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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama's Primetime Health Care Challenge; Interview With Rudy Giuliani
Aired July 22, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Here's Wolf Blitzer now in "The Situation Room."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thank you.
Happening now, the president prepares for a prime-time news conference. Huge stakes, a huge challenge for the president right now, persuading lawmakers and you to get behind his ideas for health care reform. In an episode of political drama that is about to unfold, tonight he'll reframe his arguments from top to bottom, try to reclaim the upper hand for the American people.
Also, what are the defenders and detractors saying? Rudy Giuliani says what the president has done is even worse than Giuliani's worst nightmares. What does the senior adviser to the president, David Axelrod, have to say?
Both men are here this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And supreme surprise. A conservative senator who grilled Sonia Sotomayor makes a big announcement.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It will be a climax and a political cliffhanger that will unfold on primetime television. In about four hours, the president will step to the podium and tackle a huge challenge he says affects the health and financial well-being of every American -- health care reform.
Some Republicans openly talk of breaking the president on this issue. Some Democrats say there's a long way to go to reform. And many of you are not yet sold on the president's health care ideas.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is watching all of this on Capitol Hill, but let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's over at the White House.
Ed, the president knows he has a lot of work to do.
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He does, Wolf.
I just got off the phone with one of the president's top aides who told me, look, the president understands the enormous stakes here. He's been taking on a more hands-on role. If this fails, obviously, that could imperil the rest of the president's agenda, but this aide stressed the president is feeling very confident right now that he's going to go in tonight, make about a six-minute or seven-minute opening statement that's not just on health care. It's going to be also on the economy.
The president is going to give a six-month progress report and say, look, I pulled the country from the abyss in terms of the financial crisis. And then he's going to try and turn and say you can't fully fix this economy, though, without controlling costs on health care. So, he's going to again try to make that case.
This aide saying the president is very confident that we're closer to a deal on health care reform than we've ever been in this country before, and basically saying that they're still confident there could be a deal before the August recess. Even though there's a lot of pessimism on Capitol Hill, maybe in the media, as well, people inside this building still feel that they can get a deal done. They realize the deadline may be slipping a bit, but they still feel they can get this done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed, stand by. We know you're going to be at the news conference later tonight.
Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill.
Dana, there are a lot of closed-door meetings still going on right now. What do members of Congress, Democrats, especially, especially those skeptical Democrats, want to hear from the president tonight?
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, ,Wolf, I'm standing again outside of this meeting where bipartisan negotiators had the meeting, once again, all day long. And I have been talking to them, and many senators say that they are making progress. They say it's slow, it's steady, but they insist it's progress.
So, let me tell you what they don't want to hear from the president tonight. And that is, they don't want to hear pressure to get this done fast, because both parties -- both parties tell me it's not going to work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The president can push all he wants to, but we're committed to doing it right because restructuring our health care system, restructuring one-sixth of the economy ought to be done right, and a date certain isn't going to help. And I hope the president tonight does not say a date certain.
I believe that he needs to be realistic. He was a member of the United States Senate. He knows nothing gets done in the United States Senate quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Well, it's certainly important for us to listen to the president. He is eager to move a package along. And good for him. But this is hard. There's just no way around it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, those two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, are part of a team of six who, again, as we speak, Wolf, they are negotiating in that room behind me. And it really is kind of a political bomb shelter where they are right now. They want to keep -- stay in there and be safe from the torpedoes, the political torpedoes, including those being launched by the president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: One key Republican senator pulled out of the talks today. What happened?
BASH: Well, Senator Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah, he did say he's pulling out. He broke the news to our congressional producer, Ted Barrett. And here's what he told him in the hallway.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I decided to withdraw because I can't -- I'm having difficulty with the high costs under the provisions that I think they are going to ultimately come up with. And frankly, I have different viewpoints on a number of things and I just don't want to mislead anybody.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BASH: Now, Senator Hatch actually does have a record of bipartisan work on the issue of health care. He's worked with even the most liberal Democrats to achieve health care legislation in the past. But on this, as you heard him say, he just thinks that what they're talking about in this room -- which he had been a part of, these meetings, for some time -- it just costs too much and he said it imposes too many mandates. That's why he decided to pull out.
