial institutions bailout. So, he's focusing on the policy.

He will get to the personnel, but the White House thinks his time is better spent at the moment dealing with the big economic issues, not so much that final vacancy on the big team.

NGUYEN: I got to get your opinion on this. Rod Blagojevich is back in the news, yet again. This time in dealing with Roland Burris, the man who took President Obama's place in the Senate. What do you make of this latest news that we're getting?

KING: Well, it's embarrassing for Senator Burris in the sense that he now concedes that the governor's -- the former governor's brother approached him and said, "Can you raise some money? Can you bring some -- essentially, the pay for play idea -- can you raise the money for Governor Blagojevich?" -- as they were talking to him about this seat.

Now, Senator Burris says he said flatly no, that that would be inappropriate, that would be a conflict of interest, that he was not going to play that game. But the fact that this is coming up after he has already been sworn into the Senate, he did not give this disclosure when he testified in the impeachment trial, he has not spoken about it publicly before in his many news conference about taking this seat -- remember, it was controversial as to whether he would be seated.

So, an embarrassment for Senator Burris. He is now the senator from Illinois. So, more of an issue for him as he looks forward to running for a full term down the road should he make that decision than it is at the moment? But Governor Blagojevich or former Governor Blagojevich from a news media perspective, you might say he is the gift that keeps on giving.


HOLMES: Well, we will turn away from all of those gifts that we've been given, and we will turn back to, are you there? Well, part of why you're there for the all-star game. I think we have this video cued up.

But the slam dunk contest was last night.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

HOLMES: The little guy won, 5'9" and beat out a guy who is 6'11". We're showing this dunk, Krypto-Nate jumping over ...

NGUYEN: Oh, man, it's amazing.

HOLMES: ... jumping over to Dwight Howard. But, along the line still, basketball is in the spotlight right now. President Obama has been in the spotlight a lot because of his game. You talked to some guys who know a little bit about basketball and ask them to judge the president's game. What do they have to say?

KING: I sure did. And it was quite a treat, T.J. and Betty. And I was at the slam dunk competition last night and that was fun and it was fascinating and in many ways, it's the highlight of the weekend here. But I had the great treat. I'm a Celtics fan by birth; I sat down next to Bill Russell.

HOLMES: Oh, wow.

KING: One of the great legends of the NBA. Next to him was Grant Hill, a great player and now here's in the Phoenix Suns. We had at the end of the table, Magic Johnson. We had Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns and we had the younger end of the NBA spectrum, Chris Paul now playing in New Orleans sitting next to me.

And we not only talked about politics and being a role model and having an African-American president, but we brought some videotape along and we broke down the president's game. That is one of our treats today. We had a great deal of fun. It was such a treat for me to sit down and talk basketball and politics with them.

And they had a good time breaking down the president's game. They were pretty kind. I think they all want to play hoops and maybe get an invitation to the White House but they gave him some tips and pointers along the way.

HOLMES: John, are you sure you're working?

NGUYEN: Yes, exactly.

KING: I'm working. I'm working so hard -- can you see the sweat?


HOLMES: He is working it. He is not working. He is working it.

NGUYEN: Yes, absolutely. So, did you take all that talk onto the court and test your game with those guys?

(LAUGHTER) KING: You know, I did -- Betty, I did also spend some time with Lisa Leslie, a WNBA star.

HOLMES: Oh, wow.

KING: She's 6'5''. She showed up for the interview in heels.


NGUYEN: Oh, man.

KING: So, I was vertically challenge in that interview, and not only did we talk, we also shot a little hoops.

HOLMES: We had her, John. I know exactly what you're talking about.


HOLMES: She showed up here for an interview on the set with us once. I had to have her bring her chair down!

KING: I spent a lot of time doing this.



NGUYEN: She definitely has game.

All right, John, we are looking forward to it.

KING: She does.

NGUYEN: See you soon.

HOLMES: See you, John.

KING: Thank you both.

NGUYEN: Well, you know, the stimulus plan and much more at the top of the hour right here on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING."

