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When History Calls; War at a Tipping Point; Turning Trash into Oil; Eva Longoria Parker Works for National Latin Museum; Bill Frist's Ideas About Health Care Reform; Congressman Flake Spends Vacation on Deserted Island

Aired October 17, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: When history calls. Senator Olympia Snowe explains why she was the only Republican to back the Democrats on health care reform. This hour, she tells us if any other members of her party might join her as a rebel.

Plus, wading through the swamp in Afghanistan. As the Obama administration wages an internal battle over strategy, former US senator and war hero Max Cleland, he's offering some advice and he's taking sides.

And a "Desperate Housewife" leaves Wisteria Lane and sits down with me, the actress, Eva Longoria-Parker. Wait until you hear what she wants for the nation's Latinos.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a result of these efforts, we are now closer than ever before to passing health reform. But we're not there yet. Now's not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now's not the time to offer ourselves congratulations. Now is the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done.


BLITZER: President Obama marking a milestone in his fight for health care reform. This week, the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of reform, clearing the way for it to be merged with another panel's bill. Only one Republican voted yes. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine says she was thinking about the future.


SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Was this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls.


BLITZER: And Olympia Snowe is joining us now from Capitol Hill. Senator Snowe, thanks very much for coming in.

SNOWE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you said, "When history calls, history calls," explain, what did you mean?

SNOWE: Because these are historic times. It's a historic endeavor and reordering $2.4 trillion in health care expenditures that we provide in an annual basis and that it's important that we grapple with an issue that's only going to get worse over time. We know that rising health care costs and the trends that have been predicted, that this really will put our health care system in jeopardy, and put (ph) provided coverage in jeopardy, family coverage in jeopardy.

So if we don't begin to address this issue now, it will only grow exponentially worse. So this is a historic time in which to confront this monumental issue.

BLITZER: But you realize you're not going to get everything you want, just as the president is not going to get everything he wants. If this is a historic moment, you're going to have to accept 80 or 90 percent of what you want, is that right?

SNOWE: Well, I think that's true for each and every one of us, both in Congress and as well as the president. He certainly understands that, and I do as well. We're going to have to reconcile those differences. And, of course, here in the Senate is to achieve more than 60 votes. I hope we could get broader support than just 60, frankly.

In the past when we passed landmark legislation such as social security, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, we got some broad bipartisan support. I would hope that would be the case in this instance as well. If we take the time, you know, Wolf, to sort through these issues and to figure out what can work, what can't work, that it might be helpful to building a broader foundation for the support of this legislation that ultimately, I think, would create more confidence among the American people that we're, you know, going to get this right.

BLITZER: Is the so-called public option, a government-run health insurance company, in effect, to compete with the private insurance companies, is that a deal breaker for you?

SNOWE: It's not something that I could support. I have - I have been opposed to a public option. I think it creates a disproportionate advantage for the government sector. I think it certainly could crowd out the private sector. It could be more costly, more bureaucratic. I think we need to do everything (ph) we can to enhancement innovation (ph).

I could see a fallback mechanism as similar and comparable to what we did in the Part D Prescription Drug Program that was never used, but it was there in the event we could not provide competitive choices to people in any part of the country, and the same would be true in this instance, although we would define affordability and make sure that there were affordable choices available to people in all parts of the country so no one falls through the cracks. And that would happen simultaneously. It wouldn't be that there would be a hiatus or a break in time. It would happen concurrently. We would measure affordability by examining the bids offered by insurance companies.

BLITZER: Are you with Senator Schumer, Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee? They're now saying, you know what? They need to go after the health insurance companies by removing the protection, the antitrust protection, that they've had since 1945.

SNOWE: Well, I think that there are other ways of addressing the issues and the concern with the insurance industry. I'm not so sure that I would go that far. But certainly there are many things to argue about with respect to the insurance industry, most notably this week when they issued reports with inaccurate data, not including many of the tax credits and subsidies that were based - that were included in the legislation upon which they would base their report. So they skewed the information concerning the legislation.

That's disconcerting and troubling, given the fact they certainly stand to benefit with a half a trillion dollars' worth of tax credits and subsidies to - to buy their insurance products.

BLITZER: Do you believe other Republicans, your colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, other Republicans, when the dust settles, when the final piece of legislation comes forward, might join you in supporting it?

SNOWE: Well I - you know, I think each and every member of the Senate will look at the Finance Committee provisions and develop a comfort level, determine what he or she can support, not support. I would expect we're going to have hundreds of amendments offered on the floor of the Senate. Hopefully that would improve the legislation. I certainly will be working with my colleagues, Democratic senators, my Republican colleagues to do whatever we can to improve the legislation and modify it so that we can engender the broad support that it truly deserves to address this issue at this moment in time.

