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FBI Terror Sting; Secret Nuclear Plant in Iran; Baggage Fees Mean Big Business

Aired September 25, 2009 - 11:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. It is Friday morning, September 25th. The top stories for you now in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A secret Iranian nuclear fuel plant exposed. Angry western leaders demand Iran open the site to inspectors.

I will talk live with two members of the Senate Finance Committee. Where does a health care bill stand after a grueling week of work?

"The Cosby Show" became must-see TV 25 years ago this week. Two of the Huxtables on their groundbreaking sitcom.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A CNN security watch leads us off this morning. Three -- count them, three -- apparently unrelated terror cases unfolding this morning. A young Afghan man is in court in Denver this hour, accused in a bomb plot that reached to New York. In Texas and Illinois, separate FBI stings lead to two arrests. Both men accused of trying to explode car bombs.

Let's zero in on the case in Dallas. A teenager from Jordan is expected in court next hour to answer to an alleged bomb plot. The feds say Hosam Smadi dialed a cell number that he thought would set off a Ford Explorer filled with explosives. The target, the 60-story Fountain Place office tower. Court documents indicate FBI agents roped in Smadi by posing as an al Qaeda sleeper cell on the Internet. People who work in the office building stunned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very alarming, yes. Oh yes. That's my safety. I work on the 21st floor, so if anything happens, then I'm gone. Yes, It is alarming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My stomach flipped. It turned. It's scary. It's like, you hear about it, but you never think it's going to happen to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: We will go in depth on this particular case shortly. CNN's Sean Callebs is in Dallas digging for additional information. Now Springfield, Illinois, where agents say an ex-con and a part- time fry cook planned to bomb a federal courthouse.

CNN's Ted Rowlands takes a look at the suspect and the target.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, this really is an incredible scenario. According to federal officials, 29-year-old Michael Finton drove a van which was filled with what he thought was enough explosives to basically take out a city block.

It was Wednesday morning, just before noon, here in Springfield. He got here, parked the van, got out of the van, according to investigators, locked the van, and then he jumped into his partner's car and left thinking he was going to detonate the explosives. Take a look how close this parking spot is to the federal courthouse here in Springfield, Illinois.

Authorities say Finton absolutely wanted to blow this building up even though he knew that by doing so, he would kill innocent people inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): What Michael Finton didn't know while trying to detonate the truck bomb with a cell phone a few blocks away was that the explosives were fake and his partner was really an undercover FBI agent.

JEFF LANG, U.S. ATTORNEY: The Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI have been monitoring Finton for almost two years. And as a result, the public was never at risk.

ROWLANDS: According to a federal affidavit, Finton, an ex-con who converted to Islam in prison, desperately wanted to fight as a jihadist, idolizing John Walker Lindh, the American caught fighting for the Taliban after 9/11.

After an informant tipped off authorities, Finton was introduced to an FBI undercover agent posing as a low-level member of Al Qaeda.

LANG: It appeared that Finton was on the verge of taking some kind of action. So it was decided that the FBI and the joint terrorism task force and the other law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation provided him with an opportunity for action that we controlled.

ROWLANDS: Finton, who called himself Talib Islam, meaning "student of the Islam," worked as a part-time cook. Coworkers described him as a regular guy with a good sense of humor.

MARIAM RUBY FAEDL, CO-WORKER: I'm very shocked to hear this about him, because from what I know about him, this isn't in his character at all. This element of what's on the news about him, this is -- I don't really know him to be that kind of guy. And this could be a mistake.

ROWLANDS: But authorities say there's no mistake and that Finton, if given the chance, could have been extremely dangerous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Finton did make a brief court appearance in the building that he tried to blow up yesterday. In it, he waived his right to a detention hearing, meaning the federal government has 30 days to bring charges to a grand jury.

Across the street from here is the offices of Congressman Aaron Schock. And according to the FBI agent that was posing as his partner, Finton told that agent that he was hoping that the congressman would be in his office at the time of this supposed explosion, saying that it would basically just be a bonus. He'd take out this building and take out the congressman as well.