So, right now, three Republicans, three Democrats. They're meeting in there. And again, it's not overstating it to say that they could hold the fate of the president's top priority in their hands.
BLITZER: Important meetings going on.
Thanks very much, Dana, for that.
And only just a few moments ago, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said she's ready to keep the House in session beyond the scheduled August recess, a four-week recess, to get this passed in the House of Representatives. Only yesterday, the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, said this there might not be a vote in August before the recess, but Nancy Pelosi is threatening to keep the House in session in Washington in August in order to get that vote.
Let's turn to another political cliffhanger right now, the fate of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a Supreme Court surprise of sorts today, the conservative senator who grilled Judge Sotomayor said this -- he said he's going to vote for her nomination. We're talking about the South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.
He explained his decision this way...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I understand the path of least resistance for me personally would be to vote no. That's probably true any time you're in a minority party and you lost the election. But I feel compelled to vote yes, and I feel that this is the right vote for me and, quite frankly, for the country in this case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: His decision opening up a growing divide in the Republican ranks over Sotomayor's nomination.
I'll be speaking, by the way, with Senator Graham about his decision and other issues. He's going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM later today.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty though, right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in a nation where more than one- third of the adult population is obese, the president's coming under fire for his selection of an overweight surgeon general. ABC News reports that although Dr. Regina Benjamin has been praised for her top credentials like creating a medical clinic for the poor after Hurricane Katrina, many believe Benjamin's appearance sends the wrong message as the nation's top doctor.
It's estimated that Benjamin's as much as 40 pounds overweight. The Department of Health and Human Services insists Benjamin is highly qualified -- quoting here -- "She's a role model for all of us and will be an outstanding surgeon general."
Supporters suggest her job is to make health care decision, not to look good. And they say her size might, in fact, help her better understand the problem of obesity. Some health experts highlight studies that show it's possible to be fat and healthy at the same time, while others say the president himself, who still smokes cigarettes, isn't exactly the best role model of good health either.
But there is no doubt that obesity is a growing crisis in this country, costing the U.S. billions of dollars a year. Fat people are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, among other things. And critics also point out that Benjamin could set a better example for the black community, where obesity is even more prevalent.
So here's the question: What message does it send if the surgeon general of the United States is overweight?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.
Rudy Giuliani says he's really afraid of what President Obama is trying to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Have your worst fears come true, or are you satisfied?
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK MAYOR: In many respects it's much worse than I thought.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The former New York mayor is here to explain why he thinks President Obama's actions are even worse than Giuliani's own worst nightmares.
Meanwhile, the senior presidential adviser, David Axelrod, is also here. We're going to look ahead to the president's news conference later tonight. I'm going to be asking him to go into specifics about the president's vision for health care reform.
And a new twist in the probe of why Michael Jackson died. Investigators searching the office of the doctor who was with Michael Jackson at the time of his death.
BLITZER: Just a little while ago here in Washington the U.S. Senate narrowly rejected a measure that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons from state to state. It would have required states that currently allow concealed weapons to honor permits from other states, and it received 58 votes. That was two short of the number needed to pass.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.
GIULIANI: Wolf, nice to see you.
BLITZER: Good to have you always.
What do you think about this failure to pass this gun legislation in the Senate that would have allowed folks who have permits, let's say, in Wyoming to carry a concealed weapon, to come into New York City and carry their weapon?
GIULIANI: It probably leaves things the way they should be, which is local control, where conditions in New York City may be different than conditions in Miami, or Wyoming, or wherever. And therefore, states, cities can have some degree of ability to control things for themselves. I think that's the quintessential Republican idea anyway of having more state and local discretion and control, and it leaves it to that.
BLITZER: Because your position during the campaign I think for years, as far as guns are concerned, what's good maybe in Wyoming is not necessarily good in New York.
GIULIANI: Absolutely right. Very different conditions in a very crowded city where we've got availability of guns. It can be very different than in a rural area where you may want them for protecting yourself in the home because you're all alone, or for hunting, or whatever.
BLITZER: So you're happy it failed?
GIULIANI: I think it's the best situation. I think we're left -- by it not passing, we're left with cities and states within constitutional limits making their own decisions, and I think that's better.
