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Michelle Obama Speaks Out on Health Care Reform; President Obama's Media Push

Aired September 18, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, just in this hour, President Obama's new media push. He just sat down for an interview with our chief national correspondent, John King, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." John's joining us now from the White House.

John, how did it go?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a fascinating conversation. And we covered a lot of ground, from whether the president might if he signs a health care bill end up violating his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, what he thinks about the momentous decision he faces about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan soon, how the family is preparing for the H1N1 flu virus.

But we also spent some time on an issue that's generating an emotional debate across the country, Wolf, all these protests, all the signs, Afro-socialism, "You lie" being shouted from the floor of the House of Representatives last week. As you know, former President Jimmy Carter is among those who say this is racism against President Obama. The House speaker has said she worries it's like language used in San Francisco years ago that led to deadly violence.

So, I asked the president, sir, do you see this as racism?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are.

That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government. I think there are -- there's been a longstanding debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.

I mean, the things that were said about FDR are pretty similar to the things that were said about me, that he was a communist, he was a socialist. Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs were pretty vicious as well.


KING: So, you see there, Wolf, the president choosing his words very carefully. Is some of it racism? The president thinks probably so, most of it he thinks because of the anxiety out there in the country over the big changes and legitimate disagreements in some cases with his policy.

Again, we spent some more time on that issue, also covered a lot of other ground, health care, the economy, when the president expects jobs to come back and as I noted also how the family, how his daughters are getting ready for what could be an H1N1 flu pandemic this school year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of good stuff coming up. How would you describe his mood right now, John?

KING: He was in a very good mood. He said he was going to watch a movie tonight with the family. He's getting ready to begin his weekend here.

He understands without a doubt the stakes, Wolf, the huge stakes of the health care debate, the huge policy and political stakes of the Afghanistan debate. It's very clear the president understands all that. But he went through a marathon day of interviews this afternoon here and he was in pretty good spirits at the end of it.

BLITZER: And the full interview, John's full interview with the president will air Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on "STATE OF THE UNION."

John, thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will be watching.

Let's bring in our CNN contributors Democratic strategists Donna Brazile and national radio talk show host Bill Bennett.

We will get both of your reaction to how the president's doing.

Donna, what do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think despite all of the noise and all of the efforts to undermine some of his key policies, he's doing quite well.

BLITZER: But on this issue of race and the role of race that has played after the aftermath of the Jimmy Carter uproar, you heard what the president just told John.

BRAZILE: I think throughout the next couple of years, we're going to continue to have the issue of race raised in some context. Race has been a part of American history now, but I don't see the comments that the president has made, nor the president, the former president, I don't see why this continues to dominate our conversation.

We should allow President Obama to discuss these issues without looking at his opponents and smearing them as racists. Yes, there's a fringe element in our society that clearly they are still racist, but by and large, this country...


BLITZER: So you disagree with former President Carter?

BRAZILE: Look, I have a great deal of respect former President Carter. He has spent most of his career fighting for racial justice and racial reconciliation. And he was speaking to a certain element of our society. And I think I will let his words stay in context.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say that the president wouldn't even be asked about that question if the former president hadn't raised the whole issue as dramatically as he did earlier in the week.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A couple of the founders thought around the time of the beginning of this country that former presidents should be asked to leave the country and not comment, so they wouldn't be ghosts who haunt current deliberations. You just saw the good -- best argument for this.

It's really kind of pathetic. I would associate with myself with Donna's remarks, except her praise for Jimmy Carter. He should just stop. He's heating up something which we do not need to have heated up. The president doesn't want to talk in these terms. Donna doesn't want to talk in these terms. It does not serve the Democrats, frankly, prudentially, to talk in these terms. And it just isn't...


BLITZER: The ugly pictures, the ugly images that we have seen at some of these rallies, some of the ugly comments that have been -- should we just ignore that?

BENNETT: There's ugly everywhere. If you look hard enough, there's ugly everywhere at every rally.