If we don't address it now, Wolf, frankly, we're deferring it for generations, frankly, because we've seen the last century. We could not attempt to reconcile the differences over 100 years. And if we do it - if we postpone this issue now, it's going to adversely affect millions of Americans who are going to find that health insurance is going to become more unaffordable and more out of reach as it already is. It would just be infinitely worse.

BLITZER: When history calls, as you say, history calls. Senator Snowe, congratulations also. "GQ Magazine" says you're one of the most 50 powerful people in Washington. You must have been happy or surprised to hear that.

SNOWE: Yes, surprised.

BLITZER: Surprised, good word.

SNOWE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hey, thanks very much.

SNOWE: Thank you.

BLITZER: By bucking her own party, Senator Snowe is making some risky political moves. What does the former top Republican in the Senate think? I'll ask the former Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist. That's coming up.

Wait until you hear what he says about Senator Snowe, and I'll also ask if he stands with President Obama on reforming the nation's health care system. You might be surprised what Senator Frist says.

And he knows what it's like to have arms and legs blown off during war. Former senator Max Cleland lost limbs on the battlefield, and now he's offering president Obama some advice on how to succeed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What Cleland says is compelling and controversial.

And a member of Congress alone for a week on a deserted island. Republican Congressman Jeff Flake tells us about living his dream vacation.

And need oil? One day you might just use your trash. You're going to see the first of its kind generator that converts some of your garbage into oil.


BLITZER: The first vote was marred by allegations of widespread fraud. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, would likely win a runoff election. It's one of many factors President Obama and his war council are weighing as they consider the future of the war in Afghanistan. I spoke about that and a lot more with a veteran lawmaker and warrior.

BLITZER: And joining us now, former United States senator from Georgia, Max Cleland. He's the author of a brand-new book entitled "Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove."

Senator Cleland, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to get to the book in a moment, but I want to pick your brain on Afghanistan. Right now, all of our viewers remember you were a critic of President Bush and the war in Iraq. What should President Obama do right now about this request to nearly double the number of US troops in Afghanistan?

CLELAND: Shift from counterinsurgency in Afghanistan to counterterrorism in Pakistan. There is where al Qaeda is located. There is where, as CNN has reported, the leadership of the Taliban is located. There is where the Pakistans have - Pakistani government has its nuclear weapon program.

We have to kill or capture al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. We have to drive the Taliban back into Afghanistan, and we have to protect the nuclear program of Pakistan. That basically is the challenge.

BLITZER: So you want to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, get out of Afghanistan?

CLELAND: I want to hold the line in Afghanistan but go after, with (ph) counterterrorism, and our - our NATO allies and the Pakistani government, the targets, Bin Laden in Northwestern Pakistan, the headquarters of al Qaeda, protect the - the Pakistani nuclear program and go after the Taliban leaders in Southern Pakistan.

That does not have to do necessarily with boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Because you know the Pakistanis don't want any US boots on the ground on Pakistani soil.

CLELAND: And for good reason, because you put boots on the ground, you basically, while you're trying to protect the security of the population, you're going to also create what is known as the accidental guerrilla wherever you put those boots on the ground.

BLITZER: So you want to just do it with air power?

CLELAND: No, it's not just air power. It's with the Pakistani government, it's with our drones, it's with our covert operations, it's with our NATO allies, it's with human intelligence.

It is focusing on killing the alligators in the swamp rather than draining the swamp. When you're in the swamp, as we are, you forget that your main purpose for being in the swamp in the first place is to kill or capture the alligators.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there's 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan right now. A lot of liberal Democrats say get them out of there. It's already eight years. Enough is enough.

CLELAND: They are there by Topsy (ph). They are there by - almost by accident. That is not to say the young men and women that are there aren't at risk for losing their lives and limbs. It is to say that this is the administration of the previous administration that allowed that to happen.

Now President Obama has to pivot - has to pivot from Afghanistan to Pakistan. That is where American interests lie.

BLITZER: It sounds like you and Joe Biden, the vice president, are on the same page.

CLELAND: I think we are.

BLITZER: Now let's talk a little bit about your new book, "Heart of a Patriot." It's an amazing book and you poured your heart into this book. Anybody who reads even one page can tell. You tell the story of how you ended up in this wheelchair, and if you could - I know that there's page after page, but briefly share that with our viewers.

CLELAND: Well, you know, I was a young, tall, tantalizing army captain.

BLITZER: You were 6-foot-2.

CLELAND: Six-foot-two, tallest guy in my class, volunteering for a dangerous mission to rescue the 5,000 marines at Khe Sanh. I've been out there.

I've been out there like these young men and women are out there in Afghanistan, and, to a certain extent, in Iraq. I know what that feels like. And I was setting up a radio relay site, getting off a helicopter. One of my men dropped a grenade. I did not know that the grenade was live. I reached for it. It went off. And I know what it's like for these young men and women to lose arms and legs, you know, with an IED or an explosion or a rocket attack. It's a terrifying thing, and you live with it for the rest of your life.

