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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize; Democratic Congressman in Hot Water
Aired October 9, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the best political team on television on these stories. Even President Obama's acknowledging doubts about whether he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. This hour, what the award says about his popularity overseas and his unfinished business at home.
Is a candidate's weight fair game for his opponent? The New Jersey governor's race raises new questions as it gets closer and meaner.
And guess who's angry at Rush Limbaugh right now? Threatening talk from some NFL players about his plans to buy a pro football team.
We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama says his daughter has helped him put his Nobel Peace Prize shocker into perspective. All the second-guessing and sniping about his win probably kept it real for him as well. He explains his award this way: It's not just about him; it's about a cause and new hope in American leadership.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.
And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
A lot of people got a huge surprise this morning, Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Including me, including the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. I talked to him very early this morning. He said, if there was some secret heads up somewhere given to the White House, they didn't tell the chief of staff. But what I can tell you is you heard the president right there say that this could give him momentum for some of his causes, some of those reform issues, but it also could put more pressure on him to achieve some of these big initiatives, like Palestinian-Israeli peace or winning the war in Afghanistan.
OBAMA: Good morning.
HENRY (voice-over): Yes, he can win the Peace Prize on the same day his war council met again to consider sending up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while a second war is winding down but still raging in Iraq, fresh reminders this award is more about the promise of change than actual change.
OBAMA: We have to confront the world as we know it today.
I am the commander in chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies.
HENRY: The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the president's ability to create a new climate around the world.
THORBJORN JAGLAND, CHAIRMAN, NORWEGIAN NOBEL COMMITTEE: ... is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
HENRY: A deliberate approach from day one to break from the Bush years, especially with an historic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.
OBAMA: And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country. Salaam alaikum.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HENRY: As well as major speeches in Prague and at the United Nations laying out an aggressive plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
OBAMA: All nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy, that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward disarmament and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.
HENRY: But so far only great speeches, with little tangible results.
ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think certainly you have to give him an A for trying, but at the end of the day, what has he accomplished?
HENRY: Not to mention the details of other accomplishments are still a little, well, fuzzy.
OBAMA: I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law.
HENRY: Now, top administration officials admit that it's going to be very difficult to actually meet that January deadline of closing Guantanamo, a prime example of the difficulty of actually translating the president's vision into some real victories.
BLITZER: And he's going to give the $1.4 million of prize money to charity.
HENRY: That's right. Robert Gibbs says he will give it to various charities. I bet they're going to get a lot of letters, lot of e-mails of suggested causes to get that money. That's a lot of money.
BLITZER: There's a lot of good causes out there.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Ed Henry.
Let's get the world view of President Obama's Nobel Prize, CNN using its global reach to bring you unparalleled international reaction. Here's a sample.
MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Morgan Neill in London, where believe can't believe Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he's been in office long enough to warrant. It's not like he's changed the world in any way so far.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bit early, isn't it, to be...
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: While no official Iraqi government reaction has been given to President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win, we did speak to one Iraqi parliamentarian, Mahmoud Urman (ph), who told us that he believes President Obama was awarded this award prematurely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been a certain amount of surprise on the streets in Israel on the occupied Palestinian territories. One remark we've heard a couple of times is what has Mr. Obama actually accomplished so far. But what we have heard from the leaders on both sides of the conflict is glowing praise.
CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Christian Purefoy in Lagos, Nigeria. And as the most populist black nation in the world, they are extremely proud of what Barack Obama has achieved.
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: in Berlin. Now here in Germany, people say they are surprised that President Obama should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at this stage in his presidential career.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come here to the streets of Nairobi to tell people and ask people what they think about President Barack Obama winning the peace prize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a prize for all the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think it's very exciting for myself as a Kenyan and also for Americans all over the world.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in Moscow. Even though the result isn't known yet, already Barack Obama has had a profound impact on often touchy relations between the United States and Russia.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Egyptians look at this administration as a work in progress. But in a region where war is always looming, where the U.S. often flexes its military might, the feeling among many Egyptians is, it's a bit too early to be handing out the laurels.
AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Al Goodman in Madrid where people are surprised that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been no official reaction from Beijing but officials here might just be breathing easy now that the U.S. president has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Atia Abawi in Kabul where we're getting a very interesting reaction from the Afghan people on President Barack Obama's win for the Nobel Peace Prize. They say that they appreciate his efforts to try to bring peace in Afghanistan, but they are still waiting for the peace to come.
BLITZER: Here in Washington, a mixed reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. An ugly spat erupted between the Republican and Democratic Parties and a lot of people on both sides questioned why the president won now.
But some of Mr. Obama's critics gave him a pat on the back. Listen to Senator John McCain speaking to CNN's John King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")
KING: The president of the United States who, a year ago this weekend, was your campaign rival heading into the final month of the campaign, is the Nobel peace laureate for 2009. Deserved? SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Oh, I'm sure that the president is very honored to receive this award. And the Nobel Committee, I can't divine all their intentions, but I think part of their decision- making was expectations.
And I'm sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up. But, as Americans, we're proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.
KING: Did it surprise you, a little more than eight months into office, at a time, when, yes, he has set some lofty goals around world, but he's not won more NATO troops for Afghanistan, he has not convinced the Israelis to do what he says is necessary to sit down with the Palestinians? Were you surprised?
MCCAIN: Well, I think all of us were surprised at the -- at the decision. But I -- I think Americans are always pleased when think president is recognized by something on this order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And you can see more of that interview with John McCain and discussion about the president's Nobel Peace Prize on "STATE OF THE UNION" this weekend. That's Sunday morning beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
How you vote should be based on issues, not necessarily on someone's pants size. So, in the New Jersey governor's race, why is one candidate being accused of throwing his weight around and shown in unflattering images? The candidate who did it and the recipient of it both responding to CNN.
And political mud also flying in the Virginia governor's race. Just months after President Obama won there, is the Democratic candidate running away from the president?
And some liberals say powerful House Democrat Charlie Rangel could bring down other Democrats because he's mired in scandal.
BLITZER: If nothing else, President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize drives home just how popular and respected he is around the world. We all remember the adoring crowds he has attracted on those trips overseas.
But, right now, let's listen to what he told international audiences laying the groundwork for his Nobel Prize.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that binds us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together through constant cooperation and strong institutions and shared sacrifice and a global commitment to progress to meet the challenges of the 21st century. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America, that we extended the hand of friendship to all people. There's an old Turkish proverb. You cannot put out fire with flames. America knows this, Turkey knows this.
There are some who must be met by force. They will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems. And it is no alternative to extremists.
I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the president's Nobel Prize and take some stock of America's place in the world with the best political team on television.
Joining us, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the syndicated columnist Clarence Page, CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," which airs on Sunday.
Fareed, you understand why the Nobel Peace Prize is going to President Obama?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, sure.
It's a -- it's a thank you for the end of eight years of George Bush. It is meant to be a kind of reward to the United States, I think, more than to President Obama himself, for a kind of repudiation of those policies and most importantly for reengaging with the world.
I think for those of us who travel around the world, it really is true that there is a palpable shift in people's attitudes towards America. There's a real welcoming of the fact that the United States is reengaging with the world, talking differently, cooperating.
So, I think, for all these reasons, it's a kind of big moodal and tonal shift he's been given an award. It's a symbolic award. It's not on the basis of any specific achievement, but that has happened very often in the award's history. It's not always given to somebody who has achieved a programmatic plan of action.
This is a big symbolic gesture and as symbols go, I think it's a nice one for America.
BLITZER: And, Ed, a lot of people think it's at least an indirect slap at the former President George W. Bush and sort of reinforced by that statement that P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
P.J. CROWLEY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Certainly, from our standpoint, we think that this gives us a sense of momentum when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, pretty tough reference to the shoes being thrown at President Bush when he was in Baghdad, a tough little swipe there.
What did you think?
ROLLINS: I wish him well. Congratulations is certainly in order. I think at the end of the day, it is symbolic. I think the key thing that I worry about is, he represents us. He's our leader. He's not the leader of the United Nations; he's not the leader of the European Union; he's not the leader of the Norway Nobel Peace Prize.