Look, I have a talk show. With my audience center, center-right. I do it three hours every day. We do not get anything like this. We do not get anything like -- are there people like this in the country? Of course. Should it be elevated to the level that Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi have elevated it to? No.


BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I don't think that Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi elevated anything to any level, because it's always right there at the surface in American life.

But it's a hollow conversation, Wolf, because we keep talking about having a dialogue, teachable moments, but we don't get to the legacy of slavery, the legacy of Jim Crow, and because we can't get to those real serious issues, then we're just having a hollow conversation.

BENNETT: I think that's right. That's right. I think you get nowhere by pointing your finger and calling someone one of the worst things you could possibly call them.

BRAZILE: I agree with that.

BLITZER: All right. Here's our poll of polls that we like. We take a look at the major polls and we average them out to get a sense of how the president's job approval numbers, how he is doing, how is the president handling his job, still at 55 percent approval right now -- 39 percent disapprove.

Those are pretty good numbers for a president.

BENNETT: They are pretty good numbers. People like him. They elected him, and they know it's a historic event to have elected him and they still like him.

But there is -- I will use the word race in a different way. There's a sense, and I think really this is fair, that things are racing a little bit out of control, that there's so much going on in Washington, he's pushing so many buttons at the same time, people are feeling a little nervous, and they're saying, slow down, take it easy, we need to look a little more closely.

BLITZER: But they have seen this is a window for them to get things done. Next year, an election year, midterm elections. That's why they're trying to do so much right now on the domestic front and internationally for that matter.

BRAZILE: He's a multitasker. Maybe he's a serial multitasker perhaps because he has great people surrounding him that can also handle the troop surge in Afghanistan, missile defense, Iran, Russia, and, of course, deal with the economy, climate change, health care.

There's nothing wrong with a president of the United States taking on these issues. And it's up to those of us in the public and I think the American people to try to be engaged in a debate in a very civil manner. Bill and I don't agree on much of anything, but we love our country and we believe in justice and equality for all.

BLITZER: And you always have a very, very civil debate, which I deeply appreciate, guys, as well. Thanks for coming in.

BENNETT: That's since we're afraid of you too.



BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: And he has a good wife, too.

BLITZER: I have a terrific wife. BENNETT: The best.


BLITZER: Thanks, guys.

BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: The congressman who screamed "You lie" has another public showing of emotion. It's Joe Wilson's first public event in his district since screaming at the president. Wait until you see Wilson's emotion this time.

And President Obama is urged to smack back the Justice Department. Seven former CIA chiefs say what the attorney general is doing could weaken the fight against terrorists.

And one of CNN's competitors and frequent antagonizers attempts to blast CNN, but CNN's Rick Sanchez exposes how the cable news competitor is flat-out wrong.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Look at the bottom of the ad there, where it says, "We cover all the news."

Really? You do? What, we don't?

You know, that's an offense to myself and to my colleagues, who risk their lives.



BLITZER: Lots of folks at CNN right now are fuming over false allegations that we didn't cover the so-called tea party protests here in Washington last weekend.

Our own Rick Sanchez vented his anger on his program earlier today. And he explained just how extensively we did cover those anti- Obama demonstrations.


SANCHEZ: All right, there's something that I got to tell you now. If you watch this show every day, as I mentioned a while ago, you know that I usually don't suffer fools gladly, especially when it comes to the fools who perpetuate falsehoods.

Well, today, thousands of you flipped through the pages of "The Washington Post" only to come across a lie so bold and so upsetting that, frankly, I'm just not going to sit here in silence and allow my craft or my news operation to be unfairly maligned, because enough is enough. And, yes, I'm talking to you, FOX News, you, who claim to be fair and balanced. At what, I wonder? You know, I don't know, but I have got a couple ideas.

FOX News paid (INAUDIBLE) color ad today. It asks: "How did ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this?" They are referring to the picture there of the tea party protest in the nation's capital last Saturday.