BLITZER: It was a terrifying moment for you, but as terrifying as that moment in Vietnam was, you write this in the book. "It was the worst time of my life. I no longer wanted to live," and you weren't referring to what happened to you in Vietnam, you were referring to what happened to you after you lost the 2002 senatorial election in Georgia to Saxby Chambliss.

CLELAND: Yes. That's correct. To - to a strategy put together by Karl Rove, which said, basically, if I have weak positives with my guy, Bush, Cheney and those guys, if I had weak positives, I'm going to take down the opposition even if they have legitimate military service - McCain, Cleland, Kerry, whatever. I'm going to do whatever it takes.

Now, we don't need that in American politics, and Obama in 2008 didn't say a word negatively about McCain's service, and rightfully so because McCain is a legitimate American hero.

But I went down because I lost my ability to cope. I lost the - the coping strategy that I'd used ever since I got back from Vietnam. Now I'm fighting a new strategy of writing a book and getting it all out. And...

BLITZER: When you say you lost that ability to cope, among other things, there was that famous ad that Saxby Chambliss ran against you. I'm going to play it even though it brings back a lot of horrible memories for you because it was questioning your commitment to national security. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead. He says he supports President Bush at every opportunity, but that's not the truth.

Since July, Max Cleland has voted against the president's vital Homeland Security efforts 11 times. Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead, but the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading.


BLITZER: Yes. That - that was an effective ad, though.

CLELAND: Well, yes. Right. Secondly - first, actually, they morphed my picture with Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, which is to insinuate that somehow I couldn't defend my country, when I did at a crucial moment, the war of my generation, when the opposition never served in the military whatsoever.

Secondly, I wasn't a co-sponsor of the Homeland Security bill in the Senate, and the allegation was that somehow I wasn't supporting that effort, when in reality the White House opposed it initially until we began to gather some steam in the Senate.

BLITZER: And that turned out to be even more depressing to you than losing your limbs in Vietnam.

CLELAND: Yes. I found that I was not - I was on one side of the wall, talking to my trauma counselor, and on the other side of the wall, well, you have veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan going through the same thing.

So PTSD has been around for - for thousands of years, but only now are we calling it what it really is, post war trauma. We have to understand that about our youngsters coming back.

BLITZER: And remind us, why do you mention Karl Rove in the subtitle of your book?

CLELAND: Because he stands American politics on its head. Chuck Hagel, Senator Chuck Hagel told me, he said, when the ad came out, he said, "Some things are more important than politics," and one of those things that's more important than politics is to serve in the American military. That should stand on its own. It should not be part of the political discussion, really.

If you served, you served. If you didn't serve, you didn't serve. And the American people will know that. It should not be something that you try in a political campaign to add or diminish.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove". Max Cleland is the author.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Thanks for writing this book.

CLELAND: Thanks.

BLITZER: Out of the dump and into your car. Amazing new technology that turns trash into oil.

Plus, Latin flair over at the White House where it's fiesta time. Eva Longoria-Parker, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: What if the answer to America's energy needs is as close as your local garbage dump? There's a new technology that's turning trash into a type of treasure - we're talking about oil.

CNN's Brian Todd takes a closer look - Brian.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the debate over our dependence on traditional and potentially finite sources of oil production has now reached this waste transfer station in Montgomery County, Maryland. What if we could convert trash like this plastic iced tea jug, these yogurt containers into oil?

Well, at this place, the first working conversion generator of its kind in the United States, they are doing just that, converting that kind of plastic into synthetic oil.

TODD (voice-over): Before we see his invention, Michael Han presents two large plastic trash bundles and one small number - a number that he says should dispel our myths about plastic recycling in the US. According to Han, less than 4 percent of all the plastic we toss into those bins at home each year actually goes where we think it goes.

None of this stuff really ever gets recycled normally?


TODD: Unbelievable.

HAN: This is either chipped (ph) and it's crated and it's stored, it's packaged, it's sent off into barges or goes into landfill.

TODD: As founder and CEO of a renewable technology company, Envion, Han tried for 10 years to come up with ways to turn some of that waste into fuel we can use. With Envion's new conversion generator, he struck oil.

HAN: We want to create a sustainable, renewable energy byproduct from a manmade waste that has no solution today.

TODD: Operating this facility on the grounds of Montgomery County's waste transfer station in Derwood, Maryland, Envion simply lets waste companies bring plastic trash to them. Then they feed ground up plastics through a hopper, like chipped bottle caps that also don't usually get recycled.

ANDRES FOSSAS, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY, ENVION INC.: This particular product we can convert to about 80 percent petroleum.

TODD: Envion's Strategy Director, Andres Fossas, takes us to the reactor tower. There, the chopped-up plastic is filtered and melted.