So I hope he doesn't think he has to give up anything from our perspective. We need strength at this time of very critical crises in the world. We are still on two war fronts. And my sense at this point in time, there's a whole lot of America has been bad for eight years and now it's good because we have a new leader.
The world is a bad place. And they still hate us in many places and we have to have some strength.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because this award sort of anticipates history, if you will, I think it could create a bit of a problem for President Obama, because it sets the bar really high. It is, yes, a victory for engagement, et cetera, et cetera, the policy of engagement.
But it also sort of says to him, OK, you have got to now achieve X, Y and Z. And the White House will say, it will help him, gives him a little wind at his back. But also it does set that bar very high for him and he's got to jump it.
ZAKARIA: What's wrong with setting a high bar?
BORGER: I don't think there's anything wrong.
ZAKARIA: I think you're absolutely right. But it has exactly that effect and it will encourage him to try and be bold and ambitious, and that's all to the good.
(CROSSTALK) BORGER: But I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm just saying it sets the bar high and his critics can say, to him, aha, you didn't do that?
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, the bar is already set high. We're engaged in nuclear negotiations with Iran, talking about the future of the world. And whether he got that prize or not, he would still have that challenge ahead of him.
This is an extra little boost. The funny thing, some awards are inspirational. Some are aspirational. This was an aspirational prize, like when they gave it to Dr. King in '64. They were saying, you have done well. Now do more.
They're telling Obama, OK, here's your award. Now go out and earn it.
BLITZER: In 1964, when Dr. King got the Nobel Peace Prize, he had already done a lot.
PAGE: He had. He was only embarking on his campaign to fight poverty. And there was a whole different -- which was cut short by his assassination.
And you can go through history there. The worst Nobel Prize award was probably to Yasser Arafat, who did not live up to the goals of peace, but at the time he was engaged in the process. So you don't necessarily have to have achieved the goal in order to win the prize.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I want to congratulate not only the president, but the other Americans who have won Nobel Prizes this year in physics and also medicine. They all deserve this honor.
I think this president has already put a lot of good deeds in motion, whether it's ending torture in closing our secret prisons across the globe, making sure that we reach out to Russia to stop and end nuclear proliferation. He's has a lot on his plate. And I think today the Nobel Prize -- the Nobel Committee just decided to say to the president, keep going.
BLITZER: Ed, let me get your reaction to Mike Huckabee's statement. I know you worked with him when he was running for the president of the United States, wanted to get the Republican nomination.
He says this on his Web site: "There will be an outcry from those on the right who will say that Obama's nomination made two weeks into his presidency is impossible to justify, but I think such an outcry will sound like right-wing whining. The better response is simply to allow those on the left to explain what he did in his first two weeks as president that merited such recognition."
Obviously, he's been president now for nine months, not for two weeks. But go ahead.
ROLLINS: As always, my former client and friend shows great common sense.
I think one of the appalling things today of all this is the RNC basically out making outrageous attacks, and the DNC countering with outrageous attacks.
This is a day that Americans can honor -- you may disagree with whether we deserves it or does not deserve it. But I'm always for our president. And I think at this point in time, the goals are very worthwhile. They're going to be difficult. Basically, getting -- stopping nuclear weapons when the big countries that have it -- it's one thing to stop Iran and North Korea, which is very important.
But none of these people who voted in the U.N. are going to basically lay down their arms, including us.
BLITZER: I want all of you stand by for a moment, because we have got a lot more to talk about. Don't go away. The president didn't get the Olympics in Chicago, but he does get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Also, a new call for a consumer protection agency, President Obama pressuring Congress to act.
And a firefighting demonstration gone wrong -- the firemen are on fire.
And NFL players speaking out against Rush Limbaugh. Some are reportedly saying, if he buys a team, count them out.
BLITZER: Two governor's races with national implications.
In Virginia, the Republican is pulling ahead. Is President Obama to blame. We're taking a closer look at the vote as a referendum on the Democrat in the White House.
Also, in New Jersey, weighty questions about Democrat Jon Corzine's tactics. In so many words, is he calling his opponent fat?
And the ethics investigation of Congressman Charlie Rangel could hurt the entire Democratic Party -- how Republicans are trying to make sure that happens.