They are saying that we missed this story. They are saying we did not cover this story. They are using a lie to try and divide people into camps. And, you know, Americans are starting to get tired of this.

Look at the bottom of the ad there, where it says, "We cover all the news."

Really? You do? What, we don't?

You know, that's an offense to myself and to my colleagues, who risk their lives for our viewers in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world to bring the news. You're actually telling people that we didn't cover a rally on Washington. Really?

Rog, roll the tape.


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Tea party march and rally happening in Washington.

Our Paul Steinhauser is there with what appears to be a whole lot of friends gathering around you now.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And about two hours from now, they're going to march behind us down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, and that's where they will gather, at the west front of the Capitol.


SANCHEZ: OK, what was that? Was that like made-up video? Am I crazy or did I just watch CNN's Paul Steinhauser covering the story?

You want more? Here's more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to check in again with CNN's Kate Bolduan live at the Capitol.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we came down because we heard that there were actually so many people still stuck on Pennsylvania Avenue here trying to make it, too. As you can see, the people are all still coming from Freedom Plaza.


SANCHEZ: All right, that was CNN's Kate Bolduan. Here's another one.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're joined now by CNN Radio Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think of Congressman Joe Wilson?


DESJARDINS: See? So there are people here who very strongly support Congressman Wilson, Fredricka, and many of them are right here.


SANCHEZ: I don't know. Call me crazy, but that sure looked like our CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins.

One last one from our own Jim Spellman, who followed and covered 30 rallies, 30 rallies along the Tea Party Express route, from coast to coast the last couple of weeks. Here it is.


HOLMES: CNN all platform Jim Spellman traveled with the Tea Party Express as it made its way across the country.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The bulk of the people that are there for low taxes, less government control, but there really is an element that's got these kind of outlandish conspiracy theories about death camps about this takeover, people comparing President Obama to Hitler. And it really is a sizable thread. It's not just a couple of people on the edges.


SANCHEZ: All right, I want you to see more proof now. And this is really just an unbelievable coincidence that I want you to see.

You see that picture in the ad that they took out? OK, pay attention to that picture right there on the right. That's the ad that they took out saying we didn't cover the event. All right, now, keep an eye on that picture right there. You see the Canadian flag? That's on their ad. You see the Canadian flag right there at the bottom?

All right, let me show you this. You see the thing on the left now? That's our tower cam shot of the event that we used repeatedly throughout those shows.

Funny how you can say that we didn't cover an event by using that picture, that picture that looks an awful lot like our tower cam shot, doesn't it? And you used it in your ad saying we didn't cover the story.

By the way, if you want even more proof of our coverage, maybe you should just watch your own shows. Here's a good one maybe you should watch. There is a show on FOX News. It's called "The O'Reilly Factor." You heard of it?

Here's Bill O'Reilly doing a segment called "Reality Check."


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": CNN, as we mentioned, covered the anti-Obama protests, of course, but ran into a little trouble.


SANCHEZ: CNN covered the event. There it is. This is Bill O'Reilly showing us covering a story you say we didn't cover. Let me give that to you again. That was Bill O'Reilly showing CNN's coverage of a story that FOX News says we didn't cover. Hmm. Can you see -- can you say reality checkmate?


O'REILLY: CNN, as we mentioned, covered the anti-Obama protests, of course, but ran into a little trouble.


SANCHEZ: Here's the fact. We did cover the event. What we didn't do is promote the event, just like when thousands marched on Washington to protest the war in Iraq, we covered it as well, probably less than we covered this event. But we didn't promote it.

Bottom line is, we do cover the news. And we did extensively cover this event. We didn't promote the event. That's not what real news organizations are supposed to do. We covered the event.

I would invite you to look into that distinction between those two words, promote and cover. Cover is kind of like a fair and balanced way of doing things. You get it? You might want to look into that.