A very scary scenario here in Springfield, Illinois.

One thing we should note, Tony, is that at this point, there's no evidence that Finton had any ties to any organized terrorist groups around the world -- Tony.

HARRIS: All right. Ted Rowlands, for us.

Ted, appreciate it. Thank you.

Now let's fast forward to the other big stories of this day.

President Obama and leaders of the world's wealthiest nations meeting right now for the second and final day of the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Well, this was the scene outside the summit. Riot police turned back hundreds of protesters yesterday and arrested close to 70 people. Police today hoping for smaller demonstrations.

Meanwhile, inside the summit, a main focus is securing your money and the global economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: We are not going to walk away from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and leave unchanged and leave in place the tragic vulnerabilities that caused this crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Hawks on economic cooperation of the G-20 Summit are being overshadowed now by revelations that Iran has been concealing a covert nuclear plant. President Obama and other top western leaders are demanding an immediate investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow -- endangering the global nonproliferation regime, denying its own people the access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the security and stability of the region and the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Question: Could this second nuclear fuel plant lead to more U.N. sanctions? We will check in with our senior international correspondent, Matthew chance, and our senior United Nations correspondent, Richard Roth, later this hour.

More fees, fewer customers. Airlines collecting more cash than ever.

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(WEATHER REPORT)

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HARRIS: And back now to one of our top stories. Iran admits it has a second uranium plant. The country's already under three sets of U.N. sanctions for its nuclear program. World leaders say more sanctions are possible, but those sanctions would not have teeth with Russia on board.

So, let's go live to Moscow now and our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance.

And Matthew, first of all, a couple of questions here. What's Moscow's reaction to this bombshell announcement today?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's funny, because it's been absolutely stunning, deafening silence from the Kremlin so far about this. And it's not clear way, except to say that the Russians have, of course, got very strong commercial interests in Iran. They've been reluctant in the past to get on board with tough sanctions against the Islamic Republic, although there are signs over the past couple of weeks that things are changing because two things have happened of significance.

The first is that President Obama has done that U-turn on missile defenses in Eastern Europe. That was a major stumbling block for the Kremlin. It's now off the table, and the way is open for the Russians to get more on the team, as it were, in supporting tougher sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.

We've had the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, indicate that he will perhaps adopt a more tougher line against Iran, follow the position of Washington a little more, but we haven't heard anything from them specifically about this latest bit of explosive intelligence which really does cast doubt on everything the Iranians have been saying for the past several years.

HARRIS: Well, in the absence of some kind of a statement, it leads us to speculate a bit. And I apologize for putting you in this role, but I'm curious, do we have any idea at this point as to whether or not Russia was even aware of this program or if this is news -- it seems hard to believe -- to the Russians? CHANCE: No, but they've got their own spy satellites, they've got a very extensive intelligence gathering network, well, at least as large as that of the United States, in a country like Iran. But we do know that the United States, the French, and the British, that originally had this intelligence for the past several months, at least, have shared it now with the other members of the permanent members of the Security Council, mainly China and Russia. And so, if they weren't aware of this before, they certainly have been aware of it for the past several days, certainly since the U.N. nuclear watchdog has been aware of it. And so, we are expecting to hear something from the Kremlin, but as yet, as I say, everyone has been tightlipped.

HARRIS: And I guess the last question is, this revelation, does it bring with it the possibility that Russia could be on board now -- something you hinted at a moment ago -- for a new tougher round of sanctions?

CHANCE: I certainly think, Tony, that this is going to make it very difficult for the Iranians to hide behind this shield that they've enjoyed from the Kremlin for the past several years. The Kremlin has already been there saying, well, look, we're misrepresenting what Iran is doing, we should give them the benefit of the doubt, we should hear what the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, is saying.

But now, of course, that whole thing has been based on trust. And that trust gap between what Iran is actually doing and what people in the West particularly believe it is doing has just widened a whole lot more. So, it's going to be much more difficult for Russia to, I think, diplomatically step in and protect the Iranians from tougher sanctions.

HARRIS: I think you're absolutely right about that.

Matthew Chance for us in Moscow.