HOLMES: Yes. John, as he mentioned there, he's going to be talking to the Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain. He'll also have the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, on as well. And you saw those NBA legends and stars to the present as well. Magic Johnson, other NBA greats, Bill Russell was there, Magic -- yes.

He's got a good show coming up. "STATE OF THE UNION" right after us, 9:00 o'clock Eastern. Stay tuned for that.

NGUYEN: Right now, though, we want to give you a quick look at today's top stories. After all the back-and-forth, that $787 billion stimulus plan will become law on Tuesday, that's when President Obama will sign it in Denver instead of Washington, though. Administration officials say the president wants to sign the bill in a place that will really benefit from it.

HOLMES: Police in Rochester, New York, believe this man killed four people, Frank Garcia is his name. He's charged with killing a man and woman in a hospital in Brockport yesterday, and he's also used to work where those folks worked. He also expected to be charged with murder in the shooting death of a husband and wife in their suburban home. Police say Garcia knew all of the victims.

NGUYEN: Workers continue the grim search for victims in the remains at the site of that commuter plane crash in suburban Buffalo, New York. The remains of 15 people in fact have been found but the search will take time.


STEVE CHEALANDER, NATL. TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: The medical examiner believes that three to four days are going to be required to recover the victims of this crash and they're in the process of doing that. They've already pulled some of the folks out of there but they've got a long way to go.

So it's a slow process but we are making progress.


NGUYEN: Thursday night's crash killed all 49 people on the plane and a man in the house that that plane hit.

Well, Vietnam vet Clay Yarber was among those were killed onboard Flight 3407. He was on his way to see his girlfriend for Valentine's Day.

Reporter Katherine Simmons from Bay 9 News in Tampa, Florida, tells us he will be remembered for telling stories through his music.


KATHERINE SIMMONS, BAY 9 NEWS, TAMPA, FLORIDA: This is an old VHS copy of Clay Yarber; he is the guitarist in the blue shirt. That was back in the '80s at a Coachman Park Concert in Clearwater. Back then he played for Power Play. Later, he played gigs at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg with a band called "Taxi."

His friend, a musician himself, Ron Reinhardt said music was Yarber passion in life.

RON REINHARDT, PLANE CRASH VICTIMS' FRIEND: Clay was an excellent musician and have a good reputation in the area.

SIMMONS: Some say he focused on music because of his traumatic experience in Vietnam.

REINHARDT: Clay was the most macho guy in the world. And he was decorated Vietnam War grunt. I mean, he saw it all. Clay saw it all. And I mean, there's nothing worse that anyone has seen that Clay hadn't seen. And he was wounded a couple times. I think his helicopter's crashed a couple times.

SIMMONS: Since then, Yarber didn't care for flying but he did it anyway on Thursday. His life ended when the commuter plane fell out of the sky in Buffalo.

REINHARDT: Let me tell you something what Clay said once. And he said, you know, he should be died, he should have died in Vietnam so everything since then has been gravy.

SIMMONS: Reinhardt says, Yarber didn't fret about a small stuff after cheating life several times; a free spirit who lived through his music. Now his music will live on without him.

In Clearwater, I'm Katherine Simmons, Bay News 9.


NGUYEN: All right, so talk about your mixed signals. See, the White House pushed back the National D-TV switch to June, right? So why could your channel still fade away come this Tuesday? I'm asking this question.

HOLMES: Ok, yes. Because, come Tuesday, you're going to have a problem.

NGUYEN: If I don't switch over, I will have no television.

HOLMES: Ok and we tried to figure this out yesterday.

NGUYEN: And we're still trying to figure it out.

HOLMES: But we got it. Your cable, the another name of the company but --

NGUYEN: And apparently it's analog so --


NGUYEN: It's not pure digital television so I'm going to have to make the switch or no television for me.

HOLMES: That's great, well there's going to plenty of clear reception for some of us for today's Daytona 500. But the economy could be putting up a caution flag on the sport's future.


HOLMES: President Obama set to sign that $787 billion economic recovery bill on Tuesday. The package of tax cuts and new government spending won final Congressional approval with only three Republicans in the Senate voting for that measure; zero Republicans in the House supported that bill. Democrats say that package will help jump-start the economy and create or save three to four million jobs. And the Republicans say that too much wasteful spending in that package.