It's about letting Americans make up their own minds. Let me cut to the chase. When thousands of Americans showed up at the nation's capital to protest big government, we covered it with four correspondents, two satellite trucks, multiple live interviews, lawmakers on the record, and conversations with attendees.

By the way, we put a call into FOX News for a comment, and we expect an apology. But we're still waiting.

Let me address the FOX News Network now perhaps the most current way that I can, by quoting somebody who recently used a very pithy phrase, two words. It's all I need: You lie.




BLITZER: Former CIA chiefs are joining forces to ask the Obama administration to call off an investigation.

Plus, Michelle Obama explains why she thinks health care reform is a women's issue. Will her popularity help her husband win an uphill battle?

And some of the last people you might expect to be out there fighting terrorists. We're talking about rabbis. This is a deadly serious story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, please don't hurt me. Don't -- OK, OK, OK, OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the gun comes out.



BLITZER: It's an issue affecting every American family. Now pitching it becomes a family affair. We're seeing another instance of a first lady joining her husband in the fight for health care reform. Michelle Obama spoke to women over at the White House today.

She says health reform is also a women's issue because it often involves women making health care decisions for themselves and their family.

Let's go straight to our White House continue Dan Lothian. He's got more -- Dan.


Spokesman Robert Gibbs is downplaying any real strategy shift here, but a senior administration official is saying that the first lady is planning to get more involved in the health care reform debate. And we saw some of that starting here today.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): In the push for health care reform, first lady Michelle Obama appealed directly to women.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: No longer can we sit by and watch the debate take on a life of its own. It is up to us to get involved.

LOTHIAN: Speaking to a diverse group of women, the first lady tied the issue of equality to the need for reform.

M. OBAMA: For two years on the campaign trail, this was what I heard from women, that they were being crushed, crushed by the current structure of our health care. This is why we are fighting so hard for health insurance reform. This is it. This is the face of the fight.

LOTHIAN: The first lady who in CNN's most research poll remains a popular figure with a 67 percent favorable opinion, has made a healthy lifestyle her signature issues, planting a vegetable garden and shopping at a farmers market a few steps away from the White House.

Now she's stepping out in a more public way for health care reform to, as the White House put it, amplify the president's message.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If she can help out, we're -- we're happy to have her.

LOTHIAN: She's joining a fight that's in high gear. The president's tone appeared more campaign-style at Thursday's University of Maryland rally.




B. OBAMA: Ready to go!


LOTHIAN: And he's pitching health care and other issues on five Sunday talk shows.

GIBBS: And I think it is important that the president to speak to a host of different audiences, to reach as many people, to talk about the benefits of health care reform.


LOTHIAN: Gibbs says that he doesn't think the series of interviews will be a game changing moment, but he does believe that there are a lot of minds to be changed, not only across the country, but up on Capitol Hill. And he also believes that the president is the best spokesperson for health care reform -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

The last first lady to speak on health reform is now the secretary of State. And despite the contentious debate, Hillary Clinton is now upbeat.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm quite optimistic. We, you know, we really have an opportunity now to produce an outcome that will significantly improve the important aspects of health care reform -- controlling costs, increasing quality, expanding coverage. And it's -- it's interesting that, you know, what we are proposing is fundamentally so conservative compared with so many of our friends and allies around the world, who do a much better job than we do in covering everybody and in keeping costs down, and yet some of the political opposition is so overheated.


BLITZER: Secretary Clinton compared the legislative process to sausage making. But she said she believes the end result will be a reform bill the president will sign into law.

A famously vocal critic of President Obama spoke out again just a short while ago. That would be Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who shouted, "You lie!" during the president's recent health care address before a joint session of Congress. Wilson got choked up during a news conference in his home state of South Carolina, but not many people were there to see it.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

She's joining us now from West Columbia -- Brianna, how did it go?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a very mellow event -- maybe a dozen members of the local media and only a few dozen of Congressman Wilson's constituents. And they gave him a pretty warm welcome.