BLITZER: Let's talk about health care reform, a critical issue right now for the country.
Republican Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina, he made news this week when he said this: "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
He's not backing away from that either.
Do you agree with Senator DeMint?
GIULIANI: Well, I think it's a critical measure for a different reason. I don't see the politics of it as much as I do a tremendous impact that I think could have a destructive impact on the American system as we know it. I doubt that...
BLITZER: Because right now, 40 million or 45 million Americans don't have any health insurance.
GIULIANI: They don't, but about half of them could afford it if it was just more affordable. And what you don't want to do is ruin the system for the whatever million, 90 million, 100 million, 118 million.
BLITZER: Because President Obama keeps saying if you like what you have with the private insurance, if you like your doctor, you can keep exactly that. Nothing is going to change.
GIULIANI: Well, then what are all these commissioners that he's appointing that are going to determine health care outcomes? And the fact that you add 30 million, 40 million people to a government program that's already very large means the government will be the major player in health care. It already is pretty close...
BLITZER: He says that he wants one government option to compete with the private insurance companies.
GIULIANI: But that government option will be so big, it will just overwhelm all private insurance companies. If it's 40 million people, that conceivably could be part of it.
BLITZER: But that doesn't necessarily mean all 40 million would opt for that government option.
GIULIANI: No. What it does mean, it means that a lot of people who presently have private insurance will opt for it because it will be cheaper. In fact, they believe -- the estimates believe that at least half the people that join that government program will be people who presently have private insurance.
BLITZER: Their argument is if there's a cheaper government option, that will put pressure on the private insurers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, whatever, to lower their premiums.
GIULIANI: Well, it also will mean they may lower their service. And they may -- you read this bill carefully, which is one of the reasons...
BLITZER: Which bill are you talking about?
GIULIANI: I'm talking about the House bill. If you read the bill carefully, it has things in it like a government official determining whether you can have stents after you're 59 years old.
BLITZER: Well, right now, a private insurance company bureaucrat is making that kind of decision.
GIULIANI: Yes, but you can walk out on that if you want.
BLITZER: But if you don't have any -- if you might not have any options, you might not leave that insurance company.
GIULIANI: And you can -- and you have different insurance companies that have different programs. And your employer or you can shop between different programs. When the government makes that decision for 40 million, 50 million people, that's a very frightening...
BLITZER: Because the argument is, you know, do you trust a Blue Cross/Blue Shield bureaucrat or a UnitedHealthcare bureaucrat any more than you would trust a U.S. government bureaucrat?
GIULIANI: I trust lots of different companies being available, competing with each other. I really believe there should be a lot more competition and a lot more of it should be turned over to private enterprise. I trust my doctor to be able to deal with four or five different private companies rather than a big, massive government that frightens the heck out of you running this.
BLITZER: So you don't believe these private insurance companies would be able to survive if there were this government insurer?
GIULIANI: I think that private insurance will be overwhelmed. Right now, Medicaid has a big impact on the pricing of private insurance. If you all of a sudden double, in essence, the size of Medicaid, it will overwhelm -- private insurance companies will be gone.
And this whole argument over whether we're nationalizing health care or not, I think part of the problem is the administration is having is they're not being honest. Yes, they want to nationalize health care. That is precisely what they're doing when they build these big government...
BLITZER: They deny that.
GIULIANI: Well, what's the big government insurance companies?
BLITZER: It's going to be one option available to individuals. If you like what you got now, they say keep it.
GIULIANI: But if you don't, then you join the 40 million or 50 million who are part of the nationalized health care. That's bigger than socialized medicine in England.
There aren't that many people in the socialized medicine program in England. And if these models worked in England and Canada and elsewhere, it would be great. But what the heck do we want to become England and Canada for? They're coming here for treatment. Nobody goes there for treatment.
BLITZER: A lot of us remember your speech in Minnesota at the Republican Convention when you gave a fiery speech, and you feared an Obama presidency and you said this.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: The choice in this election comes down to substance over style. John McCain has been tested. Barack Obama has not. Tough times require strong leadership, and this is no time for on-the-job training.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was a good sound bite from the speech.