FOSSAS: And then the melted plastic goes straight into that unit there, which is our reactor. That's where the reacting process occurs.

TODD: After it cools, the light and medium-weight material is processed out as oil that can be used in cars, trucks, even jets. They opened up a spout to show us.

TODD (on camera): It smells like a combination of different oils.

HAN: A combination of diesel byproducts, renewable byproduct, to a car gasoline byproduct.

TODD (voice-over): But serious questions are being raised about this technology from observers like Kert Davies of the environmental group Greenpeace.

TODD (on camera): What's wrong with this? What's wrong with trying to convert plastic that would be sent to landfills into some kind of synthetic oil?

KERT DAVIES, GREENPEACE: We get calls every day from people who have invented various solutions and everything from burning - from converting turkey carcasses into oil to this kind of thing. It's not renewable because it's not regenerated on the earth like wind and solar power or bio-fuels, and it's not recycling.

TODD: Environmentalists are asking about potential pollution that emanates from this generator, but the manufacturers have an answer to that. They say the light and medium-weight oil that will eventually be converted to oil and gasoline is stored in these smaller drums. The heavier oil that actually turns into sludge that is the potential waste goes into this larger drum right here. They say this is all self-contained, and nothing gets vented out.

TODD (voice-over): Even those heavy additives that become sludge, Han says, are used to fuel this unit. Han says he's in negotiations with some big oil companies, that this generator has the capacity to produce 40 to 60 barrels of oil a day. And he says he can save the oil companies money. They'd have to put in additives to turn this into car fuel, he says, but...

HAN: There are no significant upcharges or cost to be able to refine it because we do that here.

TODD (on camera): There will likely be more questions about the efficiency of these generators, the quality of oil they produce, the environmental component, but Michael Han is charging ahead with this technology. He says he's flooded with orders from entities in the US, Europe and Asia for dozens more of these generators - Wolf.


BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

For many people, it would be a nightmare, but for this Congressman, he says his week alone on a deserted island was a dream vacation, putting his survival skills to the test.

And on TV she's a "Desperate Housewife" but in real life Eva Longoria-Parker is a fierce advocate. She's here to talk about the cause that's so close to her heart.


BLITZER: Check out the fiesta over at the White House, the Obamas celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this week with some of the most famous Latino names in show business. The music salsa icon Marc Anthony was one of the headliners, along with his wife, Jennifer Lopez. The event was hosted by entertainers George Lopez, Jimmy Smits and Eva Longoria Parker. Certainly know her as the star of "Desperate Housewives," but this actress and activist wants you to know about the push she's making right now for a Latino landmark here in the nation's capital.

And joining us now, Eva Longoria Parker. She needs no introduction. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Eva, thanks very much for coming in.

EVA LONGORIA PARKER, ACTRESS, ACTIVIST: Thank you. I'm nervous being in this room.

BLITZER: Don't be nervous. This is just THE SITUATION ROOM.

PARKER: I've watched many things go down in this room.

BLITZER: It's a big show.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit why you've come to Washington. Two reasons. First of all, a new museum that you would like to see get off the ground.

PARKER: Yes, I would love to. I've just been appointed to the commission for the National Museum of American Latinos. And it's a commission that's going to research a site, funding, content and legislation toward including art and culture and our contributions to this country.

BLITZER: And you'd like it to be on the National Mall someplace?

PARKER: Yes. Yes. Well, you know, the commission is going to do this.

BLITZER: This is still several years down the road.

PARKER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: It's a big project.

PARKER: It took the Native American Museum 20 years. It took the African-American museum...

BLITZER: But those are like models something that you'd like to see?

PARKER: Yes. Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: And you're confident that this can happen?

PARKER: I'm very confident. I mean, you know, that's what the commission is going to do. It's our job to report to Congress whether or not this is doable, feasible, fundable. And so that's kind of my responsibility with the commission.

But it's important. I think it's important because Latinos have been present in every phase of history in this country, and this museum's going to celebrate that and let the rest of the country know all of the contributions that we've made.

BLITZER: We have a two-day special our Soledad O'Brien has done, "Latino in America." And I know you're a major part of that special documentary, as well. We're looking forward to seeing that. The other big reason you're in Washington today is why?

PARKER: I'm hosting with George Lopez and Jimmy Smits tonight Fiesta Latina at the White House, which is in conjunction with Hispanic month, and we're celebrating the heritage of music in our culture.

BLITZER: So you'll meet the president and first lady.


BLITZER: Have you met them?

PARKER: I have not. I have not.

BLITZER: You were -- you supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

PARKER: I did. I did, and...

BLITZER: And you worked hard to try to get her the nomination.

PARKER: I worked hard. I mean, I helped her win Texas. You know, I'm a big fan of Hillary. I was a huge supporter of Hillary and a huge supporter of, obviously, President Clinton, you know. And then we -- you know, it was to choose between two great people and so...