Matthew, good to see you. Thank you.

The scene outside the G-20 Summit yesterday in Pittsburgh, now a virtual ghost town. Protesters making their voices heard on the streets as President Obama and other world leaders meet to discuss global economic reforms.

The crowd marched, what, about eight blocks before being blocked by police. Dozens were arrested. More protests expected today. Police are hoping for smaller crowds.

And a normally bustling area of Pittsburgh now empty. This iReport sent to us from Pittsburgh resident Shontae Elliot. She says she snapped this at about lunchtime yesterday. Elliot says the Free Tibet protesters were the only ones inside walking quietly down 5th Avenue.

You know, you probably have been hit by them, those pesky baggage fees that many airlines charge. So, how much money are the biggest carriers raking in? I'll bet this is a big number.

Susan Lisovicz is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Susan, good morning. Have you been tallying up this number here?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tony, and it means a lot of zeros behind it -- $669 million in the second quarter of this year alone. Just three months, $669 million for baggage fees.

HARRIS: Wow.

LISOVICZ: That does not include charges that you'd pay for, say, bringing a pet or an unaccompanied minor, or some booking fees. Yes.

America and Delta collected the most. Why did airlines start doing it last spring? Well, because oil prices were rising, hitting nearly $150 in the summer, and this was a way to offset it.

So, you have seen how rapidly they've grown. And in fact, that $669 million, more than triple what we saw a year earlier. So, it's something that the airlines put into place and have reaped the benefits of it, Tony, at our expense, quite literally.

HARRIS: Yes. Well, yes, right. But wait a minute here. Oil prices, Susan, have been cut essentially in half. So why not stop nickel-and-diming us here?

LISOVICZ: Excellent observation, Professor Harris. In fact, I can look at oil prices right now, $66.

HARRIS: Come on.

LISOVICZ: Yes. Well, because what happened was oil prices eased, but what intensified was the recession. And so this is something that the airlines still feel that they need to offset the lower demand. And so people weren't flying. People were flying before, but they had to offset the fuel. Now people just aren't flying.

So, in some cases, it's still working. I mean, what you're seeing is that it's still happening.

What's not working right now is the bulls. They're just not -- we haven't seen them in a couple days.

The Dow is off 14 points. Nasdaq is down 10.

We did get an improvement in housing sales, new home sales. But we saw a disappointing on big-ticket items known as durable goods, and that really kind of set the tone for the market early on -- Tony.

HARRIS: And remind me here -- we had had a not so good number on existing home sales earlier in the week and...

LISOVICZ: That's right. Yesterday.

Well, you know, the fact is the road to recovery is not a smooth one.

HARRIS: Bumpy.

LISOVICZ: But, you know -- that's right, it's bumpy, it's inconsistent. The fact is we have seen about four months where we had seen increased existing home sales. We had a setback yesterday. The market -- yes, and you saw investors take it out on stocks.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

Susan, good to see you. See you next hour.

LISOVICZ: Likewise, Tony.

HARRIS: Health care insurance and home loan modification, just some viewer questions for Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis. She is up next, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's get you caught up on our top stories right now.

Honduras's deposed president Jose Manuel Zelaya says no deal, he won't quit. Zelaya is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in the capital of Tegucigalpa. He said last night that the man who replaced him after a summer coup proposed they both resign and allow a third person to take the reins of government.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was released from a Washington hospital this morning. A court spokeswoman says the justice became ill after treatment for anemia yesterday. She was hospitalized as a precaution. She plans to be back in the court this afternoon.

Parts of north Georgia still flooded from this week's deadly downpours, and awaiting federal disaster funds. This morning, Vice President Biden is taking a look at the damage and talking with families affected by the floods.

Concerns over medical benefits for the unemployed, filing for bankruptcy on unsecured debt, and modifying a loan and your credit score. You sent us the questions. Gerri Willis standing by with the answers.

Gerri, good to see you. Good Friday to you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, happy Friday to you, too, Tony. Let's get right to those questions.