He's been in office now for six months. Have your worst fears come true, or are you satisfied?
GIULIANI: In many respects it's much worse than I thought.
GIULIANI: It's much further to the left than I thought.
BLITZER: What part? GIULIANI: Well, the stimulus program, which wasn't a stimulus program at all. It was a massive, unprecedented kind of Christmas tree of Democratic programs that were being supported. And now when you trace the money, it ends more in Democratic districts than Republican districts. A lot of it hasn't been spent. That, that has, has been spent for political priorities.
It was a spending at a level which I've never seen before. I think what he's added to the debt is catastrophic. I think it will create enormous burdens for our children, and I think it creates the real risk of inflation.
BLITZER: And national security?
GIULIANI: Taking over General Motors. I never thought in my worst fears of the Obama administration that they were going to nationalize large parts of the automotive industry. And now we have the two biggest battles of all, nationalizing health care, nationalizing energy.
I think that this government has gone more in the direction of a social democracy of Europe than I ever expected.
BLITZER: And very quickly, on national security...
GIULIANI: I think Afghanistan, great. I think he's done exactly the right thing in Afghanistan.
I think when he has trouble in his own party over what he's doing there, I'm more than happy to support him. I think Republicans should support him as to what he's doing in Afghanistan.
And I do think -- because I travel the world, just was in Japan, Spain, Brazil -- he's created a better feeling about the United States, and that is not insignificant. That's important and you can build on that, and I hope he does.
BLITZER: In six months -- we'll talk to you within the next six months. We'll get an update from you.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, as always, thanks for coming in.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
BLITZER: And a little bit later we're going to have more with Rudy Giuliani. I'll ask him about a disturbing story our Brian Todd has been working on right now, American men and women being recruited by international terrorist groups here in the United States. We're going to give you all the details and get you Mayor Giuliani's reaction as well.
Getting down to details on health care reform. President Obama's top political adviser, David Axelrod, is here with a preview of tonight's major primetime news conference. We'll go into specifics of health care.
And there's new action in the Michael Jackson death investigation. We're going to give you an update.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more, by the way, on Michael Jackson. Coming up in our next hour, we're going to have a live report from Los Angeles on the new developments going on involving his doctor. Stand by for that.
Also, let's get specific. That's what many of you want, specific details about the president's plans for health care reform. I'll press the senior presidential adviser David Axelrod for answers.
And how should Republicans talk about their opposition to the president's plans? CNN contributor Alex Castellanos lays out some advice, while CNN contributor James Carville lays out a rebuttal.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. says he may turn his recent arrest into a documentary on racial profiling. Gates will give his first television interview later tonight right here on CNN right before our debut of "Black in America 2."
I'll speak to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. We'll get a little preview of what to expect.
Also, a pair of missing persons cases have turned into what authorities are now calling one of the most significant anti-terrorism investigations inside the United States since 9/11. We'll give you all the details.
And a top Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee announces whether he'll vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor. The South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The president has a very tall order to fill about three and a half hours from now -- rebut Republican criticism including talk about breaking him over health care reform, coax his fellow Democrats into moving faster on the issue, and persuade many more of you into getting behind his ideas. The president will attempt all of it in a primetime news conference. But will he say what those audiences actually want to hear?
BLITZER: And joining us now from the White House, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
David, thanks for joining us.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: When is the president going to get into specifics, the real details of health care reform, as opposed to just talking in a sort of big picture?
AXELROD: Well, listen, I think that it's important that the American people understand what's at stake in this debate and what's at stake for them.
And I think, tonight, he's going to talk in very specific terms about what they can expect from health care reform. I think, oftentimes, here in Washington, the debate descends into a bunch -- a bunch of gobbledygook, in terms of the American people's understanding, and -- and it becomes a big kind of political battle.
But there -- there are some very fundamental things at stake for people who are struggling today with higher premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and all the -- all the burdens that the insurance industry has placed on them.
BLITZER: All right.
So, let's get into specifics, if the president is going to be specific with the American people tonight. Will he tell the American people that he wants to increase taxes for those making more than $300,000 or so a year?