BLITZER: In a little bit more than three weeks, you should closely watch what happens in two governor's races. Whether you live there or not, you should care about what happens in New Jersey and Virginia. Both states voted for President Obama in the presidential election, yet, now both states could put both Democrats out of the governor's mansions. In one case, the current drama involves a weighty issue, in the other, issues over President Obama.
Our Mary Snow is covering New Jersey, but let's start with Virginia and our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
Jessica, what's happening there?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia is doing what he can to tie his opponent to President Obamas' agenda. And that has a lot of political watchers asking if what happens in Virginia is a sign of what we should expect in next year's midterm elections.
YELLIN (voice-over): In Virginia, Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for governor, embraced President Obama at a campaign event.
OBAMA: I know he is the right person for Virginia, and you know it, too.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
YELLIN: But he's been more reluctant to embrace the president's agenda. Asked if he was an Obama Democrat, he said:
CREIGH DEEDS (D), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a Creigh Deeds Democrat. So, that -- that's what I am.
YELLIN: He believes the national scene is hurting him.
DEEDS: A lot of what's going on in Washington has made it very tough.
YELLIN: And making it tougher is Republican opponent Bob McDonnell is trying to link him to what McDonnell calls Washington's job-killing policies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCDONNELL FOR GOVERNOR CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deeds called for Washington's mandatory cap and trade energy tax. Cost to families -- $6,800, killing up to 56,000 Virginia jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: McDonnell reinforced that message in an interview with CNN.
BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I have made the national issues an issue in this race.
YELLIN (on camera): Yes. MCDONNELL: Card check, cap and trade, unfunded mandates, major new deficit spending I think are things that are not good for Virginians. My opponent is either for them or he has been ambivalent about them.
YELLIN (voice-over): A new "Washington Post" poll shows the Republican candidate surging 9 points ahead, with the Democrat struggling among African-Americans and young voters -- both groups that flocked to support the president last year.
Still, political watchers say much of this race is about local issues, including transportation problems in the state that have little to do with the man in the White House. The Democratic candidate agrees.
DEEDS: I think this race is going to be about Virginia, about what it's going to take to restore confidence in our economy, about fixing our -- our clogged transportation arteries.
YELLIN: But if the Democrat loses, no doubt pundits across the country will see signs of things to come.
MARK ROZELL, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: The Republicans can now show they are alive and well and they are competitive in Virginia. But it also sends, I think, a national message about the Republicans' ability to come back in the Obama era.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
YELLIN: And, Wolf, it probably will not shock you to know that the White House does not view this race as a referendum on President Obama. I spoke with one key aide who said, look, they actually think Deeds, the Democrat, has not run a very good campaign.
Still, that is not stopping the DNC from pouring money into the state -- a million dollars just this week alone. And here's a tip -- don't be surprised if the president does decide to hit the campaign trail again for Deeds before election day -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica.
Let's turn to New Jersey right now, where a campaign tactic is sparking a ton of controversy.
Let's go straight to CNN's Mary Snow to tell us what's happening there -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a state where politics is considered a blood sport, even this is raising some eyebrows -- a candidate's weight has come into focus.
SNOW: (voice-over): This political ahead in the heated New Jersey governor's race is getting attention not so much for its overt message as its subtext. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CORZINE FOR GOVERNOR AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you get away with it? Chris Christie -- one set of rules for himself, another for everyone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine aims to portray his Republican challenger, Christopher Christie, a former federal prosecutor, as being above the law for escaping tickets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CORZINE FOR GOVERNOR AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christie threw his weight around as U.S. attorney and got off easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: It's that phrase and imagery that's led to questions being asked about whether Christi's weight is meant to be highlighted. We caught up with both candidates to ask them about a sensitive issue.
(on camera): Do you feel that Jon Corzine is targeting your weight?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I don't know. You'd have to ask him. I mean I really don't know and I really don't care, because it doesn't matter one wit to anybody who's lost their job, who's been foreclosed on their home, who is paying the highest taxes in America.
SNOW: Is it fair to say that Chris Christie's weight is being tightening?
GOVERNOR. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: Absolutely not. I don't think there's a politician in the world that likes how he's depicted in his opponent's ads. And I think that's what we're hearing here, as opposed to focus on it.