HARRIS: Yes. The first one comes from Dawn in Ohio, who writes, "I know that Congress is considering extending the unemployment benefits, but what about COBRA? That has been a godsend for my husband and me. Instead of paying $1,100 a month, we only pay $434. My husband has been laid off since December of 2008 after 22 years with a newspaper company."

What are your thoughts on this, Gerri?

WILLIS: Well, you know, first off, Dawn, you're right, the House did pass an extension to emergency unemployment benefits for people who live in places where unemployment is high, topping 8.5 percent. Now, for folks in those areas, benefits will be extended another 13 weeks.

However, a lot of the stimulus provisions, like the COBRA subsidy or that extra 25 bucks they were going to add to unemployment paychecks, they're still set to expire at the end of the year. And it's really unclear if these provisions will be extended.

Look, in the meantime, if you want to get cheaper medicine, check out NeedyMeds.org and RXAssist.org. So that's a place to go if you're running out of coverage.

HARRIS: Boy, this next question here, just looking ahead a bit here, Gerri, this is going to take some work here. Teri sent us this question: "I am 61 years old, have been self-employed for 20-plus years with my own retail business. I was doing pretty well until about two years ago. I ran up an approximate debt of $85,000, plus two loans of about $120,000. I have never been late, but this economy is killing me."

"I am considering filing for bankruptcy on the unsecured debt. Please advise."

WILLIS: Well, you know, this sounds like a lot of debt, Tony, but the reality is, when you have a small business, it really adds up quickly. And there's some good news here.

The Small Business Administration, they have a number of counseling programs that are free to folks with their own businesses. They have counselors who can help you analyze your finances, give you advice on how to deal with creditors, how to boost your profits, and they'll let you know if bankruptcy is really the best option for you and how to go about it.

To find an SBA district office near you, go to SBA.gov. That is a great place to start if you have a small business having problems in this economy.

HARRIS: Yes. That's great advice.

Our final question comes from Alan. "I've been living in my property for five years and I've always been on time with my payment. I am having trouble making my payment this month and I am thinking of applying for the loan modification. How is it going to impact my credit score?"

What are your thoughts, Gerri?

WILLIS: Well, you know, a loan modification is a great way to save your home from foreclosure. However, your credit score, well, it might suffer depending on how your mortgage lender decides how to report it to the credit bureaus. And Tony, listen. This is unbelievable detail.

Many lenders are reporting loan modifications as partial payment plans which is considered negative by the FICO score people. Now, that will change in November, when lenders will start reporting them as loan modification under a government program, and that's not considered negative by FICO.

So, if you're in the mode to modify, then it may be a good idea to wait until November so that you don't negatively impact your FICO score. The devil's in the details. We always find them.

If you have questions, send them to me at Gerri@CNN.com.

HARRIS: And can't wait for "YOUR BOTTOM LINE." You want to take a moment and tell everyone what's coming up on the big show this weekend?

WILLIS: Absolutely. "YOUR BOTTOM LINE," 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, right here on CNN. A lot of great topics.

We're going to be talking about jobs, of course, how to find those stimulus jobs. And also, Tony, you're going to love this -- medical tourism. If you're underinsured or you have no insurance, should you go overseas to get a procedure? The costs are cheaper, but is it worth it? We'll talk about it at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning on CNN.

HARRIS: Terrific. Have great weekend, Gerri. Good to see you.

WILLIS: My pleasure. Thank you.

HARRIS: Your money, your life, your health, all of it being discussed on Capitol Hill as Congress works on health care reform. Two key senators joining us in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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HARRIS: Let's see, live pictures now. I believe this is still Marietta, Georgia, but someone will correct me on this, I'm sure, if I'm incorrect on it. You're watching a press conference that's under way right now.

Speaking right now is Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss. And you saw the vice president just moments ago to the senator's right, your left. This congressional delegation also including Congressman David Scott and Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson taking the tour of Georgia probably shortly. The vice president landed not that long ago.

So, I believe the tour is still to come of all of the flood damage throughout Georgia. A number of counties declared disaster areas. I think that number is in the teens right now. When the vice president begins to make his remarks, we will get you back to this event in, I believe, Marietta, Georgia.