AXELROD: I think he will make clear that we need -- that we need new revenues, but most of this plan -- and I think it's important to understand it -- is paid for by reallocating money within the health care system. And all of it must be paid for.
Wolf, for the last decade, for the last eight years, we have had two big tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, Medicare prescription program, and two wars that have gone unfunded. It's the one reason we have huge deficits right now. And what the president says is, "I'm going to do this in a responsible way."
AXELROD: To the extent that there's additional costs, we have to pay for it.
BLITZER: So, I will take that as a yes. He will increase taxes for the richest Americans.
Will he flatly reject any tax on employer health care benefits?
AXELROD: First of all, I -- you know, on the answer to the last question and this question, I am not -- you want me to be specific with you, but the important discussions are going on right now between members of Congress and the White House.
And I'm not going to rule things in and out and try and limit those discussions at a critical juncture, when we're trying to get something done.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about employer health care benefits?
AXELROD: The president -- the president took a very strong position in the campaign that the -- that the program that Senator McCain was advancing, which would have eliminated the tax exclusion for employee employee -- employer health care plans was not right, that we should not take that away.
So, and it would have entirely eliminated it. He would not support such a plan. There are all kinds of other variations. And we're waiting to see what people put on the table.
BLITZER: Listen to what Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan said on the very sensitive issue of abortion and taxpayer money.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: We cannot support any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health care plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You -- you accept that?
AXELROD: I know that there are discussions going back and forth on -- that this is a concern. There are discussions going back and forth on Capitol Hill. And this issue is being -- being worked through.
Obviously, we're -- these plans are not taking a position for or against. We want to make sure that people have health coverage. And we should not get sidetracked into -- into other debates. Let's get the fundamental down, which is that people need coverage that they can afford.
BLITZER: Is the president ready to forgo any public option, a government-run health -- health insurance program, and accept a compromise, what some Democrats are recommending and some Republicans, this co-op system, the cooperatives, which is not directly run by the government?
AXELROD: I think the president believes that a public option within this insurance -- insurance exchange to compete with the private insurance companies would help discipline those insurance companies, would help keep them honest.
And he thinks that it's a -- it's a positive proposal, and he would like to see it in the plan. We will see what advances. (CROSSTALK)
AXELROD: I believe there's strong support for that, by the way.
BLITZER: What about this notion that was floated earlier of eliminating some tax write-offs, some tax benefits, tax deductions, for wealthier Americans for charitable donations, for example, or for mortgage payments, in order to help pay for health care reform? Is that still on the table?
AXELROD: Well, it's certainly a proposal the president believes has merit. He was the one who originally advanced it.
Again, there are many, many ideas on the table, Wolf, and I'm not going to prejudge what will come back from the Hill. But he believes that's one equitable way to help finance this -- the small gap that we have to fund, on top of the reallocation of health care funds we're going to make.
BLITZER: The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, says the House might not be able to vote before the August recess. Is that OK?
AXELROD: We believe that the deadlines we have set have helped discipline the process and have produced real results.
Three of the five committees of jurisdiction have acted on this health care plan. And the others, I think, are well on the way, because we had set this deadline. And, so, we're going to continue to push to get this done.
Understand that, even if all of these committees act, even if both houses of Congress vote these bills out, then we're still going to have a debate in the fall, because they are going to have to reconcile the differences between their bills and come up with a -- a bill both chambers can vote on.
And, after that, it's going to take years to fully implement the plan. So, you know, we -- what we don't want is for the -- the process to bog down right now. And that is what the opponents of health insurance reform want. They would like to stop the process now, and keep things as they are. And that would be a disastrous result for the American people.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, thanks very much for joining us.
AXELROD: All right, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right, let's asses what we just heard with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, what are on stakes for the president tonight?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very clear the president is putting himself on the line here. This is very high-risk for him. He's been involved in negotiations with members of Congress. And health care is the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.
If he doesn't get health care passed, that would put in jeopardy the rest of his agenda. It also tells us a lot about the president. How does he handle a rebellion in his own party? How much is he willing to give up for real bipartisanship? And how much is he willing to give generally to achieve what he wants?
We will find out how much clout he has with his Democratic Congress.
BLITZER: So, what do you think he's going to do tonight?