KEILAR: (voice-over): South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson is back in his home state facing constituents and local media, telling them it's time to move on.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I, of course, as a gentleman, immediately contacted the White House, apologized. It was accepted numerous times. Let's close the book on last week. Let's look ahead to work together for real health insurance reform.

KEILAR: The Friday evening news conference was Wilson's first public event in his home district since he let out the shout heard round the country.

WILSON: You lie!


KEILAR: Wilson's office encouraged supporters to attend and a small contingent showed up. Wilson got choked up as he left the podium. His office says he was simply moved by the outpouring of support he has gotten over the last week-and-a-half.

In this Republican stronghold, Congressman Wilson is known simply as "Joe." And while people we talked to thought his outburst was inappropriate, they, too, take issue with President Obama's efforts to overhaul the health care system.

BRIGETTE HEMMING, VOTER: There's a time and there's a place for that kind of a statement and that venue was not it. I believe that we're -- we're becoming socialism in -- in sort of a way. We're borrowing money from other people. We're doing these programs that are really taking away a lot of the choices from individual people.

DANIEL MORALES, VOTER: I'm somewhere between embarrassed and proud of him. I would say thanks for trying to stand up for the truth, but maybe next time do it in a little bit more of an effective way that doesn't cast a bad shadow on -- on who you are.


KEILAR: Congressman Wilson's office says he is very eager to move on from this. The congressman, through his spokesman, denied our request for an interview, his spokesman saying, Wolf, that this is really just an opportunity for Congressman Wilson to answer the questions of local media -- something he hadn't had a chance to do until now.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar joining us from West Columbia, South Carolina.

Thank you.

An extraordinary letter from seven former CIA directors. We're going to tell you what they're urging President Obama to do about an investigation that was opened by his attorney generals.

And meet the Rambo rabbis, as they're being called. They're trying to make sure synagogues are safe from terrorists.


BLITZER: To President Obama, a group of former spy chiefs says something the attorney general is doing could potentially weaken the fight against terrorists.

Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd.

What's going on -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an extraordinary appeal in the form of a letter. Seven former CIA directors urging President Obama to shut down a key investigation by his attorney general. That probe by Eric Holder of people involved in the agency's harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists.

Now, it's unusual that seven former CIA directors would collaborate on anything. But these are also men who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Here they are -- Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutsch, James Woolsey, William Webster, James Schlesinger. Their argument -- that the government has already looked into this and that only one prof -- person was prosecuted; also, that foreign intelligence agencies won't cooperate with the U.S. As much.

And, also, they make this point: "This approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country. In our judgment, such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against the terrorists who continue to threaten us."

Wolf, we don't know if this is unprecedented -- my colleagues and I were talking about this -- but we haven't seen anything like this before.

BLITZER: So what's the reaction from the Obama administration?

TODD: Well, nothing directly from the White House. But the spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder has fought back. He -- Mike -- Matthew Miller says, "The attorney general's decision to order a preliminary review into the matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law."

He also added that anyone acting within the good faith and the scope of the legal guidance at that time will not be prosecuted. That's also an argument the president himself has made, that those people should not be prosecuted.

BLITZER: This debate not going away at all, Brian.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Russia's president is now weighing in on President Obama, Iran and Israel. He was asked about Moscow's relationship -- the relationship with Iran and how far we'd go to protect Tehran.

Listen to Dmitry Medvedev.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": If Israel were to attack Iran, would Russia support Iran in such a conflict?

PRES. DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIA (through translator): Russia will not support anyone or act in such circumstances. We are a peaceful country. That's the worst thing that you can imagine. I had to explain this before, but let's try it once again.

What would follow that?

First, a humanitarian catastrophe, a great number of refugees; and an Iranian desire for revenge, not only for Israel, but, let's be frank about it, but other countries, as well; followed by very unpredictable developments in the region.

I believe that the scale of such a calamity would be hard to measure. Therefore, prior to the signing of such a strike, we need to weigh the situation cautiously. That would be absolutely sensible. But Israeli colleagues told me they don't want to do that and I trust them.