You know, there has been a lot of discussion about troop levels in Afghanistan. And we're just learning of a high-level meeting this morning. Barbara Starr joining us with details from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, we have now learned that Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, have wrapped up a secret meeting at an undisclosed location in Europe to discuss this very question of troop numbers for Afghanistan. This meeting certainly was not announced. It is not a public meeting. It was on neither man's schedule.

By all accounts, they flew to a central point in Europe, halfway for both of them, over the last day or so, so they could sit down face to face, and Admiral Mullen, the chairman, could get a direct discussion with General McChrystal about how many troops he thinks he needs, the kinds of capabilities of equipment he thinks he needs. All of this of course extremely controversial because now, even though General McChrystal has put his marker down on the table about what he needs, he feels, to win a counterinsurgency war, the White House has taken a step back, is reviewing it all and has not yet made any decisions.

So, this all comes as the military and the political side of the house are lining up to try and find a way ahead. No results yet of what this very stealthy meeting really resulted in -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK, and Barbara, maybe the answer is out there and I've just missed it. But when does Secretary Gates get this much-talked about, much-discussed report?

STARR: Well, the reality of course is he knows exactly already...

HARRIS: Absolutely.

STARR: ... you know, what's in it. Nobody's exactly keeping it a big secret from him. But the real challenge now is for the military and the civilian leaders like Gates to develop a series of options to take to the president and say, here are the things you can do. Here's what it will cost in numbers of troops, in equipment, in human lives and in dollars. And that's the real challenge.

They one more time, after all of this, are trying to develop options to take to President Obama so he can make a final decision. This meeting at an undisclosed location in Europe, really by all accounts to try to sort out what some of those troop numbers might be -- Tony.

HARRIS: Boy, this is getting really, really thick right about now. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's get back to one of our other top stories right now. Iran admitting it has a second uranium enrichment plant. Western leaders demanding Iranian officials open the site to international inspectors. Let's take you live now to CNN's senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth. And Richard, a couple questions for you. Is the announcement of the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant the tipping point that will lead to further sanctions against Iran?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Tony, I hesitate to say, yes, I agree that it could be the tipping point even though we seem to inch up all this way very closely every time, and then nothing seems to happen. It's a diplomatic stalemate that we've been at, it seems, for years.

Now, these revelations. The United States, of course, those who are in favor of being aggressive and as tough as the French want to be, and they were very tough here in a Security Council meeting yesterday on nuclear spread of weapons, they will be encouraged by this news because it's going to keep the pressure on.

The Iranian president, Tony, had a press conference scheduled for later today here at the United Nations. That's been canceled. It's unclear whether he's going to meet the media elsewhere in New York today.

HARRIS: One more quick one here. The IAEA has been really quiet about this story and would not even confirm the story until it was announced by various Western diplomatic sources. Got to ask you why has the U.N. watchdog been so quiet about this?

ROTH: Well, you know, they have a different set of investigations and procedures. And it's also not clear who knew, how long people knew about this facility, what is the political nature of the timing of this announcement. The United States has seen the United Nations used as a scene, as a place for tyrants to just denounce everyone in the world. Who knows?

We know that there are October 1st negotiations, if you can call them that, in Geneva. This happened with the previous administration on Iraq. Just when things seemed to be moving away towards more conciliation or negotiation, suddenly, someone dropped a big diplomatic bombshell about some secret plant or report. Now, the head of the IAEA was very skeptical about the U.S. in Iraq, saying they were not developing nuclear weapons or whatever was alleged by Dick Cheney.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today did comment on the actions announced today by the president of the United States regarding Iran. And she echoes his concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is further evidence of Iran's continued defines of IAEA and United Nations obligations. Iran is breaking rules that all nations are expected to follow. And we fully support an immediate IAEA investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROTH: The IAEA said Iran needs to re-engage, Tony. They will continue their investigations. It's up to them to report to the Security Council. Don't look for additional sanctions until at least December. That's what we heard out of Pittsburgh today.

HARRIS: Got you. All right, Richard Roth at the United Nations for us. Richard, appreciate it.