BORGER: Well, I don't think he's going to be real specific. I was talking to somebody at the White House who said he's going to have a direct conversation with the American people about the expense of health care and why we have to do it now.
But, as you heard from David Axelrod, he's not going to give you yes- or-no answers to specifics, because he still wants that to be worked out by the Congress.
BLITZER: Doesn't want to negotiate in the -- with the media. He wants to negotiate...
BLITZER: ... with these members of Congress.
BORGER: Yes. And he has been doing that -- that privately.
BLITZER: We will speak to you in a few more minutes. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.
BLITZER: Republicans are stepping up their efforts to block the president's health care reform plan. Could it end up backfiring? We're going to talk about that in our "Strategy Session."
And a profile of the administration's point man when it comes to converting Americans to the eco-movement. The new face of environmentalism, that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The White House wants to turn America green. Topping the agenda, green jobs, millions of them. And the president has turned to a high-energy environmental activist to help lead the way.
CNN's Elaine Quijano has our story.
VAN JONES, SPECIAL ADVISER FOR GREEN JOBS, ENTERPRISE AND INNOVATION, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: You all are TV stars. ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Van Jones, part teacher...
JONES: Big wind turbine, I like that.
QUIJANO: ... part cheerleader...
JONES: All right. That's good.
QUIJANO: ... and part evangelist, trying to convert new populations to the eco-movement.
JONES: You are the new face of environmentalism. You know what I mean? People look at you and they say, you're an environmentalist? I say, yes, go green.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And conservationist.
JONES: And conservationist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't forget that.
QUIJANO: As the president's green jobs guru, Jones is officially in charge of getting government agencies to work together.
JONES: I see myself as a green jobs handyman. My job is to make sure that the president's desire that we have literally millions of green jobs in our country actually turns into reality.
QUIJANO: His path to promoting green jobs started in Oakland, California.
JONES: I got involved in this work because I got tired of going to funerals. I got tired of seeing young people without any hope.
QUIJANO: So, long before the term green jobs even existed, Jones, a Yale Law grad and a social activist, launched a group called Green For All to train underprivileged young people in green job skills.
JONES: People talk about global warming. I want to cool the Earth down. I also want to calm the block down.
And you already know about global warming?
QUIJANO: Experience he's bringing to his new role in the Obama administration.
JONES: It starts with recycling, saying we don't have any throwaway trash to just throw on the ground, but we don't have any throwaway lives either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's hear it for Van Jones.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) QUIJANO: Yet, even here in places like Michigan, where unemployment is a whopping 15 percent, Jones understands there's skepticism about his message, creating jobs by retrofitting buildings to make them greener.
JONES: He says, oh, no. oh, no. You're going to talk about the caulking guns. Oh, no.
QUIJANO: But critics argue, those green jobs would be mostly low- level and low-paying. Jones dismisses that.
JONES: You take somebody, and you -- and, maybe this summer, they're putting up solar panels. Well, guess what? This is a growing part of our economy. Next summer, they can be a manager. The next summer, maybe they can be an owner, an investor, an inventor.
QUIJANO: He's spreading that message with this video on the White House Web site.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Weatherizing real people's homes, creating real jobs for real people, that's what it's all about.
QUIJANO: And his habit of taking public transportation keeps him connected.
JONES: The danger isn't that we're locked away in the White House. The danger is -- because people come see us all the time. The danger is, everybody that comes to talk to us, they have already got an agenda, and they're -- so they're already -- yes, they have got their game face on. Public transportation, people are themselves.
QUIJANO: Now, you can see in this video here Jones really likes talking to young people. Part of his message, though, he told me, is about taking responsibility.
For instance, he will say to kids who support Barack Obama: That's great. You're wearing his T-shirt. But are you taking the classes he told you to take?
Wolf, he said that gets that their attention.
BLITZER: Sounds like an impressive young guy.
QUIJANO: High-energy, for sure.
BLITZER: Yes, that's for sure.
All right, thanks very much, Elaine. Good report.
This programming note: Please be sure to join us tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, when CNN presents the premiere of "Black in America 2," right after the president's prime-time news conference. If Democrats have their way, nobody's going to break President Obama over health care reform. Wait until you see how the Democratic National Committee is now firing back after that comment from a Republican senator. CNN contributors Alex Castellanos and James Carville, they will both weigh in. They're standing by live.