BLITZER: So what do you think about this president?

PARKER: I'm completely behind him. I completely support him. BLITZER: On all the key issues?

PARKER: Yes. I mean, you know, obviously, there's key issues that...

BLITZER: Health care reform?

PARKER: ... still haven't been addressed. I would love to see health care reform, absolutely.

BLITZER: The way he envisions it?

PARKER: I agree with the way he envisions it. Absolutely.

BLITZER: What about -- because, you know, he got into a controversy...

PARKER: Right.

BLITZER: ... as you remember, when he addressed the joint session of Congress and he said not a penny's going to go for illegal immigrants as far as the health care reform initiative. One congressman got up and sort of shouted out, "You lie," caused a big stir. What do you think about that?

PARKER: Well, other than, you know, that was totally inappropriate because there should be an amount of respect for the president, I think that people are confusing immigration reform and health care reform. And to assume that every Latino in America is an immigrant or wasn't born here is not true.

BLITZER: Or is illegal.

PARKER: Or is illegal is not true. I think -- obviously, an issue close to my heart is immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform.

BLITZER: He's delayed on that, as you know.

PARKER: Well, there's a lot of stuff he's tackling right now. I think he's done more than in the 10 months than, you know, a lot of people have done in past administrations. He's got a lot on his plate.

I would like to see this settled with a timeline that's a little more aggressive because you can't address giving illegal aliens or undocumented people health care reform if you don't -- we don't know their status. They're in the shadows. If we have comprehensive immigration reform, then we can identify their status and then we can address what kind of services and support we can give.

BLITZER: Because this is a huge issue not only for the Hispanic Latino community in the United States but a huge issue for a lot of people. If you had your way, and if you see the president later tonight and he said, What do you think, Eva, what should I do about this, what brief piece of advice would you give him? PARKER: What's the elevator spiel? Well, I think -- are we talking about health care reform?

BLITZER: No, we're talking about comprehensive immigration reform.

PARKER: Comprehensive reform -- I think...

BLITZER: Health care reform, he's got his initiative.

PARKER: One main thing about immigration reform that I feel is very important is it needs to be taken out of the local and the state authorities. To have different states enforcing different laws -- Arizona just passed this punitive law about renting and you have to show proof of this and that. And then you have other areas that are a little more welcoming to this community because they provide such an economic contribution.

BLITZER: You want to see a uniform standard?

PARKER: It needs to be. It's a national issue. You know, our Constitution clearly states...

BLITZER: And the 10 million or 15 million or whatever number of illegal immigrants in the country right now, you'd like to see them have an opportunity to get some sort of legal status?

PARKER: Yes, because there's no family in this country -- there's not a lot of families in this country -- I don't want to generalize -- that are not multi-national. There's a mother that's from Mexico, but the kids are born in America. There's fathers who are from Colombia who -- children are attending school. So you know, yes, I think this is a national issue because it's clearly stated in our Constitution that immigration is a security issue. But it's one issue. You can't have all the states doing their own things.

BLITZER: Your own personal attitudes on these Hispanic issues, Latino issues, they've evolved over the past year.


BLITZER: Is that right? Because you told me, when Soledad interviewed you for the special, you had a stance, but it sort of changed or modified, especially now that you're getting a master's degree in this area. Briefly give me one area, one example of how your views, Eva -- Eva's views, have evolved.

PARKER: Well, I think, obviously, studying the history of where we come from and knowing that there are way more nativists in our community than we give credit for. I personally am a ninth generation American. And I've never crossed a border. The border crossed us. My family has been under five different flags and has never moved from the land that we currently still have. And I think there's a lot of people like me, and there's a lot of people within our community that represent different cultures, different identities, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican. And it's -- what's changed for me is just knowing that I feel like history's repeating itself when after World War I, there was this push/pull effect for immigrants to come and attend to the farms, and then everybody came back and they said, OK, get out. We pushed them out. Then World War II came, and then we said, OK, everybody come back. We need you to work the farms again. And then, you know, that war ended, and they go, OK, go away.

And that's happening again now that there's a strain, obviously, economically in our country. You know, we're the scapegoats again, or these immigrants are the scapegoats. OK, get out. You can't have that push/pull effect. We can't welcome these people as laborers but deny them as citizens.

BLITZER: But you're upbeat looking ahead.

PARKER: I am upbeat in looking ahead. I think -- there's a lot of, obviously, issues -- I'm a big advocate for the United Farm Workers and for MALDEF (ph) and trying to advocate for farm worker rights. And it's not a citizenship. It's not an immigration issue for them, it's a human rights issue. There are people -- the people who feed our nation, the most well-fed nation in the world, often go to bed hungry. And so there's a lot of reform that needs to happen.

BLITZER: Tony Parker, the great basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs. They're going to have a good season. But I'm going to tell you, the Washington Wizards, my team, we're coming back big time. I'm looking forward to that.