Well, more than a quarter of the major TV stations across the country intend to shut down, Betty, their old analog broadcast signals on February 17th. That would be Tuesday. They plan on switching to digital. Now, this despite requests from the Obama administration for them to delay.

Last week, Congress gave stations until June 12th to shut-down analog broadcast to give viewers more time like Betty to prepare. The federal fund that subsidizes converter boxes have run out of money is the problem essentially. And there is a waiting list for coupons but some of the stations actually want to go ahead because they don't want to kind of waste money for the next months.

NGUYEN: So that's up to their discretion. They can go ahead and shut it down on the 17th.

HOLMES: They can.

NGUYEN: Although the Obama administration had said that you will have until June.

HOLMES: He asked them not to. He's giving an extension but some of these stations are say it's just more costly to wait.

NGUYEN: Lucky me, mine is going away as of the February 17th.

HOLMES: Yes, it will but you've got to get it handled -- you'll get something handled over there.

With the economic recovery package President Obama plans to sign contains about $650 million more dollars to help with the conversion to digital television.

Now, as Kitty Pilgrim now reports more than a billion federal dollars already has been spent on the program to go digital.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The clock is ticking.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: By now, the government's plan to switch to digital TV has filled our air waves. The government has gone through there more than a billion dollars on the program educating the public about the switch to digital and giving out 33 million $40 coupons to help people pay for their new converter box for their televisions.

The government even sponsored a Nascar racing car for $350,000 to get the word out to fans about the digital transition. Unfortunately, the car crashed and burned.

Now, the Commerce Department and the FTC wants $650 million more for digital conversions in the stimulus bill. One consumer group says wrong play.

TOM SCHATZ, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: It's not stimulating anything except more confusion among the consumers who will have to transition from analog to digital and a little bit of outrage from taxpayers that they've already paid for this and now they're paying almost double to get it fixed.

PILGRIM: President Obama signed a bill to push back the conversion deadline from February until June because as many as 6 million households still haven't made the switch. Many are still waiting for their coupon to purchase converters but the current budget has already been spent.

JOHN DUNBAR, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: This is not government's finest hour in terms of how this is going. I think that for the general public they're going to look at this and just say that the government can't get anything right.

PILGRIM: The administration wants to get the program completed so parts of the analog spectrum can be used by first responders and sold for wireless communications.

The FTC has already raised some $19 billion in auctions for the analog air waves.

Kitty Pilgrim, CNN.


NGUYEN: Well Triple-A reports gas prices -- they are up again, folks. The price for regular unleaded went up a tenth of a cent from yesterday. That is the 18th consecutive increase. But it's still $2 less than last July's record prices. 16 states currently sell regular unleaded gas over $2 while 33 states still sell regular for less than two bucks. That's a deal.

HOLMES: Turning to President Obama, he's only been on his job for just a few weeks.

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: But you know it's a tough job.


HOLMES: He's had a lot of challenges, yes, President is a tough job I can say.

NGUYEN: Have you noticed the before and after pictures of him?

HOLMES: Of some of the Presidents --

NGUYEN: They age so quickly when they are in Office.

HOLMES: But what do you have to do? All of this stuff coming at you? You've to keep the faith.

NGUYEN: Always.

HOLMES: He is keeping the faith and he's keeping it a part of public policy as well. Stay with us.


HOLMES: Now, on this morning's "Faces of Faith." We're putting the spotlight on religious tolerance and cooperation between different faiths. The president -- President Obama is creating a new council for faith-based and neighborhood partnership. The administration considering ending religious violence and making that a top priority of the administration and also as a continuation really of the policy that George Bush put in place -- President Bush -- his faith-based initiatives.

Joining us right now is Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core and also -- I want to maker sure I have this right -- are you still the only Muslim on the council? I know it's not fully filled out but you anticipate another to be added to that council?

EBOO PATEL, FOUNDER INTERFAITH YOUTH CORE: We do. We anticipate another one or two to be added to the council.

HOLMES: One or two. All right.