And a leading scholar handcuffed -- his face put in a mug shot. Supporters of Henry Louis Gates say he's the victim of racial profiling. Gates gives his first TV interview to CNN before the debut of CNN's "Black in America 2."
BLITZER: A hugely high-stakes debate over health care reform, let's assess what is going on in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor James Carville, and the Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, whose consulting firm has clients in the health care industry.
Is that right?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's right.
All right, so, let's talk about this new ad that the Democrat -- the DNC have just released, really going after Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who made that controversial comment about, potentially, if this is President Obama's Waterloo, the Republicans will break him.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)
NARRATOR: Senator Jim DeMint and congressional Republicans are trying to kill health care reform.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we're able the to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NARRATOR: But the only people Jim DeMint will break are South Carolina families and business owners.
Senator DeMint is playing politics with our health care, putting the special interests in Washington ahead of South Carolina families and businesses. The only health care plan Jim DeMint supports is no plan at all.
The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And they're going to play this ad in South Carolina.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, a lot of times, the Democrats do something that I don't think is smart, but I try to be accommodating.
And this, I actually, think is smart. Yes, I think it was a pretty stupid thing to say. He should have read Alex's memo. He could have said any number of other things.
CARVILLE: But this was a -- a -- a dumb thing that DeMint said, and the Democrats seized on it. And I have no problem with that.
I -- congratulations, DNC.
BLITZER: What do you think?
CASTELLANOS: Well, it's pretty clear that Senator DeMint was talking about Waterloo for President Obama's health care plan, the big government-run plan.
And -- and, interestingly enough, I don't know why Democrats are so worried about Republicans now, because, really, it's Democrats who have a problem with Democrats. It's President Obama who has a problem -- look, he's got the Senate. He's got 60 votes. He's got control of the House.
The reason he's not able to get anything done now, it's not Republicans. He doesn't need them. Democrats are not signing on to this huge, expensive trillion-dollar experiment. That's his problem.
BLITZER: It's a big problem, that some of these Democrats are waffling.
CARVILLE: This -- no one -- look, this thing has been tried -- I pointed out about Franklin Roosevelt. I said, last night, it was Harry Truman (INAUDIBLE) first person to try it.
Senator DeMint's problem was, he said, this will break him. He wasn't talking -- he was talking about breaking his presidency. But, at any rate, yes.
And -- and, if you listen to everybody, the point is -- and I think the -- I think the White House feels pretty good about this -- everything is saying, this is difficult, this is huge, they might not -- they can't get this done.
If they get it done, they're going to defy expectations. And that's always a good thing. BLITZER: Alex, you wrote a memo to the Republican -- Republican Party offering some advice. Briefly summarize the -- the thrust of your message.
CASTELLANOS: That, one, this is a huge experiment with health care.
You know, President Obama has spent really, his family, more time picking the family dog than they have crafting this health care plan that's going to transform 20 percent of the -- of our economy and your health care forever.
So, Republicans need to say, look, let's slow this down. We can't possibly have thought this out well. Let's do it right. We have the time to do it right, not the time to get it wrong. So, that was one point.
And the second point for Republicans is, look, you have got to put our proposals on the table as well, and advocate this. Everybody needs to make it clear that we can do better, and Republicans do have some good ideas here.
BLITZER: The Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, seemed to be listening to Alex.
BLITZER: I'm going to play a little clip, because he looks like he's following your advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The president is rushing this experiment through Congress so fast, so soon, that we haven't had a moment to think if it would work, or, worse, to think about the consequences to our nation, our economy, and our families if it doesn't work. The
Barack Obama experiment with America is a risk our country can't afford. It's too much, too fast, too soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, you're a political strategist.
BLITZER: Without saying right or wrong, is that good advice he's giving the Republicans?
CARVILLE: Look, yes, I think it's what -- it's the best they can come up with. And I think the Democrats have got to point out that, when their family premiums went up 120 percent as a percent of GDP, health care costs went up almost 25 percent.