PARKER: Let me tell you...


PARKER: ... Gilbert Arenas (ph) a message that he better play this year!

BLITZER: Gilbert Arenas, he'll be playing this year. So will Antoine Jameson (ph), the entire team.

PARKER: We have Timmy and Manu (ph) and Tony and Richard Jefferson and we have McDyess (ph).

BLITZER: Are you coming to Washington when San Antonio's going to be at the Verizon Center?

PARKER: I would like to.

BLITZER: I saw you here last season. You were here.

PARKER: It always depends on my schedule, but...

BLITZER: I'll find you.


BLITZER: Thanks for coming in. PARKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck with the museum.

PARKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we're only days away from "Latino in America," a comprehensive look at how Latinos are changing America. "Latino in America" airs next Wednesday and Thursday, 9:00 PM Eastern. It will also be simulcast in Spanish on CNN Espanol.

He's a former Senate majority leader and a heart surgeon, and he says he's all for health care reform, but not the president's plan. Bill Frist explains what he thinks the Democrats are doing wrong.

And a lot of members of Congress are survivors, but not like this. Talking about Republican congressman Jeff Flake. He talks about his dream vacation, roughing it alone on a deserted island.


BLITZER: Amid the push for health care reform, few people can speak with as much authority about a patient's needs, the political wants and the pressures to balance the two. My next guest certainly can. He's a physician, a heart surgeon. He's also a politician, and for a long time was the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate.

And joining us now, the former Senate majority leader, William Frist, or as we called him, Bill Frist. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You got a brand-new book called "A Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope and Healing." We'll talk about the book in a moment. Let's talk about the health care debate under way here in Washington right now. Some confusion. Are you with President Obama right now in his overall goal on trying to reform the nation's health care system?

FRIST: That I am. I'm for big reform. We've got 46 million people uninsured. That is wrong today in America. We've got health care costs going up three times faster than inflation. That is wrong. We've got to address both. There are five bills out there. A lot of them address the access issue. The costs issues are inadequately being addressed today.

BLITZER: If you had been on the Senate Finance Committee this week when it voted on that legislation, would you have been with Republican senator Olympia Snowe in voting yea?

FRIST: No, I would not, and for lots of different reasons.

BLITZER: What are the main reasons?

FRIST: Yes. Basically, the cost, $2.3 trillion, which is a lot.


BLITZER: The CBO says that piece of legislation would be a net plus after 10 years.

FRIST: That's right. By cutting Medicare, seniors' care, by $400 billion, raising taxes by $300 billion. If you're going to raise taxes that much, of course you can make it look like a plus.

BLITZER: So you think she made a mistake?

FRIST: I'm not going to -- I have tremendous respect for her. And I -- and the bill -- it needs to be debated because of access and cost issues. But I wouldn't have supported the bill as written.

BLITZER: You would not have.

FRIST: I would not have. I would not have.

BLITZER: Because you said earlier you're with the president when it comes to reforming the nation's...

FRIST: And I'm with reform.

BLITZER: ... health care system.

FRIST: I'm with reform. Listen, I've taken care of 20,000 patients. We've got to reform the system. There's gaps out there. Costs are going up. It's just instead of having a centralized bureaucratic bending the cost curve, the cost issue from above, I think it needs to be done below, with market-based principles -- transparency, accountability, individual choices being made. And it's a mistake, I think, because America's not going to have a big bureaucracy in Washington -- or forget the bureaucracy, centralized decision-making.

BLITZER: It sounds to me, Senator, correct me if I'm wrong, you're basically with your former colleagues, the majority of the Republicans in the Senate and House who are fighting the president's plan.

FRIST: Well, you know, I'm not sure -- I'm not here. I'm back in Nashville, Tennessee.

BLITZER: I know. You're not...


BLITZER: I'm just trying to clarify where you stand.

FRIST: The three problems with costs today, technology today, you can't ration technology by bureaucrats or senators here in Washington. And that's what's going to be done. Number two, there's variation in health care. There's too many tests being done because the reimbursement is on more tests instead of value, outcomes, results. And the bill doesn't address that.

And if you're not addressing that, there is no way to slow down the growth of health care costs. Can it be fixed? Listen, there are five bills out there. It's going to be four weeks before a bill is addressed on the floor of the Senate, so it can be fixed. I want to encourage it to be fixed because, if not, premiums, taxes are going up and the average person's going to say, What's in it for me?

BLITZER: But you don't like any of those five bills.

FRIST: I like lots of things in those bills, like preventive care that's in there, patient wellness that's in there, the insurance reform that's in there. There are things missing, like tort reform. It doesn't cost anything to address $50 billion in savings that means my colleagues on average going to be sued two to three times for $2 million to $3 million when they've done nothing wrong.