SNOW: (voice-over): Patrick Murray of the nonpartisan Polling Institute at Monmouth University sees it differently.
PATRICK MURRAY, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: These are all subliminally part of a larger strategy that the campaign -- the Corzine campaign is using.
SNOW: (on camera): And what is that strategy?
MURRAY: That strategy is really to paint Chris Christie as someone who's reckless about his own personal life and maybe he'll be reckless with the state, as well.
SNOW: (voice-over): Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs chief executive, has taken aim at his opponent on a host of issues, spending more than $14 million on ads so far in his re-election bid -- one that's generated a bitter back and forth. This ad about mammograms. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CORZINE FOR GOVERNOR AD)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But if Chris Christie was governor, insurance companies could drop mammogram coverage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Christie accused Corzine of trying to scare women and shot back with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CHRISTIE FOR GOVERNOR AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom was a breast cancer survivor. Her life was saved because she got a mammogram.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Corzine had been behind in the polls in this blue state, but now the race is virtually tied and political observers say it's now more about the Independent candidate in the race.
STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Voters who are looking for an alternative to Corzine, who are -- all of whom were going to Christie, the Republican, Christie, are now -- some of those are looking at the Independent candidate, Chris Daggett. So that's what -- why this race has turned.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: And Stu Rothenberg, who you saw just there, doesn't see New Jersey's race as being as much a referendum on President Obama as it is on Jon Corzine and the State of New Jersey's economy, which faces a projected $8 billion deficit -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.
One of the most powerful members of Congress is under an intense political microscope right now. We're talking about the New York Democrat, Charlie Rangel. He's fighting a House Ethics Committee investigation that's now expanding. At issue, allegations Rangel did not report hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets on financial disclosure forms. He's done that since then.
There also are allegations of financial impropriety, including claims he didn't pay all his taxes. Rangel is not responding to all these allegations, but he has admitted to failing to pay taxes on $75,000 in income from a rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic and he admits some mistakes like errors in his financial disclosure forms.
Let's turn to CNN's Congressional senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's got more on the political fallout not only for Republicans, but Democrats, as well -- Dana. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And when it comes to Democrats, there are no visible cracks in support for Charlie Rangel. But, Wolf, you can definitely feel the tremors here.
BASH (voice-over): Catch Charlie Rangel in the hallway these days shuttling between health care meetings and he casually deflects ethics questions.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The allegations have been made by newspapers' reporters and I've asked the Ethics Committee to review it.
BASH: Ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi why she blocked Republicans from removing Rangel as chairman of the tax-writing committee while he's being investigated for tax violations and hear this.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He's one of the most experienced, knowledgeable people in the Congress about health care. But even if he weren't, the process here is that the Ethics Committee reviews the situation.
BASH: Rangel's fellow Democrats are backing him now, but congressional election experts like Amy Walter say it may not last long.
AMY WALTER, POLITICAL ANALYST, "THE HOTLINE": Right. The longer this drags out, I just think the bigger a problem it becomes for Democrats.
BASH: The reason -- next year's election. A Gallup poll this week raised a giant red flag for Democrats. Americans are now almost evenly split now on whether they would vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress.
Rangel's ethics issues cause particular problems for Democrats because when they won the majority in 2006, voters called fighting corruption a top priority and Pelosi made this pledge.
PELOSI: And you cannot advance the people's agenda unless you drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.
BASH: Now, not only are Republicans calling that a broken promise...
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: And she's not done it yet.
BASH: The Daily Kos, a widely read liberal blog, is, too, saying Democrats will suffer if they don't remove Rangel as chairman, writing: "Memo to House Democrats -- the culture of corruption crosses partisan lines." Walter warns Rangel is a threat to vulnerable Democrats.
WALTER: The ones who were elected in 2006 and 2008 on the change and the anti-corruption theme, they are going to start looking for signs that this is becoming problematic for them. If they see those signs, I bet you will get a lot of defections.
BASH: And we talked to several of those vulnerable House Democrats here in the hallways this week. And they say so far, the controversy about Rangel isn't resonating back home -- they say yet. And when it comes to the House Democratic leadership, sources there privately say that the real test for them is going to be when that ethics report that they're waiting for comes out. No clue when that's going to happen, but the test is going to be if it is harsh, what are they going to do about it then -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good question.