But, yes, it's much better. That's a much better message than the DeMint message. And, if you noticed, it's the DeMint message that the Democrats have seized on. I think that's smart. I think -- I think Alex's message is -- is -- is the best they can come up with under the circumstances.
BLITZER: And let me ask you this, because...
BLITZER: .. it's a potential out there. The Republicans and some Democrats, they -- but largely the Republicans, they defeat the Democrats and the president on health care reform, and status quo stays put.
Could this come back to haunt the Republicans, 40 million, 45 million Americans without health insurance, millions of others who have who are unsatisfied with what they have? Could the Democrats later say, you know, we tried to get a better system, but the Republicans said no?
CASTELLANOS: You know, it could, Wolf, if the Republicans didn't have anything concrete to put on the table themselves.
But they do. Senator McConnell stood in front of the cameras today and said, look, hey, how about the Safeway plan? Safeway, one of the grocery stores, right, the largest corporations in America. For four years, while health care costs were going up 40 percent for the rest of America, they held costs flat.
How? They empowered their employees to take an interest in their own health. They empowered their employees to get more information and shop for better health care. And guess what? It worked.
You know how much that cost the U.S. government? Nothing. It didn't cost them a trillion dollars. Why don't we do more of what works?
CARVILLE: In the eight years that the Republicans ran the country, family premiums went up 120 percent. Sixty percent of the bankruptcies in this country are as a result of health care costs.
They have had a chance. And now they want the Safeway plan. That's fine. Listen to it. Come to the table. We will get it done.
BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys. Thanks very much.
Does Hillary Clinton still want to be president of the United States one day? She was asked that question, and you're about to hear how she responded.
And Supreme surprise -- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who grilled Sonia Sotomayor, says he will vote for her nomination to the Supreme Court. I will be speaking with Senator Graham live. That's coming up.
And some Muslim families are in agony right now. Their children are being recruited for terror abroad in a rather unlikely place, Minneapolis. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refuses to rule out another run for president. In an interview during a visit to Thailand today, she said the presidency is not anything she's thinking about.
But, when pressed on the issue, she said -- and I'm quoting now -- "I don't know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life."
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What message does it send if the surgeon general of the United States is overweight? Barack Obama's nominee, it's estimated, is about 40 pounds overweight. And ABC News is saying that she's coming under some criticism because of her weight.
Susan in Idaho writes: "The message it sends is that not everyone is a size two. C. Everett Koop wasn't exactly Tiny Tim. I have known nurses on drugs and doctors who were alcoholics. If whoever takes the job focuses on good child health care and abolition of substance abuse, I will be happy with that."
Brad in Memphis, Tennessee: "It means you're an idiot. It means you're paying attention to the wrong thing. Fat people aren't stupid. We're fat. We are just as smart as our skinny counterparts. And it means that, as usual, you are looking at the veneer, instead of looking for qualifications."
John in Colorado says: "Dr. Benjamin should be the new surgeon general, but be put on probationary status, with the condition that she set an example to the rest of us by losing 40 pounds during her first year on the job. In addition, President Obama should set an example by quitting smoking. Weight loss and smoking cessation in this country would be an inexpensive way to eliminate billions in health care costs."
Mari in Salt Lake City: "Well, Jack, since more than 30 percent of Americans are obese, the new surgeon general can launch a credible campaign to thin out America. Only an obese person can really speak to the problem and know full well how difficult it is to fight the addiction to food. Having fought this battle myself, I know that being obese is much more than just about what you eat. It's about what's eating you."
Beth writes: "I do think it sends the wrong message, but, at this point, if Obama decides to withdraw his nomination, then we would have all sorts of people crying out that it's discriminating because of her weight, and maybe even racism."
Arlene in Illinois, "As a plus-size woman, I say, how dare you even ask that question."
And Dave in Brooklyn writes: "Physician, heal thyself?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a surprise search for evidence of manslaughter in the Michael Jackson case. Police and DEA agents raid a clinic of the doctor who was with the pop star at his death.
A tense Senate showdown over an amendment that would let people carry concealed guns across state lines. We're on the front lines of the battle.
And a CNN exclusive -- we're with U.S. Marines battling the Taliban and 130-degree heat in Afghanistan's brutal desert. You will see just what they're up against.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.