BLITZER: Are you afraid that the opposition that the Republicans are generating against the president's and Democrats' health care initiative is going to create this notion of Republicans simply being the party of no?

FRIST: Well, when I was leader of the Senate, we passed a difficult bill. It probably ended up costing $700 billion, $800 billion, a lot, not quite as much as this.

BLITZER: The prescription drug bill.

FRIST: The prescription drug bill, six years ago. And we did it in a bipartisan way. The bill that came out of the Senate, unlike the Finance Committee bill now, passed with 76 votes. It was bipartisan. We kept (INAUDIBLE) people to the table. We didn't even threaten the use of reconciliation.

If the mentality and the outreach by Democrats to Republicans, and yes, Republicans working with Democrats -- it can be done. We did it six years ago, and 40 million American seniors have been beneficiaries of that.

BLITZER: Step back for a moment. Where did the Republicans go wrong in that election a year ago? They lost not only the White House but the House and the Senate. Looking back -- and you were there. You were an eyewitness. You were directly, intimately involved. What happened?

FRIST: Yes. I left two years before that. But I think it was a lack of confidence in the American people to hold down spending. I think. I mean, it's lots of different reasons. But at the end of the day, people were scared. They didn't know the recession was coming. And that's what bothers me about the data this weekend. The deficit's going to be $1.4 trillion. That's more than last year plus the year before that plus the year before that.

BLITZER: Who do you blame for that spending during the Republican era, as we should call it? FRIST: I would say everybody. I would say everybody. Not just Bush, not just the Senate, Not just the Congress, not just Democrats, the traditional big spenders, but everybody. I think...

BLITZER: Because you guys were in the majority.

FRIST: We were in the majority, but I think it was everybody. I can tell you, as bad as it was then, I just said, the deficit is four times greater than any one of those four years, four times greater, $1.4 trillion. Add up the last four years, and what we heard today, this weekend, is that much worse.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing you hope some reader will take from reading "A Heart to Serve"?

FRIST: Yes. It is not a political memoir. I'm not running for president. I'm not running for governor. I'm not running for anything politically. This book is not a political memoir, it's a book about service. It takes 20 years of medicine, it takes my 20 years of committing myself to 20,000 patients, stories with whom I came in touch with, like David Petraeus and others. 12 years in policy-making and now 10 years in global health. The consistent theme is healing.

But what I really want people to do is drive deep within themselves -- the subtitle is "The Passion to Bring Health, Hope and Healing" -- find their passions, whatever they are -- and sometimes that's hard to do, but find your passions and the viewers find their passions and then shape them in a way and develop them in a way to serve others. And it might be at the local PTA or volunteering at a non-government organization, but it's all about service.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks for coming in.

FRIST: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "A Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope and Healing." Appreciate it.

FRIST: Good. Wolf, great to be with you.

BLITZER: It would be a nightmare for some people, but it was Congressman Jeff Flake's dream vacation. He tells me what it was like to test his survival skills all alone on a deserted island.

And we'll play ball in our "Hot Shots." Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: He says it was his dream vacation, a week alone on a deserted tropical island with few tools and no food or water except what he himself could collect. Republican congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona is here to talk about his extreme test of his survival skills. Congressman, glad to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: All right, why did you do this?

FLAKE: You know, I've always read a lot of survival stories, sailing adventures gone bad. I've been fascinated by how people survived. I just always wanted to do it.

BLITZER: Since you were a little boy.


BLITZER: Like Robinson Crusoe or whatever.

FLAKE: And I grew up on a dry, dusty ranch in Arizona, and so water appealed to me.

BLITZER: So you've been thinking about this literally for years.


BLITZER: And your wife and your kids, they knew about this?

FLAKE: Yes. They've lived with it for quite a while. I actually met my wife on a beach in Hawaii. BYU has a campus on the north shore and that's where we met.

BLITZER: Brigham Young University.


BLITZER: So you were there and you wanted to do it. All right, so talk -- tell us what happened. You had to find an island, first of all.

FLAKE: Google Earth.

BLITZER: Is that what you did?

FLAKE: Well, that's part of it. I knew I wanted to be in the Marshall Islands. It's right in the central Pacific.

BLITZER: And forgive me if I'm ignorant. Is that part of U.S. territory?

FLAKE: No, but it's fairly close. People in the Marshall Islands carry a U.S. passport, and some of them serve in our military. In fact, a lot of them do.

BLITZER: So you find one little tiny deserted island. Then what do you do?

FLAKE: Well, the Marshall Islands is a chain of about 1,200 islands, and a lot of them are uninhabited.

BLITZER: You found one of them.

FLAKE: I found one of them.

BLITZER: How did you know it was uninhabited?

FLAKE: Well, Google earth. You can tell. And also, I checked with the Marshallese government. They have a great government and we have a close relationship with them, and we were able to work with them on this.