ZAKARIA: So you expect no Israeli strike on -- on Iran?

MEDVEDEV: I hope that this decision will not be taken.


BLITZER: And you can see the full interview with the Russian president at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS".

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Wolf, we've got a lot coming up.

Thank you very much.

President Obama's big health care media blitz -- a new secret weapon has emerged, the first lady stepping in.

Now, this sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Also, President Obama saying illegal immigrants will not be covered by his health care plan -- that is, until it gives them amnesty.

Was this the backdoor plan all along?

And it turns out some kids were left behind after all -- a new survey showing disturbing facts about our schools and what our kids are missing and what they're being educated in.

Join us for all of that, all the day's news and a lot more -- an entertaining, informative hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, see you in a few moments.

Thank you.

We're about to go one-on-one with one of President Obama's top economic advisers.

Jessica Yellin is getting ready to do that.

He's worried something in Washington is slipping away.

And it's Twitter for Jewish mothers -- a Yiddish twist to social networking. We're going to show you Twitteleh.


DAVID KATZ, TWITTELEH USER: Someone's listening.

NORMA KATZ, TWITTELEH USER: I love the fact that he uses Twitteleh. I actually (INAUDIBLE) in his old bedroom. I love it when he moves back.



BLITZER: Now let's meet one of the president's top economic advisers. We're talking about Austan Goolsbee. He likens Mr. Obama to a NASCAR driver and bills himself as just a tool guy in the pit crew.

There are plenty of hairpin curves in the race against recession.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, you had a time -- you got an opportunity to spend some time with Austan Goolsbee.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I did, Wolf. Goolsbee has known the president going back to his Senate race in 2004 in Illinois. He said when they got to office, the first three months at the White House were so hectic that Goolsbee sometimes ate Tic-Tacs for dinner.

But these days, one of his top concerns is that Congress has to pass new rules, he says, to prevent another Wall Street meltdown.


YELLIN (voice-over): With stocks flying through the roof, Wall Street seems to be on a manic high, while the rest of the nation is reaching for its anti-depressants. That disconnect is not lost on Austan Goolsbee.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: We kind of go back to the mentality it was, hey, well, we made a lot of money from that, let's -- let's go back to doing that again. I think we've got to try very hard to avoid that.

YELLIN: Goolsbee is one of the president's top economic advisers.

GOOLSBEE: Every meeting the president is kind of like what have you done to get people hired today?

YELLIN: He tells us what's needed are new rules for Wall Street and he's worried the urgency to reform the system is slipping away.

GOOLSBEE: I do worry that if the focus doesn't remain on protecting consumers and protecting the system, that kind of the lobbyists just take back over and just write the rules that are in their favor and that kind of got us into this mess.

YELLIN: Goolsbee is not the most famous member of the White House economic team, but he's served the president the longest -- going back to their Chicago days. He's known for his quick wit, here, during the campaign...

GOOLSBEE: Obama has sort of been the steady hand in the storm and McCain has been the storm.

YELLIN: Or talking about the scandal-plagued insurance giant, AIG.

GOOLSBEE: These guys should have gotten the Nobel Prize for evil.

YELLIN: On late night TV, he's explained the state of the economy.


JON STEWART, HOST: Are -- are we broke?



STEWART: We are not broke?


YELLIN: Goolsbee says new reforms have to include a consumer watchdog that could have prevented the worst abuses.

So how is the job so far?

GOOLSBEE: I didn't come for the fun and I haven't been disappointed.


YELLIN: And Goolsbee says the administration will keep the heat on the Congress to get that reform legislation (AUDIO GAP) the general state of the economy. While there's been some positive economic news lately, he acknowledged the administration, Wolf, does not expect the job picture to improve any time soon.

BLITZER: What is he most afraid of right now?