All right, Dana.
Thanks very much.
Dana is on the Hill.
Sarah Palin offering some help to Republicans -- can the former governor of Alaska help gubernatorial hopefuls in New Jersey and Virginia?
And President Obama is set to address a gay rights group this weekend. But there's growing frustration among gay activists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were just a long list of progressive issues that needed to be acted upon. And where we fell in line was disappointing. I mean it was almost as if we were put back into the closet and told to wait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: They helped put him in office and they had high hopes, but many gays and lesbians are frustrated with what they see as a lack of urgency and action on their issues by President Obama.
We're back with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile; CNN national correspondent, Jessica Yellin; syndicated columnist Clarence Page; and our CNN contributor and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins.
He's got a big speech coming up this weekend -- Jessica, what are you hearing? YELLIN: I'm hearing that the speech will be about 15 to 20 minutes, that he will recap some of his accomplishments on the gay rights front. But there's not going to be any announcement of major changes. The gay and lesbian community has been pushing for the president to make don't ask/don't tell -- repealing that -- a legislative priority or to expand benefits at the work -- protections at the workplace to gay, lesbian, transgender people.
It's my understanding from a source in the White House that he is not going to say that, that he's going to champion all these things, but he will recall all the things he's done for the gay community since he's been in office.
BLITZER: How much frustration is there in the gay and lesbian community right now that he hasn't really volunteered to take decisive action on eliminating the don't ask/don't tell policy for the U.S. military, which bans troops from serving openly as gay?
CLARENCE PAGE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think there's no less frustration than there is among the peace movement that wants us to pull out of Afghanistan. I mean, on his left, President Obama is getting, you know, a lot of people are delighted, but quietly so -- not as vocal as The Daily Kos you mentioned earlier. And Obama's best friend here is the loud clamor on the right constantly hammering him has caused many left progressives to be rather subdued in their criticism. But they are -- but they're saying they can only wait so long.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But, you know, the House just passed a bill expanding punishment for hate crimes, which the Senate is -- is likely to pass and...
BLITZER: To include overt attacks against gays and lesbians.
BORGER: Exactly. Exactly. And so, you know, I -- I think that the president can say that we're -- we've done this. And he -- it's not like he's going to come out and say OK, I'm -- I'm against repealing don't ask/don't tell. He's not going to -- he's going to still support it, correct?
YELLIN: But it's a question of how much of a priority is it for this White House?
BLITZER: Because, you know, Ed, he's got some cover on this issue, because there are retired generals -- four star generals, including one Colin Powell, who has said, you know, it's time to rethink this whole strategy. And remember, Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs back in '93, when then President Bill Clinton implemented the don't ask/don't tell policy.
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is not my party's constituency, but -- so I'm just going to give pure political counsel and I don't think a president who won the Nobel Peace Prize needs any counsel from Ed Rollins. But you always have to be careful of your constituencies. And we used to always say, well, they have no place to go. Well, they do have a place to go -- they don't turn out.
If he doesn't come out with something new tomorrow night before this group that has been very, very supportive of him -- and, obviously, the don't ask/don't tell has is the -- is the big issue -- and every now gone through 12, 14 years -- a whole generation of military people who have fought side by side with people who are gay and lesbian. And I think if he doesn't do that tomorrow night, he's going to have that group be very, very unhappy with him. And in a midterm election, you really need your base energized.
The reverse of that is that's an issue that obviously energizes my side.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I agree totally with -- with Ed. And, Ed, I would also add that your party needs a couple of people in the tent. But that's another conversation.
The president is going to focus on what he's accomplished. Jessica is absolutely right -- hate crimes, no question. They've got to get that through the Senate...
BLITZER: Why can't he say to the group tomorrow night -- why can't he say, you know what, I haven't done it yet but I'm going to reverse. I'm going to do everything I can to eliminate the don't ask/don't tell policy?
BRAZILE: I think you will hear the president say that, you know -- you know, Secretary Gates is reviewing this; Admiral Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others. This is a policy that the president would like to see repealed. And I do believe that this president will put some political capital into making this happen.