Just handed a note here. I want to share this as a developing story. Let's hold off on those pictures for just a moment. We'll get back to that in just a moment.

We've got a bit of breaking news here. Our editor for Arab affairs, Octavia Nasr, is reporting that there is a purported Osama bin Laden -- I believe this would have to be an audio message -- that's what I'm assuming until I get better guidance on this -- that is addressing the people of Europe.

Germany, you may recall, recently has received several threats from al Qaeda, and the timing of this, Germans are about to head to the polls for Sunday's general election, and we are getting word now of a new purported Osama bin Laden message directed to the people of Europe. We will continue to follow developments on this.

And now, let's get you to the news conference going on in Marietta, Georgia now and Vice President Joe Biden after touring the damage from the flooding in Georgia.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... not seen three people that reacted more, and more with a heartfelt sense. It wasn't just doing their job. They were worried about you all. And so, I want to thank them for educating me on just how tough things have been down here.

Secondly, I want to point out that, you know, as my mother would say -- she's 92, she lives with me -- say to all you folks in the Red Cross and that you're doing God's work. It is really -- I've been to a lot of disasters, unfortunately, and I've never seen people who are being helped be so appreciative and say so much about each of you.

They're identifying you by name, telling you what they've been hearing. You did this for them, you did that for them. I mean, it really is more than -- as you know, this is more than a physical loss. It's a psychological loss. This is tough stuff.

A beautiful young woman who lost her home who was out here -- I will not embarrass her and identify her -- said to me, Mr. Vice president, what are you going to do for me? She says, I know this isn't Katrina.

The truth of the matter is, for someone who has lost their home, it is Katrina. For someone who is in a situation the people here in this shelter are in, it is Katrina. It is not Katrina in its scope by any stretch of the imagination, but the impact on their lives, on your lives, we understand it is Katrina.

And on a beautiful sunny day like today, the worst part of it all is, I know from experience the tragedy of what happened to you is sinking in. You know, everybody responds. And the first time, when there's this crisis, and you're getting out of your house, you're trying to make sure you save everything, from your children to your pets and any valuable you can grab as you're rushing out, your adrenaline is working.

That keeps you going. You get here. You're still up. You're still moving. But now, a couple days later, sun's shining. Everybody else's life is coming back to normal who wasn't affected, and you're sitting there, and all of a sudden, the reality has sunk in.

Well, that's why we're here. I want you to know your congressmen and senators, your folks, our folks, we know what it's like. And on a very personal note, I didn't go through anything like this, but I had lightning strike my house a couple years ago and burn down the bulk of my house. I remember coming home and seeing black smoke billowing out of all three floors, eventually going in and seeing every single solitary thing in my home which I had built destroyed.

And I had great insurance. I knew it was going to be covered. But let me tell you, it is a destabilizing thing.

So, folks, we understand. We have a sense of what you're going through. We know we can't make everything right. But we know we're going to do everything we can to make it all right.

And one of the things that happens is that, you know, we've got to understand the order of priorities here. And I say this for the press that's here. As the director said, we are part of a team. You have a great Georgia team here. Your local officials, your first responders, your state FEMA. They're all doing one heck of a job. Your governor and lieutenant governor -- I apologize. I should have begun by recognizing the lieutenant governor here, who is carrying the ball right now.

You, in fact, have declared 17 counties. You've asked for 17 counties to get help. I want to explain how this process is working here. You had the director immediately order that we get in helicopters -- not we, me, but FEMA and your guys -- get in helicopters, fly over those areas, and from the air concluded by counting homes whether or not you qualified. Five counties right away qualified.

Now, I'm announcing today that just since we have been here this morning, to show you what the director is doing, three more counties of the 17 have qualified. I'm going to make sure -- hope I -- Carroll County, Stevens County and Chattooga County. They've since qualified. This is going on.

I'm in there -- look, we don't want anything like the past to happen again. FEMA directors -- (INAUDIBLE) -- where is your state director? I apologize, don't know your name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie English.