YELLIN: He's talked -- most -- the biggest fear is this consumer protection agency, a watchdog for consumers. He's very concerned that lobbyists will kill that and they think that's essential to prevent another meltdown.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

On our Political Ticker right now,

President Obama is picking sides in Colorado's Democratic Senate primary. He issued a statement supporting the incumbent senator, Michael Bennett; former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff launched a primary challenge to Bennett this week. Bennett was appointed to the Senate in January, replacing fellow Democrat, Ken Salazar, when he became the Interior secretary. More than five Republicans are considering bids for Bennett's seat.

A pro-wrestling mogul says she doesn't expect her U.S. Senate bid to be tainted by the sport's colorful reputation -- World Wrestling Entertainment chief Linda McMahon, who's challenging Connecticut Democrat and veteran Senator Chris Dodd.

The Republican spoke to CNN's Kiran Chetry about her campaign.


KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST: So you don't care if your competitors try to use...


CHETRY: know, some of your best wrestling moments against you?

MCMAHON: I think -- I think the citizens of Connecticut will see that that's an entertainment product and they'll get to the crux of the matter. Our -- our citizens are very smart. They enjoy a product but they also know that it's an entertainment product that's on television and the company that's behind that is a very strong company.


BLITZER: In Massachusetts, Republicans have blocked the bill to give the late senator Ted Kennedy his dying wish. The measure would let the governor, Deval Patrick, temporarily fill Kennedy's seat until a special election is held in January. The bill was approved by the statehouse, but Republicans in the state senate were able to prevent debate on the measure until at least next week.

A former Miss California joins with prominent conservatives in reaching out to so-called values voters at their conference here in Washington today. Carrie Prejean took part in the event. She talked about the incident that turned her into a political figure when she was asked during the Miss USA pageant whether same-sex marriage should be legalized.


CARRIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA: So there I was about to answer this question. And the moment the judge asked it, I tried to stand there and look pretty. But in my head, I could not believe that they were asking that question at Miss USA. I could not believe it. I thought it was...


PREJEAN: I thought that it was extremely inappropriate for that venue. Any other venue, it would have been all right. I had no question about it. But at that venue, I thought that it was extremely inappropriate. We see all the time, Miss Congeniality.

What do they want to hear?

World peace. As soon as you -- as soon as a woman doesn't give the world peace answer, why is all of a sudden she all over national news? And, you know, it's this huge, huge controversy all because I said a marriage is between a man and a woman?

Are you serious?

It doesn't make any sense to me, a 22-year-old college student. As I began to answer the question, in my head, I was thinking, God, why is this question being asked?

But you know what?

I'm going to deal with this question.

I'm going to answer it to the best of my ability, stay true to who I am, what I believe and the way that I was raised and that's it.


BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

And don't forget, I'm now on Twitter. You can go to -- wolfblitzercnn all one word -- and can read my Tweets.

Coming up, a rabbi teaching anti-terror tactics.


RABBI GARY MOSKOWITZ, SECURITY COALITION OF CLERGY: A lot of nicknames. Rambowitz, Rabbi Rambo, the God Squad. I don't know. I don't know where people come up or think about these things.


BLITZER: But he says the terror threat to synagogues is absolutely no joke and he's teaching other rabbis and other people how to defend themselves.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots.

In France, a farmer sprayed milk onto a field in protest of low milk prices.

In Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier responds to shots fired at a combat outpost.

In India, women shop for religious items at a road side shop.

And in Spain, cyclists ride past a castle during a race.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Guns inside synagogues and prayer shawls used as lethal weapons -- the fear of a terror attack has one rabbi not just urging preparedness, he's also teaching it.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's joining us with more on this story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's been dubbed by some as the Rambo Rabbi -- a New York rabbi who teaches an anti-terror course, has seen interest pick up leading into the Jewish holidays.


MOSKOWITZ: Fire. Go. Everybody down. Get everyone down. Get down. Bang, bang, bang. Take him down. Take him down. Shoot, shoot. Take him down. Go after him.