Well, let's talk about this faith-based council. Also the faith- based initiative and I'll just go right to the issue that many bring up which is going to be coming up plenty. That's whether or not federal funds should be going towards religious groups who then discriminate in their hiring practices. What will President Obama do on this situation? Will he allow that to happen?

PATEL: Right.

Well, President Obama has been so clear on this. He said that federal funds will not be allowed to be used to discriminate in hiring practices. He has also said that it's important to maintain the religious character in areas such as worship. So a Catholic church should be able to hire a Catholic priest to perform Catholic mass but if that church applies for federal funds to run a soup kitchen then that soup kitchen and its staff needs to abide by constitutional law.

I think the president has been very clear about that. He also has told us in our meeting with him in the Oval Office two weeks ago that his staff at the White House faith-based office will be dealing with those matters and the council will be dealing with other matters like interfaith cooperation.

HOLMES: Some would argue that the law would allow this. There are many statutes that people can name, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also the establishment cause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court that would allow these federal funds to go to religious organizations and to still discriminate. And what I mean here for some of our viewers is that a Christian group would maybe want to hire a Christian to do a particular job.

Where will the president come down on that when the law sometimes does seem to support, allowing this type of discrimination in hiring?

PATEL: T.J. like I said, I think the president has been very, very clear on that. And I think that his position is sensible which is to say that a Christian church for the purposes of worship that it generates its own private funds to do, should be able to hire a Christian pastor, but if that church applies for federal funds to run, for example, a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, that's serving our broader society, then that program needs to abide by the laws of the land.

HOLMES: Do you think that's a fine line certainly there? And who will, I guess, be overseeing this? Is it set up in such a way that there will be somebody in the White House keeping an eye and making sure the money is used for these secular reasons?

PATEL: The staff of the faith-based office is going to be dealing with this as the president told us on a case-by-case basis. The president recognizes this is a fine line and there are gray area which is why he's put forth a general principle which, as I said, I think is sensible and has said that his staff, in consultation with the White House council and attorney general, will be dealing with the more gray areas on case-by-case basis.

HOLMES: I know there's a broader mission for the council itself. But for you as of right now being the only Muslim on the council and also during the campaign season, the president was criticized in some circles, certainly some members of the Muslim community that he didn't reach out enough and was kind of keeping his distance, if you will, during the campaign. What, for you, would like to be your mission as far as being on this council in a broader sense?

PATEL: I think we live in the era of interfaith cooperation. Just like previous eras of Americans dedicated themselves to civil rights, I think that this generation of Americans has to dedicate themselves to bringing people from different faiths together to build understanding and to serve the common good.

I think our president has articulated this challenge boldly and eloquently. He told us in his inaugural address that America's patriot heritage is a strength. we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers. Right now we have to bring those different people together to serve others, particularly in the economic crisis that we live in and to show that we are a force for peace in the world.

That's what my organization, the Interfaith Youth Core, is going to be helping to drive forward. And the president in his conversation with us in the Oval Office a couple of weeks made clear just how important interfaith cooperation was to him and told me that young leaders are going to be essential to this mission which is, of course, the work of the Interfaith Youth Core.

HOLMES: All right, just quickly here. Has the council -- I believe the last count I saw was 15 and supposed to get to 25. Are you at 15 now still?

PATEL: Yes, we're at 15 now. The 15 of us met with the president for half an hour a couple of weeks ago. We had a great conversation. One of the things I want to tell you, T.J., is we're ready to build this interfaith youth movement. And I think the young people of America are ready and the young people of the world are ready. So, I think we're going to be looking at a new era of interfaith cooperation instead of the continuation of the chapter of religious violence.

HOLMES: Well, sir, we will be watching. Eboo Patel, again, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and also a member of the president's new council on faith. Sir, thank you for giving us some time this morning there in Chicago. Thank you so much.

PATEL: Thanks, T.J.

HOLMES: All right -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, T.J., it is a sport that relies not only on the fans but also on the auto industry. As Nascar opens a new season, will the excitement take a back seat to the economic troubles? We're going to head down to Daytona for a live report.


NGUYEN: A new season of Nascar officially gets under way today with a green flag dropped at the Daytona 500 but these are tough times, even in the world of auto racing. And our Larry Smith is covering the 500. He joins us live from Daytona Beach there in Florida and it could be a little rainy there today, Larry. But the big question though, is Nascar having to make some changes with this economy?

LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly are. I mean, you drive through the infield here and one thing is quickly apparent, Betty, the number of empty spots where cameras usually park. Attendance may be down among the die-hard fans but it's a sign of a tough economy.


SMITH: Few places have felt the impact of today's economy like the auto industry. The big three automakers are struggling to remain a part of the American landscape and no place is keeping a closer eye on the situation than Nascar.

TONY STEWART, TWO-TIME DAYTONA CHAMPION: It's not so much about the company as it is all the people that are involved, whether you're a CEO at these companies or whether you're a guy that's working on the line down there in the manufacturing plants. It's these people's livelihoods at stake and we'll do anything we can to help.

JEFF GORDON, FOUR-TIME CUP CHAMPION: This sport has grown so much, even beyond just being a manufacture-driven sport. I think the sport can survive. I just don't see why we would ever want to survive without them.

SMITH: Many Nascar teams are struggling to survive. Some of the biggest names in the sports have had to make serious changes. Names like Earnhardt and Petty have had to merge with other teams just to continue racing.

MARK MARTIN FOUR-TIME CUP RUNNER-UP: It doesn't matter if you're looking at your IRA or your investments or your home. You know? Or whatever it is. I mean, it's all been disappointing news and a contraction of your wealth or whatever it is. And I think it's the same thing in Nascar.

SMITH: Nascar fans have also been hit hard by the economy. In order to allow them to continue to be as loyal as they have been, Nascar is lowering prices on both merchandise and tickets.

ROBIN BRAIG, PRESIDENT, DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY: The Daytona 500 has never not sold out in 50 years and while we will run out of tickets we did have to drop the price, so there's no question that this will have something of an asterisk next to it like a baseball record.

DON HAWK, MOTORSPORTS AUTHENTICS: Obviously, you want to float the boat. For us that means you stay even where you were and in this economic time, that might be hard to do so what we're going to do is get creative and if we have to take a little bit on a chin in the margin, we're going to take it on the chin and not the customer.


SMITH: Nascar is doing what it can to help the fans and teams. They prohibited a testing in the off-season; that saved teams a million dollars apiece. Here at the track also they've dropped the price of souvenirs and even some food. You can get a hot dog for $3. That is almost unheard of. Back to you.

NGUYEN: That's not a bad deal. Let's hope the rain holds off for the race. All right. Larry thanks so much for that.


NGUYEN: We will be right back.


NGUYEN: President Obama and family are enjoying this President's Day weekend back in Chicago.

HOLMES: Yes, got an important week ahead and need to get a lot of work done.

John King will have more on that in just a moment, coming up on "State of the Union."

Also, John will be talking to several former NBA stars about the president and his basketball skills. "State of the Union" coming up next.

NGUYEN: But first, here are our top stories today.

A federal investigator is providing new information into the crash of that commuter jet Thursday night in suburban Buffalo, New York. The investigator says despite reports, the plane came down nose first. It now appears the plane hit flat.

Police in Rochester, New York believe that this man right here killed four people. Police say Frank Garcia killed two people at a hospital where he formerly worked. The other two victims were killed in their homes. Police say Garcia knew his victims.

After all the back and forth, the $787 billion stimulus plan will become law on Tuesday. That's when President Obama will sign it in Denver, instead of Washington, though. Administration officials say the president wants to sign the bill in a place that will really benefit from it.

And we do have some more details about former Governor Rod Blagojevich's fund-raising tactic. Listen to this, Roland Burris now says the governor did hit him up for money before appointing him to the senate. Now Burris says he refused, but he didn't tell the governor's impeachment panel about it.

We're going to hear much more about that story on "State of the Union" with John King. That starts at the top of the hour.

A lot of news; he is going to be in Phoenix, T.J., because of the All-Star game tonight.

HOLMES: He is actually working, too, though. He's out there. He's going to be interviewing John McCain, of course, from Arizona and talk to those NBA legends as well. Let's hand it over to the guy.

NGUYEN: John King, live now from Arizona with "State of the Union."