BLITZER: And so you -- how do you get to that island, by boat?

FLAKE: Well, I flew first to Hawaii, then to Masureau (ph), then to Kawajalein, and then by boat about three hours north.

BLITZER: And somebody just dropped you off at the island. There's a picture. And I want you to turn around and tell us about this picture because there you are. You had to collect your own food. And I guess you did some spear fishing.

FLAKE: Right. I didn't take any food. I just took some salt and pepper. My wife convinced me to take that.

BLITZER: Why salt and pepper?

FLAKE: Well, just to season what I caught, or what I hoped to catch, at least.

BLITZER: Oh. So that's -- basically, the only thing you took was salt and pepper.

FLAKE: Well, as far as food, yes. And I took a little...

BLITZER: Did you take water?

FLAKE: A desalinator pump, so I had to pump every night...

BLITZER: So you could take the salt water...

FLAKE: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... and make your own water.

FLAKE: Exactly. And so you had to pump for a long time, but it was good water. But with fish, I would just go out -- that's at low tide on the lagoon side. And I would go out about 100 yards beyond where you see the breakers there. And there were a lot of fish. I had a pole spear or Hawaiian sling. It has an elastic strap, and you go under water and shoot it. I had a mask and fins and snorkels.

BLITZER: And these pictures -- we're going to show some more pictures -- you took these yourself.

FLAKE: I did.

BLITZER: What, did you just set them up on a timer? Is that it?

FLAKE: Yes, a timer and tripod. People have asked, Who was on that island with you? I was very much alone.

BLITZER: What -- since, you know, you reported about this, told everybody -- it happened at the end of the summer. What's the most frequently asked question that people have been asking you?

FLAKE: By far, did you talk to a volleyball.

BLITZER: Because of the...

FLAKE: The Tom Hanks movie.

BLITZER: "Castaway."

FLAKE: And I didn't take a volleyball with me, but about by day three, I was looking for a little feedback, at least, and...

BLITZER: You took a little hammock, right?

FLAKE: I did. I did.

BLITZER: That's where you slept.

FLAKE: I did, and that...

BLITZER: Could you really sleep?

FLAKE: Hammocks are meant for napping in the back yard, I think. But seven nights in a hammock was a little long. But I wanted to be off the ground, at least. And so it was doable. I just woke up a lot.

BLITZER: And so you didn't really get great night's sleep.

FLAKE: No. No.

BLITZER: Were you ever scared?

FLAKE: You know, the first night. It's very dark. It's nine degrees north of the equator. And so, you know, you have a lot of darkness, 12 hours of it.

BLITZER: So you're hearing a lot of sounds.

FLAKE: A lot of sounds, coconuts falling, you know, leaves -- or branches breaking or hermit crabs crawling along the sand.

BLITZER: Are there wild animals on this island?

FLAKE: No, not on those islands. There are no snakes or things like that to worry about. And there's no standing water, so you wouldn't have any big critters.

BLITZER: But there were some sharks, right?

FLAKE: There were, a lot more than I figured.

BLITZER: And I mean, how close did the sharks come to you?

FLAKE: There were some about seven feet long.

BLITZER: Really?

FLAKE: These are blacktip sharks.

BLITZER: So this is when you went in the water...


BLITZER: ... to catch fish to eat and survive...

FLAKE: Right.

BLITZER: ... you would see sharks.

FLAKE: Yes. And when I'd be out spear fishing, they would typically come encircle me a few times, and then, hopefully, go a little ways away.

BLITZER: Because if I saw sharks, I wouldn't even go in the water. But you had no choice at that point.

FLAKE: Oh, you had to -- had to get the -- the fish you wanted to eat were out a little ways, and that's where the sharks were. But they -- I was careful, and I passed on a lot of good fish to spear when there were sharks present. That was the difficult thing, is to be able to spear a fish and get to shore.

BLITZER: You're a religious man. So you had a chance to really, I guess, bond, if you will, with God.

FLAKE: You bet. I mean, you can't spend that amount of time alone in such beauty and not come away with a greater appreciation for this wonderful earth that we have.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation. But you know, there is a show on television called "Survivor."

FLAKE: There is, but you can get voted off that island, so I don't want to take the chance.

BLITZER: So you're not going to do that.

FLAKE: I don't think so.

BLITZER: Maybe if they call. Could be fun.

FLAKE: We'll see.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much. Glad you came back safe and sound.

FLAKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And turning from a tropical paradise to the cold snow of Russia's St. Petersburg, only one of our "Hot Shots," the week's best pictures from around the world. That's next.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this week's "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. In Afghanistan, a boy waited for customers as he sold brooms. In Russia, teenagers made the most of the snowfall as they played soccer. In North Dakota, a moose drew the eye of law enforcement as it strolled by a hotel. And in Ohio, Amish boys played basketball before going to school. Some of this week's "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.