SNOW: (voice-over): Meet Rabbi Gary Moskowitz, a former New York City cop and black belt in martial arts.

MOSKOWITZ: All right. And at this point, I have (INAUDIBLE).

SNOW: He invited us to this synagogue to show us a demonstration of what he teaches in a security course. It's one that brings a bit of showmanship to the shul.

MOSKOWITZ: Oh, please don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. Oh, no, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the gun comes out.

SNOW: And here he even showed us how he turns a prayer shawl into a weapon, if need be.

MOSKOWITZ: He's going to start screaming. He starts screaming -- screaming and I come in and start...


MOSKOWITZ: Here. I take him here and I literally take him down with the collars here, turn over again and I have him here.

Are you OK?

OK. And there he is down. OK. Up, up.

SNOW: The lighter side of this?


SNOW: You've heard nicknames.

MOSKOWITZ: Yes, a lot of nicknames. Rambowitz, Rabbi Rambo, the God Squad. I don't know. I don't know where people come up and think about these things. (INAUDIBLE).

SNOW: (voice-over): But ribbing and action moves aside, Moskowitz has been sounding a warning about Jewish synagogues becoming terror targets. He says people didn't take him too seriously until two New York synagogues were named in a suspected terrorist plot last spring.

(on camera): Tell me of the reaction you got after the Riverdale plot in the spring.

MOSKOWITZ: Oh, my phone hasn't stopped ringing.

SNOW: (voice-over): And then there was the gunman who walked into Washington's Holocaust Museum in June and killed a security guard. Moskowitz says most synagogues haven't done enough to beef up security, beyond having guards outside or at the door.

MOSKOWITZ: They put police officers or security in a cosmetic situation so people feel protected. But the reality is, a terrorist can walk in here and he would say shabbat shalom means, you know, have a healthy and peaceful Sabbath and walk in and start shooting the place.


I go first.

SNOW: The controversial part of this course?

Moskowitz advocates training people to carry licensed guns into synagogues. That's drawn critics.

MOSKOWITZ: Basically, people feel uncomfortable with the notion of people having guns in a synagogue or a church. But the reality is they say it's not biblical, it's not religious. Quite contrarily, of course it is -- anything to save life or limb.

SNOW: While some synagogues have shunned him, Eli Meskin's temple decided to give Moskowitz and his course a closer look.

(on camera): How do you feel about bringing a gun into a synagogue?

ELI MESKIN, UTOPIA JEWISH CENTER: Well, they do it in Israel all the time. And, unfortunately, in this day and age, it's -- it's part and parcel of the -- of the landscape.

SNOW: (voice-over): And it's that changing landscape that has some synagogues considering bringing some of those Rambo tactics into their house of worship.

MOSKOWITZ: Why should we have to pray in fear?

You can't be spiritual if you're dead.


SNOW: And, Wolf, while Moskowitz admits that he gets a lot of attention for his action movie moods -- action movie type moves, that is, he's dead serious about the need for his program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. What a story.

Thanks very much, Mary, for bringing it to us.

And as all of our viewers, I assume, by now, know, I'm on Twitter. But now comes something else. It's called Twitteleh. It's a parody of Twitter specifically geared toward Jewish mothers and their sons.

Let's bring in Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, explain what Twitteleh is.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, actually calling you a Jewish mother might take hours. With Twitteleh, you can update her in an instant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twitteleh -- Twitter for your Jewish mother. Every time you want to update your Jewish mother, go to and answer these three questions -- where are you, what have you eaten, are you wearing a sweater?


TATTON: This parody video on YouTube was made by two old college buddies, Matt Johnson and Reg Tigerman and Tigerman's own Jewish mother, who you can see from this video here, was a pretty good sport about it. Twitteleh guarantees that when you send out a Tweet, you'll be sending them out to the one person who actually really wants to read it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Abbi.

To all our Jewish viewers out there in the United States and around the world, we want to wish all of you a Happy New Year.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.