There's also a bill on Capitol Hill that's been languishing for a long, long time, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Barney Frank has championed that issue. This is also a bill that the president can put his weight behind.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have more to discuss.
They're thousands of miles from Alaska, so what can Sarah Palin do to influence governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia?
Details of what she has in mind.
Plus, reports that some NFL players would refuse to play for Rush Limbaugh if -- if he becomes an NFL owner.
BLITZER: Well get back to the best political team on television in a moment.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs first to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Wolf, in addition to working on my pocket square here -- I don't know how to get this thing into my pocket. We'll figure that out.
A stunning decision today and some harsh reactions about the president's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. Even the president apparently doesn't think he deserved it. He's been in office eight months.
Where are the list of accomplishments?
Do the Norwegians know something that a lot of folks apparently don't?
And waiting on a war plan -- the president's national security advisers are now meeting again on a strategy for Afghanistan, arguing that the Taliban do not pose a threat to the United States and that al Qaeda is the real enemy now.
Also, banks getting billions of dollars in cheap money from taxpayers.
Where are the savings for consumers?
Many Americans dealing with crippling credit card debt and now there are calls for caps on those runaway interest rates.
Also tonight, unemployment at record highs, a failed stimulus program -- is it time to cut taxes or to create jobs or to raise taxes?
That's the subject of our Face-Off debate tonight.
Join us for that and a lot more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much.
See you in a few moments.
Let's get back to the best political team on television.
It's interesting, you look at these governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia, the Alaska -- the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, has made it clear she'd like to go help some of these Republican candidates or aide Meg Stapleton saying the governor offered her assistance with both races, the ball is in their courts.
Ed Rollins, so far, thanks but no thanks as far as these two Republican governors, I assume, are concerned.
Would it be wise to let Sarah Palin to come in and help campaign on their behalf?
ROLLINS: In the closing weeks of the campaign, bringing in outside people sometimes energizes the opposite side and she certainly would. People -- big personalities like her can help raise money and do a whole variety of things. But in the closing two or three weeks of a campaign, you want to control all elements of it. And I think that she basically will bring editorials against the candidates and I think, to a certain extent, not end up helping them.
So if I was running the campaigns, I would say thank you very much, I wish we had you here a year ago.
BLITZER: And it prob -- it would probably energize the Democrats more than the Republicans.
ROLLINS: I think so.
BORGER: She could go rogue -- she could go rogue again, you never know. And she could turn off those -- those swing voters, which are the ones they're all looking for in the last weeks of the election. So I don't think (INAUDIBLE).
BRAZILE: But the Independents are key, especially in a state like New Jersey. The last thing you want is someone like Governor Palin, who can really rally the base but turn off Independents.
BLITZER: Do the Democrat candidates, Jessica, want the president of the United States to come into New Jersey and Virginia and do some major campaigning these last few days?
YELLIN: They are hedging it a little bit, Wolf, especially in Virginia. They say they want him and, in fact, they could use him in certain parts of the state to energize especially young voters and African-American voters in Virginia. The support among those groups was so strong for the president during the election -- not strong for the Democrat right now. And he really needs to drive up those numbers, but he doesn't want to get too close to the president.
BLITZER: Clarence, let me switch gears with you for a moment. There's talk that Rush Limbaugh, who's a very wealthy guy, he might be a part owner of the St. Louis Rams in the NFL. Now, some NFL players are saying given some of his comments over the years, and most recently, they wouldn't want to play for him.
Bart Scott of the New York Jets telling "The New York Daily News": "I wouldn't play for Rush Limbaugh. My principles are greater and I can't be bought."
What do you think about this little
PAGE: How noble. How noble. I thought you were going to say Rush Limbaugh is going to campaign for the candidates, too, there. But I think -- well, I think that this is interesting. It reminds us that the NFL, the rank and file players, are -- are more black than white. And Rush Limbaugh's politically incorrect statements on ESPN going back a few years not only energized the quarterback there for Philadelphia, but also a lot of people into an anti-Limbaugh mode. I'm waiting to see what happens at contract negotiations time, though.
YELLIN: Are they allowed to do that -- just not play?