BIDEN: Charlie. Charlie, I'm told -- a number of you asked me inside, well, what do I do? I'm going to call the number. I don't know -- guess what? Director says he's instructing -- going to make sure the first people -- we're going to have people come to see you, go see your home while you're here, to get you relocated as quickly as we can.

This is a man who every first responder in the country wanted to have this job, and now I know why they wanted him in the job. This is hands-on stuff. But it's going to take time. I've got to tell you that it's going to be down the road, down the road, we're going to be in a position where some people are still going to be trying to figure out how they're able to rebuild that house.

We're going to get other federal agencies in now. We'll get HUD in and others who are going to be will be able to take care of, hopefully, your real need. But the first part here is just literally an emergency, making sure the physical safety of the folks who are most affected are taken care of, and then going out and making a longer-term assessment of not only the personal losses, and that's going looking at your residences to determine what that is, but also damage to government property. Highways, sewer systems, water systems, et cetera.

So, this is not going to happen overnight. This is not going to happen tomorrow. But it will happen. And with the good work of the governor and with the leadership of Secretary Napolitano, and I mean it, this was a governor -- this is a hands-on person. This is not going to be a bureaucratic stalling and shuffling and moving around. But it's still going to take a little bit of time. And so, again, I want to repeat that...

HARRIS: The vice president, Joe Biden, with a congressional delegation. Senators, both of Georgia's senators, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, on hand, Congressman David Scott as well, taking the tour with the vice president of all of the damage, as much as they can get to in Georgia from, boy, days and days of rain, as much as 20 inches of rain earlier this week.

And as you can see from some of the video from earlier in the week, and I don't know, is this from earlier in the week, or is this still some of the areas in Georgia that are still being impacted by all of the floodwaters today? All of the damage, all of the homes lost. We're talking about a loss of life as well. Nine deaths blamed on the flooding.

I understand this is the Powder Springs area of Georgia, north and west of Atlanta. Eight counties have been give been a federal disaster declaration. A number of other counties, nine more hoping for that same declaration so federal aid can stream in. But as you heard the vice president say, it's going to be a long time. We're still in the emergency phase now, and we're going to be in that phase for a while.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the debate over health care reform. Despite long hours, not much compromise is on the table. We will check in with two senators working on the plan.

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HARRIS: OK, after working long hours all week, the Senate Finance Committee may leave town this week without tackling perhaps the two most controversial parts of health care reform -- public option and a tax on so-called Cadillac plans. I am joined now by Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah and a member of the committee. Senator Hatch, it's good to talk to you. We've been trying to get you on all week. And I mentioned just a moment ago we got filibustered in our first attempt by the Libyan leader. But it's good to have you on the program.

Got to ask you, what is your goal, as you define it, for the end of this day, the end of this week? What do you want to get accomplished?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R) UTAH: Well, we wanted to try and get some more transparency on this program. You know, this bill -- this is the copy of the conceptual bill. It's 220 pages long.

HARRIS: Right.

HATCH: In other words, it's written in everyday language. But this -- the final bill is going to be something like 1,000 pages. It's going to be four or five times as large as this. And frankly, I think we've got to have that final bill, and we need to have that scored by the Congressional Budget Office so we know what we're getting involved in here.

We found an amendment and called it up and had it debated. It was a Jim Bunning amendment. I was a prime co-sponsor on it. It said, look, before this becomes final, we've got -- before we have a final vote, we should know exactly what's in the bill. It ought to be the true legislative language, not just conceptual language. And we ought to have it scored. And that was voted down.

Now, it makes you wonder, since the party of transparency, the Democratic Party, is always talking about transparency, why they wouldn't be willing to agree to that. Because that just makes sense.

HARRIS: Yes, I've got a quick question on that. Is it true, or maybe it isn't, that aspects of this, the amendments, that some of the amendments are being scored as we go along here, and that changes are being scored as well? I was listening and watching the other night, and there were a few amendments that were proposed that had already been scored.

HATCH: Well, generally the ones by the chairman, that he's agreed to, are being scored. But keep in mind, they're scored, but they're not scored in the overall package.

HARRIS: Got you.