BLITZER: Well, you know what, it's hard to turn away a few million dollars a year if you -- if you don't like the owner. I've never heard of anything like that...
BLITZER: Ed, have you ever heard of anything like that?
ROLLINS: I've never heard of a player ever firing an owner.
ROLLINS: I have heard of owners firing players. And these big 300 pound guys, what do they think they're going to do if they're not going to play football, you know, go work in waste management or something?
So I think the reality...
ROLLINS: I think the reality, it's easy to have the rhetoric today when he's not the owner. If he becomes the owner, I think the dialogue changes pretty dramatically.
BLITZER: And it's by no means a done deal, Donna, that he's going to be an owner, although there's a lot of serious speculation about it.
BRAZILE: Wolf, you know, I have my -- my strong opinions about Rush Limbaugh and I'll try to keep them to myself. But let me just say this is a free country. He's -- he can make a bid for the team, but I wouldn't play for him.
YELLIN: He's not asking.
PAGE: How about for a million dollars a year?
YELLIN: He was not asking Donna.
BLITZER: But if you were a St. Louis Rams fan, would you go...
ROLLINS: Donna, you're (INAUDIBLE)...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Would you go to...
BLITZER: Would you go to the games?
ROLLINS: I love you dearly. But you're past your prime on (INAUDIBLE).
BRAZILE: No. No. I will not go to the game and -- and, Ed, I'm rooting for the New Orleans Saints. And thank god we have a good honor (ph).
BLITZER: All right. I'll leave it...
PAGE: This reminds me of Mark Shaw...
ROLLINS: Good quarterback, too.
PAGE: ...in Cincinnati.
PAGE: Making -- making a hero (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: All right, guys...
PAGE: ...statements. I don't mean by anybody quitting the team.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. We've got a lot of good football games this weekend. Go Bills. Go Redskins.
BRAZILE: Go Saints. Come on.
BLITZER: And go Packers.
BRAZILE: And go Tigers...
BLITZER: Go Packers, too.
BRAZILE: ...because we're rooting to be number one...
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.
Earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I interviewed the author, Larry Johnson, about his new book, entitled "Frozen." He's the former employee of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a company that freezes bodies after death in the hopes medical advances could bring them back to life in the future.
You'll remember that the former baseball great, Ted Williams' body, was sent back there in 2002. Johnson says he became a whistleblower after witnessing the abuse of Ted Williams' remains, as well as other disturbing incidents. Among his many claims, he alleged that Arizona State Representative Bob Stump introduced a bill to regulate the cryonics industry, but backed down after receiving threatening phone calls.
We reached out to the Arizona politician and we just received this statement. Let me read it to you: "I did receive threats, but the reason I pulled the bill was that I was concerned the bill would affect several other lawsuits pending. There was also an intense lobbying effort against the bill."
That statement from Bob Stump, who's now corporation commissioner in the State of Arizona.
To the scientists at NASA, bombing the moon was a solid success, but in the Friday Funnies, it's just a joke.
BLITZER: Let's finish out the week with a look at the Friday Funnies.
David Letterman, who had a pretty tough week himself, took a shot at NASA bombing the moon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: NASA is going to launch a rocket to the moon on Friday. They're going to shoot a rocket to the moon -- just going to kaboom, kaboom. And the governor -- the governor...
LETTERMAN: The government says don't -- don't worry, that they're pretty certain we will be greeted as liberators when we...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jay Leno wondered why the president takes so long to decide things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE JAY LENO SHOW," COURTESY NBC)
JAY LENO, HOST: Well, the big question now with these troops in Afghanistan, is how soon can we expect a decision from President Obama on this troop thing?
We've been waiting. But I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. Remember, it took him five months to decide on a puppy, OK. So this is going to be...
LENO: It's going to be a little while. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Jimmy Fallon discovered the real story behind the president's hoop dreams.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON," COURTESY NBC)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST: Tonight, Obama's hosting -- he hosted a basketball game at the White House for several members of Congress. He didn't even want to play. He just wanted to see Congress pass something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Remember, THE SITUATION ROOM, Saturday, tomorrow night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We have a special look at the way forward in Afghanistan.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.