HATCH: And we have no idea how much it's going to be. It was supposed to be under $800 billion. It's already up to $900 billion with some of the agreements that the chairman has made. And, look, that doesn't even count the first three or four years. So, if you score it over ten years, it's at least $1.5 trillion to maybe even as high as $2 trillion. Now, look, if we're going to turn health care over to the federal -- the almighty federal government, you can count on costs going up even more than that.

HARRIS: Will the committee get to debate before the end of this day the so-called public option amendments? Will that happen today?

HATCH: No. They're going to put that off until Tuesday because that's going to take quite a bit of time, and most of the very liberal Democrats are really hell-bent on getting the public option in there. I think almost anybody else who thinks about it would say we don't want to turn health care over to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington who then will determine what kind of health care we can have. And you know that rationing's going to happen.

And, frankly, when they say that it would be on a level playing field, uh-huh. Look, this is the outfit that ran Medicare into $38 trillion in unfunded liability. Do we want to turn over all health care to them right here in Washington and interject bureaucrats between you and your doctor? I don't want to.

HARRIS: Hey, can I ask you this one on the -- bottom-line question, here. It is my sense in listening to you that you're not going to vote for anything, you're not going to vote in favor of anything that comes out of this committee. And I believe that is pinned to a basic belief that I've heard you express, that anything that comes out of this committee will ultimately be a first step to -- on the road to a government takeover of health care. Do I have that correct?

HATCH: No. Because actually, this committee bill is about as moderate a bill as you can find from a Democratic standpoint. But if we pass it out of committee, which I think the Democrats will do, then they're going to meld it with the Health Committee bill, which is a total Democrat bill. By the time they get through with this, it's going to be the most God-awful thing you've ever seen.

HARRIS: I see.

HATCH: And frankly, that's the problem. Now, we have voted for some amendments that we think have merit. But everything that they seem to be pushing seems to be moving more and more towards this government takeover of health care.

And if that happens -- and look, they're going to have employer mandates, employee mandates. Employer mandates really kill people on the other end of the earning spectrum, and employee mandates are very, very difficult. They said they're not going to cost people who make less than $200,000, and yet, it's going to cost them an awful lot of money. Anybody over $66,000 that doesn't have a federal Washington health care plan is going to have to pay an extra $2,000 penalty.

HARRIS: So, theoretically, you could possibly support something that comes out of this committee, but by the time it gets to the reconciliation process with what's been worked on in Health, in your mind, that becomes unworkable for you.

HATCH: Well, it's possible it could. But keep in mind, remember how I described it. It's a Democrat that's moderate for Democrats. It's still very liberal, and it still emphasizes Washington more than it should. And it still isn't a form that we can really determine how much it's really going to cost.

HARRIS: Got you. Well, that's good. I think we had a good talk here today.

HATCH: Well, you asked some good questions.

HARRIS: Well, Senator Hatch, I appreciate that. Thank you, and have a great weekend, and we'll let you get back to work.

HATCH: Thank you.

HARRIS: In just a moment, we will talk to Democratic Senator Tom Carper for his views on the other side of the aisle. That's next.

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HARRIS: Cue the music, let's rock. You know, kind of hard to believe that it's been 25 years since the, oh -so-funny, sweater- wearing Dr. Huxtable and his wife, five kids became one of television's favorite families. Bill Cosby's sitcom wife, Phylicia Rashad -- hey, wait a minute, do you -- is it Phyl-EE-cia or Phyl-I- cia? I've heard it both ways, I'll ask her. Phylicia Rashad and TV son Malcolm-Jamal Warner will join me live in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.

We have been asking you to submit your favorite moments on our blog. Here are just a few. April wrote in, "My favorite "Cosby Show" moment was when the kids put on a performance of Ray Charles. Watching them lip-sync the song was so funny." We will have that for you next hour.

And Roxanne said, "My favorite Theo moment was when he gave Denise money to make him a shirt, and after he tried it on, one sleeve was bigger than the other."

Don't forget, Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, aka Claire and Theo Huxtable of "The Cosby Show." Join me next hour, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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